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How to Handle a Gay Son

Part B

Part 4


The funeral was a nightmare.  

Momma fell apart, screaming and tearing her hair, and had to be sedated. Pop stared at nothing, a blank look in his eyes. Tony gave me a venomous look and refused to talk to me.  

My son was very quiet. He slipped his hand into mine. "Mommy isn't coming back any more, is she?"  

"No, my little… " I choked on the phrase. That had been Sophe's pet name for him from the very beginning. "No, William." Afterwards, at my parents' house, I spoke to my father and mother. "Will you let me and William move back here?"  

"Of course. Stay as long as you need to."  

"I'm putting the house on the market. I don't want it any more." If I thought I could get away with it, I'd have set fire to the house and burned it to the ground.  

"Son, are you sure?"  

"Dad, I built that house for Sophia. Without her… Would you sell it for me?"  

"What about her things?"  

I shook my head.  

"At least give yourself some time before you do something so drastic."  

"No. Sell everything, even the furniture."  

My mother sighed. "I'll go over there and pack your things."  

"Everything, Mom."  

I called Alice Wainwright. "I'm sorry I won't be able to hire you, Alice."  

"I'm so sorry for both your losses, Jack."  

The pain of that nearly brought me to my knees. I had told no one else about the baby we had lost as well. What was the point?  

"I'll… I'll send you a month's pay."  

"That isn't necessary. My son won't throw me out of the house now that it's going to be his, and I'll get along with Karen just fine. She's said something about getting a job, so the kitchen will still be mine. "  

"Please, Alice . Please take it."  

"All right. I won't deny it will come in handy. But if you ever need a housekeeper, keep me in mind."  

"Sure." I said goodbye and hung up.  

I moved back into the bedroom that had been mine until I'd gotten married. My son shared it with me. It wasn't a large room, but two twins fit in it fine. I didn't need a big bed any more.  

I remembered the morning after Dad and Jake had taken me to the Sinn Fein. If I hadn't gone, if I'd slept over at Jenny's, she probably would have gotten pregnant and I would have married her instead of Sophia.  

I would have been absolutely miserable, but…  

Sophia would still be alive, and Jenny… I should have been ashamed to be willing to barter another life for Sophia's, but I couldn't bring myself to care. If it would have kept her alive, I would have sold my soul to the devil.  

The sun had stopped shining, and maybe I should have wondered why no one complained about the chronic gloom, but I couldn't bring myself to care about that either.  

I went back to work.  

I didn't talk to anyone, not the men I worked with, not my parents, not my son.  

I didn't ask if the house had been sold yet.  

I didn't cry.  


I was dressing for work while my son dressed for school.  


"Yes, William?"  

He tugged on my trousers to get my attention, and I glanced down at him.  

"What is it?"  

"Do you… do you still love me, Daddy?"  

The question knocked me for a loop. How could he even think to ask it? "You're my son, Will. I'll always love you, no matter what."  

"I wasn't sure. Since Mommy's not here… " His lower lip quivered. His brown eyes, Sophia's bittersweet chocolate brown eyes, were filled with tears, but not a single one fell. "Can I… Can I cry now, Daddy? I know big boys aren't supposed to cry, but… Is it all right?"  

"Oh, my little man!" And it was as if the dam burst.  

I fell to my knees, folding in on myself and burying my face in my hands, and wept. I didn't have time to worry that I was frightening my son. Will put his arms around me, and his tears mingled with mine.  

We cried for a long time, and when we finally could stop, I took out a handkerchief and dried his cheeks. His eyes were swollen and his skin was blotchy. That was something else he'd got from his mother – Sophia couldn't cry prettily. She hadn't cried often, but when she had, she'd looked as miserable as she'd felt.  

"Blow, sport." I held the handkerchief to his nose, and obediently, he blew.  

"Grandpa calls you 'sport'."  


"I like that. I'm too big to be called 'little man' any more anyway."  

I ruffled his hair. "Let's go in the bathroom, and I'll wash your face."  

"You better wash your face too, Daddy."  

"Okay, we'll wash our faces together. How does that sound?"  

"Am I gonna be in trouble?"  


"I'm late for school."  

"I'll write your teacher a note. You know what? I think I'll write Grandpa a note too, for me. What do you say to playing hooky and spending the day at the Bronx Zoo?"  

"Can we really go to the zoo?"  



And for the first time in more than a year, the sun seemed to break from behind the clouds.  


"It's been two years, Jack."  

"I know how long it's been, Jake." I didn't need a walking calendar. "It's just… It's too soon." It wasn't that I couldn't bear the thought of going out on a date; it was just that the thought alone left me depressed, the small talk, making an effort to get to know a new woman, the possibility of her wanting to have sex, which still would have felt like I was cheating on my wife. I didn't want any part of it. "Drop it, please."  

Jake dropped it.  

Sophia's parents decided to move to Florida . "We know it wasn't your fault, Jack, but we can't stay here. Will you… will you let William fly down to see us? We'll pay for his ticket."  

"Of course, but you don't have to do that. Put the money into an account for him, if you want."  

Tony never stopped blaming me, and I knew things between us would never be the same. I mourned the loss of my boyhood friend and the fact that Will would barely know his Sabatini cousins.  

My son and I moved back into the house that had once held so many hopes and dreams. Dad hadn't sold it, hadn't intended to sell it until I had gotten over the worst of my grief and could make a rational decision. I was relieved about that. I wound up giving my wife's clothes to St. Vincent de Paul, but everything else was saved for Will, even her jewelry, which he could give to his own wife one day.  

Alice jumped at the chance to move in. Karen had never gotten that job, and things were tense in the house that had once been hers. She never occupied the housekeeper's suite. Instead she took one of the bedrooms on the second floor.  


"It's three years, Jack." Jake and I were on a job site. "Don't you think it's time to get back on the horse?"  

"It's too soon, Jake." I'd wondered when he would say something. So far both our parents and Charlie, his wife, had all brought up the subject at one time or another this year. Simon, flying in from California for our parents to meet his fiancée, the most exquisite Chinese-American young woman I had ever seen, had suggested I start dating again. The only one I hadn't heard from was Pete, but we could go for long stretches without hearing from him, and I imagined it was simply a matter of time before he put in his two cents as well.  

"That's what you said the last time I mentioned this. Look. At least think about getting your foot in the stirrup, okay?"  

"I'm not getting married again, Jake. I loved Sophia too much to want that with anyone else."  

"Who said anything about getting married? Is that what you think we want you to do? Hell, no! Date!" He leaned close and lowered his voice. "Get laid!"  

Maybe I did need to get laid – I'd begun waking with a morning erection hard enough to hammer in nails – but I remembered what meaningless sex had been like from my freshman year in college, and I wasn't going to do that again.  

I must have said that aloud.  

"You don't need to go bar-hopping. The church has a mixer every Sunday afternoon… Okay, nix that." I was shaking my head. I hadn't been to church since Sophia's funeral mass. "You won't go out with any of Charlie's friends. You won't go out with any of the daughters of Mom's friends. I tell you what. Go shopping. At Walbaums or Foodtown or Grand Union . Walk down the aisles looking confused, and you'll have all the women running each other over with their shopping carts to get to you."  

"But it wouldn't be fair to them. They'll be looking for a relationship."  

"Jack, what's with you? You're not getting any younger, you know."  

"I don't need you telling me I'm not getting any younger, Jake. I know exactly how old I am. And how old I am is too old to settle for one night stands or serial monogamy."  

"Sophia spoiled you."  

"She did, and why should I settle for anything less than what we had together?"  

"But you're never going to find it if you don't go looking for it."  

"When I'm ready, Jake."  

"And when will you be ready?"  

I shrugged. "I'll know."  

"I give up."  

"Is that a promise?" I called after him as he walked off, his hand raised and one finger extended, and I laughed in spite of myself.  


Will and I brought flowers to plant on Sophia's grave. She had been gone for more than four years.  

"I like coming here in the spring. It's so pretty." He looked around at the flowers that were laid on all the nearby graves.  

"It was Mommy's favorite season." I snapped off the dead branches on the miniature red rosebush that grew beside her headstone.  

"It was?"  

"Yes." Along with summer, fall, and winter. Sophia had found something to love in them all.  

We knelt on the ground and planted impatiens, which would bloom all season, a blanket of pink, red, coral, and white. I dug the holes for them, and Will took the plants from their little pots and put them in the holes.  

"I'm… I'm starting to forget what she looked like." He sounded panicky.  

"It's okay. Anytime you can't remember, tell me, and we'll look through the photo albums, okay, sport?"  

"I miss her, Dad."  

"I miss her too, son."  

"Do you think she misses us?"  

Oh, my son. "I know she misses us terribly. If she could come back to us, she would."  

"She loved us, huh, Daddy?"  

"Yes, she did. More than anything in the world."  

He leaned against me, his arm around me, mine around him, and we stayed like that until the damp soaked through the knees of our jeans.  

"Come on, sport. Time to be getting home."  


"The housekeeper's suite is going to waste downstairs," Alice said one evening at dinner. "Why don't you rent it out, Jack? It would be ideal for a businessman or a businesswoman, and they wouldn't be any trouble."  

"That's a good idea." Not that we were hurting for money – the business was doing well – but it would be good to have toward Will's college education. "If I call the Penny Saver tomorrow, the ad should be out next week."  

The Penny Saver, the little weekly newspaper that was filled with ads and tidbits of information, usually appeared on the driveway on Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on who the company got to deliver it.  

"Can I help?" Will asked.  

"Sure. We can work on it right after dinner."  

We each wrote an ad, passed them around, and combined the best of them.  

//Cozy apartment for rent, bedrm, sitting rm, galley kitchen, and full bath. Single business person preferred. Call 555-6591 for appt.//  

"What about pets, Dad?"  

"Hmmm. Twoey might not be happy about a dog or a cat in her territory." Dog Two, the great-grandpup and spitting image of Dog, raised her head when she heard her name. Her jaws parted in a doggy grin, reminiscent of my boyhood pet, and her tail thumped on the floor.  

"And I can live without a screeching parrot." Alice had told us about her youngest son, who had brought one home when he'd been in high school. Its vocabulary hadn't been particularly blue, but its raucous pleas to, 'Kiss me, gorgeous!' hadn't gone over well with either Alice or the neighbors.  

//Fish allowed.//  

"How's that?"  

"A nice, quiet pet. That works for me, Jack."  

Before I could call in the ad, the phone rang, and Alice went to pick it up.  

"Matheson residence. Oh, no! Oh, Tom! Yes, I'll be there as soon as I can." She hung up, white as a sheet and trembling.  

" Alice ?"  

"It's Ginny." Her only daughter. "She's gone into labor. It's too early. Nothing is ready. I have to go there."  

"Of course. I'll drive you." Her daughter and son-in-law lived in Queens , just west of the borderline. "Will, get Alice 's bag, all right, sport?" She had packed so she could leave at a moment's notice. First babies could be notoriously unpredictable, and this was Ginny and Tom's first.  

