DISCLAIMER: The following story is a fictional account involving gay teenage boys and girls who are trying to cope with love and homophobia in the American Midwest. Although no sexual activity takes place in this story, there are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Although the story takes place in actual locations and establishments, the author takes full responsibility for all events described and these are not in any way meant to reflect the activities of real individuals or religious establishments nor school or corporate policies. The author retains full copyright of this story, and of stories based on these characters.

Please note that this 2009 Summer Anthology entry is the twentieth in a series of short stories known collectively as Naptown Tales. The series of stories can be found on my GayAuthors Page and on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude. Slightly modified versions of some of these stories that are suitable for younger teens can also be found on the Altimexis Page at Codey's World. Please see the Introduction for important background on the series.

The Future Starts Now

A Naptown Tale by Altimexis

The loneliness I felt when I decided to break up with Debbie was nothing compared to the loneliness I felt now, and even that didn't compare to the sense of utter despair that had consumed my life in recent months. I knew I should have been happy - my parents were back in my life and soon I'd be giving them something they'd always wanted - a grandson - but all of my hopes and dreams had been crushed. The love of my life wouldn't even speak to me, not that I'd let her if she tried, the father of my child had washed his hands of me as soon as I told him I intended to keep the baby, and my parents acted like it was my fault he wouldn't marry me.

Ending up pregnant was so stupid! When Debbie's and my parents found out about us, I really thought we could make it on our own . . . but the way we had to live was too much for me. I just couldn't take having people know about us, and living in that horrible apartment on Westlane Road, next to that bickering couple with the screaming kid. And I just couldn't stand being away from my parents, and losing their love . . . so I made that painful decision. It was a horrible choice, to give up on the four years of love I'd shared with my girlfriend, but I had to reclaim the nearly eighteen years of love my parents had given me . . . I just had to . . . but there was a catch - I had to deny who I was. I had to date boys. I, Cathy Andrews, who'd known she was a lesbian since the age of eleven, had to date boys.

The trouble was, I'd been sexually active with Debbie for four years, and once that stopped, I became horny as hell. Well, after the breakup, there was no way I could go back to Debbie begging for sex, and I sure couldn't go out with other girls while under my parents' watchful eyes, and after a while, I became . . . desperate. When the boys I dated made out with me, I became less and less resistant to their advances and even started to encourage them.

Brad Simmons and I started to become pretty serious, and that included pretty regular sex. We always started out using a condom, but he only carried one, and we often didn't stop at one time. What could I say? . . . We both liked what we were doing. I may be a lesbian, but sex feels good and Brad was a lot of fun to be around, and he was my only sexual outlet.

When I was late for my period, I panicked, but then I came to my senses and went to the school nurse. As I suspected, the test came back positive - I was pregnant. As it turned out I had choices. Under state law, I'd need a parent's signature to have an abortion if I were a minor, but I'd be turning eighteen next month and this would still be soon enough and yet be legal. This presented a dilemma. All my life I had been raised to believe that abortion is a grave sin. If I had one, no one else besides me would have to know. It would just be between me . . . and God . . . and that was why I couldn't bring myself to go through with it, no matter how much simpler it would make things. I knew the risks, and I chose to take them anyway.

In the end, I decided I only had one choice - I was going to go through with the pregnancy . . . I could never live with myself if I did otherwise. More than a baby, there was love growing inside me.

Of course adoption was also an option, but I knew that wasn't for me, either. Why would I want to give away my own child? That thought made me feel like I'd be giving away my soul. Sure, there might be someone who would be in a better position to care for my baby financially, but no one could love it more than I could. I'd always regret giving my child away, and for that reason, I just couldn't do it.

Yes, I was going to keep my baby.

Of course my parents expected Brad and me to get married, but Brad didn't see things that way. When I told him I was pregnant, and of my decision, not only did he tell me in no uncertain terms that he thought I was making the wrong decision, but he made it clear he wanted to have nothing to do with the child. It wasn't that he didn't care or that he was heartless, but he just wasn't ready to be a father, and he wasn't about to be tied down because of my carelessness. That stunned me! MY CARELESSNESS! He was in charge of the condoms.

Needless to say, I didn't even bring up the subject of marriage. My parents sure did, however, and when they threatened to sue Brad's parents for child support, it took me threatening to move back in with Debbie to get them to settle down.

But since then, they've just been blaming me all around . . . for being a lesbian, for getting pregnant out of wedlock, for not marrying the boy who knocked me up . . . I just couldn't win. Mentally, I tried to stay above all of the negativity, for the health of my baby, as I also knew how insidious depression could be.

"We still love you, you know," my mother said to me, bringing me out of my reverie as she handed me the cordless phone.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"It's Larry," she answered. Larry was a good friend. Back when Debbie and I were in the closet, we used to double date with Larry and his best friend, Tim. Only later did Larry and Tim confide to us that they themselves were in the closet and using us for cover, too. The day Larry turned eighteen and gained full control of his college trust fund from his homophobic grandfather, both boys came out, in the middle of the high school cafeteria, and proudly served detention after school for violating the school's policy on public displays of affection. They did go a bit overboard.

Of course, my parents were shocked by the news - they had always thought Tim and Larry were fine `Christian' boys. I put my foot down when it came to associating with them. They could hardly say much of anything against it, now that I was a sinner myself - a lesbian and pregnant.

Taking the phone, I answered, "Hey, Larry, how's it going?"

"Goin' great, Cathy. Couldn't be better.

"Listen," he continued, "The reason I'm calling is that Tim and I got offered some tickets to the big race. The company my dad works for's sponsoring one of the drivers this year . . . it's our first time . . . and they want to make a good showing, so they bought a large corporate box and they gotta fill it. They have a lotta tickets left over that they're just giving away. I've got one that has your name on it, if you'd like to go."

"Wow!" I replied. "Would you believe I grew up in this city, and yet I've never been . . . not even once?"

"Really?" Larry asked. "We go just about every year, but this'll be Trevor's and Kurt's first time. Sammy's never been, either, but then you'd kind of expect that in his case."

Continuing, Larry went on, "I asked David if he and Jeremy wanted to join us, and he laughed and said that Jeremy's parents have VIP tickets for them that make ours look like crap. Their brothers'll be there, too. Said they also got VIP season tickets to all the Colts and Pacers games." He sighed and said, "Must be nice."

"I'm willing to bet David said that none of that means anything if he doesn't have Jeremy," I responded.

"That's exactly what David said," Larry confirmed. "Man, besides Tim and me, and Randy and Altaf, you won't find a tighter gay couple around . . . I would have said the same about you and Debbie once . . . I'm sorry to even bring it up. I know it still hurts."

"There's no sense in ignoring it forever, Larry. It was my fault we split in the first place. Everything was fine when we were in the closet. Coming out was fine for you and Tim, but your parents were supportive. I just couldn't manage without my parents' love, but look where that got me."

"It's not too late, Cathy. I know you still love each other."

"Let's not rehash that now. I'm just not ready, yet. So if I do agree to go to the race with you, who all's going to be there?" I asked.

