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How To Handle a Gay Son

Part C

 Part 7


Wills dated sporadically his senior year, explaining he was too busy with his studies to concentrate on one girl in particular.  

"He'll find someone eventually, darling Jack," Jill said when I brought up the subject after Harry's wedding, where Wills, looking very handsome in his tux, if his old man could say so, had danced with every woman there, including a ladies' choice with Marti, when she'd wormed her way through the crowd of women clamoring to have him for their partner and loudly declared, 'My dance!'  

"Yes, but… "  

"You found me, didn't you?"  

"Yes, and I thank my lucky stars. I just want him to be happy."  

"He will be. Just let him go at his own pace."  

"You're right, Jilly."  

She cuddled up against me and succeeded in replacing my thoughts of Wills with something else.  

That spring, for the first time since his freshman year, Wills came home instead of going to Panama City Beach with his fraternity brothers for spring break.  

"Didn't you want to go, son?"  

He shrugged. "The only reason they're going is to get blitzed and laid." He glanced quickly around, but neither Jar nor Marti were in the vicinity. "Sorry, Dad."  

I patted his shoulder. "And you don’t want to do that?" He flushed and looked away, and I remembered how unsatisfying sex with someone I hadn't loved had been and decided to drop the subject. "Your old treehouse needs some repairs. Want to give JR and me a hand?"  

"Sure thing, Dad. I'll change and get my tool belt and meet you in the backyard."  

"Come on, Jar." We walked through the kitchen and out onto the porch.  

"I'm glad Wills is home. I miss him when he's away."  

"I do too, son."  

"How come Michael doesn't come to visit any more, Dad?"  

"I don't know. Sometimes friends just drift apart."  


"They stop being friends."  

"But Michael was Wills' best friend!"  

"It happens, sport."  

"That's sad. But it won't happen with me and Pat."  

I wished. Kevin Patrick Mulcahy was a kid who, if there was trouble, he was almost certainly guaranteed to be involved. He'd been given the nickname 'Damien' early on, after the kid who was the antichrist in the movie, 'The Omen.' He constantly gave his parents grief, although he behaved himself whenever he was staying over with us, tended to drive his teachers to distraction, and was in the principal's office more often than not. I hoped he wasn't a pint-sized version of Michael Shaw.  

What was it about my sons that attracted this kind of friend?  

"Here comes Wills!" Jar started climbing the ladder up to the treehouse.  

I watched my older son as he crossed the lawn, wearing a pair of jeans that were starting to show their age and the tool belt I'd given him when he first started working the job sites. "How has college been going?"  

"It's been fine, Dad." He'd been on the dean's list every semester, something my brother Simon told me his students were getting tired of hearing about.  

"Have you given any more thought to what you'll do after you graduate?"  

"Yeah. I'm thinking of accepting the offer from Bradenhurst. The salary is good, there's a decent benefit package, and the prospect of advancement is promising. Plus I'd be working out of their Boston office. I could come see everyone a few times a month."  

"I'm sure Jill will try to persuade you to commute from here."  

"Uh, Dad, that's a sweet offer, but will you be hurt if I turn it down? I've got my eye on an apartment in Medford that will be available right after graduation."

"Not at all, son. As a matter of fact, I've been planning on turning your room into an exercise room. You know, weights, treadmill, stationary bicycle."  

"So when I come for a visit, I get to sleep on the weight bench?"  

"Actually, no. You get to camp out in this treehouse."  

"You're going to banish your firstborn to the wilds of nature?"  


Feigning shock, he opened his eyes wide and pressed his hand to his chest, and then we both burst into laughter.  

"After you, Dad." But he wasn't behind me as I climbed up to the main room of the treehouse. He lingered behind to talk to the girl whose family had moved in next door.  

Patricia Herendon was in her mid teens, pretty and petite, and she was a redhead. I watched as she looked at my son, her eyes huge and filled with adoration. He was a college man, after all, and not at all hard on the eyes.  

I was glad he would be leaving at the end of the week, though. Patricia was a nice girl, but she was much too young for him. And quite frankly, I didn't care at all for her parents. Her father, a retired Army colonel, seemed fonder of his Pit Bull, General Custer, than of his daughter, and her mother obviously worried that she would be contaminated by talking to any of the neighbors.  

"Patricia! Don't hang over the fence like a common washerwoman. Come in the house at once. At once!"  

Wills came up, shaking his head. "Glad I wore my sweatshirt."  

"It did get abruptly chilly, didn't it? Well, you know what they say about good fences making good neighbors."  

"Yeah, but Dad, a stockade?"  

A simple white picket fence had separated the properties when Joe and Sylvie O'Brien, a friendly older couple, had lived there. Wills would often hop over it and help Mrs. Obie, as he called her, in her garden. After she was felled by a mild stroke, both Joe and Sylvie had decided it was time to see the USA while they could still enjoy it, and had put their house on the market.   

"Well, as long as it keeps General Custer out." Herendon's Pit Bull was a nasty-tempered brute. The cats didn't like him, and tended to stroll along the top of the fence, deliberately taunting him. As for Dog Three, her hackles went up every time General Custer came near.  

"I miss Mrs. Obie," Jar said.  

Wills ruffled his brother's hair. "She baked the best cookies. Did she ever make you Boom Booms?"  

"Brownies like the ones from Rosie's Bakery? With the cream cheese in them?"  

"The very same!"  

And while they were busy reminiscing about Mrs. O'Brien's fine hand in the kitchen – she and Alice had become good friends and would swap recipes, and she joined in the gentle conspiracy to keep from Jill the fact that cooking was not her forte – I mulled over the fact that as Jar had reminded me, we hadn't seen Wills' best friend in a long time. When there was a break in their conversation, I asked about him. "What will Michael be doing, Wills?"  

"He's said something about joining Bradenhurst too."  

"Will he be sharing that apartment with you?" Please god, no. And then I was ashamed for thinking that.  

"No. He's … No, Dad." There was regret in those simple words.  

"You were friends for a long time." Had Michael finally done something that had pushed my easy-going son to the limit?  

"Nothing lasts forever." Wills shrugged, concentrating on yanking out a rusted nail and replacing it. "He's found new friends."  

Had Michael shut his best friend out, left him behind? After the way Wills had stuck up for him all these years? "Wills?"  

"It's not a big deal. Please, Dad?"  

"It is a big deal, but all right, son." I handed him the battery-powered drill. "Those screws need tightening."  

"Got it."  

"Are you still seeing… What was her name? The redhead?"  

"Which redhead?" The corner of his mouth tipped up in a grin. "There've been six of 'em since the New Year."  

"That's my boy!" It might be chauvinistic and macho, and I'd never say a word about this to Jill, but I liked the notion of my son cutting a swath through the female population of his college. It was too bad that he didn't see any of them in the light of a potential mate, but there was plenty of time for him to settle down in the future, and this way he'd know the real thing when it came along.  

"Am I your boy too, Dad?" Jar had been listening even as he'd worked to caulk the boards in a corner of the treehouse room.  

"Of course you are, Jar." At nine, I didn't need to worry about him dating just yet. "And if you're done, let's go in and get washed up. I hear Alice calling us for dinner."  


Both Wills and Michael accepted the job offers from Bradenhurst, and after graduation, Wills began working in the IT department. Michael, from what I gathered, worked in public relations.  

Wills moved into the apartment in Medford he'd told me about, a dingy little efficiency, and once he was settled, he invited us over to demonstrate his capability of dealing with being on his own and to have dinner with him.  

Alice had a tendency to shoo the men of the family out of her kitchen, so Wills wasn't much better at cooking than I had been at his age, or was even now. However, most supermarkets had a prepared food department, and as he told me, "I wield a pretty mean phone when it comes to ordering take-out, Dad."  

Dinner was good, and my wife was impressed. She wasn't impressed by his apartment, though.  

She kept her feelings bottled on the drive home, while Jar and Marti squabbled good-naturedly in the back seat over who would get to sleep over first – the apartment wasn't large enough for both of them, even if Marti was willing to take her Barbie sleeping bag.  

Once we were home and Jar and Marti sent off to bed, she let it all pour out.  

"Jack! It's awful!" She stood fussing before the mirror. "It's small and dark, the furniture is shabby, there are silverfish in the bathtub, and the mousetrap in the kitchen had a mouse in it!"  

"That's what it was there for, Jilly." I went to stand behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist and drawing her back against me.  

"I wish he'd let you give him the money for some place better! Whatever rent he's paying, it's too much!"  

"It's the first place he's had all on his own, and from what he's said, Bradenhurst intends to send him around the country troubleshooting their computer system, so he'll rarely even be there." I wondered if she was as grateful as I that at least Wills wasn't sharing that apartment with Michael. Apparently things had been cool between them for longer than I'd realized. Wills didn't offer any explanations, and I was reluctant to ask for any.  

"Then why couldn't he stay here at home?"  

"He's a man now, Jill. We have to let him go."  

She sighed. "You're right, Jack." She was quiet for a bit, and then murmured, "Maybe I could give him one of Mary Poppins' kittens, the little golden male? At least that would take care of the mouse problem!"  

"I think JR has his heart set on him. Besides, if Wills isn't home all that much, it wouldn't be fair to any pet. It'll be all right, Jill; *he'll* be all right. I promise you."  


Wills called early on a Sunday afternoon in February. "Is it okay if I come over, Dad?"  

"You never have to ask, son. Come now if you'd like. We'll catch the end of the Patriots' game and you can stay for dinner."  

"Cool. I… I have some news."  

"Good, I hope?"  

"Yeah, it is. I'll see you in a little while. Bye, Dad."  

"Bye, son." I hung up, wondering if maybe he was going to announce he'd become serious about some young woman, and went into the kitchen. "Wills will be joining us for dinner, Alice ."  

"Wills is coming! Wills is coming!" Marti danced around the room.  

"All right, young lady." Alice smiled at her. "Would you like to help me get the table set?"  

"What's all the excitement?" Jill came in, a large, black trash bag in her arms. I stepped forward to take it from her. "Thanks, darling Jack."  

"Wills is coming, Mommy! And Alice is going to let me set the table!"  

"That's wonderful! I know you'll make it look very pretty, Marti. Carefully, now."  

"Okay!" Marti took the dishes Alice handed her and walked decorously to the dining room.  

"What's in the bag, Jilly?"  

"All the clothes Marti and Jar have outgrown. It's a good thing they got so many new ones for Christmas."  

"Even though they grumbled that they hadn't asked Santa for clothes?" We exchanged grins. "Where do you want this, sweet girl?"  

"In the trunk of my car. I'll drop it off in the St. Vincent de Paul box at the church one day this week when I drive Marti and Jar to school. I'm so glad Wills is coming for dinner. We don't get to see him often enough."  

"Yeah." I took the key to her car from the key rack by the back door. "Bradenhurst has really kept him busy."  


"So what's the good news?" I asked my older son as I passed him the platter holding the pork chops.  

"I've been given a promotion." He placed a couple of chops onto his plate, not the amount he would normally take.  

"In only eight months? Way to go, son!" Not quite the announcement I was expecting, but then, I told myself, he was young yet.  

Jill paused in carefully slicing the meat from a chop for Marti, and glanced up. "Oh, sweetie, that's fantastic!"  

Apparently disinterested, Jar concentrated on his pork chops, while Marti attempted to get a small piece of the white meat onto her fork.  

"Well done, Wills!" Alice passed him the squash.  

"Thanks." He gave her a weak smile. As much as he didn't like it, he would eat it to please her. "The thing is," he turned his attention back to me, "it involves a transfer. I'll be moving to Washington , DC ."  

