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My phone began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and saw it was Danni.
"Hey Danni, what's up?"
"It's Hunter... " He said through tears. "He's in the hospital."
"Hold on, Danni, I'm going to put you on speaker. Jon and James are here too."
I took a deep breath and set my phone on the table.
"Danni, what's going on? What's wrong with Hunter?"
"It's PCP... pneumonia... He's in the ICU. He's unconscious right now. The doctors say its touch and go. He's not responding to the antibiotic. They have him on oxygen. He's struggling to breathe. They kicked me out of the room. I just thank God we are in LA and not some piss ant city in East Bumfuck somewhere... They seem to know what they are doing, but he's not getting better... " He dissolved into tears again.
Marcus spoke up. "Danni, is it just the two of you in the hospital, or do you have someone there with you?"
"Just me and Hunter... The rest of the cast and crew have moved ahead to Sacramento. We start shows there in three days. It's the last few shows before our break.
"This happened so fast. He felt a little off at the beginning of the week, but we are all getting a little tired. Last night, he was really dragging. We went to bed early, and about one in the morning I woke up soaked to the skin. Hunter was burning up with fever. His breathing was ragged and I couldn't wake him. I ended up calling 911." More tears from Danni.
"It's been almost eighteen hours and there's been no change. His CD4 count is less than 500. Even if he recovers, they are talking about changing his meds."
I calmly corrected him, "When he recovers Danni, not IF. Try to stay positive, I know it's tough."
You could hear him trying to catch his breath.
"Sorry, I'm scared and frustrated and exhausted. Thank God for the proxy you made us sign, Marcus. I can't imagine not knowing what's going on with him right now. Hold on the doctor is walking towards me. Oh God, please let it be good news. I'll call back. I gotta go."
He hung up.
The four of us just stood there for a moment, stunned.
Matthew tapped James on the shoulder and said, "Can we go home now? I'm tired."
"Matthew, one of our friends is very sick in a hospital in California. His boyfriend is going to call back with some news. We need to hang out until then."
Marcus chimed in, "Matthew, do you want to lie on the sofa and watch television for a few minutes until we hear back. Or maybe you'd like a brownie sundae, with hot fudge?"
Matthew smiled, "Could I have a sundae?"
"Absolutely, if it's okay with your Dads... "
Matthew did a double take. He looked from James to Jon and then back. He had a stricken look on his face. Jon looked at James. They both smiled and then smiled at Matthew. Suddenly, they were clutching each other in a group hug.
"May I have a sundae, Dad?" He looked right at James.
""Ask your other father... " `
"May I? ... Pop?"
"I'm Pop? I don't know about that? Really?" He laughed as Matthew nodded. "I think a sundae would be awesome."
"I think we all should have a sundae." Marcus said.
Marcus moved to the kitchen and began to pull bowls out of the cupboard. My phone began to ring. We all stared at it. I was afraid to answer it. After the third ring, I put it on speaker.
"Danni? What's the news?"
"He's finally responding to the antibiotics. The fever broke and he's breathing a little easier. The doctor said they are keeping him in ICU for the night, but they think he's out of danger."
"Wonderful, that's the best news."
"Did you get to see him?" James asked
""Not yet... As soon as they change his linens and hospital gown, I can go in and talk for a couple of minutes. They said he should be in a room in the morning and maybe out of the hospital after the weekend."
"Danni?" Marcus spoke up. "Have they contacted his doctors in New York City? Before they mess with his meds, his regular doctors need to be in the loop."
"Yeah, actually the New York doctors had them switch antibiotics... I'm not sure what they want to change... I'm still learning... "
We could hear Danni sobbing.
Marcus quietly spoke, "Danni, I'm sure you are beyond exhausted. I'm so glad Hunter is improving. You need to try to get some sleep. Call us tomorrow."
I picked up my phone and took it off speaker.
"Seriously, it sounds like Hunter is going to be okay. But you need to get some sleep. You can't be there for him if you get run down. Call tomorrow, please."
"Okay. I'm going to see if they can find me a blanket and a pillow, or even a bed. The couches here are cold and hard."
"Please call us tomorrow when you know more. Get yourself something to eat and then you should be able to see him. I mean it, you need to stay well and not run yourself into the ground."
"I know. Sorry to interrupt your evening, but I was getting frantic. This is the first time he's gotten sick and it happened so fast. It scared the hell out of me."
"I'm sure. Now you have an idea of what to look for... You'll be better prepared if it happens again. "
"I promise to call tomorrow. See you in a couple of weeks, if everything goes according to plan."