"Well," Larry began, "a lot of the guys from the GSA will be there for sure. Randy and Altaf will be there. Trevor and Kurt will, too, and of course I couldn't ask Kurt without asking Kurt's foster brother, Sammy, and Sammy's best friend, Paul. Jamie Wilson and Will and Barry Smith will be there, as will Barry's latest girlfriend, Cindy Lancaster. Lyle Hernden and Carrie Dunnington will be there, too."

I couldn't resist asking, "Do you think there's any truth to the rumor that Carrie's really a guy and Lyle's gay?"

"Cathy, that's such an dumb rumor . . ." Larry started to say, "I don't know how it got started, but I think Lyle and Carrie have taken the right approach in not even dignifying it with an answer. Personally, I don't care what the truth is. If there turns out to be any truth to it at all, God knows that's their business and theirs alone. Lyle's going to go all the way to the NBA and as long as the NBA and its fans are filled with homophobic jocks, Lyle has every reason to stay in the closet if he's really gay, and that's all I'm gonna say about it."

"I hadn't thought of that," I admitted. "Either way, who cares . . . they make a nice couple and I wish them the best of luck," I agreed.

Continuing, I asked, "Is anyone else gonna be there?"

"A few others. Paul, Sam and Lance are back in town for the summer, and they'll all be there. Scott, Brian, Jan, Lynn and Kate gave me a tentative `yes'. Oh, and there's a couple of eighth graders . . . Rick and Billy . . . who plan to join the GSA next year . . . they'll be there, too."

With a noticeable tremor in my voice, I asked what was really on my mind. "Will Debbie be there?"

"Tim invited her, and the first thing she asked is if you'd be there. She hasn't given us her answer yet, but why let that rule your life?" Larry asked. "A lot of your friends will be there, too, and if she's there, it's up to the two of you whether or not you choose to spend the time together or not. You'll have a good time, regardless.

"Say `yes', please?"

"But there's so much going on then, between finals, and AP tests, the prom, and Commencement . . ."

"You're going to the prom?" Larry interrupted me.

"Well, no, certainly not in my condition," I admitted.

"Cathy, quit making excuses. Finals will be over by Memorial Day, and a day at the race won't get in the way of the AP exams anyway. You need a break. You need to come out of your shell."

Realizing there was no way Larry was going to let me off the hook, I said, "OK, Larry. What's one day?"

"YES!" he shouted, causing me to practically drop the phone.

I had to laugh at his enthusiasm, causing him to laugh in return. Larry was a great friend . . . my best friend.

Between finals and my AP exams, there wasn't much time to think about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Before I knew it, I'd taken my last final and for all intents and purposes, I'd finished high school and had only commencement to look forward to. I'd decided to skip the Senior Dinner, so that would be it for my senior year.

WOW! It was finally starting to hit me. I was eighteen and legally an adult, and soon I would be a mother. The last vestige of my childhood was rapidly drawing to a close.

On the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, Larry called me and asked if I'd like to go to the parade with him. This was a big deal. He was originally planning to take Tim, but at the last minute Tim had to go to the funeral of an aunt up in Muncie. Had she died a day later, Tim would have missed the race, too. Larry had grandstand tickets, so we'd have seats, which was critical for me in my condition. The 500 Festival Parade, held the day before the race, was one of the most watched parades on TV, up with the Tournament of Roses and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades, so it was really an honor to be able to see it live. How could I say `no' to such an offer?

Because of my situation, we took advantage of a shuttle bus the city was running from Castleton Square Mall to Downtown, avoiding the hassle of trying to find parking and then having to walk for perhaps miles - something I could have never done. The bus let us off less than a block from the grandstand, and in no time at all, we were seated. There were portable potties nearby, and I wasn't embarrassed at all to say that they were my salvation.

It was so cool to see all the celebrities marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, which was covered with black and white checkered carpeting to match the festivities of the race. When I saw what the horses did to the carpet, I was glad I wasn't the one to have to wash all that carpeting afterwards! Anyway, I knew our city wasn't all that dinky, but we didn't often get so many celebrities at one time, you know? And at the end of the parade, all of the racecar drivers who were going to be in the race rode by atop pace cars, so everyone could see them in the flesh. You could see that they were all real people . . . they might have famous names, but they looked so ordinary.

I was really glad I went to the parade with Larry, and I thanked him for it when we got back to the mall. I had the best time with him. We went for burgers and ice cream at Farrell's afterwards, before he took me home. I knew Larry was someone who'd be a lifelong friend.

The next day, Larry picked me up in his parents' minivan. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that Debbie was seated in the back with Tim. Larry opened the front passenger door and had me sit up front with him, recognizing that I wouldn't want to sit with Debbie. In the middle row were a couple of very cute, young African American boys whom I didn't know.

"Cathy," Larry said, "I'd like you to meet a couple of guys who will be joining the GSA next year when they start ninth grade." As I turned around to shake hands with them, he continued, "On your left is Billy and on your right is Rick."

Talk about contrasts! Billy was your typical young teenage black boy - short-cropped, kinky black hair, dark brown eyes, and muscular with broad shoulders in a black wife beater that showed off his muscles nicely. He looked like he could easily be a football player. Rick, on the other hand, had to be one of the most effeminate-looking boys I'd ever met. He was fairly light-skinned and had long, shoulder-length bleached auburn hair; he wore eye shadow, lip-gloss and clear nail polish on his fingernails and toenails, which were visible in his sandals. Instead of a shirt, he wore a sleeveless vest without any buttons that left his entire chest and stomach exposed.

If he'd had any muscles, I suppose the outfit might have looked sexy, but he just wasn't. Perhaps he looked sexy to Billy, I surmised. In any case his handshake was far more limp than even mine, and even his voice sounded effeminate. Our school had a nondiscrimination policy and was more accepting than most, but we were in the Midwest, and I had a feeling these boys were in for a rough time. I could only imagine what they must have gone through in middle school.

When you got down to it, however, Debbie was on the butch side, and I was very much the kind of girly girl that all the boys tended to drool over, so I was definitely not the one to talk. We'd managed to divert suspicions until our senior year, so maybe these boys had, too. And then maybe I was being presumptuous to even assume they were a couple, so I let my curiosity get the better of me and decided to ask.

"Please tell me if I'm being too nosey, guys, but are you two a couple?" I asked.

Billy giggled - he actually giggled, and said, "Everyone at our middle school knows about us. Well, with Rick being the way he is, it's pretty hard to hide it."

"You tried to," Rick countered.

"Yeah, I was a real jerk at first," Billy admitted with a sigh. "I mean, we grew up next door to each other, and Rick was always getting picked on by the other kids. At first I just wanted to be like the other guys and I picked on him, too, but when I saw him crying, I couldn't do it any more. I was a lot bigger than he was, and I felt like I had to protect him. He was just this sweet, innocent, kind boy who was a lot of fun to be around. We became best friends.

"When we got to fifth grade and we turned eleven, things started to change again. Other boys were starting to talk about girls. I didn't exactly understand what was going on, but I liked Rick like he was more than my best friend, and it was scaring the crap outta me. But above all else, Rick was still my best friend, so when Jason Wilkins called him a faggot, I beat the living shit out of him. I got a week's worth of detention for that stunt, but I wasn't sorry . . . not one bit."

