Mike had already learned a great deal about the Broman extended family during his stay. Matthew James Broman, Matt's dad, was an attorney and senior partner in the law firm of Hagerty, Broman, Arpels, Schiffmeyer and Dixon, one of the most powerful and respected law firms on the east coast. His particular specialty was corporate law. He had reportedly turned down numerous offers of state and federal judgeships to remain in private practice.
Matt's mother, Jane Broman, was partner and senior designer of a large jewelry retail company, and had the luxury of doing her design work in her home studio, only rarely going to their headquarters. She had received numerous awards for the freshness and creativity of her designs.
Emily Hagerty, Matt's grandmother (Jane's mother), was the widow of Thomas Hagerty, formerly a senior partner in the law firm.
Jack Hagerty (Jane's brother), was CEO of a large bank with branches up and down the east coast. The bank stock was closely owned by only a few families, and of those, the Hagertys had the lion's share.
Judy Hagerty, Jack's wife, was owner and head broker of Hagerty & O'Toole, the largest and most prosperous real estate firm in the region.
These people were all very rich, and obviously not slackers. Mike had a better sense of where Matt's drive to succeed at everything he did came from.
So far, his vacation with Matt at the Bromans' house was as close to perfect as you could get, from Mike's point of view. Visitors, both adults and many of Matt's former high school classmates, streamed through the house constantly. The youngsters had accepted Mike into their group as if he had grown up right in the area.
The day before Christmas, Mike asked Matt to take him to a mall on the outskirts of the nearest town so that he could buy gifts for the family. Mike was very taken with them all, especially Mr. and Mrs. Broman, and felt as if he had known them all his life. He missed his own family, of course, particularly after talking with them on the phone, but these warm people were the next best thing. And being around Matt, sleeping in the same bed with him, gave Mike intense joy. After their talk on the night they had arrived, Mike felt closer to Matt than ever now that there were no secrets between them.
On Christmas Eve, the entire family went to Midnight Mass at nearby Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and Mike had to admit he was impressed with the beauty and pageantry of the service. When a young man in his vestments processed down the center aisle ahead of the crucifer and choir, swinging the thurible in a 360° circle every few feet while incense billowed, Mike figured he was in for a show. The music was magnificent, and Mike could feel the bass notes of the pipe organ resonate in his gut. When the organist added the state trumpets at the back of the church to his mix of sound just as the three priests processed, the hair on the back of Mike's head stood up. Even the celebrant's homily was good. Mike went up to the altar rail with the family to receive communion, and felt a real sense of peace and belonging. But he couldn't help noticing how cute the high school boys who were serving at the altar looked in their red cassocks and white surplices. He was still human, after all!
Before he left the church, Mike went into one of the transepts and lit a votive candle for his family.
After church, the Broman clan returned home and gathered in front of the fire in the library for a light buffet and to exchange gifts. Mike hadn't been forgotten by anyone, and he was glad he had gone to the mall so that he could reciprocate. Everyone seemed pleased with what he had selected for them, and he received some very nice things. He had bought Matt a new leather billfold to replace the ratty old thing he was always complaining about, and Matt gave him a beautiful, lined flannel shirt. Later, in private, Mike gave Matt a gold ID bracelet with the engraved initials MB entwined on it, and Matt gave him a pocket watch with MB likewise engraved on the back.
"Great minds think jewelry," Matt said laughingly, punching Mike lightly on the shoulder.
"You know it! Thanks, man!" Mike said.
"No, thank you!"
"No, thank you!"
"No, thank. . ." Matt didn't finish his sentence. "Commere, you pissant!" He grabbed Mike around the neck and gave him really hard nuggies until he begged for mercy.
They got ready for bed and both slept soundly.
Christmas morning dawned crisp and clear, with the promise of an extraordinarily warm day for that time of the year. By eleven o'clock it was 60°, and after a leisurely breakfast, Matt told his folks they were going to throw a battery in the CBR and take a ride. Matt borrowed some leathers and a helmet from Jeff for Mike, and they walked down to the garage. Sitting in the fourth bay were two dirt bikes and the CBR 900.
Mike glanced over into the adjoining bay, and stopped dead in his tracks. There sat a fairly new Nissan pickup truck, dark blue with red pinstriping, with a vinyl cover over the truck bed.
"Are you trying to weird me out?" he asked Matt.
"How did you get my truck up here?"
"That's not your truck, it's my truck!" Matt said.
"I don't believe this. I have a truck exactly--exactly--like this at home. My mom and dad gave it to me for high school graduation," Mike said.
"This is too eerie!" Matt responded. "My folks gave me this truck for my high school graduation. Since I can't have it at school this year, Jeff's been driving it."
