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To Be Loved

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Note: The title is taken from Jackie Wilson's version of Berry Gordy's To Be Loved. A big thank you to Tim Mead for looking this over for me.


To Be Loved

By Tinnean


Part 1


Life was good.


I had a guy I loved and who loved me. Almost as good was the fact that I was required to work fewer nights and weekends.


The reason for that was Mr. Vincent's involvement with Quinton Mann. If this ever became known in the intelligence community – well, it wouldn't be pretty.  But anything that gave me additional time to spend with my lover, who was now my fiancé, worked for me.


However, I let my little head do my thinking for me as seldom as possible, and I'd done some research into Mann on my own time. He seemed honorable, even if he was Deputy Director Operational Targeting for the CIA, and so I kept my mouth shut and minded my own business.


But I didn’t have time to wonder about my superior and the man he was involved with. Today was one of those days when things piled on top of each other. The computers of the PR department all crashed at once, and I'd spent the morning working on them. Then just before lunch, down in the WBIS's morgue, the ice box thermostat had crapped out. And then I had to come up with a virus to slip into an innocent-looking email Mr. Vincent wanted sent to an antiterrorist organization in Paris – the same one he'd called on when Mr. Mann had been kidnapped last year. I hoped it was a joke, but I wasn't going to treat it as if it was anything but dead serious.


All this, but I still thought I’d be able to get home at a reasonable time.


And then Mr. Vincent called me into his office. When that happened, it meant we’d be working late. Idly I wondered if Mann was out of town.


"Take a seat. I'm sending you out to Huntingdon's Phoenix complex."


I swallowed and sat down. The last time I'd been there had been last spring, when parts of the complex had still been under construction, and I'd cancelled the man who'd been overseeing the job and incidentally lining his pockets.


"Who will I need to cancel?" I hated those kinds of jobs.


"No one. The IT department is running into some difficulties. Your job will be to revamp their computer system." He pushed over the paperwork that had been faxed to him.


I was studying something that could wind up causing a major glitch when my cell phone rang, the generic tone signifying it wasn't anyone who mattered in my life, and I swore under my breath. Why hadn't I turned it off, or at least put it on vibrate?


Mr. Vincent scowled at me. "Who is it?"


"I don't know, sir." I checked the readout, but it was just a string of numbers. "I'm sorry." I let it go to voicemail.


"Okay, now as I was saying." He pulled out the schematics for the elevator system in one of the smaller buildings. "The security on this needs to be beefed up. I want you to- "


My phone rang again, but this time it was Isn't It Romantic?


"Sorry, Mr. Vincent. That's Theo."


"Jesus. Go ahead and answer it."


"Thank you, sir." I flipped open my phone. "What's up, Theo?"


"We've got a problem. JR's in the bus station!"


"What? Where?"


"Where do you think? Here in DC. He's in trouble. He tried to call you but- "


Oh, God, that last call had been from my sixteen-year -old brother? Who was not at home?


"He needs you, Wills. It's Damien."




"JR said he called your Dad to let him know where they are, but- "


Yeah, Dad was up in Cambridge. "I'm on my way." I shut the phone. "I'm sorry, sir. I have to go."


He sat back in his seat. "You realize this could cost you your job?" He didn't seem pissed. He was just stating a fact.


"Doesn't matter." And it didn't. If the WBIS expected me to put my job over my family, then I'd have no problem handing in my notice.


"Okay, just so you know. Oh, and Matheson?" I was almost at the door, and he waited until I turned to face him. "If you get a ticket, the WBIS isn't picking it up."


"No, sir."




I pulled into a parking space, hung the handicapped tag from the rearview mirror, and dashed across the street and into the terminal. I could hear shouting.


"Let him go! Let me go! Somebody, help!" It was Jar.


At this time of night there weren't many people around, and those who were wouldn't want to get involved.


I had my Glock out as I rounded the corner. Two scruffy-looking men were trying to drag my brother and his friend toward one of the exits.


"Hold it right there!"


"You don't want to get involved in this, buddy. We're vice cops. These kids were soliciting! We're taking them to Juvie."


"I don't give a fuck who you are; that kid is my brother, and you're not taking him or his friend anywhere." JR looked okay, but Patrick – aka Damien, aka the antichrist – had a dark bruise high on his cheekbone. Had these bastards hit him? "Step away from them now, or I'll have no qualms in shooting you."


"And I'll have no qualms in shooting you either." A cold barrel was pressed to the base of my neck. "DCPD, asshole."


Shit. I'd been so intent on what was happening in front of me I'd let my concentration slip.


"Sure, pal. No need for anyone to get hurt." I lowered my gun, then performed a move the WBIS's martial arts instructor had refined from something Uncle Pete had taught me. They'd both have been proud.


I had my foot on the cop's spine, his left arm twisted high behind his back, and my Glock at the base of his skull.


"You're dead meat," he gasped out


"I'll worry about that after these two bozos let my brother and his friend go."


"Tsk, tsk, tsk. I really can't let you out of my sight, can I, Matheson?"


"Mr. Vincent?"


"In the flesh. You were so busy I decided I'd make sure these two clowns didn't split."


"Thank you, sir." I felt cold. They could have taken off with my brother and by the time I tracked them down… I shuddered, thinking of what could have happened to JR.


"Wills!" Theo came running in. "Is everything okay?"


"Yes." Geez, was everyone showing up? I looked around, half expecting to see my Dad join us as well.




The guy under my foot craned his head up. "Sweetcheeks? What are you doing here? Are you running chickens now? Ow!"


I'd tugged his arm up harder. "That isn't his name any more!" I growled. "And he doesn't do that!"


"Let him go, Matheson. Detective Jim and his cohorts are going to leave now, aren't you?"


I let him go but kept my Glock pointed at him.


"Theo, get the boys out of here."


"Okay, Vince. Wills, I'll take them home."


"Okay. And Jar, call Dad and let him know you're with us."


"Yes, Wills." He was subdued, and Patrick was actually green. I thought he'd toss his cookies any second.


Once they left, Mr. Vincent turned to the cops. "It's been a pleasure, gentlemen."


"I'm gonna find out who you are and come after you!" The cop on the floor rubbed his shoulder and glared at me.


"Good. Here." I handed him my business card. "I'll look forward to it."


Mr. Vincent was grinning. "Matheson, you ready?"


"Yes, sir." I picked up the backpack near one of the cops – JR had dropped it – and slung it over my shoulder. It was only when we were out of the terminal that I put my Glock away. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this, sir, but I appreciate it."


"Think nothing of it. Jim Revere always was an asshole."


"You know him?"


He made a noncommittal sound. "You up to speed on the Phoenix job?"


"Yes, sir."