"Okay, Dad."  

"I'm so sorry, Jack," she kept saying as we drove to the Parkway. "I should have had more meals prepared for you." She wrung her hands. "I didn't do the week's shopping... "  

" Alice , don't worry about us. Will and I will do fine."  

"Yes, but your parents are away, Jack." Dad had decided it was time to take Mom on a long overdue vacation. He'd rented a trailer, and he and Mom had packed up and taken off to see the USA . They were in the Northwest right now and wouldn't be back until the end of October. "You can't live on McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken."  

"We'll be okay, Alice ," Will assured her. "We've got Grandma Josie's recipes."  

Those recipes had been written out by Sophia, but my heart didn't clench at the reminder of my deceased wife. All I felt was the warmth of nostalgic memories. The searing pain of that first year was gone.  

Tom had given Alice a key. She unlocked the door, and I carried in her suitcase.  

"I'll call the hospital, and then start getting the house in order. Ginny's a good housewife, but this pregnancy has taken so much out of her."  

The call to the hospital revealed that it had been false Labor; Tom and Ginny were on their way home.  

"Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry! I made you drive all this way… "  

"I don't mind, Alice ."  

"Neither do I," Will piped up. "I didn't have to do my homework!"  

"You'll have twice as much to do tomorrow, sport. Alice , do you want to stay?"  

She worried her lip. "I really want to, but… "  

"No 'buts' about it. Ginny will be glad of your support, and so will Tom. Stay for a couple of days and see what happens."  

"Thank you, Jack." She hugged me.  

"Now, I'll give you a call as soon as we get home, and you can fill us in."  

Will and I got back in the car and drove home. The FM station on the radio was the one I always listened to. I knew Will had his clock radio set to WBAB, a Long Island station that played heavy metal, but he was very familiar with the music I liked, and we harmonized along with the Everly Brothers. 'Never knew what I'd missed until I kissed ya… '  

He had a sweet voice. I wondered what it would be like once he reached puberty and it changed.  

Once we got home, I sent him to get ready for bed and called Alice .  

"Oh, Jack! We're on our way back to the hospital! I'll call you when I can."  

"All right, Alice . Good luck."  

It was late the next afternoon before she finally called. "They're all fine. Ginny had no sooner taken off her coat and sat down to catch her breath when her water broke, so I went with them back to the hospital." She yawned. "Sorry. It's been a long night and day. The babies… "  


She gave a tired chuckle."… are small but fine. Yes. Twins, a boy and a girl! Ginny surprised everyone, including her obstetrician. When he asked about multiple births, Tom said not in his family. I was going to say not in ours either, and then I remembered my mother talking about her grandmother, who was a twin."  

"Well, congratulations, Grandma!"  

"Jack… The doctor had to do a C-section, and Ginny is going to need rest and a lot of help."  

"Stay as long as you need to."  

"I'm afraid it will be for a while, at least a couple of weeks, maybe longer."  

"Don't worry about it. Charlie had Will over after school until I got home from work. She won't mind if it's for a while longer." She was a good sister-in-law, and we all agreed that it was good for Will to be with his cousins, especially Harry, who was around his age and was the closest to a brother he was likely to get.  

"Thank you, Jack. I'm so sorry to leave you in the lurch like this."  

"You're not leaving me in the lurch; you're seeing to your family, which is as it should be. Now give Ginny and Tom our best, and keep in touch." I hung up the phone and turned to my son. "Looks like we'll be on our own for a while, sport."  

"Neato, Dad!"  

It completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to place the ad in the Penny Saver.  

We cooked together, although mostly that consisted of sticking TV dinners in the oven, which got old fast. I wasn't a good enough cook to follow the recipes that had been written out in Sophia's neat hand, and while Celentano's made some pretty good pasta stuff, I'd gotten used to the real thing, and Will had never known any other kind.  

I picked Will up Friday after school. "We have to get some groceries, sport." The cupboard was decidedly bare.  

"Potato chips? Chips Ahoy? Milky Ways?"  

"I was thinking more along the line of broccoli, string beans, and carrots. And some meats too." I broiled a pretty mean steak, if I said so myself.  

"Awww, Dad!"  

"Don't 'awww, Dad,' me. You want to grow up healthy, don't you?"  

"Yes, sir."  

We stopped home long enough for him to put his books away and change into jeans and a New York Yankees sweatshirt, and then I drove to Walbaums and found a cart whose wheels all actually turned in the same direction. Will hopped on the front end, and I pushed him in.  

The first aisle was soda and snack foods. "Dad?" He was allowed to have soda on the weekend.  

"Get a six pack of Coke." I put a bag of potato chips and a bag of pretzels in the baby seat at the front of the cart so they wouldn't get crushed, along with a can of French onion dip.  

We walked up and down the aisles, skipping the paper products except for a package of Charmin which was stacked at the end of the aisle, and bypassing the canned vegetables in favor of fresh.  

"Hearts of celery, sport?"  

"Isn't that kind of wimpy, Dad? Like we can't take apart our own celery?"  

I just grinned at him and put the celery in the cart, then went to look at the string beans. "These look good."  

"Okay." Will got a plastic bag and held it open while I dropped in handfuls of string beans, then closed it with a twist tie. But he groaned when I reached for the broccoli. "Grandma always boils it till it's limp."  

A young woman who was looking at the bunches of carrots glanced up and smiled at us. "You might want to try it as a crudité. After washing it well, of course. Dip it raw in your favorite salad dressing."  

"That sounds good, Dad."  

"Thanks," I said to the young woman. "Do we have any salad dressing, sport?"  

"No, Dad." His eyes went from me to the young woman and back, and I raised an eyebrow. "We'd better get some. Do you know where it is, miss?"  

"Oh, it's down the next aisle."  

"Thanks. I'll get it." He took off before I could tell him to wait for me.  

"Your wife is a very lucky woman to have a husband who's willing to shop."  

"Uh… " I looked after him, but Will was disappearing around the corner of the aisle. "I'm a widower."  

"Oh, I'm so sorry." But she looked interested. "And raising a little boy on your own. It must be very difficult."  

"We manage all right. My housekeeper usually does the cooking and shopping, but she's away right now."  

"Well, if there's anything else I can help you with?"  

"No. Thank you." I tossed the broccoli into the cart and hurried to the end of the aisle. Will had returned from his foray in search of the wily salad dressing and was poking at a bag of potatoes. "What are you doing down here?" I whispered.  

"I'm just checking out the potatoes." He put the bottle of dressing – Ranch – into the cart. "Do these look okay?"  

"They look fine. Why did you leave me there with that woman?"  

He gave me an innocent look. "I thought you might want to get to know her, Dad. She's pretty, and she seemed nice. Did she give you her phone number?"  

"No, she did not give me her phone number." I took the potatoes from him. "Why would she? We don't know each other."  

"That's the point, Dad. You'd get to know her."  

"Never mind." I ground my teeth together. Why was everyone so interested in my love life? "We're running low on dog food." Twoey got dry food as well as canned. "You get the Mighty Dog, and I'll get the Dog Chow." I heaved a twenty pound bag into the cart, then said, "Okay, let's check out the meats."  

The young woman turned up in the meat aisle. Our hands bumped as I reached for a package of chop meat. "Sorry."  

"No, no. That's okay. I don't really need such a large package anyway. It's just me, you know." She flashed her very white teeth at me in a blinding smile.  

I tried for a noncommittal murmur and an absent-minded smile and moved down to the steaks. I found a couple of nice ones and went on to the poultry section. "Hey, sport, how does… "  

Will wasn't there. I looked around. He was talking to the young woman.  


He gave her a smile and trotted back to me. "Yes, Dad?"  

"What are you doing?"  

"Nothing." He was going for his innocent look.  

I hmphed. It might have fooled other people, but I was his father.  

"What did you want, Dad?"  

"Uh… chicken. How does chicken sound?"  

"Great. I think Mom had a really easy recipe for it too."  

"Okay. Let's see what Frank Perdue is offering."  

The young woman seemed to be following us, or was that me being paranoid? Our paths crossed again in the dairy aisle. She stocked up on non-fat yogurt.  

"We're out of O.J., Dad."  

"Okay. And we need eggs and milk too."  

"Biscuits in a can?" He frowned, and I hid my grin. He really had been spoiled first by his mother's cooking and now Alice's, and even my mother and Charlie made their own biscuits. "Do people really eat this?"  

"They certainly do." It was the young woman. "I even make a form of shepherd's pie with them."  

"You don't make your biscuits from scratch?" I could see her approval rating going down in his eyes.  

"It's… it makes things easier."  

He sighed and looked up at me. "What else, Dad?"  

"A loaf of Wonder Bread."  

"It's down at the end of this aisle!" The young woman pointed helpfully.  

"Can we get some ice cream, Dad?"  

"Sure, sport."  

"They're having a sale on Breyer's." She came up behind us.  

"Oh. Thank you."  

"Vanilla fudge, Dad?"  


"Just make sure the carton isn't torn or hasn't thawed enough to leak." She was starting to overdo the helpful bit.  

Will glanced at her, took a carton out of the case without checking for tears and leaks, and put it in the cart. "Is that everything, Dad?"  


"It was nice meeting you," he said politely to the woman. "We have to go now."  

I gave her a smile and a shrug as if to say, 'Kids. Go figure.' "Have a good afternoon."  

We saw her at a checkout lane a few registers down. She finished paying for her groceries and left before we did, giving us a brief nod and a blank smile.  

"Oh, well." Will shrugged and grinned up at me.  

I paid for our groceries, helped bag them, then loaded the bags into the cart. It was starting to drizzle, and we hurried across the parking lot to where I'd parked the car, and transferred the bags into the trunk.  

I made steak, baked potatoes, and string beans for dinner that night, and neither of us got sick on my cooking.  

The rain came down harder, and it continued all day Saturday. Will had been inside playing Atari, but he'd gotten bored with Pac-Man and E.T. and even The Empire Strikes Back.  

"There's nothing to do." He sighed and watched the raindrops chasing each other down the window pane. Twoey came to him and nudged his hand, wanting her ears scratched.  

"All your homework done?"  

"Yes." He sighed again.  

"Okay. Clear off the drafting table in the study. I'll draw up floor plans for a tree house."  

His eyes lit up, and he ran to obey me. I spread out a sheet of paper on the table and began sketching.  

A rope ladder led to the large room in the notch of the tree, which would be suitable for the rebel forces making plans to defeat the Empire's Death Star or for the Legionnaires defending Fort Zinderneuf or Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett and their men to stand fast at the Alamo , making a last stand against Santa Anna's army. Smaller rooms braced by notches in the upper branches could serve as the bunkhouse and would be reached by a boy-sized winding staircase. Even higher up would be a lookout or a crow's nest, depending on whether the treehouse was a fort or a pirate ship.  

"This is so cool, Dad! When can we build it?"  

"When we can find a tree that's big enough."  

His face fell. None of the trees I'd planted after Sophia and I had moved in were the right size.  

