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Title: How to Handle a Gay Son  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG, if you squint really hard  

Pairing: OCs, Jack Matheson/Jenny McDermott, Jack Matheson/Sophia Matheson, Jack Matheson/Jill Matheson, William Matheson/Theo Bascopolis, implied  

Rating: FRM (fan-rated mature)

Disclaimer: Bradenhurst belongs to Bellisario, but everything else in this story, as well as the characters, are mine.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 4/17/07  

Series/Sequel: This is part 18 in the Soundbyte series, and follows The Light in Your Eyes.  

Summary: Jack Matheson's reaction to the news that his son is gay.  

Warnings: m/m implied, m/f, original characters  

Notes: The way to handle a gay son… "… is to love him, simply love him, merely love him, love him, love him." The title is a riff off the Lerner and Lowe song How to Handle a Woman from their musical, Camelot. ~~~~ indicates a break in time. The towns, businesses, and schools on Long Island are real, and no disrespect is meant to any of them. However, while there is no bar called the Sinn Fein – it is my own invention – the stories told there are true; only the names of the men they happened to have been changed. J Needless to say, the Management does not advocate underage drinking or drinking and driving. Thanks to Tim Mead for the information about the cost of living in a fraternity. I figured sororities would have something similar. The black Lab is in memory of Blackout. The name Jad-bal-Ja is taken from the Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novel, The Golden Lion. Boston has a Responsible Pit Bull Ownership ordinance, but it didn't go into effect until June 23, 2004 , which would have been after the incident with General Custer. Many thanks, as always, to Gail, without a doubt the world's best beta.


How to Handle a Gay Son

Part 1


I came home from work and sniffed the air in anticipation. Alice Wainwright, the woman who had been with us even before the day I'd married Jill, my second wife, was one of the best cooks it had been my pleasure to know.  

"Honey, I'm home," I sang out. As long as we'd been married, Jill still loved to hear me say those silly words, and laughed as she had the first time.  

"I'm in the kitchen, darling Jack."  

I found her in the room I'd remodeled with a gourmet cook in mind. It had a warming drawer, a pot filler over the six-burner range, two ovens, dual dishwashers, an appliance garage, and more cabinet space than the average housewife or househusband could dream of.  

"JR and Marti have already eaten – Alice made them burgers and fries before she had to leave – and are doing their homework." She was stirring something in a saucepan.  

" Alice had to leave?" I stared at her uneasily. "Is that why you're cooking dinner, Jill?"  

"She's on her way to New York to see her grandkids." Her smile was entirely too innocent. "Didn't I tell you?"  

"Uh… no."  

"Oh, dear. I was sure I'd said something about it. Sit down, darling Jack. I'm making you a very special dinner."  

That was what I was afraid of. I loved Jill more than anything. Well, except our kids. But as much as she loved cooking – the idea of it, collecting recipes and cookbooks, buying the latest in cookware – she couldn't cook. She'd actually sent me to the hospital with food poisoning once, although I'd told her it was a stomach bug.  

"Jilly, just tell me what you have to tell me. Then we'll go out to dinner. The Elephant Walk, or Casablanca if you'd rather. Jar is old enough to keep an eye on Marti."  

"Oh, but Jack, I was making this just for you."  

"Please, sweet girl?"  

"All right, party pooper." She cleared her throat. "Let me get you a beer."  

I sat down. Now I was really getting nervous. "Is everything all right? The family?" That would be my family, my son Wills, who lived in DC, my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews, since Mathesons ran to boys.  

"No, no, they're all fine."  

Jill didn't have much contact with her own family, but I asked anyway. "Your folks?"  

She shrugged. "The last I heard, they were fine as well." She looked at me from under her lashes. "Actually, it's about Wills."  

A cold chill ran up my spine. "He didn't have another car accident, did he?" A few years before he'd been in one bad enough to put him in the hospital.  

"I'm sorry, darling Jack. I didn't mean to worry you." She ran her fingertips over my cheek and handed me a bottle of Michelob. "No, he's fine too."  

I sagged in relief, and she sat down on my lap and toyed with a button on my shirt. I liked her weight on my thighs, and I set the beer down on the table and began nuzzling her earlobe.  

"He called today, just to catch up."  

I drew back enough to look into her eyes. "In the middle of the afternoon on a workday?"  

"That's what I said. He finished an assignment, and it turned out so well his boss gave him the day off."  

"That's my boy!"  

"He's such a sweetheart. Just like his father." She ran her fingers through my hair at my pleased grinned. "I told him about Jar wanting a Prince Albert ."  

"What did he say?" I knew Wills was more relaxed with the trends today's teens followed, but I wondered how he'd regard his younger brother having his dick pierced.  

"He said, and I quote: 'Just the idea makes me want to cross my legs!'"  

"Maybe the next time he comes home he can tell Jar that the old man isn't as behind the times as Jar claims."  

"What old man?"  

I stole a kiss and pinched her chin. "So what else is going on in our nation's capital?"  

"The usual, I suppose. We really didn't talk much about… about that. Actually, he called to let me know about this weekend."  

"This weekend? Oh, the Memorial Day picnic." Jake, my oldest brother, and I took turns throwing the holiday gathering. Sometimes Pete, a Marine sergeant major, was stationed in the country and could come. Sometimes Simon, who was closest to me only in age, would fly in from the West Coast with his wife and boys. This year, though, it was just going to be Jake and his wife, and their sons and families. "Any chance Wills'll be able to come?"  

"Yes, as a matter of fact, he has the weekend off."  

"That's wonderful!" He hadn't been able to join us the last few years. The company he worked for kept him hopping. But they valued him – he'd got a promotion earlier in the year – and I didn't know who was more proud of him, Jilly or myself.  

"He… he wants to bring someone home with him, Jack, and he wanted to clear it with you first."  

"He always was a thoughtful boy." I grinned at her. "The double bed in his room will be fine for two, but I think I'll tell him his young lady will have to sleep in another room." I was pleased that my oldest son was finally getting serious enough with someone to bring her home. The last time he had spoken of a girl had been back in college. I knew that he was busy with work, and of course he wasn't the type of young man who would mention any one night stands. "So, what's her name?"  

"It's Theo, Jack." She got off my lap.  

I blinked. "Jill, that's a boy's name."  

"Yes. Theo Bascopolis. Wills is bringing home a young man."  

"Oh. A friend. Well, that's… that's okay." I tried to hide my disappointment. I was getting as bad as Charlie, Jake's wife, who had wanted to see all her sons married and settled down. "I know he misses Michael very much, so of course I'm glad to hear he has a new friend." I tipped the bottle of beer to my lips.  

"Jack." She wound her fingers in my hair and began to massage my scalp. I liked the way it felt. "Theo is more than Wills' friend. He's his… He'll be staying with Wills in his room."  

"We have more than enough room for him to have his own… "  

"Darling Jack. Please don't be obtuse. Theo is Wills'… boyfriend, I guess we could call him."  

The bottle fell from suddenly numb fingers, and the beer spilled out onto the table. Jill went to the sink and got a dishcloth.  

"You're telling me my son is gay?" My voice hoarsened and deepened with each word. I had a brother who was gay, and I knew how hard it had been for him, having to live all his adult life in the closet. That was the last thing I wanted for my son. "No. I… "  

"Won't permit it?" She cleaned up the mess, then came to stand behind me, her fingers working the knots in my shoulders. "I really don't think you have a say in it, darling."  

"No." I couldn't seem to come up with any other word. Pete was a strong man, a Marine, but my boy…  

"Jack, you have to try to understand Wills' point of view."  

"How can I? How can he… " //Oh, Sophe. No grandsons with your eyes, your mouth,// I mourned. The discrimination and bigotry he faced… "No." Maybe if I said it often enough, this would turn out to be a bad dream, or Jill's idea of a practical joke. "If that's the road he intends to travel, then… "

"Don't you say he's no son of yours, Jack. You'll regret it for the rest of your life!"  

"Don't tell me what I will or won't regret, goddammit!" I spun around in the chair, dislodging her hands from my shoulders, hurt that she would misjudge me so. And so I lashed out at her. "Why would it make any difference to you anyway? He's not your son!"  

It abruptly felt as if the Earth had stopped turning. //Oh, my god. Please tell me that hadn't just come out of my mouth!//  

"Is that what you believe, John?" My wife was sheet-white. "That because I didn't give birth to Wills, that makes him any less my son than JR, any less my child than Marti?"  

"Jill. Jilly, I'm sorry, you know I didn't mean that." I got to my feet and took a step toward her, and was horrified when she backed away from me.  

"Do I, Jack? We've been together seventeen years now, and I've known you for longer than that. Or at least, I thought I knew you. Now I'm not so sure." She turned away and walked toward the door.  

I felt myself turn pale. There were things that she didn't know, that I'd never felt the need to share with her.  

