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An Invitation

Chapter 1: The Angel Singers

The Angel Singers Cover

Chapter 1

Of all the gifts bestowed upon Mankind, music is one of the greatest, and no musical instrument is older, more versatile, or has more power to move us, than the human voice. Anyone who doubts the power of that instrument need only listen to Kate Smith singing 'God Bless America.' And when one voice is joined by 50, 100, or more--think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'--the power grows exponentially. It can literally transfix, transform, and empower us, raising us as close to the angels as mortals can get.

The need and desire to sing together provides a sense of unity, strength, and power, which has long been recognized by organized religions. But it equally serves the purposes of minorities such as the gay community, which has given rise to a number of choruses and chorales which enhance our sense of unity, of belonging, and of pride.

But though human voices joined together in song may approach the divine, the individual humans who make it are not immune to the weaknesses, petty and major, that plague humanity. And yet it is to our credit that flawed though we may be as individuals, we all still have the potential to be angel-singers.

-Dick Hardesty

* * *

"Black pants are black pants," I said as we made our way into yet another men's clothing store in the second mall we'd scoured in our...well, Jonathan's...search.

"No, they're not," Jonathan said. "They have to be the right black pants, and I haven't found them yet. I'll know them when I do."

Joshua, who had been alternately munching from a small bag of caramel corn and trying to wander off on his own, announced simultaneously that he was thirsty and that he had to go to the bathroom.

"Look," I said to Jonathan, "you go in and look around and I'll take Joshua to the bathroom and get him some water, and we'll meet you back here."

"I don't want water. I want a Coke!" Joshua declared.

"And I want a million dollars," I said, reaching for his free hand. "Sometimes we just have to settle for what we can get." I intended that little moral lesson for Jonathan as well as Joshua, but it went right over both their heads. Joshua informed me he did not want a million dollars; he wanted a Coke. Not water. A Coke.

As Jonathan went into the store, I dragged a pouting Joshua off in search of a water fountain and a bathroom.

* * *

Our ostensible reason for being in the mall was to buy some fall and winter clothes for Joshua, who was growing like a weed. But after that chore had been accomplished, Jonathan had decided he needed a new pair of black pants for the upcoming Gay Men's Chorus Fall concert--his first with the group--despite the performance being still two months away.

His involvement with the chorus had, as I'd suspected it would when he first joined, taken up a lot more of his time than either one of us would have liked. And going to school one night a week, plus study time, added even more pressure on him. I have to admit there were times when I mildly resented not only the loss of his company but the additional responsibilities I had to assume with Joshua while he was gone. But he loved it, which is all that really mattered, and between us we managed to keep everything under control.

Things would lighten up a bit after the concert--one of the three the chorus put on each year. The upcoming Fall concert was to be held November 17, three days after my birthday, at Atheneum Hall, the city's largest and most prestigious music venue. This would be the first time any gay group had ever performed there, and it was a real coup for the entire community.

I was also getting something of an education on the subject of choruses. I'd never known that a chorus was comprised of only one sex, whereas choirs and chorales were a mixture of men and women. Jonathan told me he was classified as a "tenor 2", and I hadn't a clue what that meant until he explained that a "tenor 1" is one who can hit the really high notes--a "tenor 2" had a lower range, but still higher than baritones. Who knew?

One of the reasons I had originally encouraged Jonathan to join the chorus was so that it would gave him the chance to meet new people outside our own little circle of close friends--all of whom had been friends of mine before Jonathan came along. I thought he should have some friends of his own, independent of me.

As I soon found out, I may have gotten a bit more than I bargained for. The chorus was, at least on the surface, a very friendly and supportive group. In addition to once-a-week Tuesday night rehearsals at the Metropolitan Community Church, there were also what they called "sectionals," where several of the basses, or baritones, or tenors would get together at various members' homes to practice their group's specific parts. And several times a year there was a general get-together at the home of Crandall Booth, one of the chorus's major financial backers/supporters and a member of its Board of Directors. Chorus members were encouraged to bring their partners--and, in the case of Jonathan and me and two other couples, their children--to these gatherings.

All of this ate into the already-limited time Jonathan and I had to do "us" things. But I was rather looking forward to one of Booth's events, and I knew Joshua would in seventh heaven, since he could be the center of attention of a lot of adults and have a couple of other kids close to his age to play with.

