Matt had somehow got it into his head that the condo family should have a group picture taken by a professional. Mike didn't have a clue why his partner thought this was so important right then. But he didn't rag on him about it even though he wasn't all that hot about the idea. So, eventually Matt had his way.
On the Monday before Chris was scheduled to fly out of Chicago on the first leg of his trip to Zurich, a photographer and his cute, young male assistant showed up at the penthouse in the late afternoon. The man and his assistant set up their equipment, including a couple of risers, in the living room because the den was all torn up from the remodeling. Matt had wanted Chris' Aunt Carole to be in the picture, but had found out from Chris that she was in Pennsylvania right then visiting Uncle Jack and Aunt Judy Hagerty. Tony and Marie Angelo were on the brink of moving home within the next few days, but were still there at the condo, so Matt insisted they pose with the family.
To avoid an insurrection from his peers by making everybody get dressed up, Matt decided that everyone could pose in his everyday clothes. Pictures were to be taken immediately after all those who were working or in school came home. So, the kids were in their St. Stephen's School uniforms, Tony was in his Chicago police captain's uniform, Josh in his state police uniform, Linda in her nurse's uniform (she'd worked a private duty case that day), Stan in a suit (he'd been out with a realtor looking at more properties for Brandon House on the near north side). Mary Bradford and Marie Angelo had insisted on getting a little dressed up by wearing a couple of their nicer dresses. Mike was in a shirt and tie and Levi's, while Matt and Chris wore their usual T's with Levi's and sneakers. Father Howard came over in his black suit and white collar. Andie, in a nice blouse and slacks, arrived all out of breath at the last minute, having been informed by Matt several days before that she was to be there, no excuses accepted. Breakers, perfectly coifed as always and happier than many of the humans to be part of the crowd at this particular moment, posed as if he knew this was important.
The photographer, a man of about 50 years old, couldn't quite figure out what the hell was going on with this bunch. But he didn't say anything and did his job, snapping a great many pictures as he varied the poses. Satisfied at last, he promised some proofs within a couple of weeks. He and his assistant started packing up the equipment as the group dispersed, with the guys in the family generally giving Matt a hard time over the whole deal. But Matt and the women were pleased.
After the pictures, Father David and Andie, who were staying for dinner, went into the living room to talk, mostly about the wedding upcoming after Andie and Jeff had graduated from college. Some of the family went to their bedrooms to get into more comfortable clothes. Matt followed Mike back to their bedroom so Mike could lose the shirt and tie. They went in, and Matt shut the door.
"I saw you lookin' at that young guy's ass," Mike told Matt laughingly, speaking of the photographer's assistant, as he took off his tie and threw it on his dresser.
"Hey, buddy, I figured I was honor bound to do it," Matt said, amused. "He was here on my nickel, and the way you pinch pennies, I knew you'd want me to get my money's worth."
"Hmmm. Our daddy warned me there were boys out there like you."
"Funny, he warned me about the same thing," Matt said. "And look what I ended up with."
"Uh huh. You're so fucking cute, sometimes I don't know fer sure what I'm gonna do with ya," Mike said, taking Matt into his arms and powering him on his back down on to their bed. Mike kissed his partner as Matt lay under him. "'Course, if I think about it for a minute, something's bound to occur to me."
"I knew I could count on you," Matt said, nuzzling Mike's face with his nose and then kissing him back softly. "I love ya even when you drive me nuts."
"When I drive you nuts!" Mike protested. "That's so rare, if ya stop and think about it, I don't know why you even mention it."
"Oh yeah? You've driven me over the edge right now, and just for that, you're gettin' a story," Matt said, reaching up and putting his arms around his partner's waist so he couldn't get away. "And you damn well better laugh it up, too. I've put in a lot of effort over the years trying to keep you amused, and I want some appreciation. And I want it now, or else!"
"We'll hafta see about that," Mike said. "You're a wrestler wimp, y'know, and wimps like you shouldn't threaten people. Then again, you're my wimp. So, lay it on me."
"It? Lay it on you? I'd love to lay it on ya. Right now! Don't tempt me! First things first, though," Matt told him. "You'll like this story. It's religious.
"A Jewish girl tells her Catholic college roommate that she's going
"The Catholic girl asks the Jewish girl, 'Is that the holiday when you
the 8 candles?'
"'No,' the Jewish girl replies. 'That's Hanukkah.'
"The Catholic girl then asks the Jewish girl, 'Is that the holiday when
eat the unleavened bread?'
"'No,' the Jewish girl replies. 'That's Passover. Rosh Hashanah
holiday when we blow the shofar.'
"'See,' the Catholic girl replies. 'That's what I like about you
Jews...you're so good to your help.'"
Matt guffawed right up into Mike's face, who couldn't help laughing, too. "Now that was good," Matt told him. "You hafta admit it."
"What if I hadn't known what a 'shofar' is?"
"You're a smart boy. I knew you'd know. Now, admit you liked the story!"
"All right!! Sheesh! You're a fucking lawyer-boy-genius-humorist! A quadruple threat! Or is that quintuple threat? Anyway, it was a good story. By the way, while I'm thinking about it, you have a nice ass." Mike ran one hand down under his partner, and gave his butt a squeeze through his pants.
"Aw, shucks," Matt said. He kissed Mike, this time giving him some tongue, as Mike raised his own body up so Matt could pull his own T-shirt off over his torso. Running one hand up his partner's chest, Mike caressed Matt's abs and pecs, tweaking first one nipple and then the other. Both guys had started to bone up when there was a knock.
"Yeah?" Mike said, craning his neck to look at the door. It opened to their three boys, standing there in their little jockey shorts and nothing else.
"What's this, a strip tease?" Mike asked them.
That was all the invitation the kids needed to run over and jump on the bed with their dads.
"We don't know what to wear," Kyle said as he and his brothers lay down on top of Mike and Matt, hugging themselves flat on top of their parents' bodies.
"Dogpile!" Mike said, describing their situation.
"Do you mean what you should wear for supper?" Matt asked the boys from the bottom of the dogpile. "Just wear what you have on."
"No-o-o-o!" Matthew protested. "It wouldn't be polite."
"It seems pretty polite to me," Mike said. "Everybody in the condo has seen you without any clothes on at all."
"That's different," Michael said. "That's when we're taking a bath!"
"What's the difference?" Mike asked.
"Maybe people don't want to see so much skin when they're eating," Kyle suggested.
Matt and Mike laughed.
"You just might be on to something there, buddy," Matt said. "Your skin looks mighty good, though. All right, let's go look in your dressers and see what's clean."
Mike reluctantly rolled himself and the boys off his partner, and Matt and the boys got up and went to the door.
"Don't wander off, Mister," Matt told Mike, looking back where the latter was sprawled on the bed, his gaze fastened on the bulge in Mike's 501's. Matt followed the three little underwear models into the hallway and then into the adjoining bedroom, where a search commenced for some outfits. He found some clean clothes for them and made sure they got dressed properly, and then sent them to play down in the foyer, to which their legos and other toys had been relegated from the den during remodeling.
Matt went back to his bedroom, locking the door behind him this time. Mike was still lying on their bed, sprawled out on his back. Matt went over and untied Mike's shoes and pulled them off along with his socks. Then he uncinched his brother's belt and unbuttoned his Levi's, yanking them off as Mike raised his butt. Boxers, shirt, and T-shirt were soon added to the pile on the floor, and Mike lay on the bed, naked as a sculpted, very handsome jaybird. A jaybird with an erection. Matt was out of his own pants and jockies a split second later, and lying down on top of Mike.
"Your body looks as buff now as the day I first saw you naked," Matt said. "Maybe more so." He put his head down on Mike's chest and smelled his skin, smiling. "But you still smell like chlorine after all those years of swimming."
"You lie!" Mike said.
"Yeah, I do. You smell good."
Mike reached up and cupped his partner's muscular ass, squeezing it. "Awesome," he said.
"I don't know about that," Matt said. Their dicks rubbed together. Raising himself a bit, Matt reached between the two of them and took Mike's erect penis in hand as it lay flat against its owner's stomach, giving it a stroke. "You're sex on a stick, bro. This is the stick."
Mike rolled his partner and himself on to their sides, and then reversed himself on the bed so he was looking right at Matt's hard dick. He studied it as it flexed slightly with every beat of Matt's heart.
"Carnivore heaven," Mike muttered after inspection, smiling as he licked the head of it. Then he plunged down on it, wrapping his lips around it and taking it deep inside him, relaxing his throat so that he didn't gag. In that instant, to the exclusion of all else, his universe narrowed to his partner and the pleasure he could give him. He had a mouthful, and it was exactly the mouthful he wanted right then more than anything else in the world.
"Don't be in a hurry, now," Matt gasped before he followed suit and inhaled his partner's tool after licking a drop of pre-cum from the slit. His throat massaged Mike's cock as they both began pumping their hips slowly, groaning at the pleasure they were each experiencing. They knew one another and what they liked so well by now in their relationship that they sensed when to bear down in giving pleasure and when to back off in order to extend the ecstasy. They licked and sucked and teased one another's balls and penises for all of 20 minutes, until their dicks were both leaking sweet pre-cum like faucets. After they got serious, Matt was the first to approach the point of no return, thrusting forcefully into Mike's mouth again and again as Mike began to reciprocate. They each pulled back to the head of his penis at the moment of orgasm, the tip of his partner's tongue pressed into the slit of his lover's cock as the semen gushed forth and filled their mouths. Their bodies slumped after release, but their dicks each stayed buried in the other's mouth until the last drops had been gleaned.
When they disengaged, Matt turned himself around without speaking. With their heads both pointed toward the foot of their bed, they kissed passionately, tongues probing, sharing their essence with each other, enjoying what they had done, and just loving each other.
"Have mercy!!" Mike gasped as he finally pulled his face back and looked into Matt's eyes.
Closing his eyes, still saying nothing, Matt pulled Mike to his body and squeezed the hell out of him before relaxing to hold him quietly. Intertwined, face to face, Mike dozed off in Matt's arms for ten minutes as Matt lay there, perfectly relaxed and at peace, studying his partner's handsome face. Finally Mike began to stir again.
"Thanks, babe," Mike whispered. "That was outstanding."