I pulled out another sheet of paper. "Let's see what we can come up with for the attic. We won't have to wait for that to grow."  

"A fort, Dad?"  

"Why not?"  

We were still involved with it when the doorbell chimed.  

"I'll get it, Dad."  

"It's probably the paperboy. The money's on the table by the door, but check before you open it."   


Twoey trotted after him, her claws clicking like knitting needles on the wood floor.  

I heard Will's gasp and then the door bouncing against the wall. "DAD!"  

I dropped the pencil and raced to the front of the house, in time to see Will hugging a young woman. She looked up and smiled at me.  

"Hi, Mr. Matheson." The voice was warm and throaty, and vaguely familiar. "I understand you have an apartment for rent?"  

"Dad! It's Jill!"  

Part 5


I felt as if I couldn't catch my breath. It was Jill, all grown up and beautiful, with strawberry blonde hair that feathered around her gamin face and eyes an unbelievable aquamarine blue.  

"Jill! It's so good to see you again!" I hugged her, simultaneously realizing how much I liked it, and dropped my arms and stepped back. "How have you been? *Where* have you been? What have you been doing with yourself?" I was babbling, and I got myself in hand. "Don't stand out there in the rain! Come on in!"  

"Thanks. I am a little damp." She picked up her umbrella, which had been dropped just outside the door, and folded it and propped it against the wall. She was wearing jeans and a windbreaker the color of her eyes.  

"It's been so long… "  

"Yes. I didn't want to intrude after Mrs. Matheson passed away, and then I went away to school. How have you and Wills been, Mr. Matheson?"  


"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Matheson! I didn't mean… " She looked flustered. "I liked the little prince's nickname. If you'd rather I didn't… " Jill shouldn't feel she had to apologize for something like that, and I raised my hand to place my fingertips on her lips, intending to stop her words.  

Oh, my god, what was I doing? Abruptly I clenched my fingers, dropped my hand, and kept myself from touching her.  

"I like it, Dad. It's better than Billie Boy," which my mother had a tendency to call him. "And Willie sounds like a… " I cleared my throat, and he flashed me an innocent grin. //Oh, my son. When you get a little older, we'll have to beat the girls off!// "… a Shirley Temple movie."  

I ruffled his hair. "I guess that's settled then, Jill." She smiled, and for a second I couldn't catch my breath. "Um… what were we talking about?"  

"About how we've been, Dad."  

Yes, right. "Well, it was rough in the beginning, but we're better."  

"Dad's just putting a… a brave face on it, Jill. We're just a couple of guys, you know? Living here alone. All alone."  

What the… ? "What about Alice ?"  

Will … *Wills* scowled at me. "She's our housekeeper, Dad."  

Jill's face fell. "Oh. I didn't know you had a housekeeper. I thought the housekeeper's suite downstairs was vacant."  

"It is. Alice – Alice Wainwright – lives with us, but since it's just me and Wills…" He gave me an approving smile. "… there was plenty of room for her upstairs… " Empty bedrooms for the children I would never have.  

"Would you consider renting me the apartment, Mr. Matheson? That is, if you haven't rented it out already?"  

"No, it's not rented. Alice 's daughter just had twins, and in all the excitement of getting her to Rosedale and then the births, I forgot to put the ad in the Penny Saver. But how did you find out about it?"  

"Jenny ran into your sister-in-law at the supermarket, and she mentioned that you were thinking of renting out the housekeeper's suite."  

"Ah. So that's how you found out about it."  

"Yes." She smiled, that pretty smile, filled with mischief.  

You don't want to live with your folks?"  

"No." The smile vanished.  

I blinked. "Okay. Let me show you the suite."  

Wills ran down ahead of us, turning on the lights. He threw open the door. "It's cool, isn't it?"  

"It is, sweetie. It's just like I remembered it. I used to come down there and pretend it was mine." She looked away. "It was… difficult… living at home. That's why I applied to all out-of-state colleges."  

"I'm sorry."  

"Please don't be. Being on my own was the best experience I could have."  

"I can't believe how grown-up you are!"  

"Well, I'm twenty now. I've got my degree – from UC Berkeley."  

"That's pretty far to go."  

"The University of Hawaii wouldn't have been far enough."  


She smiled and shook her head. "Don't mind me, I'm being silly. Anyway, I guess I'm a New York girl at heart. I came back after graduation and got a job in Manhattan ."  

"That's… " I couldn't take my eyes off her heart-shaped face. "… that's wonderful."  

"It is great, and I love it, but it's too expensive to live in the City. I'm staying with Jenny right now, but her place is so small. It's not fair to her and Rob and the kids."  

"Well, if you want the apartment, it's yours."  

"Yes, I… Oh. I should have asked first. How much did you want for the rent?"  

"$200 a month." Ruthlessly, I cut a hundred dollars from the amount I'd originally intended to ask.  

"Really? That's a steal! I'll take it!"  

"Jill, Jill, Jill!" Wills was almost jumping up and down with excitement. "You're going to live with us!" Yes, she was. "Dad, can she stay and have dinner with us?"  

"She may have other plans, sport. You don't pressure a lady."  

"Please! Pressure away! I have no plans. I'd like to… " She actually blushed. "I'd like to stay for dinner. I'd like to help cook it, if you don't mind, Mr. Matheson. If Mrs. Wainwright doesn't mind."  

"I don't mind, Jill, and Alice is in Queens . As I mentioned, her daughter just had twins, so she's there helping out. Wills and I have been batching it this past week… " I ruffled my son's hair as he leaned against me, proud as punch to be considered a bachelor. "… and it will be nice to eat something we didn't take from the freezer or make ourselves. We went grocery shopping yesterday before the rain started; let's see what we've got."  

Jill opened the fridge and peered into it. "How does meatloaf sound? Maybe with pan-roasted potatoes?"  


"Sweetie, would you get the potatoes, please?"  

I flushed and my heart started pounding until, "Yep!" Wills ran to the pantry, and I realized she was talking to my son.  

"Thank you, Wills. Now let's get to work." She pulled out a package of chop meat, eggs, and an onion. "Hmmm. No peppers, but you've got celery!" She was a joy to watch as she danced around the kitchen putting together the ingredients for the meatloaf. "Breadcrumbs?"  

I gave her the glass canister Alice stored them in. Our fingers brushed, and I withdrew mine slowly, surprised not to see sparks of electricity. Our eyes seemed to cling, and pink rose in Jill's cheeks. My own cheeks felt warm. I was the one to look away first.  

Wills didn't appear to notice – he was busy peeling potatoes – and I backed away.  

Jill turned to say something to my son, and it was as if that little interlude had never happened.  

//Stupid old man. You're seeing things you want to see.//  

When the meatloaf was formed, I lay strips of bacon over the top of it and around the sides. "To give it that little something extra." I really didn't know what the bacon did, but Sophia used to do that.  

"Of course." Jill nodded and put the meatloaf in the oven. "Do you have gravy?"  

"There's a package of McCormick's in the pantry, I think." I found it. "I'm not sure how fresh this is." Or even how it got there. As with everything else, Sophia had always made gravy and sauce from scratch.  

"That should be okay. I'll measure out the water and start it boiling."  

Wills began telling her about the plans we had been drawing up, and we lost track of time. Somehow, the water boiled away and the pan scorched.  

"I don't understand how that happened! I'm so sorry!"  

"Don't be. It wasn't your fault." I put the pan in the sink to soak and took out another one. This time preparing the gravy worked out without a problem.  

I cut some slices from a loaf of Italian bread while Wills put the butter dish on the table and Jill set out the salad and potatoes and poured milk for my son and wine for us.  

"This smells great, Jill!" Wills helped himself to a couple of slices, added a piece of bread and some potatoes, and waited expectantly for us to start eating.  

"It looks delicious, too. Let's dig in!" I took a bite, and struggled to control my expression.  

It tasted awful, even the gravy and the potatoes.  

I'd eaten worse, I assured myself, although just then I couldn't think where or when.  

Jill chewed thoughtfully. "I think I should have added more salt." She poured more gravy over it.  

Wills struggled to eat it. When Jill's attention was elsewhere, he slipped a bite to Twoey, but after snatching it up, she spat it out just as quickly and pushed it back toward him with her nose.  

Finally, he swallowed and sent me a pleading glance. "May I… may I be excused, please?"  

"Sure, son."  

"Didn't you like it, Wills?"  

"Yes, thank you, Jill. I think maybe I just had some snacks too close to dinner, that's all." My boy. Gallant wasn't the word for him.  

"I understand."  

He smiled at her and escaped, and I made a mental note to make sure he had something more than bread and butter before bedtime, if only a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

I used the excuse of reaching for his plate to carry mine to the disposal too. I scraped the plates into the sink, rinsed them, and put them in the dishwasher.  

"Would you like some coffee, Jill?"  

"Yes, please. I'm having such a nice time, I don't want to leave yet. Would you like me to make the coffee, Mr. Matheson?" She pushed her chair back as if to rise.  

"You're my guest, Jill. And besides, you went to all the trouble of making dinner, so it's only fair I make the coffee."  

"Okay. Where's the plastic wrap? I'll store the leftovers for you." She frowned at them. "My, there are a lot of them, aren't there?"  

"I think you just made more than you realized."  

We had coffee and the last of the pie Alice had baked just before she'd left.  

"So tell me about college."  

"It was great! I was rushed by three different sororities." Her smile dimmed. "I turned them all down."  


"I couldn't afford the fees." Her smile returned, jaunty. "And besides, dorm life suited me much better."  

I didn't ask why she hadn't been able to afford the fees. If sororities were anything like fraternities, there would be initiation fees, rooming fees, and annual dues. With all her brothers and sisters, her father was strapped to put food on the table. There would have been nothing to spare for a child who was out of state. Although if it were my child, I'd have worked two, three, and four extra jobs if necessary to make sure she had whatever she might need.  

However, it was none of my business.  

Jill went on to speak of political rallies she had participated in and of her classes, her job in the cafeteria – "I worked the cash register. They didn't want me to cook though." She shrugged. "Must have been something to do with their insurance policy."  

She spoke of her various professors, and one in particular.  

"Dr. Ingram and her partner raise American Bobtails as a hobby. They're cats that look like bobcats, but they're actually a domestic breed. Anyway, Dr. Ingram got me interested in them. If I ever have the money and the spare time, I'd love to get a breeding pair from her and raise them myself. Maybe even sell them, if I can bear to part with them" She took another sip of coffee. "You've let me ramble on. What about you, Mr. Matheson? I understand you went to Cornell. I would have loved to go there, but it was too close to home." Over 500 miles? "Tell me what it was like."  

And I found myself doing just that.  


"Oh, wow! Look at the time!" It was almost 9. "I'd better get going!"  

"Of course. It's a Saturday night. You must have plans."  

"I'd get out of them if I could." She made a moue. "I'd much rather be talking to you. Is it… is it all right if I move my stuff in tomorrow, Mr. Matheson?"  

