When the Bromans and their guests had arrived home from mass at Old St. Paul's Church, the grandfather clock in the lower hall said they were already an hour into Christmas Day. It wasn't long before everyone was in bed except for Mr. Broman. He had kissed his wife affectionately and wished her a Blessed Christmas, and she had retired for the evening. He himself had changed into his pajamas, robe and slippers, and made his way into a little sitting room off their bedroom. Sitting down at a writing desk, he pulled out his letterhead as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and began to write personal notes in longhand to Mike, Matt, Jeff, Martha, Mary Bradford, Andie Parker, Stan Rosinski, Linda Kosco, Chris Russo, Carol Maggliozzi, and Jack and Judy Hagerty.
Each note to his children expressed the justice's love for them. He spoke of the pride that he took in the strong, admirable person he or she had each become and was still becoming, as well as singling out specific personal traits and achievements of theirs which he held in high regard. In the note to Mary Bradford, he reminded her what the entire family owed her for her loyalty to the truth in Matt's trial, resulting in the loss of her marriage, and said that as a member of the family, she would have a place in their hearts as long as they all drew breath. Andie's note welcomed her to the family, commenting on the obvious happiness she had brought into Jeff's life and how fortunate everyone felt to have her in their lives. He told Jack and Judy Hagerty how much he had treasured his relationship with them, through good times and bad, since he and Jane had been married. He thanked the rest of the Chicago crew for their friendship with the Bromans, saying that he counted his bond of affection with them among his chief joys that Christmas and stating his desire that the ties of affection to them would grow ever stronger over the years that lay ahead.
When he was finished, he placed each note in an envelope on which he wrote the name of the intended recipient, and taking a list of rooms and occupants which Mrs. Brighton had prepared for him the previous day, walked up and down the long halls, now quiet, sliding each envelope under the appropriate door to be discovered and opened the following morning. When he was finished, he returned to his bedroom, turning out lights as he went, and gratefully climbed into bed beside his slumbering spouse, the light of his life. Sleep came almost immediately.
* * *
Mike awakened on Christmas morning with a start when something touched his hand, which was hanging over the side of the bed. He lifted his head off the pillow and looked down to see Michael standing there in his PJ's in the early morning gloom, tugging gently on his dad's arm to get his attention. Matt was still sleeping soundly, his body warm where it pressed against Mike's side.
"Daddy?" the little boy whispered.
Due to the late night on Christmas Eve, Mike wasn't keen on facing the day yet, even if it was Christmas Day.
"Yes?" he groaned softly, shutting his eyes again in the vain hope that more sleep might yet somehow, magically, be in the offing.
"Is it time to open presents yet?"
Mike took a quick look at his watch. 7 a.m.
"Not yet, Michael," Mike whispered back. "Are Matthew and Kyle still sleeping?"
"If I let you sleep with Dad and me, do you think you could sleep a little longer?" Mike asked.
"OK," the boy said, holding up his arms.
Mike moved away from Matt toward the edge of the bed, and reaching down to their early bird son, lifted him up and deposited him under the covers between Matt and him. Matt sighed in his sleep, but didn't wake up.
The little boy snuggled up to Mike, who cradled him and kissed the side of his head. Soon the two of them drifted off to sleep again.
An hour later, Mike woke up again, this time from something poking him in the back. Rolling slowly away from Michael and turning his head, again he looked down at the side of the bed, where two more little faces looked up at him.
"Hey, Dad," Kyle said quietly. "It's time to get up now."
Mike rubbed his eyes and yawned. No rest for the wicked, he thought to himself. Then he reached down quickly and grabbed Matthew and Kyle before they could escape, bringing them into bed with Matt and him as well. The two boys giggled.
"Why should we get up right now?" Mike asked Matthew and Kyle, keeping a straight face.
"You know," Kyle said.
"I know what?"
"We should be opening presents by now," Kyle told him.
"How do you know you have any presents?" Mike asked.
"I saw my name on one," Matthew interjected.
"How do you know it wasn't for your dad?"
"'Cause he's Matt and I'm Matthew. You know that, Dad!"
"Ow!" Michael said, waking up to feel his brothers more or less on top of him. "You're hurting me! Get off!"
Mike divided the space in the center of the bed more equitably between the three kids, with Michael now pushed over to where he was practically on top of Matt. The latter finally showed signs of life and opened his eyes.
"Who are these three strange children in bed with us, Mike?" Matt yawned, looking over at his partner. "I've never seen them before in my life." The boys laughed.
"I don't know. They just appeared, and started talking about Christmas presents," Mike said.
"I don't know anything about any Christmas presents. Do you?" Matt asked.
"No. I thought Christmas was called off this year," Mike said.
"No, it wasn't," Matthew said.
"How do you know?" Mike asked.
"'Cause Spongebob Squarepants said so on TV yesterday," Matthew said.
"Well, maybe Spongebob was foolin' with ya," Mike responded.
"No-o-o-o!" the three boys said.
"Come on, let's go downstairs," Michael added. "I'll show you the presents. They're under the tree."
Matt grabbed the nearest victim, Michael, and gave him a kiss. "You're right," he admitted to the boys. "We've been kiddin' ya. But we have to get cleaned up and go down and have breakfast first, and then wait until everybody is up before we start opening presents. Can you guys go clean your teeth for me and wash and get dressed while your dad and I get ready?"
Satisfied with that, the three boys squirmed over the top of their dads and out of bed, running for the bedroom door.
"Put on clean underwear! And socks!" Matt added as they scampered into the hall. He looked at Mike. "If they actually do what I told them, we've moved into a new and wonderful phase of child rearing," he said to him.
Mike moved over close to Matt and studied him with a grin.
"Remember Christmas morning when you were a kid? Knowing you, you probably started your little campaign with Mom and Dad to open presents at about 4 a.m."
Grabbing Mike, Matt rolled his partner on top of him and rubbed noses with him.
"Wrong again, buddy! It was more like 3 a.m., for your information," Matt said.
Mike put his arms around him, lowered his head, and gave his partner a slow, gentle kiss on the lips. "Merry Christmas, Matt. I love ya, man! You're the best present I ever got! And that'll always be true."
"You stole my line, dude! I was gonna tell you that!" Matt protested, grinning. "But seriously, I'm lucky, lucky, lucky to have you in my life, Mikey. There's only one of you, and you're all mine! I love ya! Merry Christmas, sweetboy!"
The sensation of skin on skin made them horny and they each threw a bone. But knowing there wasn't enough time before the kids came back to make love slowly and deliberately, the way they wanted to, they reluctantly rolled out of bed and went to shower together. As they kissed deeply and held one another in the spray of warm water, their eyes promised they would do better by one another in bed later. They washed each other gently, and then stepped out of the shower to dry one another off, clean their teeth and shave. Dressing quickly, they assumed their usual uniform of T-shirts and well worn Levi's, with Nike's crammed on their feet over white sweat socks.
They finished dressing just as the three boys sped back into the room, chattering away with smiles of anticipation on their faces.
"Did you do everything I told you?" Matt asked.
The boys all nodded "Yes."
"You're such good boys!! All right, we'll go down to breakfast," Mike said. "But first, let's see if Chris wants to get some breakfast too, OK?"
"His door is shut," Matthew observed. "And here--these were on the floor by your door." He handed two envelopes to his dads.
Matt and Mike each opened his envelope, and read what their dad had written to them. Mike sat down hard on the bed when he finished, his eyes moist.
"Without a doubt, this is one of the nicest presents I ever received," Mike said. "Actually, Dad himself is a gift to everybody!" Matt nodded, shaking his head in wonder at the kindness and generosity in the words his father had written to him.
"We'll go on down," Matt suggested quietly, putting the note in his pocket for re-reading later, "and you check on Chris, Mike." He walked toward the stairs with the three chattering little boys clustered around him like baby quail around their mother.
Mike went to Chris' door, and knocked on it softly as he picked up Chris' envelope from the floor.