* * *

Over the course of the weeks, I got to know not only something of how a chorus was made up, but a few through-Jonathan's-eyes glimpses into what went on behind the scenes.

The night of Jonathan's first rehearsal Roger Rothenberger, the chorus's director, had, as he did with all new members, assigned him a "Buddy," to help ease his way into the organization; introduce him around, show him the ropes, and explain and answer questions on procedures. Jonathan's Buddy was a kid named Eric Speers, and the two of them hit it off immediately. So when Jonathan suggested inviting Eric over for dinner, I readily agreed. I was curious to meet him, and figured it would give me a little better insight into this new part of Jonathan's life. He had indicated that Eric had been with the chorus since it had begun five years previously, and was deeply devoted to and involved in it. He was also the peacemaker of the group, which was apparently, as are most groups, both tight-knit and contentious.

It was inevitable that whenever you get 50 or so artistic gay men together, the road was not without its bumpy stretches. There were the inevitable cliques, feuds, and rivalries that afflict any group of humans, and Jonathan always brought home a doggie bag of the latest bits of gossip he'd heard at rehearsals. I've never gone in much for gossip, but Jonathan got such a kick out of observing all the various behind-the-risers intrigues and took such delight in sharing them with me that I couldn't complain. It was rather like watching one of those guilty-pleasure soap operas on TV, although the cast members of the chorus dramas were not all as drop-dead gorgeous as their on-screen counterparts. There were even a few hush-hush allusions to a conflict between Rothenberger and Crandall Booth, and to Booth's alleged financial ties to some rather shady types. I didn't give any weight to the latter, since I knew that Glen O'Banyon, the city's preeminent gay lawyer, for whom I frequently did work, was also a member of the chorus's board, and if there were any solid basis to the allegations, Glen would not be associated with Booth in any way.

Rothenberger, Jonathan had told me, had been born and raised here, then moved to New York and started singing with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and became an assistant director. He'd then gone on to direct one or two other groups before moving back here. In addition to the Gay Men's Chorus, he also directed the choir at the M.C.C. I'd seen him at the chorus's last concert--the one that had prompted Jonathan to want to join. Rothenberger had reminded me of an opera star; portly to the point of being rotund, full beard, somewhat imperious manner; in absolute control when it came to leading the chorus. Jonathan reported that Rothenberger's mantra at every rehearsal and before every concert was: "Remember; when you talk, you're human. When you sing, you're angels," and everyone in the chorus apparently thought the world of him.

The most recent tempest in the choral teapot was created by a member who joined not too long before Jonathan, and who happened to be Crandall Booth's nephew. There's nothing like a little nepotism to get things heated up, and the controversy was compounded by the nephew, Grant Jefferson, apparently being something of a pain in the ass. Jonathan, of course, always prefers to see the good in everyone, but even he found it a little difficult to find much positive to say about Grant. "He's really good looking," he conceded, "and he does have a nice voice," which, coming from Jonathan, I took to be something of a case of damning with faint praise.

Possibly another reason why I allowed myself to be vicariously caught up on the goings on of the chorus was that my work, while fairly steady, had lately tended to be far less than the stuff of which detective novels are made. For the past two weeks or so I had been caught up in a "case"...if it could even be called that...so stupifyingly dull I'd have much preferred to watch paint dry. Suffice it to say it involved a client with more money than intelligence who was on a vendetta against a former business partner and wasn't going to let a little thing like his case not having a leg to stand on get in his way. I finally gave up trying to convince him that he was wasting his money, and resigned myself to the conclusion that if he was going to throw his money away, he might as well throw some of it at me. So I spent an inordinate amount of time running off in whatever new direction he pointed me. I could and should have quit; however, my mantra was: "It isn't the principle of the thing, it's the money."

* * *

Eric was set to arrive for dinner at 6:30 Friday. I was at the office when Jonathan called at 3:00 to tell me there was a work emergency that necessitated his driving to Neeleyville with his boss, and he probably wouldn't be able to make it home until 7. He didn't have Eric's number with him and, having no way to reach him, asked if I could pick Joshua up from day care, put dinner in the oven, and entertain Eric until he got home.