"That'll be fine, Jill." I wondered what my name would sound like on her lips, but decided maybe it would be better not to find out. I was twenty years older, after all. "Wills, come say goodnight to Jill."  

He came running in. "You're leaving?"  

"Just for tonight. I'm moving in tomorrow."  

He threw himself at her and hugged her. "I'm so glad!" Then he stepped back, shooting a glance at me that I couldn't interpret.  

"Thanks, sweetie. I'm glad that you're glad."  

"And I'm glad that you're glad that I'm glad."  

She burst into laughter and pressed a fingertip against his chin. Wills joined her laughter. That was something I'd seen them do when she'd sat with him, and a sense of nostalgia swept over me.  

"Will you need any help moving, Jill?"  

"No. I've been living pretty much out of my suitcase." She slid her arms into her windbreaker, and Wills retrieved her umbrella. "Thanks, sweetie." She kissed his cheek, and he gave hers a quick peck, then ran off in the direction of the kitchen.  

"Okay. Oh, what time?"  

"Would 10 be too early?"  

"You're the one going out on the town tonight. We're usually up by 7."  

"Even on Sunday?"  

"Even on Sunday. Wills' grandparents come by to take him to Mass." After Sophia had died, I'd stopped going.  

"I won't turn up that early. 10, okay?"  

"Great. Um… great." I found myself staring at her lips and wondering what her kisses would taste like. //Jack Matheson, you're a dirty old man!//  

"I… uh… I'd better go."  

"Well, we'll see you tomorrow."  

"Goodnight, Mr. Matheson." She went out the door and into the night.  

"Drive carefully," I called.  

She waved to let me know she'd heard me, then came running back. "Thank you so much." She kissed my cheek, ran back to the car and got in, and started the engine.  

"What a sweetheart of a girl." I touched my cheek where she'd kissed me.  

The engine sounded a little rough. I'd take a look at it tomorrow. She drove away, and I closed the door and adjusted my jeans. It was a good thing she'd never looked down.  

"You are such a fool. She's twenty years younger than you, and she's probably got guys her own age lining up to go out with her. The last thing she'll want to do is get involved with a widower who's old enough to be her father. You'd better get those ideas out of your head."  

"You say something, Dad?"  

"No, sport," I called, then muttered under my breath, "Just trying to talk some sense into myself." I went into the kitchen. He was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

"I'm sorry about lying to Jill about having a snack before dinner."  

"I understand, son."  

"I like her a lot, Dad."  

"So do I."  

"But she can't cook meatloaf."  


I dreamed of Jill that night, and for the first time since I'd been a teenager, I woke the next morning with semen on my sheets. I gave my dick a stern talking-to, but it didn't do much good. I awoke the following morning in the same state.  

"All right, be that way. " I glared at my dick while in the shower. "But that's as close as you're going to get to that sweet girl – in your dreams! So just you behave, or you'll scare her, and she'll move out."  


"She's a nice girl, Jack," Alice said when she came home a couple of weeks later.  

"She is, isn't she?"  

"I won't have any qualms in asking for some time off here and there then. Ginny's going to need my help."  

"Well, sure, that won't be a problem; you know you're always welcome to take off as much time as you need, but why no qualms?"  

Alice smiled. "Jill will be able to cook for you."  

I started to laugh. "I don't think so, Alice." I told her about the various adventures in the kitchen. Meatloaf wasn't the only thing that Jill couldn't cook.  

"Oh. Oh, my. I guess… "  

"No, don't let it stop you. If you need to be with Ginny and the twins, we'll manage fine."  

"Thank you, Jack." She hugged me, then drew back to look into my eyes. "And she really burned the spaghetti?"  

"Yeah, she really did."  


Jill had been with us for a few months. She'd usually get in between 6 and 6:30 in the evening, depending on how the trains ran and how bad the traffic was from the station.  

"Are you having dinner with Jill again tonight, Dad?" Wills asked as I put his plate in front of him. The twins were suffering through a bad bout of colic, and Alice was spending this week with Ginny.  

"Yes. Do you mind, sport?"  

"Nope. I told you, I like her. I think it would be neat for you to marry her."  


"Sure. I know you like her. And she likes us. Why not?"  

"You don't think marrying again would be disloyal to your mother?"  

"No. We'll always love her, Dad, but she'd want you to be happy, wouldn't she?"  

"Yes, she would, but… "  

"Besides, everyone thinks you should get married again, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Jake. Even Uncle Pete the last time he came to visit."  

Why was everyone sticking a Matheson nose into this? "That's beside the point, young man. I won't marry Jill."  

"Why not?" he pressed.  

"Well, for one thing, I'm too old for her."  

"No, you're not."  

I frowned at him. I didn't need to hear this from my son. My libido had wrestled with my conscience the first few days Jill had been here, trying to convince it that twenty years wasn't that much of an age gap, but my conscience hadn't bought it.  

"Okay, so what's the other thing?"  

"What other thing?"  

"You said, 'for one thing.' That makes it sound like there's something else."  

"You're giving me a headache." I groaned. "William, I'm serious. I don't want you bringing up this subject in front of Jill. It will make her uncomfortable." Maybe even enough to decide she didn't want to live here any more.  

"Aw, Dad."  

"This subject is closed."  

"But… "  

"*Closed*, young man."  

He scowled and finished his dinner. "I've got homework."  

"All right."  

He disappeared into his room, so he wasn't there to see how I reacted when I heard Jill's key in the front door.  

By the time she came into the kitchen, I had my erection, my breathing – and hopefully my expression – under control.  

"Hi, Jill. How was your day?"  

"Busy." A brilliant smile lit her face. "I'm glad it's the weekend."  

"I can imagine. Dinner is ready."  

"Gee, you don't have to do this, Mr. Matheson."  

"Why not? If that's a kind way of saying you don't like my cooking… "  

"No! No, you cook very well. It's just that you work hard all day."  

"So do you, but you get home later. Anyway … " I was going to say that Alice usually prepared all the meals, but I saw the look on Jill's face. "What's wrong?"  

She turned away, but not before I saw the way her eyes shimmered with tears. "Nothing."  

"Jilly?" I turned her face toward mine. A single tear spilled over, and I caught it on my finger.  

"I haven't had a home in so long." She'd spoken very little about life with her parents and what it had been like, but gossip had a way of making the rounds of the neighborhood. Mom had told me one Sunday when she and Dad had come to pick up Wills. It hadn't sounded like fun.  

"You have one here."  

"Oh, J… Mr. Matheson." She went into my arms and held onto me.  

For one single minute, I would allow myself to enjoy the soft feel of her, the way we fit together so perfectly. I stroked the pliant curve of her back.  

Jill raised her head. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were parted. The sweet warmth of her breath bathed my mouth, and I found myself lowering my head to take her lips in a kiss that would have revealed how much I wanted her.  

But our lips never met. I forced myself to stop, to take her arms from my neck, and set her away from me.  

She flushed and avoided my eyes. "I'm sorry. That was stupid of me. I… I need a tissue." She hurried down the stairs to her apartment.  

"I hope you always think of this house as home," I said, even though she couldn't hear me. I licked the finger that had held the tear drop. All that was left was the taste of salt.  

It was about fifteen minutes later when she came back up, dressed in sleek black pants and a silk blouse that matched her eyes. A blazer was over her arm, and a purse dangled from her shoulder.  

"Jill? Aren't you going to have dinner?"  

"No. I have a date. I'm sorry, I should have told you… " Those aquamarine eyes never once met mine.

"That's okay." I was such a liar. It *wasn't* okay, but how could I dump that on this vibrant young woman?  

A horn sounded outside. "I have to go." She slid her arms into the jacket.  

"Have a good time."  

"Thanks." The door shut behind her.  

I sighed, covered both plates with plastic wrap – I'd lost my appetite – and put them in the fridge. I went into the living room and turned on the television.  

Three hours later, Wills came downstairs. "I'm going to bed, Dad." He was dressed in his Star Wars pajamas.  

"You still mad at me, son?"  

"No. If you don't love Jill, I guess you don't love her. *I'll* have to marry her." He nodded decisively. "Just don't you scare her off until I can, okay?"  

"Okay." I didn't tell him I was pretty sure I'd already scared her off.  

He kissed my cheek. "'Night, Dad."  

"'Night, son. Pleasant dreams."  

An hour passed, and another hour. The television was still on, some HBO Young Comedians special maybe, but I really had no idea. I just sat there telling myself I wasn't waiting to hear Jill's key in the door.  

It was close to midnight when I heard muffled sounds by the door. Was Jill's date kissing her goodnight on the front step? Was she going to invite him to come in with her? I was torn between opening the door to find out and letting her open the door herself.  

"Let me… I said let me *go*!"  

That solved the problem. I yanked the door open.  

Some guy had Jill in a bear hug and was trying to find her mouth while she twisted her head from one side to the other, her hands futilely trying to push him away.  

"What's going on?" I roared, heedless of the time of night and what the neighbors might think.  

That startled the guy, and his hold loosened enough so that Jill managed to stomp on his foot and get free. His expression darkened, and he glared at me.  

"Go back inside, old man." *Old man*? "This has nothing to do with you!"  

"Asshole. Are you all right, Jill?" I turned to face her.  

"I'm… Luke, no! Jack! Watch out!"  

A fist caught me high on my cheekbone, knocking me off my feet.  

I sat up and shook my head. Luke stood with his fists clenched. "I warned you. This is between this cocktease and me."  

I rose to my feet. "Jill, go inside and dial 9-1-1 ."  

"Calling the cops for backup, old man?"  

"No. Calling for an ambulance for you." I was an architect, but I did a lot of hands-on construction work and had the muscles to prove it.  

That blow to my cheek was the only one he landed on me. In a matter of minutes he was out cold.  

"Need any help, Dad?" In the doorway my son was hefting a baseball bat with serious intent. I made sure he didn't see my grin. "Stay, Twoey!" Standing beside him was Dog Two, her hackles raised and her muzzle wrinkled back, no longer looking like a big, dumb, happy mutt, but a force of nature to be reckoned with.  

"Down, girl. Thanks, sport, but I've got it under control." I winced from the pull on the bruise I could feel forming on my cheek. "Why don't you and Jill go inside?"  

"Will you be okay, Jack?"  

"I'll be fine, Jill." A Pontiac Grand Prix was at the curb, its lights on and the engine still running. "I take it that's Sleeping Beauty's car?"  


"Bastard." I hoisted him up by his collar and the seat of his pants and lugged him to the curb. Jill followed. It was obvious she wasn't going to retreat to the safety of the house. "I suppose you didn't call 9-1-1 either?"  

"Why? You had everything under control."  

I gave a snort of laughter. "Want to get the door for me?"  

She opened the passenger door, and I slung him inside and dusted off my hands.  

"I suppose we should turn off the engine and the lights," Jill said, although she seemed dubious.  

"Why? To be polite? This isn't something Miss Manners covers."  

"That's true, but if he runs out of gas, or if the battery dies, he'll probably come banging on the door for us to call him a cab."  

