WORKING IT OUT--Book 3, Part 5

With the days of their vacation rolling by, Matt was determined to wring every bit of pleasure he could out of the time the Chicago gang had together in Pennsylvania.  The fourth morning after Christmas, after every one had eaten and had sat around the dining room table talking for awhile and digesting their food, he decided it was time to find out if Father Howard was as good a jock as his reputation suggested.  The weather was cold and clear, about 32° F, and the sun shone down brightly on the grounds of the Broman estate.

He persuaded Mike, Stan, Linda, Andie, Martha, Jeff, and Father David to change into their running clothes and sweats.  Once outside, they did their stretches, and then they all ran two round trips to the front gate and back for a total of four miles.  That was just to get warmed up.  Matt and Mike located a basketball in one of the garages.  It was flat, so they inflated it with a tire pump.  Then they all hauled a basketball backboard and hoop on wheels out of another of the garage bays, stationing it in the driveway.  Marking the court boundaries with mounds of snow from the yard, they were preparing to choose up sides when Father David proposed that he take Linda, Martha and Andie for his team.  He said he would spot the opposing team 5 points of the 21 points they would need to win a game.  Matt, Mike, Stan and Jeff eagerly took the bait.

"Father, it's gonna be personally painful for us to humiliate you," Matt said with a grin.  "But hold up, I'm gonna get Chris out here to referee from the sidelines in case your team does anything too outrageous.  Mike, would you get a chaise out of the garage?  I'll get Chris."

Within a couple of minutes Chris had his Illinois State Police cap and his coat on and had crutched his way out of the house to the chair.  Matt wrapped him in a stadium blanket he had brought from the house so he wouldn't get chilled.

"Cool hat, dude!" Jeff told the young cop.

"Thanks.  Anybody who fouls during this game is busted.  All right, I'm thinking of a number between one and ten," Chris said.  "Pick one," he told Father David and Matt.

The number was 10, and Matt was closest with an 8, so Stan from Matt's team took the ball out, fired it in to Jeff, and the game was underway.  Matt and Mike already knew that Martha was an excellent basketball player and aggressive as all get out, but they were unpleasantly surprised to find out that Andie and Linda, after they stole the ball from them a few times, were almost as good and equally as aggressive.

But the monster player out there was David Howard.  He had been a forward on the first string of the Indiana University varsity basketball team two years running when they won conference titles.  His height, agility and ball handling ability left the guys' team frustrated, and all Martha, Linda and Andie really had to do was feed him the ball and it was a score.  The man didn't even have to drive on the basket if he didn't want to.  He could just stand anywhere on the court and launch, half the time without setting up, and all you heard was net.  The score see-sawed back and forth, with every point hard won, but as they played on and on, the priest's team won the last 3 out of 4 games despite the 5 point advantage Matt's team had at the start of each game.

"Damn, you're good!" Matt acknowledged to the priest after they all finally called it quits, giving David's muscular ass a pat through his sweats, which by then were soaked with perspiration despite the cold.  "I take back everything bad I ever said about IU."

David Howard threw an arm around Matt's neck affectionately and squeezed, pulling Matt toward him as they walked side by side toward the front door, forcing Matt to walk angled sideways.

"Everybody did well!" David  insisted.  "Those were four good games!  Thanks.  I totally needed the exercise."

"I thought that you, being a priest, would sacrifice winning so your opponents could feel good."  Matt simulated a whine, looking up slyly at his tall tormentor, who still had him in a necklock.

"I did sacrifice, by helping my team win so you'd be humbled and closer to the Lord," David said, drawing a laugh from the members of both teams.

"I think he gotcha there, Matt," Martha said, chortling.

The players all went in and showered, and then congregated again in the library about a half-hour before lunch.  Matt, Mike, Stan and David sat on the floor in a circle in front of the fire while Martha and Linda and Jeff and Andie and Chris kept the little boys occupied around the Christmas tree.

"Matt, have you decided how you want to approach the bullying problem at school when we get back?" David asked.

"Not really," Matt admitted.  "I wanted to talk with you first.  Tell me a little about the principal.  Mike and I have met him, but I don't really know anything about him."

"Well, I'll share what I know off the top of my head," the priest said.  "His name is Bob Fischer.  He's an Ed.D. who did his work at the University of Illinois at Champaign.  He looks to be about 30 years old, he's married, with one child and one on the way.  He's been skillful in working with the teachers, I think, and seems to set decent standards for academics.  The teachers like him and seem to respect him.  I've never had the chance to see how he handles conflict, but he seems to have the confidence of Father Rohm, who's the equivalent of his superintendent, and the Vestry, which serves in the same capacity as a school board on matters pertaining to the school.  That's about all I know.  He's always been pleasant to me."

"It sounds as if he's somebody we can have a reasonable conversation with," Mike said.

"I hope so," Matt said.

"I'd like to come with you when you talk to him, if you'll let me," Father David said.

"I'm not ruling that out, but I'm just worried that he might think we're ganging up on him," Matt said.  "Stan is our witness, so he has to be there, and Mike and I will both be there.  It might seem like four against one if you're there.  And besides, Father, you're a member of parish administration, so Fischer might feel we went over his head right from the git-go.  Which of course is what I did when I called you up right away."

"No, you didn't," Father David said.  "You just used me as a sounding board when you couldn't reach anybody at school.  But I get your point.  Maybe I'd better not be there.  Promise me you'll let me know right away how it goes, though.  This issue is going to be dealt with, I can tell you that."  He looked over pensively at the three little boys playing under the Christmas tree.  "I still get steamed every time I think about what happened."