"I don't even know what to tell ya, Mike," Matt said thoughtfully. "Sex with you still blows my mind. Since Day One it's been that way. It takes all my words away and leaves me stupid!" He laughed. "Exhilarated, but stupid."
Mike chuckled softly, borrowing Matt's trick and gently caressing his partner's brown hair back off his forehead. "You're a gift, buddy. Every day you're a gift to me. Gettin' off is great, y'know, but doing it with somebody you love is, what? I think I wanna say it's 'reaffirming.' It just makes me know all over again that I'm in the right relationship with the right person, and that makes me damn happy."
"What brought that on?" Matt asked, smiling at his partner.
"You did, I guess. Sometimes it just hits me what we have together, and how lucky we are, and I have to say it to you, that's all. So many people have to make a shitload of sacrifices to keep their relationship positive, y'know. Making sacrifices is sometimes essential, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. But I suspect that if one partner thinks he is sacrificing more than the other partner, there's bound to be some resentment. And that has to be dealt with. That can take a lot of energy.
"Since we got back together, we've never had to struggle much with issues in our relationship," Mike continued. "Other than our tiff over your keeping secrets from me back when you were stabbed, it seems as if you and I have always pretty much wanted the same things and wanted to do things the same way. We've always agreed on how the kids should be raised. We've always wanted to reach out and be hospitable to people and help people, and of course we've been fortunate enough to have had the resources to do that. We've always valued a good education and we've worked at it. We appreciate the same qualities in friends, and look for the people who have those qualities. Our political and religious views are pretty much the same. For whatever reason, we've always been on the same page. I'm a lucky duck. There's enough conflict out there in the world without having to deal with it in your most important relationship. And we haven't had to. I feel good about that. And thankful. Opposites may attract, but what can I tell you? We've had it good."
Matt nodded slowly in agreement, smiling. "Is that it?"
"Nope. You also have great pecs, a big dick and a beautiful ass."
Matt laughed, and pulled Mike closer to himself.
After a few more minutes in each other's arms, they got up and took a quick shower together. Reluctant to leave the intimacy they felt in their bedroom, they watched each other dress slowly in their usual 501's and T's, and then walked down the hall together to find the rest of the family. They passed Chris' room, and looking in, saw Chris lying on the bed and Josh sitting in an easy chair, watching television.
"'Sup, guys?" Matt asked as he and Mike stood in the doorway.
Josh studied Matt and Mike briefly, and then looked at Chris.
"Take a good look at these two, Chris," Josh said to his buddy. "They just had sex. I can tell. Look at the glow. They have the look. And don't try to deny it, either," he told Matt and Mike.
Mike kept a perfectly straight face, and Chris remained quiet, but Matt started laughing.
"I'm not in a position to confirm or deny any suspicions you may have," Matt said. "How the fuck did you get to be such an expert so fast, anyway, Josh?" he demanded.
"Just from watching you two since I've lived here," Josh said. "This isn't exactly news, but you're pretty transparent after something special happens, and I just happen to know what that 'something special' is. I'm a cop, man. I notice shit."
"You not the only one who can read the signs, y'know!" Mike interjected. "You two have a little glow yourselves. I'd lay money on it."
Josh and Chris looked at each other a little sheepishly, and then Josh shut up as Mike and Matt had a laugh at his expense.
"Come on, guys," Matt said. "Let's go see who's in the living room."
Chris used his remote to turn off the TV, and he and Josh got up and followed Matt and Mike into the hall.
"I'll catch up with you guys in a minute," Mike told them. "I'm gonna see if Grandma Bradford needs any help in the kitchen."
Mary was at the stove checking on a huge pot of chicken that had been stewing for quite a while. Mike walked up behind her and gave her a big hug, reaching around and kissing her cheek.
"Hi, Mike," Mary said, smiling. "You're such a sweetheart."
"Hmmmm. Try to convince Matt of that, will ya?"
"Oh, I think he knows. You don't have any worries on that score."
"I know," Mike said, grinning. "I'm just kiddin'. Anyway, do you need some help?"
"Sure. That's an offer I never turn down," Mary said. "Will you get the lettuce and tomatoes and green peppers out of the refrigerator and make a salad?"
Mike nodded, went to the fridge, and began pulling vegetables out of the crisper, his mouth watering at the smell of three newly baked apple pies now cooling on the sideboard.
"I've been wanting to talk to you," he said to Mary conversationally.
"I'm all ears."
"Well, I was thinking we should get somebody in here to do some of the cooking and give you a break." Mike washed all the vegetables in the sink before he started pulling leaves off two heads of lettuce and taking a chef's knife to the tomatoes and peppers.
"Are you tired of my cooking?"
"No, Mom. I knew you were going to say that, but don't think that for a minute. My gosh, you've taken such good care of us, and I don't know how we can ever thank you! I just think it's time you have a chance to sit down and relax with a glass of wine and have a little conversation before dinner with the rest of us instead of working so hard every darn night."
"I love taking care of the family like this, Mike, and a little work never killed anybody. It's my contribution, and I love doing it."
"I know you do, and it's really appreciated, I want you to know that." He paused. "Why don't we do this?" Mike asked, getting into negotiating mode. "What if we start by having someone come in three times a week for starters. You can continue to set up all the menus and supervise the kitchen, of course, if you want to. I'll leave who does the shopping up to you. Does that sound appealing at all."
Marie Angelo came into the kitchen just then with a glass of Zinfandel for Mary.
"I brought you something," Marie said to Mary. "Need any help?" She looked at Mike and Mary curiously. "Er, am I interrupting something?"
"Hi, Marie," Mike said. "No, we're done."
"Mike, I'll think about it," Mary said.
"You're not mad at me, are you?" Mike asked, finishing up the salad and turning to look at her.
"Hon, I could never be angry at you. I hope you know that."
Mike went to her and again took her into his arms, kissing her cheek. "There's only one of you, Mom. Now, do you want me to set the table?"
"I'll do that, Mike," Marie said. "Why don't you go visit with the gang for awhile. Mary and I are going to get a little buzz on with this wine." The two women clinked their glasses and took a sip of wine. "We'll call you when supper's ready," Marie added.
"Kickin' me out, huh?" Mike said. He smiled at Marie and Mary, and left, walked to the living room.
Tony Angelo, Andie, Matt and Father David were sitting in a cluster, talking about the hapless Chicago Bears and their season thus far. They'd just recently lost to Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. No one was crying, but they might as well have been. It was not a happy discussion.
Josh and Chris were standing at one of the huge living room windows, looking out over a partially frozen lake and having what looked like a serious talk. Josh saw Mike come in, and beckoned to him. He walked over to them.
"We could use your advice," Chris said.
"I'm loaded with it," Mike said, grinning. "Shoot."
"I want to tell the family after we eat tonight that Josh and I love each other, and that we're partners," Chris said. "Josh isn't so sure that this is the right time. What do you think?"
Mike looked at Josh. "You're not ready yet, huh?" he asked.
Josh looked down at the carpet. "I've been hiding for a long time. This is really hard for me. I've wanted this relationship with Chris since we were kids. I told Chris when we had dinner out together the other night that we should do this, but now I'm having second thoughts because of how Tony may react. He had a tough time accepting you and Matt as a gay couple, Mike. I don't know what he's gonna say about Chris and me, y'know."
"Well, I think he's gonna be happy for you guys and wish you all the best, Josh," Mike said. "You both walk on water as far as he's concerned. He thinks of you like sons, man. Of course, there aren't any guarantees. So I don't know what to tell ya. But I guess if you're both not comfortable with coming out at this point, I wouldn't do it."
Josh and Chris locked eyes for a long moment until Josh broke the silence.
"All right, Chris, let's go ahead, then. I doubt if there's gonna be any better time. I know that. I kinda want people to know about us before you leave for Switzerland, anyway."
"Cool!" Chris said, looking pleased and giving Josh a hug and kiss on the cheek. "Let's just go with it and see what happens."
"Good," Mike said, smiling.
"Mike, I have another question," Chris said.
"I was wondering if you would have any objections if I stopped on my way to Zurich and spent a day with your mom and dad in Pennsylvania. I'm flying out of Newark to Switzerland. But I'd really like to see 'em. I haven't called them about it or anything, so if you don't want me to, it'll be OK."
"Of course I want you to, Chris," Mike said. "I should kick your ass for even thinking I wouldn't want you to. They love you. Don't ever forget that. Dad enjoys the heck out of being home, but he's a real 'people-person.' Mom works in her workshop a lot, and he probably could use more company along about now. Anyway, you haven't had a real day off since you healed up from your wounds. Why don't you stay there a couple of days. Getting to Zurich a day or two late isn't going to make any difference."
"Well, thanks," Chris said. "Aunt Carole and your mom and dad are the closest thing to parents I have."
"Why don't we call home after supper?" Mike suggested. "Aunt Carole is out East with Aunt Judy and Uncle Jack anyway, so let's ask Mom and Dad to have Judy bring Carole to their house for a day or so, and you can all have some quality time together."
"That's a great idea!" Chris said. "I need to tell Aunt Carole about Josh and me, too. I hope she'll be OK with it. She's gonna hafta know sooner or later."
The three guys gave one another a dap just as Marie came in and called them to supper. Mike went out to the foyer and collected the kids. He was amused to see that the security guard on duty there was standing close to the little guys, engaged in a running dialog with them as he watched the current lego project intently. After Mike took the boys to the bathroom to wash their hands, he and the kids joined the crowd around the table in the dining room.
Matt decided to offer thanks that night.
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."
"Let us pray. Heavenly Father," he said, "of your goodness and kindness you have gathered this family together to share your bounty. We bless your name for the gifts of love and fellowship which we have received in such abundance from your hand. We are grateful, Lord, that you have preserved your servant Matthew to us all as he heals from his heart attack, and we ask for your continued care for him--our father and mentor. We also ask you to protect our brother Chris as he prepares to travel abroad on behalf of all of us to pursue new skills, and we ask that you return him to us safely when he concludes his training. Finally, Father, we rejoice that your servant Marie has recovered her health, and are grateful that we have had this opportunity to share hers and Tony's life as they have lived in our midst. May their joy be full as they return to their home. We ask that you bless this food to our use as you bless the hands which prepared it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Mike got a big grin on his face as Matt finished. "Uh, Mary, you want me to heat up the food again?" he asked. "It might have gotten cold during grace."