"Uuuuuhhhhh," Mike heard. He opened the door a crack.
"Chris? It's Mike. You awake?"
"Are you ready for breakfast? Matt just took the boys downstairs."
"Yeah, I'll get up. I'm hungry."
"Do you want me to wait for you?"
"Sure, if you want to."
Mike opened the door fully and went in. Chris was still in bed, and greeted him with a big yawn and then a smile. Mike handed him the envelope from Justice Broman.
"What's this?" Chris asked.
"I think it's a note from my dad."
Chris opened the envelope and began reading. His face grew somber, and he looked up at Mike when he finished.
"I never knew my father, Mike. You don't know how lucky you are. To be truthful, I wish Justice Broman were my dad, too."
"Well, Merry Christmas, buddy," Mike said. "I do know how lucky I am. And we'll share him."
"Thanks," Chris said, placing the envelope on his bedside table to read again later. "I'm gonna take you up on that. Merry Christmas to you, Mike! Man, did I ever sleep!" Chris said, throwing back his sheet and blanket and swiveling his legs around and putting his feet on the floor.
Mike was a little surprised to see that Chris had slept in the nude. He obviously had a good, solid build, well defined. A red mark was still apparent on his washboard abs where one of the bullets had struck him in the incident on the Eisenhower Expressway. Soft black hair dusted his upper chest, and then mostly disappeared below his pecs down to his navel, reappearing there as a thin black line that ran down into his crotch. The man was hung. His equipment, surrounded by a forest of black pubes, appeared to measure between five and six inches in its current state of half arousal, and was hovering over a big set of hairy balls. All in all, he was a hunk.
He didn't seem to be embarrassed in front of Mike at all. Linda had been right about Chris losing any false modesty about his body during the course of healing from his injuries.
"Do you want your robe?" Mike asked.
"Nah. There's nothing here you haven't seen before." Chris continued to sit on the side of the bed, still waking up. "Y'know," he said, "I got in the tub last night for the first time since I was shot, and it sure felt good."
"With your casts?" Mike asked unbelievingly.
"No. I propped the bad leg and arm on the sides so they didn't get wet. I don't know why I didn't think of that before. That water sure felt wonderful."
"Well, you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention."
"Affirmative on that. Let me brush my teeth and get dressed, and I'll be ready. Would you get me a fresh pair of boxers and a T-shirt out of my suitcase? And a pair of sweat socks?"
"Yep." Mike walked over and rummaged through Chris' suitcase until he found what he was looking for. Chris put his crutches under his arms and went into the bathroom.
Mike turned from the suitcase and took the underwear and socks into the bathroom. Chris stood in front of the toilet, relieving himself. The guy had a nice bubble butt on him, too, muscular and tight, Mike couldn't help noticing. Some black hair showed in crack of his ass.
Chris flushed the toilet and closed the seat, sat down and tried to put on his boxers. It was difficult with the casted leg straight out in front of him. When he saw the man struggle, Mike helped him put on his shorts, T-shirt and socks.
"Thanks," the young policeman said.
After Chris had cleaned his teeth and run his electric razor over his face, he crutched his way back into the bedroom, sitting down again on the side of the bed while Mike helped him into his jeans and bedroom slippers.
"All set?" Mike asked.
"Yep. How much longer before I can get these casts off, Mike? Man, I'm sick of this shit!"
"I know," Mike said sympathetically. "It may be five weeks yet. At least that long. That's my guess, anyway." He walked beside the young cop as they went to the head of the stairs.
"Chris," Mike said before they started down, "I just wanna tell you how much Matt and I admire you. You're dealing really well with some some tough challenges, but you're gonna come out on top no matter what happens to your job with the state police. We're with you all the way, too, so don't think that you're ever gonna have to struggle alone."
Chris stopped in his tracks, and turned to Mike. "Well, the admiration's mutual. Truthfully, you and Matt and your family are some of the greatest people I've ever met in my life. You've all been so good to me. And that's nothing unusual for any of you, as I've found out. It's really a privilege to call you my friends. I know damn well I'd be in deep trouble trying to cope with my injuries, emotionally speaking, if I hadn't been able to be around you and Matt and had your support." Standing on his good leg, he swiveled around and pulled Mike into a hug. That was definitely a first for the tough young cop.
Mike shook his head modestly as he took Chris' crutches in one hand and supported his friend around his waist with the other arm at the top of the stairs. Chris put one arm around Mike's neck and his free hand on the balustrade, and together they slowly made their way down to the first floor.
"Thanks again," Chris said at the bottom of the stairs as he took back his crutches and they headed for the good smells coming from the dining room. They joined Justice Broman, Matt and the three boys, who were already eating at the dining room table.
" 'Morning, everybody," Chris said.
" 'Morning, Chris," Justice Broman and Matt said together. The three little boys gave their good buddy big smiles as they chowed down on their food. " 'Morning, Mike," Justice Broman added. "Everybody sleep well?" the jurist asked.
"I don't remember when I've slept so soundly," Chris said. "I may just steal Jeff's bed and take it back to Chicago with me. Will it fit on the plane?"
"Without a doubt," Mike said, chuckling.
Chris crutched over to the head of the table where Mr. Broman was seated. "Thank you for your note, sir. I don't deserve all the nice things you said about me, but I really appreciate it."
"We all thank you, Dad. What you said to us is incredibly generous," Matt said. "We won't forget it."
"That's for sure, Dad," Mike said.
Justice Broman smiled. "I meant every well deserved word."
Mike went over and kissed his father's cheek. "I told Chris we'd share you with him," Mike told the jurist.
"That would be an honor for me," Mr. Broman said with a big smile. "The more, the merrier."
Chris sat down at the table, a little embarrassed, but smiling.
"OK, Chris, what can I get you to eat?" Mike asked as he turned away from his dad.
"What kind of eggs are there this morning?"
"Poached," Mr. Broman said. "Cook must have decided to eliminate some of the fat in our diet."
"Good deal," Chris said. "I'll have a couple of poached eggs on wheat toast, fresh fruit, and orange juice, please."
"You got it, dude!" Mike said, and soon he had served his friend and then taken his own food back to the dining room table.
"Grandpa, when can we open our presents?" Matthew asked, appealing his case directly to the highest authority.
"Well, we have to wait until everybody eats breakfast," his grandfather responded. "Then we'll open presents. Why? You're not anxious, are you?"
The three boys looked at one another.
"Matthew is," Kyle said, chewing away on his food.
"I am not!" Matthew said, giving Kyle a dirty look.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Kyle," Matt instructed.
"Merry Christmas, everybody," Jane Broman said as she entered the dining room. "You are not what, Matthew?" she asked, having overhead her grandson.
"Angs, er uh, angs-shush to open presents," the little boy said, stumbling over a new and unfamiliar word..
"Of course you're not! None of you boys is," Jane Broman said, giving Matthew a kiss on top of his head. "Now that I think about it, Christmas morning calls for kisses for all my favorite men." Starting with a buss on the lips for her husband, she went around the table bestowing a kiss on all the boys and men, including Chris. Chris just glowed.
"Sit down, sweetheart," Justice Broman stood and said to his wife. "What would you like to eat?"
"Just coffee and fruit, thank you, dear. How did everyone sleep?"
A chorus of "Good" and "Fine" was heard from around the table.
"I know Mike did, Mom," Matt added. "I thought I was in a pen with farm animals, he snored so loud. And then there was the smell!!"
"See how he is," Mike protested laughingly. "Already he starts! Even on Christmas morning."
"Take it from someone who knows, he never stops," Jeff interjected as he and Andie walked in. They both had an unmistakable post-coital glow, Matt noticed. He said nothing, but knew that his mom and dad couldn't miss it, either. The two of them looked really good together. Andie had on a pair of jeans that showed off her shape, with a nice top. Jeff was wearing his usual Levi's with a T, but his hair was spiked up with gel, and he looked really cute. They greeted the group warmly as they went to Mr. Broman who was at the sideboard and spoke to him quietly about the notes they had received. Then they filled their plates and sat down.