"You and me both, Father," Stan said.  "I know why those two little jerks did what they did.  I know their sickness well because I had it.  But it still tears me up inside to think about what happened to our little guys."

Mike was sitting next to Stan, and he put his arm around him and gave him a quick hug without saying anything.

"Let me ask you this," the priest said.  "What will be your objectives in your discussion?"

Matt regarded him thoughtfully.  "Let me throw out a couple of things.  There certainly may be more.  First, we want to identify the two perps, not for punishment, but to see that they get some help.  I think that's important in light of what you told me about the negative life experiences facing bullies, David.  Second, we need to talk about a good prevention program to address the problem consistently throughout the whole school and for the long term.  Whatever program is selected, it should become a standard, recognized part of the curriculum, don't you think?"

Heads nodded.

"I've read about a bullying prevention program called 'Peaceful Schools' that the Menninger Foundation developed," Mike said.  "They've identified one of the most important keys to eliminating bullying--by turning bystanders into supporters for the victims.  That ups the ante for bullies by removing their passive support.  I don't think the program comes cheap, but it's apparently very effective, from what I read.  Maybe we can look into it."

Heads nodded again.

"What else?" Matt asked.

The four of them sat there in silence, just thinking.

"What about the issue of no adult supervision outside the building after classes let out?" Stan asked.

"You're right about that, Stan," Mike agreed.  "Good supervision has the most immediate impact on the bullying problem in any school."

"Good," Matt said.  "That's three.  Can anybody think of anything else we need to raise with him?"

"I think we should try to get Fischer to agree to draft a formal, written policy on bullying that he can live with, run it by the teachers for their input and buy-in, and then take it to Father Rohm and the Vestry for adoption," Mike suggested.  "There shouldn't be any question in anyone's mind from here on in how bullying will be responded to.  It would be nice if he'd let us take a look at it before he submits it for final approval, but I suppose we can't insist on that."

"I'm pretty sure Father Rohm would let you review it for your suggestions if Fischer won't agree to let you see it first," Father David said.

"That would be cool," Matt said.  "Ya know, guys, I came across an interesting case from Wisconsin the other day having to do with bullying," Matt said

The others looked at him inquiringly.

"It was a 1997 case in federal district court, if I remember correctly," he said.  "A gay kid who was attending public school in Ashland, Wisconsin, underwent terrible bullying.  Investigative reports said he was terrorized practically every day.  His tormentors would catch him in the school bathrooms repeatedly and urinate on him, and one time even subjected him to a mock rape.  Finally, he was so badly beaten that he had to undergo surgery.  He dropped out of school more than once because his situation was so terrible, but at long last his parents filed suit in federal court against the school district with the help and support of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"The school district eventually settled for just short of $1 million in damages, basically for ignoring what was being done to this kid.  I mention it, not because our three boys were tormented because they're gay, but because schools have an affirmative duty to protect their students from being bullied because it affects their ability to get an education.  I think the court verdict could be construed as protecting more than just gay kids from bullying.  Victims should have and do have legal remedies. Costly legal remedies for the defendant school districts."

The four young men fell silent for a minute, thinking about the terrible things the young boy in Wisconsin had endured.  Stan felt so bad about what had happened to the kid that he looked away so no one would see he had tears in his eyes.

"That's one story I hope I don't have to repeat in the course of our discussion with Dr. Fischer," Matt finally said, breaking the silence.  "Threats of a lawsuit aren't the kind of persuasion we want to use at St. Stephen's to address our issue."  He paused.  "Well, I can't think of anything else at this point, can you?" Matt asked the other three.  They nodded in the negative.

At that point, Branford came to the door of the library and announced that lunch was being served.  The four young men stood up and, following Mike' initiative, placed their hands on top of one another as if they were leaving a team huddle.  "Team!" they all said together quietly, smiling.  Then they collected the kids and Chris, and followed the crowd into the dining room.

*  *  *

Jane Broman was a woman on a mission.  She was excited about getting started on her latest project.

She had eaten a leisurely and enjoyable breakfast with the family and their guests that fourth day after Christmas, and now it was time to get to work.  Marching down the upstairs hall of the house to her studio, in her mind she was already designing the new setting for Andie's engagement ring.  Then wedding rings for the young couple would come next.

She was pleased for Jeff that he had met someone he really cared for.  His previous dating relationships, the ones she had been aware of, at any rate, had always been casual and low-key.  With those girls, there had never been even a hint of the feelings she had sensed were growing apace between Jeff and Andie when she had first met the young woman in Chicago during the week of Matt's and Mike's wedding.

The suddenness of her middle child's engagement this Christmas had surprised her a little, but she wasn't troubled by it.  Matt and Mike had intimated to her and Justice Broman a long time ago that Andie had played a significant role in restoring Jeff to an even keel after his little bout with heroin abuse.  That was back when he'd been uptight about his life and a little mad at the world.  By any measure, Andie was a lovely young woman, emotionally generous and as smart as she was beautiful.  Jane had a good feeling about the relationship between these two young people, a relationship which would move to yet a new level when they married.

She opened the door to her studio and snapped on the fluorescent lights high overhead as she stepped inside.  A wall of two-story windows facing the north admitted a flood of light, even on cloudy days such as this, but for her kind of work, the more light, the better.  To the casual eye, the place was in a shambles, but Jane Broman knew where everything was down to the smallest gemstone.