"Okay, then. Pick up your tickets tomorrow morning at the Southwest counter at National. Unless, of course, you need to take your brother home?"


Well, yes, I did, but I'd get Theo to do it. "No, sir. I'm assuming that means I still have a job?"


"Don't be a smartass." He looked at his watch. "Go on home."


"Yes, sir. Goodnight."


He waved a hand, got into his car, and drove off.




I let myself into the apartment. "I'm home."


Miss Su came galloping in and launched herself at me.  I dropped my briefcase and caught her. "I'm sorry, Miss Su. I don't have time for you now."


She purred and tried to butt against my chin, but I put her down.


JR came in right behind her. "I'm… I'm so sorry, Wills."


"First off, did you call Dad?"


He nodded.


I grabbed him and shook him. "Do you have any idea what could have happened to you? Winding up in Juvie would have been the least of it!"


"Wills, take it easy."


"Shut up!" I glared at Theo, and his eyes widened. On the rare occasions I'd lost my temper, it had never been directed at him.


"That- that was my fault, Wills." Patrick stood there. "It was my idea to come to DC."


And why wasn't I surprised? I let my brother go, clenching my hands because I wanted to smack him. I wanted to smack both of them.


"What the fuck did you do to make a vice cop think you were soliciting him?"


"I didn't know he was a vice cop!"


"Oh God, don't tell me you were playing footsy with him in the neighboring stall!"




"But you did. Jesus, what were you thinking?"


"I… uh… I thought he was kind of cute."


"Are you out of your fucking mind?" The guy had at least three days growth of beard, his clothes looked as if he lived in them, and I was sure if I'd been upwind of him I'd have gagged from the smell. "He had to be at least twice your age!"


"He had kind eyes."


"Oh, Jesus. So you came onto him? Why? You're straight!"


"Uh… not exactly. I mean, I might be, but- "


"But you might not be." I shook my head. "What about you, John Robert? Are you going to tell me you're gay too?"


"What? NO!" He knew he was in trouble. No one ever called him by his first name, let alone by his first and middle names. "I mean, I know I'm straight!"


"So I'm safe in assuming you weren't running away with Damien to find love's young dream?"


Patrick flinched. "This wasn't JR's fault."


"Pat's my friend! You'd have done the same for Michael, Wills! And don't think Dad never worried about that!"


I stared at him dumbfounded, and he had the grace to blush.


"I mean- "


Theo massaged the muscles of my shoulders and murmured in my ear, "They haven't eaten in hours, babe. And if I know Vince, neither have you. Cut them a little slack for now, okay?"


"Okay." I deliberately kept my gaze from Patrick. "Theo's right. I'm starved, and I've been wearing these clothes for the last sixteen hours; I'm going to shower and change, and then we'll have dinner and you can tell me why you did such a- Why you did this."


"Yes, Wills."


I left JR there. It was cold, but I wanted him to realize I was pissed at him. When I thought what could have happened to him and Patrick my insides turned to jelly.




I stepped out of the shower to find Theo leaning against the bathroom door. "I'm really sorry I took out my mad on you, babe."


"It's a relief to know you're not perfect, that something can piss you off. Are you still mad at him?" He took the towel from the warming bar and began running it over my body.


"Theo, you know better than anyone what can happen to two boys in a strange city."


He sighed. "Do you want me to tell them – "


"No." I took another towel and rubbed it over my hair.


"I will you know, if you think it would help."


I dropped the towel, tossed aside the one he was holding, and pulled him into my arms. "I know you would, and I love you for it, but I'd never ask you to do something like that. Besides, we agreed that it was our business alone. No one else needs to know how you survived for all those years."


"I love you, Wills. You're the best thing that ever happened to me." He kissed me, just a soft brush of lips against lips. Then he stepped back. "You'd better get dressed, or they'll think I'm having my wicked way with you."


"You know I'm game."


"I know." He handed me a pair of boxers, waiting until I'd pulled them on over my hips before giving me a pair of sweat pants. "But not now. You have too much on your mind. Here. Wear this GWU sweatshirt of yours. You need something warm." He stroked my nipples.


"They're not hard because I'm cold."


He leaned down and nipped one between his teeth, and I shivered. "Of course not. Now, finish getting dressed."




We sat down at the dining room table and Theo offered the platter of cheeseburgers first to my brother and then to his friend. Normally we'd eat something classier, but this was fast and filling.


"Jar, I want to apologize for losing my temper. I was scared spitless at the thought of what could have happened to you. To both of you." I turned my gaze to Patrick. "And Patrick, I apologize for calling you Damien."


"It's- uh- all right." It wasn't. He looked miserable.


"Never mind. Tell me why you decided you had to come to DC."


"You live here."


"Excuse me?"


"JR talks about you all the time, about how cool your life here is. I thought I could make a life here too."


"Obviously you haven't thought. Patrick, I'm twenty-seven. I've got a college degree and a decent-paying job. DC is unbelievably expensive. How were you planning on supporting yourself?"


"Um… I thought maybe I could find a nice guy who'd- "


"Oh, Jesus! Julia Roberts should be shot for Pretty Woman!" Theo exploded. "You know what you would have found, Patrick? A guy who would tell you he loved you and wanted to take care of you, but after a couple of months he'd start telling  you money was really tight and he needed you to do this one little thing for him, and he'd never ask it of you again, and if you loved him you'd do it. But it's not just the one time, it's over and over and… " He had to stop to catch his breath.


"It's okay, babe. It's over," I whispered. If I could turn back time I'd go find that son of a bitch Franky and kill him a hell of a lot slower. I reached over and took Theo's hand, holding onto it until he could get himself under control.


Both JR and Patrick looked stunned, but Patrick also looked like the light was dawning.


"Okay, what made you decide you had to leave home, Patrick?"


"My dad threw me out. He didn't even give me time to put some things in my backpack. I couldn't show up at school like this." He touched the bruise on his cheek. "I had nowhere to go, so… "


"He caught up with me just after second period class ended.  I couldn't let him go by himself."


"I know your family never liked me hanging out with JR, but… but he's the best thing that ever happened to me." Tears began to slide down his cheeks, and he brushed them aside angrily.


"Okay, drink some water and get yourself under control, then tell me why your father thought you were gay."


He did as I told him, taking deep breaths. "I was so stupid. Such a girl." He looked exhausted. "I keep a journal. Kept a journal. You can be damn sure I'll never do that again." He didn't have to say anything more, but he did. "Apparently my father would sneak into my room to read about all the girls I'd done. The son of a bitch actually told me! It gave him some kind of a thrill, bragging about his macho son to those assholes he works with."


"So when he read about you doing a boy… ?"


"Worse than that. A boy doing me." He gave JR a hesitant look. "I didn't tell you that. Are you… are you going to think the worst of me because of what I let him do?"