"I'm really sorry, Dick," he said. "I didn't know this was going to happen. I..."

"No problem, Babe," I said. I wasn't quite sure what I could do to entertain someone I'd never met before, but it wasn't a major issue.

* * *

Joshua was standing on the front porch with Estelle Bronson, one of the day care owners, when I arrived at five after four. I'd have been there ten minutes earlier had the city not been digging up exactly the same three-block section of the street they'd dug up the year before, and naturally a major intersection was involved.

Seeing me pull up, Joshua bounded off the porch and headed full-gallop for the thankfully closed front gate. Estelle's call drew him up short, and he stood stock still until she caught up with him and opened the gate as I leaned over to open the passenger's side door.

"'Bye!" Joshua called to Estelle as he clambered onto the front seat. Estelle and I exchanged a quick greeting and then, seeing Joshua was safely in with his seat belt--admittedly not the best of fits--fastened, she closed the door and headed back through the gate.

"Where's Uncle Jonathan?" he asked as we pulled away from the curb. Though it was not at all unusual for me to pick him up when Jonathan couldn't for one reason or another, he always asked.

"He was busy," I explained, as I explained every time it happened, and Joshua's response was always the same, too. "Oh."

The ride home was largely taken up with a detailed and always dramatized accounting of his day at "school," accompanied by the requisite hand and arm gestures and facial expressions. Although he still had not totally mastered the concept of linear thought, he was getting much better at it and I had gotten pretty good at stepping over the chasms and seeing around the corners of his narrative, which centered on the Bronsons' acquisition--whether permanent or on loan wasn't clear--of a rabbit and a tortoise. It seems they had been the basis of a story about a race involving the two of them, which he related to me in detail, omitting only the moral of the tale.

As soon as we got home, I turned the oven on and waited for it to preheat. We'd bought a good-sized pork tenderloin the last time we were at the store, in anticipation of Eric's visit, so all I basically had to do was put it and the baking potatoes in the oven, which I held off doing until the first commercial break in the evening news. To forestall the possibility of Joshua's starving to death before dinner, I gave him a large plum and a small glass of milk after he'd helped me set the table.

At six-twenty, the door buzzer rang, announcing Eric's arrival. I opened the door to find a rangy reddish-blond about Jonathan's age and height. He had freckles and the kind of almost impish face that always reminded me of a leprechaun; in his case, a very tall leprechaun. We shook hands and did the mutual introductions, and I showed him in, explaining that Jonathan would be a little late getting home.

Joshua, as always upon hearing someone at the door, had come bounding out of his room so as not to miss anything.

"Joshua, this is Eric," I said by way of introduction, and when Eric smiled and said "Hello, Joshua," and extended his hand I noticed an uncustomary moment's hesitation on Joshua's part before taking it. As soon as Eric released his hand, Joshua moved close against me, leaning against my leg...which also struck me as a little odd.

"And I'm a little early," Eric said. "I hope you don't mind. I'm afraid I'm always so worried about being late that I always end up being too early."

"A man after my own heart," I said, offering to take his light jacket, which he removed and handed to me with thanks. I in turn handed the jacket to Joshua. "Would you take this into our room for me, Joshua?" He gave me a slightly resentful look, then took it and went toward our bedroom.

"Make yourself at home," I said. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Sure; that would be nice," he replied, moving to the couch to sit down. "Whatever you're having."

"A Manhattan okay?" I asked. I'd held off having mine awaiting his arrival.

"I love Manhattans!" he said. "You've obviously got good taste."

As I excused myself to go into the kitchen, Joshua followed me closely. "I want one, too!" he said. He knew I always gave him a glass of soda whenever I had my evening drink, so I was a little puzzled by his reaction. Then I remembered that whenever Jonathan spoke of Eric, as he often did, and with the enthusiasm of someone with a new friend, Joshua would react in some way far out of character for him. It struck me now that he felt threatened by Eric's entrance into Jonathan's life.

I fixed our drinks and brought them into the living room, grabbed a couple of coasters, handing one to Eric with his drink, gave Joshua his soda--he insisted on two marischino cherries in it rather than his usual one--then sat in the chair closest to the couch. Joshua sat in my lap.

Ooooo-kay, I thought. We have a little problem here.