It wasn't long before Carole Maggliozzi and Jack and Judy Hagerty came in and greeted everyone, and were greeted in return. The Hagertys thanked Justice Broman for his note as Carole went over to Chris and kissed his cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Christopher!" she said. "How did you sleep?"
"Good, thanks, Aunt Carole. Merry Christmas to you!"
"You'll soon be back to your old self, you'll see," she said, patting his shoulder. "I'm so glad we got to spend Christmas together." She went to Justice Broman, who had returned to the head of the table by then, and hugged him wordlessly before he sat down. Then she went to the sideboard, fixed a plate of food, and sat down beside Judy Hagerty. The two of them started talking non-stop.
Mary Bradford walked into the dining room, and walked over to Mr. Broman. "Matthew, your note touched me deeply," she said. "I thank God every day that I'm part of this family. Thank you."
Mr. Broman stood and hugged her and kissed her cheek without a word, and then she went to the sideboard for food.
Stan and Linda were last to arrive. They wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and after they filled their plates, joined the happy group around the table.
"Mr. Broman," Linda said, looking at the jurist, "I can't thank you enough for your note. I don't even know what to say."
"I don't either," Stan said. "Thank you so much. It's such a privilege to know you, sir."
"I just told all of you the truth," Mr. Broman said. "But thank you." Jane Broman looked at her husband fondly.
The three boys had finished eating, and now were starting to fidget.
Matt was seated next to his father, who leaned over toward him.
"Look at these wonderful people around this table, son," the older man said quietly in the midst of all the loud conversations. "These are moments to remember. They help me keep going sometimes when things are tough."
"I know it. Why don't we get a picture?" Matt asked. "Is there a camera downstairs somewhere?"
"There's one in the desk drawer in the library," his dad said.
Matt ate the last bite from his plate, and excused himself, returning with a digital camera.
"All right, everybody. Prepare to be digitalized," he said.
"Wait, Matt," Jeff suggested. "Ask Branford to take the picture so you're in it."
" 'K," Matt said and walked into the kitchen, emerging a moment later with Branford, dressed as usual in his formal attire. Everyone wished the butler a Merry Christmas. Matt and he went to the foot of the huge table, and Matt checked the composition of the picture in the viewfinder. Then he handed the camera over to Branford and resumed his seat next to his father.
"One, two, three," Branford chanted in his clipped English accent, and the flash momentarily blinded everybody around the table.
"Thank you, Branford," Matt said. "Now let me get a shot of you and Mrs. Brighton and the staff."
"Very well, Mr. Matthew," the butler said, and he and Matt disappeared into the kitchen. There were sounds of Matt getting the staff posed, and then he emerged from the kitchen smiling.
"These are excellent," he said, peering into the viewfinder at the pictures they had just taken. "I'll print them up before we leave."
"Good, son," Justice Broman said.
Jeff and Andie were sitting at the table next to Jane Broman, who caught their eye after she finished eating.
"I was thinking about a wedding present for you," she said to them. "I don't want to upset anything you already had in mind, but I was wondering if you would let me create a new setting for your engagement ring, Andie, and then make matching wedding rings for you both. I'd like to do that, but be honest with me if that's not what you want."
Jeff looked at Andie, who smiled at her future mother-in-law. "I'd love for you to do that for us," she said. "Why didn't you think of that?" she asked Jeff.
"I did, but there wasn't time to talk with Mom about it and get it done," he responded. "I was going to ask you to marry me when I came to Chicago after Christmas, but even that wouldn't have been enough advance notice to Mom."
"All right, I forgive you," Andie said with a grin, loving him.
"I'm so happy about this," Mrs. Broman said. "You'll have to let me keep your ring for a few days, Andie, but I'll FedEx the new setting to you within a week. This design will be my top priority. We can take a little longer for designing the wedding rings."
"I'll give it to you before I leave," Andie said, holding out her hand and admiring the diamond. "For now, I don't even want to take it off my finger."
Jeff took Andie's hand and kissed it, enfolding it in his big paw. She beamed at him.
"Grandpa?" Kyle said inquiringly.
"You're right, Kyle," Mr. Broman said, wiping his lips with a napkin and getting to his feet. "Folks, if we're all finished with breakfast, let's get around the tree in the library. Kyle is telling me it's time to unwrap those Christmas presents that Santa left last night. Bring your coffee with you, if you like."
All talking at once, the family and friends pushed back from the table and began to make their way to the library. The temperature had dropped into the single digits during the night, and a fire blazed in the fireplace. A smaller version of the Christmas tree in the hall, decorated entirely with white lights and dripping with tinfoil icicles, stood in one corner of the room with the real Christmas presents under it. The kids were drawn to it immediately, and they sat on the floor and began to looks for presents with their names on them.
"Mike and Matt, will you do the honors and pick out presents for the boys to deliver?" Justice Broman asked.
"Sure, Dad," Mike said. "But you do know Matt doesn't read too well."
Matt groaned at his partner's words and hunkered down on the floor beside the tree next to Mike. "All right, guys," Matt said to the boys, "get ready to do something useful, you little elves, you."
Matt and Mike began to call out the names on the presents as the boys scampered around delivering them. Soon there was an impressive pile in front of everyone as they waited for the distribution to be completed.
Two at a time, individuals started opening presents, starting with the eldest, Justice Broman and Jack Hagerty, and working their way down to the kids. The youngsters received some clothes as gifts, but lots of various and sundry toys as well. They especially liked a nerf ball set and accompanying bats they received from Matt and Mike.
"Boys, there's one present for each of you from Grandpa and me that we already had shipped to Chicago," Mrs. Broman said finally. "Here's a picture of them." She held up pictures of three snazzy, two wheel mountain bikes, each in a different combination of colors. The boys were immediately enamored of the pictures, and after a little prompting by Mike, went to their grandparents and gave them big hugs and kisses.
Matt and Mike had spent generously to see that everyone they had brought from Chicago for the holiday received one especially nice gift from them along with some lesser gifts. Stan and Chris had each received a gift certificate for an Armani suit and custom-made shirts and ties. Linda had been astounded when she opened a box from Matt and Mike containing a diamond and ruby tennis bracelet which had been designed by Jane Broman. Andie also received a gift from them designed by Mrs. Broman, a 18K gold necklace with delicate, intricate filigree on each heavy gold link. Knowing well Mary Bradford's love of art, they gave her a beautiful painting which had recently been discovered in someone's attic somewhere, by American artist George Wesley Bellows from his Love of Winter series. To get it, they had had to outbid an art museum in an art dealer's online auction. Carole Maggliozzi received a gift certificate for a complete new home entertainment center, including a new plasma HDTV set, as did Jack and Judy Hagerty.
Matt's gift to Mike was a complete set each of 18th and 19th century surgical instruments, extremely rare and in mint condition. Mike had bought Matt a new, white Chevy Silverado truck, complete with motorcycle ramps. It would be sitting in the garage by the time they arrived back in Chicago. Meanwhile, Matt stared at the picture of the truck and couldn't believe his good fortune, because the fenders of his old truck were almost rusted off the body. They gave Jeff a new Honda ST 1300 sport-tourer with ABS and all the bells and whistles, along with new leathers and helmets, and they went in with their parents to give Martha a spanking new, bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Martha ran to the front door, and there it was, sitting in the driveway with a big, red ribbon and bow on it. She was on cloud nine. Mr. and Mrs. Broman and Jack and Judy Hagerty received an all expense paid, two-week trip to the Far East from Matt and Mike, anywhere over there they wanted to go. The two couples were enamored of that part of the world.
An hour and a half had passed by then, and everyone's breakfast was well on the way to being digested. After more conversation around the fire, Matt began nagging the runners in the group to put on their running clothes and sweats so they could get some exercise. Not content with that, he bugged the non-runners, including his mom and dad, to get their coats and boots on and take a walk down toward the front gate and back. There was no resisting him, and soon everyone had piled out of the front door to do their thing, while Chris said he would stay with the kids in the library as they played with some of their new toys.