Matt gave him a dirty look as they all sat down, and then smiled brightly. "It's better to be long-winded in the name of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of the ungodly," he said.
"You'll be punished for bastardizing Scripture like that," Father David said. "And before you get on my case, 'bastardizing' isn't a dirty word."
"It's close enough," Matt said, laughing. "You shouldn't have said it. I'm telling Father Rohm. And maybe the bishop. They expect better."
"When I tell them how you provoke me all the time, they'll wonder how I'm so restrained," the priest said.
"Arrest him, Tony," Matt said. "They need clergy in prison."
"You're a bad man, Matt Broman," David said. "You'll be punished for this."
"Father's right," Tony Angelo said. "Matt needs rehabilitation. I'll arrest him and just pistol whip him a little on the way to central booking," he said, helping himself to some chicken after serving Marie. "When they ask me about the bruises, I'll say he fell down."
"Ow!" Matt whined. "Why are you all against me? Just because the grace was a little on the long side?"
"Don't pay any attention to these heathen, Matt," Mary advised. "Your prayer was beautiful."
"I agree," Marie said.
"You ask for all the abuse you get, Matt," Mike said, standing up to serve the kids. "You beg for it. You live for it. Be honest. You wouldn't know what to do without it."
"I would too," Matt protested. "I'd be truly happy at last. If you guys keep it up, I'm afraid I'll end up on the psychiatrist's couch."
"You'll really love the couch," Josh suggested. "It's not bad at all. I speak from experience."
"Ordinarily, I'd recommend that you take Matt aside and hear his confession, David," Mike said, "but nobody's bladder is big enough to sit there and hear him out all in one sitting."
The priest laughed and just kept eating.
After a few more comments, everybody gave Matt a break, and the conversation moved on to other subjects. Chris shared some information he had gotten from the internet about Switzerland, and the kids talked about school and how their their sessions learning Gung Fu with Master Kim were going.
After they had all finished up their dessert, some apple pie à la mode, Chris cleared his throat, and after glancing a little nervously at Josh, stood up.
"Uh, before we leave the table, Josh and I want to share some news with you." Every eye at the table was on him. "I know you're going to be surprised. Maybe shocked. But I hope you'll be as happy about this as we are." He paused and cleared his throat again. "You're our family, and Josh and I need to tell you... that we are partners. Life partners, I mean. We're going to be together permanently."
There was a stunned silence. Knowing what a difficult time Tony Russo had had with Matt's and Mike's gay relationship after they'd been outed at Matt's trial in Connecticut, everybody looked at the police captain to see how he was going to take the news. Tony stared down at his plate for a long moment before he looked up at Chris with a solemn look on his face.
"That takes guts, to tell us right out like that," he said slowly. He paused. "You guys certainly don't need my approval. You know that. But I guess I've learned a few things as I've gotten older. And one of the things I've learned is just to be thankful for love wherever we find it in this world, no matter what form it's in. It wasn't an easy lesson for me to learn. I don't pretend to understand being gay. Maybe I never will, I don't know. But I do know you two. I admire you. You're like sons to me.
"Chris," Tony continued, "you already shed your blood for this community as a police officer, and Josh, you've always been prepared to do the same. Every day that we cops hit the streets, we're at risk. Truthfully, you two are warriors, and you're worthy of respect in this world, no matter what. So, if you love each other and believe this is the right thing for you, I'm behind you one hundred percent. I just want you to be happy, and I wish you every blessing."
Marie beamed at her husband and leaned over and kissed his cheek.
Matt exhaled audibly, relieved. The dam was broken, and congratulations and best wishes showered down on Chris and Josh as people stood up from the table and flocked around them, hugging and kissing them.
"Dad, what's happening?" Michael said, looking up at Mike.
"Chris and Josh love each other, and they're going to be together. Like Dad Matt and me."
"Oh," Michael said, and joined by his two brothers, marched up to Chris and Josh with their hands outstretched for a handshake. The two policemen gravely shook hands with the boys and then, picking them up one at a time, gave them kisses which they accepted gracefully, if not enthusiastically.
Everybody got a cup of coffee, talking animatedly, and repaired to the living room. The kids went back to their legos in the foyer, and after seeing that everybody was comfortable in the living room, Mike and Matt returned to the dining room to clear the table, putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
"That went much better than it might have," Mike said, speaking of Chris' and Josh's announcement as he filled the dishwasher racks.
"I was holding my breath until Tony had his say," Matt said. "Literally." He looked at Mike. "This family's one in a million, you gotta admit that. I'm really happy for Josh and Chris. Frankly, after all these months, I didn't know whether Chris would eventually get to this point and admit his feelings for Josh, or not."
"Me, either," Mike said.
They finished up in the kitchen, and after checking again to see that everybody was still content in the living room, pulled Chris out of the crowd so they could call Matthew and Jane Broman at home in Pennsylvania. All three of them got on their own extension.
Mrs. Brighton, the Broman housekeeper, answered the telephone.
"Broman residence. Mrs. Brighton speaking."
"Mrs. Brighton, this is Mike. How are you?"
"Mike! God love you! I'm fine. How are you and Matt and the boys and everybody?"
"We're all good, Mrs. Brighton," Matt said. "How are you? Are you and Branford keeping things running around there?"
"Like clockwork," the older lady laughed. "When are we going to see you?"
"We aren't sure," Mike said. "But Chris Russo is coming your way for a day or two. Is Dad or Mom around?"
"Justice and Mrs. Broman are in the library," she said. "Just a moment, I'll put you through. It's so good to hear your voices."
"Thank you, Mrs. Brighton," Mike said. "I miss you. It's good to talk with you."
Justice and Mrs. Broman, each on an extension, picked up.
"I need some more company!" Mr. Broman said right out of the box in that deep voice of his.
"Hi, boys," Jane Broman said. "Recuperating is definitely not your dad's game! He's about to drive me crazy."
"Take that with a huge grain of salt!" the justice instructed.
The three guys laughed.
"Hi, Mom and Dad," Matt said. "Mike and Chris are on the phone with me."
"Boys, how are you?" Mrs. Broman asked.
The five of them visited for awhile, talking mostly about the kids, and then Mike got down to the point of the call.
"Dad, you'll be happy to know that Chris is leaving for Zurich on Wednesday for security training," he said.
"Good, Chris," Justice Broman said. "I think you'll find the training there very worthwhile."
"Yes, sir," Chris agreed. "I'm looking forward to it," he said, telling a little white lie. "I"ll be flying out of Newark, but if it's all right with you, I'd like to stop and see you both first."
"That's just what the doctor ordered!" Justice Broman said. "I need a trained witness to this terrible recovery regimen Jane has me on."
"Give me a break, Matthew!" Mrs. Broman said. "What's the word you boys use? Is it 'wuss?'"
"Mommy!" Matt said, laughing. "I'm shocked!"
Jane laughed. "I'm old. I get to say these things now if I want to."
"You've always been good at saying just about anything you wanted to, sweetheart," Justice Broman said, chuckling. "Anyway, Chris, you get yourself over here. Will you be flying into Philadelphia?"
"Yes, sir," Chris said.
"Good. You tell me when you're coming in, and I'll send a car for you."
"You don't need to do that," Chris protested. "I'll just grab a cab."
"Never argue with an old guy with a bad ticker," Mr. Broman kidded him. "You may put him over the edge. I'm sending a car."
"Yes, sir. All right. I'll get online and change my plane reservations right now, and I'll email you the particulars."
"Good," Justice Broman said. "We'll look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, son. Get an early flight if you can, so you'll have more time with us."
"Yes, sir. I have a lot to talk with you about."
"We're looking forward to that," Justice Broman said.
"One more thing," Mike said. "Carole Maggliozzi is still with Aunt Judy and Uncle Jack, right?"
"Yes, she is," Jane Broman said. "I just talked to Judy yesterday. They're having a great time."
"Well, do you think you could persuade Judy to bring Carole over to the house during the time Chris is there? He'd like to talk with her before he leaves the country."
"Yes," Mrs. Broman said. "I can do that. Judy's not working as many hours as she used to, so it won't be a problem. I'll take care of it."
"That would be excellent," Chris said. "I haven't been seeing Aunt Carole in Chicago as much as I should have, so we can make up for lost time. She must be feeling really well to be traveling around like this."
"She is," Justice Broman said. "And she gives you all the credit for how well she feels, Mike."
"That's a mistake," Mike said. "I just made the right referrals."
"He's a wonder-worker, Dad," Matt said, grinning. "I speak from experience."
"You might be a little prejudiced in Mike's favor, don't you think?" Justice Broman laughed.
"Yeah, I am." Matt said. "Listen, Dad, Mike and Stan and I had an appointment with the Mayor the other day, and he grilled us about how you were doing. He said he'd sent you a card. Did you get it?"
"Yes, I did. I'll call him this week if your mother lets me use the phone."
Jane Broman just sighed, and saying nothing.
The rest of the conversation was devoted to an update from Matt on Brandon House activities, and then they hung up with a final word from Chris promising to send an email about his arrival time.
"I miss them a lot," Chris told Matt and Mike as they put down their telephones.
"No lie," Mike said. "Me, too."
* * *
Mike and Matt were engrossed in studying, as usual, when 8 p.m. rolled around. They had taken a break about then to bathe the boys, and the experience had been wetter than usual. The kids were smart enough to know just how far they could push the horseplay when their dads put them in the tub, and had decided that it was the right night to expand the horseplay horizons. All five of them had ended up soaked and pretty happy about it, and Mike had had to get the mop and bucket from the kitchen closet so water didn't pour out of the boys' bathroom into their bedroom.
"You're spawn of the devil," Mike told the kids as he laughingly mopped up the flood. The three kids had "pushing his buttons" down to a science. They owned his heart, and they knew it.
"What's spawn?" Michael asked.
"Newly hatched offspring," Mike said.
"Well," Kyle observed to Mike, "if we're offspring of the devil, then what does that make you, Dad?"
Matt laughed his ass off. "G-o-o-d point, Kyle," he said. "What does that make you, Dad Mike?"
Mike shook his head ruefully and just kept mopping.