"Did he hurt you?"


"No. It was… it was awesome. Better than the girls. I… I had to talk him into it, though. He said I was a player and that he had no intention of being a notch on my bedpost. "


"Who was it?"


He shook his head. "I'm not going to out him."


"Is he going to out you?"


Patrick turned sheet white. "I don't know. I never thought of that. I just knew I got hard every time I was near him." His mouth firmed. "Whatever happens, it was worth it." But then he deflated. "But I can't go home again."


"No shit, Sherlock," I muttered under my breath.


"Wills." Theo turned his hand under mine, and I realized I'd had my hand on his all this time. "Patrick can stay with us until he decides the best thing to do."


I stared at Theo as if he'd lost his mind. "He's sixteen."


"I was fifteen."




"No, I can't put you out like this!"


"Shut up, Patrick," I snarled at him. "You're not going to throw Theo's hospitality in his face."


"Easy, babe." Theo squeezed my hand. "Now, are you sure you can't go home? That your father was absolutely serious? You see, my father did the same thing, but years later he told me he hadn't meant it."


"Oh, yeah, he meant it. You were never over when he went on one of his rants, JR, but he blames homosexuals for everything including the disaster that's the Big Dig. Last year he blamed them for Chicago winning the Oscars over Gangs of New York. I… uh… I never told him about Wills. He'd have made me stop being your friend."


"Isn't that just great? Suppose his father accuses us of corrupting his son?" This was a fine time to remember it, but this could bring attention to the WBIS, and Mr. Vincent would not be happy. And the last thing I wanted was to spend my honeymoon behind bars.


"Don't worry about it, Wills. I have a lawyer friend who can help us."


"Uh… no, that's okay." The WBIS had some people who would take care of it. And did I want one of Theo's former clients brought into this? Two words: Hell. No. "Tell me, Patrick, has your father hit you before?"


"Huh? Oh, sure. Once in a while. He's usually more careful about it so it doesn't show."


None of us said anything for a long minute.  Then JR punched Patrick's shoulder.


"Why didn't you tell me?"


Patrick shrugged. "There wasn't anything to tell."


"Oh, no?"


"What could you have done? He's my dad. If they took me away I'd wind up in foster care. I'll still probably wind up that way."


"Not if we can help it." There was a tight look to my brother's mouth. "You're coming home with me, Pat, and once I tell Dad what happened, he'll do something."


"Okay, kiddies, we'll let tomorrow deal with tomorrow. Patrick, you can bed down in my office," Theo told him. "There's a couch in there, and it's comfortable. You're about Wills' size, and he's got some clothes that should fit you. JR, you're more my size. I'll find some sweats you can sleep in. The spare bedroom, babe?"


I nodded. I knew I could leave the preparations up to him.


"I'll book a flight for the three of you. Theo, would you mind seeing they get home all right? I've got a job I can't get out of."


"Sure. Not a problem."


"Thanks, babe." Once that was done I'd call Dad and let him know what was going on.


"Um… dessert, Wills?" JR asked hesitantly.


"Do you think you deserve it?"


"I guess not. I'm really sorry, but- "


"I know. You did what you had to do. What's for dessert, Theo?"


"I've got orange angel food cake with berries."


"Yum!" My little brother always did have a sweet tooth.


"Okay, after you two help Theo clear off the table, you can each have a slice. And save a slice for me too, babe!"


I went into my office, turned on my computer, and arranged for one round trip and two one-way tickets. They were early morning direct flights out of National – I'd be able to drive to the airport with them – although Theo's return flight wouldn't be until later in the afternoon.


I used the landline on my desk and called the house in Cambridge. I didn't call it home any more. This was home.


"Wills! John Robert is all right?"


"Hi, Jill. He's fine."


"Oh, thank God! When I get my hands on that boy I'm going to wring his neck!"


"Did he tell Dad what happened?"


"Yes. I'm proud that he wanted to help Patrick, but what were they thinking to take the bus all the way to Washington? When I think what could have happened to them… "


"He and Patrick will be flying home tomorrow.  I've got a job, but Theo's going to be with them."


"Your father's on his way down there."


Of course he was. He'd want to make sure JR was fine. "What time should we expect him?"


"I have his itinerary right here." She read it off to me, and I checked the clock on my computer.


I pulled up his airline and put in the flight number. "Well, it's on time. He should be landing at Dulles in about twenty minutes. I need to leave now if I'm going to pick him up. Hold on, I'll put JR on the phone." I covered the receiver and yelled, "JR, Mom's on the line!"


He came in, looking concerned. "Is she mad at me?"


"What do you think?" I handed him the phone. "I've got to get Dad." 


I stopped in the bedroom to put on a pair of sneakers. Miss Su toyed with the laces. "Not mad at me, puss?"


She leaped onto my lap, kneaded my thighs a couple of times, and settled down.


"I guess not." I leaned over her to lace up my sneakers, then took her in my arms and went into the kitchen.


"Dad's on his way," I told Theo. "I'm going to pick him up."


"I'll walk you to the door," Theo said. He waited until I'd put Miss Su down and scooped up my keys before adding, "What a mess."


"Tell me about it. I hate being mad at JR."


He rubbed my shoulders. "I think he'll get over it. It means a lot to him that you care so much."


"I never came so close to hitting him."


"It'll be okay."


I sighed. "I shouldn't be too long. Dad's gonna need the spare bedroom. Set up the couch in my office for JR."


"I'll get right on it. Drive carefully."


I leaned in for a kiss. "Always do."




Dad came out of the jetway pulling a carry-on behind him, looking more stressed than I could remember seeing him. He was so distracted he didn't even notice me.


"Car, Mr. Matheson?"


The expression on his face smoothed. "Wills!" He pulled me into a hug and pounded my back.


"Hi, Dad."


"Son. He's okay?"

"He's fine. Did you check a bag?"


"No. Jill packed a change of clothes for me and JR and some spare clothes of mine for Patrick, and I got the first flight out."


"Okay, the car's this way." I led him to the short term parking lot.


"Don't tell him I said this, but I'm proud of what he did. I just wish he'd called before they left."


"Apparently he didn't because he was afraid Patrick would take off without him. What are we going to do?"


"I'll talk to him, but if he's right that his father doesn't want him living at home any more, Jill and I will have to see what we can do."


"Theo offered to take him in."


"How do you feel about that?"


I shrugged. "If that's what Theo wants."


"You're both going to be great dads." He rubbed my shoulder.


"I'd just kind of hoped we'd start with someone a little younger."


"Like a baby?" He laughed.


"Yeah. A baby would be cool. Here's the car." I aimed the remote at it and unlocked the doors.


"How long will it take us to get to your place?"