Sophia, Wills' mother, and I had tried various positions and acts while making love, including times when I would slide her slim vibrator into her plump bottom while I rode her. I tried desperately to remember if we'd done that while she was pregnant with Wills. She'd even used that vibrator on me, and once I got used to the feeling of fullness and she'd found the angle that brought it into contact with my prostate, I'd enjoyed it. Not to the point where I would ever want to fuck or be fucked by a man, but… the sensations were interesting.  

Could Sophe and I have done this to our son? "Jill, all through high school and college he dated girls. Lots of them. Has he… has he always been like this?"  

"Does it make any difference?" She paused and spoke without looking back at me. "Wills is your son, Jack. Are you willing to throw him away simply because the person he's fallen in love with has a penis instead of a vagina? Eat dinner here or go out for something, it makes no difference. I've lost my appetite."  

And then she walked out, not giving me a chance to respond.  

Blindly I turned and sank down into the chair, my elbows propped on the table, my head in my hands.  

How was I to deal with the fact that my firstborn son was gay? His mother was gone, killed in a car accident on Hicksville Road when he was five, and although I had remarried and had two more children, right then I felt as alone and lost as I had when my first wife had died.  


The Sabatini family moved next door to our house in Seaford , on Long Island , when I was nine. There weren't many Italian families in our neighborhood. Rumor had it Mr. Sabatini used to drive for one of the Mafia dons, and that could have been true, but all anyone knew for sure was that he'd opened a gas station on Montauk Highway and went to work there every day.  

They were a small family for Italians, just the mom and dad and two kids. Later we learned that Gregorio, the oldest son, had been killed in the line of duty – he'd been a New York City cop – and Maria, the oldest daughter, was actually Sister Marie Saint Paolo.  

Tony Sabatini became my best friend. We played cowboys and Indians and war, and biked everywhere together, running errands for our mothers, and as we got older, going to the movies or to White Castle or McDonalds. His sister Sophia, a year younger, tagged along wherever we went. A lot of times when I went to the library, I'd find her there, and we'd study together. She had the same olive skin tones, dark brown hair, and eyes the color of bittersweet chocolate as the rest of her family. She always wore jeans, which drove her mother nuts, because if girls wore pants, they were either capris or pedal pushers, and Tony's shirts, which drove him nuts.  

I was sixteen when I realized she looked better in them than he did, and more than anything I wanted to ask her out on a date. I would have, as much as I valued my friendship with her brother, but everyone knew that Mr. Sabatini didn't look kindly on the neighborhood boys asking his Sophia out.  

I asked Jenny McDermott out instead.  

Jenny McDermott also had brown hair, although it was much lighter than Sophe's. Her eyes were an astonishing blue. She lived down at the end of the cul de sac a few blocks away. In the normal course of events, we would never have gotten together, but she sat behind me in homeroom. "I love your hair," she whispered and ran her fingers through the blond strands. I loved the feel of that, something so erotic I was suddenly, embarrassingly hard.  

"Want to go out Saturday night?" I heard myself ask.  

"And do what?" She watched me from under her lashes.  

"We could go to the movies, and then go to Mrs. Dee's for pizza."  

"I'd like that." She smiled.  

We had a good time. That date led to another and another, and before long, Jenny was considered my girl. We went steady throughout high school.  

I tried to talk her into going to college after graduation, but she gave me a lopsided grin. "My folks can't afford it... "  

"There are scholarships." I planned on going to Cornell up in Ithaca to get a degree in architecture, and while my Dad had set aside something for college for all of his sons, I also had a few scholarships lined up myself.  

"… and besides, my grades are awful."  

"I could help you."  

"No. Barb said she'd get me a job at Woolworth's." Barb was her oldest sister. She worked behind the cash register in the notions department five days a week.  

I couldn't think of a more boring job and said so.  

"It's only until we… I get married."  

I liked Jenny. Maybe… For a moment I thought wistfully of the girl who lived next door, then pushed her image from my mind.  

Maybe I even loved Jen. But I wasn't getting married until I finished college, and I told her so.  

After we graduated from high school, Jen did start working at Woolworth's.  

Tony was going to college in the fall too, to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, out in… well… Stony Brook on the Island . His Momma couldn't bear the thought of him going away, and as a good Italian son, he was willing to stay local, even though it meant a pretty long drive. "Hey, Jack," he shrugged, "it gets me wheels!"  

That was in the fall, however. Until then, I would work with Dad and Jake as I'd done every summer in the family's construction company that my grandfather had founded. Dad had started me when I was fourteen and old enough to get working papers, but I'd been at the various sites even before then. I'd run for coffee or sandwiches, and the guys had always given me the change as a tip.  

'Whatcha gonna do with all that money, sport?' they would tease as I pocketed the coins.  

'I'm savin' up for my own house.'  

And they'd laugh.  

Even Dad would laugh, and he'd ruffle my hair. 'My boy's gonna be an architect and join his old man and his big brother in the business!'  

Peter and Simon, the brothers between Jake and me, had decided against a job in Matheson & Sons. Pete was a career Marine – Mom went to church with Mrs. Sabatini everyday and lit candles for him to stay safe – and Simon was teaching chemistry at Cal Tech. Mom lit candles for him too, because everyone knew the next big earthquake would send California sliding into the ocean.  

I didn't mind that Dad had planned out my life. I liked the work, and I couldn't wait to eventually go away to college so I could get my degree.  

And now it was almost here.  

There was the usual block party for the 4th, and I brought Jenny to it. We played volleyball, danced to music on the record player someone had attached to a long extension cord and propped on a crate that had held soda bottles – I even kind of danced with Sophia. Kind of, because it was the Twist, and I didn't have my arms around her – and ate hotdogs, hamburgers, and Mrs. Sabatini's mouth-watering sausage, peppers, and onions heroes.  

When it started to get dark, I borrowed Dad's Chevy and drove with Jenny over to Massapequa Park to see the fireworks display. There was patriotic music on the radio, and Jenny oooh'd and ahh'd as the sky lit up and cuddled against me. After the grand finale, we drove around until I found a place to park, and Jenny and I got in the back seat.  

"We could get married, Jack." She brought it up again.  

"I've got to go to college, Jen. You know my dad would have a conniption fit if I didn't."  

"Am I still your girl?" She began unbuttoning her blouse.  

"Well… well, sure."  

"You're going to meet all kinds of girls while you're away. Pretty, sophisticated, wild." She undid her bra and brought my hand to her breast. "Promise me you won't date them."  

"Sure, Jenny." I rubbed her nipple, and it swelled under my touch. My dick grew so hard I ached. Usually we touched each other while we made out, but always over our clothes. My hand began to tremble. I eased her down on the seat, fumbling with the button of my fly. At that point I would have promised her anything.  

It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when Jenny and I went parking again, that I realized how stupid – how *lucky* -- I'd been.  

"We can't do anything tonight, Jack," she murmured in my ear as I slid my fingers under the cuff of her shorts. "I have my period."  

It slammed into me that instead of going to college, I could have been getting married, because, of course, if I'd gotten her pregnant, I would have married her.  

Before our next date, I made sure I went to a drugstore a couple of towns over where no one knew me and bought a box of rubbers. Jenny wasn't happy about that.  

"You don't need them, Jack. I trust you to pull out in time." She rubbed herself against my thigh, and her heat took my breath away.  

"I'm not sure that I could, Jen. You're so hot, and it feels so good… We're too young to be parents."  

"I thought you loved me. Don't you want to marry me?"  

"Not now, Jenny!" I couldn't believe she was actually willing to play Vatican roulette. "Jesus, we're only eighteen."  

"My mother got married when she was sixteen."  

And even living a few blocks away, we had heard tales of how successful that marriage was, how Mr. and Mrs. McDermott could be heard screaming and throwing pots and dishes at each other on the hot summer nights when the windows were open.  

"I'd better take you home, Jen. It's getting late, and I need to be up early in the morning."  

She pouted the whole ride home.  

"You… uh… you want to go to the movies next Friday night?"  

She shrugged, but she didn't say no.  

Things were a little cool between us until my last week at home. She called just after Ed Sullivan on Sunday night.  

"Jack, my parents are going to the Poconos on Friday, and they're taking Kevin and Little Sean with them." They were twins, the youngest of the McDermott brood. Jenny had often been responsible for their care.  

"What about you, Jen?" Shouldn't I have been disappointed that she wouldn't be around?  

"Oh, I have to stay home. I haven't been at Woolworth's long enough to get a vacation. You could come over if you like. You could… you could even stay the night." As if she could sense my reluctance, she began to sniffle. "Please, Jack? You're going to be gone for so long. Please, honey?"  

Tears always made me feel like a bastard. "Okay. What time do you want me over?"  

"Right after work? I'll cook dinner for you."  

