Jeff dropped Matt and Mike back at school right on schedule, and they had to scramble to catch up with their course work and get their edge back in wrestling and swimming. Their social life, such as it was, was eliminated entirely for awhile by an endless round of classes, studying, athletics, and sleep.
Their professors offered them special help, however, as did the coaches, and after several weeks the boys felt they were enough on top of things to actually go to a movie and a meal off campus one night.
Matt resumed dating on an occasional basis. At the same time he amazed Mike by beginning to point out the cute guys they would run into on campus as they came and went from classes. He'd give Mike a nudge if Mike missed seeing one.
"For a straight guy, you sure can spot the good looking men," Mike kidded him.
"Hey, I'm straight, not blind," was Matt's laughing rejoinder.
They talked several times about what kind of job they should get for the summer, and decided that whatever it was, they wanted to work together. Matt leaned toward trying to get something in the trades, in construction, so they could work outside and stay in shape, and Mike didn't really care what they did. They telephoned their family, and Mr. Broman said he would see what he could line up for them with a friend of his who owned a construction company.
Mike continued to take the Paxil that the Bromans' doctor had prescribed, and the gray cloud of depression that had hung over him following the death of his family had gradually dissipated. Matt welcomed the change in Mike's demeanor and began to lighten up on watching over him every minute. Mike started serenading him occasionally with "What a Friend we have in Paxil," to the tune of "What a Friend we have in Jesus." Matt would frown at him disapprovingly, but inwardly he was delighted as the old Mike emerged again.
Finals week was hectic, as usual, but both of them felt that they had done at least as well on their tests as they had the first semester. On the athletic side of the equation, their lost time hadn't hurt them too badly. Matt ended up with that perfect record in his weight class he had been striving for, and Mike maintained his record with only the one loss previously incurred. They were pleased with what they had accomplished, all things considered. Both their coaches saw them as the top performers among their freshman classmates, and their scholarships were secure for another year.
Jeff drove Matt's truck down to school the day after finals to pick them up with all their things. Mike sat on his bed in the newly emptied dorm room before he left and thought of everything that had happened since he had arrived. The tragedy of his own family and his great good fortune in having Matt for his friend and brother and acquiring a new and very nice family coursed through his mind. Leaving, he shut the door on the room with positive feelings about the future.
* * *
The boys moved their things back into the Broman house. The first face he saw after greeting the family was that of Mrs. Brighton, his parents' former housekeeper. Mr. Broman had closed the Berman house, paid a generous severance to staff, and posted security people there until the state formally took possession of house and property. Mrs. Broman had asked Mrs. Brighton if she would accept the housekeeper position at their home to assist the butler in running the household, and she had accepted. For Mike, having her there provided a happy piece of his old life as he moved into the new, and he was very moved when he greeted her.
Matt didn't see any reason why Mike shouldn't continue to share his bedroom, and asked his mother to get a matching double bed and put it in the room for Mike. She did so.
Mike's relationship with his new family really began to develop once he had moved in for good. Jeff and Martha were easy to be around, and Mike felt they had really accepted him when they started treating him as casually and disrespectfully as they did Matt. Mike began calling Mr. and Mrs. Broman "Dad" and "Mom," at first infrequently and somewhat hesitantly, but then with increasing meaning for all of them as they got to know one another better.
Mr. Broman had made good on the construction job for Matt and Mike, as promised, and after their two week respite after school was out, they started getting up at 6 a.m. to get to work in the city by 7 a.m. They had to join the bricklayers and hod carriers union, but Mr. Broman fronted them their hefty initiation fees. Dan Sullivan, the crew chief who was ramrodding the current job on a big highrise, and the other workers, soon found out the boys weren't slackers and were willing to work. At that point the hazing of the "new guys" by other crew members slowed down and then stopped altogether.
The crew of ten bricklayers was a diverse and interesting group, Matt and Mike thought. All of them were somewhat older than they--most of them in their mid-twenties--but almost without exception they were buff and good looking. One of the guys, Rick Scott, a six footer with great pecs and abs, tree trunk legs, and a great head of black hair, took the two boys under his wing and oriented them to the job as they went along. They got in the habit of eating lunch with Rick every day, sitting at street level and checking out the women as they went by. The three of them looked so good that the women checked them out right back. Matt and Mike liked Rick a lot, but got the clear idea that he liked to live life on the edge. That didn't deter their friendship, though.