She smiled.  She had practically had to arm wrestle Andie to get the engagement ring off her finger.   Now she placed it on a black velvet pad for a moment while she located a jeweler's loupe in a drawer.  Sitting down on a stool and positioning the loupe in the socket of her right eye as she had done thousands of times, she picked up the ring and examined the stone closely under a halogen desk lamp.  She knew Jeff had paid handsomely for the ring.  She was pleased when she confirmed that the stone was a flawless round diamond with good clarity in a fiery ideal cut.  It was in a prong setting on an 18K gold ring, and Mrs. Broman removed the stone from the ring and weighed it on her scales.  Slightly over one carat.  Jeff, my boy, you must love this girl a lot, she thought to herself.

She placed the diamond and the ring itself in a small envelope, labeled it, and put it in a fireproof file drawer for safekeeping.  Taking a sharpened, soft #1 pencil from a coffee cup full of them, she laid a blank piece of paper on the desk and began sketching, trying to translate some of the wonderful spirit of this young woman into what would become a new emanation in platinum.

If that translation went smoothly, Andie might well be wearing it when she left for Chicago instead of leaving it behind as they had originally planned.  Jane unconsciously hummed a tune from an operatic aria she had heard recently as she totally immersed herself in the work at which she was so skilled.  To be able to offer her craftsmanship as a gift to the woman Jeff loved meant so much to her.

The first sketch pleased her, but she knew her concept still needed work.

*  *  *

That night Matt and Mike lay holding each other after they had made love.

Earlier, Mike had put Matt on his back in their bed, and after good and prolonged soul kisses, had begun slowly running his tongue over Matt's defined chest, pausing to nibble and lick his nipples until they were engorged and sensitive.  Moving on down, he teased his partner's navel before returning briefly to his nipples and then moving to his armpits, which he had tongued repeatedly.  Then, ignoring his cock for the moment, he had begun licking his balls and the sensitive perineum behind it.  By that time Matt had been sighing appreciatively and his dick had hardened to its usual generous proportions.

After softly kissing and licking the inside of Matt's thighs, Mike had then tongued his lover's penis as it lay hard and extended on his abdomen.  He had tasted the first hint of sweet precum leaking from the slit as he had circled the corona.  When his partner's dick had been glistening with saliva and pulsing with Matt's every heartbeat, he had deep-throated it, for a long time just holding the head of it deep in his throat where it had been spasmodically squeezed.

"Oh, fuck yes!" Matt had said, tensing up with pleasure.

Mike eventually had had to breathe, though, at which point he had pulled off Matt's cock altogether.  Gently raising his partner's legs, Mike had rolled him up to expose that beautiful jock ass with its hairless pucker, pink and begging for attention.  Teasingly, he had licked all around the now winking hole for some time before eventually laving it directly and then penetrating it with his tongue.  Kissing it, licking it, sucking it, stabbing it, Mike had had Matt groaning and twitching by then, badly wanting what he knew Mike had for him.

When at last Matt had begun to beg openly to be penetrated, Mike had taken pity and reluctantly stopped rimming.  Putting Matt's muscular calves on his shoulders, he had applied just enough pressure to pop his erect dick past the sphincter muscle, and leaving it there for the moment, had lain down full length on his partner's body to steal yet another kiss while waiting for Matt's pucker to adjust to its welcome invader.

Watching Matt's handsome face, Mike had slowly moved farther into him until he was home at last in the tight cocoon of his partner's ass.  Their eyes had locked on one another in the love and joy of their coupling.  Mike had begun to long-dick the beautiful man beneath him, smoothly, deliberately, wanting their fleshly union to be pleasurable as long as possible, not wanting it ever to end.  Adjusting his angle of penetration from time to time, Mike had returned again and again to the slant at which his cockhead best massaged Matt's prostate.  Matt's sweet precum had continued to dribble from his cock, puddling in the creases of his abs and his navel.  Mike eagerly scooped it up on his fingers periodically and consumed it.

The sexual tension for both of them had built and then had waned and then built again as Mike had varied  the speed of his ministrations, deliberately lengthening this exhilarating testament to their love for one another.

Eventually their passion had defied even the most pleasureful control, and Matt's cock had begun rocketing huge streams of his thick seed, hitting first his chin and then covering his chest with his essence even as he had felt Mike's sperm exploding and coating his insides.  Mike had eventually collapsed on top of his partner as they had panted for breath and begun to come down from their high.

Now, perspiring, satiated and on the verge of drifting off to sleep, they were still enjoying their sticky embrace, the closeness of their bodies.  They were on their sides, facing one another.

"I don't think I could love you any more than I do," Mike said softly to his partner, gently kissing his face and his neck and his chest still damp with the residue of their lovemaking.  "You've given me so much joy in my life, Matt.  Every day I have with you is a blessing, pure and simple.  Touching your body still thrills the hell out of me, even after all the years we've been lovers.  Sometimes I really hafta wonder what I've done to be so fortunate."

"Mikey, you're the absolute love of my existence.  If I've ever done anything right, owning up to my true nature and re-asking you to be my partner in life is at the top of the list.  So many people have a lifelong struggle finding someone to love who will love 'em back.  And even then sometimes they seem to have to struggle to keep their relationship alive and healthy.  Gay, straight, it doesn't seem to matter.  It's a struggle.  And then there's you and me.  We're the most fortunate people I know in what we feel for each other.  I don't know why we've been exempted from so much of the struggle when it comes to maintaining our relationship, but we have.  So--I can expend all my energy on loving just you.  Only you, sweetboy."  Matt smiled and kissed Mike back gently on the lips, looking into his blue eyes, pulling Mike closer to him and then brushing his hair back off his forehead.