"Good night, tell Hunter we said to take care and get well."
"Anytime... you know that."
I know. I will talk to you later."
I set my phone down and took a deep breath. I couldn't imagine how Danni felt. It was the first time Hunter's HIV status hit him in the face. I better understood Danni's trepidation when he started seeing Hunter, I took another deep breath.
Marcus set a bowl of ice cream down in front of me. I looked up at him. He smiled and nodded his head.
"First time you really understand the horror of HIV and AIDS. Nothing like getting smacked in the face... "
"I was so clueless. Reading stats and info doesn't even come close to when it hits home. It was all just pieces of information... You really can't know how devastating the disease is until you feel it firsthand. I am such an idiot."
"Don't be too hard on yourself. You came out when the meds have made the disease much more manageable. You've never seen the real effects of AIDS."
"But, I was so matter of fact when I encouraged Danni to pursue a relationship with Hunter. I had no idea... I really was such a Pollyanna."
"Danni knew what he was getting into. He knew days like this would happen. Don't you dare take this on yourself."
"Yeah, I know... "
I looked at Marcus and sighed. I pulled him in for a kiss. I looked down at my bowl.
"Hey, where's my hot fudge?"
"It's coming. I had to warm up a second batch. I'm not sure Matthew could have fit another ounce of fudge in his bowl." He laughed.
"Good for him... Is there enough warming up so you can have some? I think Matthew has the right idea."
"Don't worry, Babe. There's plenty."
Danni called the next day. Hunter was improving quickly. He was going back to New York City when released from the hospital to consult with his regular doctors. Danni was going to perform in Sacramento and then fly to NYC as well. They would make it here the day before the wedding; hopefully.
James and Jon called on Wednesday. As a family, they talked about adoption and wanted Marcus to start the paperwork. Jon felt a permanent arrangement would help to allay some of Matthew's fears. His biggest concern was his and James not being married. Marcus assured them they would be able to adopt as singles.
James spoke up, "We are going to get married at some point, but we don't want to rush into it."
"I understand," Marcus replied. "It's not necessary. Don't worry."
"But, it would be better if we were... " Jon sighed.
"Actually, I'm not sure it would in this case. The situation is very unique. Honestly, the fact you have been fostering Matthew will be the biggest factor in your favor. Please don't worry. The family court judges are all very much in favor of keeping a good situation in place. Trust me. Marriage can wait until you are one hundred percent ready."
"It's not that we aren't ready. We just want to do it right." James added.
"I'll get the paperwork prepared and you can come in and go over it all on Friday. The only real issue I see is his mother giving up her parental rights. If she fights it, there will be some delays. James, do you have any idea how that would go?"
"Honestly, since she had no remorse what so ever when she was arrested, I don't know. She really had no motherly instincts. It was all about her next fix. I don't think it was her idea to offer out her son, but she didn't put up a fight about it either. I would like to talk to her, but I would not be able to hold my temper in check."
"I will try to get a meeting with her lawyer right away. We could discuss the possibilities. I wonder if she's gotten clean since she's been in prison."
"I hate to say it but I doubt it. She was hard core, and getting a fix in state prison is way easier than you'd think."
"Let me call her lawyer and set up a meeting. If she signs away her rights the rest of the process is easier. There are still tons of hoops to jump through, but it is easier. I'll see what I can arrange tomorrow."
James cleared his throat. "Thank you. In this short time, we've really started to feel like a family. We want to make it official."
"Let me make some calls. I'll get back to you."
After a few minutes of small talk, Jon spoke up.
"So, the plan is for you to be ready at seven on Friday. Don't eat dinner. Dress code is nice casual. Pack an overnight bag. And keep an open mind... Got it?"
"You know you really don't have to... "
"Shut up and relax. We promise you it will be fun. Hell, your ex-fiancée is pumped about this so you just need to be on board and ready to have a good time. No questions asked."
"Okay, okay... No problem," I laughed. "I'll be ready."
"Good answer." Jon chuckled. "Marcus let us know what happens with Matthew's mother. We really do appreciate your help."
"No problem, talk to you tomorrow and see you on Friday."
James laughed, "Tomorrow for sure, Friday, I wouldn't count on it. I'm not sure our paths will cross."
"Okay, whatever you say. I'll give you a call tomorrow. Good Night."
Marcus arrived home the next night looking like he'd won the lottery.
"Hon, what's up? You look way too happy."
"Today, well, it was just a really good day."
"It didn't start out that way. I called Matthew's lawyer, and his mother's lawyer. I let Sarah know James and Jon want to start the adoption process. Sarah was thrilled, but concerned about his mother's reaction. She's a real piece of work, apparently.
