Curtis Pennington's face was pale as he stood up behind the desk in his office, but he offered his hand to his two visitors and was cordial when he spoke. He was tall, not too many inches shy of David's 6'4", and handsome. His blond hair was a little on the long side, and he was wearing khaki pants and a long-sleeved white shirt with a Dilbert tie.
"I always knew this day would come," he told David and Matt, looking resigned. "I thought I'd be ready, but I'm not. Not really."
"We didn't come here to make you feel uncomfortable, believe me," Matt tried to reassure him. "If we can just have a few minutes of your time..."
"I really don't want to talk about family here at work," Curt said. "Are you guys free for dinner tonight?"
Matt and David looked at each other.
"Yes," David said.
Curt sat down and scribbled something on a pad of paper, tore the sheet off, and handed it to Matt.
"Here's our address," Curt said. "We live right here in the Castro. Uh, I may as well give you a heads-up right now--I'm gay, and I have a partner. You'll meet him tonight, if you come over."
"Not a problem for us," David said, glancing at Matt. "We'll look forward to seeing you both tonight."
"6:00," Curt said, seemingly a little relieved as he stood up again and shook hands again with his visitors. "We don't usually eat that early, but it'll give us plenty of time to talk."
"Can we bring something?" Matt asked.
"Nope," Curt said. "We're all set. See ya later."
He watched the two of them leave his office, and when they were out of sight, reached for the telephone. He punched in a number, and a male voice answered.
"Mark, we're busted," Curt said. "I just had two visitors from Chicago in my office."
* * *
David and Matt found their way back out of the flower shop and wandered down the street to their car.
"Well, at least he didn't throw us out," David said of Curt, glancing over at Matt.
"Yeah. That's a good sign, I guess," Matt said. "I still don't have a clue what might have caused Curt's estrangement from his family, do you?"
"Nope. But I guess we'll find out tonight."
"Yep." Matt glanced at his watch. "It's gonna be noon before long," he told David. "How about we hit the Wharf for lunch? On me."
"On you? At the Wharf? Are you sure you can afford me, dude? I'm feelin' a mite peckish! Really, really hungry! And for seafood, too."
"That's gooood! You ain't nothin' but skin and bones, y'know," Matt grumped. "We gotta fatten up your skinny ass so Martha has more to hold on to."
"Don't go there," David said, grinning. "Anyway, how do you know my butt's skinny?"
"You've looked at my butt?" David demanded.
"I guess so. Let's just say I've seen it."
"You're a butt man? I assume Mike knows about this?"
Matt laughed, and pulled the tall priest into a brief, one-armed hug as they walked along side by side.
"Mike knows all! It's a pre-requisite for becoming a doctor, he tells me."
It was David's turn to laugh.
They reached the car. Matt clicked the key fob twice, and the doors unlocked. He tossed the keys to David, who caught them deftly.
"You drive for a change."
" 'K," David said. He walked around the car and climbed behind the wheel, his knees bent almost up to his chest after he got in. Reaching down, he hit the seat button and moved the driver's seat back. Wa-a-ay back. Starting the car and putting on the left blinker, David pulled out into traffic, heading out of the Castro toward Market Street.
"We've never talked about your personal situation, y'know," Matt said as they rode along.
"What situation is that?"
"Well, you're alone and unmarried."
"Isn't it kind of, uh, difficult? Not having a partner, I mean."
"You aren't asking me to talk about my sex life, are you, dude? To a stud like you? I don't believe this," David said with a grin. "Isn't that a little intrusive, even for you, you worthless piece of ...?" David stopped talking before he said something too earthy for a priest.
"Maybe a little, but it's all in the family. You're celibate, right? How do you do it?"
"I'm not celibate," David responded.
"You're not? Are you having sex with somebody?" Matt blurted out, surprised.
"Nope. I'm abstinate. There's a difference. I never took a vow of celibacy."
"Abstinate-smabstinate! Six of one, half dozen of the other. The question is, how do you do it?"
"Do what?" David asked with an innocent look, messing with Matt a little.
"Stay abstinate. Did I use the right word this time?" Matt asked, exasperated.
"Yeah, you did. But I'm not sure what you mean."
"I mean, how do you stand it? Aren't you frustrated all the time? Sexually, I mean."
David smiled indulgently. "Yeah, sometimes I'm frustrated. But if you exercise right, and love what you're doing in your life's work, and you have good friends and good relationships, and you're faithful in prayer and worship, it's endurable. I'm not saying pleasant, I'm saying endurable. Y'know, I have a lot of studying to do all the time, and I'm still learning how to be a good priest. The solitude helps me at this point in my life. I really dug having sex when I was in college, and I had a lot of it at IU before I got serious about my calling. I want to marry some day, without a doubt, and have a passel of kids. I don't suppose this is any big secret, but I love Martha totally, and I'm hoping things work out for us."
"I'm hoping so, too. You can probably tell, I love being married," Matt said, grinning. "Sex aside, it's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life."
David laughed. "You're only away from Mike for a day, and you're already horny and talking about sex. Get a grip and cool down, dude! Oops, I guess I shouldn't say, 'Get a grip,' should I?" He laughed again. "Anyway, that reminds me of a story."
"That's very thoughtful of you!" Matt said.
"I know it," David said. "There was a college seminar on 'Psychic
going on at UPenn, and the speaker decided to involve the audience.
"He first asked, 'Everyone who has ever seen a ghost, please stand up.'
"Nearly the entire audience stood up.
"He then asked, 'Everyone who has ever been in the same room as a ghost,
please remain standing.'
"About 2 dozen people were still standing.