"Not too long. Rush hour is way over, so fifteen minutes, twenty tops."


"I always wanted to see where you and Theo live, but not like this."


"At least they're okay, but I have to tell you, Dad, I almost hit him." I could feel his gaze. "I'm… I'm sorry."


"There's nothing to apologize for, son." He rested his hand on my knee. "Let me tell you something. While I understand why JR did it, he made his mother a nervous wreck."


I raised an eyebrow. Jill was the best mother, but she wasn't one who fell apart over what could be nothing.


"She's become a bit over-protective since that incident with Jasmine and General Custer. When JR didn't come home after school, she didn't think much of it at first. But you know he's always good about calling to let us know if he's going to be late, and when he didn't, she started contacting his friends. None of them had seen him after second period class, although Tory said she saw him and Patrick heading towards the boys' room, and it looked like they were arguing. Jill called Patrick's house but no one answered.  That was when she called me at work."


"Dad, I know you always felt Jar and Marti didn't need cell phones, but – "


"Oh, I'm way ahead of you. As soon as we get back home tomorrow, I'm taking the whole family to the Verizon Store and getting us all one." He ran a hand over his face. "And then I'm going to ground JR until he graduates from college!"




Dad enjoyed the tour of our apartment, but more than that he loved the fact that I was settled in. He'd seen the apartment I'd lived in when I first moved to DC, and while it wasn't all that bad, it was nothing like the home I'd lived in with my Mom and him, or the house in Cambridge.


"Would you like a cup of coffee, Jack?" Theo asked as Dad fussed over Miss Su.


"No thanks." He straightened and looked from JR to Patrick.  "May I have the use of a room?"


"Sure. You know where the guestroom is."


"John Robert, Patrick, if you'll come with me?"


Jar sent a scared glance my way, but he knew that as much as I'd wanted to hit him and hadn't, it would be the same way with Dad. Patrick held himself stiffly. He was pale and his lips were in a tight line.


And that was just sad. He really expected Dad to hit him.


They followed Dad down the hallway to the other end of the house.


"Wills, I took Pat aside while JR was tidying the kitchen and told him what could happen if he ran again."


"Oh, babe."


"I kept it vague, let him think it happened to some kids I knew.  Maybe it will scare him into not doing such a boneheaded thing again."


"Maybe." But I remembered the look on Pat's face when Theo had exploded earlier. He wasn't a dumb kid, and I had a feeling he might read more into the story than Theo expected.


"Is it going to be like that?"


"What, babe?"


"Raising a child." Theo looked concerned.


"We just won't let him be friends with another Damien."


"Can we?"



"Wills, you had Michael. JR has Patrick. What are the odds our son won't have a friend like that? What if it runs in the family?"


"God forbid!" I grinned at him, but he had more of a point than he knew; I'd never gone into details about Dad and Uncle Tony. One day I'd tell him, but not tonight. I hadn't turned off my computer, so I nudged the mouse and it came out of screensaver mode. "I'd better change those reservations and cancel yours."




It was a quiet time of year, so I had no problem switching Jar's and Patrick's tickets for the same flight as Dad's. And since I'd be flying out of National, Theo volunteered to drive them to Dulles.


The next morning he made a frittata for breakfast, and then I turned to Dad. "I'll see you in a couple of weeks."


"Thank you, Wills." Dad hugged me, giving a squeeze to the back of my neck.


"That's what family is for. Keep me posted, okay? Jar, stay out of trouble. And Pat, the next time you decide to leave town… "


"Yeah?" His face was flushed. I'd always called him Patrick, and he'd probably noticed that. Well, if it turned out his father really didn't want to have anything else to do with him, I had a strong feeling Dad and Jill would be taking him in.


"Don't." I hugged my brother, thought, 'What the hell,' and hugged Pat as well. "I've gotta run or I'll miss my flight."


"Have a safe flight, son."


"You too, Dad."


"When will you be back, babe?" Theo stood there with his hands in his pockets.


"Probably in a week to ten days. Definitely in time to fly up to Cambridge."


"Okay. Well… " He didn't make a move to kiss me goodbye, glancing nervously at my family instead. Did he think it mattered to me if they saw how much he meant to me? I wrapped my fingers in his shirt and pulled him toward me.  


"Drive carefully, okay?" I murmured against his lips. And then I kissed him.




Dad called when they got home and told Theo, who told me when I talked to him later that night, that he'd had a chat with Pat's father. Mr. Mulcahy had been apologetic and had agreed to let Pat come home. I was surprised Pat went, considering his father's reaction to the knowledge he was gay, but Theo was positive that everything would work out well.


But I knew Dad would be keeping an eye on the situation.


Part 2


Easter was going to be late this year, but Theo and I were looking forward to it: we would be going up to see the family in Cambridge for the first time as an engaged couple. And then I was driving us down to Long Island so that part of the family could meet Theo.


Still, it was colder in Massachusetts than he expected.


"I thought you were yanking my chain!" he groaned, hugging his lined jacket closer to his chest as we waited for the rented Mustang's heater to blow out some hot air. "Dammit. I should have worn a sweater too!"


"Mrrow." From the Sherpa bag at Theo's feet, Miss Su seemed to agree with him.


"I thought you were wearing a sweater before we left the house."


"It was too hot. I took it off."


"I hope you didn't repack your suitcase?"


"Well… "


I shook my head. "This is Massachusetts, Theo.  It can still be chilly in May."


"It wasn't last year."


"And we just lucked out. But if you'll remember, Dad had the pool heater going."


"He did?"


"You didn't think the pool was naturally ninety degrees!"


"Um… "




He gave me a sideways look, and I realized he was pulling my leg.


"What am I gonna do with you?"


"Love me?"


I pinched his thigh. "As if there was any doubt about that. I don't want you getting sick, though. The only thing worse than a spring cold is a summer cold. And I only have the long weekend off. I wouldn't be able to stay home and take care of you."


"You'd take care of me?"


This time I stroked his thigh. "I saw one of my college sweatshirts in the closet. You can wear that."

"And if that isn't warm enough? Are you gonna say 'I told you so?'"


"Ass." I took my eyes from the road for a second to glare at him, but I ruined it by laughing. He was sitting there with his lower lip thrust out, looking for all the world like a pouting kid. "Never mind. I brought plenty of sweaters. You can use whatever I have that you need."


"I love you, Wills."


"Right back atcha, babe." I'd known he loved me, from the day I'd returned home from a job to find he'd broken up with me and then got stinking drunk over it, but actually hearing him say the words never failed to make my heart give a little jump.


And how girly was that?


"Will Miss Su be warm enough?"


"She's got her own fur coat. I wouldn't worry about her." But I could see something was bothering him. "Theo?"