Their dads dried the boys off, watched them clean their teeth, put them in their PJ's, then heard their prayers. Tucking them into bed, they kissed them goodnight, told them they loved them, and shut off the overhead light. The small night light threw ghostly but strangely comforting shadows around the room as the little guys lay quietly in their beds and prepared to sleep. Matt and Mike slipped out and were soon back at the books after changing into dry gym shorts.
About midnight, Matt threw a pencil at his partner, bouncing it off his shoulder.
"What?" Mike demanded.
"Let's go to bed," Matt said.
"Let me guess. You're all charged up again," Mike said.
"Not necessarily. But that reminds me of a story."
Mike dropped his head down on to his open book. "Why me, Lord? I've done absolutely nothing in my life to deserve this torment!" he wailed. "Absolutely nothing."
"Neither did Job, dude," Matt reminded him, getting up and walking up behind Mike's chair, putting his arms around him and resting his chin on top of Mike's head. "So, just listen up.
"A young whippersnapper like yourself goes into a bar and picks up a
After a night of drinking and dancing they go back to his place. She unzips his fly
and starts playing with his dick.
"'Wow,' he says, 'you handle that so well....'
"'I should,' she replies. 'I used to have one just like it ...
Mike laughed and shut off his study lamp. "You're gonna put me in humor psychosis if you keep this up," he said.
They went into the bathroom, and after their nighttime ablutions, they stripped and climbed into bed together. They didn't have sex. They just held each other wordlessly until they fell asleep.
Down the hall, Chris and Josh were still awake after having made vigorous and very satisfying love several times. Chris had for the first time penetrated Josh's body, and he pulled his partner close.
"For being so patient with me," Chris said. "For waiting for me to know my own mind instead of looking for somebody else to care for. I love you so much, man. I wish I had better words."
Josh was silent for a moment, lying quietly in Chris' arms.
"That's the first time you've ever told me specifically that you love me," he said, kissing Chris' chest. "Since we've been 'physical,' I mean. It means a lot to me to hear that, Chris. I love you, too, and I'm really happy about 'us.'"
"Well, I told you I was confused about my sexuality when we talked at Manucci's, remember? I'm not confused any more, and I wanted you to know how I feel about you. For real."
Josh's only response was to bury his face in Chris' chest.
"Josh, will you marry me?" Chris asked out of the blue.
Josh was stunned and silent. He finally recovered his voice, and looked Chris in the face.
"In a split second," he said. "But I doubt if we'll find a Roman Catholic priest who will bless our relationship."
"No," Chris said. "Probably not. I understand the cardinal has really tightened things up since all the scandals in the priesthood over child molestation came out. But I think Father David might bless our partnership if we're willing to go through whatever the Episcopal equivalent of pre-Cana is. Would you be willing to do that?"
"Absolutely," Josh said.
"Thank you, Josh. Let's consider ourselves engaged, then. I'm going to ask Mrs. Broman to make our wedding rings, if that's all right with you." Chris laughed. "They'll be butch, don't worry."
"OK, then," Josh chuckled. "No pansy wedding rings for us."
They lapsed into contented silence as they lay as close together as they could get, and before long they, too, were sleeping peacefully.
* * *
Justice Broman was as good as his word. A limo driver in his black suit and chauffeur's cap was waiting at the curb for Chris after his plane landed in Philadelphia. The man was holding a big sign with "Russo" printed on it. Chris handed him his suitcase and garment bag, and then got in the front seat with him so they could talk during the long ride to the Broman estate.
Earlier that morning, the Chicago condo runners had all been out on the beach at the usual time for their run. After cleaning up and grabbing a quick breakfast, everybody had bid Chris goodbye in the foyer, including the kids, who weren't a bit happy that their friend was leaving them for a month. Then Josh, in his uniform, had driven Chris to O'Hare in his State Police cruiser. He had parked at the curb, and waving a greeting to the Chicago cop on duty there specifically to keep people from parking at the curb, had walked Chris to the security checkpoint in the terminal.
"Starting tomorrow, I'm using up my accumulated leave so I can be at the condo all during the time you're gone," Josh had told his partner. "And I'm resigning from the State Police, effective the end of the month, and taking the job you offered me with the Bromans, if it's still open."
He had caught Chris by surprise. "You know it's still open, man. You're positive this is what you want?"
"Yep," Josh said. "Then I'll join the State Police reserve, like you did."
"Cool!" Chris had said. "I'm gonna look forward to workin' with ya, bud." He'd grinned. "In more ways than one. Heh."
They had reached the security check point.
"I don't like this, sayin' goodbye," Josh had said, putting on his emotionless, tough cop face. "Not at all."
"I know." Chris had put down his bag and garment bag and turned to his partner, expressionless. All the anguish had been inside. "I'll be home soon. I'm gonna miss the hell outta you, though. I hope you know that."
"Yeah, I do. Take care." Josh had drawn him into a hug. "I love you," he'd whispered.
"Back atcha," Chris had said, and picking up his luggage and turning, he'd begun his trek down to the gate.
Josh had watched him until Chris went around a corner and could be seen no more, and then he'd headed out for work. He had an empty feeling in his gut that he'd suspected was going to be his constant companion over the next month.
Chris had read for a while during the flight, and then dozed off, coming to only when the flight attendant had awakened him to tighten his seat belt for the landing. He woke up thinking about Josh, how much he loved the man and how much he enjoyed touching his body. He had struggled to shift his thoughts elsewhere when he felt himself boning up in his Levi's like an adolescent kid fixating on forbidden images.
On the way to the Broman estate, he and the chauffeur talked sports. The Eagles were tough, and had had a pretty good season. Chris couldn't help wondering what his driver's reaction would be if he knew he was sitting next to a bona fide fruit. Chris looked down at his hands, neatly folded in his lap as they drove along, and reflected on the fact that these seemingly innocent, masculine-looking digits had been all over Josh's hard body as they had made love the previous night. These hands, these fingers, had given great pleasure to his partner and been instruments of receiving the same. He wondered how he was going to get through the month without touching the man he loved so much. His world had only just exploded in love and joy, and now, at least in the short term, that world was closing in on him again. He was destined to be solitary for a while, and hated the thought of it.
Chris shook his head and tried again to focus on what the driver was saying and make replies that made sense. After an hour, the high wall around the Broman estate had appeared, and they drove another few minutes until they reached the front gates, which the young cop was pleased to see were shut tight. There was an armed guard stationed inside the gates who only appeared after the driver had pushed a button on the intercom and identified himself. When the driver said "Mr. Russo," the guard tripped the switch and the gates swung slowly open and closed again after the limo pulled inside.
"Stop for a minute," Chris instructed the driver. He stepped out of the car and went over to the guard, who was stationed inside a newly built, heated little shack which was tucked back into the estate wall.
"Hello," Chris said. "I'm Chris Russo, a security man for the Bromans' sons in Chicago. This is a new setup since I was here last," he said. "Do you mind if I take a look in your shack."
"No, sir," the young guard said.
Chris poked his head inside the little building. There were three TV screens, two showing stationary pictures at vehicle level just outside the gate, and the other panning up and down the main road outside. All-way toggle switches allowed the camera angles to be adjusted, and there was a red panic button on the console as well. There were intercom switches to the gate speakers and to the main house.
"Good setup," Chris told the guard. "Your station is back far enough that even if someone did sneak up on the gate, they couldn't get a good angle to fire on you in your shack."
"Bullet-proof glass and walls, too," the guard commented laconically.
"Excellent," Chris said. "Thanks for letting me take a look."
Liking what he had seen, Chris returned to his seat in the limo, and they rolled down the long driveway toward the house. Chris found himself looking forward to setting eyes on Justice and Mrs. Broman, realizing yet again how much he had missed them.
His hosts emerged from the front door with their coats and hats on, their breath pluming in the dry, cold air as the car pulled up in front of the door. Chris reached for his wallet as they came to a stop.
"No, sir, I'm all taken care of," the driver said quickly.
Chris took a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to the guy anyway. "That's OK. Thanks for a good ride."
"Thank you, sir." The man took the bill with a smile and tucked it into his shirt pocket, popped the trunk, and went to remove Chris' bags, putting them on the front walk with the garment bag draped over the suitcase. The driver got back in the car and pulled away with a farewell wave.
Meanwhile, Chris engulfed Mrs. Broman in his arms. When he let go, she pulled his face down to her level and kissed him soundly.
"Sweetheart, we're so glad to see you!" she told the young cop.
Then Justice Broman took his turn, hugging the young cop and kissing his cheek.
"Chris, you're a sight for sore eyes, son!" the jurist said.
"I've missed you both," Chris said, telling the simple truth. "Thank you for letting me come see you."
Branford came out of the front door and picked up Chris' suitcase and garment bag. "Good morning, Mr. Chris," he said in his clipped, English accent. "It's a pleasure to see you again, sir."
"Thank you, Branford, it's good to see you."
They stepped into the front hall, and Branford made off with Chris' bags. Mrs. Brighton was there, and greeted him warmly. Then she took his and the Bromans' coats and hung them up in a closet.
"Mrs. Brighton, we'll have coffee in the library," Mrs. Broman said.
"Right away, Mrs. Broman," the woman said, and went off toward the kitchen.
They had barely seated themselves when a maid came into the library with a silver coffee pot, creamer and sugar bowl on a silver tray, placing it on a coffee table in their midst. The fire burning in the fireplace was throwing heat into the room.
"Thank you, Julia," Jane Broman said.
"Yes, ma'm," the lady said with a smile, and left.
"Coffee, Chris?" Mrs. Broman asked.
"Yes, thank you, dear."
Mrs. Broman served them, adding sugar and cream to Justice Broman's cup, and they all sat back in their chairs and relaxed.
"Chris, it's so good to see you walking without crutches," Mr. Broman commented. "Your leg healed up well, I take it."
"Yes, sir, it did."
"What about your hand?" Mrs. Broman asked.
"Well, the doctors thought I would have some permanent disability in it from being shot in the head, as you know, but I kept exercising the hand, and I have full use of it now. I was lucky."
"Lucky and determined," Justice Broman said. "That's a winning combination."
"What about you?" Chris asked, looking at the older man. "You're looking awfully well for having had a heart attack recently."
"I'm feeling great!" Mr. Broman said. "I should be back at work right now, but Mother and the doctors won't let me."