"I was," Rick said in his gentle voice, taking over the story. "I knew down deep that it was true, and I felt horrible that after all those years, Billy was still having to fight my battles for me.

"So that afternoon after school, I went next door to his house. His mother was so pissed that he'd gotten into yet another fight and I begged her not to blame him, but to blame me instead. I told her it wasn't his fault . . . that I deserved to be called a faggot, because I was one. And you know what Billy said? He said that . . ."

"I said that he shouldn't call himself that," Billy interrupted, "because that meant he was calling me one, too, and then I told him I loved him, right there in front of my mom."

"I can't begin to imagine doing that at eleven," I interjected.

"Actually, my mom was pretty cool about the whole thing," Billy said. "She told us she'd figured for a while that we might be gay, and even had some literature from PFLAG, so she was prepared . . . she just wasn't expecting us to come out so young, but all of our parents were really supportive. So when I went back to school, knowing we had our parents' support, Rick and I decided to come out as boyfriends . . . in the fifth grade."

"And you've been out, all through middle school?" I asked.

"Not that everyone's been accepting or anything," Billy answered, "but everyone knows we're not the least bit apologetic about who or what we are, and everyone knows that not only can I kick anyone's butt if I'm attacked, but that no one will attack my Ricky and live to see another day."

"I still hate it that you have to protect me," Rick sighed.

"I know that," Billy said as he squeezed his boyfriend's shoulder, "which is why I've been teaching you self-defense, and in a perfect world, I wouldn't have to, but we don't live in a perfect world. I hear things will be better in high school and much better in college," he said with a dazzling smile.

By now we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and were barely crawling our way to the Speedway, but this was to be expected on the morning of the day of the race. It would likely be another hour before we got to our seats at least, which would still leave us an hour to spare before the one o'clock start time. Larry's company was supposedly providing lunch, so at least that wouldn't be a problem.

Spending another hour in a minivan with Debbie, on the other hand, would be especially difficult, as I was running out of things to say to my new acquaintances. I was also coming to realize that if we didn't arrive soon, I might end up peeing in my pants.

As if he were reading my mind, Larry asked, "How's your bladder holding up, Cathy?"

"Not great," I admitted.

"If we have to, we can drive on the shoulder and exit at 38th street," he suggested.

"I think I can make it until we get there, but I'll have to make a beeline for the restrooms as soon as we arrive"

"Fair enough," Larry agreed.

Our progress in the traffic was agonizingly slow, and Larry and I passed the time by discussing our plans for the future, such as they were. Unfortunately, my plans were pretty much on hold since my due date was in September, just after the beginning of the fall semester at most universities. There was no way I could begin college under the circumstances, not knowing when I'd need to take off to deliver my child.

Before I became pregnant, I'd applied to several architecture schools and been accepted by some of the top schools in the nation. I'd since decided that architecture was pretty much out of the question. The architecture curriculum was known to be one of the most grueling and, as a career, architecture was not known to be one that was particularly amenable to the `mommy track'. Perhaps with Debbie in my life, with her studying Interior Design, we could have found a way to build up our own business, but that certainly wasn't going to happen now, but I couldn't tell Larry that at the moment.

What I told Larry was that I planned to start school locally in January. There was a small private university nearby that offered a varied curriculum that suited me well. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do now, and this way I could go a number of different ways, ranging from social work to engineering to education. I'd already been accepted, and I had the option of living on campus and taking advantage of available daycare, or living with my parents at home. It would be an ideal fit.

Larry and Tim were both going to Northwestern University in Evanston, just north of Chicago. They had their sights set on getting MBA's, but were starting to get worried about the future, given the current economic climate. I told them that I thought just about everyone in our class was worried about the future, given the state of the economy.

I was sure glad when we arrived at the Speedway, and as soon as we arrived, I headed straight for the restrooms. There was a very long line at the ladies room, as there always seemed to be, and I sure as hell couldn't wait. Desperate times demanded desperate measures, so I stood outside the men's room and shouted as loudly as I could, "I'm a pregnant woman and I can't wait in line any longer. This is your two-minute warning. Two minutes, and I'm coming in!" This was followed by a whole symphony of flushes, and then a bunch of men exited the men's room. It was funny, but a whole bunch of women followed me inside. I guess I wasn't the only woman who was desperate!

When I got to the corporate box where our seats were reserved, there was one seat being held for me - next to Debbie. It was a great seat, right in the front row of the box, but the last thing I wanted to do was sit next to Debbie right then, and yet I knew somehow that I needed to.

"Cathy," she said, "if you don't want to sit next to me, I'll trade with someone else, but I hope you'll let me stay. It's been a long time since we've talked and I really think we need to. We've a lot of catching up to do and I'll only be in town for the summer, then off to school in Providence and maybe we won't see each other after that."

Hearing Debbie say that hit me like a ton of bricks. She was always going to study Interior Design, and the Rhode Island School of Design was always near the top of her list of places to go to school. We'd always worried that she might end up there and I might end up in an architecture school nowhere near there, and we might face being separated for as long as five years. Hearing that she was going to Providence made it seem so final. I wasn't going to let this last opportunity pass by for us to talk.

"You're right, Debbie, it's been far too long . . . and we've a lot to talk about. . . . So I take it you got into RISD?" I asked.

"Yeah. I know I should be excited . . . it's what I always wanted, but without you studying architecture alongside me, it won't be the same. I'm not even sure what I really want anymore. Sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions, you know? Somehow, my heart's not in it like it was when . . . I'd already applied to these art schools before we parted ways and I'm just kind of following through with it," she said.

Looking her squarely in the eyes, I said, "Debbie, I can't tell you what to do, but if it's still your dream, you should still follow it." I patted my stomach with a smile, "I'm in no position to pursue architecture anymore, but if art and interior design was your passion when we were together, then there's no reason it shouldn't be your passion, now. Your passions and your dreams shouldn't be dependent on any other person . . . not even on the love of your life. If you don't truly love your work when your love is gone, then how can you be sure you would love it in the long run, for better or for worse and all?"

"That's a very interesting perspective," Debbie admitted, seemingly lost in thought. "It's a lot to think about."

"If you love art, pursue that dream," I continued, "with or without the person you love. If you're not in love with your professional choice, then pursue something else."

"Please don't take this the wrong way, Cathy, but I'm beginning to remember why I fell in love with you."

Wow, this was awkward, but I knew exactly what she meant, because I was feeling it too. She was still very much the Debbie I fell in love with nearly five years ago.

"So when is the baby due?" she asked. Well that sure broke the mood!

"September, not long after school would've begun for me."

"Would have begun?" she asked.

"Yeah." I then explained as I had to Larry how I was postponing my education until January, and how I'd be attending a local college, and changing my course of study.

"You know," Debbie said, "it really sounds like you've got your act together. You may not know what you want to do now, yet you've chosen a smart course of action . . . a mature course of action."