On his way out, Matt looked in the door of the library.
"Chris, I just had a thought," he said to his friend. "Why don't you give Josh a call and just wish him a Merry Christmas. I bet he'd really appreciate it. You can use that phone over there on the desk if you want to."
"Thanks, Matt," Chris said. "That's a good idea. I should have thought of that." He stood and crutched his way over to the phone as Matt joined the others outside.
Bright sunshine poured down on the earth from a cloudless sky, glinting off the pristine cover of new snow which had fallen during the night. The runners decided to cut their distance for the day to 2 miles and only run down the driveway to the front gate and back to the house because the blacktop was plowed and dry, but the lawns were deep in snow. Naturally, the guys had to get into a snowball fight before their run.
Breakers was in his element, running around smelling things only he could detect, occasionally biting at the snow. He and Jeff, for reasons only they knew, had a special relationship, and as the snowballs flew fast and furious, the dog ran to Jeff and jumped up into his arms. As usual, Jeff waltzed him around in circles as Breakers gave him kisses.
"Hey, dude," Mike said to Jeff, "you don't have something kinky and unnatural going on with our dog, do ya?"
"Kinky, yes!" Jeff said. "But it feels perfectly natural to us, doesn't it, boy?" The dog kissed his face again. "After the lights are out, it's him and me together all the way. And after Andie's asleep, anything goes."
Andie cracked up at this exchange.
"Is Breakers a top or a bottom?" Mike asked.
"He's versatile. And what that boy can't do with his tongue hasn't been invented yet!!"
"You're totally bent!" Mike said.
"I know. You taught me well while I was your sex slave in Chicago. Andie knows she has to share me with Breakers. She calls me 'Dog Breath' sometimes just to acknowledge the special relationship Breakers and I have."
At that point Mike, Matt and Stan laughingly pelted Jeff unmercifully with snowballs. Jeff put Breakers down, grabbed Andie's arm, and began running full out for the front gate with his buddy Breakers in hot pursuit. The others fell in behind them.
After the runners had returned to the house and showered, Matt went downstairs and laid claim to his dad for a talk. They left the library and went into one corner of a large, formal sitting room across the hall, and sat down across from one another.
"How's married life, son?" Justice Broman asked as they sat down.
"If I say 'wonderful,' that doesn't really cover it. Mike and I have never been happier. I thank God every day that Mike was somehow able to forgive me for hurting him so badly when we split up. Only real love on his part could overcome a wound like that. I think I'm the luckiest person in the world to be married to Mike. And I'll never forget what Father Howard and Father Rohm did to make that happen in the setting we wanted, either."
"Nor will I. I want to do something very, very nice for St. Stephen's and for the priests. I'm still thinking about what that might be. If you have any ideas, let me know."
"I will." Matt paused and looked at his dad intently. "I hope you know how much you and Mom are loved by our Chicago gang, Dad," Matt told his father. "Chris and Stan both want to claim you for parents."
"Well, that's fine with me, son," Justice Broman said. "That's a high compliment. And I hope you're aware that you and Mike seem to have a knack for picking good people for your friends."
"I don't know about that," Matt said. "We're probably more lucky than skillful."
"I don't think so. We generally make the friends we deserve."
Matt looked thoughtful. "Maybe. Y'know, some of the friends we've made are straight, and some are gay. But no matter what their orientation is, and no matter how old they are, I think some of them have something in common. The ones who didn't have good parents when they were growing up, or as in Chris' case, lost a dad in Viet Nam before Chris was born, are sometimes looking for parent substitutes because they didn't have a good experience the first time around. Psychology 101, I guess, huh? That's why they really want a connection with you and Mom. It's just human nature, I think. They want to experience a positive parent-child or student-teacher relationship with people who are intelligent and good and kind and decent and trustworthy and loving. You and Mom are all those things. I guess that's why mentoring is such a powerful tool."
Justice Broman looked pleased.
"That's a good insight, Matt," his dad said. "I agree with you. Most of us try, consciously or unconsciously, to remedy what we feel are our deficiencies by learning from people we admire. I include emotional learning in that. And it's all good as long as the mentor understands that the day does come, hopefully, when the person he or she is mentoring is no longer in the role of a child or a student. You have to know when it's appropriate to make the relationship one between equals. In fact, that's the point of it all, don't you think?"
"Absolutely." Matt paused. "Have you ever known someone that you admire totally, without reservation?" he asked.
"Yes. A few people. Not many. My dad, your grandfather, was one of them. Your mother is another. I think you and Mike and Jeff and Martha will qualify very well as you all become the finished products you're meant to be, and come into your own. The people you've taken under your wing in Chicago are all on the right path as well. That's part of the reason I wrote those notes to everybody last night. Folks need to be told now and again how well they're doing and how much they mean to us."
"Well, let me tell you something, then. You're an incredibly generous person in every way, Dad. Money is the least of your generosity. I love you as your son, but in addition to that, I love and admire the person you are without qualification. I can only hope you'll still have a few positive thoughts left about me when I tell you my ideas about what I want to do after I graduate from law school."
"Thank you for saying that, Matt. You know I love you, too. As for my opinion of you, don't worry about that. My regard for you can only grow. But I have to admit, I have been curious about your plans."
"Well, nothing's set in stone right now," Matt said. "Actually, I'm looking for your advice."
"Advice, I have! In abundance. More than you want, probably."
"I doubt that. Anyway, Mike and I had a long talk down on the beach in Chicago before we were married, and we shared a lot of things we hadn't talked about before. I know well what the expected career path for any reasonably smart, well connected young attorney is: clerk for a prominent judge, then enter a large, prestigious law firm, earn some respect and bring in some bucks, and then specialize so eventually they can't do without you. By that time, a partnership is a sure thing. And I think that's fine for those who want to do that. I don't think I do, though."
Justice Broman gazed at his son in silence, waiting for him to continue.
"You remember the young boy I told you about who was killed in Chicago? I first found him under the front stairs at Hospice in a cardboard box one afternoon after I had visited the sisters and was on my way home. His name was Brandon. I never found out his last name. He had run away because his mother's boyfriend had been abusing him sexually, and at that point he was selling his body on the street to stay alive. I bought him a meal and was going to take him home for the night, but he ditched me at the restaurant. Later, Tony Angelo arranged with the morgue for me to look at the body of a young kid they'd found murdered and thrown in a dumpster. It was Brandon, just as I'd feared. Tony scoured all the missing person reports on kids from around the country, but didn't come up with anything. So I bought a grave site and asked Father Howard to bury him from St. Stephen's Church. Father Rohm insisted on celebrating the requiem mass for Brandon, and I found out later the reason he did was that he and Mrs. Rohm had a young son who got involved with drugs and life on the street as a teenager, and ran away, and they don't know where he is to this day. They don't know whether he's dead or alive.
"Long story short, Dad, I want to do two things. First, I want to build a shelter, or maybe more than one, to supplement the work with kids that's already being done in Chicago, with an emphasis on serving gay kids. I want them to have food and shelter and counseling, along with educational and vocational programs that will give them some hope in their lives for the future. I want the mechanism for serving these kids to be highly personal and involve as little red tape as possible. Second, I want to use my legal skills, not only on behalf of the kids, but for poor families who may not, for one reason or another, qualify for Legal Assistance. Congress has made it as difficult as they can for Legal Assistance agencies working for poor people to file certain kinds of cases in the courts. I'd like to change that, even though I know my efforts will just be a drop in the bucket compared to the need.
"If I do these things, it means I will never follow in your footsteps, and most certainly won't ever find myself sitting on the Supreme Court. I hope you know my reasons for taking a different path aren't because I don't admire you and what you're doing. Everybody in this family is proud of you. You bring so much skill and so many personal resources to the job, I don't know who could do it better. But more than just skill and a great legal mind, you bring heart to the job. You try to make the law serve human beings, not vice versa." Matt smiled. "Not all your colleagues have that gift, unfortunately.