"You can see what I've been putting up with," Jane Broman told Chris, laughing. "Thank goodness you're here to take some of the heat off me."
"Yes, ma'm," Chris said, smiling. "I'll do what I can."
"How's the Chicago branch of the family really doing?" Mrs. Broman asked their guest. "I supposedly hear all the news when we talk on the phone, but I'm not sure they tell me everything."
"Everybody's great. Really. Matt and Mike are working hard in school, but that's nothing new. I swear that the kids grow an inch a day. They're sharp as little tacks, too. I love 'em to death," Chris said, "and so does everybody else. Mary is still cooking all the evening meals, although I think Mike has a plan to give her some respite. She's full of pep, though. Marie Angelo is all healed up, and she and Tony are moving home today. Andie has been around the condo a lot, and the kids are nuts about her. Who would think that such a diverse group of people could live together and get along as well as we all do?"
"You didn't mention Josh," Matthew Broman pointed out.
"Uh, well, I have a lot to tell you about Josh," Chris said, his face flushing a bit. "Maybe a little later."
"All right. Anyway, to what do you attribute all this condo harmony?" Justice Broman asked, looking at Chris quizzically.
"Well," Chris said slowly, "first of all, I attribute it to the fact that your sons are smooth operators. Smooth and shrewd. I mean that in a good way. They know how to deal with most domestic issues in a very positive way, and I've learned a lot about how to do that from them. On the other hand, if some problem does come to a head and diplomacy won't work, they deal with issues right now, and in no uncertain terms. So a big part of it is great technique on the part of Matt and Mike. More than that, though--and I don't want this to sound sappy, but it's the truth--we all love and respect one another, starting with Matt and Mike themselves. They've always set the tone. That's the most important part of the equation, if you want to know the truth."
Justice Broman smiled. "Well, love in relationships tends to overwhelm our reaction to flaws in other people. In other words, love tells us, 'Get over it!' If that doesn't happen, our relationships just don't endure very long."
Chris smiled. "I was pretty sure the way we live in Chicago would ring a bell with you," he said. "How many places could I walk into someone's home and be greeted the way you've always greeted me. The way you've always treated me. It kind of runs in the family, doncha think?"
"You're family, Chris," Mrs. Broman said.
"Thank you. That means more to me than I can tell you. You two and Aunt Carole and the Chicago bunch are all I have when it comes to family."
"You have all of us!" Mrs. Broman said with certainty. "And speaking of Carole, she and Judy will drive over here tomorrow morning. They should be here by ten or so."
"Good. I've been missing her, and I need to talk to her."
"She and Judy have been having a good time," Justice Broman said. "An unlikely pair, but they get along like a house afire."
They continued talking about family, with Chris avoiding any discussion of the fact that Neil Anderson was still at large. Mrs. Broman finished her cup of coffee and put the empty cup and saucer back on the tray.
"Chris, will you forgive me if I excuse myself for an hour or so to do some work upstairs in my workshop?" she asked. "I have a contract for some jewelry that I need to make some progress on, or I'll lose my job."
Justice Broman snorted. "Sweetheart, without you there is no prize-winning jewelry and no company to sell it. But you go ahead if you have to. Chris can do my walk-run routine down to the front gate and back with me."
Jane Broman smiled and stood up, the two men also getting to their feet. Chris went to her and put his arms around her and kissed her.
"Thank you again for letting me visit," he said. "I really appreciate your hospitality."
"We're delighted you're here, Chris. You're a son to us."
The two men remained standing as she left the room.
"There's not another human being like that woman in this world," Justice Broman said tenderly of his wife. "I've been blessed."
"Yes, sir. I'm sure you're right about that."
Changing his mood, Justice Broman clapped his hands enthusiastically and looked at his companion. "All right! Let's get going! Did you run this morning?"
"Yes, sir. E-a-r-l-y this morning. But I want to go with you anyway."
"Good. Let's get changed. Your bag is upstairs in Jeff's old room you used at Christmas, across from Matt's and Mike's room. By the way, after watching the guys carry you up and down the stairs when you were here last Christmas, we finally broke down and installed an elevator at the back of the hall. But Jane and the doctors have decided I shouldn't use it because they want me to climb the stairs instead. For exercise. How's that for irony?"
"It's the thought that counts," Chris said, laughing as they left the library and together began to climb the huge, winding staircase to the second floor.
"See you downstairs," Justice Broman said when they reached the top. "You have a jacket and hat?"
"Yes, sir. See you in a few."
Chris went to his room, found his bags, and stripping off his travel clothes, put on a jock, T-shirt, running shorts, sweats, jacket, knit cap and gloves. He met Justice Broman, similarly attired, in the lower hall a few minutes later. They stepped out into the crystal clear, cold day, a light covering of snow blanketing the ground except where it had been removed from the driveway to the front gate.
"Nice day," Chris said cheerfully as they both started their stretches.
"Humph! I know this is heresy for someone who used to be a jock in his day," Justice Broman huffed, "but I hate exercise. I could happily sit in a chair engulfed in my own fat until the Lord took me, but no-o-o, I have obligations. So here I am. But let's not be cheerful about what we're doing, if you don't mind."
Chris laughed. "You're lucky I'm not here all the time. I'd run your ass around every day until you told me you loved it."
The older man laughed, shaking his head doubtfully.
"All right, here's the deal. I'm supposed to run and walk, run and walk. Look to your left as we go down the driveway at the trees. It's all measured off, so when you see a red ribbon on a tree, we change modes."
"Way to go," Chris said. "You've got it down to a science."
"Now if I could just hire someone to do this for me, I'd be in heaven."
Chris laughed again, and the two of them set off jogging at a good pace, not attempting to talk. When they came to the first red ribbon, they slowed and started walking, clouds of steam emanating from their noses and mouths into the cold air. Chris noticed that Mr. Broman wasn't really winded at all, though, so he was in better shape than he let on.
"Chris, you look like a happy man to me. Is it this trip to Switzerland?"
"No, not really. That's what I want to talk to you about."
"Josh told me that you and he had a good talk when you and Mrs. Broman were in Chicago for Stan and Linda's wedding."
"Yes, we did," Justice Broman said.
"He said that your talk helped him a lot, because he was feeling pretty down at the time about his feelings for me."
"If I helped, I'm glad. Josh is a fine young man, in my estimation. I think very highly of him."
"And he thinks highly of you, believe me," Chris said. "After I had moved into the condo, while I was recovering from getting shot, he eventually told me that he thought he might be gay, and that he loved me. Actually, more accurately, that he thought he was in love with me and had been since we were kids."
"You may know this, but I told him then that I didn't think I was gay, but that I cared very deeply about him, and that if it were to be any guy in the world in my special affections, he would be the one."
"Well, Josh gave me plenty of time to take stock of myself and think things through instead of his investing himself in finding someone else to love. I'm grateful for that, because I've concluded that I really am gay. He and I have...well, we've been intimate. Physically, I mean. I really do love him. I'm in love with him. I still can hardly believe it, but I really am."
Justice Broman stopped walking, and Chris stopped, too, and they faced each other.
"I'm happy for you, son. And I'm happy for Josh. He's a very good person, as you well know, and also a patient person, fortunately." The older man stopped talking, and drew his companion into a hug, kissing his cheek.
"I was pretty sure you'd be happy for us."
"I am," Justice Broman said, drawing back a little and looking Chris in the face. "I am because you've searched your heart, been honest yourself about your sexuality, and embraced your destiny instead of opting for loneliness or living a lie by dating women and marrying one. Living as a gay couple in this world isn't the easiest life, as I'm sure you know from observing some of the things Matt and Mike have been through. But people are starting to wake up to the fact that having gay people in society is a fact of life, and things are starting to improve for gays."
They released one another and resumed walking.
"I hope so," Chris said. "I don't feel so good about the shit we're going to encounter as a gay couple, and I admit I'm a little shy about admitting I'm gay, but having this man to love is going to make it all worthwhile."
"I hope you won't take this as prying, but I want to ask you something," Justice Broman said. "Answer me as honestly as you can. Sexual relationship aside, does Josh do something for your psyche, for your inner being, that no one else does?"
Chris looked down at the ground silently for a long moment as they walked along, thinking.
"Yes, sir," he said finally. "I'm not sure whether this is what you're getting at or not. Josh does do something for me that no one else does. He brings out the best in me. I already feel that I'm more myself, more of a complete person, because of our relationship. I'm not just happy in the relationship--I know I'm a better person in this relationship."
"Yes!!" Mr. Broman exclaimed. "That's exactly what I was hoping to hear you say. It's precisely the effect Mom has had on me all these years. Sure, we fuss once in a while, but looking back, whether times were tough or times were good, my relationship with her always made me a better person, or at least want to be a better person. That's 'coin of the realm' when it comes to relationships, Chris. If that's what you have with Josh, that's just excellent!"
Touched and heartened by the older man's enthusiasm, Chris looked over at his companion as the latter trudged along beside him toward the front gate of the estate, arms swinging vigorously, smiling broadly.
"Thank you for that," Chris said.
"There's our marker," Justice Broman said, pointing at another ribbon on a tree. "Time to run again."
They swung into a jog, with Chris moderating his usual faster pace to accommodate the justice. There was no conversation until they reached the next marker. The justice still wasn't breathing hard.
"Y'know, you're in better shape than you let on," Chris told Mr. Broman. "You're not breathing hard at all."
Justice Broman laughed. "You should have heard me the first week I was out here. I wheezed like a walrus in mating season."
They walked along for a moment in silence.
"Chris, I have a question for you," the justice said. "I'm prying again, and you don't have to answer me if you don't want to."
"Are Mike and Matt taking good care of you, salary-wise? I'm not asking you to give me a dollar amount, but you deserve to be paid well for what you do. And for what you're going to be doing when Brandon House and other facilities are up and running. I'm asking as much for Matt's and Mike's sake as yours, because they need to be doing right by you."
"Yes, sir, I'm being well paid," Chris said. "Have no fears on that score."
"It's not that I'm concerned that you and Josh are ultimately going to have to worry about your financial security. I can assure you that you're going to be taken good care of."
Chris looked surprised. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that Mrs. Broman and I have made financial provisions for both you and Josh in our wills. This was even before we knew you would end up together, obviously."