"He then asked how many people had been within 2 feet of a ghost, and
people were still standing.
"Finally he asked, 'Anyone who has ever had SEX with a ghost, please
"Everyone sat down except this one young guy.
"When the speaker demanded to know if he had really had sex with
ghost, the guy replied, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you said GOAT.'"
"I hope that wasn't you in the story," David said.
Matt laughed again. "You're a goat!" Reaching over, he grabbed his tall friend's neck, pulled his head to the side a little, and gave him a few hard nuggies.
"Let go, dufus! You're gonna get us into an accident!"
Letting David go, Matt got a serious look on his face.
"Y'know, David, I'm pulling for you and Martha to be together," Matt said thoughtfully. "It'd be great to have you for a brother-in-law, if that's the way it works out. I hope it does. So does Mike. And Mom and Dad think of you as another son already, dude. But whatever happens with you and Martha, you're a member of our family forever. That's a given."
David looked at Matt, silent for a moment, then back at the road. "Thanks, Matt. That means a lot to me. My blood family--well, you know where I stand with them. Nowhere, to be truthful. In the hierarchy of people I care about, I love Martha and you and Mike and Jeff and Mom and Dad and everybody in the family bigtime. And I mean the whole condo family, too, when I say 'family.' I don't use the word 'love' lightly. In my family, we never used the 'L' word to each other when I was growing up. Ever. And we still don't."
"Well, get used to it," Matt said. "We say it to each other a lot. That's just the way it is."
They bumped fists, and then started talking about where they were going to eat. Finally, on Matt's recommendation, they settled on Alioto's at Fisherman's Wharf. They arrived before the usual noontime line formed, and were seated at a table by a window with a great view of the water. They each had a lobster with a salad, and a couple glasses of white wine, and everything was delicious. They weren't even close to being drunk when they left the restaurant, but they did have a little buzz on.
They decided they would go back to the Mark Hopkins, catch a few Z's, and then work out in the hotel fitness center. On the way back, David glanced over at Matt, who was driving, and saw he had a smile on his face.
"What are you smiling about?" David asked.
Back at the hotel, they turned the car over to a valet and went upstairs to their rooms. After taking a half-hour snooze, they changed into jocks, shorts and T-shirts and went downstairs. They had the fitness center to themselves again, and after doing their stretches, went on the treadmills for a two mile run. After that, Matt persuaded David to start a light workout with free weights, teaching him the clean and jerk, and the snatch, keeping the workout light. They finished up with a few minutes on stair climbers, and after toweling off, went upstairs to shower.
Matt and David struggled to keep a straight face when four slightly tipsy young women got on their elevator with them. The ladies did everything but fondle the two of them on the ride up to their floor.
"Maybe it's the pheromones," Matt told David as the two guys left the elevator on their floor and burst into laughter in the corridor to their rooms.
"Listen," Matt said once they reached their suite, "we have a few hours yet before we go to dinner. Why don't we grab a quick shower, and I'll check with the concierge to see if we can catch a fast bus tour of the city? I don't want to go back to Chicago without your seeing at least part of the city."
David agreed. Matt talked to the concierge, and found out that there was a two-hour tour of the city's highlights leaving in 20 minutes, and they went downstairs after a quick spritz. After buying tour tickets from the concierge, they were standing on the sidewalk in front of the Mark Hopkins waiting for the bus when Matt's cell phone rang.
"Yep," Matt said into the phone.
"So, how'd it go with Curt?" Mike's voice asked.
"Mikey! Are you home?"
"Nope. Still at school. What happened with Curt."
"We don't really know yet. We introduced ourselves to him at the flower shop. He invited us to dinner at his place tonight, and told us he's gay and has a partner. Then he kinda kicked us out of his office. He was friendly about it, though."
"Well, that's good, then," Mike said. "Good luck tonight."
"Thanks. How are the boys?"
"They're startin' to get pissed off. They miss you already. Why that is, I'm sure I don't know. Anyway, if you get back to the hotel before their bedtime, why don't you call 'em?"
" 'K. Even if it looks like a late night tonight, maybe I can take a minute right after we eat, and call 'em then," Matt suggested.
"That'll work. Is Father David behaving himself?"
"You know he is." Matt glanced at the priest. "But how am I supposed to hook up with some hot young stud when he's watching me like a hawk all the time?"
David laughed, and took the phone out of Matt's hand.
"How do you stand it?" he asked Mike.
"If he weren't baggin' on me all the time, I'd know something was seriously wrong," Mike said, chuckling.
David laughed. "OK, then, say 'hi' to everybody for me. Talk to ya later," David said, handing the phone back to Matt.
"I'll call," Matt said to Mike. "Tell the boys, will ya?"
"Laters. Love ya, Mike."
"You, too, Matt. Laters."
Matt broke the connection. The bus had arrived while he and Mike were talking. David and Matt gave their tickets to the driver and got on the bus, sitting about halfway back, David in the window seat. More passengers boarded, scattered here and there, filling about half the bus. On a tight touring schedule, they drove to Coit Tower, the Planetarium, City Hall, and quickly through the Wharf area noting the highlights before going back to the hotel. The tour had been better than nothing, but not by much.
It was a little after 5 p.m. by the time they arrived back at the Mark Hopkins, so Matt and David headed for their rooms and dressed quickly in golf shirts and slacks. Neither of them planned to drink heavily, but just in case, they decided to take a cab to Curt's apartment so they wouldn't have to drive under the influence.