I returned to the living room to find Eric watching the fish in Jonathan's aquarium. "Jonathan told me he had a lot of fish and plants," he said, "but I didn't realize he had this many."

"Jonathan operates on the theory that if some is good, a lot is better." I took a sip of my drink and said: "So I understand you've been with the chorus from the very beginning."

"Yep. And I've only missed four rehearsals. Sometimes I think I really need to get a life of my own. But I can't imagine one without the chorus," he replied.

"I think I can understand that," I said. "I know Jonathan really seems to enjoy it. I appreciate your being his Buddy." Joshua squirmed in my lap.

He grinned. "Yeah, Jonathan's a really great kid. We get along really well. He's got a lot to learn yet, though."

I was mildly amused by his referring to Jonathan as a "kid" when Eric couldn't have been more than a year older, if that. And I had no idea what his last sentence meant.

"Like what, other than the music?" I asked.

Eric looked at me closely and gave me a rather enigmatic smile. "Nothing, really. Only, sometimes, I think he might be a little too nice for his own good. I hope you don't mind my saying so. I've told him several times."

"I don't follow," I said.

"He's still at the starry-eyed stage," he said. "He likes everybody and accepts anything people say, and that's not always a good idea. Roger is always telling us that when we talk, we're human; when we sing, we're angels. Well, we do a lot more talking than singing, if you know what I mean. There are a few guys there who'd as soon cut your throat as look at you. I don't think Jonathan has realized that yet, and I don't want him to get hurt."

I didn't know what kind of 'hurt' he might be referring to, but knowing Jonathan, I suspected that it wasn't so much a matter of his not realizing what was going on as not wanting to think ill of anyone until he had specific reason to.

Joshua handed me his suddenly empty glass. "I want some more," he declared.

"We'll be having dinner soon," I said. "I don't want you to fill up on soda and spoil your appetite. Why don't you go play with some of your toys?"

He shot me a dirty look, hopped off my lap, and went quickly to his room, returning a moment later with his large block of Linclon logs, which he proceeded to empty on the floor and began to build a house.

"Jonathan tells me you're the peacemaker of the group," I said, trying to ignore Joshua's actions. "That can't be easy."

Eric shrugged. "It's not, always," he said. "Usually, it's a lot like third grade with little cliques and minor rivalries and feuds. Roger hasn't got the time to do everything and, besides, he's the director. But every now and then things come close to getting out of control, like it's been doing since Grant came on board. And that really worries me."

"Crandall Booth's nephew." Eric grinned.

"Right. 'Nephew.'"

I clearly heard the quotes around 'nephew.'

"You don't think they're related?" I asked, though I'd already come to that conclusion.

Eric gave me a calculated, raised-eyebrow look. "Puh-leeese! Crandall's got more money than God and Grant wants to go to Broadway. Grant comes to rehearsals in a baby-blue Porsche? Crandall's family came over on the Mayflower; and Grant's got a mouth like a truck driver. You figure it out."

That Grant drove a Porsche didn't surprise me since I knew a large chunk of Crandall Booth's money came from his ownership of several luxury-car dealerships.

"What does he do for a living?" I asked.

"Other than Crandall, you mean?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah."

"Grant claims he has a business degree, but if he ever even finished college, I'd be surprised. So Crandall gave him a job in the central accounting department for all his dealerships. To hear Grant tell it, he practically runs the place, but a guy I know works there and say's Grant's just a glorified go-fer. I understand he's always running to Crandall bitching about how the department head runs the place. How in hell Crandall puts up with it, I'll never know."

"So what's Grant's problem with the chorus?"

Eric sighed. "Look, if he'd come in like everybody else, it would have been fine. But he acts like he owns the place. And he thinks he's God's gift to men: he comes on to everyone, especially the guys who he knows are in a relationship. Like I said, there's already enough bickering and jealousy going on...it's not always pretty, and can get downright mean sometimes, but it's all sort of like family. Grant isn't family, and makes it obvious that he doesn't want to be. But that doesn't stop him from playing his games and starting his own little clique. He's a real manipulator, and if some people are two-faced, Grant's got at least a dozen. He doesn't give a damn about the chorus. He'll say or do whatever he thinks will help him get what he wants."

"And what does he want?"