"Do you have any thoughts about what I've said?" Matt asked his dad in conclusion. "I'd really appreciate some feedback."
Justice Broman cleared his throat and regarded his son warmly. "Well, I'll get to the feedback, but first of all, I want to thank you for the high compliment you've given me for my work, because I really do want to serve the people of this country well. But more than that, thank you for sharing your plans with me. You're my firstborn son, so you've always occupied a special place in my heart. Of course I'm proud of all my children, as I should be. But you yourself have never disappointed me a day in your life, even back in your high school days when occasionally we had some differences of opinion over household and dating rules. I think, no, I know, that you have tremendous gifts. Everyone you touch in life emerges a little better for having had contact with you unless they're totally hopeless. That's no commonplace gift, you know. You and Mike are doing a terrific job nurturing your blood family and your extended family. And in marrying Mike, you've shown you're not afraid to push the envelope when it comes to doing the right thing for yourself and for others. I have tremendous respect for you, Matt, and the plans you've shared with me only confirm how much you deserve that respect.
"I'm sure you know that all any parent can do for a child, or at least should do, is to equip that person with the basics--with love, so that the child can love others, with kindness that's reflected in his dealings with his fellow man, with courage guided by a sense of right and wrong, with learning so that what is hopefully a lifelong quest for knowledge and understanding can take place, and with one other thing that I've always thought was important for all of us--love for God and respect for His teachings. I wish I could claim more responsibility for helping create all these wonderful attributes I see so clearly in you, but to be honest, you seem to have been born with many of them. I've never had to worry much that you wouldn't be exactly the kind of person you should be.
"What a parent should never do is preëmpt the decision-making of a mature son or daughter for selfish reasons. Yes, a parent can sometimes feel that his own decisions in life are validated when an offspring follows in his footsteps in one respect or another. But when that doesn't happen, unless the reasoning that leads to the child's decision is faulty, or the objectives being sought are flat-out wrong, then a parent should rejoice that the gifts he wanted for his child have been used and have borne fruit. To do otherwise not only betrays the child, but the parent as well.
"That being said, here's the feedback you wanted. I like your plans very much, Matt. I think they're consistent with the person you are, and you'll accomplish good things. No one can ask for more than that. I would sound one note of caution. You will need to screen the people you have working directly with the kids very carefully, including running a police check on them. There are sexual predators out there who will jump at a chance to work in proximity to youngsters. If you screen your applicants exhaustively, though, I think you'll be very much on the right track."
"Thank you, Dad. That means more to me than you can know. Do you think I'm right about the problem facing poor people, and sometimes even middle class people, in accessing the courts?"
"Absolutely. Jurisprudence in the United States is heavily tilted in favor of property rights and the rights of those who have the wherewithal to pursue justice rather than human rights per se. And most of my colleagues on the court would acknowledge this in their more lucid and honest moments. By 'property rights,' I mean assets rather than just real property, of course. Will a better system evolve over time? I hope so. But it does take time unless one puts his money on revolution, and the most effective revolutions are very destructive. They breed the same hatreds you're trying to address in most instances. Evolution, on the other hand, is much more energy efficient and effective. Over time I would like to see the law address the issue of property and human rights in our country more evenhandedly. And someone has to move cases which test such questions into the legal system. That someone will be you and people like you. Courts can't redress all the ills of our country single-handedly, but good cases, rightly decided, go hand in hand with sound, progressive legislative action."
"I think that's true."
"Now, as far as the financial resources you'll be needing for the shelters you're talking about, I think you can count on the Broman Foundation to be benevolent. A number of people will be leaving the Foundation board this year. I'm going to urge the board to appoint you and Mike and Jeff, and when she's 21, Martha, to join your mother and me and the Hagertys on the board. I don't think you'll have any trouble securing substantial funds for your project. And I'd be very surprised if Mike would not be interested as well when it comes to his own funds. I don't know whether you know it or not, but Mike wants to merge the Berman and the Broman foundations and utilize the same board for both."
Matt looked surprised. "No, I didn't know that."
"Well, anyway, as far as your project is concerned, money won't be the problem, Matt. Devising and developing an organization that is creative and stays on task will be the ongoing problem, as it is with all organizations. You're going to need a hands-on person to run things who will keep the bureaucracy energized and focused."
"Yes. Anytime you delegate decision-making and the implementation of those decisions to someone else, you begin to have a bureaucracy. Big or little, they have a dynamic all their own, and you need to understand that. If I may make a suggestion, as you move into your project, I'd urge you to give Stan a look when you're ready to hire an executive officer. He should be finished with most of his formal education by then unless he wants to pursue graduate work. He has what the educated elite often don't have--a world of practical experience in the school of hard knocks to guide his decision-making. I think he's become quite an impressive person.
"With respect to overall money management in your projects, you'd have to look pretty far to find anyone with better skills and instincts than Mike. I know his time is at a premium right now, but try to utilize him to the extent you're able to.
"Now, while we're talking, I want to raise another issue with you, and that's the issue of security," the jurist said. "I'm talking about security both for your family and also for the youngsters who will reside in the facilities you're thinking about. I know you think I'm obsessed with this, but in my opinion, it's a reasonable concern in today's world. I think you and Mike and your three little boys are at risk. And because you live together, that also puts Mary Bradford and Stan and Linda at risk. You may well want to think about Chris for head of your security if his career as a police officer is indeed over. If you think he's your guy, you also may want to send him for some specialized training to bring him up to speed on security issues and, for that matter, on terrorism. You'll never be sorry if you surround yourself with people who care about you and Mike and your family personally."
Matt sat back in his chair and grinned at his father. "I'd have to say, Dad, you sure have smartened up since I was a kid! I'm pretty amazed about what you know!"
Justice Broman laughed. "Yeah, right! Maybe your hearing has just become more acute!"
"Maybe. Probably. Listen, you've really given me some good ideas, and I promise I'll think over what you've said. Now...enough of the serious stuff. I have a story for you."
"You know I'm always ready for a good story."
"That's cool! I usually have to hold Mike down before I can tell him my stories," Matt said with a grin, and launched into his joke.
"A woman named Ethel is a bit of a demon in her motorized wheelchair
and loves to charge around the nursing home taking corners on one wheel
and getting up to maximum speed on the long corridors. The poor
woman is 'confused,' so the other residents tolerate her and some of the
men actually join in.
"One day, Ethel was speeding up one corridor when a door opened
and Crazy Clarence stepped out with his arm outstretched.
"'Stop!' he said in a firm voice. 'Do you have a license for that thing?'
"Ethel fished around in her handbag and pulled out a Kit Kat wrapper
and held it up to him.
"'OK' he said, and away Ethel sped down the hall.
"As she took the corner near the TV lounge on one wheel,
Weird Harold popped out in front of her and shouted, 'Stop! Do you
have proof of insurance?'
"Ethel dug into her handbag, pulled out a beer coaster and held it up
"Harold nodded and said, 'Carry on, ma'am.'
"As Ethel neared the final corridor before the front door, Mad Malcolm
stepped out in front of her, stark naked, and in an obvious state of arousal.
"'Oh, no!!' Ethel protested, 'Not the breathalyzer test again!'"
Justice Broman roared, laughing until his face turned red. Jane Broman came into the room, surveyed the two of them laughing together, and shook her head..
"What's this, a joke fest?" she asked with a smile.
"I think Matt got my sense of humor," Mr. Broman said as he tried to catch his breath.
"No kidding?" his wife said. "I can vouch for that! But I thought you two were going to have a serious discussion."
"We did, dear," the older man said, standing up and hugging his wife, still chuckling. "We just finished."
"Well, the timing's perfect, then. Matt, the boys want to swim. Do you want to go down to the pool with them? I think Stan and Linda and Jeff and Andie want to go, too. Maybe Mike as well, I don't know."
"Swimming sounds good to me. Sure, I'll go."