They arrived at Curt's apartment in the Castro, in an older building that appeared to be about five stories tall and have 10 units or so, at about 6:05, only five minutes late. They went up to the top floor in an old elevator with lots of shiny brass work in it after they were buzzed in. The top floor appeared to have only one apartment on it, and they went to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a handsome six footer, well built and muscular from the looks of him, with jet-black hair, who appeared to be about 25 years old. He was casually dressed in old Levi's and a Unicef T-shirt.
"Hi," he said with a smile. "Mark Manning. Curt's partner. Common in."
"Matt Broman," Matt said, shaking Mark's hand and then nodding toward David. "This is David Howard."
"Hi, Mark. Nice to meet you," David said, also shaking hands. David noticed that Mark had a firm grip and rough, workman's hands.
"Glad you could make it," Mark said as he directed them toward the living room. "Let me tell Curt you're here. He's finishing up a few things in the kitchen. Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?"
"A beer would be great," David said.
"Me, too," Matt said.
"Glasses?" Mark inquired.
"Nope," both guys said.
"You got it," Mark said.
Matt sat down and looked around. The large living room was beautifully furnished with antique furniture, lamps and glassware. Jane Broman was an inveterate antique collector, and a quick glance told Matt that everything in the room was quality stuff. An orange tabby cat lay on top of an ornately carved bookcase and stared down smugly at the two visitors. Through a wide doorway Matt could see a dining room table set for four, with ice water already poured into gleaming crystal goblets, now beading up with condensation. A bottle of wine sat chilling in a bucket on a stand near the head of the table.
Curt walked into the living room, also casually dressed in Levi's and a T.
"Hey, guys," he said, smiling. "Thanks for coming. Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes, so have a drink and and make yourselves comfortable."
"Mark's getting us beer," David said. "What a beautiful apartment you have, Curt."
"Thanks. We bought the building a couple of years ago when the owners were preparing to convert it into condos. A lot of the tenants couldn't afford to buy their apartments, so the two of us purchased the building and kept the place rentals. We have great tenants. Most of them have lived here for years."
"Cool," Matt said, looking around the room. "And somebody has an eye for antiques, I see. Nice stuff."
"You know antiques?" Curt asked.
"Just enough to be dangerous. I've picked up a little information about them by osmosis from my mother over the years," Matt said.
"Well, Mark's the expert when it comes to antiques," Curt said. "He owns his own restoration business here in the Castro, and he's one heck of a craftsman. He can take a piece of furniture that's beat to shit and make it look like new. Or should I say, like 'old.' I love antiques."
Mark came back with a couple cold bottles of Heinekin. Reaching into a table drawer, he took out two coasters, and set the beers down on them on tables near Matt and David.
"Thank you," the two guests said.
"We've just been admiring your antiques, Mark," Matt said. "Curt says you restore them."
"Yes," Mark said. "I do. I love it. It's more like recreation than work for me. I have a shop just down the street from Curt's store."
"Outstanding!" David said admiringly. "It's pretty unusual to find a craftsman your age who knows what he's doing, Mark. We're losing all our skilled craftsmen in so many fields in this country as the old masters die off, and we're not replacing them."
Mark looked at him with renewed interest.
"I know it," Mark said. "I think about that problem every day," Mark said. "I have my eye out for recruits all the time to apprentice, but not everybody has the aptitude or interest, of course. I'm working with three young guys from the neighborhood right now who have potential, though, I think."
"It has to be pretty satisfying to know you're doing something creative to solve the problem," Matt commented.
"It is," Mark said, smiling. "I'm about to share the only insight I have about life: address one piece of furniture at a time and one apprentice at a time, and you may get somewhere. I learned that from an older guy who died a few years ago of AIDS, and who taught me almost everything I know about antiques and restoration. I bless his memory every morning when I wake up."
"Guys," Curt said, "I don't want to interrupt the flow, here, but why don't you take your beer and go on into the dining room and sit down, and I'll put dinner on the table pretty quick. We're having shrimp jumbalaya in coriander sauce. I hope you like it."
"I've been smelling it, and my mouth is watering," David said. "Maybe you'll inspire Matt to do something about his cooking skills!"
"Me?! What about you?" Matt laughed. "You ain't no Emeril."
"You need some help, Curt?" Mark asked as the four of them stood up.
"No. You can open the wine, though, babe," Curt suggested as they walked into the dining room and Curt went on into the kitchen.
Mark pointed to places at the table for David and Matt to sit as Curt went on through the dining room and into the kitchen. Mark took a corkscrew, and inserting it into the top of the bottle, turned it down into the cork until the little handles on the implement rose in the air. He squeezed the handles down, and the cork slipped out of the bottle with a little pop.
Mark smelled the cork, and smiled. "This is a pretty good Riesling." He walked around the table pouring the wine into crystal wine glasses as Matt and David downed the remainder of their beer. Then he lighted the candles in a silver candalabra.
Curt walked back into the dining room carrying a steaming glass tureen by two potholders, and placed it where he would be sitting at the head of the table. Then he returned to the kitchen, and emerged with a plate of hot garlic bread and a bowl of salad, putting them in the center of the table where everyone could reach them. He went to the kiitchen one last time for a bowl of white rice, which he put down near the shrimp tureen. He glanced at Mark and then at their two visitors.
"If it's all right, we usually offer thanks," Curt said. "It's kind of a habit I never really got out of," he added a little apologetically.
David and Matt looked at one another and smiled.
"Please do," Matt said.
The four men held hands around the table and bowed their heads.
"Father, we bless your name for all the good things we have received at your hands," Curt prayed. "We are grateful for the challenges you provide us and for the strength to meet them. We thank you for this food of which we are about to partake, and for the companions with whom we dine tonight. Bestow your grace upon each of us as we share together what you have provided, through Christ our Lord."