"If they ever found out what I used to do- "


"Theo, they don't come to DC. The odds of them ever learning you had to hustle are so slim it doesn't merit you worrying about it."


"I hope you're right. These things have a way of turning up and biting me in the ass."


"I'm the only one you have to worry about biting your ass."


"But that sleaze who had the tape- "


I reached over and squeezed his hand. "If he tries anything, he's dead meat."


His fingers trembled under mine. Shit. I shouldn't have reminded him of what I'd done. I'd confessed that I'd done some wet work, and I still worried that would change how he felt about me. Sleeping with men was one thing, but killing them…


"Thank you."


"Hey, I love you, and taking care of you is part of that." I didn't realize how open my face must have been.


"Thank you," he repeated. He brought my hand to his mouth, turned it, and pressed a kiss to my palm. Then he cleared his throat. "Put on your game face, tough guy. We're here."


I was pleased that he recognized the house, even though it had been almost a year since the last time he'd been here, but I could see he was still concerned. This was supposed to be a happy occasion.


"I wonder if Jill and Alice will throw us a shower." I pulled to the curb in front of the house and switched off the ignition. It was early in the day, and I had no doubt Alice, our housekeeper, would send me out for last-minute odds and ends, so the driveway would need to be kept clear.


"You're kidding, aren't you?"


"Why would I kid? I don't see why we shouldn't have a party just because we're guys."


"And were you planning on including a list of goodies we'd like?"


"Of course not. That's just tacky."


Theo laughed and shook his head. "Let's go." He took Miss Su's carrier and slung it from his shoulder, and I got our suitcases from the trunk and started up the front walk.


"Hello, William."


Shit. "Hello, Patricia. How are you?"


"Better now that you're home!" She fluttered her lashes. She used to be so shy, but now she was coming on like gangbusters.


"Wills?" Theo stood at my shoulder, and I was afraid to look at him. He'd just come to accept the fact that I wasn't leaving him, no matter what. Was this going to be a setback?


"This is Patricia Herendon. She lives next door."


"I remember. We met last year. Your dog killed the kitten Wills was supposed to get for his birthday."


I wanted to cover my face with my hand. Were we going to have a throwdown on the front walk?


"General Custer wasn't my dog." She bristled, then turned to me. "I never told you how sorry I was to hear little Jasmine was hurt."


"Thanks." If I could get introductions out of the way, maybe I could get Theo into the house without World War III starting. "This is Theo Bascopolis. He's- "


"I remember." She parroted Theo's words back at him. "I saw you here last year. You're a friend of William's." She'd had a crush on me for years, and I'd tried to let her down easy, but it looked like I was going to have to hit her over the head with the fact that I was gay.


"Actually, he's my fiancé."


Her eyes widened. "How can he be your fiancé? He's a man!"


"You noticed." Theo leaned into me and slid his arm around my waist.


"What… You… what… I'm telling your father!"


"He already knows."


"He… he does? Then how come you're here?"


"We're going to spend Easter with the family," I told her with as much patience as I could muster. "It was nice seeing you again, Patricia, but I've got to get Theo inside. He's a Florida native and isn't used to the cold."


"No, wait! Bend it Like Beckham is playing at the Kendal Square Cinema. I thought we could go! And… and if your… your friend wants to come along- "


I opened my mouth to ask her what part of fiancé she didn't understand when Theo took my arm.


"Thank you, dear, but Wills is engaged now, and it wouldn't be fair to you. But it was kind of you to invite him. Come along, William."


"Bye now, Patricia," I called over my shoulder. She stood there with her shoulders slumped.


"Patricia!" Mrs. Herendon came out onto their front porch.


"Jesus, doesn't that woman ever give it a rest?" I hustled Theo up the drive to the back of the house. "That 'dear' was really cold! Remind me never to cross you!" I teased.


"Y'know something, Wills?" He stopped, so I stopped too.


"What?" I was afraid of what he might say. He knew that technically I was bi, and while he was sure now that I wouldn't leave him for another man, he was afraid I might for a woman. Which was bullshit. I'd never leave him.


"I feel sorry for her. She wants you so bad." He caught my hand and twined our fingers together. "And I'm the one who's got you."


I tightened my grip. "Yes, you do, and you're never going to lose me." I pulled him to me and kissed him. No one was around to see, and if they were and were offended – well, fuck 'em!


We climbed up the steps to the deck, and since the back door was never locked during the day, opened the door and walked in.


For a change, the kitchen was empty.  "Helloooo."


There was an excited 'woof,' followed by the uneven sound of claws on the floor.


"Hey, Deety! How's the girl?" She rolled over onto her back, her three legs waving in the air. "She's looking good, isn't she, Theo?"


He crouched beside me and rubbed her belly. "She looks great."


Deety was Jar's dog the way Twoey had been mine, and it had saddened me when I'd learned she had osteosarcoma. This would probably be the last time we'd see her. Dr. Morse, the family vet, had given her about a year, and she only had a couple of months left.


"It's going to kill Jar when she starts going downhill."


"Do you think you can get some time off to be with him?"


"I want to, but I don't know."


"I'll put in a word with your boss."


"Thanks, babe."


"Wills, Theo! I thought I heard someone!" Alice hurried into the kitchen. "You're here early!" She kissed my cheek, then hugged Theo. "I'm so glad to see you!"


"It's good to see you again too."


"Where is everyone?"


"Your father took Marti, JR, and Patrick to church. It's Good Friday."

"Shouldn't Dad be at work?" I was glad Pat's father hadn't put a stop to my brother's friendship with his son. "What about Jill? She usually does that."


"She's lying down."


"Is she all right?" My stepmother was always on the go, and the only time I'd ever known her to take it easy was when she'd been pregnant with Marti. I didn't remember how it was with Jar, since at twelve I'd been too busy settling into a new school and making new friends to pay attention to adult stuff like that.


"She's fine. Why don't you two take your suitcases up to your room and visit with her a bit?" Alice was smiling, like she had a secret, and I wondered about that. "Then Theo can help me with the baking."


"Do I get to lick the bowl?"


Theo smiled at me, and I blushed. I knew what he was thinking: I could lick his bowl anytime.


"And is this Mss Su?"


Theo put the carrier down and unzipped the front. "Come on out and say hello, Miss Su."


She poked her head out. "Mrrow?"


"How big you've grown! Do you remember me, sweet pea?" Alice bent down and rubbed our cat under the chin. Miss Su slitted her eyes and began to purr.


"I'd say she did."


"You two go on up. She'll be fine with me."




Theo looked around my bedroom as I dropped my suitcase onto the bed.


"Are we going to make love here?"


"If I can keep my mouth shut."


"I'll find something to put in it." He waggled his eyebrows at me.