"So, Sarah arranged a visit with Matthew's mother, while I tried to talk to her lawyer. You know how sometimes fate steps in at the most opportune time. Well... apparently this morning, there was a surprise shake down in the prison and Matthew's mother was caught with heroin. Her lawyer hung up with me and dashed to the prison.
"First, the warden was going to cut her some slack if she ratted out the seller. It quickly became clear, she wasn't talking. Enter Sarah."
"You mean she signed the paperwork? Just to get out of trouble? Are you kidding? What kind of a... never mind considering what she did to that poor boy. So, she gave up all parental rights; just like that?"
"Well, it wasn't quite that easy. When her lawyer showed up, she kept trying to negotiate more for her signature. She wanted a reduced sentence. She wanted to go to a minimum security prison. She wanted all kinds of things that no one could give her. Finally, just as Sarah was about to give up, Matthew's mother caved and took the deal.
"Thankfully, Matthew will never know what she said as she signed."
"I can't imagine."
"It went something like this... Sarah asked if she wanted to see Matthew, before the adoption process. She cackled. Sarah says she couldn't believe the sound. Then Sarah got up to leave and Matthew's mother yelled, 'You can tell that worthless piece of ass, it's all his fault I'm in this fucking place. He couldn't keep his mouth shut and just go along with the program. If he'd been a little more cooperative we coulda made a hell of a lot more money peddling his sorry ass. Seriously, between the food bills and having to take him to the doctor all the time... I'm happy to be rid of him. What a fucking cry baby pain in the ass. Now get me to the infirmary, I'm going to fucking need something to make up for the shit you took from me.'"
Marcus took a breath.
"Let's just say Sarah has been doing this for a long time, and when she told me about the events of the day; she was crying. She also said it was the most gratifying moment she's ever had turning in that paperwork."
"Are you kidding me? She didn't really say that... How could anyone... ?" I screamed.
"Calm down. She signed the paperwork. Matthew doesn't have to deal with that monster again. Now James and Jon can move forward with the adoption. It's all good."
"But... Never mind, you're right. Do they know yet?" I tried to take deep breaths.
"Sarah was going to call them as soon as she calmed down. She doesn't want them to hear what Matthew's nightmare of a mother said so keep it to yourself."
"That will be easy. I don't even want to think about it."
Suddenly, there was a pounding on our door. We looked at each other as the door opened and in rushed Matthew, followed closely by Jon and James. Matthew wrapped Marcus in a huge hug around his waist. James and Jon smiled and moved towards Marcus.
"Thank you. Again it doesn't seem enough, but it's all I have. Thank you." James choked up.
"This is just the beginning of the process. Granted it's a huge step forward. Besides, Sarah did all the work on this one. She's the one you should thank."
Jon said, "We did. But you hooked us up with Sarah. And now your work begins... "
"True, but this should be an easy one now that parental rights have been surrendered."
Matthew looked up at Marcus.
"My Mom said it was okay for me to be adopted?"
He thought for a moment. "What did she get out of it? She never did anything to help me before, unless something was in it for her... "
At that moment, I understood Matthew a little bit more. Here was this ten year old understanding the true nature of a parent who betrayed him time after time, knowing his mother didn't sign the paperwork out of the goodness of her heart.
Matthew continued his eyes filling with tears, "Really, what did she get out of it?"
I could see Marcus torn about how much to tell Matthew. He looked at James and Jon. James nodded.
"I mean really, did they find her stash or something? Did she sign to get out of more trouble?"
"Actually, Matthew you should talk to Sarah about it. But you're right; they found some drugs and the warden made a deal with her."
"I'm surprised she didn't ask for more... "
Marcus looked surprised.
"She did... "
Matthew dissolved into tears. The thirty-something-acting person in front of us suddenly collapsed in a pool of tears reminding us all he was still a little boy.
James bent down and picked Matthew up. He began rubbing his back.
"It doesn't matter. She signed. Now we can start becoming a family legally. You don't have to think about her anymore. That part of your life is over now; moving forward will be even easier."
Jon whispered in his ear, "Time for a celebration dinner. What do you say we invite Sarah to join us as a thank you?"
Matthew sucked in his breath through his nose and wiped his face on his sleeve. He nodded at Jon.
"Pop, can I talk to her? Sarah I mean. And can we go someplace for spaghetti?"
"Absolutely, ask her to meet us there."
After giving Matthew his phone, Jon turned towards us and smiled.