They sat down, and one by one passed their plates to the head of the table, where Curt ladeled out generous portions of the shrimp jumbalaya on a bed of rice.
When everyone was served and had helped themselves to salad, David inhaled the aroma of shrimp from his plate before he picked up his fork and dug in.
"I'm really hungry," he said as he took his first forkful and put it in his mouth. He chewed, and looked at Curt. "This is delicious, Curt. Thank you again for having us over tonight."
Curt smiled and nodded as he chewed a mouthful of his creation. "Not bad," he said, and took a sip of wine.
"This is great," Matt said after his first mouthful. "Will you give me the recipe before we leave tonight?"
"Sure," Curt said. "There's not much to it."
The four men ate silently for a few minutes.
"Matt, why does the name 'Broman' sound so familiar to me?" Curt asked after they had all eaten their first plate of shrimp and started on refills. He was looking more relaxed by far than he had at his shop that morning.
"My dad is a justice on the Surpreme Court."
"Yes!!" Mark said. "That's it! Matthew J. Broman, Sr. I understand from a lawyer friend of mine that your dad's decisions are renowned for upholding the freedom of individuals without diminishing the framework of government responsibility for the public good. He's reportedly pro-gay, but I don't know that for a fact." He paused a little sheepishly. "Sorry, I was pre-law at one point in my life before I found my real calling working with wood, so I get enthusiastic about people like your dad."
"Me, too," Matt said, smiling.
"Tell us something about yourselves," Curt suggested, continuing to eat..
"Well," David started after glancing at Matt, "I'm an Episcopal priest currently serving as one of your dad's curates at St. Stephen's in Chicago. I've been working with your father for several years now. I'm single, and I've been dating Matt's sister Martha, who's a junior at UPenn. I got to know Matt well when he and his partner Mike asked me to marry them and went through marriage counseling sessions with me."
Curt looked startled. "You both surprise me," he said. "First, let me apologize, Father, I didn't know you were a priest. I've been a little casual in my language, I think."
"There was no reason you'd know," David said. "And I hear worse language by far from this one"--he nodded toward Matt--"every day."
"You look tall enough to have played some basketball in school," Curt commented.
"Yes, I played a little," David admitted.
Matt snorted. "David didn't just play a little, he was on the starting five his senior year at Indiana. They won their conference, and went to the NCAA playoffs. Made it to the semi-finals. Don't be so modest, David! He answered a call to the priesthood instead of going pro."
"Well..." David said.
"A basketball playing priest," Curt said. "The kids in the St. Stephen's youth group must love having you on staff."
David laughed. "We have our moments," he admitted.
"Now, Matt, let's back up a minute," Mark said. "I have to tell you, my gaydar doesn't function very well. I never had a clue you're gay. You have a male partner, and you're married to the guy?!" he asked in astonishment. "In the Episcopal Church?"
"Yeah." Matt looked at Curt. "My partner Mike and I had had a civil ceremony in Vermont, but we and our family wanted us to be married in church. David and your dad really went to bat for the two of us to make that happen, including your dad having a confrontation with the Bishop of Chicago, I understand. We had our marriage blessed by David at a solemn high mass at St. Stephen's, with your dad singing the Gospel. The ceremony was one of the high points in my life, bar none."
"We can't be talking about the Very Rev. Curtis Pennington Rohm!" Curt questioned incredulously. "This doesn't sound like my father. He's always been the rock-ribbed theological conservative when it came to human 'deviance.' He was certainly the family disciplinarian. Rigid. He used to make me toe the line, I can tell you, old kraut that he is. What's happened to him?"
"I think 'life' has happened to him," David said. "I think he's seen the anguish of people who have been shut out of the Church for so long, whether the reason has been race or social or economic standing or sexual orientation or whatever, and that hasn't sat well with him. Somewhere along the line, he embraced the idea that above all, our God is a God of love and not just the intellect, and opened his arms and his heart to 'all sorts and conditions' of men and women. He's still conservative about many things in the Church and in society, but he's not a naysayer when it comes to trying to make God's grace available to everyone. He's an amazing man with a prodigious intellect, but that intellect is at the service of love. Your mother is brilliant as well, but she, too, is truly a compassionate person. I can't begin to tell you how much I love them both. To bring that back to the reason Matt and I are in San Francisco, losing you to the family has had a terrible impact over the years on your dad and mom. They don't mope around, but it's taken its toll on them. They've never given up hope that they would find you, y'know. I'm not telling you this to shame you in any way, Curt, but that's the way it is."
Curt sat stock-still and silent at the head of the table looking at his plate. Tears began to slip silently down his face. Mark got up from his place and went to him, bending down beside his chair with his hand on his partner's neck, giving him a kiss on the top of his head. Matt and David looked at each other and then down at the table.
"I'm all right, Mark," Curt said to his partner after a few moments. He looked over at their guests as Mark went back to his chair. "How are my brothers and my sister?" he asked quietly.
"They're good," David said. "I see them around church every Sunday. Len is engaged to be married to a very pretty, very nice girl in a few months. And your sister Anne is one beautiful young lady. I don't know John very well, but he seems to be a nice guy."
Curt put his hands over his face, resting his elbows on the table.
"Why didn't Dad come out here himself?" he asked.
"He was afraid you'd take one look at him, and throw his ass out," Matt said.
"I want to show you a letter than your dad gave Matt and me before we left Chicago," David said. He reached for his wallet and took out Father Rohm's letter and unfolded it, putting it on the table in front of Curt. "He wanted us to tell you some things, but I'm just going to let you read them for yourself."