"I don't know . . .," I answered. "Getting myself knocked up was definitely the dumbest thing I've ever done. Or maybe the second dumbest. Leaving you was probably the dumbest, but I felt so trapped in that tiny apartment, and I just couldn't make it without my parents back then."

"And what about now?" Debbie asked.

"Now . . . I don't know," I admitted. "So much has happened, I don't know if I can ever go back to the way things were. I've changed . . . this little guy inside me has seen to that. I guess it's the hormones. I'm just not the same person I was back in November."

"Sadly, I'd have to say the same thing about myself," Debbie agreed. I could've cried to hear that, but it was true in both our cases. Although I'd thought that she was still very much the Debbie I fell in love with, our break-up had changed us. We really weren't the same people anymore, and reclaiming our lost relationship just wasn't possible, even if we wanted to. Our lives had carried on.

Just then, Larry came around and took our lunch orders, and a short while later, Debbie had a box lunch with a roast beef and Swiss sandwich on sour dough and I had a humongous Chef's salad.

Shortly after we'd started eating, it was time for the race to start. With much fanfare, a bunch of pace cars drove out onto the racetrack. At just after one o'clock, the famous words were spoken, "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!" The sound was deafening. A lone pace car inched forward, followed by all the racecars as they made their way around the racetrack. Soon, the pace car had pulled in and, with the wave of the green flag, the race was on!

To make things more interesting, Larry passed around a baseball hat with the names of all thirty-three racecar drivers in it, and we drew names so that we could all have someone to root for. That was better than choosing the names ourselves - it was random and we all had an equal chance of picking an Andretti, or picking a total rookie. The driver I picked was someone I'd never heard of before, but Larry assured me he was a veteran driver who'd actually won the Grand Prix. Go figure.

Ours weren't the best seats in the house - the top celebrities, VIP's and corporate sponsors had the best views, with seats between turn four and the finish line, where most of the last-minute passing took place, but we were still in the grandstand and the view was absolutely great. Across the way, inside the racetrack, you could see all the people crammed into the infield who didn't even have seats. Yeah, we were watching the race in style.

Typically, the race would last a little over two hours, assuming it didn't rain, and God willing that there weren't any major accidents resulting in the race being stopped. Thanks to modern technology, fatalities were rare, but serious injuries did happen from time-to-time and I prayed we wouldn't see one this year.

It would have been a lie to say that conversation wasn't strained between Debbie and me, but we managed to have a decent time of it in spite of our tension, and we caught up on a lot of what had been going on in our lives in the few months since our break-up. I think we both came to realize that, at least to some degree, we were still a little in love with each other, and that her going away to school would be hard on both of us.

During the race I noticed that both Billy and Rick had taken their shirts off and they had their arms around each other and were cuddling together. How did they do that? Didn't they realize they were out in public? Didn't they realize this was the Midwest . . . the Bible Belt? Did they have a death wish or something? Were they really that comfortable with themselves that they were willing to take a chance on flaunting their sexuality out in public? Obviously the answer to all of the above was that they were, but they did have a couple of things in their favor - even I had to admit that Billy was drop-dead gorgeous, and for a fourteen-year-old, he had muscles that would intimidate anyone. It was so obvious they were in love . . . every bit as much as Debbie and I once were.

Partway through the race, Altaf came up to us and handed us each an envelope. Smiling, he said, "I know this will be particularly difficult for you, Cathy, but Randy and I would like both of you to come to our wedding."

"You're getting married?" I asked.

"Well, it is no secret that we have been engaged since last September, and we had always planned to get married as soon as we finished high school. The only question was as to where to tie the knot. Ever since we were both accepted to Yale, and since gay marriage became legal in Connecticut, we pretty much have been planning on getting married there. The big question had been a matter of timing.

"We would like to go on a honeymoon before starting school, but classes start right after my eighteenth birthday. Ammi has to sign off on the license if I marry before my birthday, and she is more than happy to do that. She loves Randy . . . he is like another son to her. We also know how difficult it would be for our friends to attend if the wedding is too close to the start of school. Everyone, it seems, is going to be around for the Fourth of July, so we have decided to charter a plane and fly everyone out to New Haven for the wedding, over the Fourth of July weekend."

"You chartered a whole airplane?" I asked incredulously.

"Well of course," Altaf replied, "and we have booked a block of rooms in town at the Omni Hotel, at our expense, of course. It is traditional for the `bride's family' to pay for the whole thing, but these days, most families split the costs. Randy would have picked up the whole cost but abbu . . ." Altaf started to tear up at this point, "my father . . . he left money for ammi, my sister's family and I in a Swiss bank account, just before he died. There is more than enough for my wedding, and for my education. Of course I would give all of that up if he could be here to see Randy and I take our vows."

It was evident how much Altaf loved and missed his father.

"As important as that event is in your life, Altaf, I'll be sure to be there," Debbie said. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

"There's always the possibility I may have to cancel due to the pregnancy," I warned, "but I'll be there, too," I added.

"That is wonderful, Cathy," Altaf said as he clasped his hands together. "I will make sure you get a seat up front, in first class along with the family, so that you have more room to stretch out in your condition. You will also be closer to the lavatory, and I know how important that is."

Turning to Debbie, and then back to me, he said, "I have a favor to ask of the two of you, however, and do not hesitate to say `no' if you cannot do it, but there are only so many rooms and only so many women attending. . . . Would the two of you be willing to share a room?"

What a loaded question! Beyond a doubt, I still loved Debbie . . . very much . . . and although I couldn't put a voice to the words, dare I share a room with her? Might we do something intimate . . . and later regret it? Did she, on the other hand, feel the same way about me? I'd be seven months pregnant, so it was doubtful we even could do anything intimate if we wanted to, and I certainly would be anything but sexy, and I could probably use a little help at that point from an understanding friend. The last thing I wanted was to be in a room by myself for the weekend. If nothing else, Debbie was a good friend. She had always been a good friend and it had been wrong of me to shut her out for the past half-year. The afternoon at the race had only proven just how much I'd missed her friendship even more than her love.

Turning to my former lover, I said, "Debbie, I'm willing if you are. I'll be seven months pregnant, so it's not like anything's going to happen anyway."

Giggling, Debbie answered, "I just got this vision of the two of us really going at it with your pregnant belly in the middle. How romantic . . . NOT. It'll be a great time for us to do what we should have done long ago, which is talk."

"I couldn't agree more," I nodded.

"Then it is settled." Altaf beamed with that wonderful, warm smile that I think we both found so endearing.

As he walked away, I said, "Randy is so lucky to have found him . . . he's such a kind boy."

"They're both lucky to have found each other," Debbie agreed.

"A Muslim and a Jew . . . who would have ever thought it possible?" I continued.

"Love knows no boundaries," Debbie added, and she was right.

The race droned on as we all got a little sunburned in spite of the sun block we'd all applied. Actually, I was surprised at how exciting it was. I was expecting it to be boring as cars merely went around the racetrack, but there was a constant shuffling back and forth among the top spots as drivers tried and sometimes succeeded in overtaking each other, and sometimes failed. Sometimes there were accidents and cars hit the retaining wall, sending car parts flying, causing a temporary interruption in the action . . . usually just in the form of a yellow flag as debris was cleaned up.

