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After breakfast with Marjorie, Marcus and I had just a few minutes to spend together. We stopped and picked up the dry cleaning and headed back to the condo.
"Babe, before we go inside, I just want to say I love you so much. I'm still in awe about what just occurred. That was incredible how you turned my mother around like that. You had her smiling and laughing. The two of you were really connecting... I was stunned, excited, but stunned."
"Really, it sort of just happened. I was hoping to get her talking so I wouldn't spout off like always, and it worked. I think tonight I'll try to stay quiet and hang with the kids. It seems safer for me."
"You don't give yourself enough credit. You are so fucking amazing. You kept asking really great questions getting her to think and respond to you. It was wonderful and amazing to watch.
"But back to tasks at hand. I figure Stephen and Josh will be lucky to last much more than an hour, Mallory, maybe even less time tonight. That should give you and your parents plenty of time to set things up in the condo. I hope they know how much I appreciate everything they do for me and my family. It means so much."
"Of course they do, Hon. You know my parents, they love you to pieces. Plus, they won't ever forget what you did the week after Mom's heart attack. Let's go inside. We only have a few minutes before you need to get your mother."
My parents and I arrived at the funeral home about fifteen minutes before the start of calling hours. Marcus and his family were already in the viewing room. The funeral home was larger than any I'd been in before. There was a second large room across from the main one. Sarah, Jessica and the kids were there, the younger twins letting everyone know just how good their lungs were.
"Holy Cow, what's up with the twins?" I asked.
"I have no idea. They have been fed and changed and just woke up from a good long nap. I have no clue what's wrong with them." Sarah smiled. "Maybe they just need to see their godfather. Honestly, I think they just want to be held."
"That would just break my heart to hold them." I grinned.
I picked up Tommy and Ben and started talking to them softly. I walked around the room. The twins slowly began to quiet down. I kept walking and whispering to the babies, eventually they started to make little cooing sounds.
"Uncle T, how did you do that?" Stephen whispered. "You need to teach Mommy and Daddy, sometimes Tommy and Ben don't stop... ever"
"Well kiddo, don't ask me how it works. I just started talking to them. I'm sure they settle down for Mommy."
"Not always. Sometimes they just cry a lot,"
"They don't know any better. For a little while it's the only way they can let you know they need something. Sometimes, they just want to hear a voice. Maybe when they are crying, you could talk to Tommy and Ben. They might quiet down for you. I'm sure they love their big brother. You should try it.
"You guys need to be on your best behavior tonight. You know that, right?"
"Of course, Grandma Taylor is very sad and we need to be good so she can say good bye to her Mommy and Daddy. We will be good."
"Later on, you, Josh, Mallory, and the twins are coming to the condo for some food. Grandma Wallace made some awesome soup and bread."
"Grandma Wallace always cooks yummy stuff."
Just at that moment, Sarah came over to grab the twins.
"Marcus wants you to join him in the receiving line for a few minutes. I'll take the twins. Thanks for getting them to quiet down. I guess they recognize their godfather already."
"I don't think so. They just wanted someone to talk to them. You know, they are pretty amazing. I could walk around talking to them forever."
"Yeah, just wait until they start talking back and we will see what you think."
I laughed. "I think I can wait."
I walked into the main room and found Marcus looking at the door. He smiled when he saw me and gestured for me to join him.
"Babe, could you hang with me for a little while. I want to introduce you to some of my relatives."
"If that's what you want, of course. How are you introducing me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Will your mother be okay with me being introduced as your fiancÚ? I honestly don't want to cause her any extra stress today. This is incredibly difficult and exhausting, and I don't want to make it any worse. I was thinking I should just stay in the background and watch the kids while you and your family greet all the people paying respects to your grandparents."
Marjorie placed her hand on my shoulder from behind. I quickly spun around, blushing.
"Anthony, you are very thoughtful, but at a time like this you need your family to give you strength. I need my sons and they need their families, too. You are Marcus' family now, so please stay to lend us support."
"Of course, Mrs. Taylor, whatever you need."
She turned and moved to the end of the family line. I stood there stunned. I wasn't sure I heard her right. Marcus and I moved to the beginning of the receiving line. Marcus was so good at remembering people; the family figured it was best to start with him. Quickly we were overwhelmed by well-wishers.
I met dozens of distant relatives and many family friends. Marcus was amazing to watch as he greeted people and introduced his family. My introduction caused a raised eyebrow occasionally, but it was so busy no one really had time to linger.
Scott and Justin made an appearance, as did Jon and James. Towards the end of the non-stop crowd, Keith and J walked in together. They offered condolences to the family and then joined Scott and Justin towards the back of the room.