"Oh?" My cock started swelling. I'd grown used to not having to worry about the noises that came out of my mouth when Theo made love to me, The last time we'd been here I'd discovered the possibility of being heard by my family made me too uncomfortable to do anything beyond making out.


He slid his hand around my neck and pulled me in to a kiss that started as hot and went to thermonuclear in a split second.


"Mmmm," I hummed against his lips.


"The feeling is mutual," he murmured as he groped my ass.


I wriggled closer to him, then sighed. "I don't suppose we have time… "


"Not now, but later, I intend to make it really hard for you not to scream."


I felt myself flush and licked my lips. "We can finish unpacking later. Let's go say hi to Jill."




"Pregnant?" I stared at Jill, stunned. She was lying on the king size bed in the master bedroom she shared with my father, her feet propped up on a stack of pillows. Princess Kimba and Jad bal Ja, her American Bobtails, were cuddled on either side of her.  "But it's eleven years since Marti was born!"


"I know. It was a surprise to us too."


I scooped up Princess Kimba to get her out of the way. "Whoa, she's put on some weight!" I met Jill's eyes, and she laughed.


"Yes, she's pregnant too. This will probably be her last litter."


"When is she due?" I sat down, and settled her on my lap. Theo did the same with Jad-bal-ja.


"Any day now."


"Wow!" Theo stared at Princess Kimba. "While we're here?"


"It's a possibility."


"Sweet!" Did he want another kitten? I wasn't sure how Miss Su would accept another cat into our household, but if we could work it out... "I've never seen anything being born!"


 "So when will Theo's brother-in-law be born?" Because of course there was no question it would be a boy.


"The middle of September."


"Will you be able to come to the wedding?" Oh, I knew it was just a service conducted by a Unitarian minister, with the reception to follow, but as far as I was concerned, Theo and I were getting married.


"Why wouldn't I?"


"Two weeks before, two weeks after?"


"Huh?" Theo looked so puzzled. And so cute. I wanted to jump his bones.


I cleared my throat instead. "A baby can be born two weeks before his due date or two weeks after."


"Well, JR was late."


"And Marti was right on schedule. If you're going in that direction… "


"I'll be fine, Wills."


"We can have it here in Cambridge, babe."


"Would you mind?"


"Of course not. It's not legal in either place, and we can fly my family up here just as easily as to Long Island."


"That's so sweet of you." Jill rested her palm against Theo's cheek. "But I don't want to disrupt your plans."


"But that close to term, it's not a good idea to fly," I said.


Theo gave me a look. "How do you know?"


"I took a first aid class one time."




"Jack won't have any problem driving us all down. He drove me up here when I was about six months along with JR."


"Yeah, but- "


"Wills, Dr. Jim says I'm healthy as a horse. I'll be fine. As a matter of fact, your Dad's been wanting to spend some time with Gram and Gramps. We can go down as soon as JR and Marti and Pat are finished with school and spend the summer."


"Sounds like a good idea." And it would make it a lot easier on my grandparents.  Uncle Jake and Aunt Charlie would have driven them up to Cambridge, but it would have been a long ride for all of them. And then my brain caught up with what she said. "Wait, what? Pat? Pat's coming to my wedding?"


"Well, yes. Considering how many relatives will be coming, I didn't think you'd mind."


"No, of course not." Between friends and family, there were going to be over three hundred people there. I exchanged glances with Theo. He just shrugged.


"Wills, Pat is living with us."


"But I thought his father wanted to take him back."


"He did." Her mouth tightened. "With the intention of beating him until he was no longer gay."


"Oh, fuck! Sorry, Jill."


"Don't apologize. I was tempted to say the same thing when your father brought him home from the emergency room."


"It was that bad?"


"Yes. His arm is broken, and so is his nose. His father was arrested. Pat would have gone into foster care. You know his mother died six years ago, and he has no other family. We've become his temporary guardians."


I got up, earning a reproachful look from Princess Kimba, and walked to the bay window. Pat had never been a favorite of mine, but he was my brother's friend. If anyone had done to Michael what Patrick's father had done to him…


Theo joined me and grabbed my hand. "No."




"Don't give me that innocent look!" he whispered. "I know you."


"Fine." I hunched a shoulder.


"I'm not kidding! Let the justice system take care of the bastard."


"I said fine."


"What are you two whispering about?


"Nothing," we said in unison.


She wasn't buying it, I could see that.


"You wanted to know what we're wearing for the wedding." Maybe that would distract her?


"Yes, I do. And don't you dare say 'if it isn't just like a woman, wondering about clothes!'"


"Would I do a thing like that?" I opened my eyes wide and pressed a hand to my chest, then went back to the bed and sat down. Princess Kimba didn't seem inclined to return to my lap. "Sorry, puss."


"Scamp!" Jill swatted my arm, and I laughed.


"Hey, you're only ten years older than me! And if Dad hadn't swept you off your feet, I would have!"


"Oh, Wills." She laced her fingers through mine. "Did it ever bother you?"


"That Dad fell in love with you? Are you kidding? I started pushing him to ask you to marry him almost as soon as you moved in. Do you remember the night Dad knocked down the jerk you'd gone out with? Dad had made you cry."


"No, he was just trying to be adult about the whole thing."


"He made you cry."


"Wills, you have to remember he was twenty years older than me."


"He still is," I muttered, remembering how angry I'd been at him for scaring off the one woman I'd known would be perfect for both of us.


She tugged on my arm. "Listen to me! He didn't want anyone – including me – to think he was taking advantage of me."


"Okay, fine, but he made you cry. I told him if he couldn't love you he'd at least better not scare you off, because I was going to marry you! I've loved you since you were my babysitter, and I wanted you as part of our family any way I could get you." Her eyes welled up with tears, and I got nervous. "What's wrong?" What had I said to make her cry?


"Don't mind me." She let my hand go and reached for a tissue from the box on the night table beside the bed. "It's being pregnant. Lately I've been crying at the drop of a hat." She held out her arms and waggled her fingers, and I carefully hugged her. She whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad!"


Relieved, I kissed her cheek.


"You're getting a real gem, Theo. Treasure him!"


"I do."


"You're not supposed to say that until the wedding!" I teased him.


"I can't wait. I have to say it." He grinned at Jill, then met my eyes. "Until the end of my days."


"Ah, Theo… " I started to choke up.


Jill cleared her throat. "What'll you be wearing?"




"Well, of course." She chuckled. "But will they be matching? Black or white? Black and white?"


"I'm leaving that to Theo. All I have to do is show up- "


"And look gorgeous."


"You're the gorgeous one." I could feel myself blushing. "I just have to make sure Harry has the rings."  My cousin was going to be my best man, while Theo's friend Paul would fly in from California to stand up for him.