"Jeez, we have the same bike and now the same truck. This is just so weird! Are we clones, or what? You're gonna have to get rid of your bike and truck, or people will talk!" Mike kidded.
"In your dreams, man. You get rid of your stuff."
"I don't think so. If you were a really good host, you'd get rid of your stuff!"
They continued to bicker while Matt took the motorcycle battery off the charger, seated it in the bike, hooked up the terminals, and put the panel cover back on.
The bike roared to life on the second try.
"I'll drive first, then you can have a shot," Matt said. They put on their helmets and gloves, and they were out of there. Mike held on to the pillion, and gripped Matt's legs hard with his knees as they ripped out of the driveway doing a wheelie. What a rush to be out on a bike again, Mike thought. I've really missed it.
Traffic on the country roads was practically non-existent, and Matt didn't spare the throttle. In about 30 minutes, he pulled over in a secluded spot, and they traded places. Mike started out slowly, but warmed to the task, and on one straightaway he hit 125 mph. Matt was impressed with the way Mike handled the bike. After an hour and a half of trading back and forth at the controls and really putting the CBR through its paces, they headed back to the house feeling good, and parked the bike in the garage.
"I have a surprise for you," Matt said as they walked up to the house.
"Will it hurt?" Mike asked with feigned innocence.
"Not unless you keep fucking with me, wise ass! We have a pool. Indoor. How about a swim?"
Mike stopped and gaped at him. "Oh, shit! Are you serious? This is too good to be true!"
"I figured you'd approve. Let's get changed and swim before dinner."
"Awesome! Do you have a suit I can borrow? I didn't bring one from school."
Matt pretended to look him up and down. "Well, you're kinda scrawny. A pair of my trunks might just fall off your pitiful ass."
"Revealing nothin' you ain't seen before, yo! But we'll make it work!"
They hurried upstairs and quickly changed into their suits, inviting Jeff and Martha to come along to the pool, which they did. The pool area was everything Mike expected it to be, given the rest of the property, and included a nice diving board. He swam some laps, gave the others a few tips on their swimming techniques, and they all just horsed around. The next thing they knew, Branford was there to say that dinner would be served in a few minutes.
"I have another surprise for you," Matt said as they went upstairs.
"You're just full of it, aren't you? Surprises, I mean," Mike responded.
"Why do you make me hurt you before you'll be nice?" Matt sighed. "Anyway, we're having a New Year's Eve pool party before we go back. It will give us a chance to see all the kids again, and you'll be in your natural milieu, won't you, water boy?"
"Outstanding!" Mike said. "Just don't turn your back on me around the pool, shithead, or you'll get wetter than you planned."
Vacation passed by all too quickly. The boys watched movies, listened to music, had great talks with the Broman clan, and even got the CBR out on the road one more time.
New Year's Eve finally arrived. Mr. Broman gave the kids the run of the pool and the far wing of the house, with the proviso that he didn't want anybody using alcohol or drugs. Matt argued for having beer at least, but to no avail. Food and soft drinks aplenty were laid out, and about fifty kids showed up. Matt had moved his stereo down to the pool so they could have tunes, and pretty soon things were in full swing.
Jeff had wrangled an invitation to the party from Matt, and was obviously as popular as his brother despite being two years younger than the rest of the gang. Mike roamed around freely talking with people, and later, in an impromptu swim contest, whipped all the hot shit jocks who thought they were such great swimmers. His reward, at Matt's instigation, was to be grabbed by the arms and legs by about 10 guys and given the old heave-ho out into the center of the pool.
Mike noticed that Matt was spending a lot of time with a cute little brunette, and even saw him kissing her. When Mike asked who she was, Jeff told him that the girl had been Matt's steady during his senior year, but that they had gone their separate ways by mutual agreement when they went off to college. Get used to it, Mike told himself, and tried not to let it bother him. But it did.
The party wound down about 3 a.m., and Matt, Jeff and Mike made a stab at cleaning up the pool area, but soon called it a night. When Matt and Mike finally hit the bed, they were asleep almost immediately.
They spent the New Year's Day being couch potatoes, watching the various bowl games, and recuperating from the party. That night they got a start on packing to go back to school. Jeff was going to drive them back, and Mike went out of his way to let him know how much he appreciated his making the long trip.
They had breakfast about 8 o'clock the next morning with the Bromans, and then loaded up the car. Mike was feeling overwhelmed by all the kindness he had been shown over the past two weeks. Mrs. Broman hugged and kissed him, and told him they loved him and wanted him to come back with Matt whenever he could. Mr. Broman started to shake his hand, but then pulled him into an embrace. Mike gave Martha a hug, and told them all that they felt like his second family. Hiding his emotions, Mike quickly got into the car and waited for Matt and Jeff.