"I'm stunned," Chris said, and stopped walking. "This is totally unexpected. Can you explain to me why you'd do that?"
Justice Broman stopped walking, too, and the two men faced one another again.
"You don't understand, do you," Justice Broman said.
"Understand how much Matt and Mike and Jane and I respect you and admire you, Chris. And appreciate you. No, let's tell it the way it is. How much we all love you, and how much you mean to us here and to the people in that condo back in Chicago.
"I know that your dad died for this country. A hero. Your mother worked hard her whole life to give you a good home and raise you right and give you a chance in this world. I never knew your mother and father, but I admire them more than I can tell you.
"When it comes to this family," the jurist continued, "you and Josh, and Stan and Linda, and Mary Bradford, and Tony and Marie Angelo, and Father David, and Father and Alicia Rohm and their family, and Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine--well, you're all in our hearts. Very much so. I thought maybe you had a sense of that, son."
Chris lowered his head and looked at the ground as tears unexpectantly welled up and began to trickle down his face. Embarrassed by his emotions, he just shook his head.
Justice Broman put his arm around the young cop's shoulder.
"As far as the bequest goes, it's just money, boy. The love and appreciation for you because you're part of this family is what really matters," he said.
Chris wiped his eyes and looked at the jurist.
"I just don't want to take anything away from Matt and Mike and Jeff and Martha or the grandkids, that's all. I know Josh would feel the same way if he knew we were beneficiaries. I'm not sure we can accept an unearned gift like that. We haven't done anything to deserve it. The last thing I want to do is to piss off the people who have been so good to Josh and me by taking away any of the inheritance that really belongs to them."
"We're taking care of everybody who's important to us," Justice Broman said sternly. "You don't need to be concerned about depriving anybody of anything. There's more than enough to go around, I can assure you. Mary Bradford is financially very comfortable already. Our kids have all seen our wills, and they're fine with this. Matt and Jeff and Martha all have trust funds that were set up years ago, so they're not hurting, and Mike is wealthy is his own right." Justice Broman paused. "It's not their decision to make, anyway, or yours, either, for that matter."
"No, sir," Chris said, "I know it's not."
"Well, come on, then, let's get moving, here, or we're going to get chilled." They resumed walking down the long driveway in silence for a minute. "Chris, don't pay more attention to the money issue than it deserves," the jurist continued. "I've had a lot of time to read lately, and I've been intrigued by some recent research about happiness as it relates to wealth. One of the things the researchers found out, believe it or not, is that money only makes people appreciably happier when it lifts a person out of abject poverty to the next level. Getting more money when you already have some doesn't make you happier. That finding surprised me a little."
"One author said that between 20 to 50 percent of people are born with a predisposition to be happy," Justice Broman said. "The good news is that the rest of us can learn how to be happy if we work at it. But it has very little to do with how much money a person has."
"I'm surprised by that, and yet I'm not," Chris admitted.
"These researchers claim that happiness has most to do with a sense of purpose and direction in life. If a person doesn't have purpose and direction, that constitutes real poverty. Dissatisfaction with the amount of money one has arises out of a sense of scarcity that's somehow erroneously burned into the minds of all of us during the socialization process, these guys found out. The feeling of being rich or poor is relative. Having more money doesn't necessarily mean you feel rich or happy."
"If you say so," Chris said, once again smiling.
"I know. You think that the only reason I can say this is because we have a lot of money. But what the researchers say just rings true to me. The claim these psychologists make is that there are, uh, I think they said, six tools for happiness in a life that has purpose and direction. I can't remember all of them off the top of my head, but the first and most important one, they said, is appreciation for the good things and good people in your life. I remember their quote about appreciation. It 'asks for nothing and gives everything.' I know I'm kind of rambling here, but it's interesting to me that another name for the Mass is 'Eucharist,' the Greek word for 'thanksgiving.' Appreciation, in other words." Mr. Broman chuckled. "When you're old like me, you think about stuff like this, Chris."
Chris grinned. "Is all this research published in book form?"
"I'd like to read it."
"I'll get you a copy," Justice Broman said. "Or even better, you take my copy, and I'll buy another one."
"That's nice of you, sir. Thank you."
Justice Broman pointed at a nearby tree they were approaching with its red ribbon, and they began jogging again. They reached the gate, talked for a bit with the guard, and then headed back to the house in their walk-run routine, not talking much. The older man stopped his companion before they went in the front door, looking him in the face.
"Chris, I don't think this is a good time for you to go to Switzerland," Justice Broman said out of the blue. "I know I'm the one who pushed for you to get this security training, but I think you need to get back to Chicago within a couple of days, both for personal and professional reasons. First off, you're in a new relationship with Josh. It's important that you get that established on a good, solid footing. Secondly, I've been thinking--and worrying--a lot about Neil Anderson. I think you should be at the condo when and if he makes his appearance. I can't get it out of my mind that he'll be showing up soon. Really soon. But I won't call Mike about changing your plans if your heart is set on going to Zurich."
"You're sure full of surprises," Chris told the older man. "I know this may be selfish on my part, but I totally agree with you about getting back to Chicago pretty quick. For both the reasons you cited. But if you do call Mike, I'll abide by whatever he says he wants me to do."
"Fair enough," the justice said, and they went inside.
The two men showered, and met again in the library just as Mrs. Broman came downstairs from her workshop and rejoined them. Chris took the opportunity to tell her that he and Josh were now partners, and the news was accepted as painlessly and joyfully as Chris had thought it would be. She hugged and kissed the young cop, and he knew the woman's feelings were just as genuine as they seemed.
"We want to be married in church," Chris told the Bromans. "We haven't set a date yet or anything, but if you would stand in for my parents along with Aunt Carole, I'd be eternally grateful. We haven't told Josh's parents that Josh is gay or about our relationship yet. So, depending on how they take it, you could well end up standing in for all our parents, if you'd agree to do that."
Justice Broman looked at his spouse, nodding.
"We'll hope for the best when it comes to Josh's parents, Chris, but we're truly be honored to be your family, and Josh's, too, if need be," Jane Broman said. "Are your plans far enough along that you know where the wedding will be?"
"We haven't had a chance to talk to Father David, but if he agrees to counsel us and perform the ceremony, it will most likely be at St. Stephen's," Chris said.
"Excellent!" Justice Broman said. "When do you think it might be?"
"Well, it will be shortly after Easter sometime, I expect," Chris said. "Uh, Josh and I would like to commission you to make our wedding rings, Mom," Chris added. "We'll pay you for them, of course. That's definite."
"We can talk about payment later," Mrs. Broman said evasively. "But it will be such a privilege to make the rings. If you have any design ideas, we can talk about them before you leave."
"Thank you," Chris said. "We'll appreciate it so much."
"Jane, we need to call Chicago," Mr. Broman said. "I want Chris to delay his trip to Switzerland and go back home for now."
Mrs. Broman nodded. "I think that's a very good idea, dear, all things considered."
"Well, there's no time like the present, I guess. Let's see what Mike has to say." The justice rubbed his hands together, savoring the challenge of the moment, as always. He collected three portable phones from around the room, handing one to Chris and one to his wife. He punched the speed dial on his phone and it began to beep at him as the condo number was dialed.
Stan Rosinski answered.
"Dad? Is that you?"
"Yes. How are you, Stan?" Justice Broman asked.
"Good. Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, son. Mom and I are fine, and Chris is here, of course. How's Linda?" Mr. Broman asked.
"Pregnant!! Linda's pregnant. We're gonna have a baby!" Stan sounded ecstatic. "We were gonna call you tonight."
"Congratulations, dawg!" Chris said. "I take my eyes off you for one minute, and look what happens! A little Stan or Linda will be classing up the condo before we know it! When did you find out?"
"Hi, Chris. Linda told me about an hour ago," Stan said.
"That's wonderful, Stan!" Jane Broman said. "We're so happy for you, sweetheart."
"Congratulations, Stan," Justice Broman said. "You'll be great parents."
"We'll have lots of help with that, thank goodness," Stan laughed. "Anyway, do you guys want to talk to Mike and Matt?"
"Linda first, then Mike," Justice Broman said. "Then Matt, and we'll go from there. I know the kids are in school."
"Yes, they are. Mike's home for a couple of days studying for finals, but Linda's not here, Dad. The registry called a little while ago, and she just left on a private duty nursing job. And Matt's at school."
"Give Linda our love and congratulations, then," Mr. Broman said. "We'll be holding a good thought for her. Put Mike on, if you would."
"Yes, sir. Hold on. I'll get him. Love ya, Mom and Dad."
"We love you, too, Stan," Mr. Broman said. We're excited about your news. Thanks for sharing that, and again, congratulations."
"Thank you, sir."
A moment later, Mike came on the line.
"Dad? How are you?"
"Good, Mike. I wasn't sure we'd catch you at home. Mom and Chris are on the line with me."
"Hi, Mommy and Chris. Everything OK?"
"Everything's good here, hon," Jane Broman said. "We miss everybody, though. And we're thrilled about Stan's and Linda's news."
"We all are, too." Mike said. "The boys are growing up, and it's gonna be a nice change to have a baby in the house."
"It's very happy news," Justice Broman said. "God is good to us. Are you and Matt and everybody all right, son?"
"Everybody's great, Dad. Matt's still a brat." Mike laughed. "But then, you knew that wouldn't change."
Justice Broman chuckled. "We did our best with that boy, but I did know that. Listen, Mike, the reason I called is that I want to talk to you about Chris' trip to Switzerland. And let me say right off, this call is my idea, not his."
"I've been thinking about it, and I don't think this is a good time for him to go abroad."
"Two reasons. Number one, Chris needs to be spending some quality time with Josh right now, not traipsing off to Europe. I know you understand why. Secondly, he needs to be on duty at home with you guys because we're going to get some closure on this Neil Anderson thing very soon, I have a feeling, and he needs to be there. That's it, in two sentences."
"OK, Dad," Mike said. "Chris, get your ass home in a couple of days, dude. I don't really understand why, but we all miss your sorry self. And the kids were already moping around before they left for school today because you're gone."
When the conversation eventually ended, Chris hung up with a grin from ear to ear. In celebration, he taught Justice Broman how to "dap" and "high-five," and slapped palms with the man, much to Jane Broman's amusement. How many people ever get to high-five an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, Chris thought to himself.