"I'll save him the trouble. Luke?" I shook him, and his eyes blinked opened. I wasn't too sure if he was actually regaining consciousness. "*Luke*! You're a cab!"  


Jill chuckled.  

Luke's eyes rolled back in his head, and he was out again.  

She went around the car, opened the front door, and turned off the lights and switched off the ignition.  

We each slammed a door shut and went back up the walk and into the house. Wills was still hovering in the doorway. Twoey watched with that doggy grin on her face. Now that the threat had been neutralized, she no longer felt the need to be at her courageous best.  

"Are you okay, Daddy?"  

"I'm fine, son." I dropped to a knee and hugged him. "Excitement's over. Back to bed now. You too, Twoey." I ruffled her ears.  

"Dad took good care of you, didn't he, Jill?"  

"My hero," she said softly.  

He paused on the bottom stair. "Was that guy your boyfriend, Jill?"  

She turned and was fussing with the lock. "He used to be, sweetie, but not ever again."  

"I'm glad. G'night."  

"Goodnight, Wills."  

"'Night, sport."  

He went up to his room, dragging the bat behind him.  

"I'm sorry, J… Mr. Matheson."  

"Come on in the living room. I'll build a fire. You're shivering."  

"I am? Oh, I am. Reaction, I guess." She toed off her shoes and curled up on the sofa.  

"Yes." I took the throw from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around her, then got the fire going. "Do you want to talk about what happened?"  


"Okay. I'll… uh… "  

"I'm sorry, Mr. Matheson, I didn't mean it like that. I… I didn't want you to know that… I'm such a fool."  

"We're all entitled to be fools at one time or another."  

"Not like this, we're not. I didn't have a date tonight. I called Luke after I'd made such an idiot of myself, crying all over you and practically throwing myself at you… I told him to pick me up. We'd stopped seeing each other, but… Oh, damn, you'd think I'd know better."  

"Who's Luke?"  

"We went to the same high school. When I first came home, I ran into him at the diner. He remembered me – can you believe that? He was a senior when I was a sophomore, the big man on campus, captain of the football team, on the fast track to a Yale law degree – but he remembered little Jill McDermott. He came over and started flirting with me. I… I flirted back. He asked if I wanted to go for a drink, talk about old times."  

My gut felt as if it were on fire. It made sense. She'd want to date someone her own age.  

"Things were okay at first. We'd go to dinner or a movie, make out a little, and then he'd take me home. He wanted more, but he seemed okay when I told him I didn't want to rush it. My mother asked what I was waiting for. He was a good catch, and if I had half a brain, I'd do whatever it took to get him to marry  me." She looked away, into the fire. "I always swore I would never be like my mother. Like my sister."  

"Oh, Jilly."  

"I'm not a child; I've had… I know the facts of life, and I know we can't always get what we want. If Luke was willing to wait… But then one day I saw you in Sears. You were with your brother in the hardware department... "  

"Why didn't you come over and say hello?"  

She gave me a look. "… and I knew I couldn't keep seeing Luke. And then I heard about the apartment. That Saturday when I told you I had something I couldn't get out of? I broke it off with Luke that night."  

A strange sensation was curling in my chest. Hope. "Jill, why haven't you called me 'Jack'?"  

"If I ever did, you'd realize how much I… that I've been in love with you since I was fifteen."  

"Oh, Jill."  

"Everyone used to know that I wouldn't take a babysitting job until I'd checked to make sure you wouldn't need me first."  

"Jill. I had no idea."  

"I know. That was the way I wanted it. You looked at Mrs. Matheson with so much love. There was no reason for you to even look at me. And then after she… after the accident, I saw how unhappy you were. The last thing you needed was a lovesick teenager hanging around. So I stayed away from you. And now I've messed things up, and… "  

"Where are you going?"  

"The kitchen. You need some ice for your hand and your cheek. And then I'm going downstairs. I'd better start packing."  

"Why?" I followed her into the kitchen.  

"After the mess I've made of this… " She took ice cubes from the freezer and put them in a dishtowel. "Hold this to your cheek."  

"I don't see how you made a mess."  

"Don't you?" She put more cubes in another dishtowel and wrapped it around my right hand. "I was going to be so cool about it, cook for you, always be around, and you'd… Oh, maybe you wouldn't fall in love with me, but you'd get used to me being here, you'd see how good I was for you. For Wills. Only no matter what time I got home, it was always too late to start dinner, and then I moved too fast tonight, and I could see you didn't want anything to do with me. And now this thing with Luke… "  

"Whoa, whoa! You didn't… What gave you the idea that you'd moved too fast?"  

"Well, you wouldn't kiss me, and you couldn't wait to get me out of your arms."  

"That was just because I didn't want you to think I was a dirty old man, lusting after a pretty young woman."  

"You're one of the cleanest men I know, Jack."  

"I'm twenty years older than you, Jill."  


"People are going to think I'm our children's grandfather."  

"Screw what people think!"  

"Jill! My ears!" I laughed, tossed aside the dishtowels, and pulled her into my arms.  

She nestled against me. "If it comes to that, considering my family, people are going to think you had to marry me."  

"Not if we don't get pregnant for a couple of years, Jilly."  

"I love when you call me that… Jack."  

She was right. I could hear how much she loved me in that one word. I tightened my grip on her, and sighed happily. "Would you mind waiting to have a baby, Jill? Aside from what the busybodies would think, I'd like to have you to myself for a while."  

"That's fine with me, darling Jack." She stood up on tiptoe and kissed me. "Jack? Is something wrong?"  

"No, Jilly. I was just thinking. If this turns out to be a dream, I'm going to be so pissed."  

"If it is a dream, then I'm having the same one." She kissed the side of my neck.  

"Jill, it isn't too soon, is it? I mean it's only been a few months."  

"Not too soon. When you stop to consider it, we've actually known each other since I started sitting Wills. That's eight years."  

"That's true." I tipped her chin up and studied her lips. Her mouth was nothing like Sophe's, but the way she kissed… "You're shivering," I whispered against them.  

"Reaction, Jack."  

"Damn. I was going to make coffee."  

"I don't need coffee. Just kiss me again."  


The next morning Jill was making breakfast when Wills came down.  

"Creepo's gone," he said as he went to the back door and let Twoey out.  


"The guy from last night."  

"Ah. Yes." I'd noticed his car wasn't there when I'd gone to retrieve the newspaper from the front walk. "Wills, I've got some bad news for you, son."  

"Dad?" He looked scared. "Jill's not leaving, is she?"  

"No! No, she's staying. It's just, you won't be able to marry her."  

He held himself very still. "Why not, Dad?"  

Jill put the plate of waffles in front of him and came around to do the same for me. I pulled her onto my lap. "Because I'm marrying her."  

He let out a whoop and threw himself at us, nearly tumbling us all to the floor.  

"Easy, sport. Easy!"  

"When are you getting married? Are you going away for a honeymoon?" His eyes suddenly widened. "I'll have brothers!" The one thing he'd envied his cousins were the brothers they had.  

"Soon, wherever Jill wants, and I wouldn't be surprised, but not right away."  

For a second he looked confused, but then he laughed. He went back to his place, poured syrup on the waffles, and took a bite. He chewed for a moment or so, and then stopped. "Uh, Dad?"  

"Don't talk with your mouth full, sport." I got a good look at his expression. "Wills, what's wrong?"  

He clapped a hand over his mouth. "'Scuse me," he mumbled and bolted out of the room.  

It turned out that Jill couldn't cook much of anything, but that was okay, because there was something else she did very well, and that was love my son. And me.


Part 6


"Jill, would you like a house of your own?" We'd been married a year and a half.  

"Unless it's escaped your notice, darling Jack, I have a house of my own."  

No, what she had was the house I'd built for Sophe. I'd overheard some of the busybodies commenting snidely, 'Poor thing. Another woman's husband, another woman's son, another woman's house.'  

Soon Jill would have a son of her own. She was about three months pregnant, and those same busybodies had had plenty of time to get over the disappointment of learning ours hadn't been a shotgun wedding.  

"Y'know that house I have up in Cambridge ? Jake and I have finished renovating it, and I'm thinking of putting it on the market. Whatever I get for it will be gravy, and I'll use that money to build you your house."  

"If that's what you want to do, Jack, but it really isn't necessary. I like this house very much."  

I thought it was necessary. I didn't want Jill to ever think she was second best.  

"Do you want to drive up with me? Wills has school, but Alice will be here to keep an eye on him. It can be like a mini honeymoon."  

Her eyes lit up. "I'd love to! When?"  

"How does in a couple of days sound?" That would give me time to get things squared away at work.  

"Wonderful, darling Jack!"  

It was a long drive, mostly because I had to keep pulling off the Turnpike for Jill to use the facilities at various rest stops.  

"Did Sophia have this problem with Wills?" she asked, disgruntled, as we finally reached our exit.  

"Truthfully, Jilly, I don't remember, but you know your obstetrician said each pregnancy is different."  

I'd worried that there might be a problem with her carrying the baby to term, but the doctor had reassured me, and Jill had never had any doubt.  

"Okay, now this is one of the older parts of Cambridge , so the houses here are bigger, and they're on larger lots."  

"What a beautiful area! These trees must be a hundred years old."  

"Some are at least two hundred, and some are even older." I pulled up across the street.  "This is it."  

Jill got her first view of the house and the wraparound porch and sucked in her breath. "Oh, Jack!"  

I studied it critically. The clapboard siding was authentic, as were the shutters. I was proud of the job Jake and I had done on it, even though we'd only been able to work on it sporadically. At first we would take busmen's holidays a couple of times a year, but since I'd married Jill, we'd cut that back – I hadn't felt much like being away from home.  

"I can't wait to see the inside!"  

I turned the car into the long driveway. At the end of it was a former carriage house. It had been converted into a garage years before and hadn't taken much in the way of renovating. It was my idea to make the space above the car bays into a living area. 'It'll be perfect as a pool house, and who knows, Jake. Whoever buys this might want the added income and rent it out.'   

The backyard was immense. There was enough room and to spare for the in-ground swimming pool and tennis court.  

"Oh, Jack! You know, Twoey would *love* this!"  

"Yeah. All that space to run." I brushed a kiss over her lips. "Come inside and take a look at it."  

She linked her arm with mine, but glanced back at the yard as I led her into the house.  

I'd not only renovated the house, but I'd restored portions of it as well. Crown molding, chair rails, wainscoting. All the fireplaces worked –  a double one in the kitchen that also opened in the formal dining room, one in the living room, and in each of the four bedrooms on the second floor. The first floor also held a den, a spare room that could be a study or sewing room, and to the rear, a comfortable suite of rooms.  

The attic was huge and had window seats in front of each of the gabled windows as well as plenty of storage. The basement wasn't finished. In the far corner was a laundry room large enough for a washer and dryer and with hookups for a slop sink. There were windows in the foundation that let in light during the day, and recessed lighting that would provide light in the evening, and with carpeting covering the concrete floor and a bar added, it would be a perfect game room. I could picture a pool table at one end, a game table that would be suitable for chess or monopoly or other board games, and a card table for poker.  