"Sure, Jen. I'll see you on Friday."  

"Cool! Bye, honey." She blew a kiss into the phone and hung up.  

I was about to hang up myself, when I thought I heard a click on the line, as if someone had been on the extension. But my mother was in the kitchen singing 'Stupid Cupid,' and Dad was in the living room looking for something else to watch. I shrugged and went in to join him.  

After work on Friday, Jake slung his arm around my shoulders. "What do you say to coming with Dad and me to the Sinn Fein?"  

The Sinn Fein was a little corner bar on 109. It was dark and smelled of beer. The jukebox was loaded with Irish songs, The Lonely Hills of Upton, The Wild Rover, The Black Velvet Band. All the men went there after work for a few beers, but Dad had always sent me home.  

I turned to my father. "Can I, Dad?"  

"You sure can, sport. You're gonna be a college man and help us put this little company on the map. I think that means you're old enough to knock back a few."  

"But Mom… " She'd blown a gasket the one time she found out Tony and I had snuck some beers on Jones Beach after dark.  

"I already cleared it with your mother."  

I forgot about any other plans I might have had.  

We sat at the bar. I was a little disappointed that Dad bought me a Coke, but then he slid his glass of beer toward me, and ordered another for himself.  

"Just don't let anyone see that glass in front of you. Gene," he nodded toward the bartender, who smiled and continued filling little bowls with beer nuts, "could get in trouble."  

Somebody brought in pizzas, and someone else brought in Chinese food. Songs poured out of the jukebox, and I listened, wide-eyed, as the men told stories of different jobs they'd been on, of the piss-poor helpers and rotten bosses, Grandpa and Dad excepted of course. As the beer continued to flow, they went on to tell how Bob Johnson had gotten so bombed he'd driven into an airport limo – "And let that be a lesson to you, sport," Dad whispered. "Never drink and drive!" – how Charlie O'Neill had walked home from the bar after closing one night, then reported his car stolen the next day because he'd forgotten he'd left it there, how Joe Johnson, brother of Bob, had fallen asleep in his car outside the Sinn Fein after throwing up Bloody Marys, resulting in an emergency call for an ambulance because the tomato juice on his tee shirt looked like blood and an unsuspecting good Samaritan thought he'd been shot.  

I laughed until I had hiccups, and before I realized it, it was after 10 PM .  

"I'd better go, Dad." Jake finished the last of his beer and left the change in front of him as a tip. "My Charlie's gonna be wanting me home."  

The men teased Jake about being tied to his wife's apron strings. He just laughed and walked out.  

I wondered if I'd ever love Jenny that much. Jenny… There was something I was supposed to do that concerned Jenny and Friday night…  

I forgot all about Jenny. "Oh, Jesus, Dad, Mom is gonna kill us!" Friday was soup night, some kind of vegetable soup because it was a day of abstinence. Mom always wanted us to have dinner at home, and while she didn't mind if Dad stopped to have a couple of beers, she wasn't going to be happy about this.  

"No, it's okay, son." He ruffled my hair as if I were still twelve years old. "I called her when Charlie O'Neill brought in the pizzas. She said she'd put the soup in the fridge. We'll have it tomorrow night."  

"Cool. Um… Do we have to go home now?"  

"Not a chance. 'Dawn Patrol' is coming on."  

The bar fell silent. Gene had turned on the little TV above the bar, and we all settled in to watch the Errol Flynn movie.  

The second time my chin slipped off my palm, Dad patted my shoulder. "We'd better be heading home, sport. 'Night, everyone."  

"Yeah. 'Night, everyone," I mumbled and followed after him, unable to walk in a straight line but somehow managing not to trip over my own feet.  

I fell asleep on the car ride home, and semi-woke when Dad hoisted me over his shoulder in a fireman's lift.  

"'m not drunk."  

"I know." He gave my butt a light whack. "You're a Matheson, after all."  

"'kay. Jus' so y'know." I began to sing, trying for an Irish accent. "'I've been a wild rover fer many a year, An' I've spent ahl me money on whiskey and beer… '"  

Dad laughed and carried me to my room and dumped me on my bed. That was the last thing I remembered until the next morning. Someone tapping on my door woke me up, and I managed to get my eyelashes unstuck and an eye opened. I was wearing undershorts and an undershirt. Dad must have undressed me the night before.  

Jake leaned against the door jamb, grinning. "Morning, merry sunshine. Mom's made breakfast."  

The smell that came wafting up from the kitchen would normally have had me drooling in anticipation, but that morning my head was pounding, my mouth tasted vile, and my stomach was undecided as to whether it liked me any more.  

It decided it didn't, and I bolted for the bathroom down the hall, making it just in time.  

"How come you're not puking your guts up?" I griped when my stomach had untwisted itself.  

"The first time Dad took me to the Sinn Fein, I did. You'll do better from now on."  

"Oh, no. No more drinking for me, ever!"  

"Moderation, sport. Everything in moderation."  

I just washed my face, brushed my teeth, and swallowed the aspirin he handed me. "What are you doing here anyway? Aren't you married?"  

"Yeah. But Charlie wanted to sleep in. She gave me dispensation to take the boys and be elsewhere, and Mom has volunteered to keep the boys today."  

"Huh." I opened the medicine chest and took another aspirin. "Is she pregnant again?" My brother and his wife already had two sons, and Charlie had said she wanted to try for a little girl, even though everyone knew Mathesons ran to boys.  

"We don't know yet. It's too early to tell. Don't dawdle, Jack." He went downstairs, and after I pulled on a pair of pajama pants, I padded down after him.  

"Uncle Jack! Uncle Jack!" Two blond boys threw themselves at me.  

I flinched at the shouts that greeted me. "Ben. Stevie." I swallowed and patted their shoulders.  

"Now, boys, Uncle Jack isn't feeling too well." Jake was laughing at me.  

"Sorry, Uncle Jack," they murmured in chorus.  

"Why don't you go inside and see if Bugs Bunny is on."  

"Okay, Daddy." They left at a gallop, and I flinched again at the sound of their sneakers on the linoleum.  

"Thanks, Jake." I decided I'd forgive him for finding my affliction a source of amusement.  

"Don't mention it, sport."  

"Good morning, John."  

"Morning, Mom." I felt her eyes on me and wondered if I looked as green as I felt. I took my seat at the kitchen table. A glass of orange juice was at my place, and I picked it up.  

Dad clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Our boy is a man."  

Mom snorted and put a cup of coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs before me. The aspirin must have started working, or maybe it was the orange juice that helped, because surprisingly, my stomach didn't object.  

"Someone ask me how *my* evening was." She poured more coffee for Dad.  

Was that a trick question? "Uh… how was your evening, Mom?"  

"I'm glad you asked. I spent it answering the phone." She turned back to the stove to ease over the eggs. "I answered the phone twelve times. Now ask me who was calling."  

I took a bite of toast. "Who was calling?"  

"Jenny McDermott."  

"Oh, *sh…*! Um… sorry, Mom."  

"I take it that you forgot you had a date last night?"  

"Completely. I'd better call her."  

"You might want to give her some time to cool off, son."  

"She's wasn't happy, huh?"  

"To put it mildly. Her last words to me were she didn't want to see you or talk to you ever again. Ever. To tell you the truth, I was surprised not to see fireworks coming from the direction of Joyce Hill Court when I went to let Dog out."  

Dog, our yellow Lab, was lying in front of the refrigerator. Even in the summer she loved the heat it threw off. On hearing her name mentioned, she raised her head. Her jaws parted in a doggy grin, and her tail thumped against the floor.  

I blew out a breath, waiting for depression to settle in. Jenny and I'd had a fight and broken up once when we'd first started going steady, and all I'd done for the two weeks before we got back together was mope around the house. Now there was just a sneaking feeling of relief.  

I broke off a piece of toast and held it out for Dog.  

"Could I have some more bacon, Mom?" I looked up in time to see her exchange a smile with my father. "Mom?"  

Then she smiled at me. "Of course, John."  

Part 2


My first year at college was amazing. It dragged, it flew by. I was glad to be on my own, I missed my family. In spite of my promise to Jenny, I saw other girls. How could I not?  

When I returned home for the summer, I was amazed to find how small the neighborhood seemed to have gotten, but after a few hours, my perspective switched back to pre-college times, and it was as if nothing had changed at all.  

Tony came over after dinner. We sat on the steps of the front porch, watching the lightning bugs and chug-a-lugging Cokes. He talked about being the first male Sabatini to ever go to college.  

"Pop wants me to be a doctor. It should keep me out of the 'police action.'" He sneered at the term.  