"Well, there's only one explanation for our relationship.  It's low maintenance because you're so damn cute," Mike kidded his partner.  He put his nose in Matt's scalp and breathed in.  "And you smell so good."

"There's that.  But you're too cute yourself to even hafta discuss it, bud.  Even your sweat is a turn-on.  Actually, though, I've concluded that the only explanation for our great relationship is the jokes we tell each other," Matt told him.

"No!  You think so?" Mike asked, pretending to be aghast.

"Yeah.  Wanna hear one before we go to sleep?"

"It won't keep me awake, will it?"

"Well, if it's that stimulating, we'll make love again.  Then we'll sleep for sure," Matt promised.

"OK, let's hear it."

"Three old ladies were sitting side by side in rocking chairs at their retirement
home reminiscing about the days when they were keeping house and cooking.

"The first old lady recalled shopping at the green grocer's and
demonstrated with her hands, the length and thickness of a cucumber she
could buy for a penny.

"The second old lady nodded, adding that onions used to be much bigger and
cheaper also, and demonstrated the size of two big onions she could buy
for a penny a piece.

"The third old lady remarked, 'I  can't hear a word you're saying, but I
distinctly remember the gentleman you're talking about.'"

Mike grinned, and cupped Matt's basket.  "They must have been talking about you, cucumber boy!"

Matt returned the favor.  "No, you, I think.  The man with the big onions!"

That was all it took.  They both hardened again, and this time made love more deliberately with Matt joyfully topping.  Their coupling completed, they finally drifted off to sleep, holding one another, deeply content and now totally exhausted.

The next morning they awakened early, long before breakfast.  After a quick shower together to wash away the remnants of their lovemaking, they threw on their jocks, sweats, knit caps, jackets and gloves in preparation for their run.  They felt so good when they got outside that they did three round trips to the front gate and back, for a total of 6 miles.

When they went back in the house, all was still quiet.  Even Justice Broman, the earliest riser, wasn't up yet.  They showered together again, washing every nook and cranny of the other's body as they enjoyed doing, and after drying one another, lay down again in their bed wearing fresh undershorts.

"Dad and I had a really good talk yesterday," Matt told his partner.  "He helped clarify my thinking in a couple of areas about the work we want to do with gay kids in Chicago."

"What did he say?"

"Well, one of the things he told me--and I hope you don't get a big head over this--heh--is that you are very, very sharp with finances.  I already knew that, of course.  He said that if you have the time, I should consult with you on money matters as the project moves ahead.  I know you're really busy with school, but I want to do that."

"You know I want to be involved, fer sure," Mike said.

"He assured me that the Broman Foundation board was likely to be very generous with capital funds for the project.  He wants to put you and me and Jeff and Martha on the board with him and Mom as some of the current members' terms expire.  He didn't mention it, but I think I might have to do a project proposal so the Foundation would have something for its records if they make me a grant.  By the way, why didn't you tell me you want to merge the Berman and the Broman Foundations?"

"It's just a thought that popped into my mind when I was talking to Dad a few days before vacation.  Whaddaya think of the idea?" Mike asked.

"I like it.  I hope you'll keep the Berman name in mind for part of the new Foundation name, though.  Your mom and dad set up the Berman Foundation, and their family name shouldn't be forgotten.  Maybe the new dealie can be called the 'Berman-Broman Foundation' or something like that."

"See now, there's just one more example of why it's so easy for me to love you, babe.  You're such a good person.  With the exception of your 'joke gene,' of course.  That makes you pretty rotten sometimes."

"Shut up about that!"  Matt silenced him momentarily with a kiss.

"What else did Dad say?" Mike asked.

"He's really impressed with Stan these days, and so am I.  He thinks that when we're looking around for a CEO for the work with runaways, we should think seriously about him if he doesn't have other plans.  Stan's a very compassionate guy, and he loves kids, but he doesn't flinch when it comes to facing difficult issues, either.  He has courage.  And now that I think about it, I'd sure trust Linda to head up the medical outreach for the organization.  She's gonna have her RN credential very soon now, I think, and if we pay for it, I'd hope she continues for her Master's in Nursing.  She's tough, too.  Look how professionally she handled Chris when he was having a difficult time of it.  I don't think she'd have a problem working with homeless kids, do you?"

"No.  But don't you think it might be difficult to manage an organization run by good friends?  Could you fire one of them if it came down to that?"

"Well, the point is, I'm not planning to manage the day-to-day stuff," Matt said.  "Dad thinks it's important to have people loyal to us and to our vision running things day to day if they're competent.  I think they will be, if they agree to be involved.  But to answer your question, if our goals weren't being met, yes, I could fire the party involved if performance couldn't be improved."

"Yikes!  I hope I can stay on your good side," Mike said, deadpan.  "Was that all you talked about?"

"No.  Dad thinks we will need to be thinking about security for the shelter, and also wants us to do something about security for the family.  He's probably right on both counts.  You know I've always resisted the idea that we need formal protection for any of us family members because it tends to be so constrictive, but maybe, given everything going on in the world right now, we should give it some serious consideration.  I'm thinking about the kids, especially.  I'd die if somebody did something to any of them.  He thinks we should send Chris for some additional training on security matters, and hire him to head up security for the family and for any shelters we develop."