Even Jar and Marti looked up at that.  

My grip tightened on my napkin, crumpling it. "When… " How foolish to grieve his moving away. He was a man now, as I'd often told Jill. But he was also my first born, my only link to my first love since Tony had cut us out of his life. I cleared my throat. "When do you leave?"  

"I have the week to tie up loose ends in the Boston office, clear things off my desk, and get packed… "

"Wills is moving?" Marti's lower lip quivered. "Far away?"  

"Not that far away, munchkin. It's only four hundred or so miles."  

Since when had Wills looked on four hundred miles as not being far?  

"But… but that's as far as California !"  

"Not quite." He smiled and reached over to tug her ponytail. "I promise you, munchkin. Not quite."  

"Do you want us to help you pack?" Jill asked.  

"I'll only be taking what I've got in the apartment."  

"Oh. So you won't need any help." Jill was more upset than those words would seem to indicate. I'd constantly said my boy was a man, but this brought it home as nothing else might have done.  

"No. But once I'm all moved in, you'll come down and visit me, won't you? Maybe make a long weekend of it?"  

"Oh, sweetie! We all will!"  

"Cool. You too, Alice , please?"  

"Why, yes. Thank you for including me… "  

"Of course I'd include you. You're family."  

She teared up, reached for his hand, and squeezed it. "Thank you."  

Wills smiled at her, looking so like Sophia that for a second I couldn't catch my breath. Why had no young woman snapped him up yet?  

Well, time for that once he was settled in his career.  

"Pass the biscuits, please, Wills?" I smoothed out my napkin. "Now, what will this promotion entail?"  


A few weeks later Wills called to let us know he was settled in. "And Dad, give some thought to letting Jar and Marti each spend a night at my place? It's not big enough for them both to stay, but… "  

"That will pretty much blow your weekend, son."  

"I haven't started dating yet, and truthfully I'd rather spend the time with my brother and sister."  

"I'll talk to Jill about it, but if you're sure?"  

"I'm sure."  

"All right then. I'll call the airline now and let you know our flight number and when we'll be arriving."  

"Cool, Dad. I love you."  

"I love you too, son. Take care of yourself."  

"Always do." There was a smile in his voice. "See you soon, Dad. Bye."  

"Bye, Wills."  

I made arrangements for us to fly down on a Friday afternoon, then had to cancel Alice 's ticket. There was a crisis at her daughter's home, and Alice was unable to join us.  

"I can't understand it. I was only there a short time ago, and everything seemed fine."  

"Next time, Alice ," I assured her and patted her shoulder. I didn't say anything, but it seemed to me that Alice was often called away to help her daughter with one crisis or another.  

"Yes." She sighed, then gave herself a brisk shake. "Well, that's what grandmas are for. You take plenty of pictures, Jack. I'll want to see where our boy is living."  

"I will." I called Wills to let him know that it would just be the four of us flying down.  

He picked us up at Reagan National. Because we were only staying for the weekend, we were able to make do with carry-ons and didn't have to wait around at the baggage carousel.  

"Can you handle your carry-on, Jar?" I had Jill's and mine, while Wills took Marti's.  

"Yes, Dad. I can do it."  

"Okay, everyone. Right this way." Wills led us directly to where his car, a nondescript Dodge, was parked in the short term lot. "I made reservations for you at the Harrison Hotel. I've heard it's a nice place." He opened the roomy trunk and placed the bags in it, then grinned at Jar and Marti. "It's got an indoor pool and an arcade."  

"We won't be staying with you?" Marti's lower lip began to quiver. She was exceptionally close to him, and she'd missed him a great deal.  

"There isn't much room, munchkin. I just have one bedroom and a sofa in the living room, but... Dad?"  

"When Wills called earlier, he told me he'd be taking the weekend off, and that if it was all right with me and Mom, you could each spend a night with him."  

"Can we, Daddy? Please?" From the very first day, when she'd been placed in my arms and had opened her blue eyes to peer up at me, my daughter had had me wrapped around her little finger. "Please, Mommy?"  

"As long as you promise to behave." Jill could be surprisingly strict at times. "If we hear you've given your brother the least little bit of trouble… "  

"We'll be good, Mom," Jar assured her.  

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" Marti bounced up and down.  

I grinned at her enthusiasm. "How do you two want to decide who goes first?"  

Jar stood up straight. "Ladies first, Dad. Marti, you can sleep over tonight, all right?"  

"You're a good boy, son."  

"Thank you, Jar!" Marti hugged him.  

"I'll drive you to your hotel so you can get checked in and freshen up, and then we'll drop Marti's bag at my place. I'll show you around it, and we can go to dinner from there."  

"Sounds good."  

Wills had always been a competent driver, but the way he dealt with the DC traffic made me proud. It also made me glad I wasn't the one doing the driving.  

He pulled into a spot in the hotel's underground parking garage, and we gathered our bags and took an elevator to the lobby.  

"You have a reservation for Jack and Jill Matheson and family."  

"Yes, sir." The clerk's expression was polite and interested, and there was no trace of a smirk, which was the customary response we got to our names. "Two adults and two children. You'll be in our Old Tippecanoe Suite."  

"Why are you giving us an old sweet?" Marti asked. "Don't you have any fresh ones?"  

She smiled at Marti. "Old Tippecanoe was the nickname of William Henry Harrison. This hotel is named for him. And a suite is a couple of rooms that open into each other. Oh, no, Mr. Matheson." She pushed my credit card back to me. "It's all been taken care of."  


"You wouldn't let me pay for your flight, Dad. Let me do this for you. Please?" There was something in his eyes that I had never seen before.  

"Thank you, son." In spite of the fact that we were in the lobby of a hotel, I hugged him.  

"Thank *you*, Dad," he whispered.  

"Your key cards, sir."  

I squeezed my son's shoulder, then stepped back and took the cards, giving Jill hers.  

"You're on 5," the clerk informed us. "The elevators immediately off the lobby will take you there. Enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs. Matheson." The smile she turned on Wills was flirtatious, and I wasn't surprised when he returned it. She was a redhead, after all.  

I was so proud of how he attracted the opposite sex. Jill saw my expression. She linked her arm with mine and kissed my cheek. "JR, Marti, come along."  

It didn't take long to find our suite. My children oo'd and ah'd over the flat screen TV and the mini fridge in the sitting area, my wife was charmed by the Jacuzzi in the bathroom and the stand-alone shower with its variety of bath products, and I – I liked that the bedroom that would be ours had a queen bed. Jill would be close enough to cuddle during the night.  

"This is very nice, Wills. Thank you."  

He blushed and looked down. "You're welcome, Dad. Are you ready to go?"  

"Sure." What was going on with my son?  

The ride to his apartment took about half an hour, due to the traffic. Not only was it Friday afternoon, but it was rush hour.  

The building had a parking garage on the lower level. He drove the Dodge to a spot with 808 painted on it, then led us to the elevator.  

"Is there a doorman, Wills?"  

"No. The security is good, though. Surveillance cameras and such."  


"It's not bad, Dad." The doors of the elevator slid open. "Okay, right this way. The grand tour starts immediately, if not sooner!"  

The apartment came furnished. The walls were painted a bland, innocuous off-white and the furniture was uninspired and beige.  

"Bradenhurst found the apartment for me. I know it doesn't look like much, but the rent's reasonable. And anyway, I'm not here often enough for it to make much difference."  

"Like in Boston ?"  

"Yeah. Like in Boston ."  

"There are no drawers in the walls." That seemed to be Jar's chief complaint. He'd loved that feature of Wills' Medford apartment.  

"It's bigger though. The couch pulls out to a sleeper." He put Marti's carry-on down next to it.  

"But it's too far away for us to come visit!" And that was Marti's chief complaint.  

"Well, at least there aren't any mice or bugs!" Jill tried her best to put a positive spin on it.  

"No, there aren't, and that's a nice plus."  

"I want to see your kitchen."  

"Right through there. And you'll notice the washer and dryer in the alcove? Not every apartment has that feature. I feel so special." He grinned, about to follow her and his brother and sister, when I touched his arm. "Dad?"  

"Are you happy here, Wills?"  

His grin turned wry. "Does it show?" He shook his head. "I just miss you all. I'm still adjusting to living in the big city, I guess."  

Boston was a big city. Something didn't jive right. "How long do you plan on staying here?"  

"In DC or this apartment?" He shrugged. "I'm not sure. This branch of… of Bradenhurst is tougher than the Boston one. I'm… I just ... "  


"Don't mind me, Dad. It's just a touch of homesickness."  

"If this doesn't work out, don't be ashamed to admit it. There are other jobs, and I know at least one architectural firm that will hire you in a snap."  

"It's good to be the boss' son." His smile became more relaxed.  

"I'm here if you need to talk, son." As I'd pointed out time and again, my son was a grown man. But he was still my son.  

"I know. You're the best, Dad." He hugged me. "Thank you. Now, come on. I've made reservations for dinner. It's a nice little Chinese restaurant, and I think you'll all like it."  


The next time we saw Wills was about four months later when he had a layover in Boston and called to let me know he wanted to take us out to dinner.  

Maybe it was just a matter of getting used to working in a different city, far from his family, but he seemed more relaxed, more my easy-going son once again.  

While Jar and Marti vied to hold his ear, bringing him up to date on everything that had been going on with school, their friends, and the cats and Dog Three, he sat back in his chair, running a finger up and down the side of his wine glass, happy and smiling.  

"Have you been seeing anyone, sweetie?" Jill asked when our children both paused for a breath.  

"Not for a while, Jill. Work keeps me busy, and it wouldn't be fair to date a woman when I'm out of town so often."  

"I suppose." Jill sighed.  

"That's probably just as well," I said, although I would have liked to know Wills was serious about someone. "You're too young to be a grandma, Jill."  

"That may be, Jack, but I want to see Wills happy."  

"I am happy." He did seem to be. "And one day I suppose I'll meet the girl of my dreams, get married, and have a bunch of kids."  

"And I'll be their uncle!" Jar seemed more excited  by that fact than by the idea of his brother marrying.  

"Me, too!"  

"No, Marti. You'll be their aunt."  

"That's what I said!"  

"Enough about your non-existent wife and children. How is Michael? Do you see much of him?"  

"No." His smile dimmed, and I wanted to kick myself for bringing up the young man who had once been his best friend. "We're in different departments, and his boss keeps him pretty busy. And since I'm out of town so often, well, there doesn't seem to be time to get together."  

"Where are you flying to this time, sweetie?"  

"Bradenhurst has an affiliate in Colorado ."  

"How long will you be there?"  

"Probably not longer than a week. From there I'm supposed to go to San Francisco to connect with a flight to Hawaii ."  

" Hawaii . How romantic!" Jill smiled dreamily, and that gave me an idea for our next anniversary. I'd talk to Alice to make sure she would be available to watch the children. If she was unavailable – she was still getting calls from Ginny to hurry back to New York to help her – maybe Jake and his wife would have them stay. I'd have to give it more thought.  

Meanwhile, Wills grinned wryly. "I won't get to see many of the tourist spots, but I am hoping to meet up with Uncle Pete. He's trying to coordinate a couple of days' leave.  

I smiled at Wills. "You're really racking up the frequent flyer miles."  

"You could say that." Our waitress came with the dessert menu. "No, nothing for me." He glanced at his watch. "I hate to eat and run, but I'll have to step on it if I want to make my flight." He reached for his wallet.  