Several weeks after they had started work, Rick asked the boys if they wanted to drop by his place for a few beers. Matt said he would, but Mike couldn't make it because he had a dentist appointment right after work. Rick gave Mike his address, 121 Altorfer, for later if he wanted to drop by. The boys had each driven their pickups into town because of Mike's appointment, so they went their separate ways after work.
Mike had to have one filling replaced and a new cavity drilled and filled. His jaw was still numb after what seemed to be a protracted procedure, and he decided he would pass on partying with Rick and Matt and go home. He ate soup and cereal for supper to spare his jaw, and then read, surfed the net and watched television until 10 p.m. TV was all reruns, but he hadn't seen any of the programs the first time, so it didn't matter. He showered, went to bed, and fell asleep right away.
He awakened with a start at 1 o'clock in the morning, and snapped on his bedside lamp. Matt's bed was empty. He sat up and collected his thoughts. It wasn't like Matt at all, as disciplined as he was, to stay out until all hours when he couldn't sleep late the next day. Mike got up and used the bathroom, and then sat on the side of his bed, worried. On impulse, he pulled his clothes on, quietly left the house, and got in his truck. He was back in the city within 20 minutes and looking for 121 Altorfer. He stopped at an all night gas station, and the kid behind the counter pointed out the approximate location on a big wall map.
"That's not a very good neighborhood, dude, " the kid said to Mike as he was leaving. "I wouldn't wander around down there alone."
"Thanks for your help," Mike replied, and got back in his truck.
The kid had been right. The entire area was undergoing industrial redevelopment, and it looked like a war zone. The only remaining houses were widely scattered here and there, and bricks and debris were strewn everywhere else.
A few young guys who looked like they were up to no good skulked around on the darker corners.
He found where 121 Altorfer should have been, but it was a vacant lot. Increasingly apprehensive, Mike continued to drive around, and several blocks later he found Matt's truck parked in front of the only house in that block which had thus far escaped the wrecker's ball. The address wasn't "121," and it wasn't on Altorfer Street. Dim light emanated from a large, painted-over front window.
Mike got out of his truck, and went up the rickety front steps. He knocked softly, but there was no response. He tried the door. It was unlocked, and he crept in with every sense on the alert. The living room was full of old, ratty, overstuffed furniture, and was softly lighted by one lamp.
He heard loud music and some kind of rhythmic slapping sound coming from nearby, and inched his way forward into the next room.
A boombox was sitting on a table, set at top volume, with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. meandering through "Losing My Religion."
Mike gasped as he saw Matt's body, naked and spread-eagled on his tip toes against the wall of the room, his wrists and ankles shackled to metal rings. He had a black hood over his head, and was making muffled sounds as Rick beat him with a heavy strap. Matt's butt and upper legs were bright, bright red and covered with welts as if a whip had been used earlier. A butt plug was stuck in his rectum.
Rick, stripped to his briefs and sporting a huge hard on, was talking to Matt as he beat him, asking him how he liked it, and asking him if he wanted more. Rick didn't see Mike standing there.
Knowing he wouldn't stand a chance with Rick in a one-on-one, Mike looked around, grabbed a heavy glass ashtray off a table, and smashed Rick in the side of the head with it. The man went down like a sack of rocks and lay there, unmoving.
Mike turned off the music, went to Matt and snatched the hood off his head, and undid a strap which was holding a gag in his mouth. The hood was damp with Matt's tears from the beating he had sustained.
"Matt, it's me. Mike."
"Mike. Get me down from here," Matt said weakly.
Rick began to stir.
"Just a sec, Matt. I hafta take care of Rick, here." Mike found Rick's Levi's, removed the belt, and turning him over roughly, tied his hands behind his back. Then he took off his own belt, and secured Rick's legs.
"Stay down, you sonofabitch!" Mike told him, punctuating his instructions with a kick to the ribs.
Mike spotted some keys on a table, and used them to release Matt's arms and legs from the cuffs on the wall. He helped him over to the couch, and removed alligator clips from his nipples. He took off a heavy weight which had been secured to his testicles, and a cock ring, and gingerly pulled out the butt plug. Matt couldn't sit because of his wounds, and twisted around halfway to lie down.
"Damn it, Matt, what the hell happened?" Mike demanded.