Mike sighed.  "He has a point.  I'll tell you what, though.  Make it a quid pro quo.  Tell him we'll move ahead on security for us when he does something about his and Mom's security, here and in Washington.  He's an important man, and I worry about his being the target of some nut.  If you don't want to confront him about it, I'll do it.  As for Chris, I think he would be a great choice for head of security for us if he'll take it."

"We won't know until we ask him," Matt said.  "I'm sure his decision will depend in part on whether he's forced to leave the State Police because of his hand.  As far as security for Dad and Mom is concerned, let's talk to them together."

At that point, three little heads poked in the bedroom door and studied their dads, making sure they were awake.  Matthew finally knocked softly on the half open door.  Matt and Mike looked over at them.

"Hey, guys," Mike said.  "Get your little selves over here!"

That was all it took, and Matt and Mike soon had lots of seriously cute and very lively company in bed.

"Matthew, thank you for knocking on the door before coming in," Matt praised their son.  "You're all such good boys when you're polite like that."

Then they all began to talk at once about fun things they could do together that day.  Building a snowman in the front yard was definitely at the top of the list.

*  *  *

That night, the Very Rev. Curtis Pennington Rohm sat in his study at St. Stephen's Rectory in Chicago putting the finishing touches on his pastoral theology presentation for a special seminar the next day at the Episcopal seminary in Evanston.  He took a lot of satisfaction in his teaching, both there and at Northwestern University, where he taught psychology.  He felt that teaching both at the university and the graduate levels stimulated and improved the way he discharged his pastoral duties as Dean of the Central Chicago Deanery and Rector of St. Stephen's Church.

His wife Alicia had just kissed him goodnight and gone to bed after preparing for the business class she was scheduled to teach the next day at the University of Chicago for another special holiday seminar.  Sometimes the holidays were the only time you could get alumni together without scheduling conflicts.

The priest's younger son and daughter were in their bedrooms studying for when their own graduate school classes resumed, and his older son was out on a date with his fiancée'.

As he did every night before he retired, the priest offered a silent prayer for his family, remembering especially his older boy, Curt, Jr., who had been missing for over ten years.  As time had passed and several searches had failed, Father Rohm had begun to lose hope that he would ever see his older son again.  The young man would be 27 years old now, if he was still alive.

The priest was startled when the telephone beside his chair rang.  He picked it up, glancing at the clock.  It was 9:45 p.m., a little later than parishioners usually called.

"Father Rohm?" a deep voice asked.  It sounded familiar to him, but he just couldn't place it.


"This is Matthew Broman," the justice said.  "I hope I'm not calling too late."

"Not at all.  How are you, sir?" the priest asked.

"Very well, thank you.  I hope your holidays have been good."

"Excellent.  And yours?"

"Just wonderful.  Thank you for giving Father Howard some time off.  We've thoroughly enjoyed having him here at the house with us."

"I'm glad.  He's a hard worker," Father Rohm said.  "He deserves the vacation."

"He's been teaching Matt and Mike and Jeff and their friends some humility out on the basketball court, I understand.  David looks like a pro out there," Mr. Broman said.

"He had offers from at least a couple of professional teams when he graduated from Indiana.  But he had a rather inconvenient call to the priesthood to deal with, and accepted that challenge instead."

"I'm glad for all our sakes that he did," the jurist said.  "I respect him so much.  He's a fine priest."

"He is that," Father Rohm agreed.

"Father, let me tell you why I called.  I have something to ask you, and I want you to tell me right out if this isn't something you'd like me to pursue."

"Of course."

"Matt has some exciting plans for services to runaway youngsters that he's going to be sharing with you when he gets back to Chicago.  In the course of our conversation on that subject he mentioned to me that you have a son who's been missing for some years."

"That's true," the priest said sadly.

"I've been looking for some way to express my gratitude to you personally and to St. Stephen's parish since Matt and Mike were married last Thanksgiving.
You and Father Howard conferred a great blessing on them in that sacrament.  So, just for starters, if you would permit it, I'd like to retain a firm of private investigators with which I'm familiar, one that specializes in tracing lost people, to look for your boy.  I think you deserve some closure to what I'm sure is a very painful mystery."

"Oh."  Father Rohm's throat tightened, and he couldn't speak for a moment.

"I'm sorry for just springing that proposal on you out of the blue like that," Mr. Broman said, sensing the priest's pain.

"I don't know what to say," Father Rohm said softly.  "All our previous efforts have come to naught."

"I'll be so appreciative if you agree to try one more time."

"The timing of your call amazes me," the priest said quietly.  "I was just sitting here thinking about Curt when the telephone rang."

"Father, you've helped so many.  My family has been blessed by your ministry.  Now let us do something for you.  Please."

The phone was silent for a moment.

"Thank you, Justice Broman.  I'll be very grateful for anything you can find out.  I have to warn you, though, the trail is cold.  Curt has been gone for just over 10 years now."

"I'm happy to undertake this on your behalf, Father.  Thank you.  The president of the firm I'm engaging is named Ron Evans, based in Philadelphia.  He'll personally be calling you and coming to meet with you.  For starters, though, can you send me a picture of Curt along with a physical description and brief résumé of the boy's life prior to his leaving?  I'll get them over to Ron before I return to Washington."

"Yes, of course."

"You hold a good thought about this endeavor, Father.  These folks are geniuses when it comes to finding lost people, and I'm not exaggerating."