"No, son. Let me get it."  

"All right. Thanks, Dad." He rose, ruffled his brother's hair, kissed his sister's cheek, then hugged Jill and shook my hand. "I loved seeing you all."  

"When will you be in town again?"  

"Soon, I hope."  


He pulled me into a hug, whispered, "I love you, Dad," then let me go. "Bye, everyone."  

I watched as he strode toward the front of the restaurant, assurance in the way he carried himself, in every step he took. He made me very proud.  

"Can we have dessert, Dad?"  

"Sure, Jar." I sat down and opened the menu. "What do you feel like having?"


The Labor Day weekend was approaching, and my brother Jake was having a small family gathering – well, relatively small, considering the size of our family – at his home on Long Island . He called me to find out if we could make it.  

"You bet, Jake. I'll have to drop Alice off at her daughter's house on Friday, and then pick her up on the way back on Tuesday morning."  

"Her daughter needs her again?"  

"Yeah." It seemed that every time we tried to include Alice in our plans, something would come up with her daughter's kids, and she'd have to go help out.  

"Ginny sounds really insecure to me."  

"To me too, but I can't tell Alice that."  

"No. So, what about Wills? We were sorry he wasn't able to make it for Memorial Day."  

"He won't be able to make this either. His job."  

"Shit. That's too bad, because Mom and Dad will be here. Have you seen him recently?"  

"Yeah. He was able to take the second week in August for his vacation, and he spent it with us, then drove down to Seaford to see Mom and Dad before he had to get back to DC." Wills had a decent number of vacation days, but because he was low man on the totem pole, he didn't have much choice when it came to taking them. It also seemed that he was working almost every weekend.  

"He drove out to see us for a few hours before he had to head back to DC too. The boy does a lot of driving."  

"He does a lot of traveling, period." I sighed.  

"Well, we're gonna miss him on Labor Day."  

"Yeah. Will Pete and Simon be able to come?"  

"No. Pete's stationed out of the country until the end of the year and can't get leave, and Simon's not only teaching, but he's doing some research for a paper."  

"It would be great if we could all get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I guess the odds on that aren't good." This would be the first holiday season we'd be spending without Wills.  

"No. It's been too long. Maybe next Memorial Day?"  

"We can hope. Mom will twist Pete's arm; she was always good at that. And Simon promised he'd be here no matter what."  

"I'm glad to hear that. It would be nice if Pete brought that guy he's involved with."  

Pete was gay, but because he was in the Marines, no one outside the family knew. It had made no difference to Sophe, which had surprised me a little, considering how old-fashioned her family was. Then again, knowing Sophe, it shouldn't have surprised me. She'd loved Pete and insisted he come to dinner whenever he was in town. He'd been out of the country when she'd died, but somehow he'd managed to get leave, and had been one of her pallbearers.  

Lost in memories of that time, I almost missed it when Jake said, "Hey, did I tell you Brynn is expecting? Twins, Jack!"  

"No! Congratulations, Grandpa!"  

"Smile when you call me that!" He chuckled. "My sons have married veritable baby machines, and if you tell any of my daughters-in-law that I said that, I'll grind you into little bitty Matheson meatballs!"  

"My lips are sealed."  

"So, Jack, any idea when Wills will make you a father-in-law?"  

"Not any time soon, that's for sure. His company sends him all over the country, and that makes it hard for him to get serious about anyone." Wills was a grown man, I kept reminding myself. He had his life to lead, and work was an important part of it.  

"Well, he'll make a good husband when he finally settles down."  

"Yes, and a good dad." I thought wistfully of a little boy with Sophia's eyes and mouth, warm olive skin, and ink-dark hair.  

We talked a bit longer, catching up on other family news, and then hung up.  

The next time Wills called to touch base, I asked casually, "Seeing anyone special, son?"  

"Not right now, Dad. You know how things can be with work," he replied, just as casually, and changed the subject.  


The ringing of the telephone shrilled through the quiet of that night the following April, yanking me out of a deep sleep. I fumbled for the receiver, my heart pounding as adrenaline flooded through my system. Beside me, Jill snapped on the bedside lamp.  

"Mr. Matheson?"  


"One moment for Mr. Adams, please."  

Adams ? Who the fuck… Oh, jesus, the man who was Wills' superior in DC.  

"Mr. Matheson, this is James Adams."  

"What's happened to my son?"  

"Why would you think something's happened to him?"  

"Don't treat me like a fool. You're not calling at 2:30 in the morning to pass the time of day."  

"I'm not," he said. Was there grudging admiration in his voice? "Your son was in an automobile accident – a freak accident – but he's alive."  

"Oh, dear god." My gut felt as if it turned to water. A freak car accident had taken his mother from me. Was it going to take my son from me also?  

"Jack? What's happened to Wills?" Jill's voice was sharp.  

I put my hand over the receiver. "He's been in an accident."  

"Oh, no!" She sprang out of bed and began laying out clothes.  

"Mr. Matheson, are you there?"  

I swallowed and turned back to the phone. "I'm sorry, I was just telling my wife… How… how bad?"  

"It could have been worse." Adams ' words were somber. At least he didn't insult my intelligence by trying for a chipper tone. "As I told you, he's alive. However, we thought it would be for the best if we transferred him to a hospital closer to your home."  

"Mass General?"  

"No. Matheson has been sent to Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial, a small teaching hospital that Bradenhurst sponsors. It's in Weymouth . I'm sure you'll want to go there. I'll give you the directions."  

"Yes. Thank you." I'd never heard of that hospital, but if it was a small one… "Let me get a pencil and paper."  

Jill opened the drawer of her night table and took out the notepad and pen she kept there. "Here, Jack."  

"Thanks, sweet girl. All right, Mr. Adams. Go ahead." I scribbled down the directions. "We'll be there as soon as we can."  

"There's no rush for you to get there, Mr. Matheson. Your son is just getting settled into his room."  

"We'll be there as soon as we can," I repeated.  

"Very well. Drive carefully. Goodnight."  

"Wait! How bad… Yeah, goodnight," I said to the dial tone.  

"I'll wake Alice and let her know." Jill was already dressed. "You get the car, okay, Jack?"  

"Yes." I blinked and blinked again, trying to emerge from the daze I was in. "Yes. I'll get the car." I threw back the covers and headed for the bedroom door. A pounding was building up behind my temples, and I dug my thumbs into them.  



"Get dressed, okay?"  

I looked down at myself and scrubbed my face. "Jesus." I was wearing shorts and an undershirt. "Yes."  

Jill came to me and hugged me, then hurried out of the room.  


At that time of night, there wasn't much traffic on the road. Fortunately, there weren't any state troopers around either. I did the half hour run in fifteen minutes.  

A middle-aged nurse took us right to Wills' room. "He's doing much better. He's sleeping right now."  

I bit back a moan at the sight of my son lying face down on the bed. Tubes ran into and out of his body. Hanging from the lower railing of his bed was a bag, about a third-filled with bloody urine. The sheet and blanket covered him to his waist, and his back…  

A livid, angry red line held together by surgical staples ran from a couple of inches above his waist to just below his left shoulder blade.  

"How badly is he hurt?"  

"He's on the mend. Beyond that, there really isn't much I can tell you."  

"Nurse, please?"  

"I'm sorry. You'll have to speak to his doctor. I'll make sure Dr. Herricks knows you're here."  

It seemed an eternity before Dr. Herricks strode in, but it couldn't have been longer than five minutes.  

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Matheson. I'm pleased to meet you, although not, of course, under these circumstances."  

"Dr. Herricks." We shook his hand. "How is he? What happened?"  

"Didn't… I was sure Mr. Adams was supposed to tell you… Your son was in a freak accident."  

"Yes, we were told that. But what happened?"  

"Oh. Well." He waved his hand vaguely. "A motor vehicle accident. Not your son's fault at all, I was told, and it would have been a lot worse if he hadn't been wearing his seatbelt. The worst of his injuries is damage to his kidney. He'll lose some of the function, I'm afraid, but he's got the other one, so that's okay."  

Was he insane? It *wasn't* 'okay'! "What… "  

"He's getting something for pain through his IV." The doctor looked around. "Well, I'm sure you'll want to stay with your son. I'll just talk to one of the nurses and see that you get a couple of cots in here. It was very nice meeting you." He gave us a professional smile. "Goodnight."  

"But… Son of a bitch!" I stared at his retreating back and started to go after him.  


I forgot everything else and went to my son's side.  

"We're here, son."  

"Wasn't sure. Been… been thinking since it happened that I've heard your voice." His eyes were unfocused. "I'm home?"  

"You're in the hospital."  

"What happened?"  

"We were told you were in a freak car accident."  

"S-sorry, Dad. Wish they… they hadn't put it like that." His eyelids drooped closed.  

"Are you in pain? Do you want us to get a nurse?"  

"No. Tired. Jill here too?"  

"Of course, sweetie." She smoothed the hair back off his forehead. "Where else would I be?"  

He smiled, but his lips were so dry it looked like they were about to crack. Jill took a tube of Chapstick from her pocketbook, smoothing it over his lips.  




"You're welcome. Though I could smack you for scaring us like this! If you'd wanted to see us so badly… " Her voice hitched, and she turned away and bit back a sob.  

"Sorry. Dunno what… what went wrong… "  

"Go back to sleep, sport." I would have patted his shoulder, but I was afraid I'd hurt him. Instead I straightened the covers around his waist. "We'll be here when you wake up."  

"Th-thanks, Dad. Been… been a long time… since you… called me… 'sport.'"  

"Wills… "  

"'sokay. Missed… missed hearing it. Didn't… realize… how… much… "  

"Oh, son… " I reached for his hand and held tight to it, and Jill buried her face against my shoulder.  

"'sokay." His breathing deepened and evened out as he slid back into slumber.  

It was a restless slumber, however, and he tossed and turned, biting back moans when the staples on his back pulled, or the tubes tangled.  

"Nurse! Why is he like this? What's happening to him?"  

"Not to worry." It was another nurse who answered the bell. "It's just nightmares. The narcotic he's taking for the pain has that side effect sometimes. He's doing amazingly well, and we'll be lessening the dosage before long."  

I wanted him home. "When will he be discharged?"  

"Once the doctor is sure we have the bleeding under control, I'm sure he'll… You're both looking exhausted. Why don't you try to get some rest?" Her smile was a copy of the doctor's. "I'll be back to check on Mr. Matheson in a little while, but if you need me, please feel free to call me."  

"Jack, I want Dr. Sorensen to see Wills." Jill went into my arms and clung to me. Jim Sorensen had been our family doctor since we'd moved to Cambridge in '87, and he'd taken care of the broken bones and childhood illnesses of all our children, as well as the occasional flu and bronchitis that Jill and I and Alice had contracted. We trusted him to keep us all healthy.  

"I'll call him first thing in the morning, sweet girl." I wanted Wills out of here as soon as it was possible. I didn't like the doctor, I didn't like the nurses, and I didn't understand why he was in this hospital instead of Mass General. "We'll get our boy home as soon as we can."


Part 8


It was more than a couple of weeks before Wills was discharged from Joseph P. Kennedy however, and by that time he was off the narcotic, disconnected from the IVs and the Foley, and had the staples removed.  

When our family doctor got to see Wills, he studied the X-rays, examined him carefully, and finally shook his head, shaken and puzzled. "I don't know how he managed to survive, Jack. Wills had a very close call, that's all I can tell you. A very close call."  

"I'm sorry, Dad." Wills eased his shirt on over his shoulders, and I helped him with it, avoiding the long, healing wound on his back.  