"Aside from everybody else's boyfriend? Well, at the moment, among other things, he wants the solo in 'I Am What I Am', which will be the biggest showstopper at our next concert."

"La Cage aux Folles!" I said. "Jonathan said you were doing it, and you're sure right about its being a showstopper. Some friends of ours in New York saw the show and immediately sent us the cast recording. We must have listened to it a hundred times, and 'I Am What I Am' grabs me by the throat every time. Talk about gay pride!"

"Well, Grant wants the solo on it, though Roger's given it to Jim Bowers, who has a fantastic voice. He's a bass, and Grant's a high baritone. Either one can do it, but Jim is perfect for it, and he has the presence. When he sings it, he means it. I don't think Grant has a clue what the song means. But he bad-mouths Jim every chance he gets."

"So I gather you don't care much for him."

"You could say that. He reminds me a lot of my brother."

"He looks like him?" I asked. He shrugged.

"Sort of."

He didn't follow up on that, so neither did I. But I thought it was an interesting statement, and was the first specific reference to his family that I think I'd ever heard him make.

The conversation, frequently interrupted by Joshua's insisting I look at and approve the progress of his Lincoln log project, gradually segued into the general exchange of information that inevitably passes between two people who've just met. Eric seemed fascinated by my being a private investigator and having my own office.

"I'd love to come down and see it sometime," he said, and I assured him that it was hardly worth the trip, but that he was welcome.

Jonathan had told me that Eric worked at the distribution warehouse for the Home 'n' Yard hardware store chain, and had a small apartment on the East Side. When I did ask about his family, I was surprised to learn that his parents and older brother had been killed in an accident when he was 14.

"It was the Fourth of July," he said casually, and I detected a note of irony in his voice. I was of course curious and expected him to elaborate, but when he didn't, I didn't press him. I wasn't sure whether he had simply been able to accept their deaths and move on, or if he didn't want to or couldn't deal with it on other than a casual level.

Jonathan arrived home just as I'd gone into the kitchen to check on dinner and to make Eric and myself another drink. The minute he came in the door, Joshua jumped up from his project, accidentally destroying whatever it was he'd been building, and ran to Jonathan for a welcome-home hug.

As Jonathan moved across the room, followed closely by Joshua, to join Eric on the couch I stepped to the kitchen doorway to ask if Jonathan wanted a coke.

"I want one!" Joshua declared, and I was truly puzzled by the undertone of belligerence I detected in his voice. This certainly was not Joshua.

"I told you we'll be eating soon, and you've already had your drink. We don't want you to get drunk. Those cherries are pretty potent."

Jonathan gave me a puzzled look and I gave him a raised eyebrow "later" signal. But Joshua was not about to go quietly. Turning to Jonathan, he said pleadingly: "But I'm thirsty!"

Jonathan, still puzzled, looked at me again.

"Okay," I said, caving in as I did far too often, "but only half a glass, and no cherries."

When I brought Eric's Manhattan, Jonathan's Coke and the half-full jelly-glass of Coke for Joshua into the living room, I noted that Joshua had planted himself firmly between Jonathan and Eric, and was sitting as close to Jonathan as he could get.

And I realized for perhaps the first time how insensitive I tended to be when it came to not recognizing how everything that went on in Jonathan's and my lives also affected Joshua. Jonathan's being gone at least two nights a week was disruptive, and while I did my best to pay attention to Joshua and play with him, it wasn't quite the same when he was used to having both me and Jonathan at hand.

Our social circle was relatively small and made up of couples who had been part of Joshua's life since he first came to us. Eric was a brand new element, and Joshua quite probably saw Jonathan's enthusiasm in having a friend all his own as competition for Jonathan's affections. And before I wrote that one off as Joshua's "just being a kid" I had to stop and think of the many adults I know of who tend to react in the same way.

Eric made several references during the evening to how much he envied Jonathan and me for our relationship. From what he said, I gathered he'd never had a long-term relationship and very much wanted one. I knew from experience that platitudes such as "Well, you've got plenty of time" really didn't mean much when one wants something now.

Dinner went well, except for Joshua's tendency to deliberately interrupt Eric on several occasions with his attempts to get Jonathan's attentions away from Eric and back on himself. Jonathan finally told Joshua gently but firmly that it was not polite to interrupt. Eric was gracious enough to appear not to notice.