"Good," Mrs. Broman said. "Take Chris with you. He can't swim, but I think he enjoys being with you guys."
"OK, Mom," Matt said, getting to his feet. "Dad, thank you for sitting down and talking with me. I have a better idea about where I'm going now. I appreciate the advice."
Justice Broman pulled Matt into a hug, and kissed his cheek. "No, Matt, thank you for being a great son! I love you. And I admire you more every day."
Matt's eyes teared up. "Listen, if there's anything good in me, it came from you two. I love you both." He kissed his mother, and left the room, heading for his bedroom to change into his swim suit.
"You've always been so good with the kids, Matt," Jane Broman said. "You seem to know just what to say to them."
"Thank you, sweetheart, but I think we've each done our part. To have you and the four kids and our three grandchildren and the whole Chicago branch of the family all healthy and happy and here with us this Christmas--well, life just doesn't get any better than this." He embraced her and held her in his arms for a long time in the big, silent room.
* * *
Matt took the stairs two at a time, ran down the hall to his and Mike's room, and burst in the door just as Mike was throwing off his clothes in favor of his swimming trunks. Matt shut the door behind him.
"My gosh, what a big, beautiful wiener you have, dude!" he told Mike, moving toward him, one hand outstretched to grab it.
"You peeked, you perv!" Mike said. "But thanks. I take you at your word, since you're such a connoisseur of fine cocks and such."
Matt hugged Mike before he could get his suit pulled up, and then reached around and squeezed his bare buttocks.
"Nice ass, too. Are you a model for med school ads or something? Before and after. Go in stupid and ugly with a flat butt and a small dick, come out with an M.D. knowing everything in the world, handsome, with a bubble butt and hung like a horse--you know, like your very own self."
"You think you're funny, doncha?" Mike asked him, laughing despite himself. "Why do you think you're cute enough to get away with saying shit like that to me, anyway?" Their faces only inches apart, they stared into one another's eyes.
"Because you told me I was cute. So I'd let you have your way with me our last night in Chicago before we came over here," Matt said. "And don't deny it, either."
"That was just a moment of weakness," Mike responded with a grin. "You should never hold a man to what he says when he's in the throes of passion."
"Yeah, right! If you mean when he's horny, I'd never be able to believe anything you say, ever!"
"Oh, what the hell, just kiss me and shut up!" Mike said. They kissed, giving each other lots of tongue.
Matt reached down between them and took hold of Mike's cock, squeezing it as it rapidly engorged with blood. "Too bad we can't harness this energy somehow," he told Mike. "You could light up Detroit. I could be rich."
"You are rich, you asshole," Mike said, grinning. "It would take more than a recession to break you, buddy."
"I can't believe you called me an asshole!" Matt said, squeezing Mike's cock again. "I'm gonna make you pay for that bigtime tonight."
"You make all these promises..."
"I know, but this is one promise I'm gonna keep!" Matt let go of his partner, who pulled up his trunks over a very stiff dick.
"OK. Listen, Mike, can we take a minute and call Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine and Tony and Marie Angelo before we swim? I want to wish them a Merry Christmas."
"Me, too! Good idea, bro!"
Matt retrieved his address book from his suitcase, and dialed up the Hospice in Chicago. He knew that both sisters would be there visiting the patients on Christmas Day, trying to make it a good day for those who didn't have long to live.
The sisters were delighted to hear from Matt and Mike. The four of them talked for about 10 minutes, the sisters instructing Matt and Mike to convey their best wishes to the family. They closed their conversation with Matt's disclosure to Angeline and Catherine that he had some exciting things to talk with them about when he and Mike returned to Chicago.
Then Matt consulted his address book again, and dialed Tony and Marie Angelo's number. No one answered and their answering machine kicked in, so Matt and Mike left their Christmas greetings on tape.
They hung up the phone just as three sets of small knuckles knocked vigorously on their bedroom door.
"Come on, Dads, let's go swimming!" a little voice said from the hall.
Matt went to the door. When he opened it, three small faces full of anticipation looked up at him, with Chris standing behind the boys on his crutches.
"Did you guys find your suits and put them on all by yourselves?" Matt asked the kids.
"Well," Kyle said, "Chris had to find them in the suitcases for us, but we put 'em on."
"You guys and Chris are the coolest of the cool! And you can quote me on that!" Matt said as he began stripping to put on his swimming trunks.
* * *
Many miles away from the Broman estate, someone was thinking non-stop about the Broman family, and Matt in particular, as he paced back and forth in his cold prison cell. His mind was a river of dark thoughts. Neil Anderson, not so lovingly nicknamed "the Weasel" by Matt back in his college days for his long nose, bad skin and vicious personality, had definitely not become a "beautiful person" inside or out since he had been sent to jail for kidnapping the eldest Broman son.
During the period since he had been arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated, Anderson had thought of little else but the way Matt had escaped from the clutches of his men at the old broom factory. In his twisted mind, it was all Matt's fault that the good life he had planned for himself from a lucrative ransom had turned into a long, nightmarish stretch in jail. Placed initially in the general population during his first month in prison, he had been initiated into the penal system by being the subject of a savage gang rape. He had been sequestered from the general prison population since then, and although that move had insulated him from the more brutal aspects of prison life, he had had to bear the resulting loneliness. Not that he had ever had that many friends on the outside. Who needed them?
He had had the frequent use of a computer during his imprisonment, and had experienced no difficulty in discovering via the internet where Matt had been residing since he had graduated college, started law school, and then moved to Chicago. He even knew the Bromans' telephone number on Sheridan Road.
Now his first big break since he had been imprisoned was coming his way. He had been told the day before Christmas that as of the first of the year, he was going to be transferred to a less restrictive facility as a reward for "good behavior." The real reason was to make room in his current facility for additional convicted drug users and addicts. Anderson was pleased. God bless the American criminal justice system for generally favoring punishment over treatment for rotten people with drug problems.
* * *
Father David Howard's plane was scheduled to arrive from Chicago the second day after Christmas at 1:30 p.m. Matt and Mike were to pick him up at the airport, but first they planned to visit their grandmother and let her see the three boys. Martha wanted to be on hand to meet Father David and visit her grandmother as well, so she decided to go with them. After they had all eaten breakfast, Matt and Mike borrowed a car from their parents and seatbelted the three boys in on booster seats in the back. Mike made sure he had a video copy of his and Matt's wedding with him that they had promised Grandma, and the six of them set out at about 9 a.m. for her assisted living facility.
Matt drove down the long, curving driveway to the gate of the Broman estate and stopped the car. Looking thoughtful, he sat there staring at the road.
"What?" Mike asked.
"You know, I think Jeff and Andie should come with us," he said. "We don't know how long Grandma has, and we should probably take advantage of every chance we all have to see her."
"You're right," Martha agreed. "Go back to the house."
Mike nodded, and Matt made a U-turn and headed back, where he jumped out of the car at the front door, leaving the motor running. Going in and walking quickly across the entry hall, the sound of laughter and conversation from the dining room told him people were still sitting around drinking coffee and visiting. Jeff and Andie hadn't left the room yet.
"Did you forget something, Matt?" Justice Broman asked when he saw that his son was back.
"Yep," he said, walking over behind Jeff's and Andie's chairs. "I forgot these two characters. Guys, would you do me a favor and come over with us to see Grandma? It'll be a treat for her to see all of us, and she's gonna want to meet Andie when she finds out you're engaged, Jeff. You can come back here when we leave her to go pick up Father David."
Jeff pushed his chair back and stood up. "Sure. Sounds good. Is that all right with you, Andie."
"I'd like that," Andie said, rising. "Do you have room in your car?" she asked Matt.
"No, we're full up," Matt said. "Ask nicely, though, and I bet Mom will let you borrow her new car instead of driving your truck. Her car's a 'driving experience,' according to the ads. You can follow us over."
"OK. Mommy?" Jeff asked, giving his mom puppy dog eyes.
"The keys are on the pegboard in the closet by the front door, Jeff," Jane Broman said. "Have fun."