"What are you sorry about?"  

"I didn't want to get you all upset."  

"You're alive, and that's all that matters!"  


He was alive, and that *was* all that mattered. Everything else was just bullshit.  

"Jack." My wife's voice pulled me back into the present, and I looked up at her. It was dark now, the kitchen illuminated only by the light from the hallway. How long had I been sitting there, musing over the events of my life? "Oh, Jack!"  

"My sweet girl." I stood, and she came to me and ran her palms over my cheeks. Only then did I realized that I'd been crying. "I didn't mean it."  

"I know, Jack. I know."  

"I want what's best for all our children, Jilly. *Our* children. I'm so sorry I said Wills wasn't your child. I was just so hurt that you wouldn't give me credit for… "  

"I know. I reacted without thinking, and I'm sorry too. My father… He's a hateful, bigoted man, Jack."  

"I'm not like that, Jilly."  

"I know. I know. You were crying."  

I held her tight in my arms, my cheek against her hair. "I was thinking about how we almost lost Wills a few years ago."  

"And with Michael passing away at the beginning of the year… " She shuddered in my arms.  

"Yes. We worry about drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and now we have to be concerned about scarfing."  

"Is that what they're calling it?"  

"That's what Wills told me."  

"Darling Jack, I know you've had 'the talk' with Jar, but this… "  

"Wills talked to Jar about it, and then Jar and I talked more." I'd been anticipating a difficult conversation – how was I supposed to talk to my younger son about autoerotic asphyxiation? – but he'd touched my arm and said, 'It's okay, Dad. Wills called me after the funeral. He said it wasn't a smart thing to do, and if he'd known Michael was doing it, he'd have kicked his ass from Washington back here to Cambridge .' "He's promised to let either me or Wills know if any of the boys in his crowd want to try it."  

"And by 'any of the boys,' you mean Damien."  

"Yes." I knew she was talking about Patrick.  

"Wills is a good brother. He's a good son too. Please, darling Jack. You'll give him and his friend a chance?"  

"I will, but it's going to be so hard for them, Jill. Never mind all the homophobia he'll have to face. There's also health insurance, owning property together, advanced health directives… And if they decide they want children… "  

"Jack, they've only started dating. They're not even living together. Don't you think that maybe you're jumping the gun just a bit?"  

"He's never brought anyone home before!" She gave me a look. "I… You're right, Jilly. I suppose if it becomes necessary, Bob will come up with something." Jake's third son was a lawyer.  

She laughed and kissed me. "You have an amazing family, darling Jack. I'm so glad I married into it."  

"So am I."  

"Let me make you some dinner."  

"Better yet, sweet girl – it's not too late. Let me take you out to dinner! How does Casablanca sound?"  

"Wonderful! Jar is old enough to stay home alone with Marti. They can nuke a bag of popcorn and watch some tapes. I'll just let them know, and then we can go!"  


After we returned home, and while Jill was getting ready for bed, I called Pete. He'd retired from the Marines a couple of months earlier and had just purchased a home in North Carolina .  

I finished telling him the whole thing. "And there you have it, Pete." I blew out a breath. "I don't understand how I could miss the signs."  

"What signs? Did you expect him to wear makeup? Talk with a lisp? Suddenly start singing show tunes?"  

"Don't be an asshole, Pete. What I meant was, I'm his father. Shouldn't I have seen he was attracted to guys?"  

"Dad didn't."  

"Come on. That was how many years ago? Did he even realize that was a possibility?"  

"Well, y'know, there was Aunt Margaret."  

"Yeah, but how many years was it before we found out that the school teacher she was sharing her apartment with was more than just a roommate?"  

"*We* all knew!"  

"And you kept it from me?"  

"Face it, Jackie. You were just a kid. You didn't need to know." He was the only one who could get away with using my boyhood nickname.  

"Yeah, but… "  

"But… ?"  

"Never mind."  

"So what are you gonna do?"  

"Well, I have to call Mom and Dad. Jake. Simon. The Sabatinis." I wasn't looking forward to that call at all.  

"Idiot. I mean with Wills being bi. How will that affect your relationship?"  

"Oh. I don't see that it has to."  

"That's what I want to hear, Jack. So what's got your shorts in a bunch?"  

"I'm just worried about this young man he's seeing. I haven't met him. I have no idea what his intentions are." I groaned as I realized how that sounded. "I thought I'd only have to worry about that with Marti."  

"Listen, Jack. We'll all be worrying about Marti, so don't give it a second thought."  

"Thanks, Pete. I'm gonna need all the help I can get. She's ten years old, and already boys are calling her!  

"That makes me glad I don't have kids."  

"And that's another thing! Wills would make such a great father, and he won't have children!"  

"Yes, he will, Jack. He'll have Jar's and Marti's and all his cousins'."  

"I know that, but… Pete – this is strictly between the two of us, okay? A child of his would be like having a little bit of Sophe again."  

"Ah, Jackie… "  

"I'm sorry. I'm being maudlin." I cleared my throat. "If only this Bascopolis is like your Dave." Pete had been involved with Dave Fredericks for almost as long as I'd been married to Jill, although with them both being in the military, they'd had to be very discreet. "Suppose he's not as serious about Wills as Wills is about him? Suppose he breaks Wills' heart?"  

"Straight or gay, that's a chance we all have to take. Do you trust your son?"  

"You know I do!"  

"Then trust him enough to know he's doing what's right for him. When is he coming home?"  

"He's flying up on Saturday for the Memorial Day Weekend, and bringing Bascopolis with him."  

"Shit. I can't make it this year. Dave and I are in the middle of things, what with moving in. You know how that is."  

"Oh, yeah, tell me about it!"  

"Wills' birthday wouldn't do any good. That's three months away, and if I know my nephew, he'll be pretty involved by then."  

"There is that. Damn. I don't know what to do. He might be a nice-enough guy, but jesus, Pete! I don't have to tell you how difficult it's going to be for Wills."  

"At least he's not in the military. Is it likely he'd lose his job if he were outed to his company?"  

"Bradenhurst seems to have a fairly liberal policy when it comes to their employees' sexual orientation. But if Wills is let go, I'll have Jake sic Bob on them."  

Pete burst into laughter. "Who'd have thought we'd have a reason to be pleased one of Jake's boys studied law? We'll have to stop teasing him about it now." He was silent for a minute. "I tell you what, Jack. How about if I drive up to DC as soon as I can and meet this Theo Bascopolis? I'll get back to you about my impression about him."  

"Would you mind, Pete?" By the time he was able to get to DC, we'd pretty much know if this guy was worthy of my son, but a second opinion would be good. "I trust your judgment, and I'd really appreciate it."  

"Ass. That's what brothers are for."  

I laughed. "Do me a favor, would you? Don't tell Jill I've been such an idiot about this, okay?"  

"You're not an idiot; you're a concerned father. You know I won't say anything if you don't want me to, but how come?"  

"Jill is so thrilled that Wills finally seems to have found someone that she's ready to welcome him with open arms. If… "  

"Ah. Got it. She'll start cooking for you if she realizes you have doubts. My lips are sealed, Jack.  

"I just hope we both can approve of Bascopolis. I'd hate to think what it would do to Wills if we didn't like his choice."  

"I hear you. When I brought Dave home to meet everyone… Well, I blessed my luck in having such an amazing family."  

"Your Dave is a good guy."  

"He is, isn't he?" I could hear the deep affection in my brother's voice, and I remembered his earlier years, when he'd gone from one man to the next, none of them lasting very long. Dave was good for him, and I hoped my son had found someone who brought him as much happiness. 

"I wish we all could get together more frequently. Mom and Dad aren't getting any younger, you know."  

"Yeah. I know each of us go to see them when we can, but it would mean the world to them if we were all there at the same time. I'll see if I can arrange something with Dave. Maybe next Memorial Day?"  

"That's a good idea. Jake will be having it at his place, and there's plenty of room for everyone. Wills isn't usually able to get holidays off, but I'll ask him to make an effort to be there then." With his boyfriend, if they were still together. "I'd better go now, Pete. It's getting late, and Jill will get suspicious."  

"I'll let you go then. Make sure you call and let me know what you think of him."  

"I will, Pete, and you do the same. You take care of yourself now, you hear?"  

"Sure thing, Jack. Bye."  



I put the car in the garage, and Jar, Marti, and I went into the house. "She'll be okay, Daddy?"  

"That's what Dr. Morse said, munchkin." This was a hell of a time for Dog Three to break her leg. The kids had been playing with her, tossing a Frisbee around, and she'd landed wrong. I'd heard the bone snap from the deck where I was hooking up the propane tank to the gas grill.  

"I'm sorry, Dad."  

"Not your fault, Jar. Sometimes these things just happen."  

Jill and Alice were in the kitchen when we walked in. If we weren't expecting such a mob, they would have come with us. "How is she?"  

"She'll be fine. Dr. Morse wants to keep her there for the weekend. She said something about making sure the bone is stable... " Dr. Morse had been our vet for almost as long as Jim Sorensen had been our family doctor. She'd taken me aside and had actually said it sounded as if the bone had snapped too easily, and she wanted to run a few tests, but Jar and Marti didn't need to know that just yet. I'd tell Jill and Alice later. "Anyway, it's probably just as well, with all the kids we'll have running around. You know Deety would want to join in all the fun, and she'd wind up breaking her leg again."  

"Yes." Jill crossed to Marti, who wasn't taking it well, and hugged her. "It will be all right, munchkin." Marti sniffled, and Jill exchanged looks with Alice .  

"You know, Jill, I have to run to the store to pick up a few last-minute things. Why don't you come with me, Marti?" She put her arm around Marti's shoulders and gave a small squeeze. "I could use the help."  

"Okay, Alice ." Not surprisingly, Marti was subdued. She hated to see any of the pets hurting.  

"Take my car, Alice ." Jill handed her the keys, and Alice and Marti left. "Jar?" She went to hug him, but he held himself stiffly.  

"I'll get the blow-up stuff for the pool ready, okay, Mom?"  

"All right, sweetie." She tugged his head down and dropped a kiss on his hair.  

"Jar? It wasn't your fault."  

"If you say so, Dad." He went out, and the screen door banged behind him.  

I sighed, then glanced up at the clock. "Oh, shit!"  

"Now, now, Jack!"  

The shuttle that my son and his boyfriend would be arriving on was due to land at any moment. Wills had told Jill there was no need for anyone to come pick them up; he'd rent a car. He'd also told her they were only bringing carry-ons, so they'd be able to skip the wait at baggage claim. Taking into consideration the lines at the rental place and any holiday traffic they might run into, it would only be about forty-five minutes before they got here.  

I ran a hand through my hair, becoming more and more stressed. We didn't know much of anything about this Theo Bascopolis beyond the fact that he was unemployed and Wills had met him in George Washington Hospital . I'd hoped my son would meet the person who would be important to him close to home, at school or at his job or living right next door, although truthfully, I cringed at the thought of him joining our family and the Herendons.  

Well, I supposed meeting his soul mate, if that was what Bascopolis proved to be, in a hospital, couldn't be any stranger than meeting him in a supermarket or waiting on the corner bus stop.  

What troubled me was that Bascopolis wasn't working right now. Did that mean he was chronically unemployed? Was he a leech? Would he take my son for everything he could and then leave him, breaking Wills' heart?  

"Jill, would you tell me the truth? Has Wills always been like this, and I just didn't see it?"  

"If he was, I didn't see it either, darling Jack."  