That night at dinner, served for just the three of them in the dining room, Justice Broman tapped Chris to ask the blessing, and thanks to being put on the spot at home frequently by Matt and Mike, he could do a creditable job of it. The three of them held hands, standing at the head of the immense dining room table.
"Heavenly Father, we thank you for the food which is before us, and ask you to bless it to the use of our bodies. We are especially grateful this evening, Lord, for the kind embrace of family, all of whom help us celebrate the good things in life and endure adversity when it confronts us. Through the love of family, we know your love more perfectly. Give us grace to appreciate all that you have given us, that we may always be examples of your kindness to all mankind. We ask this through Christ our Lord."
Justice Broman seated his wife at his right, and looked at the young man approvingly as the two of them sat down. "Well done, Chris. I didn't know you were so articulate in prayer."
"Mike and Matt make us all take turns saying grace, and they won't let anybody use a canned prayer. So we have to be on our toes when it comes to praying aloud." Chris laughed. "I owe any skills I have at prayer to them, believe me."
The three of them had a wonderful meal together, meticulously served by Branford. The conversation never flagged, and after dinner they retired to the library for coffee and dessert. Chris was ever more conscious of his love for these two wonderful people and of the kindness they had unfailingly shown him.
He had a good visit with his Aunt Carole at the Bromans' the next morning after she arrived with Judy Hagerty. He told her that he was gay and in a relationship with Josh Harkness. She was surprised and initially upset, but after talking it through with Judy and with Justice and Mrs. Broman, she seemed to accept the news. She told him before he left to fly back to Chicago that she would always love him, no matter what.
* * *
After having talked on the phone with his parents and Chris, eventually Mike went back to his room and hit the books again. He was really feeling stressed and under the gun with finals coming up. Always driven when it came to his studies, he was soon re-immersed in the medical textbook in front of him. He studied straight through without a break until Matt came home from school. Matt was pumped when he heard that Linda was pregnant and Chris was coming home.
Before supper was ready, Matt stripped Mike down and gave him a deep upper body massage. The muscles in Mike's neck and back were tight as a drum when Matt started, and he really worked him over. Mike was a happy, relaxed lump when Matt was finished.
The next evening, Chris was back home in Chicago, much to everybody's satisfaction, especially Josh and the three little boys.
The Saturday following Chris' arrival home was one of those incredibly rare, warm Chicago days in the middle of Winter. So warm, in fact, that the contrast between the cold water of Lake Michigan and the warm atmosphere was sending eddies of fog rolling in off the lake. Traffic along Sheridan Road had been reduced to a crawl, and drivers were leaning on their car horns periodically out of frustration. The tinny sound of the horns dimly penetrated Mike's consciousness as he sat studying in his bedroom clad only in a T-shirt, his gym shorts and white sweat socks. Matt had been up early, had studied for awhile, napped for a few minutes, and then taken Mary Bradford grocery shopping along with Josh. Stan and Linda had gone shopping for a new suit for Stan. The three boys were riding their bikes in the foyer, and Chris was in his room, cleaning and then reloading his weapon before stashing it in its lockbox.
Unusual for him, Mike found his thoughts wandering from the medical text on the desk in front of him to the previous night in bed with Matt. They had made tender, gentle, prolonged love into the wee hours of the morning, time which transcended the cares and responsibilities of their lives and recentered them on their relationship. Matt's touch still thrilled him, body, soul and spirit, just as it had over all the years they had been together, and a deep sense of contentment radiated outward from the core of Mike's being. Beyond sex alone, Matt's basic goodness and kindness never failed simultaneously to calm and center Mike and yet transform their intimacy into a permanent high. Better than any drug, Mike thought to himself. Shaking his head and smiling, he forced his attention back to his textbook and began to read again.
From the roof of the building across Sheridan Road from the Broman condo, a scruffy, hungry, mean-spirited, out-of-sorts Neil Anderson took satisfaction in the weather as he studied the building where his target lived as best he could through the fog. The foggy conditions suited his foul mood perfectly. He could dimly see the trucks of workmen coming and going as they continued working across the street on the penthouse project, whatever it was, on their six day a week schedule.
The day before, Neil had stalked a penthouse workman who had been walking toward the Howard Street elevated train after his shift, and mugged him. He had taken the man's money, but more importantly, his identification card which all the workers wore on a cord around their necks in order to gain access to the penthouse elevator. Although muggings were rare in that particular neighborhood in Chicago, the police hadn't found any special significance in the incident.
Neil didn't look anything like the man in the ID photo he had stolen, but he knew human nature well enough to know that the security guards stationed at the condo entrance were likely to be careless by this time when it came to screening the flood of workmen who streamed in and out of the building almost every day.
The Weasel again broke into his old, still-vacant apartment in his building to cut his scraggly beard off and shave his face. Then he changed into the work clothes that he had cadged previously from a homeless shelter, and viewed the results in the mirror. He was pleased.
Going back to the elevator shack on top of the building where he had been living, Neil checked the clip of his .357 magnum pistol and chambered a round. Shoving it into the pocket of his overalls, he made his way down the back stairs to the street. Stepping briskly though the traffic on Sheridan Road, almost at a standstill from the fog, he dodged behind a tradesman's truck parked in front of the Bromans'. He opened the back doors of the truck and grabbed a short length of what appeared to be a section of decorative balustrade for the new stairway which would run from the penthouse den down to Jeff's and Andie's apartment. Then he made his way to the front door of the building.
Neither Dominic the doorman nor the security guard gave Neil a second glance as he entered the building entrance carrying the balustrade and walked to the penthouse elevator. Set during the day to operate without a swipe card, it spirited him to the top floor of the building. Stepping out of the elevator when it reached its destination, Anderson let go of the balustrade, and it clattered to the floor. He pulled his pistol, fired, and dropped the security guard on duty in the foyer in his tracks before the man even saw him.
The three boys riding their bikes in huge circles screeched to a halt, falling down, looking at the Weasel in surprise.
Anderson strode over to the clump of kids and bikes, and snatched up Kyle, holding him as a shield around his neck and midsection, gun now pressed to Kyle's temple.
"Don't move a muscle, you little fuck!" Anderson hissed into the boy's ear, and Kyle stopped squirming, his feet hanging limply down toward the ground in front of the intruder.
Anderson walked quickly to the hallway entrance leading to the bedrooms on that side of the building, and screamed, "Matt Broman, you piece of shit, get your ass out here now, or this kid is dead!!"
In his bedroom nearest the foyer, Chris reacted immediately, slamming the clip of his newly cleaned gun home, taking off the safety and peering into the hallway. He saw the Weasel holding Kyle out in front of him, gun to the boy's temple, and yelled back, "Drop the gun, Anderson, and GET ON THE GOUND! NOW! YOU DON'T STAND A CHANCE! GET ON THE GROUND!"
The intruder momentarily re-directed his magnum and squeezed off a shot in Chris' direction before putting the muzzle back to Kyle's head. The bullet smashed into the door frame of Chris' room, splintering it at head level.
"Slide your gun out on the floor and step out into the hall, cop, or the next shot goes into this kid's brain!" Neil yelled back. "I'm not kidding, asshole!"
Fear for Kyle overcame Chris' training only to give up his weapon as a last resort. He put his Baretta on the floor and gave it a kick. It slid into across the hall on the slick tile and into the wall.
"Get out here where I can see you!" Neil screamed.
Chris stepped into the hall, his hands in the air, and Anderson squeezed off a shot at him that smashed into Chris's left thigh, spinning him around and dropping him to the floor in agony, too far away to reach his gun.
Meanwhile, in the last bedroom down the hall, Mike had heard the shots. Punching the emergency code into the firearm lockbox in his room, he removed his pistol and checked to see if there was a round chambered. There was. Clutching the gun and taking a deep breath, he got a running start and slid into the hallway in his stocking feet all the way to the opposite wall. Then he hit the deck, gun aiming toward Anderson and his precious cargo.
"KYLE!" Chris shouted right then. He prayed the boy would remember how he had practiced getting away from someone holding him off the ground from behind when they had been at Kyle's grandparents the previous Christmas.
Right on cue, Kyle's right leg powered backward into Neil's crotch, just as he'd been taught, and the man gasped and dropped the boy in a heap at his feet. The intruder still had his weapon, however, and as he started to straighten up so he could to fire a round at the little boy, from the end of the hall Mike squeezed off one shot at the man's head. A small hole appeared at the peak of Anderson's forehead, and he crumpled immediately to the ground, gun still in hand.
Kyle picked himself up and then started to cry as his brothers peered around the corner of the foyer at the mayhem in the hallway.
Mike ran to Kyle, saw that he was all right, and then went to Chris, who was clutching his leg, bleeding profusely from his wound. Mike took a clean, folded, handkerchief out of his pocket, and pressed it on to Chris' leg.
"Hold this," Mike instructed Chris. He went to Anderson, kicking the man's weapon away from his body. Bending down, Mike checked Anderson's pulse. The intruder was dead.
He ran into Chris' room to use the phone. "Shots fired," he told the 911 operator He gave the address. "Officer down. Send a squad and roll the paramedics."
Putting down the phone, he walked quickly out into the foyer past Matthew and Michael, who appeared to be in shock. The security guard lay in a heap on the floor. Mike went over to him and checked for a pulse. There was none.
"Shit!" Mike said sadly.
A workman looked into the hallway from the den, where he had been working.
"Sir, go back into the den and don't come out here," Chris instructed him from where he sat, clutching his leg. "The police are on the way."
Mike walked back into the hallway and went to Chris. He sat down on the floor beside him, and putting an arm around him, he kissed the side of his head and held him.
"Don't think getting shot is gonna get you out of this family," Mike told him. He called the kids over to him and Chris, and the five of them all sat on the floor together. The kids were scared, and started crying about Chris' wound.
Mike hugged the boys to him with his free arm, kissing the top of their heads one by one.
"Kyle, I'm so proud of you," he said. "You really did well. I'm proud of all of you. Chris is gonna be all right, and we're all gonna be safe from now on. I promise."
"I'm gonna be fine, guys, don't worry," Chris told the boys through teeth gritted in pain. The handkerchief pressure pack had stanched the flow of blood somewhat, but Mike took it off and peered at the wound. The circle of blood on Chris' Levi's widened, and Mike quickly replaced his handkerchief on the leg and put Chris' hand back on it.