"Thanks," Jeff said, grinning. "We'll be sure and let you know how fast she'll go. Heh."
Justice Broman gave him the evil eye.
"Just get yourself and Andie home in one piece, buddy!" Mrs. Broman instructed.
The three of them walked to the front door, and Jeff retrieved the keys after he and Andie had put on their jackets. As they walked toward the garage, Jeff packed a snowball and pelted the windshield of the car Matt was driving just as the latter was getting into it, spraying his brother with cold snow.
"You'll pay for that, Ratboy!" Matt yelled at his brother, pulling out his handkerchief and drying his face with it.
Jeff shot him the bird as he and Andie continued toward the first bay of the garage. Matt put the car he was driving in gear and moved slowly toward the front gate until Jeff had pulled in behind him.
"Dad, when are we gonna make a snowman?" Matthew asked from the back seat as Matt pulled out on to the main road.
"Maybe when we get home," Matt said. "That'll be a good project for you guys later."
It had finally stopped snowing the previous night, and the highway crews had worked long hours to clear the roads in time for daylight traffic. It was smooth sailing on the expressways, and by 10:30 the two cars had pulled on to the spacious grounds of the facility where Grandma Hagerty was living.
The four Broman kids were excited at the prospect of seeing their grandmother. She had been an important part of Matt's, Jeff's and Martha's lives as they had grown up, and they and Mike loved her dearly. After they parked the car, Matt opened the trunk and pulled out Christmas presents selected to brighten the place she now called home. Mike took a few presents to carry in, and also grabbed a few toys from the trunk for the boys to play with during the visit so they wouldn't get bored.
The six of them stopped at the front desk to get directions, and made their way to their grandmother's apartment. The door was standing open, and they knocked and went in to find Emily Hagerty, surrounded by pillows, sitting in a big easy chair and dressed in a frilly, pink peignoir with pink slippers on her feet. She looked very alert, her eyes bright. The old lady stood up slowly from her chair all on her own, and she was soon engulfed in gentle hugs from her four grandchildren.
"Grandma, I'd like you to meet Andie Parker," Jeff said after the initial greetings. "Andie and I are going to be married."
"Oh, my goodness!" Mrs. Hagerty said. "Come here, child," she said to Andie, and hugged her and kissed her. "I'm so happy for you both!"
"Thank you," Andie said with a big smile. "Jeff has told me so much about you, and I'm really glad to meet you at last."
Mrs. Hagerty beamed, and slowly sat back down in her chair.
"You remember Matthew and Michael from when they were babies," Mike said to her. "But I don't think you've met Kyle before. Boys, this is your great-grandmother."
"No, I haven't met Kyle. But I've seen pictures of him. Hello, young man. And Matthew and Michael, how you've grown!"
"Boys, Great-grandma is Grandma Broman's mother," Mike explained. They didn't fully understand, but with a little prompting from Matt, the three boys submitted to their great-grandmother's hugs and kisses. They were a little tongue-tied and apprehensive because they had never met anyone of such advanced age before. Introductions completed, the kids soon glommed on to the toys Mike had brought from the car and took them over into a corner to play.
"Grandma, before I forget, I brought you the video of Matt's and my wedding that I promised you," Mike said.
"Put it on top of the VCR, dear," Mrs. Hagerty said, pointing toward the corner. "I'll watch it later. Thank you for remembering, Mike."
"Grandma, you look wonderful!" Martha said. "How do you like living here?"
"Well, it's not home, sweetheart, but it's a good place for me at this stage in my life, I think," the old lady said. "It's time to begin letting go of 'things.'"
So began a wonderful, upbeat visit, with her grandchildren constantly surprised at how sharp the old lady's mind was. She had a good grasp of what was going on in the outside world, and they all had a good and far ranging talk. Mrs. Hagerty questioned each of her visitors until she was satisfied that things were as they should be with each of them, and she opened her Christmas presents--little, practical items and some small, framed pictures of the family to make everyday life a little brighter for her.
Several hours passed quickly during which Matt took some group shots with the digital camera he had borrowed from his parents, and then it was lunchtime for the residents. Mike noticed that Grandma had begun to tire, so he and Matt put the boys' coats on them, and they all said their good-byes, accompanied by hugs and kisses, so that she could eat her lunch and get back into her routine.
Matt looked back as they left the room, and a picture of the surprisingly spry little old lady sitting in her chair was permanently and indelibly etched in his mind. For some reason he had a premonition that he might not see her again in this life, and tears began rolling silently down his cheeks. Mike immediately sensed what his partner was feeling, and he put his arm around him and held him tight as they all walked out to their cars.
Jeff and Andie headed back to the house after Matt and Mike transferred the kids and their booster seats to their car. The boys wanted to get back to their new toys, and Matt needed the room in his car for the priest and his luggage. Matt, Mike and Martha pointed their car toward the airport.
They parked in short term parking at the airport. Checking the display for arriving flights, they saw that Father David's plane was on time, so they walked as far as they could toward the gate through which he would be arriving. Standing at the security check point, they waited and watched down the long corridor. A few minutes later, the tall young priest, towering over most of the crowd, came into view. Dressed in Levi's, a T-shirt and sneakers, he looked like a young guy on vacation, which is what he was. Martha looked especially happy to see him, and his eyes lighted up when he spied them waiting for him.
"Hey, gang!" he said as he joined them. "Thanks for meeting me." He hugged Martha, and then Matt and Mike.
"Good to see you, Father. How was your flight?" Mike asked as he took the priest's carry-on bag and they all started moving toward the luggage claim area.
"Smooth as silk," the priest said. He put an arm across Martha's shoulders, and gave her another little hug as they walked. "How are you, Martha?"
"I'm fine. How was your Christmas?"
"Busy; but good. Father Rohm asked me to give you all his greetings, by the way."
"Thank you. We're glad you're here," Matt said, smiling. "Did you make it down to see your parents all right?"
David Howard groaned. "Yes. As usual, it was like visiting the anteroom of hell. Sometimes I think they hate me. They gave me lots of crap about being a priest, which is kind of par for the course for them."
"I'm sorry," Matt said. He looked at David slyly out of the corner of his eye. "It'll all even out, though, 'cause around our house we all worship priests. Prepare to be idolized bigtime."
They all laughed.
"See," Mike said to David, "he's starting already. He just can't help himself."
"I know. He'll be more subdued after I whip him at basketball and run his butt into the ground while I'm here," David said, laughing again. "He was a wrestler, y'know, and that doesn't really qualify him as a true jock."
"Yes!!" Mike said as he and David high-fived. "I'm glad to find someone else who knows the score on that particular subject."
"Shoot!" Matt said, pretending to look their visitor up and down. "You Indiana University boys talk a good game, but you always fold under pressure. That's cool, though, because I've always thought that humility was especially becoming to a clergyman."
"Yeah, yeah. If you can stop flapping your gums for a minute, my bag is coming around the corner, here." They had reached the baggage retrieval point for David's flight just as his suitcase rounded the first bend on the carousel. The priest stepped through the crowd quickly, and snatched it up just before it got away.
Martha just took it all in, laughing at the guys as they bantered back and forth. She was really glad to see David Howard again, and she knew he was going to fit in with their gang at the house really well.
They left the terminal and found their car, stowing David Howard's bags in the trunk. Mike sat in the front with Matt, and Martha and Father David in the back.
They talked and listened to music on the way home. When they arrived back at the house and pulled up at the front door, Justice and Mrs. Broman, Jeff and Andie, and Stan and Linda went out to the car and greeted the new arrival while Chris stood in the doorway on his crutches.
"Father, it's so good to see you again!" Jane Broman gave the young priest a hug. "Welcome!"
"We're glad you could come, Father Howard," Justice Broman said, shaking hands with him. "You need a little vacation after all those Christmas services, and we're going to see that you get it."
"Thank you for having me," the young priest said. "I've really been looking forward to seeing you all." He shook hands with the other members of the welcoming committee as Matt opened the trunk of the car and removed the priest's two bags from it. Matt took one bag, Mike the other, and the whole crowd moved inside.