"Have you ever seen him in a tux, Jill?" Theo put an arm around me. How cool was it that public displays of affection didn't bother him? "He's absolutely breathtaking!"


I blushed even harder.


"Yes, we have, and yes, he is. We thought the girls were going to riot over him at Harry and Brynn's wedding. Do you remember?"


"Unfortunately, yes. Good thing all the formal pictures were taken before the reception. There was so much lipstick on my shirt we had to ditch it."




"Don't worry, babe. None of them had their way with me."


"Oh, I love you two!" More tears were streaming down her cheeks and she reached for another tissue.


"Mom! Mom!" The door burst open and Marti came tearing in. "There's a strange car in front of the house! Is- Wills! Wills!" she shrieked. I bounced up just as she threw herself into my arms.


"Hey, munchkin." I swung her up and kissed her cheek.


"You're home!" Her arms were so tight around my neck I thought she was going to choke me.


"Yes, I am. Theo's here too."


She waved an arm to get him to join us, then pulled him close and kissed his cheek too. "I'm so glad you brought Wills home! We missed him at Christmas! Put me down, please, Wills! Guess what? Princess Kimba is having another litter!"


"Mom told us. That's so cool."


"Yes, it is! And she may have them while you're here! Where's Miss Su?"


"She was with Alice."


"I have to go say hello! Come on, Princess Kimba, let's go see your baby! Come on, Jad bal Ja!" She paused at the door. "You're going to color eggs with us, aren't you?"


"I wouldn't miss it, munchkin."


"And you're going to tell Daddy it's tradition that he cracks the first Easter egg on his head?"


"It's been years… How'd you find out about that?"


"Gram told me!"


"Argh! My reputation!"


Jill burst into laughter and Theo looked confused.


"When I was little I always tried to catch Dad out by telling him that, but every year he'd be too sharp for me."


"Well, you were just a little boy! Gram said so!"


"Yes, I was." I turned to Theo. "That egg was the only one that wouldn't be hardboiled."


"Got it. So when Jack cracked it, he'd get a head full of egg yolk."




"Only he never did."




"What a great family you've got, babe!"




"Wills!" Marti came back to me and gestured for me to bend down.

"What is it, munchkin?"


"Maybe he won't think of it this year!" she whispered in my ear. "It's been a long time since you were a little boy!"


"We'll have to see."


"I'll tell Alice to start boiling the eggs! But to keep one out for Daddy!" She raced out of the room, the two cats at her heels.


Theo stared after her, and Jill laughed. "Yes, she makes me tired too. Jack!" Her eyes lit up as my Dad entered the room and blew her a kiss.




"Have you been plotting against me?"


"No, sir!"


"Jack, it's good to see you!"


Dad hugged me, then pulled Theo into a hug too. "I'm glad you're here, both of you."


"Jill told us you're going to be a dad again!"


"Yes." A slow blush rose from his collar to his hairline.


"Congratulations!" I thumped his back.


"Thanks. We didn't say anything sooner because I wanted to make sure the pregnancy had taken. Jill had no doubt about it, but… You were too young to remember, Wills. Your mom had a hard time of it just before- Well… "


 We could all see the sadness on his face, and I thought it might be a good time to change topics.


"So what are you planning on naming him?" Because of course this baby would be a boy.


"We were thinking about Peter William. "


"I know the William is for Gramps; is the Peter for Uncle Pete?"


"Yes. He'll never have a son of his own, so… " Dad let his words trail off. There was a CD player on their dresser, and he went to it and hit play.


"That's a nice thing to do." I wasn't going to tell him that as much as I loved my uncles, I loved Pete the best. He'd taught me a lot of things, most of which Dad had no idea about, and that was just as well. If he knew his older brother had taught me how to handle a knife and how to hit a target at a hundred yards, well, to say he'd have a coronary would have been putting it mildly.


"They're good names, both of them. Did you tell him yet?"


"No, we thought we'd surprise him after the baby was born." Dad sat down on the bed next to Jill and took her hand. The way he smiled at her…


Their song began to play. Someone to care, Someone to share, Lonely hours And moments of despair…


 Dad helped Jill off the bed, took her in his arms, and they began to sway in place.


"Alice said she wanted Theo to help her in the kitchen. And I'm sure she'll have a list of things she needs from Whole Foods that she'll want me to pick up." I knew they hadn't heard me.


Dad looked into Jill's eyes and sang along with Jackie Wilson. "To be loved, to be loved! Oh, what a feeling, To be loved!"


They didn't even realize we were there.


I grabbed Theo's sleeve and dragged him out after me.


"Y'know something, Wills?"




"Your parents are the sweetest couple I've ever seen!"


For a minute I regretted that he'd never meet my Mom, but then I grinned at him and said, "If you think they're sweet, wait'll you meet Dad's parents!"


Part 3


The eggs were boiling. Once they were done, Alice would set them aside to cool and then refrigerate them; we'd color them after dinner. And an uncooked egg had been set aside especially for Dad.


As I'd suspected, Alice had a list of last-minute items she needed.


"I don't know how it happened, but I completely forgot the fish!"


"Not a problem." I put on my jacket and caught up the keys to the Mustang. "Theo? Alice needs you to help her."


He gave me a puzzled look. "Yeah."


"Okay. And Jar, I know you've got stuff to do."


"Uh… yeah. I've got stuff I have to do. C'mon, Deety." He was out of the room before anyone could question him, if anyone intended to question him.


"Marti, Alice wants you to get the Easter baskets ready."

She opened her mouth, caught Alice's eyes on her, and nodded. "I'll go get the baskets and the grass."


"Well, I'll need help with the bags. Pat, you can come with me."


"Uh… " He looked from his casted arm to me, but all I did was raise my eyebrows. "Okay." He shrugged and went to get his jacket.




"We'll be back in about an hour. Ready, Pat?"


He needed some help getting into his jacket.


"Okay. Let's go."


We went out the back door and down the driveway to the front of the house. I aimed the remote at the car and unlocked the doors, and we climbed in.


"Why did you want me to come with you?"


"We're going to have a little chat."


"It wasn't my idea to move in with your family."




"I know you never liked me."


"This is my father's house; who he wants in it is his business. What I think of you isn't important."


"Maybe not, but if my being here keeps you from coming home- "


"You think I'd let something like that stop me from seeing my family?"


"I don't know. All I know is that JR is my best friend. He's stuck up for me when no one else wanted anything to do with me. I'd never do anything to hurt him. I want you to know that." He turned red. "I didn't ask him to come with me to DC."


"And yet knowing Jar as well as you do, did you actually think he'd let you go alone?"


He stared into his lap.


"You need some help buckling up?"


"No, I've got it." But he didn't.


I reached over to grab the tongue, and he flinched. "I wasn't going to hit you."