"Thanks again. Can you join us for our celebration dinner?"
"I think we will sit this one out. Go, enjoy, and tell Sarah I'll call her tomorrow."
"Are you sure?"
I agreed, "Thanks for the invite, but go be a family."
Marcus and I were getting ready Friday night for our bachelor parties.
"Can I just say this is weird? I know they mean well, but why are there two parties again?"
Marcus laughed, "Honestly, I don't know. I think we just need to go with the flow."
"Oh, I'm ready to flow... but it's still weird."
"Just think Babe, in a week from right now we will be at the rehearsal."
"I can't believe it. I can't wait. But, I still can't believe it."
"Yeah... " Marcus looked wistfully into the distance. "It's been an unbelievable year."
"Not thinking about backing out now are you?"
Marcus grinned. "Don't take this wrong, but I'm not the one that took three years to figure this out." He playfully punched me on the arm. "I'm never letting you get away."
Marcus grabbed me and pulled me in for a kiss. Before I had the chance to say anything, Nick and Jamie burst into the condo. They pulled us apart and without a word began to pull Marcus towards the door. He smiled at me as they went out the door.
As soon as they closed the door, Jon and Jen pushed into the condo and walked up to me.
Jon held out his hand, "Give me your phone. Unless there is an emergency, you don't get to use your phone tonight. I hope you have a bag packed. The fun is about to begin."
Jen linked her arm into mine. "This is my one shot at being part of a bachelor party. So, let's kick it into gear. We have places to go and people to see."
I laughed, "You guys are crazy. Where are we going?"
"Nope," Jen said. "You don't get to know where, when, who, or anything else until it happens."
"Yes, no more questions are allowed. As soon as James lets us know the other parties have left the parking lot we will head for the limo."
"Of course, you can't expect anyone to drive during a night of debauchery." Jon added just as his phone beeped.
"Coast is clear. We are on the move."
The limo was parked at the bottom of the stairs. A tall well-built man, with curly blonde hair sticking out from a uniform hat, was holding the door open. I got to the door and was unceremoniously pushed in by Jen.
We had a great night. I'd say it was memorable, but I actually only have a few memories. I'm not a drinker so the first one hit me hard. After that, the night blurred together.
I do remember sitting talking to an incredibly good looking young man at one point. Blond haired, bright blue eyes and with a physique out of a fitness magazine, Peter was an undergrad at the university, a drama major. During the conversation, Jen pulled me aside and joked.
"Only you would get to know the stripper as a person, at his own bachelor party. You are supposed to be ogling him not making a new friend."
"But... I have Marcus." I slurred.
"Never mind, you're so hopelessly in love. And such a good guy... " She shook her head and kissed me on the cheek. "But, it's not a bad thing."
Mom and Dad arrived on Wednesday before the wedding. They were staying in the hotel until Sunday. Marcus's mother, on the other hand, was due in Thursday morning. She was staying with Jamie and his family. So, dinner Wednesday night was just my parents.
"You guys have already started packing up the place, I see." Mom said.
"Well, the plan is to spend our wedding night in the new house. So the bedroom furniture, a bunch of clothes, and a lot of my kitchen stuff are already moved. Next week we will take our time setting up the place. Not most people's idea of a honeymoon, but we are both looking forward to it."
Dad laughed, "Tony, ask your mother what we did for our honeymoon."
"Mom, care to elaborate?"
"Well, actually we spent the weekend in a tent by the pond. Then... well I repainted and cleaned up the room we moved into with your grandparents, while your Dad took his final exams."
I gave her a sly smile. "Which room did you live in when you first moved in there? I know after Grandpa died the rooms all switched around. I remember the whole house getting painted that summer. I was what... five or so."
"Yes, and you insisted on helping with your bedroom. You picked a dark green for the walls and purple for the window trim. I think we had to soak you in the tub for two days to clean off that green paint." Dad jumped in.
Mom continued, "I threw out your clothes and sneakers after you helped paint. I honestly don't know how you got paint in some of the places you did. But you were so proud of yourself. I remember wrapping you in an old sheet and carrying you into the bathroom so you wouldn't get green paint everywhere."
Marcus laughed, "I can't believe I never got to see pictures of the little green man. Promise me you have pictures."
"There are definitely pictures. One of them made it into my yearbook. Without my permission as I recall." I fumed slightly.
"Well that is one of the perks of having your father as the yearbook photography advisor. It could have been much worse." Dad chuckled. "Marcus, you need to explore the really old albums. Your fiancé has definitely had some priceless moments captured on film. There was the mud pie bake off, the water balloon fight, and the 'it wasn't me' frosting thief."