"Oh, my god! I didn't pressure him into acting straight, did I?"  

"No." She came to me and hugged me. "Now, you pacing and wearing a hole in the floor won't get them here any sooner. Why don't you go open the pool? We're supposed to have good weather, but if the water isn't warm enough to go swimming, you can turn on the heater. And the tennis court needs to be set up too."  

"How can you be so calm about this, Jilly?"  

"Are you kidding? Inside I'm such a wreck; Alice has had to do most of the food prep! Darling Jack, this is the first time since high school that Wills has brought someone home."  

"That's what worries me. Knowing Wills, knowing his personality, we can be pretty sure that he's handed Bascopolis his heart on a platter."  

"But… ?"  

"What are Bascopolis' intentions? These gay guys can be so… Don't look at me like that. You didn't know Pete when he was younger!"  

"Darling Jack." She ran her hand over my hair, smoothing it down. "You're such a good father! Wills is a son you can be proud of, and I have no doubt he's made a wise choice."  

And if he hadn't, all we could do was be there for him, and I would be, right after I'd beat the shit out of Theodore Bascopolis.  

I brushed a kiss over Jill's lips and let her go. "I'll go see to the pool."  

"Oh, and look for the horseshoes too, okay?"  



The pool cover was off, the heater was warming the water, and I'd gone through the garage twice with no luck, so now I was in the basement looking for the horseshoes. Overhead I could hear footsteps. It occurred to me that they were too heavy to be my wife's and it was too early for my brother and his family to arrive.  

It had to be Wills and his friend. I licked my lips and went up the stairs. Jill was tearing the wrapping paper off what I assumed was a hostess gift.  

"Oooh! The first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking! A first printing! And it's been autographed by Julia Child!" Jill turned around and saw me standing there. "Jack, look!"  

"That was a very thoughtful gift. Bascopolis." Julia Child had retired to Santa Barbara , California the year before. How had he managed to get an autographed copy? Wills hadn't said anything about them taking a trip to the West Coast.  

I studied Bascopolis carefully. If I hadn't known that he was homosexual, I'd never have made him out to be gay. Well, except for the earring in his right ear. He was about six feet tall, and while he wasn't bulked up, his body was well-muscled. His eyes were a light, golden brown, and his hair… I felt my heart sink. He was a redhead.  

"Jill, take William's guest up to his room. I'd like to have a word with my son."  

"I'll join you in a few minutes, Theo. As soon as we're unpacked, we can go swimming if you'd like." My son's words were easy-going, but underneath was a thread of steel, and I remembered how staunchly he'd stood by Michael Shaw. I knew I'd have to tread warily if I didn't want to risk alienating him.  

Bascopolis met my gaze. "Mr. Matheson, I'd just like you to know that I care a great deal for your son; I won't hurt him. I think the last thing any of us would want is to see him hurt. I hope you'll give me a chance."  

I nodded but said nothing that would commit me one way or the other.  

"Come along, Theo." Jill gave me a look. "Wills has mentioned that you cook also."  

"Yes, I do."  

"We'll have to exchange recipes… "  

Their voices faded as they climbed the back staircase to the second floor, and I turned to face my son. He was watching me, but I was startled to realize I couldn't read his expression.  

I cleared my throat. "A very personable young man, William. But Jill tells me he's unemployed."  

"He's in the process of changing jobs, and…"  

"Wills." I'd always tried to be a hip, happening father, but I couldn't be hip and happening about this. Love was blind. I didn't want my firstborn son to be taken for a ride. "He could be a deadbeat. Don't let him get his hands on your money."  

"Dad, Theo has a degree in computer accounting; he's better with money than I am. He has a stock portfolio that… Well, let me put it this way. The last thing Theo Bascopolis needs from me is money. And besides, I'm too young to be his sugar daddy!" He blushed suddenly, but I hardly noticed.  

"I don't understand. You could have any woman you wanted. In college you had more girlfriends than we could shake a stick at!" Rissa, Sandy, Marilyn, Betty, Mary Ellen, Kate, Cindy… "Every time we turned around, there was a new coed clinging to your arm!"  

"Didn't you ever wonder about that, Dad?"  

"I thought you were a stud."  

He gave a snort of laughter. "Geez, I was lucky I could achieve penetration!"  

I felt shell-shocked. Oh, sure we'd had the birds and the bees conversation, but we'd never talked about what he'd done with any of his girlfriends. This was definitely too much information.  

Still chuckling, he patted my shoulder. "Sorry, Dad; more than you needed to know, huh?" He sobered. "Like you said, I went from one girl to another. I always used to wonder why I couldn't… " He paused and cleared his throat. "Um… why I couldn't settle with any one of them. Now I know."  

"I can't understand it."  

He stiffened, as if in anticipation of a blow. "That I'm gay?"  

"Wills!" I hadn't meant to say that out loud, but that wasn't what I'd meant. "I mean, you're a good-looking man, son, but…"  

"But Theo is flat-out gorgeous. I know."  

Actually, Bascopolis' looks were well enough, but nothing to compare with my son's.  

Wills was shaking his head. "I don't understand it myself, but I'm not going to question it. You know something, Dad? He loves me."  

//And you love him.// "Well, if you're going to persist in this… " //I guess that's about all anyone can ask for.//  

"Do… uh… do you still love me, Dad?"  

Abruptly I was taken back twenty-one years, to the time after Sophia had died, and my son had looked up at me with his mother's tear-drenched eyes and asked, 'Do you still love me, Daddy?' and I felt as if my heart was breaking.  

"You're my son, William. I'll always love you, no matter what." I gave him a shake, and then pulled him into my arms and hugged him fiercely. "No matter what! Just… " I gave a watery chuckle. "Just don't encourage Jill to cook for me again."  

He laughed, but his eyes were a little wet too. "I promise, Dad."  


I sat on the front porch steps, gazing up at the night sky through the leafy branches of the oak in the middle of the lawn. The women were putting the younger kids to bed, while Harry and his brothers sat with the older ones in the family room, watching videos.  

Jake lounged against the railing. "What do you think, Jack?"  

"I like him. He seems like a nice enough young man." I kept remembering the look I'd seen on his face when he'd learned how seriously Wills had been injured in that accident some years back – shocked, stunned, devastated.  

"I thought so too. I wonder if we'd have accepted him so easily if Pete weren't gay."  

"You've got a point. I wondered about that myself." The thing was, it was one thing growing up with a gay older brother. It was another learning the son I'd thought was straight, on whom I'd pinned all my hopes of a grandson with Sophia's looks, was gay. This was going to take some adjusting to.  

"You've told Mom and Dad?"  

"After I called you. They took it well. So did Simon."  

"Something's bothering you."  

"Yeah. I still have to call the Sabatinis."  

"I don't envy you that chore. They *won't* take it well."  

"No. Neither of Sophia's parents is in the best of health, and this news… " I sighed. "It will be just one more thing Tony will blame me for."  

"It wasn't your fault, Jack. And Wills being gay … "  

"Actually, bi." He'd told me himself he'd slept with girls.  

"Whatever. That's not your fault either." He patted my shoulder.  

"I know, Jake." I gazed up at the full moon as it hung in the late spring sky. "He took Theo out to the treehouse to look at the stars."  

"They've got a good night for it."  


"It'll be okay, Jack."  

"I hope so. I've never seen my son so… so in love with anyone."  

"I think you're right. I don't remember him ever bringing any of his girlfriends to a family gathering, not after high school, at any rate."  

"No. And we never met any of the girls he dated in college."  

"Y'know, Jack, none of my boys brought a girl home unless they were really serious about her."  

"So I guess this is the real deal for him."  

"Knowing you, knowing Sophia?" He dropped down beside me and slid his arm around my shoulder in a comforting hug. "I'd say yes."  


The rest of May, all four days of it, went downhill fast. When I went to pick up Deety, Dr. Morse asked me to step into one of the treatment rooms. There was an X-ray box on the wall, and she flipped a switch, lighting the film within it.  

"This is Dog Three's X-ray. I'm sorry, Mr. Matheson. As I'd feared, she has osteosarcoma, cancer of the bone. That's why her leg broke so easily."  

"But it can be treated, can't it?"  

"Yes, but I won't lie to you. It's a very aggressive cancer, and at the most, we'll only be able to buy her a year."  

"What kind of treatment are we talking about?"  

"Amputation of the limb, then chemotherapy."  

I'd been afraid it was bad, but this bad… "How soon do I need to make this decision?"  

"It appears to be in the early stages – no sign of it having metastasized to her lungs yet – but truthfully, the sooner we get started, the better chance she has."  

"What kind of quality of life will she have? You have to understand I want what's best for Dog Three, but she's nine years old, and I don't want her last year to be miserable."  

"She won't be miserable. Dogs don’t react to chemotherapy the way humans do, and the agent I'd put her on has minimal side effects."  

"If we do nothing?"  

"I'd still have to amputate the leg, if only to alleviate the pain. Dogs manage very well on three legs."  

I scrubbed my face. "Can I see her?"  

"Of course." She pressed a button on the intercom. "Josh, bring Dog Three to Room 2."  

Within minutes a tall, skinny kid brought in the black Lab. Deety's ears and tail were down, and she looked the epitome of an unhappy dog, but when she saw me, her ears went up and her whole hind end began to wag with her tail.  

"Hey, pup." I knelt down, and she hobbled to me, covering my face with doggy kisses and trying to climb onto my lap. I buried my face in the ruff of her neck. How could I have her put to sleep, when she appeared so alive? "Okay, Dr. Morse. Do whatever you have to do."  

"You're making the best choice for her, Mr. Matheson."  

"When will you… " I looked up at her and swallowed, "… take her leg?"  

"Tomorrow morning. I'll make sure she's first on the schedule."  

"Will we be able to see her before she goes under?"  

"Of course. Can you come by before 8?"  

"Yeah." I turned back to Deety. "You have to stay here a little longer, okay, pup? And you know what? The whole family is gonna come see you tomorrow!" She licked my cheek. "Be a good girl, Deety."  

"We'll take very good care of her, Mr. Matheson," Dr. Morse assured me as Josh led her away. Deety looked over her shoulder at me, her jaws parted in a doggy grin, and I felt the first tear spill over and run down my cheek.  

"What kind of timeline are we looking at here, Dr. Morse?"  

"We'll give Deety a couple of weeks to recover from the surgery. Then I'll remove the stitches and start the first of five rounds of chemo, which will be spaced about three weeks apart." She took my hand. "I've consulted with an oncologist about this, Mr. Matheson. We're going to try our best to get Deety through this."  

I cleared my throat. "Thank you. I… I have to go home and tell the family about this."  

"I'm sorry I didn't have better news for you."  

I nodded and walked out. Jar and Marti were both at school, so I had a reprieve with them, but that still left Jill and Alice .  

"Jack? Why didn't you bring Deety home?"  

I sighed. Here was the start of it.  


Surprisingly, Jar and Marti took it better than the three adults in the house did. Maybe because at their age they still believed that they and everyone they loved would live forever.  

Deety came through the surgery with flying colors, so glad to be at home again that she scarcely seemed to notice the loss of her front leg.  


It was a couple of weeks later, and things were settling into a routine. When the phone rang, Jar yelled, "I'll get it!" He didn't see me standing in the doorway. He picked up the phone, intoned into the receiver, "City morgue. You kill 'em, we chill 'em!" and abruptly blushed. "Oh, hi, Uncle Pete. Sorry about that; I thought it was someone else."  

I snorted. Probably Damien.  