After an hour and a half of continuous people, the boys and Mallory were starting to get antsy. The line was down to a trickle and people were talking in groups. My parents walked up to us.
"Marcus and Tony, the kids have been really great to this point, but I think they are getting tired and very bored. The crowd is thinning out, so now might be the best time for us to take them back to the condo. What do you think? Besides, I need to get things going if we are feeding the whole crew."
Marcus gave her a hug and nodded his head.
"Betty, you are the best. We still have just over an hour left here. I think it's the perfect time for you guys to head out. Give me a minute to talk to my mother. Babe, please go say thanks to the guys for coming. Ask them to stick around; I need to talk to them. My mother doesn't want me, Jamie, and Nick to be pall bearers, so I need to find someone to do that for me."
"No problem. Mom and Dad, let the kids know we are leaving soon. You can help them get geared up. I'll meet you at the entrance with Jamie's van in a couple of minutes."
I walked over to Scott, Justin and everyone. I was behind Keith as I overheard Justin whisper to him.
"All I'm saying is if you break his heart, I will rip yours out with my bare hands."
"It will never happen. I promise. He means the world to me. I'm glad you have his back, but trust me I could never ever hurt him."
I cleared my throat.
"Guys, Marcus asked me to see if you could stick around for a few minutes. Things are winding down slightly and he has a favor to ask you all. I need to head out with the Taylor kids, they are getting stir crazy. So if you could just give him a few minutes."
They all nodded.
"Thanks. I will see you all tomorrow."
As I walked away, Keith grabbed my arm.
"Tony, can I give you a call Monday after school? I need some advice about an internship I have been offered."
"Sure call me after four. I have a meeting with the parents of one of my elementary students on Monday after school. I should be done and available by then."
"Thanks, a lot. Could we meet at the coffee shop? I'll be just getting out of class."
"No problem. Thanks for sticking around guys. I need to help my parents with the kids."
We finally got the kids loaded in the van. Mallory was in her car seat between the older twins in the last row. Mom was in the middle with the babies on the center seat, and Dad was riding shotgun. By the time we arrived at the condo, the babies and Mallory had fallen asleep. Mom and Dad each carried in a twin in their car seats. Mallory slept all the way into the condo in my arms, so I settled her on the love seat and then checked on the little ones.
Stephen and Josh were in the kitchen helping Grandma Wallace.
"Okay boys, wash your hands. Stephen, grab a chair so you can stir the soup, and Josh, you can help with the salad.
"Grandpa Wallace, why don't you get the bowls, plates, and utensils set up on the breakfast bar. Uncle Tony, you need to get the babies ready to eat. Get them out of those warm snow suits and set up a couple of bottles."
"Wow, way to just take over, Mom."
"Sorry, I just want everything ready for Marcus's family. Tonight needs to be just about being together for them. "
"I'm just picking on you. Thanks for taking care of all this. I know Marcus appreciates it. It means the world to both of us."
"Of course, Baby. Now I think you better get on the ball because the babies are starting to fuss over there."
When Marcus and his family finally arrived at the condo, they looked completely drained. Mom quickly moved all the food to the breakfast bar. We fed the three older kids earlier, so I had them settled on the floor playing a game of Candy Land. I was feeding the babies while sitting on the love seat. Tommy was nestled between my legs and Ben in my right arm.
Mom spoke first, "Okay, everyone, the bread is hot out of the oven. The soup is ready to be ladled out and the antipasto is organized so you only get what you want. Eat up, there is plenty."
Marjorie walked up to my mother and hugged her.
"Thank you. I really appreciate all your efforts here. The soup smells wonderful. Thanks for taking care of my grandchildren tonight too."
"Dear, it's the least we could do. We are all family now. Don't even give it a second thought."
Marjorie stared at my mother for a moment and then nodded her head.
Marcus moved over to the love seat and took Ben from me. I smiled.
"Did the guys agree to be pall bearers for you?"
"Yeah, Scott and Justin, Jon and James, and a couple of Jamie's friends will take care of it."
"Excellent. I called the caterer and the bakery earlier and they are all set for tomorrow. The head of the auxiliary called, they will be ready to set up when services start in the church. If tonight was any indication, the crowd should be very big tomorrow."
"Thanks, Babe. What would I do without you and your parents?"
Marcus gave me a kiss. We finished feeding the babies and handed them over to their parents.
Eventually, the family headed out and Marcus took his Mom back to the hotel. I helped my mother clean things up and then my parents called it a night, too. I was crawling into bed just as Marcus returned. He climbed in and was asleep almost instantly.