My driver was eliminated about three-quarters of the way through. There was a lot of smoke coming from his car when he went into the pits. Oh well . . .

Before I knew it, the race was over and the winner was drinking the celebratory glass of milk. The time had gone so fast, and I'd had a blast! I hadn't even had time for a potty break.

It took forever to make our way out of the grandstand, and when we reached the restrooms, even the men's rooms had long lines. Sensing my predicament, Larry went up to the head of the line at the ladies' restroom and shouted, "I have a pregnant woman, here. Could someone please let her cut in line?"

A sympathetic woman who'd obviously been there, let me cut in front of her while several people behind her gave us dirty looks. `Just wait 'til they're in my shoes,' I thought to myself.

It seemed to take as long to get home as to run the race! This time, I sat in back, with Debbie. It was . . . nice.

Commencement took place later that week at the State Fair Grounds in the Coliseum - an ancient behemoth of a yellow brick structure that looked like it was built around the turn of the last century. With a thousand of us in our class, it took forever for us to march across the stage and receive the blank sheet of paper they gave us in place of our diplomas.

A lot of the students still had the Senior Dinner to look forward to, but since Debbie and I had split up, I'd long ago let the deadline pass to purchase tickets. For me, this was it - the end of my senior year and the end of high school. My parents took me out to dinner afterwards at the top of the AUL building downtown with its spectacular views of the city. For a short while, we managed put our differences aside.

By the time the Fourth of July weekend rolled around, I was no longer just a `little bit pregnant' or barely beginning to show. In fact, I looked like I was ready to deliver any time now. I couldn't believe I still had two months to go! I wanted this pregnancy over with, and now!

One thing was certain; I was sure looking forward to Randy and Altaf's wedding. Debbie's parents were kind enough to take us to the airport, which was brand new, having just opened last December. Yeah, after decades of adding on and adding on until you couldn't find your way from one airline to the next, they finally decided to scrap the old airport and start over. With two million people, we needed a new airport. This was my first time seeing the new terminal. It was sleek and modern, and a lot more compact than the old one.

It turned out once we got there, however, that we had to go to a whole different building anyway because we were taking a charter. Go figure! So we packed back up and went where we were told. I thought we'd probably be taking one of those tiny regional jets, but it ended up we were taking a 767, which is a big airplane. Just about everyone I knew from school was going to be on that plane - it was really amazing - Randy and Altaf had so many friends.

It wasn't long before everyone had arrived and the charter company had us loaded on board and ready to take off. Apparently there was a time constraint - although most of Randy and Altaf's family were not very religious, a few were traditional when it came to not riding in any sort of motorized vehicle on the Sabbath. For them we had to allow for any possible flight delays and have them at the hotel before sunset. Because it was not long after the summer solstice, we had quite a bit of leeway, but we needed to be in the air by six PM to be certain. We were airborne by 4:30, leaving us plenty of time to spare.

As promised, Randy and Altaf had arranged for a seat up front for me in first class, right up with his and Randy's family members. They let Debbie sit up front with me, too. It was . . . nice. I hadn't realized that Altaf's mother is a pediatric nurse. She sat across the aisle from me. She's very well educated and it was reassuring to have her right there, in case something went wrong with the baby. Of course Randy's father was a cardiothoracic surgeon, but somehow having a nurse right next to me was even more comforting.

After we landed we were all loaded onto a series of buses and taken to the Omni Hotel. Randy and Altaf really went all out in making sure everyone felt welcome and that we didn't feel like we were on some sort of large tour or something. Our keycards were delivered to us on the bus on the way to the hotel, so we didn't have to wait in any lines or anything and we were able to go straight to our rooms. That was a really nice touch - I didn't know they could do that. They even arranged for our luggage to be delivered directly to our rooms, too.

When Cathy and I got to our room, there was a basket of fruit waiting, along with a printed itinerary and a map of the hotel facilities, explaining where all events would be taking place. That evening there would be a brief combined Muslim and Jewish prayer service for all who wished to attend, followed by a rehearsal dinner for all the wedding guests. Being a bit curious, we decided to attend the prayer service after we had freshened up. As the itinerary explained, although traditional Muslim and Jewish services require men and women to pray separately, both the imam and the rabbi had agreed to abide by Randy and Altaf's wishes that men and women be treated as equals and be allowed to pray together. There was, after all, little tradition to dictate what was proper for a gay wedding.

We went down at 8:00 and were surprised to find that most of our friends were there, too. I guess we weren't the only ones who were curious. The service was held in a large room with chairs - I knew that Muslims prayed standing or kneeling on a floor on prayer mats, so I assumed the chairs were a nod to Judeo-Christian traditions. Up front there was a large podium surrounded with numerous religious artifacts . . . and not a cross in sight. I recognized the arc of the covenant, with several scrolls of the sacred Hebrew Torah inside. I also saw a similar structure with ornate gold Arabic writing on it that I surmised to be the Muslim equivalent, perhaps housing sacred Islamic texts - perhaps the Quran.

Looking around the room, I couldn't help but think about the absurdity of the situation. Turning to Debbie, I said, "Here we all are, having flown in from the conservative Midwest to attend a gay wedding. Why is it that Randy and Altaf have to marry here? It's just so wrong that they can't marry back in our home state."

"It won't be this way forever, Cathy," responded David Reynolds, who was sitting behind us. "Mark my words, but it will change if I have anything to do with it. Some day I'm going to be the governor of our state. It'll be tough as a gay man getting elected, I know, but if anyone can shift the focus off my being gay and onto the issues, I'm the one who can."

"You want to be the governor?" Jeremy, his boyfriend, asked. "In our state?"

"Yeah, I've been thinking about what Paul said over Spring Break," David answered. "Why not start as governor. Hey, I got elected Class President twice . . . yeah, I could be governor."

"You sound serious about going into politics," Debbie commented.

"Oh, he's serious alright," Jeremy agreed. "You know, we're doing internships at the White House this summer. That's why we weren't on the flight with you guys. We took the train up from D.C. this afternoon."*

"Yeah, and we're serving as pages in the Senate," Kurt DeWitt, who was sitting next to Jeremy, said.

Kurt's boyfriend, Trevor Austin, added, "Kinda sucks that we're missing all the Fourth of July festivities in Washington this weekend but, man, I wouldn't miss this wedding for anything." I could tell by the looks on all four boys' faces how sincerely they felt about being there.

Jeremy practically teared up, however, as he continued, "I just don't like the other thing Paul said."

"Paul Levine?" I asked.

Shaking his head, "Paul Manning, Trevor's foster brother's best friend," Jeremy clarified. "He has Down's Syndrome and who knows, but he had a pretty wild premonition during our trip to Washington during the Spring Break. Out of the blue, he said . . ." Jeremy started to weep, "he said David would be buried in Arlington Cemetery."

"Just because Paul had this premonition," David countered, putting his arm around Jeremy, "doesn't mean it's gonna happen. And besides, that's way in the future. A lot could happen before then. Didn't he imply we'd be together all that time? That's way longer than most couples are together."