Curt picked up the letter, and read it all, including the the "I love you," "I forgive you," and "Your supper is ready" parts, and then re-read it.
"This just blows me away, that my dad would say these things to me after all I've done," Curt said quietly, folding the letter back up. He was silent for a long time. "That's a lot of years wasted, all because I was too ashamed of what I was and what I am, a gay man, and of the things I've done, to get in touch with them. And the longer the separation has lasted, the harder it's gotten even to think about contacting them. I feel like absolute shit." He began to weep again.
"Curt, you haven't really told us what's behind this estrangement," Matt said bluntly. "Is it something you feel you can tell us?"
Curt was silent for a minute.
"Well, you came all the way out here to talk to me," he said. "I guess I owe you that much at least." He rotated his arms and showed them the insides of them. "You know what these marks are?"
"Tracks," Matt said grimly. "I knew a guy when I was in college who was addicted."
"Yep. Starting at age 13, in spite everything my parents said to me and everything they did for me, I worked my way through the whole pantheon of street drugs in Chicago until I hit heroin. When I was sufficiently 'out of it,' I thumbed my way out here to San Francisco. I mainlined for two years, pretty much in a fog while life passed me by. I stayed alive by turning tricks. It's an absolute miracle that I didn't end up with AIDS. I was fortunate enough to get arrested at one point for petty theft, and the judge gave me a choice of jail or locked rehab. I wasn't about to spend any time at Chino if I could help it, so rehab it was. You prolly know that hardcore heroin users don't usually stay clean for long, no matter how good the rehab is. I don't think I would have, either. But when I came out, God sent Mark my way, and he got me out of town and took me to Montana where he'd grown up. We holed up in a little shack about 20 miles outside of Missoula for a couple of years, doing odd jobs while I got my head straight and my life back on track, and eventually we came back to San Francisco to find jobs. We were both lucky enough to find some great mentors along the way after we got here, me in the flower business and Mark in woodworking, and that's what we're doing today. Long story short, Mark saved my worthless life, there's no doubt about that."
Mark said nothing, looking at his partner.
"Did you guys go to school at all?" David asked.
"When we came back from Montana, I finished up what I had started at UC--Berkeley and got my degree," Mark said. "Curt got his GED not too long ago, and he goes to our community college a couple nights a week, taking business classes. I think he could probably teach some of his professors a thing or two about business based on his practical experience, though. Anyway, he'll have his associate's degree next year, and we'll see where we go from there."
Matt was moved by everything he'd heard, and stood up from the table.
"Stand your ass up, Curt!" he said. When Curt rose slowly to his feet, Matt enveloped him in a hug, holding him tight and kissing his cheek.
"You guys totally amaze me," Matt told him when he let him go. "Both of you." He went down the table to Mark, who stood up a little sheepishly, and he gave him a hug and kiss, too. "You don't know how much I respect people who keep at it and keep at it until they come out winners. You guys are definitely winners."
They sat down again and Matt and Curt studied each other. It was clear that a connection had been forged.
"I haven't been in touch with my parents out of shame for what I did to them and what I did to myself," Curt admitted to Matt. "I didn't think they could ever forgive me if they knew the things I had done when I was actively using drugs, and I didn't want to lie to them. I still don't see how they can forgive me. And that's why I've used my middle name and tried to hide all these years. It's why we're in the situation we're in today."
Matt held his eye.
"Curt, I know this is none of my business, but I'm gonna ask you anyway. Have you forgiven yourself for the shit you're upset with yourself about?"
Curt started to answer him, but Matt interrupted him.
"Let me tell you why I asked. Sometimes things we've done that we know aren't right dog our steps and drag us down. Sometimes they can keep us from building and maintaining the good relationships we want with other people, and we don't even realize it. That's obviously not true when it comes to your relationship with Mark, fortunately. But sometimes our lapses can keep us from accomplishing things in life that we're fully capable of doing. They're like an electrical short circuit. I did some things in my life that I'm not particularly proud of, mishandled some things that hurt my partner Mike a lot, so I know what I'm talking about when it comes to guilt. If Mike were here, he'd confirm what I'm saying."
"I don't know what to say, Matt," Curt said. "I don't think I'm carrying around a lot of baggage at this point in my life, but I don't know..."
"Maybe you are and maybe you're not, but I'm not gonna preach atcha. That's his job," Matt laughed, pointing at David. "I'm just telling you what worked for me and Mike, and let's let it go at that. Maybe you should go to confession. It's put Mike and me back on the right track more than once."
Curt looked at Matt, grinning. "I'd have to find a priest who has about ten hours to spare, dude. Who'd have the time to hear my confession?"
Matt pointed at David again and laughed, and then glanced at his watch.
"Oh, man, I'm late," he said, unclipping his cell phone from his belt "I promised Mike I'd call the kids before they went to bed. Is it all right if I use the living room for a few minutes?"
"Sure," Mark said. "You have kids?! How'd that happen?"
"David'll tell ya," Matt said, as he hit the speed-dial on his phone and stepped into the living room.
Mike came on the line.
"Mike? It's me."
"I'd just about given up on you."
"I know. We got to talking, and it got later than I thought. Are the boys still up?"
"Yeah. I was just about to give 'em their bath and put 'em to bed." Mike obviously had the cordless phone extensions ready, and one by one Matt heard the little guys come on the line. "After you finish with the boys, I need to talk to you about something," Mike told his partner.
Matt could hear an undercurrent of stress in Mike's voice. "OK," he said.