"You'd want to go?" It wasn't something I had to worry about. I'd dislocated my knee falling off a ladder when I was younger, and it had had a tendency to pop out ever since then, so Uncle Sam decided he didn't want me. Jake was out of it too because of his age, plus the fact that he now had three children. Charlie had been expecting last summer and had just given birth to another bouncing baby boy. Simon had some kind of exemption because of what he taught. As for Pete, he'd already served a tour in Viet Nam and now was stationed in Japan .  

"Hell, no. But I hate that they think we're stupid enough to not be able to tell that it's a war. Politicians." The way he said it made it a four letter word. "So tell me about life in a dorm. Are you going to rush a fraternity?"  

"I did, this past spring. I'm Alpha Omega Chi. Living in a dorm was okay. I had two other roommates. One of them, Ed, was a real dick. He kept picking on Andy, who was this skinny little guy. Ed called him a fagola and laughed as if he'd said something clever." I grinned.  

"That isn't funny."  

"No, but it was when Andy beat the 'crapola' out of him. Just goes to show how deceiving appearances can be."  

"How so?"

"Andy had more notches on his bedpost than half that floor combined."  

Tony's eyes widened, and then he groaned. "You lucky son of a bitch! I am missing so much, living at home! Tell me more so at least I can live vicariously."  

I told him more, keeping my voice down in case Mom was nearby.  

"You *lucky* son of a bitch!" he repeated, practically salivating.  

Finally I was able to bring the subject around to what I was most interested in. "How's… uh… how's Sophe? I'm surprised she didn't come over with you."  

"She's out with her boyfriend."  

"Boyfriend?" My stomach felt suddenly hollow.  

"Junior Calaviere. Pop would've had a fit if she'd dated anyone who wasn't Italian."  

"Yeah. I guess so." I didn't want to hear any more and changed the subject. "So what will you do this summer?"  

"I've got a part time gig at Adventureland." It was the amusement park that had opened up a year or so earlier in Farmingdale.  

"Well, it's a good place to meet girls."  

"That's why I took it. What about you, Jack?"  

"I'll be working with my Dad and Jake again."  

"Are you gonna take over after you graduate?"  

"Get outta here. My old man is going strong. He'll never turn over the business."  

"Are you… uh… gonna call Jenny McDermott?"  

I shrugged. "Maybe."  

"She's been seeing Rob Thompson while you were away."  

"I know."  

"I guess your Momma told you?"  

"No, actually, Sophe wrote me." But why hadn't she written that she was seeing that creep, Junior? Not that I knew him, but I was sure he was a creep anyway.  

"Sophia wrote you? My sister Sophia?"  

"Yeah, your sister. How many Sophias do we know?"  

"I'm just… *Sophia*?"  

"You got a problem with that?"  

"No. I'm just surprised. Sophia hates to write."  

"Well, she wrote to me."  

"How come?"  

I shrugged. "She came over just before I left for Ithaca and said she had an assignment for English, to correspond with someone she knew."  

"Man, Honors English is a bitch. Glad we never had to take it."  

"Me too."  

"Why'd she pick you?"  

I'd asked her the same thing, hoping for… well, something. "She told me it was your mother's idea." And I'd been sorry I'd asked. "I was the only one she knew who was gonna be away from home, so it would be a real correspondence." //Had you expected her to say it was because she was going to miss you? Just be glad it gave you a way to be in touch with her.//  

"Yeah, that makes sense. I hope she wasn't too much of a pest."  

Only those weeks when I was expecting a letter and didn't get one.  

"So what do you say we go out for White Castle ? I'll drive."  

"Great idea." That was actually our code for cruising for chicks. I tipped the Coke back and finished it, glad for an excuse to end the conversation.  

I didn't see much of Sophe that summer. We ran into each other at the library a couple of times, and once we double-dated, she and Junior, me and Jenny. I knew whose bright idea that had been – mine. It was the closest I would get to an actual date with Sophe.  

It wasn't obvious – at least I hoped it wasn't obvious – but I wanted to be the one in the back seat with Sophia. I wanted to have my arm around her, wanted to touch her thick, dark hair, drop a kiss on her ear.  

Jenny had jumped at the opportunity of a date when I'd called and asked if she wanted to go to the movies – Tony had said Sophe was dying to see 'A Hard Day's Night' – and now Jen sat plastered next to me, her head on my shoulder, the perfume she wore clogging my nostrils, and her hand high on my thigh. She was happy to note the bulge in my jeans.  

"Let's find someplace to park after the movie, Jack."  

"Yeah, Matheson. That sounds like a good idea."  

"Sorry, I can't. Jake wants his car back." He and Dad were working on the Chevy, and Jake had let me borrow the T-Bird he had restored.  

"Aw, will big brother spank?"  

"Shut up, Junior." Through the rear view mirror I saw Sophe take his arm from her shoulder and put some space between them. "It's fine, Jack. I have to be home right after the movie anyway."  

"Daddy doesn't let his pwecious widdle girl stay out late?"  

It was my turn, although I couldn't move away from her. "Shut up, Jenny."  

We didn't double date again.  

Jenny and I fell back into the habit of dating. I borrowed Dad's car, and we'd see a movie and go to White Castle , or maybe just go for a ride.  

"Mom's pregnant again.."  

"Uh… "  

"I'm so embarrassed. You would think at their age my parents would know better, but no, I'm going to have another brother or sister to take care of, who'll be young enough to be *my* kid, and all because my father came home drunk one night, and Mom didn't have time to put her diaphragm in."  

I felt my face go up in flames. Jenny never seemed to have a problem discussing her parents' personal lives. I knew my own parents had sex, but it wasn't something I talked about or even liked to dwell on.  

Jenny leaned against me. "Jack, we haven't made love since you came back from college. Don't you… don't you love me any more?"  

"Well… well… sure I do, Jenny." I hated myself for lying to her.  

"Why don't we find someplace to park?" She leaned against me and squeezed my crotch.  

My dick quickly swelled, and I headed the car toward a parking lot that I knew was unlit, and which would afford us privacy.  

I was going to have sex with Jenny, even though I didn't have a rubber.  

I'd learned a lot besides what was in books my first year at college, and one thing had been that when you could have sex anytime, anywhere, and with just about anyone, it lost its sheen, so to speak. By the time I'd gone through my second box of rubbers, it was no longer special. They hadn't known my favorite food or my favorite book or movie. Some of them hadn't even known my last name. I'd grown tired of how impersonal it all was, and never bothered getting a third box of rubbers.  

But Jenny had been my first, and I didn't want her to feel bad, so I was going to.  

She lay down on the back seat. The light cotton material of the summer dress she wore trembled with each breath she took. I stroked her breasts through her dress. She hadn't worn a bra. I pushed my jeans and shorts down around my knees and reached under her dress to pull her panties off. She hadn't worn those either. She was hot and wet under my fingers, and she cried out when I teased her clit.  

I went still. It wasn't my name she'd cried out. My erection deflated.  

"Jack? Why'd you stop, baby?"  

"I'm not Rob."  

"I know that. What are you… " It dawned on her what she'd done. She grabbed at me frantically. "Please don't stop! I want you so much!"  

"But you called me Rob."  

"I'm sorry, Jack! I don't know why I did that!"  

Didn't she? I tugged my pants back up and tucked my dick away. "It's probably a good thing, Jenny. You could have gotten pregnant."  

"No, I wouldn't! It's the wrong time of the month, honest it is! And I've told you – I trust you!"  

"Ah, honey, it would have felt so good inside you, I wouldn't have been able to pull out." I stroked the hair off her face.  

"If I did get pregnant, you could… you could always marry me!"  

And that was what I was afraid of. "Jen, I've still got four years of college. I wouldn't be able to take care of a wife and baby." Not to mention my father would skin me alive for being so stupid.  

"You could drop out and work for your dad." She tried to pull me back on top of her. "Please, Jack! Please make love to me!"  

"I can't, Jenny." It wouldn't be making love, it would just be a fuck in the back seat of my father's car. "It's not fair to you. You deserve more."  

"I bet if it was Sophia Sabatini you wouldn't say that." She shoved me away and curled up in a corner of the car. I could hear her crying.  

She was right, but I wasn't going to let that and guilt pressure me into having sex with her.  

"Do you need a tissue, Jen?" Mom always made sure there was a packet in the glove compartment.  

"Please." She sniffled.  

I got into the front seat and rummaged for the tissues. She took one, then straightened her clothes and got back beside me, and I drove her home.  

She didn't ask if we were going to see each other again, and I didn't have to lie to her again and tell her, "Sure."  

The next time I saw her, it was a couple of weeks later, at a local ice cream parlor. She was with Rob Thompson, draped over his arm, gazing up at him with adoration. She'd looked at me like that once.  

All I felt was relief that it wasn't me now.  


When I returned to Cornell in the fall, I found a stack of mail waiting for me, all letters from Sophe, and I scanned them quickly. Once I realized that none of them was going to announce her engagement to Junior Calaviere, I went back and read them with pleasure.  