"I can't believe you held those shots back. I know we were looking for gallery quality stuff, but damn I really would have loved to see some of the fun shots from the past."
"Oh, you will never let me live it down." I turned to my father. "There is no reason to share those pictures with my husband. None what-so-ev-er."
"C'mon Babe, don't be a spoil sport. I'm sure you were adorable and so are the pictures."
"I'm not so sure... But, back to the house... We are spending the week getting the place set up and the condo cleared out. Our contractor, Ethan, starts renovations on the condo a week from Monday. I think he and Marjorie have worked out the details. I'm sure Jamie and Sarah are looking forward to the condo being ready for her and she doesn't even arrive until tomorrow." I laughed.
"Anthony Michael Wallace, that's your mother-in-law you're talking about. Be nice." Mom gave me a look.
"Yeah son, remember she's going to be living in town soon. You will be spending much more time with her." Dad grinned.
"A little more time, I don't think much more time is in either my or her plans." Marcus said. "She made it very clear in our conversations she wants to reconnect with her friends and her family, in that order. I think she wants to build a life away from the family, which suits all of us, just fine."
Mom nodded her head, but still gave me a look. "That's all well and good, but you still need to treat her correctly."
"Actually, Betty, he has at every juncture. Even when she didn't deserve it, he gave her respect and concern. You can be very proud of him. You taught him well."
Mom smiled. "That's good. Anyway, is there anything you guys need taken care of tomorrow or before the rehearsal on Friday? I spoke to Mindy and Chef Paul yesterday and they are all set. I must say I'm so excited this weekend is finally here."
I looked at my smiling parents and then over at Marcus. He just seemed to glow. I momentarily got lost in his eyes. The love and happiness I could see was almost overwhelming. It filled me with such joy. I could feel a tear slide down my cheek.
I grabbed his hand and smiled.
"You make me feel so incredibly loved. In my wildest dreams, I didn't think this was possible. I'm not sure excited is the right word. I can't wait to be married to the most incredible man I've ever met."
"Okay, Mr. Sappy, save that stuff for your vows." He smiled. "By the way, you have finished your vows right?"
"Umm, well not completely, I'm having trouble cutting it back to 'manageable'. I guess I just want to be sure you know how I feel."
"Don't worry about that. You show me how you feel every day. And I think we are all set Betty. Your son has been on top of everything. Sometimes a little over the top, but everything is set."
Dad wiped his mouth as he got up from the table. "Well, it's been a long day. Your Mom and I are going to head for the hotel. We will see you guys for lunch tomorrow. Most of the neighbors are coming into town Friday, so we suggested they go to Mindy's for dinner and meet us for drinks after the rehearsal dinner."
"Sounds perfect... Actually, Mom, tomorrow after lunch maybe you could help with the final project I need to finish."
Marcus grinned. "Babe... Now what are you doing?"
"You know how I wanted something different for the favors, but couldn't get things together. Well, the seed company sent me tulip bulbs... So I've decided to wrap them up and set them on the tables for people to take with them."
"Cool. I loved that idea when you mentioned it, but I thought it wasn't going to work out?"
"They originally told me it wouldn't be possible to get the bulbs in July, so I gave up on the idea. But apparently I never cancelled the order. Yesterday two hundred and fifty tulip bulbs were delivered. I'm just going to wrap them in bags with a note telling our guests to plant them and when they come up they can remember our day. I sure as heck don't want to plant two hundred and fifty bulbs myself." I laughed.
"That is such a sweet idea. I'd love to help. But let's wrap them in mesh. I'm sure we can find blue at the craft store. They will look much better that way."
"That was my original plan. I wasn't sure we'd have enough time to mess around with the mesh."
"We can cut it and make little pouches. We can close them up with some ribbon. It should only take us a couple of hours."
"Sounds awesome," Marcus said. "I know how much you wanted to use the bulbs as the favor. I loved the idea from the beginning. It's wicked unique."
"But I mostly love the idea that people will remember where they got the bulbs year after year, when the tulips bloom. And yes I said wicked... get over it." He grinned. "I'm thrilled. But, are you sure you have time to get this done? Don't throw added pressure on yourself."
"Marcus, son," Marcus beamed when Dad called him son. "If Betty thinks they can do it... Consider it done."
"If that's the case, we all better call it a night. We have more packing to do, rings to get back from the jeweler, tuxes to pick up, and apparently a tulip project. Plus my mother is due tomorrow around noon. I think we just spent our last free minutes before the wedding."