"Daddy, where are you?" a little voice asked.
"Who wants to know?" Matt asked.
"Matthew. But we all want to know," the boy said.
"You know where I am, guys. I'm in California right now, in San Francisco. Dad will show you on the map if you ask him."
Excited, the three boys dropped the issue of his whereabouts so they could fill Matt in on school that day, Gung Fu class that evening, and the board games they had played later that night and who had won--all in meticulous detail. Matt could feel in his gut how much he missed his kids, and loved hearing what they had been up to. In return, he told them what he and Father David had been doing, and that they were having dinner with Father and Mrs. Rohm's son and his partner, and getting to know them.
"Two dads again, huh?" Kyle asked.
Matt laughed. "Yeah, two men, but they don't have any kids yet."
"They don't know what they're missing," Mike chimed in.
When the boys had wrung out the last detail of all the things they wanted to talk about, they and Matt said how much they loved one another, and one by one the kids hung up, seemingly a little pacified about their dad being away from home.
"Matt?" Mike said.
"You better sit down."
"What's the matter?" Matt asked apprehensively, sitting down on the edge of the couch.
"There's no easy way to tell you this. I don't want you to find out about it in the headlines tomorrow. I just got off the phone with Mom. Dad's had a myocardial infarction--a heart attack."
Matt sat silent, stunned, with a big lump in his throat that came out of nowhere.
"Is he alive?" Matt rasped out.
"Yes. Mom assures me it was a mild one. His prognosis is good."
"Where is he?"
"Walter Reed. He's getting good care."
"Was Mom with him when it happened?"
"No. She was still in Washington, but this happened in his office just as he was leaving to go home from the Court. She was getting ready to go back to Pennsylvania tomorrow."
"We need to be there," Matt said.
"I'll see if I can catch a flight tonight on an emergency basis. Why don't you catch the first flight to Washington you can get?"
"All right," Mike said. "I'll see you there when I see you."
" 'K. How's Mom taking it?" Matt asked.
"She's upset, naturally. But you know Mom. She's tough."
"Yeah. Tougher than any of us, probably."
"Will you explain what's going on to the boys?" Matt asked.
"Laters, then," Mike said. "Safe trip. I love you."
They hung up, and Matt remained sitting on the couch for several minutes. "Oh, God!" he said out loud, and then he began to pray silently for his dad.
When he walked back into the dining room, his face was white as a sheet. David glanced up, and knew immediately something was wrong.
"Matt?" he asked, standing up from the table.
"Dad's had a heart attack," Matt said.
"We're gonna have to go, then," David said immediately, partly to himself and partly to their hosts. Curt and Mark stood up with sympathetic looks on their faces.
"I'm so sorry..." Curt began to say.
"Thanks," Matt said, distraught. "And I'm sorry we have to run out on you like this." He stopped talking and looked at Curt. "Your own dad is waiting to hear from you. My advice to you is that you don't wait too long because...things can happen."
"You have my word I'll call," Curt said. "I'll call Mom and Dad tomorrow, I promise. And thank you, both of you, for coming out here to see us. It means the world to me...to us...that you'd do that."
"Thank you for a great dinner," David said as he put an arm across Curt's shoulders. "We really appreciate it, and we'll be in touch."
"Listen, I need to start calling the airlines," Matt said, his mind in turmoil. "And we need to call a cab to get back downtown."
"We'll take you," Mark said. "Where are you staying?"
"The Mark Hopkins," Matt told him.
"All right, let's go now. You can let the travel desk at the hotel handle your reservations while you get packed. In fact, why don't you give the desk a heads-up right now, and then let's get going." Mark stepped into the kitchen, and using the extension, called information for the hotel's number. Punching in the number, he asked the switchboard for the travel desk, and then handed the receiver over to Matt.
"David?" Matt inquired, his hand over the speaker before he started talking.
"I'm coming to Washington with you, if that's all right," the priest said.
Matt nodded, and began giving instructions to the man on the travel desk, telling him that if he couldn't get David and him on a flight to Washington, D.C., within two hours, that he should charter a plane for them.
Curt and Mark retrieved their wallets and keys from their bedroom, and the four of them left in haste, leaving the remnants of food and drink sitting on the table after blowing out the candles.
* * *
The travel clerk at the Mark Hopkins had been successful finding Matt and David a couple seats on a direct flight to Washington. Unbeknownst to the two guys, American Airlines had to bribe a couple of seatholders with cash, lodging and first class seats on a flight the next morning to get them to give up their seats on the plane. The Broman name was magic in making everything come together, but Matt hadn't known about it.
Curt and Mark had waited at the Mark Hopkins while David and Matt hastily collected their belongings and checked out, and then driven them to the airport in San Jose for their flight.
The four of them had bonded in a very short time, and for Curt, especially, it was an emotional moment when they parted with handshakes and hugs. He and Mark waited at the security check point as Matt and David almost ran down to their gate, their flight having been delayed a few minutes waiting for them to show up.
David and Matt boarded their plane, David with a wry smile on his face as they were seated in first class. They were no sooner seated and belted in than the plane was pushed back from the gate, and joined a short line of planes on the runway. Five minutes later they were airborne. It was the last flight out for Washington until the redeye the next morning.
Matt settled into his seat, closed his eyes, and soon was napping, albeit with a troubled mind. David put a hand on his shoulder about a half-hour into the flight, and wakened him.
"You've been thrashing around a little," he told him apologetically.
"I'm sorry," Matt said, straightening in his seat. "I'm upset about Dad."
"I know." David looked around and beckoned to their flight attendant.