We continued corresponding that year, and I could hardly wait to get home to see her again.  

She wasn't around at all that summer.  

"Where's Sophe, Tony?" I asked casually.  

"Aunt Rosa's depressed now that Uncle Tonio's passed on, so Momma sent Sophia to Brooklyn to keep her company and help out."  

"When's she coming home?"  

"Not until school starts."  

Shit. Dad didn't mind letting me borrow the car, but he'd have a fit if he knew I wanted to drive it to Brooklyn .  

"She and Pop got into it pretty good."  

"I thought Sophe could do no wrong."  

"Pop wants her to get engaged to Junior. He says if she's too picky, she'll wind up an old maid."  

"What did she say to that?" She was only nineteen.  

He just shrugged, and I could see he wasn't about to tell me. Some things stayed in the family. "Hey, did you hear? Jenny McDermott and Rob Thompson are getting married. He's proud as punch and telling everyone about it."  

"What does Jenny say?"  

"Beyond that she'll be glad to leave Woolworth's, not much of anything." He leaned closer. "Actually, word is they *have* to get married."  

"Ah." I thought of how close that had come to being me, and I couldn't prevent a shudder. Tony noticed.  

"Are you okay, Jack? She was your girlfriend for the longest time."  

"I'm fine. I hope they'll be happy."  

"Uh… yeah. Um… The Golden Arches after work?"  

"Sounds good to me. You at Adventureland again?"  

"Yeah. I'll need a ride. Stacey Conlyn is driving today."  


"You don't know her. I work with her."  

"Okay. I'll pick you up then."  


I had no trouble getting dates that summer. I was a Cornell man, after all. I even brought a date, Patsy Brown, a friend of the girl Tony was seeing, to Jenny's wedding.  

I would have gone stag – I didn't mind if Jenny thought I was pining after her, but I definitely didn't want her thinking I was pining after Sophe.  

It was a sad little reception. The groom's family stayed on their side of the hall, watching the bride's side in wary fascination.  

Mr. McDermott started hitting the bar as soon as it opened. Mrs. McDermott looked tired and older than her years. The baby she carried on her hip couldn't have been more than a couple of months old. A cap of red-gold hair covered the baby's scalp, and when she opened her eyes, they were an unbelievable aquamarine. She didn't cry the whole time.  

The rest of Jenny's brothers and sisters were boisterous, the older ones sneaking drinks and getting bombed, and the younger ones just running wild, crashing into the guests. Jenny looked miserable until Rob touched her shoulder and smiled at her. She leaned against him, and I thought maybe they would find happiness together.  

When it came time for Jenny to throw the bouquet, Patsy gave me a wink and rushed up with the other unmarried girls. She caught it.  

I made sure I missed the garter, even though it seemed that Rob aimed it directly at me. Patsy wasn't very happy about that. Jenny didn't seem too thrilled either.  

It didn't matter. That was the last time Patsy and I went out together.  


The beginning of my third year at Cornell, and I was surprised to run into Sophia on campus. "Sophe!"  

"You're the only one who calls me that, you know? Hi, Jack. It's good to see you."  

"It's good to see you too." I figured I could get away with a hug, as long as I kept it brotherly. She was a nice armful, and she smelled good. Instead of kissing her, as I would have sold my soul to do, I let her go and smiled. "I missed you this past summer. What are you doing here though?"  

"I thought it would be a good idea to get away from the family for a bit. Aunt Rosa ran me ragged. She has a list of medications as long as your arm, and I was always going to the drugstore for Milk of Magnesia or … um… " She blushed, a pretty pink, smiled and cleared her throat. "She'd give me a list when she sent me to the store, but she'd always forget something, and I'd have to go back for it. And my cousin Theresa was staying with her too. With her kids. Guess who got to watch the little demons?"  

"Poor Sophia."  

"You got that straight! Anyway, my counselor at Farmingdale said my grades were so good I should go to a four year college for a bachelors degree, and I chose Cornell."  

"Sophe, that's so fantastic!" I was proud of her. The degree she was working toward had something to do with education and little kids, and her counselor had actually said her grades were great. Mrs. Sabatini had told Mom, bemoaning the fact that her little girl was going to be an old maid.  

She shook her head. "Momma didn't think so. She went to bed for three days, and Pop… Well, I though he was going to rupture something."  

"But you stood your ground and came here anyway."  

"Well, yeah!"  

I couldn't stop myself. "I'm so proud of you!" And I hugged her again. "But… weren't you worried about being here all by yourself?"  

"Nah. You're here."  

"Yeah?" I hoped my grin wasn't as dopey as it felt. "I was wondering why no letters were waiting for me when I got back to campus." I knew the writing assignment had been long since finished, and I'd thought she'd grown bored, or maybe had found someone in Brooklyn .  

"I wanted to write, believe me! But I was afraid you'd see what a horror I can be. My family makes me nuts sometimes."  

I'd never think she was a horror. "Family can be like that. Listen. Why don't we go down to the student lounge, and you can tell me all about Aunt Rosa and Cousin Theresa and her brood. I'll buy you a Coke," I wheedled.  

"Cool." She took my hand and swung it gently between us, and I could barely catch my breath.  

It was a warm, sunny September day, Indian summer in all its glory, and we took our Cokes outside and found a bench under an oak tree whose leaves were starting to turn color.  

I waited to hear her stories. Sophe had a way about telling them. She'd made me laugh so hard one time that I'd snorted Coke through my nose. She'd be a great teacher.  

"I hated Jenny McDermott," she told me out of a clear blue sky as we sat sipping our sodas.  

"Why? Jenny's a nice girl."  

"I know."  

"I don't understand then. Why say you hated her?"  

"She was dating you."  

I tried to keep my jaw from dropping. Sophe had noticed? Well, of course she'd noticed, but... she'd *noticed*? "If I remember correctly, you were dating Junior Calaviere."  

"That jerk. Pop didn't like the idea of me going out with any boy who wasn't Italian."  

"That's what Tony said."  

"My brother has a big mouth."  

"So, uh… Junior was a jerk?"  

"Yeah. He had a lot of chest hair."  

My gut twisted in a way that it hadn't when I'd realized that Jenny had probably been sleeping with Rob Thompson. "How do you know that?"  

"Please." Her mouth twisted in a moue of distaste. "In the summer he wore a sleeveless undershirt, and there would be tufts of black hair sticking out all over."  

"I'm… uh… I don't have a lot of chest hair."  

"I remember. I saw you when you came over to use the pool last summer."  

She had? I ducked my head and pretended the seam of my jeans was interesting. "What… uh… what else made Junior a jerk?"  

"He kept trying to get his hand in my blouse or under my skirt."  

That *bastard*! "Sophe, did he touch you, hurt you? I'll kill him!"  

"Thank you, Jack." She leaned toward me and kissed my cheek. "Tony taught me how to take care of myself. That's the one reason Pop didn't blow a bigger gasket when I told him I had no intention of going out with Junior ever again."  

My cheek tingled from where she'd pressed her lips. "He wants you to marry a nice Italian boy."  

"Yes, but he's not the one who'll have to live with the 'nice Italian boy.' I told him no more. If he didn't stop, I'd… " She slanted a look at me, her face pink once more. "I'd just start dating the boy next door."  

I was the only boy next door. The people who lived on the other side of her house were a business couple who had no kids. Did that mean…  

"Sophe, what's my favorite food?"  

"Are you kidding? It's your mother's pot roast."  

"What about my favorite book?"  

"'The Three Musketeers.'"  

"My favorite movie?"  

She gave me a puzzled look. "'Pride of the Yankees.' Why?"  

"None of the girls I dated here knew anything about me, except that I was a good... um... " I blushed. I couldn't tell her they liked the way I used my dick.  

"I see. So if I asked you the same questions... "   

"Your mother's ravioli with meat sauce, 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' and 'Psycho.' Though how you could sit through that… " I'd had to shower with the curtain open for a month after I'd seen that movie.  

"Hitch was playing mind games with us, Jack. Once I figured that out… "  

I couldn't stop myself. I kissed her, just a light brush of my lips over hers. She sat back, smiled, and touched her lips. "It's about time. I've been wondering forever when you would kiss me."  

She had? "You have? Can I kiss you again?"  


How to describe what kissing Sophia Sabatini was like? Fireworks. Gripping an electrical wire barehanded. Waves crashing on a shore. More fireworks. Her lips were soft and lush and warm, and tasted of Coke. They glided back and forth beneath mine, and I suddenly had a raging hard-on.  

Whistles and catcalls brought me to my senses, and reluctantly I pulled away from her.

"Jack," she sighed. Her eyes were still closed, and there was a sweet smile on her lips.  

I licked my lips. "Sophe, how would your father react if I asked you out?"  

"On a date?"  

"On a date."  