I shook my head. That would be for whoever bought this house to decide.  

"Do you… Do you have to sell it?"  


"You said you'd give me a house. This one, darling Jack?" She was so excited she was almost quivering with it, but then her excitement left her, and she sighed. "We'd have to move. You'd have to leave your family. Wills would have to go to a new school. He'd hate leaving his friends." She sighed again. "Never mind."  

"No, my own sweet girl. If this is the house you want, then this is the house you'll have." I knew it wouldn't matter that she had to leave her family. In the eighteen months we'd been married, we'd only seen her family once, and that was at our wedding. Her father had stayed sober, and her brothers had been better-behaved than at Jenny's wedding, but I wasn't sure whether that was because they'd matured or if they were simply intimidated by all the males in my family, including Pete in his dress blues and the big, quiet Marine who was at his side.  

"Oh, Jack! Thank you! And that suite of rooms on the first floor would be perfect for Alice ! Do you think she'll come with us?"  

"If we can talk her into leaving her grandkids." Otherwise, I'd have to see about hiring another housekeeper. 

She hugged me and cried all over me. "I love this house, Jack. I love it! And I love you!"  

We put a house on the market. It just wasn't the one I'd originally thought it would be. I sold the house I'd built for my first wife and put the money in CDs, for our child's college education.  

Jake bought out my share of the family business, but it was still Matheson & Sons, since Ben and Stevie had gone into the business as well. With that money, I was able to start my own small company in Cambridge .  

I looked over at Wills. Maybe it would turn out to be another Matheson & Sons.  

Wills was disappointed about leaving his friends and his school, although he tried to hide it. That was, until he saw the house and the old tree in the backyard.  

"Dad! Do you think we could… "  

"Yes." I grinned at him and ruffled his hair. That tree would be large enough to build the tree house from the plans we'd drawn up one rainy Saturday two years earlier.  

Alice agreed to come with us. "I think you need me more than my children. Ginny and the twins are doing fine, Daniel and Karen are taking their own sweet time about having children, and Lew – well, his mother-in-law is living with them." And Alice didn't want to cause more friction than was already there. "Besides, if something happened that I had to be back in New York and I couldn't catch a plane, the drive isn't so bad."  

"If you're sure, Alice ?"  

"I'm sure."  

And so we settled in and waited for the new baby to arrive.  


Jill gave birth to our first child, a boy, which didn't surprise me. Her selection of names did, though.  

I stretched out beside her on the bed in her hospital room, gazing at our little son, with his cap of strawberry blond fuzz.  

"I think it would be an excellent name for this baby, Jack."  

"We name the firstborn sons after their grandfathers."  

"But you already have a firstborn son."  

"Yes, but this child is *our* firstborn."  

"Oh, darling Jack!" Her aquamarine eyes filled with pleased tears and she kissed me. "Well, Wills has already been named for his grandfather. We can't have two Williams running around, Jack. It will be confusing, to say the least."  

"We could name him Sean William, after your father and mine."  

"No." She had never talked much about her relationship with her father, beyond assuring me that he had never physically abused her. "I want our son to be named after his own father. Besides, he looks like a John Robert."  

"Jilly. My sweet girl."  

"And we can call him JR."  

"He's going to get teased about it." She gave me a blank look. "' Dallas '? The TV show?"  

"Oh." She smiled and patted my cheek. "Will it be any worse than being teased because his parents are Jack and Jill?"  

"I guess not." I leaned down and kissed her. "John Robert it is."  


Wills started sixth grade that fall. He became friends with another boy whose family had moved to Cambridge around the same time we had, and who was in the same class. Michael Shaw would bike to our house almost every day, often wheedling an invitation to stay for dinner.  

"Doesn't his mother cook?" I grumbled one evening after he had left. I didn't mind the extra mouth to feed, but reciprocity would have been nice.  

"Yes," Wills assured me with a grin, "but Alice cooks better."  

"Thank you, Wills." She gave a pleased smile. "And at least he helps clean up afterwards."  

"Since you made a point of it, Alice ."  

Michael had light brown hair and brown eyes, and would have been a good looking boy except for the discontented twist to his mouth, and the attitude that seemed to smirk, 'here's my face and my ass is coming.' Try as I would to like him, it often felt as if he were taking advantage of Wills' good nature, and that set my teeth on edge. Jill didn't care much for him either, but for Wills' sake, we made him welcome in our home, although for a time I was afraid his temperament might rub off on my son; I didn't give Wills enough credit.  

The most easy-going of boys, Wills had a surprising streak of implacability when it came to what was important to him.  

He came home one afternoon, slamming the back door.  

"What's up, sport?"  

"Michael can be such an … " His lips folded in an irritated line. "… such a jerk."  

"Oh?" He'd obviously changed his words, but I had a feeling he was going to call Michael an asshole. What had happened?  

"He wanted to… " Wills blew out a breath. He got that impatient action from me, and I was tempted to smile, but I didn't. "He wanted to do something really stupid," powerful words from him, "and when I said I wasn't going to, he made fun of me."  

"Do you want to talk about it?"  

"Yeah. But I don't think I can. It's between the two of us, you know, Dad?"  

"Okay, son. But if you decide you need an ear, I'm here."  

"I know." He hugged me. He'd never been shy showing his affection, not even now when he was in his teens, a time when dads were no longer cool.  

Margaret Shaw called the next afternoon. "Michael is at Newbury Comics. He's been caught shoplifting!" Tears were in her voice, as well as bitter disappointment. "A seventy-five cent comic book! Edward… I don't want him to know. These times are so difficult for him." Her husband worked for a Manhattan brokerage firm during the week, coming home on the weekend. He wasn't due home for a few more days. "John, I hate to put you in this position… I don't know who else to call… Would you mind coming with me?"  

"Of course not, Margaret. I'll pick you up in ten minutes."  

"What's going on, Jack? Oh, no you don't, you little exhibitionist!" Jill reached out to snag a squirming, giggling, naked JR. He had recently learned how to get out of his clothes, and usually picked the most inopportune times to do it.  

Wills walked in with a disposable diaper. "Here you go, Jill. Come on, little man." He crouched down to hold his brother still while Jill fastened the diaper. "You don't want to give the world a free show, do you, Jar?"  

I'd come upon Wills hanging over JR's crib one night. 'This is the best family, Jar.' He'd slurred together the consonants of his brother's nickname. 'You're gonna love it here.' And he'd leaned down and run a gentle fingertip over the baby's cheek. Now John Robert was called Jar as often as JR.  

"NO!" Jar flung himself at his brother, and Wills pretended he'd been toppled over, sending the toddler into gales of laughter.  

"Michael seems to have gotten himself into trouble at Newbury Comics. I'm going to pick up Margaret and… "  

"I'm going with you, Dad." All trace of amusement was wiped from his face.  

"Wills… "  

"Michael is my friend."  

"All right." I ran a hand through my hair. "Get your jacket. We'll be back as soon as we can, Jilly." I kissed her and kissed our son. He stared at me with his mother's aquamarine eyes.  

"Drive carefully. Wills… "

"It will be okay, Jill." He kissed her and his brother too. "Behave, you!" He pretended to steal Jar's nose, resulting in more giggles, but he was somber when he got in the car. "I told him not to do that, Dad. I mean, *duh*! It was stupid!" Wills was a smart, sensible boy, and I trusted him to do the right thing. He'd never disappointed me. "I could kick his a… his butt!"  

It might be a good idea for my son not to be friends with Michael any longer, but I didn't think it was a good idea to suggest it just then. I'd keep an eye on things and see how they sorted themselves out.  

Meanwhile, there wouldn't be any harm in having my brothers invite him to visit for the Christmas and Easter vacations, and come this summer I'd ask Wills if he wanted to spend a few days a week with me on various job sites. He'd shown a talent for construction when we'd built that tree house.  

We drove to where the Shaws lived in a small, second floor apartment on George Street , and I pulled up to the curb. Margaret Shaw was waiting for us.  

"Hi, Mrs. Shaw." Wills got out and held the door for her, then closed it and climbed in the back seat.  

"Hello, William. John. Thank you for… " She placed her purse on the seat beside her and buckled her seatbelt. "Can we go, please?"  

"Of course." As I drove, I could see from the corner of my eye how she twisted a handkerchief through her fingers in a constant, nervous movement, and I gave silent thanks that my boy had never caused me that kind of distress.  

Because of Michael's age and because it was the first time he'd done something like that, the manager agreed not to press charges, although Michael was banned from entering the store again.  

He shrugged as he got in the back seat of the car beside Wills, unrepentant as far as I could see. "I never liked that store anyway."  

"Thank you, John." Margaret was back to twisting her handkerchief in her hands.  

"You're welcome." I put the car in gear and started the drive back to George Street .  

"I don't know what the big deal is. It was just a stupid comic book." Michael had a way of irritating me. If he had been my son, I would have whaled the tar out of him long before this. However, it wasn't for me to question how Margaret and Edward Shaw chose to raise their son.  

"I suppose… I suppose you won't allow William to be friends with Michael any more?" Margaret's voice trembled.  

"Wait a second!" There was a touch of panic in Michael's voice. Apparently that hadn't occurred to him.  

Wills answered before I could. "Mrs. Shaw, Michael is my friend." I could see the boys through the rearview mirror. Wills gave Michael's shoulder a sharp poke. "Doesn't matter if he's been a jerk."  

"So you'll be my friend in spite of everything, Willie Boy?"  

Wills leaned toward him and whispered something in his ear. Michael seemed to flush in the dimming light of the afternoon, and he bit his lip and looked away.  

"All right, Wills," he said gruffly. "Thanks."  


For the first twelve years of his life, Wills had no siblings. However, he had often been with my brother Jake's boys, and he had seen how brothers interacted with each other.  

With the age difference between him and Jar, I wasn't sure how Wills would treat him, whether as an interloper or a pest or someone to be ignored completely.  

I should have known better. Of course there were times when he was at school, when he had to do homework or simply had big boy things to do, but there were also times when he played with Jar, took him riding on his bike, sledding in the winter, or helped Jill out at bath time. I'd hear the two brothers singing, 'Rubber ducky, you're the one… '  

"Wills is going to make a wonderful father one day," I said to Jill when we were in bed one night.  

"Yes, he is. And he's going to have the most beautiful children!"  

And I knew they would look just like his mother.  


Five years after John Robert was born, we were in the delivery room once again.  

"All right, Mrs. Matheson. One more nice, big push."  

"That's what you said eight pushes ago!" Jill snarled. She took another deep breath, and I flinched as her nails dug into my hand.  

"That's right, your baby is coming along nicely. And… Here we are!" The obstetrician's eyes smiled at me over her face mask. "Would you like to cut the umbilical cord, Mr. Matheson?"  

"Sure, Doc." I'd done it for my first two sons, and I was getting to be pretty good at it. I took the scissors she handed me and looked down, getting my first good look at my newest child. The scissors dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers. "What… what… "  

"Mr. Matheson, you're not going to faint, are you?"  