They heard the sound of many sirens coming together in front of the building, and two minutes later Tony Angelo and five of his officers burst out of the elevator.
Tony pointed his officers toward the two dead bodies on the floor, and went over to where Chris and his coterie were sitting on the floor.
"Jesus, Chris, where are you hit?" Tony asked, upset, but trying to conceal his anxiety. "Are the rest of you all right?" he said before Chris had a chance to answer. "How did that guy get up here?" he queried angrily, looking at the Weasel's body.
"Chris took one in the thigh, and the security man is dead," Mike said. "The rest of us are alright, Tony. I'm pretty sure Anderson snuck in here disguised as a workman."
A sergeant walked up to Tony. "They're dead, Captain," he confirmed concerning Anderson and the security guard.
"All right," Tony said. "Sergeant, get on your radio and find out where the paramedics are."
The sergeant stepped away and had just started talking into his shoulder radio when the elevator doors opened and two paramedics emerged, rolling their gurney. Mike moved himself and the boys back as the medics began examining Chris, checking his pulse and blood pressure, and putting a pressure pack on the wound. Satisfied that Chris was in no immediate danger, they put a collar around his neck and placed him on the stretcher. One of the paramedics got on his radio and filled the hospital in about the victim's gender, age, his wound, his vitals, and expected time of arrival at the emergency room.
"Where are you taking him?" Mike asked.
"Northwestern," one of the paramedics said.
"Chris, I'll be there as soon as Matt gets back to stay with the boys," Mike promised his friend.
"OK, Mike," Chris said reassuringly through his pain. "Don't worry. Everything's cool."
The paramedics rolled him on to the elevator, and in a minute they were gone.
* * *
Life for the Broman extended family in Chicago gradually returned to normal after the horror of Neil Anderson's invasion. Chris was treated at the hospital, and was released the following day to come home, on crutches yet again. As he healed, he was treated like a king by everybody, especially Josh and the little boys. He suffered no permanent damage from his wound.
Mike and Matt arranged for Kyle, Matthew and Michael to see a skilled children's counselor for many sessions over the following months to make sure that any trauma over what had transpired in the condo was handled well. The boys were amazingly resilient, and were seemingly undamaged by the violence of the events.
Matt and Mike were grateful that the people they most cared about had emerged largely unscathed by what Neil Anderson had done. Knowing that anything they did would never be enough, they made generous financial provisions for the family of the slain security guard so that his family would never be in want.
Stan supervised the construction of Brandon House for gay runaways and its subsequent operation, and the facility went on to become a model for what could be achieved on behalf of traumatized, marginalized gay runaways in an urban setting. Three additional facilities were eventually built for youth, for which security was also supervised by Chris and Josh. Stan went on to be an outstanding administrator of the facilities, and became a sought-after speaker and consultant for other projects around the country. Stan even served as a special advisor to the mayor of Chicago on services to youth.
Stan and Linda had a healthy baby girl who was immediately adored by everybody. Matthew, Michael and Kyle considered her to be under their special protection. The new arrival was named "Anna" after an aunt of Linda, and she grew up loved by all by whom she was surrounded in the condo. The couple also subsequently had a son, whom they named Stanley, Jr.
Matt graduated from law school in a ceremony at which Justice Broman was the featured speaker, and he began working for Legal Assistance on behalf of the indigent. He began to make a name for himself in the courts as a tough, respected and successful litigator on behalf of the poor in the Chicago area. Mike graduated from medical school the following year, and began his residency in pediatrics before being eventually put on staff at the University of Chicago hospital. His special rapport with children and their parents was so notable that he had to incorporate his practice and add physicians to his staff. He and his associates volunteered their time as physicians regularly at the four youth facilities that the Bromans had built.
Back in Pennsylvania, Grandma Hagerty passed away peacefully in her sleep at the assisted living facility in which she had lived for several years. Matt and Mike flew their whole extended family from Chicago home for the Solemn Requiem Mass at Old St. Paul's Church. The funeral was attended by most of the legal establishment in the Philadelphia area as well as family, and the distinguished old woman got a fine send-off. Mrs. Broman was initially upset at losing her mother, but bounced back quickly with the help and support of her family. Matt replayed the mental picture of his grandmother the last time he had seen her at the nursing facility, sitting in her chair, and he wept for her. He knew, though, that she had had a good life in which she had triumphed over many challenges, and the Requiem consoled him, as did Mike.
Josh and Chris had their marriage blessed by Father David Howard in a wonderful ceremony at St. Stephen's in which Justice and Mrs. Broman stood in for both the young men's parents along with Aunt Carole. They exchanged handsome rings designed by Mrs. Broman, as she had promised. The party afterward was memorable, and well recorded in video and still pictures. As the two young men's relationship matured, it more and more came to mirror Matt's and Mike's own deep love for each other. Josh's parents had pretty much disowned him, and had refused to attend their son's wedding.
Jeff and Andie were likewise married at St. Stephen's after they had both graduated from college, and settled into their condo below the penthouse after a second memorable wedding bash. Jeff gained acclaim with the Iowa Cubs for his exceptional skills in center field, and there was little doubt that he would make it to "the Bigs" in due time. Andie began working toward a Ph.D. in physics at Northwestern. She was pregnant within a year, but it scarcely slowed her down when it came to her graduate work.
A third marriage in the family, blessed by Father Rohm at St. Stephen's, took place when Father Howard and Martha Broman were married following her graduation from college. After they returned from their honeymoon, they took Jeff and Andie up on their offer to share the their apartment with them. Martha began her life's work as a veterinarian after completing the required graduate courses. She was also pregnant in a matter of months, and eventually they had four children: two boys and two girls, one after another. David didn't want to have the kids so close together because he thought it was hard on a woman's body, but Martha wanted it that way, so David acquiesced. After Father Curtis Rohm was elected bishop coadjutor of Chicago, David Howard was named rector of St. Stephen's parish.
Bishop and Alicia Rohm's son Curt, and his partner Mark, visited Chicago many times, having been reconciled with the Rohms thanks to Justice Broman and Matt and David. The two Californians never failed to come by the condo to visit with the Broman extended family when they were in town.
Chris Russo's aunt Carole sold her little bungalow on Chicago's northwest side and moved to Pennsylvania to live with Jack and Judy Hagerty. When Jack unexpectedly passed away, she was a great comfort to Judy, and the two of them ended up traveling the world together.
Sisters Angeline and Catherine never did officially retire. They continued to run the Hospice, upgrading the facilities continually over the years with the financial help of the Bromans, who always included them in social events at the condo.
Arnie Watkins, the young, gay, black model, segued his career over into television and movies, and moved to Los Angeles. He became rich and famous, but never did settle down with a life partner.
Tony Angelo eventually retired from the Chicago Police Department at the rank of deputy superintendent. His distinguished service to the department and to the community was publicly recognized at a city council meeting by the mayor. In retirement, he and Marie spent as much time at the condo as they did at home.
Justice and Mrs. Broman continued to enjoy life in excellent health. After Justice Broman retired from the Supreme Court, acknowledged and respected as one of the most influential legal minds of his day, the two of them continued to live on their estate in Pennsylvania for some years, visited frequently by family. They eventually donated the magnificent house and grounds to their diocese, which began to use the facility as a conference center. The couple then moved into a new apartment in the Chicago condo on the same floor as Jeff and Andie, and David and Martha. The senior Bromans' apartment was also remodeled to connect to the penthouse, and they lived there happily with their extended family into old age. For many years Mr. Broman was in good enough physical condition that he ran with the younger set on the beach at least three times a week. Once a year, also for many years, he organized and spoke at a major seminar for the Northwestern School of Law, an event which greatly enhanced the law school's national reputation.
To the surprise of everyone, Branford the butler and Mrs. Brighton the housekeeper were married in a ceremony at Old St. Paul's Church just before the Broman estate was handed over to the local Episcopal diocese. They moved to Chicago and lived with Justice and Mrs. Broman in their apartment. Dressed formally, Branford, assisted by his new wife, always insisted on serving table every night in Matt and Mike's dining room where the entire family always ate together.
Mary Bradford finally consented to let someone take over the cooking. But she continued to assume responsibility along with the new Mrs. Branford for managing the growing staff for domestic duties around the penthouse, as well as in Jeff and Andie's and the senior Bromans' apartments on the floor below. Together, she and Mrs. Branford ran the place. Mary suffered no further recurrences of cancer.
Breakers died of old age at age 17. He was never sick, although he was somewhat enfeebled toward the end and was going blind in one eye. Mike steadfastly refused to have him put down, and Martha agreed with him. Mike and Matt both were both inconsolable when they lost this friend of so many years. The dog's body was cremated, and his ashes were placed in an urn on the fireplace mantel in the den as a reminder to them, and to everybody, what love and faithfulness were all about.
Matthew, Michael and Kyle were exceptional youngsters. Like their dads, they were scholar-athletes. They were straight, but due to their upbringing, not only were they conservative and very responsible in their own dating life, they were very positive and cordial toward any gays who crossed their paths. For them, homosexuality in society and in the Church was a non-issue. They eventually attended Northwestern University together. Matthew was pre-med, and Michael and Kyle prepared themselves for the business world. The boys' litmus test for the women they eventually married was whether those women could understand and accept the unusual family which had molded them into the fine young men they had become.
If anything, Mike's and Matt's relationship had only been strengthened by Neil Anderson's unsuccessful attempt to kill Matt, and they continued to receive great joy from one another and from the family they loved so dearly. Matt never stopped torturing Mike and the rest of the family with his jokes.
This chapter concludes Working It Out. As I've told numerous correspondents, this story has given me great pleasure and satisfaction to write. Although I'm sure the story and its characters haven't appealed to everyone, the emails I've received over the years during which I've been working on it suggest that it has been helpful to some, and at least somewhat of a pleasure for many to read. I'm grateful for the support and encouragement I've received from so many readers.
The courage of so many gay men and women who live lives of grace and accomplishment in a hostile world continues to inspire me.
My thanks to ChicagoEric and Scott (reddog) for editing this final product, as they have faithfully and consistently done for WIO chapters for a long time now.
Don Hanratty firstname.lastname@example.org.