"He's not here, Jack."  

"No, but he'll be there when we go home."  

"And you'll still want to see me then?"  

I took her hand, turned it over, and pressed a kiss to her palm. "Now, then, always, Sophia."  


I called Mr. Sabatini as soon as I returned to the Alpha Omega Chi house, having walked Sophia to her dorm.  

"Mrs. Sabatini, it's Jack Matheson. I'm good, thank you, and how are you? That's good. Um… Can I… No, no, everything's fine. Can I talk to your husband, please? Thanks." I waited what felt like an eternity.  

"Yes, Jack?"  

"Hi, Mr. Sabatini. How are you?"  

"Jack, you din't call me from Ithaca to ask about my health. What's wrong? Is it Sophia? Is my little girl okay?"  

"She's fine, Mr. Sabatini. I ran into her here on campus. Um… I want to take her out, and I'm calling to ask your permission."  

"Sophia always liked you, better even than any of the Italian boys we tried to get her interested in."  

"Really?" My voice rose and cracked on the last syllable. I cleared my throat. "Really? I've always liked Sophia too."  

"So why you don't ask her out before this? You think maybe because I'm not next door right now you can do what you like with her?"  

"No, sir. I just … I never thought… Frankly, I didn't think she liked me that way. And I like my balls where they are very much."  

"What?" He started laughing. "Smart boy, even if you not Italian. Okay. I give my permission. Just you remember. I like you father and mother, but if you hurt my girl, I kill you anyway."  

"Yes, sir. I promise I'll treat Sophia like a queen. Goodbye, and thank you again." I hung up, grinning.  

I figured I'd let him get used to the idea of his daughter having an American boyfriend before I told him I wanted to marry her.


Part 3


Sophe graduated the year before I did, since my degree required five years. We were going to be married as soon as I graduated.  

She would have found a job in Ithaca to stay close, but her father put his foot down: she came home, or the engagement was off.  

"It'll be okay, baby," I told her, although I didn't like the idea of her being that far away from me. "You can help Momma plan the wedding." As soon as we'd gotten engaged, Mrs. Sabatini had instructed me to call her 'Momma.'  

"And I'll get a job and start saving up for our house."  

"Oh, Sophe. What a sweetheart you are." I'd told her I'd been doing that with the money I'd earned working for Dad. Dad honked the horn. He was giving me a ride up to Ithaca . "I have to go."  

"Okay, Jack." Her eyes filled with tears, and they looked like drowned pansies.  

"I'm gonna miss you so much!" I kissed her. She had a mouth made for kissing. "I'll call you, but I want you to write to me too."  

"I will, I promise. Just like the first two years you were away." She threw her arms around my neck, hugged me tight, whispered, "I love you," in my ear, then let go and ran into the house.  

"You okay, son?" Dad put the car in drive.  

"Yeah." I took a shuddering breath.  

"Here." He handed me a tissue.  

"Sophe must have gotten tears on me." I dried my cheeks.  

"Yeah." He got on the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway North, heading for the Parkway. "I've always liked Sophia. So has your mother. You've made a good choice, Jack."  


I graduated the following spring, and immediately after, Sophe and I got married. She looked like an angel in white.  

When we returned from our honeymoon at Stricklands in the Poconos, we lived in her bedroom at home until we found an apartment. Fortunately, her room was farthest from her parents' bedroom, but it gave added incentive to getting a place of our own.  

The apartment was in Massapequa , and it wasn't legal, but we weren't going to tell anyone. Sophe kept that little apartment in spotless condition, just like Momma had taught her, and she cooked the most amazing meals.  

I went to work for Dad full time, and she continued working, teaching preschoolers in a small private school.  

We talked about having a baby, and decided to put off having one right away. "Let's save up for a place of our own first, Jack."  

But I did better than that. Dad had found a nice piece of property in an area we were interested in. While my wife thought I was working extra jobs on the weekend to earn the money for our house, I was actually having it built. It was going to be big enough to hold as many kids as the Brady Bunch, and it would have everything Sophe had ever mentioned she wanted or liked – a master bedroom with an ensuite bath that had a sunken tub, a nursery just down the hall from the master, a sewing room for her and a study for me, a living room with a wood-burning fireplace and built-ins surrounding it, a gourmet kitchen, a game room in the finished basement.  

"Let's go for a ride," I suggested one Sunday after we'd finished lunch with her parents and Tony and Angelina, his new wife. Pop had gone into the bedroom to sleep off the effects of the heavy lunch, and Tony was in the spare room, fiddling with the TV dial.  

"Let me help Momma with the dishes first."  

"No, no, Sophia. Angelina can help me. You go with your husband."  

Sophe gave her a puzzled look, but Momma shooed her out of the kitchen and exchanged winks with me.  

"Where are we going?"  

"Just for a ride." I eased her coat up over her shoulders, and we went out to the Chevy that used to be Dad's. He'd given it to me once we'd come home from our honeymoon. It didn't look like much, but it ran like a dream. "Can't I take my wife for a ride?"  

"Jack, you're making me nervous. Are you fooling around?"  


"Just kidding, hon. I know you'd never do that. But what's going on?"  

"I… uh… Actually, I passed this nice-looking house when I was coming home the other night, and I just thought you might be interested in taking a look at it." I opened the passenger door and waited until Sophe got in, then jogged around to the other side.  

"Okay." She snuggled next to me. I kept one hand on the steering wheel and held her hand with the other.  

"I love you so much, Sophe. I'd be lost without you." I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed the back of it.  

"I love you too, Jack. You're never going to be without me, so just stop that."   

I pulled up in front of a sprawling, cream-colored Victorian. There was a deep bay window with leaded glass, forest green shutters framing all the windows, and a winding walk of flagstone that led to three shallow steps and the front door.  

"Oh, Jack!"  

I got out of the car, ran around to her side, and opened the door. She took my hand and stepped out onto the curb.  

The front yard was all dirt. It was too cold to put in the landscaping, but I'd thought we'd go with sod rather than grass seed, some shrubs along the walk and at the corners of the house, and a flower bed beneath the bay window. Sophe loved spring flowers. I'd buy bulbs and plants that had already bloomed – hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, azaleas, hydrangeas – and we'd plant them as soon as all danger of frost was gone. By next year, we would have a yard that was a riot of color.  

She spotted the chimney rising from the left side of the house and clutched my arm. "A fireplace?"  

"Two, actually. There's one in the master bedroom as well as the living room."  

"Oh, Jack! Whose house is this? I don't care. I want it!"  

"Do you, baby? Do you really?"  

"Are you kidding? Who do I have to kill to get it?"  

"No one, but you'll have to sleep with the architect."  

"What… *Jack*! You built this?"  

"For you, Sophia." I unlocked the door, scooped her up, and carried her over the threshold. "For us. For our family." And I kissed her.  


There was much that still had to be done in the house itself, and I'd left that for Sophe –  the wall colors selected, window treatments, furniture, carpets, paintings, accessories – so it wasn't until August of '75, a year and a half after I carried her into the Victorian for the first time, that William Gregorio Matheson, named for both his grandfathers as was customary in my family, was born. Twenty-one and a half inches long, 8 pounds, three ounces. Mother and son doing well, father a total wreck  


Our son was the handsomest, most lovable little boy ever born. He had his mother's sunny personality, and although he had the fair skin tones of the Mathesons, his brown hair and eyes were all Sophia.  

As he grew older, I realized that he also had her mouth.  

He was going to drive the girls wild.  

Sophe went back to teaching preschool for a few afternoons a week, and her Momma and my Mom took turns watching Will. They loved it, and vied to see who could spoil him the most. He could already speak Italian, courtesy of Grandma Josie, and he could ride a two-wheeler, courtesy of Grandma Elaine.  

When our son was about three, we decided it was time to have another baby. "My parents had four, and I want at least that many!" Sophe said.  

"I'll probably give you all boys." I was willing to go along with whatever she wanted.  

"I don't mind, as long as they're all healthy!"  

I came home from picking up our son one afternoon to find her flushed and excited.  

"Jack, I'm pregnant!"  

Only she wasn't. It turned out to be a false alarm.  

The next time Sophe told me she was pregnant, she actually was, but we'd no sooner got the good news, than we got the bad. She miscarried.  

She miscarried the time after that too. She'd been further along, and I'd rushed her to the emergency room of Mid-Island. They hadn't even admitted her. It was all over in a couple of hours, and they sent us home. "Make sure you see your obstetrician."  

"What's wrong, Doctor? Why can't I carry a baby? I had no problem with Will."  

"I can't answer that, Mrs. Matheson. Sometimes these things just happen."  

"But there has to be a reason. Did I do the wrong things? Should we not have… " She bit back the rest of her words. Our sex life had always been adventurous. Did she think our lovemaking had caused her to lose the baby? "Maybe if I hadn't bent over to pick up that child in school... "  

The doctor shook his head. "We really can't tell. I'm sorry."  