"One minute I was sitting here on the couch having a couple of beers--and I mean two beers--and the next thing I knew I was on the wall getting the shit beaten out of me."
Searching for something to cover Matt, Mike walked into a bedroom and pulled a sheet off the bed, and gently draped it over his friend.
Mike went over to a table with some mail on it, and found Rick's address on an envelope. He took out his cell phone, called 911, and gave the address. Five minutes later he admitted two young patrolmen in their early twenties.
The two officers smirked throughout the interview as Mike explained what had apparently transpired. They hemmed and hawed when Mike asked if they weren't going to arrest Rick, who by this time was awake and asking to be released. The cops freed him, sat him up, and gave him his pants. When Mike asked them to call the paramedics for Matt, they refused, saying he didn't require medical attention.
Mike's temper finally boiled over. "You need to be arresting this asshole! Look what's he's done to this man!" he said loudly, motioning toward Matt.
"Hey, punk," one of the rookie officers responded, "we don't know what really happened here. We don't care what you weirdos do in the privacy of your own homes. For all we know, your boyfriend, here, begged for this. You should probably be arrested for knocking this guy out," he said, pointing at Rick. "It's his house."
Mike decided not to argue. It was now after 2 a.m. He went into the living room and called the Broman house. Mrs. Broman answered the phone.
"Mom, it's Mike."
"Mike? I thought you were home here in bed."
"I was, but when Matt didn't come home by 1 o'clock, I went looking for him. Is Dad there?"
"No, Mike, you remember, he went to New York for a few days for some meetings. What's the matter?"
"Mom, I'm gonna need some help. Matt's been beaten up pretty bad, and the police are saying they think they should arrest me because I hit the jerk who's responsible."
"Where are you, Mike."
"We're at 127 Rudden Street, in the city. A house. Don't come in here alone, though, Mom. You wake up Jeff and bring him with you."
"I'll be all right."
"No, Mom, promise me you'll bring Jeff."
"All right, I promise. Give me a rough idea of where Rudden is, and I'll see you in a half hour."
He gave her directions as best he could.
She was true to her word, and walked in the door with Jeff not 25 minutes later. Mrs. Broman gasped, and Jeff's eyes got big, when they saw Matt half sitting, half lying on the couch, covered with a sheet. Mrs. Broman went over to him and lifted the sheet, seeing the results of Matt's ordeal. Her eyes flashed.
"I want you to get your watch commander and a detective down here right now!" she told the two patrolmen.
"I'm sorry m'am, that's just not possible," one of them responded.
Mrs. Broman pulled an address book out of her purse, looked up a number, and dialed on her cell phone. A sleepy voice answered.
"Chief Richmond, please," she said.
The two patrolmen looked at each other nervously.
"Bob, this is Jane Broman. Sorry to disturb you at home so late, but I have a situation that I think you can help me with. I'm with my son and his two brothers at 122 Rudden Street. My boy has been injured, and the two patrolmen who responded to the 911 call don't seem to want to carry out an investigation. I asked them to contact the precinct watch commander and a detective, but they refused. What do you recommend?"
She listened quietly, and hung up.
"The Chief said he would be here directly, gentlemen, and will be bringing the watch commander and a detective."
The patrolmen looked even more nervous, and said nothing.
The Chief strode in a few minutes later, in full uniform, with a Lieutenant Smith, the watch commander, and Detective Art Dominic. Chief Richmond kissed Mrs. Broman on the cheek, and introduced Smith and Dominic.
Dominic interviewed Matt, Mike, Rick Scott and the two young police officers, and then the watch commander sent the two rookies out to their car with instructions not to leave until they were told. Rick's story to the detective was that Matt had come to the house specifically for "bondage and discipline."
Dominic ran Rick's name through NCIS, and found one arrest, no convictions, for aggravated sexual assault. Based upon what he had heard in the interviews and the fact he had been previously arrested for a sex crime, he placed Rick under arrest and called the precinct with instructions to wake up a judge to get a search warrant for the house. When the warrant came an hour later, the Chief and his officers donned rubber gloves and conducted a search. They didn't have to look far to turn up what appeared to be drugs in the kitchen.
"Looks like roofies," Lieutenant Smith said.
"Roofies? What are roofies?" Jane Broman asked.
"Rohypnol, m'am," Smith said. "It's like valium, but much more powerful. They call it the 'date-rape' drug."