"She's doing good, thanks. She had her first round of chemo yesterday, and so far there aren't any problems. Knock on wood." He rapped his knuckles gently against his skull, and I smothered a laugh. "I know, Dad was kind of surprised by that too, but it's a relief. Yeah. Okay, I'll get him for you. *Daaaddd*! Oh, sorry, I didn't realize you were right here, Dad." His cheeks turned a deeper red, and he handed me the telephone. "Um… I'll just go watch some TV."  

"You do that, sport."  

"C'mon, Deety."  

She followed along after him.  

I kept my expression stern until he left the room, then chuckled softly. "Hi, Pete."  

"Hi, Jack. I'm glad to hear Dog Three is managing on three legs."  

"Yeah, she's a wonder. I'm just hoping she handles the chemo as well. We've got our fingers crossed."  

"Us too. Keep me posted, okay?"  

"Sure thing. So tell me, how are things in North Carolina ?"  

"They're going well, Jack. Dave and I have everything just about squared away with the house now, and as soon as you have some free time, we'd like you and Jill and the kids to come down and stay for a few days, christen our guest rooms."  

"We'd love to. Let me check to make sure Jar and Marti don't have anything on their schedules, although I think they'd have no problem changing any plans. They do love their Uncle Pete."  

"I love them too. You've got yourself three great kids, Jackie. And that brings me to why I'm calling. Have you got the time to talk?"  

"For my big brother? Always!"  

"Okay, then, here's the skinny. I drove up to DC and met William's significant other. William was at work, so I got to spend some time alone with Theo."  

"What did you think of him?"  

"You were right. He's very easy to like." I'd called Pete after Memorial Day and filled him in on the events of the weekend. "You know I've been all over the world, but I don't think I've ever met anyone with so much charisma. And once he realized I wasn't going to make a play for William… "  

"Excuse me?"  

"He was rather… curt when I first showed up, until I introduced myself. He apologized later, said he thought I was some guy who'd finally *got* what a great man William was and was going to try to take William away from him."  

"Y'know, I saw Theo watching Wills a few times when he didn't realize anyone was paying attention to him, and it about broke my heart. It was as if someone had handed him the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and on a silver platter to boot, and he couldn't understand how he could be so lucky."  

"I know what you mean about that look. They had dinner with me at my hotel, and William reached across the table to pat Theo's arm. He was looking at me, so he didn't see the expression on Theo's face. I don't think Theo was aware himself, or he probably would have been embarrassed. I get the feeling that he's used to keeping his feelings under wraps."  

"He's had it rough, Pete. Did he tell you his father threw him out when he learned Theo was gay?"  

"No, he didn't say anything about that. How can any man call himself a father and still toss out his son like so much trash?"  

"Beats me." I sighed.  

"That reminds me. How did your former in-laws take it?"  

"They still don't know. I called to tell them, Pete, but Tony answered the phone, and when he realized it was me, he slammed it down."  

"Fuck it. What's wrong with him?"

"He still hasn't forgiven me for surviving that accident, while Sophe... "  

"Even after all these years? Ah, Jack… "  

"As much as I wanted to spare Wills from having to break that news to his grandparents, I'm afraid he'll have to."  

Pete was silent for a moment. "I thank god I had such a supportive family."  

"Yes. We really did luck out." After a moment, I said, "Okay, enough of the mushy stuff. Tell me about the time you spent with Theo."  

"He showed me the apartment… Have you seen it yet, Jack?"  

"Not yet."  

"It's amazing. I'm not the architect in the family, but it about knocked my socks off. It was originally built before the Civil War, and… "  


The veterinary receptionist smiled up at us as my son and I tore into the vet's office.  

"Mr. Matheson. JR. Are you here to see Deety? She's responding well to the treatment, and Dr. Morse is certain she'll be able to go home, maybe as soon as … " She took in the blood-soaked towel Jar was holding and quickly became all business. "Go into Room 3." She thumbed the intercom. "Tech to Room 3. Dr. Morse, we have an emergency. Room 3."  

Dr. Morse hurried in, pausing in surprise when she saw us. "Mr. Matheson… " Then she saw the little bundle on the examining table. "What happened?"  

"I got her here as quickly as I could. Our neighbor's dog got into the yard and did this," I explained as she carefully unwrapped the towel. "Please. Do whatever you have to in order to save her."  

"Which kitten… This is *Jasmine*?"  

"Ye-yes." The kitten was to have been our birthday gift to Wills. He and Theo had had such fun playing with her over the Memorial Day weekend.  

Dr. Morse spoke to the tech in low tones and began examining the tiny body, but she'd barely started before she shook her head and looked up at us.  

"Oh, Mr. Matheson. I'm so sorry. The extent of the injuries she suffered… Jasmine was gone before you got here." She cleaned the blood off her hands and rested her palm on my son's shoulder. "Are you all right, John?"  

Jar, white-faced and looking more like a boy than a teen on the threshold of young manhood, had ridden with me, holding the little broken body wrapped in the towel. He ducked his head and scrubbed his cheek against his shoulder, making no effort to hide his tears.  

"How is Marti taking this?"  

"Not well." I squeezed the bridge of my nose. "She saw the whole thing – she was in the kitchen and happened to look out the window. She went running out to try to save Jasmine." I swallowed hard. "Marti always picks the damnedest names… It's a good thing that Princess Kimba and Jad-bal-Ja got out at the same time. Otherwise… " I shuddered and swallowed again. Herendon's Pit Bull had actually chewed a hole through the wood of the stockade fence that separated our yards. If the two adult cats hadn't attacked him… I couldn't bear to think what might have happened to my daughter. "Anyway, Marti couldn't stop crying, and Jill's taken her to see Dr. Sorensen."  

"I'm so sorry," Dr. Morse repeated. "May I suggest a necropsy? It will come in handy if you decide to have the owner charged with negligence."  

I felt a hundred years old. "What will you do with the body afterwards?"  

"We'll cremate the remains and give you the ashes."  

"All right, then. You'll let me know what you find and when I can pick them up?"  

"Of course. And I'll be willing to testify if you need me to, Mr. Matheson."  

"Thank you. Send me the bill, all right?"  

"Go on home now." She patted my shoulder. "Drive carefully."  

I drove home from the vet's, Jar huddled against my side, shivering in the July heat. "What's gonna happen to General Custer, Dad?"  

"If Hugh Herendon has any sense of decency, he'll have that dog put down."  

Jar's laugh was bitter, too bitter for a fifteen-year-old. "He loves that dog more than Mrs. Herendon or Patricia. He's not gonna let anything happen to him."  

"We'll contact Animal Care and Control and let them deal with it, Jar." I turned down our street.  

He sat up abruptly. "Do you think Marti's okay? Mom's car isn't here."  

"I'll call Dr. Sorensen's office as soon as we get inside."  

"Dad. There are two officers on the porch talking to Alice ."  

"I see them." What could they want? I pulled into the driveway, turned off the ignition, and got out of the car. "Can I help you?" The patches on their breast pockets read Animal Care and Control. Had Alice called them?  

"I'm Officer Goodson and this is my partner, Officer Bennett. As we started to tell Mrs. Wainwright, we're looking for Jill Matheson."  

"I'm Jack Matheson. My wife has taken our daughter to the doctor and hasn't returned home as yet."  

"We understand she's the owner of a pair of cats that attacked a neighbor's dog without provocation. A complaint has been lodged against them."  

"Without provocation!" I scowled in the direction of the Herendon's house. The curtains dropped quickly into place.  

"That bastard!" Jar must have seen also. "There was provocation! The cats went after General Custer because he killed their kitten!"  

"Oh?" Officer Goodson began taking notes.  

"My daughter ran out into the backyard when she saw what that dog was doing to the kitten. That's why my wife had to take her to the doctor. She couldn't stop crying. If the cats hadn't distracted that dog, I have no doubt he would have gone after my daughter next!"  

"I see." Officer Goodson exchanged glances with her partner. "You said the kitten was killed. We're sorry for your loss. May we see the remains?"  

"We've just come back from the vet's. Dr. Morse." I gave them the address and phone number. "She said she'd do a necropsy, so if you'd like to contact her… "  

"Thank you, we'll do that." She closed her notepad and put it away. "Now, we've seen the Pit Bull, and if you don't mind, we'd like to see the cats responsible for his injuries."  

"Of course. Alice ?"  

She frowned at them but stepped back to let them enter the house. "They're in the living room."  

Princess Kimba and Jad-bal-Ja were curled tightly around each other on the couch. She made little moaning sounds, and he nuzzled her.   

"Yeah, a really dangerous pair." Officer Goodson gave us her card. "We'll contact Dr. Morse, and then let you know the outcome of our investigation. The fact that it was a Pit Bull… " She shook her head. "We'll be in touch."   

About half an hour later, Jill returned with Marti. She parked her car behind mine, and I ran out to help her. I'd never seen her look so shaken.  

I took our daughter from her arms and carried her up to her room. Together we got Marti into summer pajamas and into bed. The cats had followed us upstairs and lay against her. Jar stood watching from the doorway.  

"Someone has to tell Wills," Marti murmured, all trace of her natural exuberance gone.  

"I'll take care of it, munchkin. You just get some rest."  

"Thanks, Daddy. I'm sorry."  

"For what?"  

"I couldn't save Jasmine."  

"That wasn't your fault, Martinique . I want you to remember that. The only person responsible for this is the man who owns General Custer."  

"Okay." But Marti didn't really believe me. I heard Jar's breath hitch and turned to make sure he was okay. There was a forlorn air about him, and he wouldn't meet my eyes. Did he feel he was to blame in some way?  

"Mommy, stay with me?"  

"Of course, munchkin. Just let me talk to Daddy for a minute, okay?"  

We stepped out into the hall. "Will she be all right, Mom?"  

"Yes, Jar. Dr. Sorensen gave her a sedative, and he thinks once she's able to put some distance between what happened today, she'll be fine." She hugged him and kissed his cheek. "Thank you for going with Dad to the vet's. Why don't you go downstairs and help Alice get dinner ready?"  

"I'm not hungry."  

"All right." She turned back to me. "Jack, Jim also gave me the name of a psychologist we might want her to see, just in case."  Our poor little girl. Jill's eyes grew hard. "I want that dog put down."  

"So do I. Animal Care and Control was here earlier. We'll let them handle it, okay?" I wasn't going to tell her yet that it was because Herendon lodged a complaint against us. Once the officers saw what had been done to the kitten, I had no doubt they'd encourage us to file a counter-complaint.  

"You'll be able to take care of yourselves tonight? Jim said it might be a good idea for me to stay with Marti."  

"Don't worry about us. I'll call Wills and then bring a tray up for you both."  

"Thank you, darling Jack." Jill brushed a kiss across my lips and went into Marti's room, and Jar came downstairs with me. He sat on the couch, his shoulders slumped, while I called his brother. He was more disturbed by this than I'd realized. Maybe it would be a good idea for him to speak to the psychologist too.  

The phone rang four times and then was picked up. "Wills… "  

"Hi. You've reached the residence of Theo and Wills. We're not here right now. Leave a message and we'll get back to you."  

I sighed. "Wills, it's Dad. Call me when you get this. Something's happened. We're okay, but… Call me, okay?"  

I'd no sooner hung up then the phone rang.  

"Dad, what's wrong?" My son sounded out of breath.  

I rubbed my upper lip hard to keep from breaking down. "We've had a problem here. The Herendons' Pit Bull attacked the kitten that you and Theo were playing with on Memorial Day."  

"Jasmine? The little calico? Jesus. How bad, Dad?"  