The next morning we all quietly ate a quick breakfast and dressed for the funeral. Marcus grabbed his notes for the eulogy and left to get Marjorie. My parents and I arrived at the funeral home moments before the family. After a blessing in the funeral home, our friends carried the caskets out one at a time to waiting hearses. We joined the procession.
The church was immense. The stained-glass window that greeted worshipers was at least three stories tall. Brilliantly colored, it was in a rose shape. Illuminated from behind by lights inside, it glowed on the overcast day. Filled with reds, yellows, and greens, the window reminded me of a Tiffany lamp. It was devoid of religious symbols, but still created an aura of solemnity.
Rows of mahogany-stained wooden pews that could seat well over one thousand people lined the aisle and expanded in the center. The altar was filled with scores of flower arrangements; some from the funeral home the previous night, others new for the church service, and still others for the upcoming Easter Mass.
The church was completely packed; we filled the three pews of the family section. Marcus sat with his mother. George, Marcus's father, sat in the row with my family. The service was very intense, much more solemn than what I was used to at our parish. The priest gave a moving sermon; he'd known Marjorie and her parents when they attended services. He asked Marcus to come up for the eulogy.
Incredible. The only word to describe Marcus and his eulogy was incredible. He told the love story that was his grandparents' life. He spoke of their meeting as teenagers, his grandfather's service in World War II, raising four children and out-living three, and spending their final years together. He told of a love so deep they passed within hours of each other. Finally, he spoke of his mother's sacrifice to keep them together and at home their final days. There may not have been a dry eye in the house.
When he returned to his seat, his mother clutched at him. They sat down and I put my hand on his shoulder. He glanced back at me and saw the tears in my mother's eyes. I gave him a firm squeeze and sat back.
Mass ended and the caskets were moved to the crypt to wait for final internment later in the spring. We all walked to the elementary school behind the church for the reception.
The family took a moment to regroup before facing the crowds. Marjorie walked over to Marcus, my parents and me.
"Betty and Sam, thank you again for last night. It was delicious and perfect. It was very kind of you both. Anthony, I understand you made all the arrangements for today. Thank you very much."
She shook her head and smiled, then she sighed, seeming to make a decision at that moment.
"There are only certain colors I will wear... so keep that in mind when you choose your dress for August, Betty. I wouldn't want to clash."
She turned and walked into the reception, leaving the four of us standing there stunned.
Marcus recovered first and went after his mother.
"Do you mean you'll be here? You are coming to the wedding?" Marcus asked.
"Yes, but now is not the time to discuss it. Your eulogy reminded me of what real love can mean. Plus, Tony and his folks, they really are good people. We can talk about it later. Right now it's about my parents and remembering them."
"Of course, Mother."
Marcus turned to look at my parents and me. He had tears in his eyes. He walked up to Mom and Dad and wrapped them into a hug. He then grabbed my hands.
"Babe, you did it. You won her over. Did you hear her?"
"I'm surprised. I mean we really didn't do anything out of the ordinary."
"Not for you, but for most people... You still don't understand how amazing you and your parents are... Look we can talk about this later. I need to help my mother greet people. I love you so incredibly much."
Suddenly the weekend was over. Mom and Dad left Sunday morning, Marcus thanking them profusely, hanging on to the hugs for the longest time.
Marjorie flew out early afternoon. She continued to deflect Marcus as he tried to talk about our wedding.
"I will be back for the interment in May. We will have time to talk then. I just wanted to let you know I'd decided to attend to help you better plan. Don't involve me in the ceremony. I will be here to support you, but nothing more.
"Marcus, Tony, I will see you in a couple of months. I love you, Son."
"Love you too, Mom. Call me to let me know when you get home."
Monday morning dawned and it was back to school. After the week vacation, the day seemed to drag. I had a meeting with Brett Winter's parents that evening. I was helping Brett with his stuttering by using 'Harry Potter' books and movies. His father travelled extensively for his job and it was the first time we met.
"Mr. and Mrs. Winter, it's a pleasure to meet you. Hello Brett. Did you enjoy vacation?"
"I really can't thank you enough for taking time out to meet with us." Brett's Mom began.
"Call me Tony, and would you like some coffee.
Mrs. Winter shook my hand. "It's Joyce and Thomas, and if coffee is already made."
"Brett honey, why don't you take Fang for a quick walk? I'm sure he needs to go out."
I smiled as Brett led a beagle puppy to the door.
"Yeah, not exactly what you picture when you hear the name Fang. But you know there was no other name he would accept for his dog." Thomas explained.
"I'm not the least bit surprised. That son of yours is the biggest fan I've met, and that includes me." I said laughing.