Justice Broman gave the priest his mailing address in Pennsylvania, and they concluded the call.

Father Rohm sat in the stillness of his study for a long time, thinking and praying.  He especially gave thanks to God for Matthew J. Broman, Sr., and for the man's kindness to him and his family.

*  *  *

The next morning after their run and breakfast, Matt and Mike asked Chris to take a ride with them to a video store to get some Disney movies for the kids.  Chris wasn't hard to persuade, being full of pent up energy from not being able to exercise properly, and soon they were headed out the gate of the estate in Mrs. Broman's new Cadillac.  Mike was at the wheel and Chris was riding shotgun.  Matt leaned forward from the back seat to talk to Chris.

"We kind of made up this little jaunt so we'd have a chance to talk with you in private," Matt told him as they pulled out of the main gate and on to the road.  "If you don't agree to what we're gonna ask you to do, we're gonna leave you in a ditch by the side of the road somewhere."

"What, you lied to get me alone on false pretenses?!!!  This could be against Pennsylvania law, y'know!" Chris exclaimed with a grin.

"Cool your badge, there, buddy!" Matt retorted in kind.  "This is all in a good cause."

"Well, I guess I'm your prisoner.  Lay it on me," the young cop said.

"Actually I want to be serious for a change, Chris.  We want to make you an offer of employment," Matt said.

"You're kidding!"

"Nope.  We're making plans to create a shelter in Chicago for runaway kids after I graduate from law school, with special services for gay runaways.  Part of the plan has to include security for the kids we'll be taking  into the program.  Along with that, Dad has been on us for forever to look at the issue of security for our family.  So the job we have in mind for you would kind of be personal with respect to the family, but would include some important duties with respect to the new facility as well.  You would be supervising a fairly large security staff."

Chris was quiet for a minute.  "I'm flattered you'd think of me for the position, Matt, but I don't think I have the knowledge or the expertise to do the kind of job you're gonna need done," Chris finally responded.

"Maybe not right now," Matt said, "but if you agree to do this, we'd like to send you back to school for awhile to learn security top to bottom.  I don't have any doubts about your ability to pick up the information you'd need.  And speaking frankly, we want somebody we know and...well, somebody we love to handle this for us, somebody we know cares about us and the family, especially the kids."

Chris looked down at his feet for a moment when Matt spoke of their affection for him, and his face turned solemn.

"You make it pretty hard for me to say 'no' to you, especially when you tell me that you love me.  I never had any brothers, y'know, so you guys and your family and Aunt Carole are all I have.  So, as long as we're talking seriously right now, I want to thank you both for teaching me that people who are gay have as much right to happiness and acceptance in this world as anyone else.  I wasn't an easy sell, I know, but you've been patient and persistent, and you've opened my eyes and made me a better person just by being yourselves, and letting me get to know you.  You guys are the best of the best.  I can assure you that the 'old' Chris Russo never would have said openly what I'm going to say to two guys in my life, especially gay guys.  But it's important to me that you know I love both of you very, very much."

Mike and Matt were quiet for a moment.

"I don't think we quite expected to hear that, bro," Mike finally said, looking over at Chris.  "Thank you for saying that.  It means a lot to us.  You mean a lot to us."

Matt nodded, still a little at loss for words.

"As far as the job offer is concerned," Chris continued, "I want to think about it, but keeping you guys and the family safe, and helping keep young kids at a shelter
safe, is something I think I could put my heart into.  It's a job I can see myself doing and enjoying."

"We can't ask for more than that at this point," Matt said, regaining his voice.  "And in case you're wondering, the salary will be generous."

"Uh huh," Chris said.  "I'm just curious, though.  Would you guys commit to following my instructions on security matters if I took the job?  You're both strong, independent type guys.  You're used to making your own decisions on everything."

"We give you our word we'd do what you told us to do," Matt responded with a grin.  "Provided it wasn't too kinky."

"Well, I'll factor that into my decision, then," Chris said, laughing.

"Good," Matt said.  "We'd like you to continue to live with us, if you'd be comfortable doing that.  If Aunt Carole is lonely in her house and would want to, she can move in as well.  That's if Aunt Judy doesn't insist she go live with her and Uncle Jack.  I'm kidding, but they have really hit it off.  And when you find the right girl and want to settle down and have a family, Chris, we'll buy another condo in our building so you can have some privacy for your own family life, if that's what you'd want.  Speaking of condos, Mike, there's one on the floor right below us just going on the market.  Let's bid on it.  We don't know where Jeff and Andie will want to live at this point, but I don't think it would be a bad idea to buy both apartments below us, if we can.  If nothing else, real estate is a great investment right now."

"You're right about that," Mike said.  "As you always are.  Heh.  Why don't we get together with Jeff and Andie when we get back and talk about their plans, and then we better have a little Chicago family meeting.  How does that sound?"

"It sounds poy-fectly awesome!  Just like everything you say," Matt replied.

Chris laughed.  "You two crack me up!"

They arrived at the video store, and after 20 minutes or so of browsing, had chosen several Disney movies for the kids and a couple of adventure flicks for the older kids--themselves.

On the way home, Matt told Mike and Chris the story about the man who walked into a brothel and approached a beautiful Oriental courtesan.

"'Is it true Asian women's vaginas are slit sideways?' the man asked.

"'Why?' she responded. 'Are you a harmonica player?'"

Chris laughed, and even Mike had to join in.