Jeff drove first, and then climbed in the back of the car for a snooze when Matt took over. Mike felt good when he looked over and saw that Matt was wearing the ID bracelet he had given him for Christmas.
Mike took the wheel later, and Matt glanced into the back seat to make sure that Jeff was asleep. He was.
"Have you decided what you're going to do about the roommate situation?" Matt asked Mike quietly, prepared to hear the worst.
"I'm gonna stay with you, if that's cool."
"Dude, you have made me so happy!" Matt closed his eyes for a moment in relief. "Can I ask why?"
"Well, because I'd rather be celibate and horny living with you, than having lots of sex living with anybody else," Mike said. "It's that simple."
Matt looked thoughtful, and the subject was closed.
* * *
The second semester started, and the roomies were soon back in their normal routines of classes, athletics and studies. Matt had yet to lose a wrestling match in his weight class, which sat well with the athletic staff, needless to say. Mike had lost only one event at swimming, and the coach was always holding him up as an example to his teammates about how to train faithfully and expend whatever energy it took to win. That made Mike a little uncomfortable.
There was one big difference in their routines, though, Mike noticed. He had never known whether Matt ever jacked off to relieve stress and sexual tension, or not--he had never seen or heard him masturbating during all the time they had lived together. He assumed he did, but didn't know for sure.
But after they got back from vacation, as soon as they hit their beds at night and the lights were out, Mike starting hearing Matt jack off at least three times a week, then cleaning himself up and going to sleep. It was so blatant, and represented such a huge change, that Mike wondered whether it had anything to do with his own comment about being horny when they were in the car coming back to school after Christmas. Whatever the reason, it was all the permission Mike needed to go at it himself without hiding what he was doing, and he slept a lot better as a result. Neither of the roommates ever spoke of it.
The boys had always done their own laundry separately every week, but they decided it made sense to throw it all in together and trade-off duty at the laundromat every other week. Mike was sorely tempted to check out the "Matt smell" on the his roomie's jocks and briefs when it was his turn to do the laundry, but mostly he resisted, feeling a little like a perv for even thinking about it.
The two guys had regained most of the easy camaraderie which had marked their relationship when they first met, and were back to joking around and playing pranks on each other.
One night Mike found a poem on a gay computer site, and he told Matt that he wanted him to memorize it and use it for his mantra:
THE PERFECT MAN IS GENTLE,
NEVER CRUEL OR MEAN.
HE HAS A BEAUTIFUL SMILE
AND KEEPS HIS FACE SO CLEAN.
THE PERFECT MAN LIKES CHILDREN
AND WILL RAISE THEM BY YOUR SIDE.
HE WILL BE A GOOD FATHER,
A GOOD HUSBAND TO HIS BRIDE.
THE PERFECT MAN LOVES COOKING,
CLEANING AND VACUUMING TOO.
HE'LL DO ANYTHING IN HIS POWER
TO CONVEY HIS FEELINGS OF LOVE TO YOU.
THE PERFECT MAN IS SWEET,
WRITING POETRY FROM YOUR NAME,
HE'S A BEST FRIEND TO YOUR MOTHER
AND KISSES AWAY YOUR PAIN.
HE NEVER HAS MADE YOU CRY
OR BATTERED YOU IN ANY WAY.
TO HELL WITH THIS ENDLESS POEM...
THE PERFECT MAN IS GAY.
Matt almost fell on the floor laughing.
* * *
Midterms were just completed in late February when the two roomies were sitting down about 7 o'clock one night to study. The telephone rang, and Matt picked it up, said hello, then handed the phone to Mike as he mouthed the word, "Police."
Looking puzzled, Mike said hello, confirmed his identity, and listened. His face turned white. Matt thought he was going to fall down, and pushed a chair under him.
When he hung up the phone, Mike stood up, went over to his bed, and sat back against the wall. His face was ashen.
Matt went over and sat next to him on the bed.
"Mike, what's wrong?"
Mike looked at him slowly.
"My parents, my brother and sister, and my grandmother were killed in a private plane crash late last night on the way home from Florida."
"Oh my God!" Matt said, and sat there looking at Mike. He didn't know what to say, and just kept staring at his roommate.
"I don't know what to do," Mike whispered. "What am I supposed to do?"
He shut his eyes, and became almost catatonic as the two continued to sit in silence. There were no tears. Matt watched him, paralyzed himself.
Matt eventually got up and left the room to use their neighbor's phone, and when he returned, Mike was in the same position, sitting in his bed with his back against the wall. Matt sat down beside him again.
"Mike, do you want me to call a priest?"