"She didn't make it."  

"Dammit! How is Marti taking it?"  

"Not well. Dr. Sorensen had to give her a sedative." I went on to explain what had happened.  

"Goddammit." I'd never heard his voice so cold. "What can I do?"  

"Nothing, son. Right now it's in the hands of Animal Care and Control. I just wanted to let you know. I'm sorry we won't be able to give you the kitten… "


"She was your birthday present. It was supposed to be a surprise, but... "  

"Don't worry about it, Dad. How's Jar?"  

"He's upset."  

"Is he there? Can I talk to him?"  

"Sure. Hold on a second." I put my hand over the receiver. "Jar, Wills wants to talk to you."  

For a second he looked scared, but then he squared his shoulders, rose, and took the phone from me. "Wills?" His voice cracked for the first time since he'd reached puberty. "I… I should have been out there… "  

I could hear the sibilance over the line, but I couldn't distinguish my older son's words. Relief flooded Jar's face, and then determination.  

"Okay. Okay, I will. Thanks, Wills. Yeah, I love you too. Do you want me to put Dad back on? Okay. Bye." He handed the phone back to me. "I think I am a little hungry. I'm gonna go help Alice, Dad."  

"Okay, sport." I watched him as he left the room. "Wills… "  

"Dad, did Dr. Jim give you a referral to a psychologist?"  

I stared at the phone in surprise. "Yes, he did. I was just thinking I'd make sure Jar saw him too."  

"Good. I was going to suggest that. And I told him if he wants to talk to me, he can call me on my cell anytime. If I'm at work, I'll get back to him as soon as I can."  

"You're a good brother, Wills."  

"I've had lots of good examples. Listen, Dad. You call me too if you need to talk."  

"I will, son. I'll let you go now. I'm sorry… "  

"Don't be. It's not your fault. Give my love to Jill and Marti and Alice. And to you too. Bye, Dad."  

"Bye, son."


Part 9/End


I wondered who Herendon had in his back pocket. He was fined $100, In spite of the numerous injuries the kitten had received, and since he hadn't harmed Marti, General Custer was given a reprieve. He had to be muzzled whenever he left the house, even if it was just to do his business in the backyard, but he wouldn't have to be euthanized.  

Aside from her emotional value to us, Jasmine had been worth $450.  

Herendon tried to approach me after the hearing. "Matheson… "  

"Listen to me, Herendon. Keep that dog of yours away from my property line. I don't care if you kennel him or run him on a tether. If he comes anywhere near my family, and that includes the cats and Dog Three, I swear to god I'll shoot him! You got that?"  

His mouth opened and closed several times, but nothing came out. Since he apparently had nothing to say, I brushed past him and went home.  


A few days later I opened the front door to find Herendon standing there. "Yeah?" I was in no mood to be polite.  

His hands were fisted at his sides and his right eyelid twitched. "My dog is gone!"  


"He's nowhere to be found, I tell you! I demand to know where he is!"  

"How would I know?"  

"Your family was the one that wanted him gone!"  

"Problem, Dad?" Jar came up behind me. "Mr. Herendon. Have you shot your miserable excuse for a dog yet?"  

"My dog is missing, young man!"  

"Who gives a fuck?"  

"Matheson! Are you going to stand there and let your son talk to his elders like that?"  

"Yeah, I am. It was only by the action of his mother's cats that his sister wasn't savaged by your mutt."  

"General Custer is from championship stock!"  

"Who gives a fuck?"  

"I… I… You haven't heard the last of this, Matheson!" With military precision, he turned on his heel and stormed off.  

"Where do you think General Custer is, Dad?"  

I shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised if Herendon got him out of town. He's been getting the cold shoulder from all the neighbors since word got out about what his dog did."  

"You don't think anything happened to General Custer?"  

"I don't know, and I don't care. That dog was a menace, and whether Herendon got rid of him or someone else did it for him, for the safety of the neighborhood, I'm glad that he's gone."  


Marti had nightmares for a while, but talking with the psychologist helped. Jar went a few times too. To my surprise, Patrick was there for him, something I was positive Michael Shaw would never have done for Wills.  

What helped even more was when we found out that Princess Kimba, who had taken over when Mary Poppins retired to live out the rest of her days in a life of ease, was pregnant.  

"But Wills' birthday is past." Marti was still very subdued.  

"I know, munchkin, but he said he wants one to give to Theo for Christmas."  

"Really?" That seemed to perk her up. "I like Theo. He really liked Jasmine!"  

"But remember, it's a surprise, so don't say anything to him, okay?"  

"Okay, Daddy!"  


The seasons changed. Marti started 6th grade, and Jar was a sophomore in high school. Patrick was in the same homeroom class and was always at his side. Uneasily, I wondered if Jar might be gay. As much as Patrick's actions after Jasmine had been killed impressed me, the possibility of having the antichrist as a son-in-law still tied my insides up in knots.  

Princess Kimba had a litter of three kittens, two chocolate silver males and a seal lynxpoint female. They thrived, and in spite of the fact that General Custer was gone, we always made sure one of us was with them when Princess Kimba and Jad-bal-Ja took them outside to explore the wide world of our backyard. Jill emailed pictures of them to Wills, and he chose the seal lynxpoint. She wasn't show quality, as her two brothers were, but she'd make the perfect pet.  

Before we knew it, it was October, and Halloween was right around the corner.  

Jar announced he was going to the Halloween dance that would be held in his high school gym with the prettiest blonde in his class. "Tory's going as Ginger Rogers, and I'm gonna be Fred Astaire."  

"Sounds interesting, Jar." I breathed a sigh of relief.  

"Yeah. Tory's mom made her a pink gown that looks like the one Ginger wore in Top Hat. It's all feathers and froufrou stuff."  

"Froufrou stuff?"  

He shrugged. "That's what Tory calls it. Uh… Dad? Can I borrow your tux?"  

I couldn't help laughing. "Sure, son." He'd had another growth spurt over the summer, and the trousers would fit him pretty well, although he still needed to bulk up a little through the chest. "Will Da… " I cleared my throat. "… Patrick be going?"  

"Yeah. As Father Karras."  

"Father… ?"  

"From 'The Exorcist,' Dad. And you know how his grandfather used to be a doctor? Well, Pat's gonna borrow his black bag! He's even gonna bring a vial of holy water to make it look even more authentic!"  

"Uh… right. Does he have a date?"  

"You bet! Most of the girls in school think he's hot." At my raised eyebrow, he gave a wry smile. "Well, you know how they can be about bad boys. He's not really bad, Dad," he hastened to assure me.  

"Of course not, son." Just a little misunderstood.  

"Anyway, if Tory and I get serious, we're gonna double date. What about you and Mom, Dad?"  

I opened my eyes wide, unable to resist teasing him. "You want us to double date with you and Tory?"  

"Dad." He lightly whacked my arm. "You can be replaced by a kitten, you know."  

"I don't think so, sport. A kitten doesn't have a driver's license, and neither do you right now."

"C'mon, Dad. You know what I mean. What are you gonna dress up as?"  

"I haven't given it much thought." As two of the chaperones, we'd be at the dance. "Maybe a cowboy?"  

An innocent expression filled my younger son's face. It was too innocent, and I waited for him to retaliate to my teasing.  

Jill came in just then, carrying a tray with the coffee things. Alice was right behind her with a plate of the cookies she always baked. Although Halloween was still a few weeks away, she was getting a jump on it, and cookies in the shape of pumpkins, cats, witches, and cauldrons were on the plate.  

Jar took a cookie. "Too bad Wills and Theo are so far away. Wills could go as a construction worker and Theo could be a cop. And if Uncle Pete was here, he could wear his Marine uniform. And Dave could go as a biker... "  

Jill started to laugh. "And they could all sing 'Macho Man'?"  

Jar snickered and the innocent look slipped.  

"Daddy! Daddy! Look at me!" Marti came skipping down the stairs. She was wearing one of my shirts, which hung down to mid-calf and was spattered with paint and clay. "How do you like my costume, Daddy?"  

"Very nice. You're supposed to be an artist, right?"  

"Yes! You're so smart, Daddy!" She'd done an oil painting for Wills' birthday of Jad-bal-Ja and Princess Kimba. Marti's fifth-grade teacher had remarked on the quality of her artwork in class, and Jill and I were looking into getting her into a program to encourage her talent.  

"I hope that was an old shirt, young lady?"  

"Um… " She giggled and peeked up at me through her bangs.  

It was good to hear her giggle. I pinched her chin and grinned at Jill. "What's Mommy going as?"  

"If Daddy is going as a cowboy, then Mommy is going as a cowgirl."  

"The King of the Cowboys and his Queen?"  

"Of course." The smile she gave me was sultry, and fortunately neither of our children noticed.  

"What about you, Alice?" Marti asked as she took a witch and neatly bit off its head. "What will you dress up as for Halloween?"  

Alice had always enjoyed taking the kids trick-or-treating, wearing a costume also as she took them up and down the streets of our neighborhood.  

"Well, since your mom and dad are going as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, I think I'll go as Nelly Belle!"  


My jaw dropped. "The jeep, Alice ?"  

"Why not? All it will take is a few sheets of oak tag, some aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and a little paint." She smiled at Marti. "You can help if you'd like."  

Marti bounced with excitement. "This is gonna be the best Halloween ever!"  


Christmas Eve, and Wills paid Jill a flying visit in order to retrieve his gift to Theo, the seal lynxpoint kitten. I was at work, and Jar and Marti were out caroling with their scout troops. Wills promised that he and Theo would come visit some time after New Year, but work kept him from keeping that promise.  

Valentine's Day rolled around, and Presidents' Day, and…  

"Is this coffee stale?" Jill frowned down at her cup.  

"It tastes fine to me."  

"And before you ask, the milk is fresh," Alice said. "I bought a new container yesterday."  

"Well, I don't understand… " Jill abruptly turned green and clapped a hand over her mouth. "'Scuse… " She bolted out of the room.  

I rose and hurried after her. "Jilly, what's… " I was dismayed to find her doubled over the toilet. I held her head, keeping her hair out of her face as she shuddered and vomited.  

She finally straightened, and when she swayed, I slid an arm around her to steady her. "Sorry."  

I kissed her hair. "Don't be silly." I tore off some toilet paper and wiped her lips and dried her eyes. "Blow."  

Jill wobbled a bit as I helped her to the sink, and I tightened my hold on her. She rinsed out her mouth and patted some water over her cheeks.  

"What's going on, Jilly?"  

"It's nothing, probably a touch of stomach flu. You'd better stay away from me before you catch it too."  

"I'll take my chances." She looked washed out, and I scooped her into my arms and carried her upstairs to our bedroom at the front of the house.  

"Jack, you don't have to treat me like I'm made of spun glass. I'm fine."  

"Of course you are." I sat her in the wing chair by the bay window. "Stay put," I ordered, pressing lightly on her shoulders when she tried to rise.  

She sank back down, swallowing convulsively. "I… I think that might be a good idea."  

That was when I got scared. I reached for the telephone and hit a number we'd had on speed dial since forever. "This is Jack Matheson. I want Dr. Sorensen to see my wife as soon as possible. Can you squeeze her in this morning?"  

"Please hold while I check the schedule, Mr. Matheson."  


"Jack, I can't afford to be sick. I have to get Marti to school, and I've got lunch duty today."  

"After I've made your appointment, I'll do that."  

"But you need to go to work."  

"I'll call Jerry and tell him I'm taking the day off." Jerry was my foreman. He was a good man, a steady worker.  