The officers stored the substance that they had found in plastic bags, and put the empty beer cans sitting in the dining room into bags, too. They found an unregistered .38 Police Special in one of the bedrooms, bagged it also, and then tagged everything.
Much to Matt's embarrassment, they then took the sheet off him, put him on his stomach on the couch, and took polaroid pictures of his ravaged buttocks and legs from several different angles. They also took pictures of the metal rings set into the wall from which Matt had been hanging when Mike arrived.
That wasn't the worst of it. Dominic asked Matt if he had been sodomized, and when he said he didn't know, the detective got a rape kit out of his car and took swabs from Matt's rectum and sealed them in test tubes. Even though his mother had excused herself to go to the kitchen during the procedure, Matt was mortified. Finally they finished.
"Jane," Chief Richmond then asked, "Do you want to take Matt to the hospital, or get the paramedics here, or just take him home? His wounds look more painful than serious, frankly."
Mrs. Broman looked at Matt inquiringly.
"Home," was all he said.
"Home it is," she said.
Chief Richmond told her that the District Attorney's office would be in touch with her and Matt within the next few days as to what charges would be brought against Rick Scott.
Mike collected Matt's clothes from where Rick had stripped him. He put Matt's sneakers back on his feet, but left the sheet wrapped around him because dressing him would have been too painful. Mike threw a jacket over Matt's shoulders and they all went outside. Rick was loaded into the rookies' patrol car, hands cuffed behind his back. Mike heard Lt. Smith telling the two rookies in a barrage of profanity how displeased he was with their performance, and to report to him personally at the beginning of their shift the next night.
Mike and Jeff put Matt, lying on his stomach, in the back seat of the Cadillac. Jeff drove Matt's truck, and Mike followed behind. Mike stopped at an all night drug store on the way and picked up a big bag of antiseptic, cotton swabs, disposable rubber gloves, and various unguents in case they didn't have what they needed at home.
It was 4:30 a.m. when they arrived back at the Broman house, and Mike helped Matt upstairs. Matt embraced his mother and thanked her, hugged Jeff, and told them that Mike would take care of his wounds. After asking Mike if he needed anything to help Matt, Mrs. Broman took Mike's face in her hands and kissed him.
"You know," she said, "You're Number One in my book about now, Mike. Thank you." She turned and went toward her room, and Jeff went off to bed as well.
Mike steered Matt into the bedroom, and slowly unwound the sheet. In good light, Matt's wounds looked bad. There was no overt bleeding, but some seepage.
"I don't think you can shower right now, Matt. Can you you stand up long enough for me to give you a sponge bath? Then I'm gonna clean up the painful part."
Matt said he could stand, and Mike took him into the bathroom. He filled the basin with lukewarm water, and put some liquid soap in it, swirling it around. Taking a wash cloth, he gently washed Matt's face, neck, arms, torso, back, and then his genitals and the front of his legs as he stood there, leaning on the sink counter, still in shock.
After drying Matt off, he fed him three extra strength Tylenol. Then he walked him back into the bedroom, turned down his bed, and had him lie face down. He put on a pair of latex gloves.
"There's just no way that this antiseptic isn't going to hurt like hell, bud," he warned.
"Do I have a choice? Do it!"
Mike soaked a large cotton swab in the antiseptic, and began to apply it to Matt's buttocks and legs. Matt screamed into a pillow for the next 5 minutes as Mike completed the job as quickly and gently as he could. Then he applied some salve liberally to the damaged areas.
Mike said, "Matt, this is kind of embarrassing. But how badly did that jerk tear up your asshole with that plug thing? Does it hurt bad?"
"Yes. Is it bleeding?"
"I don't see any blood. But I bought some stuff for hemorrhoids that has a pain deadener. It might give you some relief. Do you want to put it in?"
"Yeah." Matt tried to turn his torso to reach his butt, but grimaced in pain.
"You're gonna have to do it, Mike, I can't twist around that far without hurting."
Mike screwed the nozzle which had been supplied with the product on to the tube of gel, and spread Matt's cheeks. Sticking the nozzle into Matt's rectum very slowly and gently, he squirted the medication into it.
"Man, that helps a lot, Mike. Thanks." Matt visibly relaxed.
"Sure," Mike said.
"This is so fucking humiliating. Why me?"