"Are you coming to Crandall Booth's next 'gathering'?" Eric asked as Jonathan refilled his wine.

"Is there a date for it? I hadn't heard ," Jonathan replied, offering to refill my glass, but I raised my hand to indicate I was okay.

"A week from Sunday. Roger will be announcing it on Tuesday," Eric said. "I was talking to him last night."

"Isn't that pretty short notice?" Jonathan asked.

Eric took a sip of his wine and shrugged. "That's the way Booth does it. I think he tends to have some control issues, and I know Roger doesn't like it. But because Crandall's a major financial backer and a member of the Board, he can do stuff like that."

"Well, I'm looking forward to it," Jonathan said.

"I want to go, too!" Joshua declared. That, too, struck me as a little aggressive. Usually he would put his request in the form of a question.

"We wouldn't go without you," Jonathan said, reaching over to put his arm around Joshua's shoulder.

After dinner, I asked Joshua to come help me clean up the kitchen and put the dishes in the washer, to give Jonathan and Eric a chance to talk, but Joshua would have none of it until Jonathan said: "Joshua, go help Uncle Dick. He needs you."

The minute the last dish was done, Joshua was back in the living room.

* * *

Around eight-thirty, seeing it was close to Joshua's bedtime and knowing he would be very unwilling to go, I said: "Hey, Joshua, are you about ready to take your shower?"

I hoped the mention of a shower would, given his behavior most of the evening, offset the chances for a tantrum, since to his mind taking a shower was synonymous with being a grownup. Jonathan gave me a quick look, then realized what I was doing and told Joshua to go get his new pair of pajamas from his room--his "grown up" pair which had no built-in feet or drop-seat feature.

Ever since he'd recovered from his recent appendectomy, we'd been trying to give him more independence and responsibility when it came to taking care of himself. While we didn't have any standard yardstick of five-year-old behavior to measure how his development compared to other five year olds, or even if we were treating him in an age-appropriate manner, we tried using common sense and playing things by ear. As far as we knew, he was doing very well.

When he came out of the bedroom, I excused myself and went with him into the bathroom for his evening getting-ready-for-bed routine. He wanted Jonathan to do the honors, but Jonathan said: "It's Uncle Dick's turn. You go with him." I was vastly relieved when this did not provoke a cloudburst. Maybe he was just getting tired of sulking.

We had started alternating his regular tub baths with occasional showers, which he took as a true sign that getting his own car and going off to college weren't far behind.

Still, showers were a little tricky in that they required our turning the water on for him and adjusting it before he got in, thus invariably getting ourselves at least partly wet, then watching him closely through the glass so that he did not try to tinker with the water controls. The first few times had involved either Jonathan or me getting into a bathing suit and actually getting in the shower while he mastered the shampooing and soaping rituals on his own. When he was through, we'd open the door to turn off the water, having him step out of the shower and stand on a towel during the drying-off stage, which he was also getting used to doing for himself, though he seemed to be under the impression that if he couldn't see it, it didn't need drying, so we usually had to do at least some touch-up work with the towel.

Actually, it was probably a lot more trouble than dunking him in the tub as we always had, but we figured it was important to him to feel more 'grown up.'

* * *

When we came back into the living room, Eric and Jonathan were standing by the bookcase, and I saw Eric had a copy of one of Jonathan's favorite books by Morgan Butler. "It's great," Jonathan said. "You'll love it. Just bring it back when you're through with it."

Joshua, wanting to milk his staying-up time to the maximum, immediately ran over to his Lincoln Logs set as though he'd just discovered he had them, sat cross-legged on the floor, and began reconstructing the project he'd begun earlier, asking Jonathan to come help him.

"It's a little late to start building a fort tonight, don't you think?" Jonathan asked.

"We can build a house," he said and, noting Jonathan's raised eyebrow, quickly added: "...a little one."

"Okay," Jonathan said. "You go ahead and build your house. Twenty minutes. Then bed." He then returned to talking and laughing with Eric.

When the twenty minutes were up, the total experiment in being a big boy went out the window. Told it was time to go to bed, he obediently put his Lincoln Logs away, then marched over to Jonathan.

"Let's go read a story," he said.