"All right, I have one for you," Chris said.  "A cop story, naturally.

"A female police officer pulled over a man
for DUI and said, 'You are under arrest.
Anything you say can and will be held
against you.'

"The drunk appeared to be thinking for
a moment.  He then slowly announced,
'Tits.' "

Chris and Mike high fived as the guys laughed their asses off.

"It's hetero day on the joke farm," Matt quipped.

When the three of them arrived back at the house and went in, they found most of the family in the library talking, as usual.   Jeff and Andie were lying in front of the fireplace in the throes of a minor make-out session, looking deeply into one another's eyes.

"Cow eyes," Mike commented about them to Stan, who was sitting close by with Linda.

"Better than cow pies!" Matt and Stan said together, breaking into laughter with Mike.

Linda smacked Stan on the shoulder.  "Behave yourself!" she told him, trying not to laugh herself.

Chris took all this in, not knowing what to think.

"I s'pose you yokels think you're funny?" Jeff asked, surreptitiously giving them the finger so only the offenders and Chris saw it..

"Well, the thought had occurred to us, yes," Matt admitted.

"I don't let Lin look into my eyes like Andie's doing to you, Jeff," Stan said.

"All right, I'll bite.  Why not?" Jeff asked.

"'Cause that's how they read your inner-most thoughts," Stan said.  "And you oughta be ashamed of yourself, boy!"

The young guys all laughed, even Father David.

Jeff groaned and dropped his head to the floor.  "Stanley, you've been hanging out too long with M & M.  They're taken a nice guy like you used to be and corrupted you!"

"You're probably right," Stan said.  "It's been a trip, though!  And I have to admit I've enjoyed every minute of it!"

"Jeff and Andie, Matt and I need to talk to you," Mike said.  "On a serious subject, for a change."

"No, we're not naming our first-born after you!" Andie said.

"Oh, heck," Mike said.  "I was counting on your naming it 'Michael' if it was a boy, and 'Michaela' if it was a girl.  Well, that ends that fantasy."

"You do have a rich fantasy life, Mike," Matt interjected.  "I should share with the group some of the stuff you've told me."

"That might be a little racy for the general public, doncha think?" Stan said.  "I mean, the one you told me where Mike and the chimpanzee..." Stan's voice trailed off into silence amid general laughter.

"Seriously, though, we do want to talk to you about some stuff," Matt said to Jeff and Andie.

"Here?" Jeff asked, yawning and stretching lazily in the warmth of the fire.

"No, let's go down to the small sitting room," Matt said.

Jeff stood and put a hand down to help Andie up.  She grasped it and hauled herself to her feet, and the four of them excused themselves and walked down the hall to a little jewel of a room at the front of the house, with leaded glass windows overlooking the front lawn.  Oil paintings by early American artists adorned the walls, and a loveseat and several overstuffed chairs provided seating amid strategically placed antique tables and lamps.  Jeff and Andie claimed the loveseat and Matt and Mike pulled chairs closer.

"Mike and I were talking earlier on the way to the video store," Matt started the conversation.  "We want to fill you in on some of our plans for after I graduate from law school.  In a nutshell, I'm going to try to increase services in Chicago to runaway kids, especially gay kids, by building a shelter or maybe more than one. There will be lots of good programming for those who live there.  We haven't talked to Stan and Linda about it yet, but we're thinking about asking them to be involved in running our facility or facilities.  Also, Dad wants us to hire somebody for security for the family and security for the shelter, and we're trying to persuade Chris to head up a security team.

"Anyway," Matt continued, "we realized that we don't know what your plans are for after you guys are married.  Andie, you're going to have another year in school at Northwestern unless you transfer somewhere else.  Jeff, I don't know whether you've decided what you're gonna do after you graduate.  So--we wanted to invite you guys to live with us if that's something that you think would work out.  For as long as you want, I mean, not just a year.

"We'll understand perfectly if you feel you want more privacy than our situation would afford," Matt went on.  "But we're thinking about buying a condo on the floor beneath ours, and maybe connecting the apartments some way with an internal stairway.  So it wouldn't be as if you'd be stuck in one bedroom if you did want to live with us but wanted more room.  We just wanted you to know what we're thinking about so you could talk things over.  We won't be offended or anything if you want to do something else.  It goes without saying that we love you both no matter where you want to live."

Andie and Jeff looked at each other and smiled, and then over at Matt and Mike.

"You guys are incredibly generous," Andie said.  "I hope you grasp how much I love this family.  Jeff and I have talked about our situation, and believe it or not, we were going to ask you if we could live with you, at least for awhile."

Mike clapped his hands.  "Excellent!!  I'd really have missed you if you'd moved somewhere else!  Andie, Jeff helped me keep going through some very bad times for me, so..."  Mike's emotions overcame him, and he stopped talking.

"Helping each other out has been a two-way street for all of us," Jeff said quietly.  "You guys really saved my life when I was into some bad shit. You're both smart-asses, but I love you so much.  So if your hearts are big enough to take us in, then we're gonna take you up on your offer."

"You two are so good together!" Matt said to the young couple.  "And you found each other out of the billions of people on this earth and fell in love, just like Mike and I did.  As Mary always says, 'You're a blessing!'  So, you've made us very happy today.  Jeff, do you know what you're gonna do after graduation?"

"Yeah.  I'm negotiating with the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates right now to try out for their farm systems this coming Spring.  If I make the cut, that means being out of town a lot.  That's another reason I want us to be living with you guys, so Andie will be with family while she finishes up her last year in school and I'm gone."