"You didn't do anything wrong, bro. It could have been me, or both of us, for that matter, that Rick took advantage of. Please don't think all gays are predators like Rick. I'm sorry you're hurt, but you have nothing to feel guilty about. We both thought this guy was a friend. It's just not a friendly world out there, that's all. Everybody's at risk, all the time."
"I guess. This is a hell of a way to learn a lesson, that's all I can say." He looked at his watch. "We're gonna have to leave for work in a few minutes, you know."
"Not we, kino sabe." Mike looked at his watch, too--5:30 a.m. "You're going to stay right here, and I'm leaving for work. I'll fill Dan in on why you didn't make it."
Matt didn't argue.
Mike moved Matt up more toward the head of the bed, and put a blanket over his neck and back, and a sheet over his buttocks and legs. He kissed the back of Matt's head, and then made a beeline for the shower. Matt was fast asleep by the time Mike finished getting ready and left for work at 6 a.m.
* * *
Mike pulled Dan Sullivan aside at the beginning of the shift. Withholding the full details, he told him that Rick Scott had been arrested for beating up Matt, and that Matt would be recuperating for at least the next several days before coming back to work. Dan was shocked about Rick, and not a little exasperated at being short two men, but he said they'd make the best of it. When the other guys asked where Matt was, Mike told them he was sick.
Mike got through the day somehow on autopilot, and when he got home, collapsed in bed. Mrs. Brighton woke him to eat some soup and a sandwich later that evening, and then he slept through until the next morning.
The District Attorney's office called within a couple of days. They said that the gun they had found in Rick Scott's house was linked to the robbery of an all night convenience store in which the young clerk on duty had been wounded. The police put Rick in a lineup at the precinct, and the kid had picked him out right away as the perpetrator. The lab tests on the swabs which had been taken of Matt's rectum revealed no traces of semen. The Assistant D.A. suggested that the charges for the assault on Matt be held in abeyance while they charged Rick with robbery and attempted murder. She felt she could get a conviction, but if anything went wrong at trial, then they would indict him for the assault.
Matt was relieved, to say the least, about the lab results and the D.A.'s decision to hold off on the assault charge. He was not looking forward to testifying in graphic detail at Rick's trial about what had been done to him, and if the attempted murder and robbery charges did stick, Rick would get a longer sentence for those crimes, anyway.
Mike continued to put salve on Matt's wounds every night, and they were healing nicely. After a couple of days Matt said he wanted to get back to work and not lie around the house anymore. He had Mike buy him a couple of pairs of loose-fit Levi's, and started borrowing Mike's boxers to wear instead of his customary briefs because they were easier on his skin as it healed.
Mike noticed several changes in Matt's behavior as he got back into circulation. He stuck close to Mike all the time now, and they were rarely out of one another's sight. He didn't seem apprehensive about anything in particular, but it just seemed he was content to be in Mike's company anytime he left the house.
On the job, Mike caught Matt intently watching him work, and more than once. When his glances were noted, Matt just smiled and continued working.
Another change was that Matt didn't seem to want to sleep alone. Either he would ask Mike to come into his bed, or he would ask if he could sleep in Mike's bed. Mike loved sleeping next to him, of course, even though there was no sex. The first night they were side by side, Matt told Mike how much he appreciated the rescue from Rick Scott. He touched Mike's face gently, told him he loved him more than ever, and kissed him lightly on the cheek before they went to sleep.
At first, in response to their new sleeping arrangements, Mike made sure that the bed that they hadn't slept in was messed up the next morning so the maid wouldn't know they were sleeping in the same bed. Matt finally put a stop to that. He said it was nobody's business where they slept.
One night, after one of their weekly conferences on Berman estate issues, Mr. Broman told Mike that after talking with Matt, Jeff and Martha, he and Mrs. Broman wanted to adopt him formally. He said they had come to love and respect him so much, and were deeply grateful for his part in their family life. Mike was greatly moved, and said he would like that. He asked if he would have to give up the name "Berman," and Mr. Broman said he wouldn't unless he wanted to. Or he could hyphenate the two last names, if he wished. Ultimately Mike decided to use the initial "B" to represent "Berman," and to use "Broman" as his last name. A court formalized the decision a month later.