"Tony, we don't want to take up a lot of your time. I can't thank you enough for seeing us. We have a couple of quick things we wanted to talk to you about.
"First, there are not words to express how grateful we are for what you have done for Brett. The way he has come out of his shell and actually tries to carry on a conversation is unbelievable. He gets excited when it's one of the days he gets to work with you." Thomas said.
"We have tried specialists. He has worked with a couple different teachers. No one to this point has accomplished what you have in just a few months." Joyce added.
"Which leads us to our second point; would you consider private sessions with Brett? We would pay you, of course. You have accomplished so much with the couple of hours you get with Brett each week. We are sure spending more time with you would help him. We thought even just a couple hours one night after school would be so good for him." Thomas continued.
"Please think about it. We don't expect an answer today. We just want you to know how much your efforts are appreciated. You have made such a huge difference in our son's life. We can't thank you enough."
"We have sent a letter to Dr. Hunter to let him know just how much we appreciate all you've done with Brett." Joyce hugged me.
"Well, thank you both for your kind words. Your son is a delight. I really enjoy the time we spend together and it's been exciting to watch his improvement. I want to caution you though.
"While I believe more time together will help him, I can't promise his stuttering will ever go away completely. There are tricks we can use to improve things. His progress has been amazing so far, but I want you to understand he may always have a bit of a stutter."
"Tony, we realize that, but we want to give Brett the best chance to continue to improve. It means the world to us to see how far he has come. We just want you to think about working with him privately." Joyce said.
We chatted for a few more minutes about Brett. I looked at the time and needed to dash off.
"I will consider working with Brett outside of our normal time. I'm glad you are excited about Brett's progress. It helps if you encourage him at home. I will think about your offer, but right now I have another appointment."
Thomas smiled, "Thank you for taking time out of your day to meet with us. My schedule makes this difficult, and I really wanted to thank you in person. Enjoy the rest of your evening"
"Thanks, I will give you a call before the end of the week. Good night."
As I walked them towards the door, Brett met us in the hallway with Fang.
"Thank you, M-Mr. Wallace for m-meeting m-my parents. And thanks for helping m-me with m-my speech."
"Brett, you are the one doing all the work. I'm just happy you are gaining confidence. What do you think of your parent's idea? Do you want to spend more time working with me on your stuttering?"
"M-Mr. Wallace, you m-make it fun to work on things. I like to p-p-practice my speech with you. I don't feel d-dumb with you."
"Brett, I thought we were clear. Stuttering doesn't mean you're dumb. There are all kinds of reasons people stutter, but being dumb is not one of them."
"I know. You help m-me be b-better. I used to really hate talking. B-But you help me to stutter less."
I bent down to continue talking to him. Suddenly, a beagle puppy was jumping up and licking my face.
"Fang, get down. Be good."
Brett looked at me with surprise on his face. Then he smiled and pulled on the leash.
"He's j-just a puppy. He doesn't know any b-better."
"Good night Brett, and you too Fang, I'll see you on Thursday, I think we are going to try the graveyard scene at the end of book four."
"That m-might be my f-favorite scene, ever." He grinned.
"Great we both have something to look forward to on Thursday."
"Bye, Mr. Wallace. C'mon Fang."
I sent Keith a text to let him know I was on my way to the coffee shop. He was already waiting for me. I found a surprisingly close parking space and was about to enter the coffee shop when I saw James walking towards me. He shook his head slightly as he walked by. I wasn't sure what he was up to, but my guess was some kind of undercover work. I kept walking and made sure not to even glance back.
Keith was sitting at a back table. He handed me a coffee as I sat down across from him in the booth.
"Thanks, Tony. I appreciate you meeting me. I do have a confession to make. There is no internship. I really just wanted to talk to you about J, but didn't want anyone else to know."
"Yeah, I had a feeling. I couldn't imagine you having time to squeeze an internship in with all the work you do with Jon and with school work. So spill, what's going on?"
"Well, we have been seeing each other since Danni's party. We are lucky to get a night each week, but he's incredible. I've never felt like this before... I'm head over heels."
"That's awesome. I'm so pumped for you. Why do you sound like there is a problem?"
"Well... two things... He's very hesitant when it comes to the physical part of things and Justin."
I jumped in. "The physical thing I can understand. The first guy I dated finally pushed through my wall after his frustration built. I was really nervous about the whole thing and kept slowing things down. I was scared. Scared I'd do something wrong... scared he'd want something from me I wasn't ready to give. Honestly, once I let go of my fear, it was wonderful. But, that fear was definitely holding me back.