"You never do that."  

"I own the business, sweet girl. What good is being the boss if I can't take a day off now and then?"  

Normally she would have come up with a killer of a rebuttal, but it became more and more evident she wasn't feeling well enough to offer any kind of retort.  

"Maybe seeing the doctor is a good idea." She smiled wanly.  

"Mr. Matheson?"  

"Yes, I'm still here," I said into the phone.  

"The doctor will see your wife in half an hour, if you can bring her in then?"  

"Sure, no problem. We'll be there. Thanks a lot." I hung up the phone and went to the dresser, taking out clothes and laying them on the bed – camisole and panties, a sweater and a pair of jeans, and thick socks to keep her feet warm. I knelt down and slid the socks over her toes. "Half an hour, Jilly. Do you need help getting dressed?"  

"I'm not a baby," she fussed. "But if you take me to the doctor, you'll never get Marti to school on time."  

"Don't worry about it, just get dressed. I'll ask Alice to drive her."  

"Jar… "  

"He's been catching the bus on his own since he was thirteen. Are you okay; are you sure you don't need help getting dressed?" She shook her head, but I wasn't too sure I believed her. "I'll get the car out and start the heater, and be back before you can miss me." I was out of the room before she could object, if she was going to object.  

"Alice, Jill isn't feeling well, and I'm going to take her to the doctor. Would you mind driving Marti to school?"  

"Not a problem, Jack. It's about time she went to see the doctor."  

"How long has this been going on?"  

"A couple of weeks now, that I've been aware."  

"'That you've been… '" I felt cold. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't I notice?"  

"You're usually at work when it hits. Jill's sure it's the flu."

"But you don't think so."  

"No." She met my eyes. "I wasn't as certain as she was that she's starting menopause."  

"Menopause? Jesus, she's only thirty-eight!"  

"That's what I said." She smiled. "I'd better hurry Marti along." She left me standing there, feeling as if I'd been hit by an eighteen-wheeler. Was she saying what I thought she was saying?  

I'd stopped using condoms once we'd decided to get pregnant, and after Marti had been born, we just never went back to them. There were no more pregnancies, but we'd been content with the size of our family.  

Still, after almost eleven years… I shook my head. No, another baby wasn't likely. I grabbed the keys to the SUV that had been Jill's Christmas present to me, ran out to the garage, and turned on the engine.  

By the time I went back in the house to get Jill, the car was toasty warm.  

"I… I thought it might be a good idea if I took this." She held up doubled plastic bags from Whole Foods Market and smiled wanly. "Just in case."  

"Okay." I helped her on with her coat and hustled her out to the car. I didn't break any speed limits getting to the doctor's office, wanting Jill to arrive safely, but I pushed it.  

The receptionist sent Jill back as soon as we walked in. I picked up a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, sat down, and thumbed through it, not taking in a word I read.  

I shot a glance toward the examining rooms. It shouldn't take Jim this long to diagnose the flu. People began coming into the office, and we all waited.  

Finally, Jim came out and looked around. "I'm sorry I've kept you all waiting. Mrs. Peabody, would you bring Joey into Room 2? I'll be with you shortly. Jack, if you'll come into my office?"  

Jill was sitting beside his desk looking dazed, and my gut clenched.  

"What is it, Jim?"  

"I can tell you what it isn't, and that's a stomach bug. I've already congratulated Jill. Congratulations, Jack. In about six months you'll be having a baby."  

"Jill!" I dropped to my knees beside her and held her. "And she's okay, Jim?"  

"She's fine. You'll want to make an appointment to see your Obgyn – you see Dr. White, don't you? I don't know how long it will take before you can see her, so I'll prescribe something in the meantime for the morning sickness, and I'm sure she'll want you to take a multivitamin also." He sat down behind his desk, pulled out a pad, and began writing. "In a couple of months Dr. White will most likely do an amnio to screen out birth defects, and if you like, she'll tell you the baby's sex."  

"No need for that, Jim. He'll be a boy." Jill was flushed and smiling and teary-eyed. She clung to my hand.  

"Well, perhaps. There seem to be a surfeit of males in the Matheson family. And speaking of boys, how's Wills?"  

"He's doing well. He's been busy with work, but we saw him over the Memorial Day weekend last year."  

"His kidney giving him any problems?"  

"Not that he's told us."  

"I hope he isn't taking any twinges for granted. I don't know why they… " He frowned and shook his head. "Oh, well. Is he still in DC? Has he found anyone?"  

"Yes and yes."  

"Ah." His expression lightened. "Do I hear the sound of wedding bells?"  

"I don't think so. Same sex marriages aren't legal."  

"Same sex… Oh. Oh, I see."

"Is that a problem for you, Jim?"  

"Don't be an idiot, Jack. Just give him a bit of advice from me? Tell him to make sure he practices safe sex."  

"Thanks, Jim. You're a good friend."  

"How are you with this?"  

"I'm okay. Well, you know about Pete, so it's not like we're unfamiliar with this."  

"But something is bothering you."  

"Children." I sighed. There would never be any grandchildren with my first wife's features. And my son would never know the joy of seeing his own children grow to adulthood and have children of their own. I rose to my feet.  

Jim came around the desk and griped my arm. "If he and his partner ever decide they want kids, maybe I can do something, pull some strings or something." The intercom on his desk buzzed. "Yes?"  

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Dr. Jim." It was his receptionist. "Joey Peabody is getting a little antsy."  

"Thanks, Penny. I'll be right there." He handed Jill the scripts.  

"Are there any restrictions for Jill?" I remembered the problems that Sophia had had.  

"Dr. White will let you know, but right now I'd just say use common sense. Oh, and I don't want you changing the litter pans, Jill."  

"Toxoplasmosis. Right. I remember with both Jar and Marti. I'll be careful."  

"Okay. Congratulations again, and give Wills and his friend my best."  

"Thanks, Jim. And thanks for seeing Jill on such short notice."  

"It's my job." He grinned and shook our hands, and we walked out of his office.  


The phone barely rang once the next morning before I scooped it up. Jill was sleeping in.  

"Matheson residence."  

"Dad, what are you doing home? Is everything okay?"  

"And good morning to you, William."  

"Sorry, Dad. Good morning."  

"And in answer to your question, I decided to take the day off. I'm the boss. I can do that, you know." I wasn't going to tell him about the baby, not yet. Both Jill's pregnancies has gone smoothly, but I couldn't help worrying, remembering how hard it had been for his mother. "It's good to hear from you, son. How are you and Theo doing?"  

"We're both good. He sends his best."  

"Tell him I said 'hi'."  

"I will. How is everyone at home?"  

"They're fine. Alice is driving Marti to school, Jar's outside waiting at the bus stop, and Jill's decided to laze around the house today."  

"Ah." There was a smile in his voice. "Did I call at a bad time, Dad? Are you and Jill both gonna be 'lazing around the house' together?"  

"Don't be a smart ass. Actually, I was just about to have another cup of coffee. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this call? Not that I'm complaining, but it is early in the day to hear from my number one son."  

"I need some advice, Dad." He didn't sound upset, so I assumed things were going well with Theo.  

"You know I'll help in any way I can."  

"What do you give someone for your first anniversary?"  

"Well, I gave your mother… Just a second. I thought you didn't move in with Theo until after Memorial Day."  

"That's right."  

"Isn't it a little early to be making plans for your first anniversary? You've got at least three months."  

"Actually, it's a little more than a month. It'll be a year since we… uh… met."  

I was surprised to find my son such a romantic. Then I remembered my time with Sophia and realized he was actually a chip off the old block.  

"So what do I give him? Theo's given me so much, he's spent so much."  

It could be difficult to accept such lavish gifts. We hadn't managed a visit to DC yet to see where Wills was living now – we had planned something for spring break, although now with Jill pregnant, I wasn't so sure. She wouldn't be able to fly, and driving was out of the question – but I understood from my brother Pete that Theo had furnished an office for my son, buying everything except the computer. I smiled wryly when I remembered my fears that Theo might be a gold digger.  

"For Valentine's Day he gave me a gold chain with a Virgo charm, while all I gave him was a box of Godiva chocolates. I want to give him something special."  

"You already have, Wills. You've given him your heart."  

He cleared his throat, and I could almost see him blushing. "What did you give Jill for your first anniversary?"  

"Don't your remember, sport? Mary Poppins and Willie Wonka." I'd called Dr. Ingram, Jill's professor from UC Berkeley, and made arrangements to purchase a pair of American Bobtails.  

"Was that for your anniversary? How could I forget? It took a while for Twoey to get used to them." There was laughter in his voice. The two kittens had adopted her right off the bat, but Dog Two had been at a loss, until she finally must have decided they were just two very odd-looking puppies. "Jill was surprised, wasn't she?"  

"She was that." And so happy.  

"See, now that was really clever. What about Mom?"  

"I gave your mother flowers when we'd been dating a week, a month…"  

"A year?"  

"No. I gave her an engagement ring then." I smiled at the memory.  

"Hmmm. You went the whole route, didn't you Dad?"  

"Yes. I asked her father for permission, went down on one knee… "  

"Down on one knee?" he repeated. "Interesting. Did you do the same thing for Jill, Dad?"  

My sweet girl… "We didn't date as long. My first gift to her was a wedding ring." It was my turn to clear my throat. "I'm sure you didn't call to hear me reminisce about the women I've loved."  

"I always love hearing you talk about the olden times, Dad."  

"Watch it, smart guy. You can be replaced by a puppy."  

"By a kitten, you mean."

"Now you're sounding like Jar."  

He chuckled then sighed. "Come on, Dad. I need a little help here. I'm really not sure what to give Theo. I do like the idea of flowers, but I'm afraid that's kind of… I dunno… girl-y?"  

"And Theo isn't a girl." I couldn't help smiling.  


"You know him better than I do. What do you think he'd like?"  

"I know it sounds corny, but he'd like anything I gave him. At least that's what he'd tell me." He sighed. "I guess I'm on my own with this."  

"I guess you are, son. I would suggest one thing, though. Give some thought to what you write on the card. That might wind up meaning more to him than whatever you give him."  

"I remembered you doing that for Mom and for Jill, and I already do. Don't tell Theo I told you this, but he gets all choked up by what I put in his cards." He sounded pleased as punch about that.  

"That's my boy. When are you coming up again?"  

"I have some time off around Easter. We'll fly up early and help color eggs."  

Jill's pregnancy should be far enough along that it would be safe to start telling everyone. So far, Alice was the only one who knew.  

"That will be good. Your brother and sister will be home from school, and they'll love that. They miss you, son. We all do. They're still ticked you couldn't see them at Christmas."  

"I'd have liked to, but work, Dad. You know how it is."  

"Sure. We'll look forward to seeing you."  

"Us too. I'll book the flight and let you know what day we'll be coming in."  


"Dad. Thank you."  

"What for, son? I didn't help much."  

"Not about the gift for Theo. For accepting him, for accepting that he's an important part of my life."  

"You're my son, and I want to see you happy."  

"Th – " His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. "Thanks, Dad. We'll see you in April, then. I've got to run, they're calling my flight." The company he worked for did send him all over the country. "Give my love to everyone and tell them I said 'hi.'"  

"Sure. Wills?"  

"Yes, Dad?"  

"I love you."  

"I… " I could hear him swallow over the line. "I love you too, Dad. Bye."  

"Bye, son." There was a click and then the dial tone hummed in my ear.  

I hung up, then went to mark the week before and after Easter with a big red circle. My boy… both my boys would be coming home.



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