"I guess you're right," Jeremy said, just before planting a quick peck on David's lips. There was another gay couple that was incredibly tight. Randy and Altaf, Larry and Tim, David and Jeremy, and even Paul Levine and Sam Arnold had decided to transfer to the University of Rochester after spending the past year apart, as they'd been miserable in their separation. I wondered if Debbie and I could ever get back to what we'd once had - different, more mature, but together.

Two men presided jointly over the prayer service, an imam and a rabbi. The service was in Hebrew, Arabic and English, and the imam and rabbi took the time to explain the significance of each part of the service so that we could understand the similarities and the differences. They explained the significance of facing east while praying, toward Mecca for Muslims and toward Jerusalem for Jews. Many parts of the service were identical, for example, the lighting of candles and the blessing. Then there was the blessing and the drinking of the wine - a sacred act in the Jewish faith, much as it is a sacrament in Christianity, but a sin in Islam.

The most important theme, however, was the constant talk of the one god . . . be his name Allah or Adonai . . . they are one and the same. I liked that. Sometimes that message gets lost in all the rhetoric. Sometimes the message gets subverted, or even turned around and misused.

Toward the end of the service, the imam and the rabbi called Randy and Altaf up to the pulpit to bless them and their union. Imagine that . . . a Muslim imam and a Jewish rabbi blessing a gay marriage between a Muslim boy and a Jewish boy. I cried . . . I couldn't help it. Debbie did, too. Had this been a purely Muslim marriage, the wedding itself would have been held this night, but in Judaism, the wedding could not be held on the Jewish Sabbath, which began at sundown and would not end until sundown tomorrow. Hence, a blessing was given this night, and the wedding itself would take place on Sunday.

Dinner was held in another large room nearby. It was excellent! I couldn't believe this was just the rehearsal dinner - it was a four-course meal, with a Caesar salad, corn chowder, a smoked whitefish appetizer, and salmon main course.

After the dinner, there was a traditional `Oneg Shabbat' . . . a welcome reception for the Sabbath, with drinks and desserts, and that was on top of all the food we'd already had for dinner. Of course, I skipped the alcohol, even though I was well past the point of doing any major harm to my baby . . . I just wasn't going to take any chances. Debbie and I went to bed, absolutely stuffed. The room had two double beds. We looked at each other longingly for a minute after we undressed, and then each got into our own separate beds.

In the morning, there was a traditional morning Muslim prayer service, followed by a brunch for all the wedding guests, and then a Jewish Sabbath prayer service for all who wished to attend. Debbie and I had ordered a wakeup call in time for the Muslim service, but when the call came, we both agreed that we were too tired, and still too full to attend. We asked for another wakeup call and barely made it in time to eat. We were far from the only ones to arrive late for brunch. Needless to say, we didn't make the Jewish prayer service, either, as we were still eating when it started.

Guests were free to partake of the hotel amenities for the afternoon, including the extensive health club, or to explore the area. There was a nice shopping boutique nearby and Debbie and I decided to spend the afternoon there as well as exploring downtown New Haven with some of our friends.

That evening there was a traditional Fourth of July picnic, held in a nearby park along the waterfront. The food consisted of barbecued chicken, hamburgers and all beef hot dogs. Afterwards, there was a traditional end-of-Sabbath Havdalah service at sunset, which was kind of nice, and then we all watched the spectacular fireworks, which were put on by the city of New Haven.

The next morning there was a traditional Sunday brunch, followed by a non-denominational church service that Debbie and I both attended. Then it was time for the wedding itself, which was held in the largest conference room on the top floor, with large windows overlooking the entire city. The light streaming in almost gave the feel of an outdoor wedding. Chairs were set up on both sides of the aisle, and in front was a large white canopy - the traditional Jewish wedding adornment. The imam and rabbi were both present, but Randy and Altaf were nowhere to be seen. Indeed, it dawned on me that I hadn't seen them at the brunch, either.

At the appointed moment, Randy entered, wearing a white tuxedo . . . he looked so handsome . . . and walked down the aisle on his mother's arm. When he was standing at the front, facing the imam, a white veil was dropped down behind him, hiding him from view. Next Altaf entered the room from the back. He was also wearing a white tuxedo and he was just as handsome as he walked down the aisle on his mother's arm. When he was facing the rabbi, the veil was moved around so that it separated Randy and Altaf from each other so they could not see each other, but so that we could all see both of them.

It was the imam who spoke first. "Marriage is one of the most sacred of acts. It was one of God's first commandments when he spoke to Moses, the first prophet, on Mount Sinai."

The rabbi then added, "and the great rabbi Hillel reduced all of the commandments of the Torah down to these three . . . the study of Torah, marriage, and the doing of good deeds. When you hear the vows these young men have chosen, you will understand how much they embody that which Hillel taught."

"Many times I have participated in the marriage of a Muslim to someone outside the faith," the imam continued, "but this is the first time I have been asked to wed a Muslim to a Jew. As you will witness from this ceremony, there are far more similarities than there are differences between our peoples, and I welcome such a union, but never in my lifetime did I expect to be asked to perform a union between two men.

"As you probably know, the Quran is not equivocal when it comes to homosexuality. The interpretation of Islam's intent, however, has come under recent scrutiny, much as has been the case in Judaism and Christianity. The scientific community is certainly not equivocal when it comes to whether or not homosexuality is a choice. Although many still choose to be critical of what they do not understand, how can anyone turn their backs on love when it manifests itself in a form so pure as it does here today?"

The rabbi then continued with, "This is a set of firsts for me, too . . . the first interfaith marriage involving a Muslim and a Jew, and the first gay marriage. At first I was skeptical when contacted by Randy, and I insisted on meeting with both the partners before I would agree to participate in the ceremony, particularly between two who are so young . . . but they insisted on meeting me as well, before agreeing to engage my services. My initial concerns vanished the moment I met them. The love they share is as clear as any I have seen on the faces of other couples I have wed.

"The elements of the wedding ceremony you witness today should be familiar to all here. They are derived from the ancient Hebrew wedding ceremony and have been adapted over the years by modern Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. The rings that will be exchanged here today are a symbol as old as marriage itself. The traditional wedding vows are as old as the Jewish people. The marriage contract, or Ketubah, which Randy and Altaf signed last night and which is on display in the lobby for all to see, likewise dates back to the very beginnings of the practice of marriage."

"The veil you see," the imam interjected, "is unique to Islamic traditions, and an adaptation of Buddhist and Hindu customs, but it is in many ways in keeping with the ancient custom of not allowing the groom to see the bride on the wedding day. Here, the veil serves to keep Randy and Altaf from seeing each other until they have both accepted each other as their lifelong mates."

"Three complete sets of vows will be avowed today," the rabbi continued to explain. "One complete traditional set in Hebrew, one in Urdu, and a final set written by each groom in English. During the reciting of the vows, the respective groom will place a gold ring on the other's middle finger through a hole in the veil and then after the vows are complete, the ring will be slipped onto the ring finger where, God willing, it will remain for all eternity."