Mike shook his head, "No."
"My mom and dad are coming down here to get you tomorrow, and take you to your house, OK?"
Matt moved closer and put his head against Mike's, and they sat that way in silence.
When Mike hadn't moved at all by 9 o'clock, Matt decided to put him to bed. He leaned down and took off Mike's shoes and socks, pulled his T-shirt over his head, and removed his Levi's, leaving his boxers. He walked him into the bathroom, and had him use the toilet and brush his teeth. Then he walked him back to his bed, and put him under the covers. He leaned down and caressed Mike's forehead, and then got ready for bed himself.
Matt lay in his bed, staring through the darkness at his friend, feeling totally helpless. He said a silent prayer for Mike and his family.
Mike awakened about 1 a.m., and the enormity of what had happened finally hit him. He began to weep, silently, he thought, so as not to wake Matt up.
Matt heard him, though, and got up and went over to Mike's bed.
"Scoot over, Mikey." Mike complied, turning on his side and toward the wall. Matt slid under the covers and cradled him. Mike felt Matt's breath on his neck as they drifted off to sleep.
* * *
When Mike woke up the next morning, Matt was sitting at his own desk in his briefs, studying. Even in the midst of his pain, Mike couldn't help admiring the beautiful body of that beautiful man as Matt sat there making notes from one of his readings. Matt's skin glowed with health, and there wasn't a blemish on it.
Matt glanced over at him.
"Mike, good, you're awake. I'm going to run down and get you some breakfast." He reached for his pants, shirt and a pair of Nikes.
"Thanks, but I don't want anything."
"How about a little juice and some toast?"
"No, that's OK."
Matt got dressed and left, returning a few minutes later with orange juice and toast. He sat on Mike's bed, and put the tray on Mike's lap.
"I can't eat right now," Mike protested.
"I'm not letting you get sick, bro. This is a tough situation. You gotta eat something."
"Jeez, you're worse than my mother. . ." Mike's eyes got tears in them when he realized what he'd just said.
He picked up a piece of toast and bit down on it just to shut Matt up. Matt didn't take the tray away until Mike had eaten two pieces of toast and drunk the orange juice.
"Tell you what, why don't you grab a shower and I'll make a few phone calls," Matt said. "I don't know exactly when my folks are going to get here, and we have to pack your bag."
Mike climbed out of bed and went into the bathroom without replying.
When Matt heard the shower start, he pulled the school directory out of his desk and phoned the dean's office, each of Mike's professors, and the swim coach, and explained what had happened. Each of them sent Mike his condolences, and offered to help in any way he could.
When Mike didn't get out of the shower in a reasonable time, Matt went into the bathroom and looked behind the shower curtain. Mike was just standing there in the spray as if he were comatose. Matt turned the water off and told Mike to step out of the tub, and dried him off. Now Matt was really worried about him.
He sat Mike down on his bed again, and picked him out fresh boxers, a clean T-shirt, some Levi's, and clean socks, and told Mike to put them on. He did, slowly, and then sat there blankly watching Matt.
Matt went to the closet and took down one of the suitcases, put Mike's shaving kit in it, and began to fill it with underwear and socks for at least a week. He pulled a pair of dress shoes out of a shoe bay, gave them a quick brushing, and dropped them into the suitcase with a necktie and clean handkerchief neatly folded up in one of them. He put Mike's best dark suit in a garment bag along with a trench coat, placed several folded white shirts in one of the garment bag pockets, and hung the bag back up in the closet.
"Did I forget anything, Mike?"
"I don't think so. Thanks."
"You know I love you, and my family loves you, and you're not gonna go through this alone, don't you?"
Mike's eyes teared up, but he didn't say anything.
About half an hour later, there was a light knock on the door, and Mr. and Mrs. Broman came in. Matt met them at the door and kissed them, hugging them long and hard.
Mike stood up, and the adults embraced him.
"Mike, I don't have the words to tell you how sorry we are," Jane Broman said, and hugged him again.
Leaving Mike with his mother, Matt pulled his father into the bathroom.
"Dad, I hadn't planned to go with you," Matt said, "but I think I'd better. He's going to need me, and all of us, right now. He already seems to be going into a depression, and I think we should have Dr. Peterson see him as soon as possible. I don't want to hold you up, but can you wait while I pack my stuff and let the dean's office and my professors and the coach know that I'm leaving?"
"Of course, son. I hate to have you miss school, but I do think it would be best if you came along."
"Does anyone know exactly what happened," Matt asked his father.
"Yes. The plane was a charter out of Ft. Lauderdale last night on instruments. They were making an approach to a small airport in Georgia to refuel, and about twenty miles out they plowed into a newly constructed radio tower. It wasn't on any of the maps, and the contractor was only one day away from marking the damn thing with lights. That was all she wrote," Mr. Broman said.