"What do we do, Doctor?"  

"Give your body some time to rest, then try again. When you get pregnant again… "

The problem had never been her getting pregnant, it had been her staying pregnant. We both stared at him, hands clinging, hope rising.  

"… if there should be another miscarriage, I'd suggest considering adoption."  

She cried in my arms that night. "I don't want another woman's child, Jack. I want our own child! I know that's a stupid, selfish attitude to take. All the… all the unwanted children who have no parents or families. I just… "  

"It will be all right, Sophe." I cradled her close and kissed her temple. "We'll have another baby, and next time it will be fine; we'll have a little brother for Will."  

We did everything the doctor said and more. In order to make sure her body was recovered from the last miscarriage and that she didn't get pregnant too soon, I went back to wearing rubbers, something I hadn't done since a couple of months before we'd started trying for Will.  

"Jack, I'm going to quit my job."  

"But you love it, Sophe."  

"I can't afford to keep it. It cost me the last baby."  

"The doctor wasn't sure about that."  

"*I'm* sure about it. Please, Jack… "  

"Of course, Sophe. We can… we can sleep in separate beds too, if you think that would help." I'd never be able to stay in the same bed and not touch her.  

"No!" She hugged me fiercely and gave me a little shake. "Do you hear me? I'm willing to do a lot to stay pregnant, but I never want that!"  

"Thank you, Sophe." I would have done it if it had been her choice, but it would have hurt to not be physically close to my wife. "Do you want to get a housekeeper too?"  

"Could we? Oh, hon, could we afford it if I'm not working?"  

"Carol Brady wasn't working, and Mike could afford it." I wrapped her in my arms and kissed that kissable mouth. "So can we."   

Finally the doctor gave us the go ahead. We couldn't burn the rubbers; the smell would have been awful, but we did make a ceremony of lighting a fire in the fireplace and burning the box that had held them.  

This time Sophe didn't get pregnant within the first month, and as the weeks went past, going from two months and then to three, each became more frustrating than the last.  

And then we found out that Sophe was pregnant again. "I don't want anyone to know yet, Jack. I couldn't bear it if… "  

"No, baby. It will be just between the two of us." But now we really needed to find that housekeeper.  

I called my mother. "I don't know what to do, Mom. We don't like any of the women we interviewed, for one reason or another. Too rigid, too lenient, too nutso. There was one who wanted Will to call her Madame. Another one informed us that she couldn't permit him to eat red meat. One kept squinting at us and asking us to speak louder and stop mumbling."  

"Oh, my."  

"Yeah. And one was insulted that she'd have to live in the basement… "  

The basement had been finished right from the start, but when I'd mentioned to Dad the possibility of having live-in help, he'd brought up the idea of converting a part of it to a housekeeper's suite, with its own sitting room, bathroom, and small galley kitchen.  

'I'll tell you Sophe,' I'd said to my wife when it was done. 'If you ever toss me out of our bedroom, *I* wouldn't mind living down here!'  

'Don't get any ideas, hot shot.' She'd kissed me, one of those kisses that curled my toes. 'It's never going to happen!'  

Mom tried to be reassuring. "Well, don't worry about it. I'm sure someone will turn up."  

"I hope. We're… " I'd almost let it slip that we were getting down to the deadline, but no one knew we were expecting again.  

"You have plenty of time, John."  

I cleared my throat. "I'd better get to work before Dad thinks I'm playing hooky. I'll see you soon, Mom." We said goodbye and hung up.  

When I came home from work I had copies of Newsday and the Island edition of the Daily News, and we spent the evening checking the classifieds, still without much luck.  

Sophe didn't sleep well, and the next morning over breakfast she said, "I think I'm going to spend the day with Momma, hon."  

"That's a good idea." Visiting with her mother, watching soaps together and copying recipes that had been in the family since they'd immigrated from the old country, always made her feel better. "Do you want me to drop you off?"  

"No." She kissed the corner of my mouth. "I'll drive, and Will can spend the day with us."  

"He has the day off? It's not a holiday."  

"No. Another one of those teacher-things."  

"Okay. Will," I called.  

He came running in. "Yes, Daddy?"  

"How would you like to go with Mommy and see Grandma Josie?"  

"Yes!" He bounced up and down.  

"You'll be a good boy and not make Mommy run after you?"  

"Mommy, you okay?" He went to her and stroked her abdomen.  

Sophe and I exchanged startled glances, but then she smiled and shook her head. Our little boy couldn't know what was going on.  

"I'm fine, my little man. Let's get you dressed, okay?"  

"Okay." He took her hand and led her into his bedroom. He mostly dressed himself, but he still needed some help tying the laces of his sneakers. Sometimes they tangled and knotted.  

Once they'd left, I cleaned up the kitchen and went to work.  

And then, just like that, everything fell into place. A supplier happened to mention in my hearing that his sister had recently become a widow.  

"She and Gus were married almost thirty years, and it's tough for her. The kids are all grown and married, and she's rattling around in that big house all by herself. She never worked on the outside, and all she has is Gus' pension. The kids help as much as they can, but… "  

Maybe she'd want a job?  

I got her name and phone number and called her from the trailer at the jobsite. "Mrs. Wainwright, my name is Jack Matheson. Your brother sells supplies to my Dad's company, Matheson and Sons."  

"How may I help you, Mr. Matheson?"  

"I understand that you were recently widowed. I'm very sorry for your loss."  

"Thank you. Gus was a good man, and I'm not the only one who'll miss him. But I'm sure you didn't call to offer me condolences."  

"No, ma'am. Your brother said that you're pretty much by yourself now, and I was wondering if you'd be interested in working for me and my wife as a housekeeper."  

"I… I must say I never gave that any thought. I married Gus right after I graduated high school, and I've always been a housewife. What would it entail?"

"Cooking. Some light housekeeping."  

"I'm a good cook, and I was never afraid of housework."  

"I feel I should warn you we have a very active five-year-old."  

"Neither of my sons have any children, and Ginny, my baby, was just married recently. It would be nice to be around little ones again. And you say my brother Ralph knows you?"  

"Yes, ma'am."  

"Would you… would you mind coming to see me, perhaps talking about it more?"  

"That would be great."  

"Why don't you come now? I'll give you lunch."  

"Thank you. And if you decide this wouldn't suit you, there would be no hard feelings, I promise."  

"All right, then." She gave me her address and directions.  

"I'm familiar with the area. We built a custom home there a few years back."  

"Well then, you're practically family."  

"I guess we are. I'll see you in about half an hour."  

"Goodbye, Jack."  

"Goodbye, Mrs. Wainwright." I hung up the phone and left the trailer. "Dad, I have to run an errand. Do you mind if I take a few hours off?"  

"Is everything all right?"  


"Okay, son. I'll be docking you."  

"You're a hard man, Dad." I laughed and waved and went to my car.  

Alice Wainwright lived in a split level ranch on a quiet street. There were flowers on either side of the walk that led to the front steps, and the lawn had been raked free of the last of the late autumn leaves.  

I rang the bell. The woman who answered the door wore slacks and a pale yellow blouse with flowers embroidered on the collar, and was younger than I thought she'd be, in her late forties. "Mrs. Wainwright? I'm Jack Matheson."  

"Hello, Jack. Come in. I thought we'd have lunch in the breakfast nook." She led me past the living room and through the kitchen.  

The table in the breakfast nook was set with two plates on cloth placemats. The centerpiece was a vase that held oak and maple leaves, red, orange, and brown. There were pickle spears and potato chips, and bowls with potato salad and cole slaw.  

"I thought we'd have roast beef sandwiches."  

"I love roast beef." The slices of roast beef were paper thin, but the bread was thick and crusty and dotted with caraway seeds. My mouth began to water.  

"Take a seat and help yourself, Jack. I made the rye bread myself. And I can offer you coffee, soda, or beer."  

"Soda will be fine. I have to drive back to work, and I never drink and drive if I can help it."  

"Smart man." She poured a couple of glasses of soda, put one in front of my place, and sat across from me. "Now, what do you say we get to know each other a bit better?"  


After we finished lunch, I helped her wash the dishes. "We have a dishwasher," I murmured, thinking a little added enticement might be in order. Alice Wainwright's eyesight and hearing were fine, she wasn't looney tunes, and if the lunch she offered me was anything to go by, she was almost as good a cook as Sophe. I was ready to hire her on the spot.  

Once the dishes were done, I dried my hands and asked if she'd be interested in working for us.  

"I think your wife and I should meet."  

"That's a good idea. When would you like to do that?"  

"Whenever you'd like. I'm always home." She looked a little sad at that.  

"Would later this evening be okay?"  

"Yes, that will be fine. I'm looking forward to meeting her."  