"Jeff, dude, not the CUBS!!!" Mike said reproachfully.  "Tell me its not true."

"Hey, they need me," Jeff laughed.  "I can help them win."

"For them to win, you'd have to be the Messiah!" Matt said.

"I'm feeling my special powers even as we speak," Jeff said with a grin.  "Hey, I know that trying to get into the majors is probably a long shot, but I'd never forgive myself if I didn't give it a shot.  We'll see if I've got what it takes."

"In or out of the majors, you've definitely got what it takes, bro," Mike said.  "I think you're totally doing the right thing, though, following your dream."

"Do Mom and Dad know?" Matt asked Jeff.

"No.  I'm gonna tell 'em before I go back to school.  So I'd appreciate it if you don't say anything about it."

"You got it, bro," Matt said.  "Thanks for sharing your plans.  And it's gonna be great having you guys making your home with us.  Thanks for that, too."

The four of them stood and had themselves a Broman family hug, forehead to forehead.  Jeff and Andie exchanged kisses with Matt and Mike, and they all went back to the library.

Mike was pumped from Matt's and his discussion with Jeff and Andie, and so he rousted the younger set out of their comfortable chairs to change and go for a swim before lunch, making sure that Chris was included even though he couldn't go in the water.  Mike was so persuasive that even Justice and Mrs. Broman changed into swim suits and went with them to enjoy the pool.  The kids loved having their grandma and grandpa swimming with them, and showed off every trick in the water that they knew.

*  *  *

The dirty, gray bus marked "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" sped down the icy, narrow highway, filled with prisoners who were being transferred from a maximum security facility to a medium security one.  It was getting late, and the afternoon light was just beginning to fade.  The driver was a man with 20 years experience on the job, and he had never seen it fail.  The transferring facility never worried about the clock, and was invariably late loading the prisoners, dressed in their washed-out gray uniforms with "DOC" in bright orange letters on the back, into the bus.  That meant that he would be late for dinner--again.  So the driver was moving down the road faster than he should have been, albeit through sparse traffic.

And the driver had another gripe, too.  He had no state police escort as he was supposed to have, because the trooper assigned to the duty had been tied up with a bad traffic accident, so the squad car just hadn't shown up.  Basically, nothing was going right for the man, and he was thoroughly pissed off.

They were humming along the highway down in a hollow with modest, snow covered hills on each side of the road when suddenly, out of nowhere, a snowmobile with two people aboard exploded off the hillside on the left and into the headlights, right in front of the bus.  The driver slammed on the brakes, causing the bus to begin to fishtail on the slick ice.  It first struck the moving snowmobile a glancing blow and then, totally out of control and by then perpendicular to the road, began rolling over repeatedly.  The prisoners and their guards were slammed again and again against the sides, roof and floor of their moving cage, wrecking bloody carnage until the bus finally came to rest on its roof.  An eerie silence prevailed as the wheels on the vehicle continued to spin.

At first no one inside the bus moved.  Neil Anderson, "the Weasel," regained consciousness slowly, feeling the beginnings of a bad headache.  He began moving his arms and legs.  All his appendages appeared to be intact and uninjured.  He cautiously moved into a sitting position and looked around him.  In the dim light he saw that the heavy steel mesh which had separated the rear section of the bus where the prisoners rode from the guards' section had been flattened.  The ravaged bodies around him remained inert, unmoving.  A guard with one leg twisted grotesquely behind him and blood seeping from a head wound lay nearby.  The man didn't appear to be breathing.

Anderson nudged the guard cautiously, with no response.  Moving at a snail's pace, he removed a bunch of keys still attached to the man's belt, and after trying several, found the right one and unlocked the manacles from his wrists and ankles.  Gathering his strength, he knocked out the remnants of a broken window with the mesh torn off, and inched out into the pavement.  It was cold.  He went back into the bus and laboriously stripped the nearest guard down to his underwear, removed his own prison clothes, and changed into the dark blue uniform.  The guard's clothes were warmer.  And he now had a gun and a badge.

Crawling out through the window again, he stood and looked around.  The snowmobile, with two prone, unmoving human forms nearby, lay in the ditch on its side.  The headlight was still on.  He walked over to it and with an effort managed to right it.  Pushing a button labeled "Start," the motor fired up immediately.  He looked the vehicle over quickly and saw no major damage, only a few pieces of broken plastic and scratches on the vinyl seats.

Anderson had never driven such a machine before, but he knew he had only minutes to get away from the crash site.  Making sure that his newly acquired pistol was stuck firmly under his belt, he climbed aboard the machine and rotated the right handlebar, gunning the engine.  Obediently, the snowmobile moved out of the ditch as Anderson steered it back up the hill from whence it had originally come.  Silence soon enveloped the desolate scene again, the complement of prisoners on the wrecked bus now short by one.

© 2002 Don Hanratty

Upcoming:  Matt, Mike and Stan discuss bullying with the principal of St. Stephen's School.  Stan Rosinski and Linda Kosco get serious about preparations for their wedding and have problems with the priest who is supposed to marry them.  It appears that the Chicago Bromans are getting serious about security for the family just as Neil Anderson begins plotting his revenge on Matt.  And the latest search for Curt Rohm, Jr., gets underway, thanks to Justice Broman.

Happy holidays, everyone!  I'll try to get one more part completed before we begin 2003.  As always, my thanks to Scott for editing and proofing.  DH. .