Matt and Mike talked Mr. Broman into creating a small fitness center at poolside, arguing that it was something the whole family could use. They got a treadmill and three very versatile machines which could be set to develop different parts of the body. The boys got in the habit of taking a swim after they got home from work, and then working out for an hour on the machines before dinner. Between their physical labor on the job, the swimming and the workouts, they were both magnificent specimens of healthy young males as the summer progressed.
Matt continued, however, to be somewhat reclusive in his daily behaviors, and eventually Mike broached the subject one night while they were vegetating, listening to some tunes.
"Dude, we gotta talk."
"Huh? What about?" Matt asked.
"Well. . .this is kinda hard to put into words, so just let me say it. You've changed a lot since that mess with Rick."
"You just don't seem as outgoing as you were. You've always been a 'balls-up,' 'out there' kind of guy, and now it seems like you're hiding out a little. I understand why to some extent, but I'm worried about you."
"I admit I'm still seriously bummed by what happened. But I'm fine," he reassured Mike.
"I wish I could believe that," Mike said. "I think that you have some thoughts and feelings that aren't getting handled. Would you be willing to talk to somebody about it?"
"Absolutely not. If you think I'm gonna relive that experience with some stranger, think again!"
"I really think you should."
"Chill, dude. I'm just fine. The subject is closed."
Mike could tell Matt was angry with him. Later that night when they turned out the lights, Matt didn't come into his bed and he wasn't invited into Matt's bed. He went over and climbed into Matt's bed, anyway.
"Don't be mad, bro," Mike said quietly. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Just promise me you'll think about what I said. I love you so much I'd give up my life for you, I hope you know that."
Matt said nothing, but held him tightly as they went to sleep.
Toward the middle of July, though, Matt told Mike that Mike had been right in what he'd said, and began to see a therapist three times a week right after work. By the end of August, Mike could see some good changes occurring, and soon the old, outgoing Matt was pulling pranks on him again.
* * *
The boys had quit work for their two week vacation before school started, just as their dad had told them at the beginning of the summer they could. Matt asked their parents if he and Mike could ride their CBR's up to the Broman summer cottage, situated on Lake Marston about 150 miles north of the main residence, and they assented.
They threw swim suits and a change of clothes into bags early Saturday morning, bungeed them to the bikes, and took off for a week of fun in the sun.
The ride up was glorious. The sun was warm but not too hot as the road curved gently right and left, and then went up to a higher elevation. The bikes were running beautifully, and both boys relished the sense of freedom that biking always gives those who love to ride. They stopped for lunch at a little inn with a fishing pond beside it, and after lunch they sat in the sun and watched some little kids throw their lines in and occasionally haul in a fish. In self defense, the adults watching the action would usually take the fish off the hook and throw them back, since fish don't travel well.
Rested, Matt and Mike punched their starter buttons and the bikes roared to life. They took off, and maintaining a steady pace, arrived at the lake about 5 p.m.
They took their bags inside, and Matt busied himself turning on the water pump and the propane, and checking the fuel level for the heater in case they needed a little warmth in the morning.
The "cottage" was a large, plain clapboard house, square in shape, with four bedrooms, situated on a large lot. It sat not 30 feet from one of the bluest and most beautiful lakes Mike had ever seen. The lake was about 4 miles across and 8 miles wide, and spring-fed. Inside an old boat house which hugged the shoreline of the Broman property was a vintage Chris Craft speedboat, with mahogany and chrome highlights which testified to an earlier age of craftsmanship. A pier ran 20 feet out into the lake, which had quite a few boats on it engaged in various activities, even at this hour.
"For water skiing, bro!" Matt said, pointing to the Chris Craft. "I'm looking forward to seeing you take a header into your favorite element, H2O, at thirty miles an hour! We'll see how frisky you are then!"
"Not on your best day, jack! I'm gonna drag your ass kicking and screaming all over this lake! You won't need to take a drink of water for days, if you survive at all."
They continued to badger each other while Matt took some frozen hamburger out of the freezer, and nuked it in the microwave to defrost it. They took some folding chairs out on the front lawn and sat down for a few minutes as the sun began to dip low across the water. It was peaceful in the extreme, and both boys soaked it up.
As the sun sizzled red and sank into the water, Matt fired up the gas grill, made patties of the hamburger, and threw them on the grill. They sat down again for a few minutes on the front lawn.
"Mike, did you hear the story about the man who found a hair in his hamburger?"
Mike groaned. "No, please, not a story! We're here to have fun!"