"Can any of your staff help straighten things out for Mike?"
"I have people working on it right now, Matt. I'm going to see that he gets the best advice that's available. I'm going to do for him what I would want done for you in the same circumstances."
"Dad, thank you! I really appreciate your being here for Mike. I wonder if Mike's going to have any money problems?"
"You don't know who his family was, do you?
"No, we never really talked about his family much."
"His dad was Andrew Berman, CEO of Berman Engineering Worldwide, Inc. That's a ten billion-dollar company traded on the big board, and a big chunk of it is family owned. If Mike is the sole heir, he's going to be a very rich young man," Mr. Broman said.
"Wow. I guess that answers that question."
They rejoined Mike and Mrs. Broman. Matt packed, made his telephone calls, and they left quickly.
* * *
The trip was fast and uneventful, with Mr. Broman driving well above the speed limit. They drove to the Bromans' house for the night, with plans to go on to Mike's parents' house the next day.
His hosts were going to put Mike in a bedroom of his own, but Matt demurred, insisting that he stay in Matt's room. He also insisted that Dr. Peterson, their family doctor, be contacted to make a rare house call the next morning to check Matt out, and possibly prescribe some medication.
A few hours after supper, Matt made Mike get into swim trunks, took him down to the pool, and swam laps with him for an hour. Matt was whipped when they were finished, but Mike seemed energized and more alert.
When they got back to the room, they changed into dry clothes, and Matt checked Mike out.
"You know, we won't have time to get to a barber shop before we leave. Why don't I give you a little trim so you'll look good for the trip?" he suggested.
"OK," Mike said.
Matt put a straight backed chair in the bathroom in front of the big mirror, took out a hair cutting kit, and sat Mike down. He put a towel over his shoulders, and began to run the clippers in long, even strokes over the top of Mike's high and tight.
"How long have you been wearing a high and tight?" he asked.
"Since I was a freshman in high school. I thought I wanted to be a Marine. When I found out I was gay, I changed my career plans, but kept the hairstyle."
"I could shave your head completely, like some of the guys on the swim team," Matt suggested.
"I could shave your butt, too, but it's not gonna happen!" Mike shot back.
Matt laughed, and continued trimming and checking his work in the mirror. He shaved off the hair growing low on the back of Mike's neck, and shortened up the sides, Marine style. Then he wiped the loose hair off his face and neck, and said he was done.
Mike looked at himself in the mirror. "Good job, bud. You missed your calling."
They went to bed early. Mike awakened in the middle of the night and wept again. Matt held him until sleep overcame grief, and then counted his own blessings over and over before falling back to sleep himself.
The next morning Mike seemed lethargic and withdrawn. Dr. Peterson came to the house and talked to him, and confirmed that Mike was indeed in the beginning stages of a simple clinical depression. He prescribed a light dose of Paxil to see if Mike's system could tolerate it, reminding the Bromans that the medication wouldn't kick in right away. He asked Matt to make sure Mike took his pill every day.
Matt decided that he would follow his parents' car in his pickup for the trip down in case Mike wanted to take some of his personal things out of the family home right away. Then if Mike wanted to do so, he could put his CBR in his own pickup, and they could return in three vehicles.
When they were ready to leave, Mike walked to the truck with his head hanging down.
"I could off myself right now with no problem," he mumbled to Matt as they climbed into the pickup.
"No, no, no, no," Matt responded, scared and upset. "We're going to get through this together, one day at a time, bro," Matt said, vowing to watch Mike more closely than ever until his medication took effect.
They rode in silence for awhile, listening to some of Matt's CD's.
"Were you really close to your mom and dad," Matt asked.
"Not as close as you are to your folks, I guess" Mike said. "I was closer to my mom than anyone, though. I could talk to her about anything and everything. I never heard her say a mean word to anyone, ever, even to us kids. She supported me in everything I wanted to do. A class act. My heart is broken to lose her. But my dad wasn't around all that much when I was growing up--he worked all the time. I loved my grandma. She was a sweetheart. I got along with Kevin and Carol all right, I guess, but we never hung out a lot."
The two boys segued into talking about some of the good times they had had in high school, and some of the wilder escapades they had been involved in. They agreed that they would probably be in jail today if they had been caught by the authorities pulling some of the shit they did.
Mike used his cell phone to call his parents' house and alert the staff that they were coming and to have some rooms prepared.
They arrived in town at about five o'clock in the afternoon and had a quick supper at a nice restaurant before going to the house. It was an enormous place in the style of a French chateau, with a mansard roof, surrounded by about 100 acres of grass and trees.