"Yes, sir," she said.
"I'll have a Scotch, neat," he said. "Matt?"
"Make it two," Matt said.
Two little bottles of Johnny Walker Black and two glasses of ice appeared as if by magic, and a moment later the two men were sipping their drinks.
"Thank you, David," Matt said.
"I was thirsty."
"No, I mean, thank you for everything."
David remained silent, savoring his drink.
"Dad's never really taken his exercise regimen seriously, y'know," Matt ruminated. "I know I'm generalizing, but men of his generation, well, once they got away from athletics in school, despite all the publicity about the need to stay fit, many of 'em just never pushed themselves physically anymore. Mom has always ragged on Dad about getting on the treadmill every day, but he just never did it regularly. She'd make him go for walks, but when she wasn't in Washington, I know he didn't do that. Please God, let him be all right. When he heals, I'm gonna be all over him about doing what he's supposed to, I can tell you that. This heart attack isn't just his wake-up call, it's one for the whole family."
David sighed. "You're probably right about that. I won't pretend to know how you bring a Supreme Court justice into line, though."
"He's pretty stubborn and set in his ways, just like all of us are to some extent," Matt smiled. "But there's one thing about Dad. He's rational. Supremely rational, I guess you'd say. Heh. A lot like Father Rohm is, I think. Dad's gonna do the right thing from now on with a little reminder now and then."
"I hope you're right. I'm praying for him, Matt. He's in God's hands, and that's 'a good thing,' as Martha Stewart would say."
Matt drank down the rest of his Scotch, squeezed David's arm, and sat back in his seat with his eyes closed. This time he drifted off into peaceful sleep. David wasn't far behind him.
It was almost 4:00 a.m. by the time they had landed, retrieved their luggage, and took a cab to the Walter Reed Arny Medical Center. The military policeman on duty didn't want to let them on the grounds, but Matt showed them his ID and explained that he and David were coming from the West Coast. After a call to confirm that Justice Broman was a patient, he let them in. Jane Broman and and Mike were sitting in the intensive care waiting room, along with one of Justice Broman's young clerks, Damon Smith. The three of them looked haggard from lack of sleep.
"I'm so glad to see you," Jane Broman said simply as she hugged and kissed Matt and David, and they, her. Then Matt grabbed Mike, and laid a big kiss on him. Jane introduced Damon to the late arrivals.
"You look like you can use a little shuteye," Matt told Damon.
"Yeah. But the rest of your dad's clerks are going to want to know how the justice is doing when I go in, so..."
"Thanks for being here, man," Matt told him. "We appreciate it."
"The clerks appreciate your father," Damon said. "Among all the clerks who work for the various justices, those who work for Justice Broman are called 'The Lucky Ones.' It'd be hard for me to tell you how much we respect him. He makes us work hard, but he gives back more than he gets, by far. He's a teacher. Our mentor. Totally." The young guy looked sad. "I hope I'm not in the way here," he said.
"You're not. Don't worry about it," Matt said.
"Mom, are Jeff and Martha coming?" Matt asked.
"Yes. They'll be here in the morning."
"That's good," Matt said.
"Mom, I need to go in to see him," David said to Jane Broman. He pulled a little stole, white on one side and purple on the other, encased in a plastic holder, out of the pocket of his Levi's, along with an oil stock containing holy oils.
"You must have been a Boy Scout," Matt told him. "'Always prepared.'"
"That's me," David said with a grin.
"Let's go and talk to the charge nurse," Mrs. Broman said, getting up from the vinyl couch where she was sitting, taking David's arm. They walked toward the nurse's station.
"This is Justice Broman's priest, Father Howard," Jane told the nurse. "He needs to see him."
"Justice Broman is sleeping right now," a tough looking Army nurse, a woman, said to David. "Go in and sit with him, but please don't wake him unless you have to. He needs his rest."
"No, ma'm, I won't," David said. "Thanks, Mom," he told Jane. He followed the nurse into Justice Broman's cubicle, open to the hallway for easy access by the staff and for moving equipment in and out. She quickly checked out the IV's and wires on various monitor, and then went back to her station. Justice Broman lay in his bed, eyes closed, breathing softly. As was to be expected, the man looked wan and tired.
David sat down on the one plastic chair in the little room, and leaning back, studied the justice's face. It was a good face, a kind face, an intelligent face, unshaven now, peppered with a few whiskers. The priest saw Matt and Jeff and Martha clearly in the contours of that face. His mind wandering, David wondered briefly how differently he himself would have turned out if he had been blessed with a father like this man and a mother like Jane Broman, but quickly abandoned that speculation as fruitless. His thoughts drifted to Martha, how he was going to be seeing her soon, and he was glad about that. He soon joined the justice in slumbering for a few moments.
David jolted awake when he heard his name, to see Justice Broman looking down at him with a smile from his bed.
"What are you doing here?" the justice asked.
"Matt and I flew here right from San Francisco when we heard the news about you," David said.
"You were out there seeing young Curt, I take it?"
"Yes, sir. It was a good trip," David said.
They chatted briefly about his and Matt's visit to San Francisco, the outcome of which for the Rohm family made the justice very happy. Then they got down to business. David put on his stole and heard the jurist's confession, gave him a penance and absolution, and anointed him for healing.
When he was finished, he stood there for a long minute looking down solemnly at Justice Broman.
"It's such a privilege for me to minister to you," David said to the justice and smiled. "I know the doctors sometimes don't tell their patients much, but they've told the rest of us that you're doing really well. I thought you'd like to know that."
"Thank you for passing that on, David. I wasn't sure."