"I'll read the story tonight," I said. "Let's let Uncle Jonathan and Eric talk."

That did it! Major, major tantrum of Oscar-nomination proportions. He didn't want me to read him his story. He wanted Uncle Jonathan to read him his story. Nobody else. Uncle Jonathan.

Okay, that did it. Taking a deep breath, I scooped him off the floor, tossed him over my shoulder, and carried him kicking and yelling into his bedroom. Closing the door I dropped him on the bed like a sack of potatoes.

He hopped off the bed, headed for the door. I scooped him up and put him back on the bed. Off the bed. Back on. Finally, he curled himself into a fetal ball and covered his head with his arms.

"I hate you!" he yelled, though the yell was muffled by his elbows.

I put my hand on his shoulder and he jerked away.

"Well, I'm sorry to hear you say that," I said. "Because I don't hate you. I love you. Uncle Jonathan loves you, too. You know that."

No response. I was really at something of a loss as to how to handle the situation. "Joshua," I said finally, " you're getting to be a bigger boy every day, and some day soon you'll be all grown up..." if my patience holds out, I thought... "And much as we all hate it, we have to learn that we can't always have things the way we want them."

His silence clearly said he wasn't buying it.

"Okay," I said. "Now, do you want me to read you a story or not?"

"No!" he said, and I got up to leave the room. I was reaching for the knob when he started sobbing.

Oh, Jeesuz! I went back to the bed and sat down beside him and cradled him, not having a clue as to what I was supposed to do.

A moment later the door opened and Jonathan came in, looking worried. He quickly moved over to sit beside me.

"Here," he said, reaching toward me, "give him to me. You go out and keep Eric company. I'll be right out."

I passed Joshua, whose sobs had subsided to the softer, gulping-air variety, to him and left the room.

"Sorry about that," I said as I returned to the living room. "I know you have no reason to believe me, but he's never like this."

Eric gave me a soft smile. "I understand," he said. "Jonathan told me what happened to his folks. I was fifteen when mine died, but it must be hard for a little kid like that. You guys have done a great job with him."

"Thanks," I said.

"He's really a great kid...usually."

When Jonathan hadn't appeared after another five minutes, Eric said "Look, I'd really better be heading on home."

"Don't rush off," I said. "Jonathan should be out any minute now."

As if on cue, the door to Joshuas's room opened, and Jonathan stepped out.

"I'm so sorry, Eric!" he said. "I don't know what got into him tonight."

Eric got up from the sofa. "Don't worry about it. Kids are kids."

I got up, too. "I'll get your jacket," I said.

"You're not leaving, are you?" Jonathan asked.

"Yeah, I've got to go in to work tomorrow. I hate working Saturdays, but they keep asking me to come it, and I can use the money, so...."

We said our goodbyes and "Thanks for coming"/ "Thanks for having me" pleasantries, and he left.

As soon as he'd gone, Jonathan shook his head. "I honestly don't know what got into Joshua tonight," he repeated. "He's never acted like that before."

"Well, maybe not around company," I corrected, "but he's pretty good in the hissy-fit department, as I'm sure you've noticed."

We sat together on the couch. "Did he say anything?" I asked. "That we don't love him," Jonathan said, "and that broke my heart."

I patted him on the leg. "As it was intended to do," I said. "Remember, five-year-olds are more emotion than logic. Of course he knows we love him; he just needs constant reassurance."

"I don't know how much more reassurance we could give him than we already do," Jonathan said, entwining his fingers in mine.

"He's jealous of Eric, I think," I said. "He's used to our friends, but Eric is your friend, and he feels left out."

"That's nonsense!" Jonathan said.

"Yeah, but try explaining nonsense to a five year old. It will take him a while to get used to it, but he will."

"I suppose," he acknowledged.

We talked for awhile about the evening, then watched some TV and went to bed.

As Jonathan leaned across me to turn off the light, he said: "And if this Joshua thing wasn't bad enough, now I have to start watching my back."

"What are you talking about?"

"Eric thinks you're hot. He told me when you were busy with Joshua. I'd better start to watch out or he'll snatch you away in a heartbeat."

I reached up to pull him to me for a bear hug.

"I don't think you need to lose too much sleep over that one," I said. Still, it was flattering to hear.

The Angel Singers Cover


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