Chris, waiting at the door, extended his hand. "Hello again, Father. I'm Chris Russo. We met at Matt's and Mike's wedding reception."
"Of course, Chris. Good to see you. Did you have an accident since I saw you last?" the priest asked as he eyed the crutches and the cast on the policeman's arm.
"It's a long story," Chris said. "I'll tell you about it. Fortunately, I'm healing up well."
"Good. We'll talk while I'm here."
"Father David, Andie and I have some news for you." Jeff proudly held up Andie's left hand for inspection. The big diamond in her engagement ring sparkled.
"Jeff! Congratulations, man!" David said. "And Andie! This is wonderful news!" He drew both of them into a hug.
"Maybe we can have a few minutes of your time while you're here," Andie said. "We'd like to talk to you about being married at St. Stephen's. By you," she added.
"We'll talk," the priest said.
"Matt and Mike, why don't you show Father David to his room?" Mrs. Broman suggested. "Father, when you come down, please join us in the library for a drink before dinner."
"You're speaking my language," David Howard said, smiling.
The three of them started up the winding staircase, the priest staring all the while at the monster Christmas tree in the hall as if he couldn't believe it.
"Where in the world did you find that tree?" he asked.
"Dad grows them right on the property, down by the river," Mike said. "The first Christmas I was here, I nearly fell on my butt when I first came in the front door and saw it."
Matt and Mike walked the priest to his room, where he opened his suitcase on a luggage rack and then used the bathroom.
"Are we dressing for dinner?" David asked as he emerged, drying his hands and face on a towel.
"No way, man!" Matt said. "We do as little of that as possible around here."
"Perfect! This is my kind of place. Thanks again for inviting me."
The three of them went downstairs to the library and joined the rest of the family. Justice Broman made David Howard a generous Stoli martini on the rocks with a twist. The young priest started to get a little buzz on, and nibbled on sharp cheddar cheese and crackers. He could feel himself beginning to relax as he talked with the family, sitting beside Martha on a couch. David knew he was starting to have feelings for this young woman, who was pretty and smart, and as he was finding out, very witty. She could hold her own quite well with any of the wise-ass boys in the family when it came to bantering back and forth. David sat there contentedly, sipping his drink, enjoying the conversation, and watching the three little boys as they played enthusiastically with their new toys over by the Christmas tree.
Jeff, playing the brat, caught his dad's eye and said, "A hundred and thirty." When Justice Broman looked puzzled, Jeff pantomimed driving a car, and said it again. Mr. Broman just shook his head, and then erupted into laughter.
"Get over here, Jeff," his dad said.
"What are ya gonna do?"
"Just come over here."
Jeff went cautiously over to his dad, who stood up and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"You're full of the dickens, but we love you anyway," the older man told him.
Jeff laughed, kissed his dad in return, and went back to sitting by Andie.
After about an hour, Branford announced that dinner was served, and the family and guests made their way to the dining room in clumps of two and three. When they were all standing around the table, Justice Broman asked his wife, in her place at the foot of the table, to offer thanks.
"Heavenly Father," she said in her calm, quiet voice, "You are our hope and strength, the giver of all good gifts. We bless Your Name for the great joy You have given us in bringing us together this Christmas season. You have filled us with Your plenty in a multitude of ways, Lord, and we are grateful. We ask Your blessing on those who are dear to us and who are not with us today, that you will sustain them always in Your love and care. The food we are about to receive is Your great gift as well, and we ask Your blessing upon it, upon those who prepared it, and upon us as we partake of it. We offer our prayer through Christ our Lord."
Everyone sat down under the huge, crystal chandelier amid the flickering candles and gleaming cutlery, the men seating the ladies as Matt, Mike and Stan put the boys on booster chairs and pushed them up to the table. The wait staff first served bowls of baked French onion soup with a delicious caramelized crust on it, followed by a fresh green salad as Branford himself poured an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand into the wine glasses. The main course was roasted poussins with anchovy-mustard pan sauce, served by staff from huge, steaming platters. Sweet potatoes and mashed regular potatoes along with string beans and cooked beets and cranberry sauce were in large bowls at strategic points around the table. Dessert, after all had eaten the main course, was a Grand Marnier soufflé that was like a foretaste of heaven.
Justice Broman was so pleased with the meal that when they were finished, he went into the kitchen and insisted that Mrs. Brighton and the cook come out for applause. They received a generous dose of it.
The evening passed quickly after they went back to the library, everybody's favorite room, as they all talked and the kids played with their toys. Martha and David played monopoly with Stan and Linda. Stan cleaned everybody's clock.
By nine o'clock, Matt and Mike were so horny for each other they could hardly stand it. Mike had to laugh to himself when he caught his partner staring at Mike's crotch from across the room. He got the message. After Stan and Linda promised they would see that Chris got upstairs in one piece, Matt and Mike collected the kids--it was already well past their bedtime--and said goodnight to everyone after kissing their mom and dad, and they went upstairs.
They bathed the boys, put them in their PJ's, listened to their prayers, kissed them soundly, and put them in bed, with no time wasted. The little guys were asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows.
Practically running to their own room, they went in and locked the door behind them. After cleaning their teeth, each stripped the other of his clothes. Not surprisingly, they were both totally hard.
"You have such a beautiful body, Mike. It makes me want to make love to you until my dick falls off," Matt told him, starting to french his partner as they stood beside their bed and he squeezed Mike's dick in his hand.
Mike laughed when they stopped kissing. "Until your dick falls off? That might be a little extreme, doncha think?" he asked. "But I knew you were horny when I caught you downstairs using x-ray vision on my crotch."
Matt laughed. "You were right."
First turning down the bed, the two of them climbed in eagerly. After caressing one another and licking and nibbling each other in all the right places, they 69'd, side by side, ready to take the edge off their passion. They both ejaculated so quickly and voluminously that they couldn't swallow the juice fast enough despite their best efforts, and it ran down their faces into the sheets. They held one another tenderly then, dozing for a few minutes.
Recharged quickly, Matt awakened and began to rim Mike thoroughly, giving both of them much pleasure. He then opened Mike up, using lube, first inserting one finger, then two, then three. When Mike was dilated and ready, Matt put his partner's legs on his shoulders and entered him slowly until his pubes were against Mike's ass. Matt began to thrust gently in and out, hitting the waiting prostate with each stroke, watching and loving that handsome face looking up at him.
Mike began to leak some precum each time Matt thrust into him, and it began to pool on his abs. Matt leaned down in mid-thrust and licked it up greedily, scarcely pausing in his rhythm. As minutes passed, Mike's need to ejaculate grew, and he urged Matt on in his work of love and pleasure by reaching up and pinching his nipples. Matt eventually acceded, locking his back and thrusting ever more quickly in and out. He finally came inside Mike with a deep groan just as Mike let fly. Mike's cum first painted his own face before diminishing spurts marked his neck, his pecs, his abs. Totally spent, Matt lay down on his partner's body, gasping for breath. Slowly recovering, they lay there unmoving as Matt's dick softened and eventually fell away from his partner's body.
After a few minutes, Mike rolled Matt off of him and went into the bathroom for warm, moistened hand towels with which he carefully cleaned first his lover and then himself. Finished, he cast the towels aside, and climbed back into bed. He thought Matt was sleeping, but he wasn't.
"I love you, Mike," he said, eyes closed.
Then he was asleep.
Mike lay beside Matt in happiness unsurpassed, gently nuzzling and kissing his partner's beautiful chest until he, too, fell into oblivion.
I appreciated all the emails of congratulations on the award from the Gay Writers Guild. It remains to be seen whether Chris Russo will heal up before "the Weasel" manages to get back into action and make trouble for Matt and the family. Matt and Mike begin to put together the plans for a shelter for gay runaways in Part 5. Again, my thanks to Scotty for editing and proofing. firstname.lastname@example.org