"I'll bring Sophia by." She was going to love this woman, and so would our son.  

"I have no doubt we'll get along very well."  

"Sophe is a sweetheart. She gets along with everyone." I checked my watch. "I'd better get back to work. We'll see you later this afternoon, Mrs. W." We shook hands, and she smiled for the first time since I'd met her. It made her look much younger.  

"Goodbye, Jack."  

I boogied down the steps and practically did the Hustle to the car.  

Dancing. Yeah, that was the ticket.  

I was going to take my wife to meet our prospective housekeeper, and then we were going dancing.  



"I'm in the kitchen, Jack."  

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" Will came running in and threw himself at me. I caught him and swung him up.  

"How's my little man?"  

"Hi, Daddy!" He wrapped his arms around my neck and gave me a smacking kiss on the cheek. "When we getting a dog, Daddy?" His clothes were covered in yellow hairs. He must have been playing with Amerigo Vespucci, the Sabatinis' Golden Retriever.  

"Ask Mom."  

"Okay." He wriggled to get down, and I set him on his feet. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! Daddy says we can get a dog if you say yes!"  

"I heard what Daddy said, and it wasn't that. We'll see, little man." Sophe pinched his chin, smiling, and looked up. The smile faded as she saw my face. "You're home early. Is everything okay, Jack?"  

"Yeah. Uh… I want to talk to you."  

She studied my face. "Sure. Will, isn't it time for Sesame Street ?"  

"Yes!" He ran into the family room.  

Sophe poured a beer for me and a glass of juice for herself. "I'm not taking *any*  chances. Now what's going on?"  

"I… Sophe, I hope you're not gonna kill me. I've hired us a housekeeper. Well, almost hired her. I want you to meet her." I told her all about Alice Wainwright. "I'm pretty sure she's interested. She was recently widowed, and she has no one to care for at home any more. She's perfect. That is, if you like her."  

"Oh, Jack, I'm sure I will!" She hugged me. "This is so… Thank you, Jack."  

"For what, baby?"

"For indulging me."  

"It's what I live for." I kissed her. "I'll take you to meet her, and then what do you say to a little dinner and dancing before we settle in for the duration? Are you up for it?"  

"You bet I am! It's going to be a long time between dances. Let me give Jill a call and see if she's free to sit with Will tonight."  

Jill was the youngest of the McDermott brood, the baby Jenny had told me her mother was expecting just before we broke up, the baby her mother had held at her wedding. Jill was a junior in high school, having skipped a grade, and she'd sat for us from the time Will was two.  


Both our mothers cornered Sophe at a family gathering. "You should use Jill for a babysitter," her mother told her. "When Elaine and I aren't avaiLable."  

"She's trying to save up for college. Goodness knows that good-for-nothing father of hers – if he really is her father… " inserted darkly. "… won't help out," my mother told her. "And she's nothing like that sister of hers."  

Mom had never forgiven Jenny for trying to snare me. She'd overheard our plans on the extension, and rather than flat out forbidding me to see Jen, had hatched the plot with Dad and Jake to keep me busy that Friday night. Considering the way everything worked out, I'd never felt the need to be anything but relieved.  

"She's very responsible, Jack," Sophe, in turn, had told me.  

We interviewed Jill, because after all, this was our son we were entrusting to her. She was studious and sweet-natured. She'd been a Girl Scout and knew CPR. She also came with a sheaf of references. I recognized the names, men and women who'd gone to high school with me. They all praised her highly.  

"You can give me a trial run, if you like," Jill suggested. "Go out for about an hour. We'll see how you feel and if Will likes me."  

Will loved her. He announced, when we got home, that he was going to marry her as soon as he was ten.  


Sophe arranged for Jill to have dinner at our house, and while she got something ready for Will and Jill, I called The Summer White House, a restaurant on the North Shore where we celebrated all our special occasions, and made reservations. Not only was their food excellent, but their lounge featured live music, and although the dance floor wasn't very large, on a Wednesday night, it would be large enough.  

I also arranged to have a corsage of red rosebuds and babies' breath to be at the table. Sophe loved red roses.  

We dressed up, kissed our son goodnight, and made sure that Jill had the phone number of the restaurant. The numbers for my mother, for Sophe's mother, for my brother Jake, for Sophe's brother Tony, and for the pediatrician, as well as Poison Control and the local ambulance service were already by the telephone.  

It was a cold evening, and I ran the engine to let the inside of the car warm up. It was toasty warm when we got in. Sophe buckled her seatbelt and turned on the radio, and we listened to the FM station that played songs we'd grown up with.  

The meeting with Alice Wainwright went smoothly. Both women took an immediate liking to each other, and Mrs. Wainwright accepted the job.  

"When would you like to start with us?" Sophe asked.  

"Probably the beginning of the month, if that would be all right? Daniel, my older boy, mentioned something about wanting to move in here now that Gus is gone, but his wife and I… well, Karen is a nice enough girl, and they're having a bit of a rough time right now, but I'm sure you know the Chinese ideogram for trouble is two women in one kitchen. However, taking this job will allow me to turn the house over to Daniel. It will probably take a bit of time to get this all sorted out."  

"That would be fine, Mrs. Wainwright. It will give us time as well. We'll make sure to stock up your fridge. You can eat with us or in your suite, whichever you'd prefer. Is there anything in particular you'd want or need?"  

"You don't have a TV there, do you?"  

"Uh… no. But we can… "  

"That's good then. I have one in my bedroom that's almost brand new. Gus… Gus wanted it." Sorrow filled her eyes for a moment, and then she shook it off. "I can take that with me."  

"Would you need any help getting moved in?"  

"No. My boys and my brothers will be help enough."  

"Okay, but if you need any help, please let us know. We're a family of many men." I grinned at her.  

"There is just one other thing, Mrs. Wainwright."  

"Please. Call me Alice."  

" Alice . And I'm Sophia. Although no one else is aware at this point – and we'd like to keep it that way for the time being – we're going to have another baby. Our last two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, and that's why we don't want to say anything just yet."  

"Mum's the word. But… will you still need me once the baby comes?"  

"Yes. We're hoping this baby will be the first of more little brothers for Will."  

"But she might be a little sister."  

"No. My family runs to boys. That's why my mother insisted on all our pets being females. She didn't want to be the only girl in the house." I chuckled to hide my regret that I would never be able to give Sophe a little girl.  

Sophe leaned against me and squeezed my arm. "It's okay, hon," she whispered.  

"Now, would you two care to stay for dinner?"  

"Thank you, no. Jack's made reservations."  

"I'll see you on the 1st, then."  

"We're looking forward to having you as part of our family, Alice. Goodbye for now." Sophe shook her hand, and we left. "I think she'll be perfect, Jack."  

I took her hand and brought it to my mouth, brushing my lips over her knuckles. "I'm glad. I want everything to be perfect for you."  

"I know, Jack. You've made me very happy. I want you to know that."  

"I'm happy too, Sophe. I have you and Will, and soon this new little boy… " I opened the car door and leaned forward to help her in. She rested her palm against my cheek.  

"I don't care if we only have boys, Jack. As long as they're healthy and yours, that's all I care about."  

I turned my face and pressed a kiss into her palm. "I love you, Sophe. I don't know how I lucked out, but… "  

"Shhh. We're both lucky. Now let's get going."  

Once at The Summer White House, we checked our coats and were shown to our table. Sophe got teary as I pinned the corsage over her heart.  

"The band just better not play 'You're Havin' My Baby'!"  

"They won't, I promise!" I had requested 'Me and My Baby,' which was from ' Chicago .' I'd taken Sophe to see the musical in '76.  

Sophe ordered a Shirley Temple, and I had a Virgin Bloody Mary.  

"You don't need to stop drinking just because I have to, Jack."  

"Nope. We're in this together. Hey, you're not supposed to cry!"  

She had teared up again. She smiled and carefully blotted her eyes. "You mean so much to me."  

"And you mean the world to me." I took her hand, turned it over, and kissed her palm.  

"Oh, Jack. My mascara is going to run."  

"And we can't have that." I squeezed her hand, then opened the menu. "Let's order."  

"Good idea. I don't know about you, hon, but I'm starved!"  


After a dinner of prime rib, we strolled to the lounge. I slipped the leader a twenty. "Play all the slow songs you know."  

As it turned out, they knew a lot of them.  

"What a fantastic night, Jack," Sophe murmured in my ear as we moved languidly across the dance floor. She gave a contented sigh. "What a very fantastic night."  


On the drive home, I hit a patch of black ice, invisible in the scant light of the street lights. I wasn't speeding. Sophe was buckled up. The car spun out of control, and the passenger side slammed into a tree.  

Afterwards, they told me it was a freak accident. The force of the whiplash snapped my wife's neck. She was dead before the tires stopped spinning.



To Part B