A woman whom Mike introduced as Mrs. Brighton, the housekeeper, greeted them at the door. She hugged Mike with tears in her eyes. She and Mrs. Broman clicked immediately, and went off to discuss household issues that needed to be dealt with. Mike asked a male staffer to unload the Bromans' car, and helped put the luggage in the right rooms. Matt said he wanted to stay with Mike in his room, and so it was arranged.
Mr. Broman got on the phone to the Berman family lawyers at their respective homes, introduced himself, and said he would be representing Mike on the estate issues. Meetings among the attorneys were set up for the next day.
Mr. Broman then called Sacred Heart Church, which Mike identified as their family parish, and talked to the pastor about the visitation and funeral. The visitation was to be from 6 to 10 o'clock the next night at the funeral home, with the funeral mass scheduled at the church for the morning after the wake at 10 a.m.
Mike seemed very tense and yet somehow oblivious to most of what was going on around him. Back in the bedroom, Matt kneaded Mike's neck and shoulders, and they were tight. He suggested that Mike take a hot shower, and that then he would give him a rubdown before bed.
Mike agreed. He showered, and lay on the bed, face down, in his boxers. Matt found some lotion in the bathroom, and poured some on Mike's back.
Mike jumped. "Ow, you rat, that's cold!"
"Just trying to see if you're awake."
Matt's hands were very strong, and Mike groaned for the next 20 minutes as Matt worked his torso over thoroughly, front and back. When he was finished, Mike lay there like a lump, perfectly relaxed.
Matt watched TV for a few minutes, then stripped to his briefs for bed. He raised Mike up in one arm and held him while he turned down the bed with the other. Then he crawled in and pulled the covers up over both of them.
"Thank you for everything you've done for me. If it weren't for you and your parents, I'd be in deep shit. I love you very much."
"And I love you back, my bud. I'm here for you."
Mike moved over as close to Matt as he could without being too obvious, and they both slept soundly all night.
* * *
The wake and funeral went smoothly. Almost 600 people attended the visitation, which had to be extended until 11 p.m. to accommodate everyone who wanted to pay their respects. The five closed caskets were a vivid reminder of the family's terrible tragedy. Many of the employees of Berman Worldwide made a point of speaking to Mike about their personal sense of loss at the death of his father. Mike began to think more highly of his father as he began to grasp the positive impact he had had on so many lives.
Sacred Heart was packed with 700 people the next day, the funeral mass being graced by such luminaries as the city's mayor and state governor. The burial was simple, and sad.
The only jarring note in the proceedings for both Matt and Mike was when Jason Stelling, Mike's boyfriend from high school, had shown up at the wake. Mike had introduced Jason to Matt, and the three of them had talked for a bit. Jason was a freshman at a nearby college. The kid was tall and handsome, but his face was already giving clear indication that he had been burning the candle at both ends for some time. There was something about Jason that Matt just hadn't liked, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he had a past with Mike. Or so Matt told himself.
Matt knew he was right about Jason, though, when out of the clear blue sky at the wake he had asked him with a sneer if he were "Mike's latest fuck toy."
Mike had turned crimson and walked away. Matt was cool, though, and gave Jason a level stare. "You mean, like you were a couple years ago?" It was Jason's turn to blush as Matt turned on his heel and strode away. Jason was gone the next time Matt had looked around.
Mr. Broman's meetings with the Berman personal and company lawyers had gone well, and he felt he had a good grasp of the immediate decisions which would be facing Mike in the days ahead. At Mrs. Broman's suggestion, the Berman household staff were all retained until some decisions were made about the property. She suggested a three-month severance payment for each staffer should the property be sold in the immediate future, and Mike thought that sounded fair.
Mike confirmed with Mr. Broman that he could store his truck and his motorcyle in the Bromans' garage if he were to take them back with him. Matt and Mike charged the battery in Mike's truck, and it started right up. The local motorcyle dealer brought some ramps, and they loaded the CBR into the pickup and tied it down. The bike was so long, they had to secure it on an angle to make it fit in the truck bed. The two boys and a couple of staffers loaded Mike's stereo and a big screen TV, wrapped in plastic and cushioned with rubber mats, into Matt's truck, and secured a tarp over the whole load. Matt thought Mike should keep his mother's vast collection of classical music CD's and LP's, and so they put them in Matt's truck, too.
At Matt's suggestion, Mike took one personal item belonging to each one of his family members as a remembrance, as well as pictures of his family and of his grandmother in happier days.
The reading of his parents' and his grandmother's wills was carried out two days after the funeral. Mike was the sole heir to all their properties and assets, but as the family lawyer droned on, the information mostly went over his head. Mr. Broman was present, however, and secured copies of the wills before they went to probate.