Matt was undeterred. "Yeah, but this could even be true. A man went into a restaurant and ordered a hamburger. The waiter brought it out and put it down on the table, and there was a hair sticking out of it.
"He called the waiter back, and said, 'Hey, there's a hair in my hamburger. Take it back and bring me another one.'
"The waiter apologized profusely, and took the hamburger back to the kitchen.
"In a few minutes, the waiter came back with another hamburger and put it down in front of the customer. But there was another hair in it.
"The customer angrily summoned the waiter again, pointed out the hair, and demanded yet another hamburger. This time he followed the waiter back to the kitchen and hid where he could watch the cook.
"The cook opened a fresh package of hamburger, made a portion of it into a ball, slapped the ball of meat into his armpit, lowered his arm, and out came a hamburger patty.
"The customer was outraged. He jumped out of hiding and yelled at the cook unmercifully, but the cook didn't seem to care.
"'Listen, Mister,' the cook finally said, 'this is nothing! You should be here on Wednesdays when I make the donuts!'"
"Eeewwww, gross!" Mike had to laugh in spite of himself.
"So, bud, if you find hair in your hamburger, you'll know what happened," Matt said.
"We're not having donuts for breakfast, are we," Mike asked.
When the hamburgers were cooked, the boys ate, and then sat on the screened-in front porch. There wasn't even a hint of wind, and the moon was blazing a yellow-gold path across water like a mirror.
"I could get to like this," Mike said softly. "I haven't felt so relaxed in a long time."
Later, while Mike watched some TV, Matt pulled some sheets out of a linen closet and popped them into the dryer to get the dampness out of them. Then he made up one of the beds for the two of them.
They stripped to their underwear and climbed into bed about 10 p.m., and listened to the night sounds of a lone cicada buzzing, and crickets chirping, and the lake lapped gently against the shore.
"I need to talk to you."
"Sure." Mike turned on his side toward Matt. "Whassup?"
"I've been wanting to talk to you for quite a while about. . .us."
"That sounds ominous. What about us?"
"No, it's nothing bad. I just have to find a way to say it, that's all."
Mike was quiet.
"We've been through some pretty bad shit this last year, and we went through it together. Really together. I knew I could count on you no matter what happened, and I hope you feel the same."
"You know I do."
"There isn't another human being on this planet that I love as much as I love you," Matt continued.
"I feel like I'm on a cliff right now, and if I tell you what I'm thinking and feeling, I'll fall off with no way back up. I'm scared," Matt said.
Mike put his head against Matt's.
"Go ahead," he said quietly.
Matt hesitated. "You told me once, a little while after you first admitted to me you're gay, that you loved me. And you said that you not only loved me, but that you were in love with me. Has that changed?"
"Not at all," Mike said. "If anything, I'm more in love with you than ever, because I know you to the core. In my eyes, you're the most wonderful person I've ever known. You're complete in every way. I don't use those word lightly. And you're beautiful on the outside, too. I don't know how anyone could help falling in love with you, frankly, male or female. You turn me on mentally, physically and emotionally every day I'm around you."
"God help me, Mikey, I feel the same way about you. It's time for me to be as honest with you as you have been with me, and fall off that cliff I was talking about. I'm very much in love with you, too, body and soul. And scared to death about it."
"I never thought I could fall in love with a man. But I have. And I know that if our relationship is going to survive and continue to grow--and it has to, because I don't think I can make it without you in my life--then it has to move into the physical and sexual. I want that to happen, but at the same time it scares the shit out of me."
"I think I understand," Mike said softly. "It's a hell of a transition when you, Matt Broman, have to face the reality that the person you're in love with is male, too. I think you probably loved me as a person long before you knew you loved me as a man. On the other hand, I was on the bone for you from the first time I saw you, but I finally realized along the way how much I love your whole being. I think we're meeting in the same place now."
"That says it perfectly."
They were quiet.
"Mike, can you just be a little patient with me on the physical side of our relationship? I want to show you how much I love you and how much you mean to me, but I'm just not sure I'm ready for that yet. Or know how to go about it, for that matter."
"As long as it takes, bro. You've made me one happy guy tonight, maybe the happiest guy in the world. We'll work it out, you can count on it!"
He caressed the contours of Matt's face, and kissed him lightly, very lightly, on the lips for the very first time.
END OF PART 3