"*What's wrong with our baby*?"  

"Jack?" There was panic in Jill's voice, but I didn't have time to regret scaring her.  

"There's nothing… " the doctor began.  

"Don't tell me there's nothing wrong! He doesn't have a penis!"  

There was muffled laughter. "Girls don't, Mr. Matheson."  

I tore my eyes from the baby. "I… I don't have… There hasn't been a girl in my family for a hundred and forty years!"  

"Well, congratulations. There is one now!"  

"We have a little girl? Oh, Jack!"  

My hands were shaking too much, so the doctor had to cut the cord. A nurse put our… our daughter in Jill's arms, and she cuddled her.  

"She's beautiful!" She was so tiny, so delicate, I was afraid to touch her.  

"Darling Jack, yes she is!"  

"Mr. Matheson, why don't you let your sons know they have a little sister? She'll be in the nursery as soon as the pediatrician has checked her out, and you can bring them to see her. Meanwhile, we'll take care of your wife."  

"Yes, go tell the boys and Alice. I'm not going anywhere."  

"I won't be long." I kissed her palm and hurried to the waiting room where my sons and Alice waited. I'd call my parents and my brothers later, and Mom would see about notifying the rest of the family.  

I lingered in the doorway for a second, observing the tableau. Jar and Wills had their heads together, Wills talking to him in a quiet voice, his arm around his younger brother's shoulders.  

Alice sat across from them, knitting a little blue sweater. I smiled to myself. She'd have to get some pink yarn.  

I was startled to see Michael Shaw sitting in a corner, reading a dog-eared magazine that looked about ten years old. He and Wills had intended to go to the mall to see if they could pick up girls, but then Jill had gone into Labor and Wills had called him to cancel their plans. When had he arrived at the hospital?  

I cleared my throat and entered into the room.  

"Daddy!" Jar ran to me and threw himself into my arms. "Is Mommy okay?"  

"She and the baby are fine, little man." And then I collapsed into a chair and buried my face in my hands.  

"Are you okay, Dad?" Wills knelt beside me and put his arms around both of us.  

"I'm fine. I'm fine." I dried my eyes on the sleeve of the scrubs I'd been given and tried to smile at my boys. "I'm sorry. It's just… You have a little sister!"  

"But… but you told me I was gonna have a baby brother!" Jar objected.  

"Next time, okay, little man?"  

"Well, I guess. But I wanted to be the big brother."  

"You can still be the big brother, Jar."  

"I can?"  

"Yes, you can." I ruffled his hair, then hugged both him and Wills.  

"What about Wills?" Michael gazed across at me, something in his eyes, but it was so quickly replaced by indifference that I wasn't sure what I'd seen.  

"I'm the biggest brother, Michael."  

"Right." Michael resumed thumbing through the magazine, and Wills frowned at him.  

Alice patted my shoulder, drawing my attention away. "A little girl? How wonderful!" She glanced ruefully at the blue yarn trailing from her needles. "It looks like I should have chosen pink."  

I couldn't help laughing. "My very thought."  

"When can we go see her, Dad?"  

"Let's take a walk to the nursery. She should be there any time now."  

"I'm a big brother! C'mon, Alice !" Jar dragged her out of the room.  

"Michael, would you like to come?" I asked, simply to be polite. After all, he was my son's friend, and he'd been kind enough to wait here with him.  

"No, thanks. You've seen one rug rat, you've seen 'em all. I'm gonna head out. I've got things to do." He dropped the magazine, picked up his jacket, and slung it over his shoulder. "Congratulations, Mr. Matheson. So long, Willie Boy."  

"Thanks for coming, Michael."  

"No sweat."  

"I'll see ya. Let's go, Dad."  

Michael went toward the elevators, while I led my little troop down the corridor toward the nursery. I tapped on the door, and a nurse came out, smiling.  

"Which baby are you looking for?"  

"I'm Jack Matheson. My wife Jill just delivered a little girl." We hadn't thought to choose a girl's name. What were we going to name this unexpected blessing?  

"Ah. Baby Girl Matheson. We're just getting her diapered. If you'll stand by that window and wait a moment?"  

"We've really got a sister, Wills!"  

"Yeah, we do, Jar. Isn't that the best? They're wheeling her in. Here, let me give you a boost so you can see." He picked his brother up and pointed to the little bundle wrapped in a receiving blanket covered with animal babies wearing diapers.  

"She is beautiful, Jack. You and Jill should be very proud."  

"We've got three of the best looking kids in the world!" I gazed at my children, then grinned at Alice . "You bet we're proud!"  


Jar's eyelids were drooping, and Alice smothered a yawn behind her hand.  

"It's been a long day for all of us. Why don't you take the car and drive home, Wills? Alice being with you will make you driving at night all right."  

"What about you, Dad?"  

"I'll spend the night here."  

"Okay. 'Night, Jill." He leaned forward to kiss her.  

She rested her palm against his cheek. "'Night, sweetie. Drive carefully."  

"G'night, Mommy. 'Night, Daddy."  

"Goodnight, little man. Make sure you listen to Alice and your brother."  

"I will." He took Wills' hand.  

"We'll hold down the fort, Dad."  

"Do you want me to bring you a change of clothes tomorrow, Jack?"  

"Thanks, Alice , that would be good. Since there were no complications, they're only keeping Jill and the baby here a couple of days, and I'd like to stay with them."  

"Do you need anything, Jill?"  

"No, Alice. Thank you." Jill looked up at me. "I have everything I need."  

"We'll see you as soon as they let us up tomorrow," Wills said. It was a Saturday, so neither of them would have school.  

They left, and shortly after a nurse wheeled in the bassinet bearing our daughter. Jill made herself comfortable and prepared to breastfeed the baby.  

"Have you picked out a name yet?" the nurse asked.  

"We've never given any thoughts to a girl's name." Early on we'd settled on Matthew John for our baby, but it looked like that name definitely wouldn't be appropriate for this baby.  

" Martinique , darling Jack?"  

" Martinique ." I smiled into her eyes, ran a gentle finger over our daughter's soft cheek, then took Jill's hand and raised it to my lips.  

"That's an unusual name. Are you French?"  

"No." I laughed. We'd vacationed in the Caribbean nine months earlier and had spent a week on the island. When Jill discovered she was pregnant, we realized she must have conceived during that time.  

"Well, it's a very pretty name. Now, I'll just leave you to get comfortable with Martinique . If you need anything, use the buzzer. Otherwise, I'll be back later." She bustled out of the room.  

"We'll call her Marti for short, Jill?"  

"Yes." She nuzzled Marti's soft cheek.  

"Thank you, my sweet girl."  

"For what, darling Jack?"  

"For giving me the most wonderful gift." Just then Marti opened her eyes and stared up at me solemnly. "She has your coloring, Jilly, red hair and blue eyes."  

"All babies have blue eyes, Jack."  

I brushed that aside. "She's going to be a heart stealer."  It was hard to believe this dainty little lady was ours. "When she gets older, we'll have the boys swarming around her like bees to honey."  

Jill eased Marti onto her shoulder and began rubbing her back, and the dainty little lady let out a hearty burp.  

"Oh, yes." Jill's eyes were dancing. "She's going to be a handful!"  


Our joy was dimmed with sadness. Later that spring Dog Two died in her sleep. She was almost twelve, which was a pretty good age for a Lab. Her muzzle had gone white, and arthritis had settled into her hips, making it difficult for her to climb up and down the stairs. I'd been dreading the thought of having her put to sleep, and was grateful to be spared that decision.  

It hit Wills the hardest. He had grown up with Twoey, and she'd always slept in his room. "I know you'll want to get another dog, but please wait until I leave for college in the fall, Dad?"  

"Sure, son." It would give the whole family the opportunity to mourn our beloved pet, and it would also help distract Jar when his brother was no longer just down the hall from him.  

Wills loved his siblings. Just as I'd found him leaning over his brother's crib, I found him one afternoon giving Jill a break, walking the floor with a fussing Marti and crooning, "'I've got a crush on you, sweetie pie… '"  

Again I thought what a great dad he was going to be one day.  

And then he graduated from high school and it was time for him to go away to college, and there was an empty, Wills-sized space in the house. Even Marti, as young as she was, seemed to realize someone was missing.  

"I miss Wills so much." Jar said one sunny Saturday.  

I exchanged glances with Jill, and she gave a slight nod. We'd talked it over and decided that this would be a good time to get that puppy. "Would you like to come for a ride with me, Jar?"  

"I guess." He didn't even ask where we would be going.  

"Let me get myself together, and we can leave." I used the extension in the spare room that had become a combination study/sewing/crafts room and dialed the number of a breeder I'd been in contact with since midsummer. The Daniels had been breeding Labs for the last twenty-five years and were caring, reputable breeders whose puppies were guaranteed to be healthy, with easy temperaments and free of genetic defects.  

"Mrs. Daniels, this is Jack Matheson. Would it be all right if I brought my son to pick out a puppy today?"  

"Oh, yes, please do. They've all been wormed and had their shots and are just waiting for their humans to show up and take them home."  

"Great. We should get to Woburn in about half an hour."  

"I'll look for you then."  

We hung up, and I strolled into the kitchen, where Jar was waiting. "All set, Jar?"  

"Is Mommy coming?"

"No, this is a daddy-son thing." Jill ruffled his hair. "You two men go out and have fun."  

Jar's face lit up, and he caught my hand and gave a skip. "We're men, Daddy?"  

I remembered Wills' excitement to be considered a bachelor, and smiled to myself. "Yes, son. We're men. Let's go." We went out to the car, and I made sure he was buckled safely before I backed out into the street.  

The traffic wasn't bad, and in a little less than twenty-five minutes I was turning into the Daniels' drive.  

"Why are we stopping here, Daddy?"  

"Well, I understand they have some puppies that are looking for a good home."  

"We're getting a puppy?" He tore out of the car and raced into the yard. Mrs. Daniels, a youngish woman wearing jeans and a checked shirt, was sitting on her porch swing. She rose and smiled at my son.  

"You must be John Robert. I understand you'll be picking out a new puppy."  

"Yes, please!"  

"It was such a beautiful day today, I thought the puppies could use some fresh air. They're around back. Come this way. Your daddy said you wanted to see the yellow Labs."  

"Oh, but… " He turned to me. "If we get another dog like Twoey, won't Wills be sad?"  

"Each pup has its own personality, Jar, and while they might look similar, after a while you realize they're nothing alike." I was touched at my little boy's thoughtfulness. "Let's take a look at them, okay?"  

The puppies gamboled in a fenced-in area, so busy with each other that they paid no attention to Jar. Suddenly a small streak of black tore across the yard.  

"Sorry, Ma. Blackie got out before I could stop her." A young man came down from the back porch and tried to catch the puppy, who was hiding behind Jar's legs.  

"It's all right, Eddie."  