With the loose ends mostly tied up for the moment, it was time for the Bromans and Mike to leave. He bid an emotional goodbye to Mrs. Brighton and the rest of the staff. Mike looked back sadly as he pulled away in his truck, realizing full well that he really had no home any more.
The three vehicles convoyed back to the Bromans' at a leisurely pace, arriving fairly late, and the boys put the two trucks in the garage for the night without unloading them.
They were both tired, and after showering, curled up in bed together and slept almost immediately.
* * *
The roomies stayed two more days before Jeff was supposed to take them back to school. They would leave on a Saturday so Jeff wouldn't miss school himself.
The afternoon of the second day, Mr. and Mrs. Broman asked Mike to join them in the library. They made small talk for a few minutes, and then Mr. Broman said that there several issues that required some discussion.
He said that the the provisions of the two wills required, by going into effect before Mike was 21 years old, that a conservator be appointed by the court to oversee the two estates following probate. He told Mike that he would be willing to take on that responsibility, at no charge to the estates, if that was Mike's wish. Mike felt relieved, and quickly agreed, with thanks.
Secondly, Mr. Broman said that state law required that in order for Mike to enter into any major contracts between ages 18 and 21, that a personal guardian needed to be appointed. He said that after discussing the matter with Matt, Jeff and Martha, that he and Mrs. Broman wanted to become his guardians, and for him to become part of their family.
Mike was stunned, and put his hands over his face to compose himself.
"I don't know what to say," he responded at last. "I'm just so overwhelmed with everything you have done for me already that. . ." He couldn't finish the sentence.
"We want to take care of you just as we would want someone to care for our kids if this happened to us," Mrs. Broman said. "Very honestly, you've grown on us. First we liked you, and then we came to love you," Mrs. Broman said. "And Matt thinks the world of you."
Mike was silent for a moment.
"Well, first I need to tell you something that may change your minds on the guardianship thing." He took a deep breath, and then just blurted it out.
Neither of them reacted, except that Mr. Broman cleared his throat.
"Mike, this is none of my business, really, but are you and Matt sleeping together?" Mr. Broman asked.
"We've slept together lots of times, but not for sex," Mike answered. "Matt is, as he once told me, 'hopelessly straight.'"
Mike thought he saw a flicker of relief in their eyes.
"Well, Mike, your sexual orientation isn't really an issue for us, but we appreciate your honesty," Mrs. Broman said. "We would very much like to have you join our family, if you can stand us. You saved our son's life last fall, without a doubt, and acting as your guardians is something we really want to do."
"Then I very much want that to happen," Mike said. "You already seem like second parents to me."
"It's settled, then," Mr. Broman said. "I'll have the papers drawn up for court, and send them down to school for you to sign and have notarized. And I'd like you to sign a power of attorney for me before you leave." He leaned over and shook Mike's hand.
He turned to his wife. "Now, my dear, if you will excuse us, I need to talk to Mike as his lawyer."
"Of course." Mrs. Broman stood and came over to Mike, and leaned down to kiss the top of his head. "We love you, Mike."
Mike stood, and embraced her. "Thank you for everything, for doing all this for me. I am so grateful I don't know what to say."
"You just said it." She left the room.
Mr. Broman pulled a yellow legal pad out of a desk drawer with a list of items written on it.
"Just a few things for now. First of all, and you probably don't know this, but your grandmother had just sold her home in Ft. Lauderdale for $1.2 million, and she and your parents had jointly purchased a penthouse at one of those highrises on South Beach for $4 million. I don't know whether or not you're interested in the property or not, but I would recommend in any case that you keep it for investment purposes. Property in South Beach is still appreciating rapidly."
"That sounds fine to me," Mike said
"Secondly," Mr. Broman continued, "I need to get some idea of what you want to do with your family home. The house and land is probably worth about $25 to $30 million."
"I've given some thought to that. I would like to make a gift of the house and property to the state for a park, provided that they are willing to name it the 'Andrew and Emily Berman Recreation Area.' I want to honor my mom and dad."
"I think that's a wonderful idea. Let me have my tax people take a look at that, too. I know you're not doing this for tax purposes, but if the law provides a tax break, you should take it."
"OK," Mike agreed.
"Lastly, at least for now, your parents owned a condominium in Snowmass, as you know. I need to know if you want to keep it, or sell it. The real estate market out there in ski country is always strong, so there's no hurry on a decision."
"I think I'd like to keep it, at least while I think about it. I've always loved that place," Mike said.