"I hope you have some idea how much you're loved."
"Yes. I suppose so."
"There's no supposition to it. Take how much you think you're loved by your family and admired by everybody who knows you, and multiply that by about a thousand, and you might be in the ball park," David said. "You and Mrs. Broman have raised a wonderful family. And you've created a culture of love and kindness and courage and acceptance of others in it that mows down the negatives in life and reaches out to embrace people and make them better than they are. I know that because I've been the recipient of it. I've been waiting for a chance to say this to you for a long time, and I guess this is it. One thing I've learned from you is always to grab the opportunities that present themselves to let folks know when they've done well by others. And not to be embarrassed about telling them, either."
"Now, let me bless you and get out here so you can get some rest." The priest blessed the man he had come to love and respect so much, and bent down to kiss his cheek. Then he went back to the family in the waiting room.
When they thought enough time had elapsed that their dad would have gone back to sleep, Matt and Mike went into his cubicle one at a time, just to sit beside his bed for a few minutes.
Mike snuck a look at his father's chart while he was in the cubicle, and was pleased by what he read. He sat there staring at this man, very conscious of the ties of affection which had marked their relationship almost from the first moment they had laid eyes on one another. He remembered the man's acceptance of him into the family when his blood family had been killed, his reassurances when Mike had come out to all of them, the forbearance he had shown to him and Matt as a couple when they had announced they were "together," and his care for him when he and Matt had broken up. Mike gave God thanks that this heart attack had been a warning instead of the end for this man, and his thanksgiving was accompanied by a petition asking for his dad to be healed. The justice gasped momentarily and moved restlessly in his sleep, and then he resumed breathing quietly and regularly again. After a time, Mike stood up and kissed his father's forehead gently without waking him, and left him to restful sleep.
Going back to the waiting room, Mike sat down beside his mother.
"Mom, let's make a plan. We should take shifts staying with Dad. I'll stay first. Why don't you and Matt and David go on back to your apartment and get some rest? Jeff and Martha should get here from school sometime this morning. When they do, one of them can stay for awhile and I'll come home to the apartment. How does that sound?"
"I should really stay..." Jane Broman said.
"Mike's right, Mom," Matt said. "You're exhausted, and there's no point in making yourself sick. Come on home with David and me. It would be different if Dad weren't doing so well."
"All right," Jane Broman sighed, acquiescing. "You have the phone number at the apartment just in case...?" she asked Mike.
"Yes, Mommy," Mike said, smiling. "Gotcha covered."
"Did you drive here, Mom?" Matt asked.
"Good," Matt said. "Let's hit it, then. The bed is calling."
Jane Broman stood and pulled Mike into a hug.
"I love you, sweetheart. Thank you," she said.
Mike kissed her. "Love you, too, Mom."
"Get home when you can," Matt told Mike, pulling him into a hug and kissing him. "I have a lot to tell ya."
"Yeah, right," Mike whispered in his ear. "You're just horny, that's all."
Matt grinned. "Uh huh. That, too."
Matt, his mother and David went out to the car, and taking the keys from his mother, Matt got behind the wheel. They headed toward the Watergate. On the way, breaking Matt's "no grease" rule, the three of them stopped at a fast food place and had a quick breakfast before they went home.
Matt parked at the Watergate, and David and Matt carried their luggage to the elevator and upstairs.
"You two can take the bed in the guest room," Mrs. Broman said. "I have air mattresses we can use when Jeff and Martha get here."
" 'K, Mom," Matt said.
David and Matt went into their room, opened their bags, and cleaned their teeth in their bathroom, too tired even to think about showering. Matt turned down the bed, and the two of the climbed in after stripping down to their shorts, David to his boxers, Matt to his jockeys.
"This is perfect," Matt said, getting comfortable. "Now I'll be able to say I slept with a priest."
David plopped his head down on his pillow, closing his eyes.
"Why me, Lord?!" he said.
"Because you're lucky! Heh!" Matt said, simulating a big, hollow, heavenly voice.
Two minutes later both of them were asleep.
When Matt woke up in the morning, he found he was in the middle of the queen size bed. Mike was on one side of him, out like a light, fully clothed, and David on the other. David was sound asleep, his lanky frame spooning Matt, and something big and hard was poking Matt in his butt.
Matt turned his head slowly and looked at David, who chose that moment to wake up.
"I didn't know you cared," Matt yawned. "Are you coming over to our side, or what?"
"Shutup," David said sleepily, totally unembarrassed about his erection. He turned away from Matt and went back to sleep. Matt moved over closer to Mike, put his arms around him, kissing the back of his neck, and went back to sleep himself.
Matt woke up much later when he heard a voice say, "Well, isn't this a pretty picture!"
He opened his eyes, and there was Jeff, bigger than life, grinning his ass off, standing there looking down at the three of them in the bed, with Martha standing at his side smiling.
* * *
A thousand miles away, a telephone rang in St. Stephen's Rectory in Chicago. Father Rohm swallowed the sip of coffee he had just taken, burning his throat a bit, and picked up the phone.
"Father Rohm," he said, identifying himself.
"Dad? This is Curt."
The priest sat there for a moment in stunned silence as tears began streaming down his face.
Thanks to all the faithful readers of WIO for your patience in waiting for this chapter to appear. The move to New Orleans was smooth, but my only excuse for being late with this part is that I've been preoccupied with getting settled. I hope the readers won't be too disappointed to know that there may have to be two more chapters required to tie up all the story's loose ends. I appreciated all the emails I received during this hiatus between postings.
Thanks, as always, to Chicago Eric for proofing Part 12.