"After the vows have been taken," the imam said, "I will ask one last time in Urdu if each groom takes the other to be his husband and only then will the veil be removed."

"Finally," the rabbi said, "they will each take a sip of wine from a glass and then break the glass so that no lips can ever drink from the same glass again."

I really liked the way the imam and the rabbi were taking the time to explain everything. It made everything so much more meaningful. When they were ready, Randy's cute pre-teenage brother, serving as the ring bearer, stepped forward. He offered a ring to his brother, and then one to Altaf.

It was interesting to hear the Hebrew and Urdu wedding vows spoken, even though I didn't know what they meant, but it was their personal vows that were just so touching. It really choked me up when Randy said, "Altaf, when we first met, I knew you were a Muslim, but that didn't matter to me. We met, and I knew you were someone special. As I got to know you, I knew we would be lifelong friends, but when you told me your story, I fell in love with you.

"I know I am not your first love, and there will always be room in your heart for Fareed, too. We cannot do anything about what was, but you and I together can do something about what will be, and so I vow to love, honor and cherish you so long as I draw breath, and to open a place in my heart for all gay children in need, and with your help, we will make a home for as many of them as we are able. That is the gift that Fareed has given you and me."

After sliding a gold ring onto Randy's middle finger, Altaf recited his vows . . . first the traditional Urdu wedding vows, and then the traditional Hebrew vows, and then those he had written for the occasion in English. "Randy, when we first met, I did not know you were a Jew, and when I found out, at first I was afraid, but then I decided to give our friendship a chance. It was the best decision I ever made. I learned that the imam in my village was very wrong when it came to his knowledge of Jews, and that hatred has no place in my heart. I, too, fell in love with you, even as I have always loved Fareed. I vow to love, honor, and cherish you so long as I draw breath, and to open a place in my heart for all gay children in need, and with your help, we will make a home for as many as we are able. That is the gift that Fareed has given us . . . the gift we will share for the rest of our lives."

After Randy had slid a gold ring onto Altaf's middle finger, the imam asked each of them in Urdu in words I didn't understand what I surmised to be the question of whether they chose to take each other to be their husband, and each answered, "Qubool Hai."

As the veils were quickly removed, Altaf's mother shouted out, "Everyone, repeat after me, `Mubaarak ho, niqah qubool hai'." She said it again very slowly as we attempted to muddle through it, and then repeated it in English, so we could all understand, "Congratulations, the vows have been accepted!"

Randy and Altaf then each moved their husband's rings to the ring finger, took a sip of wine, and took turns stomping on the glass as there were shouts of "Mazel Tov!" from the guests.

The wedding reception started with a meal that made the rehearsal dinner seem like it was catered by Burger King. I was pretty full by the time we got to the third course, but there were six more. I wasn't sure how any of us had the energy to get up and dance when the music started, but dance we did. I danced with Larry, I danced with Tim, I danced with Trevor and Kurt, and of course I danced with Randy and with Altaf. Finally, I got up the courage to dance with Debbie. It was a slow dance and as I held her in my arms, it just felt so right. All the months just melted away and I suddenly realized what a fool I'd been, and I started to cry.

Debbie pulled away and looked at me, and asked, "What's wrong, honey?"

`Honey' . . . how I loved that word.

"It's not what's wrong," I answered, "it's what's right."

Suddenly, someone behind me practically shouted, "Cathy, what's that on your dress?"

Debbie looked down at me and said, "Oh my God! Cathy, you're bleeding!"

I looked down and saw that, not only was my dress stained with blood, but there was blood running down my legs and pooling at my feet. It was then that I realized I felt light-headed.

Debbie helped me into a chair nearby and before I even knew what was happening, Altaf's mother was by my side, checking my pulse and having me drink water. Turning to her son, she asked, "How close are we to the medical center?"

"It's only about three blocks away," he answered.

"We need to get her there, now. She almost certainly has a placental abruption. We don't have time to call an ambulance," his mother explained.

"I understand. I know exactly where to take her," Altaf assured his mother. "I'll drive."

"You can't leave your own wedding," I protested.

"It could make the difference between life and death for your baby . . . and maybe even for you. I chose to go into Medicine. This is one of those times when the patient's life comes before my own," Altaf said with a reassuring smile. What a wonderful doctor he'd make some day.

When we arrived at Emergency, they took one look at me and wheeled me straight back while Debbie took care of having me checked in. I was literally feeling fainter by the second. They asked me if I'd had anything to eat recently and I laughed . . . just the way I was dressed should have been a dead giveaway.

They took me straight to an operating room and got me ready for surgery. The anesthesiologist told me I couldn't have general anesthesia because of my full stomach, and there wasn't time for an epidural, so the only choice was a spinal block and, man, did that hurt. It also left me feeling dead from the navel down. They also got an IV in me and started giving me a blood transfusion, which made me feel a lot better. However, I didn't like it when they stuck a tube into my nose, making me swallow it down my throat and into my stomach . . . I didn't like it one bit.

Finally, Debbie came in - she looked so cute in a hospital gown, cap and mask. I was so relieved to see her. At least I wouldn't have to go through this alone. I realized then and there just how much I needed her . . . how much I loved her.

There were lots of people in the room . . . I wasn't quite sure who all of them were . . . some of them were probably even medical students, but I was just glad I had a team of experts trying to save my baby's life. One young man, who looked like he couldn't be more than twenty-five, said, "Fetal heart rate's down to eighty. We gotta get this kid out."

The anesthesiologist, who looked to be about as young, said, "I'm ready on my end."

One of the guys in what I took to be surgical scrubs, with a heavy gown, thick gloves and a plastic face shield said, "Alright, then, let's do it."

I heard him calling out for each instrument as he needed it - scalpel, suction, suture, cautery . . . man, smelling my own flesh being cooked was weird . . . almost nauseating, but nothing prepared me for the sound and smell of my own body fluids gushing out when they entered my womb. Debbie smiled at me as I caught a glimpse of them carrying a small pink bundle over to a separate area to work on my baby, while the primary team continued to work on me.

I got excited as I heard a tiny cry. There was actually a cheer from the team of doctors and nurses in that corner. Someone shouted out, "Apgars are great for a 32 week preemie. The kid's gonna make it!"

In the meantime, the surgeon and anesthesiologist working on me were still going at it furiously. Something didn't seem right. Finally, the surgeon, or gynecologist, I guess, said, "Cathy, sometimes in cases like these, we just can't control the bleeding. We've tried using medications and we've tried scraping out all remaining fetal remnants from your uterus, and you're still bleeding like crazy. We can't just keep transfusing you forever. Cathy, I'm afraid we're left with only one choice. It's not a very good choice, but if we don't remove your uterus, you'll bleed to death."

Tears came to my eyes as I realized what he was telling me. I'd never be able to have another child, but if I didn't have a hysterectomy, my new baby would grow up without a mother.  I looked at Debbie, she had a slight smile.

"Cathy, there's a lot of kids being born today that won't have their moms . . . don't let that happen to this little guy. " Debbie squeezed my hand and touched my cheek with her other hand. Right at the right time, she knew what I needed to hear.