"I think you need to continue to be patient, but you also need to let him know you want more. If Brian hadn't pushed a little I'm not sure how long it might have taken. He's worth waiting for, but he needs to know how you feel. You need to talk. Hmmm... I seem to be repeating myself."
"I know. I guess I just needed to hear it. I'm not really stressing that much over the sex part. It is wonderful. Sweet and loving and tender, I never expected so little to mean so much."
"Well, you haven't been emotionally attached before; to me that attachment means everything. Things sounds great, but promise you'll tell him how you feel. I got blindsided somewhat by Brian. He wasn't being completely up front with his feelings. If this is real, you should be able to talk about anything."
"I know. Thanks for reaffirming my thinking.
"Justin, on the other hand, is a problem. I know he means well, and I appreciate his looking out for J. But he's getting a little over-protective and he's turned into a real cock-block, for lack of a better word."
I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to laugh, but I've never heard that before."
"Well, it's true. Like I said, J and I only get one night each week to be together. We are both busy with school and he spends time with his grandparents and time with Justin and Scott. I think it's amazing those two have taken him under their wing, but frankly Justin is killing me."
"What's going on?"
"Every single time we are out on a date, or back to his place and hanging out, Justin calls. You know its Justin because of the ring tone. No matter what we may be doing, J drops everything to answer the call.
"I love that Justin has become a father figure/older brother. It's really good for J. But we could be in the middle of a very intimate moment and if that phone rings... that's the end of that. I don't know how to deal with it. I'm afraid to say anything. You heard what Justin said to me the other night. I don't think he approves. "
"That's a tricky one. Yes, I heard Justin say he would rip your heart out with his bare hands.
"Look, I'm not sure you can really do anything about him. If you say something to J, you risk forcing him to think he has to choose between you. If you say something to Justin, he might react badly. I'm not sure... Wait... What if you make a point of turning off your phones?"
"Hear me out...
"You could be back after a nice night out and make a grand gesture with your phone. Tell J you don't want anything to interrupt your time together. If he hesitates, let him know he means so much to you that you want to shut off the outside world for a couple of hours. You can always get back to anyone who calls. Maybe even suggest he call Justin to tell him he will be 'off-line' for a little while. Just don't push too hard. And don't make it an all or nothing thing. If he doesn't go along with it, back off."
"I could even use that time to talk to him about moving things a little forward. Just talk and let him know how I feel. Tony, that's brilliant. Thanks. How did you get so good at this?"
I laughed, "Trust me I'm not good at this. Someday maybe you'll hear the whole story of my cluelessness. I'm just giving you easy advice... Talk and be yourself... Everything else will fall into place. I do need to head home though. Let me know how it goes. I think you guys are doing great. What is the most important thing?"
"Be myself and communicate. Thanks, Tony. You are the best."
I arrived home moments later. Marcus was sitting on the couch reading, with the contents of his briefcase spread out next to him.
"Hey Babe, how was your day?"
"I'm not exactly sure. Long, interesting, overwhelming... pick one. How about yours?"
"Well, all these papers are my grandfather's will and legal papers. His lawyer sent them over to me. Apparently, I'm executor of the will. It's all pretty straight forward so far, but time consuming. Tell me about your day."
"School was a drag..."
We talked for a couple of hours. Marcus reheated some of Mom's soup for dinner and we continued to chat away.
"Babe, do you think you will accept the Winters' offer? It seems right up your alley."
"I'm leaning that way. Brett is such a joy and has made incredible progress lately. But it's a can of worms I'm not sure I'm ready to open. First Brett and then... I don't think I ever want to go into private practice; I enjoy teaching too much. And if I take this challenge on... when do I say no? I think I could help Brett, but how do I say no to the next set of parents? "
"Hmm, I didn't think of it that way. It would be hard to turn down another set of parents. But I know you... if you think you can help Brett, you'll take this job. My advice is if other parents come calling take each one on its own merits. If you feel strongly enough, work with them. If you don't, say no."
"Easier said than done for me; But you're right, Brett certainly can be helped by spending more time working together."
"Do you want me to draw up a contract for you?"
I smiled, "That would be wonderful. You are awesome."
"Well, you need to pay my retainer fee first."
I gave him a kiss.
"You are definitely my favorite client."
"I'd better be the only one with this kind of retainer." I smiled and kissed him again.
"I'm sick of looking through these papers. What do you say we take this into the other room and maybe you could build some credit to your account with me?"
"Oh, don't I already have a pretty good balance built up?'
"Oh you do... but it never hurts to build up a really good reserve."
He grabbed my hand and led me into the bedroom.
Thank to you the amazing people in my life:
My hubby Ray
My wonderful editor, David