"Good. That's all the business I have for the moment. I'll need to talk with you about your stock in Berman Worldwide and about insurance settlements at some point, but that will keep for later," Mr. Broman said. He sat back and looked intently at Mike for a moment.
"You will have a lot of money after the wills are probated," he said.
"Yeah, I guess so. It really hasn't sunk in yet."
"I think I'm kind of a dinosaur in the way I believe money should be handled, Mike. The Bromans represent 'old' money, and the Bermans, 'new' money, I guess you'd say. I've had lots of time to consider what I view as the responsibilities of being rich, and I don't think much of the way those responsibilities are being carried out by most of our leaders in government and commerce today.
"I admire capitalism, and my family has benefitted from it greatly," he continued. "It unleashes more energy in society than any economic system ever known to man. But the truth is, it's a great servant, but a bad master. Without the constraints of law, custom, and a sense of community, it comes to operate like the law of the jungle--the survival of the fittest, the fittest being the strongest, most focused and most rapacious. 'Take the money and run' needs to have some brakes put on it from time to time, don't you think? Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, sir, and I agree with you," Mike said.
"Some of the worst mistakes by the rich are how we raise their children, and that's why I'm talking to you about this. I look at some of Matt's peers who come from wealth, and they are spoiled, hedonistic, lazy and corrupted in many cases. It's more their parents' fault than their own. It's sad. I don't know why your folks didn't send you away to a fancy prep school somewhere rather than keeping you in a public high school, but I can tell you why we didn't and won't send our kids away: I just don't think much of the product these places turn out. More often than not, youngsters emerge from these settings as elitists who will never do a day's work in their lives, and for whom public service is not even on the horizon.
"One of the things Mrs. Broman and I like about you, Mike, is that you're disciplined and hardworking, if your academic and athletic records mean anything. Yes, I had you checked out before we decided to bring you into our family."
Mike looked surprised, but said nothing.
"I'm getting to my point. We're scared to death of our own kids in this country today, and for good reason," Mr. Broman said. "As a whole, we aren't establishing relationships of mutual respect with our youngsters in which real supervision and guidance by parents can take place.
"That's not a mistake Mrs. Broman and I have made with Matt, Jeff and Martha, and although it's pretty late in the game, we're not going to make that mistake with you. I intend to work with you collaboratively in deciding how your money is going to be used until you reach 21, but once I make a decision on issues, very frankly, that's it. You're not going to go on any wild spending sprees while you're under my supervision, even if it is your money. If that sits all right with you, we'll proceed."
"Yes, sir, I agree," Mike said.
"One last thing. I want you and Matt to be thinking about what kind of work you want to do this coming summer. I don't care whether it's physical or mental, I want both of you to to find a job. You'll have two weeks after school is out to play around, and then I want you working. There will be no sitting around the pool on your asses all summer for you two!"
"That sounds fine to me, Mr. Broman."
"Now, before I let you go, I want to know how you're feeling mentally and physically, Mike."
"Physically, I'm fine, I think. Mentally, I'm feeling low, as you might expect. But the medication Dr. Peterson gave me seems to be helping, so I'm going to make it, thanks to you guys."
"You've had a terrible shock. Any of us would be in trouble if we had been on the receiving end of a blow like this. You're a tough kid, though, and you're going to make it. You're our tough kid now."
They stood and embraced. As Mike had seen Matt do so many time, he kissed Mr. Broman on the cheek, and the man hugged him harder.
Mike went upstairs to the bedroom, saw Matt napping on a couch, and slammed the bedroom door to wake him up. Then he did a little dance at the door, and ran over and jumped on Matt, full length, and held him down.
"Ow, get off me, you dufus!" Matt yelled.
"Get used to it, studly. I'm really your bro now, and your suffering has just begun! You knew what your folks were going to say to me, and you didn't give me a clue. Now I'm going to make your life miserable!"
"My life has been miserable ever since I met you, you little twerp. Prepare to die!" Using his superior strength, he raised Mike straight up in the air, dumped him gently on the floor, and sat astride him. He held both of his victim's wrists in one hand, pulled Mike's T-shirt up with the other hand, and began to tickle him.
"Quit it, you perv!" Mike said. "You're giving me a woody."
"Shoot, I didn't know that pitiful little thing you call a penis could get an erection!" Matt tickled him some more, and then jumped up and ran around to the other side of the couch.
Mike lay there on the floor with his pants tented up, and Matt pointed at him, laughing derisively.
That night in bed, Matt pulled Mike over close to him, massaged the back of his neck, and rubbed his chest.
"You're my bro, Mikey, you're my bro!" He kissed Mike on the side of his head.
Mike went to sleep with a big smile on his face, feeling settled and content for the first time in many days.
END OF PART 2