There really wasn't a choice at all.

"Go ahead doc," I said. "Do what you have to do so I can live and be a mother to my child."

"I'm sorry," he agreed. "I'll leave your ovaries in for the time being . . . you're far too young to go through menopause. They can always be removed later to reduce your risk of cancer if you wish."

Debbie continued to hold my hand tightly throughout the procedure. The surgeon asked her to leave, but she said in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't, and that was that. An hour later, I was sewn up and on my way to recovery.

It was late in the evening by the time they took me to my room, and it was already filled with flowers and balloons - I couldn't believe it. "You sure have a lot of folks who love you," the nurse said as she and the orderlies helped me scoot over onto the bed.

I wasn't in my bed but two minutes before Randy and Altaf stopped by to see how I was doing. "Aren't you guys supposed to have left on your honeymoon?" I asked.

"We couldn't leave until we were sure you and the baby are alright," Randy explained. "In fact, the chartered flight back home was only half full. All our friends wanted to stay to be sure you're OK. The hotel had to scramble to make sure they had enough rooms for everyone who wanted to stay, but they were very accommodating under the circumstances. I imagine a lot of our friends will be stopping by in the morning."

I was really touched. I knew that anyone staying over was doing so at their own expense. Somehow, I'd have to make it up to them.

After the newlyweds left, Debbie got a serious look on her face as she sat in the chair next to me; she took hold of my hand and then started to tear up as her look was replaced with one of determination. She said, "Cathy, today . . . we nearly lost you. Maybe we've both made some mistakes in the last few months, but I'd like to think we can put that chapter of our lives behind us. I think you know that I've never stopped loving you, and I hope you've come to realize you've never really stopped loving me. If you'll let me, I want to love your baby . . . our baby? . . . every bit as much as if he was my own . . . as much as I love you." I started to tear up.

"Cathy, marry me." Debbie continued, "We're already in Connecticut. We can apply for a marriage license and be married before we return home. I called our parents before you went into surgery, and they should be here any minute. Now would be the perfect time for a wedding. I know it's rather sudden, but it really isn't. After all, we've been together for five years. Let's not wait any longer. I love you . . . marry me, Cathy. Let's spend the rest of our lives together."

"Oh Debbie, I love you too, but what about RISD?" I asked with tears in my eyes. As much as I wanted to say `yes', I didn't want to stand in the way of her dreams.

"Cathy, you were right. I was only following a mirage. Interior Design was never my passion, and it wouldn't have been right for me, even if you'd gone into Architecture. This may have actually been the best thing that could have happened to me. I'm going to withdraw from RISD and take a semester off. I want to have this time to spend with you and our baby. I'll try to get into the same school you're going to in the spring and like you, I'll take time to figure out what I want to do with my life. Maybe we should figure it out together."

Tears were streaming down my face as I realized that I'd never been happier in my life. Everything was perfect. I may have lost my uterus, but my life was complete. "Yes, Debbie, I would love nothing more than to marry you and to spend eternity with you," I answered her.

We were in the midst of a passionate, tearful lip lock when our parents barged into the room. It was my mother, of course, who shouted, "Oh my God!"

"Mom," I said, "I'd like you to meet my fiancé. I nearly died today. In fact, if it hadn't been for the fact that the hotel was so close to a university hospital, I'd have certainly lost my child, if not my own life.

"I'm not going to pretend to be something I'm not any longer. I'm going to be the woman God intended me to be and to be with the one I love. Debbie asked me to marry her and I've accepted. If we can set it up, we'll be married before we return home. I hope that you and Daddy will attend."

It was Debbie's mother instead who made the first move nudging past my mom saying, "That's wonderful news! I'm so happy for both of you." She then gently hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, and she hugged her own daughter in a warm embrace and kissed her on the cheek as well. Debbie's father followed suite and did the same.

My father sighed, and then said, "It still goes against everything we believe in, but to think we nearly lost you. . . . You're an adult, Cathy, and it's your life to live . . . and no matter what, your mother and I will always love you. We may not always tell you that, but we'll always feel that way." And then he threw his arms around me and hugged me as we both cried our hearts out.

The nursing staff was very nice about letting our parents stay until it was nearly midnight before pointing out how late it was and finally making them leave. But they told Debbie it was all right for her to stay if she wanted to . . . not that the recliner in the room was very comfortable, but neither of us wanted to be apart again.

First thing in the morning, my nurse arranged to take me down to the neonatal ICU so I could see my son. He looked so small, but I was assured that even though he wasn't out of the woods yet, he was very healthy for a seven-month-old preemie, and chances were excellent that he would make it without any permanent ill effects. That was such wonderful news!

Shortly after getting back to my room, the parade of well-wishers began, starting with Larry and Tim. I was particularly glad to see them. When they asked me what I'd named my baby, I very proudly told them I'd named him Lawrence Timothy Andrews. Larry looked at me with his big, beautiful brown eyes that were now filled with tears and he asked, "Really?"

I answered back, "Of course, really. I couldn't think of two finer people in the world that I'd want my son to take after than the two of you. You're my best friends. If he grows up to be like you, he'll be a fine man . . . someone who'll make a wonderful partner to a very lucky girl . . . or boy someday."

Larry leaned down and kissed me on the cheek, and then Tim leaned down and did the same.

Filling out the information for Little Larry's birth certificate was a special joy. Debbie and I were ecstatic.

It was two more days before I was released from the hospital, and even then, I was far from ready to fly home. In the meantime, Debbie and I proceeded to make our wedding plans, setting the date for Friday. I was surprised at how many of our friends stuck around for the wedding. Not only did Randy and Altaf delay their honeymoon so they could attend, but David and Jeremy attended, as did Larry and Tim, Paul and Sammy and a host of others. We ended up with over fifty people in attendance, which was a lot for a last-minute affair. We even managed to get a pair of wedding dresses. I was utterly amazed we managed to pull it all off.

Although our ceremony wasn't steeped in the Mid-East traditions that were present at Altaf and Randy's wedding, for Debbie and I, it was just as sweet because our fathers were there to walk us down the aisle. We were able to hold it in the same conference room where Altaf and Randy had been married. A difference - Larry and Tim stood at our sides. Any stranger walking into the room would have thought we were having a double ceremony, but the minister wasn't confused and that's what mattered.

We spent our honeymoon with Little Larry because he needed to stay in the hospital another month before he was deemed stable enough for discharge, by which time he was less than a month premature and strong enough to be cared for at home. The instructions they provided us, however, were more extensive than the ones that came with my car, my computer, and my stereo combined.  Sometime in the future, our second honeymoon, maybe a trip to Disney World, will be so much more full of meaning, with our son there to enjoy it too.

Yes, Debbie and I are now legally married - not that the marriage is recognized in our own home state, but to us it's valid, and that's all that matters.

For us, the future has just begun.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and Colinian in editing and Trab in proofreading, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Codey's World for hosting my stories. A special thanks goes to BeaStKid for assistance with the Pakistani aspects of the wedding ceremony.

*Please check out the companion story, Summer Internship, co-authored with David of Hope.(Back to Story)

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