The puppy nipped at Jar's sock, and he squatted down to play with her. The yellow puppies gathered around the fence, drawn by the black puppy's yips and Jar's laughter.  

"Daddy, can we get this puppy?"  


"*May* we get this puppy?"  

"Is she for sale, Mrs. Daniels?"  

"I think your son would be heartbroken if I said she wasn't."  

"Please, Daddy?" He gently removed his shoelace from the puppy's mouth.  

"Don’t you at least want to look at the other ones?"  

He shook his head.  

"Would you like to hold her?" Mrs. Daniels asked.  

"Yes, please!"  

She handed Jar the puppy, satisfying herself that he could support her hind legs and chest. "Very well done."  

He grinned up at her, happier than I'd seen him since his brother had left for college.  

"What are you going to call her, son?"  

"I get to name her?"  

"She's your dog."  

He grinned up at me through the shock of red hair that spilled into his eyes. "Dog Three, Daddy!"  

And so Dog Three – Deety – became part of the family.  

A few weeks later I noticed that Jar was unusually silent. "What is it, son?"  

"Is Wills ever coming home, Daddy?" he asked.  

"Of course he is, Jar. He'll be back for Thanksgiving."  

"But that's a hundred years away!"  

"Not quite, little man, but I tell you what. Suppose we take a drive down to see him this weekend?"  

"Can we, Daddy?"  

"Yes, can we, Daddy?" Jill smiled at me.  

"Sure." I slid an arm around her waist, pulled her close, and kissed her. "We'll all go!"  

I called Wills to let him know we were coming, booked a room in Providence for the weekend, and left midmorning on Friday to avoid the rush hour traffic.  

Michael Shaw had applied to the same college and shared a dorm room with Wills. He gave a languid wave as we walked in. "Willie Boy is in the john. Unless he's fallen in, he'll be right back." His mouth twisted in a smirk, and he sauntered out.  

I knew my expression had to be mirrored by Jill's. Deliberately, she turned and glanced around the room.  

It was small, with barely enough room for two twin beds, matching desks, and a couple of chairs. Wills' side of the room was tidy, in marked contrast to Michael's side, which had a pile of laundry on the floor - clean or dirty, it was hard to tell without actually picking up an article of clothing and sniffing it - and shirts and a pair of jeans with a designer Label on the back pocket dangled from his chair.  

Michael had left the door open, and Wills hurried in. "Dad, Jill!" He hugged us both. "I'm so glad to see you!"  

"And me too, Wills?"  

"Of course, you too!" He knelt to hug Jar. "Aren't you my favorite brother? I've missed you so much!"  

"I missed you too! When are you coming home?"  

"I'll be back for Thanksgiving, little man." Marti was reaching for him, her tiny fists opening and closing, and he laughed and got to his feet. "Yes, I missed you too, munchkin." He took her from Jill and kissed her cheek. "Well, you've seen my room." He glanced around ruefully. "Come on. I'll give you a tour of the campus."  

We walked the shaded paths, and Wills, with Marti in his arms, drew the interested gazes of quite a few girls. A couple of his professors stopped to chat briefly, and it was obvious that they thought well of him.  

I was so proud of my boy I thought my buttons would burst.  


That spring Wills was rushed by a number of fraternities, including a chapter of Alpha Omega Chi, my fraternity. He accepted their bid.  

So, I regretted to learn, did Michael.  


Those years were busy ones. While Jill and I didn't practice birth control, being willing to have another baby if we were so blessed, it seemed as if our family was complete, and we were both happy that our children – *all* our children – were happy and healthy.  

Jar had known how to read from an early age, but now he was learning to write and multiply, and he became a cub scout.  

Marti learned to walk. A few months later, she started talking, and every sentence seemed to be an exclamation. She was a very active little girl and wanted to do everything her big brother did. "Why can't I be a cub scout?" she demanded when she was three.  

"Because you're a girl, munchkin."  

"Then I don't wanna be a girl! Make me a boy, Mommy!"  

"I'm afraid that's beyond my powers, Marti. However… little girls get to help their Mommies with the kitties!"  

"Okay, Mommy!"  

"You realize it won't always be this easy to distract her, don't you?" I asked, circling Jill's waist and drawing her close to me.  

"Ah, but then I'll send her to Daddy!"  

"You're a devious woman, Jill Matheson! And I love you just the same!"  

"Good thing, because I love you too." She kissed my nose and patted my butt, an action that fortunately went unseen by our very curious daughter, who would have had no problem asking why Mommy was spanking Daddy. "Now, come along, Marti. Mary Poppins and  Willie Wonka want dinner."  

I'd been able to fulfill Jill's desire to raise American Bobtails, and we had a pair, Mary Poppins, an orange tabby, and a gray with splashes of black over his face and four black paws. Bert Chimneysweep would have been a more suitable name, but somehow he'd wound up with the name Willie Wonka.  

As for Wills, when he came home, he would tell us about the girls he was dating. He'd dated throughout high school, pretty girls who were cheerleaders, pretty girls who were in the honors program, pretty girls who all seemed to be redheads.  

Even now, each and everyone was a redhead, but he never seemed to show an interest in bringing any of them home with him.

During his junior year he dated one girl, Rissa O'Hara, exclusively, and I began to wonder if she were the one, but they broke up that spring, and she was another one we never did get to meet.  

That summer, Wills and I drove down to Long Island to work with Jake on a project in Port Jefferson, and while he stayed there most of the summer, I returned home for four day weekends, one of the perks of being the boss' brother.  

By the fourth Friday in August, the job was finished. In the morning, Wills and I would be driving home for good, but that evening, Jake and I were going out to celebrate with our sons and some of the crew. It reminded me of the night all those years ago when Dad and Jake had taken me to the Sinn Fein.  

We waited at the bar while the bartender filled a couple of pitchers and loaded a tray with mugs, then carried them to the tables our sons had staked out.  

"Congratulations on a job well done, Jake," I toasted him. "Dad would be proud."  

"Thanks, Jack. And I want to thank you and Wills for coming down and helping out. And Jill too for letting you come down."  

"Not a problem. It was like the old days. Y'know, I was just thinking how this was like the night you and Dad took me drinking at the Sinn Fein."  

"A lot has happened since, hasn't it?"  

"That is has." Births. Deaths. Weddings.  

"And now Harry and Brynn are getting married." He'd told me on the ride over.  

"Your last child. You're gonna be over the hill before you know it, Jake."  

"Them's fightin' words!" He laughed and cuffed my shoulder. We gazed across at the small space in front of the jukebox where his son and the tall blonde were dancing. "I like Brynn. She's a good electrician. I just hope Harry's not jumping the gun."  

"He's as level-headed as any of your boys, Jake. His older brothers all waited until their late twenties, but maybe the fact of the matter is he's seen how it is for them, and he wants that too."  

"I guess." He took a handful of beer nuts from the bowl on the table and licked the salt off one of them. "I can't tell you how sorry I am about Harry shooting Wills with the nail gun that time, Jack."  

"I know, Jake. Talk about a freak accident."  

"Much as I love my son, he never was a very good shot. For which I'll give eternal thanks."   

"Me too."  

Jake put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me.  

As the evening wore on, I watched my son unobtrusively. Every once in a while an expression would cross his face, and I wondered if something had happened at college.  

Then I noticed the bartender. A very buxom green-eyed blonde, she flirted with him, more than once bringing him a Coors without taking any money for it. During her break, she put some money in the jukebox, and when Meatloaf's 'I Would Do Anything For Love' came on, she caught Wills' hand and pulled him up to dance with her.  

I smiled and relaxed, thinking he might go home with her. I assumed my son was sexually active – he was a healthy male – and I'd bought him his first condoms and had a talk with him about using them, not only for birth control but for avoiding STDs as well.  

However, when Jake and I decided to call it a night, Wills said, "Hold on, Dad. I want to catch a ride with you!"  

Jake grinned at my expression. "What did you expect, Jack? She isn't a redhead."  

Wills gulped down the rest of his beer, licked off the foam moustache, and smiled at the bartender, who looked wistful. He whispered something and raised her hand to his lips, and she blushed and smiled, and kissed his cheek.  

The next morning, on the drive home, I took the opportunity to talk to him. "You seemed to be having a good time."  

"Yeah. It's always fun with the cousins."  

"I thought you might have gone home with the bartender. She really seemed taken with you."  

"She really wasn't my type."  

"A green-eyed blonde with tits out to there?"  

"Geez, Dad!" He blushed to his hairline.  

"So… uh… " I guessed I shouldn't tease him. "What is your type, son?"  

"Redheads, Dad," he said easily, and I risked taking my eyes off the road for a quick glance at him. The corner of his mouth was curled in a grin. "I have a weakness for auburn hair. Just like my old man."  

I reached across and patted his knee. "Remember when you decided to marry Jill?"  

"Yeah. I loved her a lot; I still do, but I think it worked out better this way."  

"Definitely. You'd have been the only boy in fifth grade with a wife."  

He gave a snort of laughter.  

I caught a glimpse of the road sign listing the eating places coming up at the next exit. "Breakfast?"  

"Good idea."  

I flipped up the blinker and steered into the deceleration lane. The diner was in the rest stop that was also a weigh station. Fortunately, since it was a Saturday morning, there weren't too many trucks in the parking lot. We got out of the car and walked into the diner. "Counter or booth, son?"  

"A booth sounds good, Dad. Hey, they have jukeboxes at each one!"  

"See anything you want to hear?"  

He turned the selections. "These are mostly old time music."  

"Oh?" I didn't realize he was biting back a grin until after I started to examine the songs, expecting to see something from the Big Band era. "Scamp!" I gently wacked him with the menu. They were all from the 60s and 70s.  

"Sorry, Dad. I couldn't resist."  

I returned his grin, then sobered. "What do you think of your cousin getting married, Wills?"  

"I wasn't expecting Harry to get married so soon. He's only a few months older than I am!"  

"This is true."  

Our waitress arrived, and we gave her our order: orange juice, eggs over easy, bacon, hash browns, and whole wheat toast. After she left us set up with the juice and coffee, I continued.  

"No, I meant what do you think of him marrying Brynn?"  

"Why would I think about it one way or the other, Dad?"  

"Harry did shoot you in the ass because of her."  

"I'm never gonna live that down, am I? I like Brynn. She's a nice girl. Woman. She's a little older than Harry, but if it doesn't matter to him, then it certainly doesn't matter to me."  

"So you're okay with the marriage?"  

"Didn't I just say that?"  

"Yes. It was just… something last night. A time or two I thought you looked… I don't know… sad?"  

He was silent for a moment, then sighed. "Nothing gets by you, does it, Dad? I'll admit I'm a little envious. I don't want to settle down now. I mean, I'll be twenty-one next week. But one day… I hope I can find what you and Jill have. What it looks like Harry and Brynn have. I really want that."  

"I was lucky, Wills. I found that twice in my life."  

He smiled ruefully. "I'll be happy if I can find it once."  

I reached across the table and gripped his forearm. "I know you will, son. I know you will."



To Part C