"You wanted to hit JR when we were in DC. I could see it."


"Yes, I did. Do you have any idea what could have happened to you? If those cops weren't cops?" I raised my head to look at him. His eyes were wide and the line around his lips was white. "Set aside the danger you were putting Jar in, there's nothing glamorous or sexy about working the streets."


"I… I know. Theo told me about it."


"Yeah?" I put the car in gear, made sure it was safe to pull out into the street, and then headed for Whole Foods. "Did he tell you about that son of a bitch in Florida who went looking for boys like you? He got his boys hooked on drugs, so they had to pay him for their next hit as well as for food and shelter. It didn't matter to him what happened to them when he sent them out. They worked the streets in all kinds of weather – remember hearing about Hurricane Andrew? – and if they came home with less than what he thought they should have brought in, he beat the shit out of them."


"Is… is that what happened to Theo?"




"I- I thought it might have been him he was talking about that night in your apartment. And… and the cop seemed to know him, called him Sweet… Sweetpea? Something like that."


"Goddamm it!" He was too fucking smart for his own good. "Listen to me, Patrick. If I hear that you've even hinted of something like that, I'll make you wish you'd never been born. And don't think I couldn't do it."


"Like my father?" he demanded bitterly.


"No. Your father left you alive."


He gasped.


"Look, Patrick. Theo means more to me than anything in the world."


"Next to your family."


I hesitated a second, but fortunately he didn't wait for a response.


"They don't know you at all, do they?"




"Your family. They talk about you as if you're the most easy-going person in the world, as if you wouldn't harm a fly."


"I hate flies."


He laughed, a choking sound that hid tears. "They didn't see you that night in the bus depot. Would you- would you have shot those cops?"


"If they hadn't let you and JR go? In a heartbeat."


"I'm sorry, Wills. It just… It felt like the end of the world. I didn't have anyone to turn to."


"Now you know you do." I drew in a breath. "I'm sorry, too. I over-reacted. I just don't want anyone hurting Theo."


"I promise I won't say anything about anything."


"Fair enough. Now, if something like that ever comes up again, call us. If Theo can't help, I will."


"You'd… you'd do that for me?"


"Sure. You're part of the family now."


"Thank you."


"You're welcome." I pulled into a parking spot not too far from Whole Foods. "Okay. Now where- shit, I must have left the shopping list at home."


"I've got it." Pat was holding it in his left hand.


"Good man. Let's go. And watch your arm. It's gonna be a madhouse in there." I locked the car and found a shopping cart. I didn't think a basket would carry everything we'd wind up getting. Even though the list wasn't long, I knew I'd find things I wanted for both Theo and me, and I wouldn't be surprised if Pat added a few extra things.


"Could we… could we stop at Paine's Candy Shoppe?"


"Sounds like a good idea. Dad always took us there to get chocolate for Easter."


"JR told me. I have a little money. I'd like to get something for Mrs. M."


"Jill isn't that fond of chocolate."


Pat finally grinned. "Maybe before she was pregnant, but who do you think those bags of M&Ms on the list are for?"


"No kidding?"


"Nope. Didn't she have any cravings with Marti?"


"Yeah. Anchovies in strawberry sauce."


"Oh, yuck!"


"Yeah, I know what you mean. It wasn't too bad with Jar. We just had to make sure we kept in a supply of Milk Bone."


"Dog biscuits?" His eyes were huge.


"That's why we think he's so good with Deety."


"You're kidding!"


"Yeah." I laughed. "I am."


"Uh… Wills." He suddenly sounded nervous, and I had to stop myself from reaching for the gun I wasn't carrying.


"What's wrong?"


"That's… uh… "


A tall boy stopped in front of us. He was staring at Pat's casted arm.


"Would you mind stepping aside?" I asked.


He met my eyes. Behind the Ben Franklin glasses he wore, his own eyes were large and wary. "I'm…  I'm Andy Hancock."


"He's… uh… He's the boy I mentioned," Pat whispered.


"You told him about us?" Andy looked pissed. "I'm not surprised. It's what I expected of someone nicknamed Damien!"


Pat didn't flinch, but I could see what it cost him not to. I found myself feeling protective of him.


"Pat didn't name names, if that's what had you worried."


"Oh. I'm… I'm sorry. I- "


"But you've just outed yourself," I interrupted. "Pat, do me a favor and get the flounder?" The family never ate meat on Good Friday, and when I was with them, neither did I.


"Will three pounds be enough?"


"There'll be eight of us. Better make it four pounds."


"Okay, Wills." He walked away without looking at Andy again.


"Leave him alone, Hancock."


"It'll be my pleasure! Uh… What happened to his arm?"


"What does your family think about you being gay?"


He blinked at the abrupt change of subject. "They're not thrilled and they don't understand, but they want me to be happy."


"You're one of the lucky ones." So was I. I thought for a second about Theo, who'd been thrown out like so much trash. "Pat's father wasn't thrilled, he didn't understand, and he didn't care a hill of beans about his happiness. You asked about Pat's arm. His father broke it trying to beat the gay out of him."


The kid turned white. "I didn't know."


"It's not something Pat wants strangers to know."


His control wasn't as good as Pat's. He flinched. "I'm… I'm not a stranger."


"Why? Because you let him blow you?"


"No, I f – " He turned red and shut up.


"Grow up. And leave Pat alone. He's part of my family now, and I take care of my family."


There was a soft touch to my arm, and I started to reach for the Glock again. Shit. My attention had been so focused on this clown that I hadn't realized anyone was approaching us.


"Here's the fish, Wills."


"Thanks, Pat. Let's go; we're done here."


He looked at Andy, then turned away. "Yeah, I guess we are."




Pat was silent the entire ride home. Then, just as I pulled into the driveway, he sighed. "I really screwed up, didn't I? I wanted Andy so badly. I knew what to do with girls, but… "


I reached over and squeezed his knee. "Don't let it make you crazy. We all do stupid things in the name of love."


"Not you."


"Excuse me?"




"Who told you that?"

"No one had to tell me." He shrugged. "You've got the perfect life. You live in DC, you have a gorgeous boyfriend who loves you. If you'd done something as stupid as I have… " He shook his head.


I sat still, just letting the engine run, then turned it off. "It was our anniversary. I'd told Theo nothing would keep me from home, but I got some news about a friend's death. I had to give this news to my friend's parents. They live in Williamsburg, so I drove down there."


"And you forgot about Theo?"


"No, but he thought I had. I came really close to losing him." And all because of Michael. "By the time I finally got home, he'd taken the kitten I'd given him for Christmas and left."




"He thought I'd stopped caring, stopped loving him." I looked down at my hands. "I sent him flowers. In his experience, men only sent flowers when they screwed up. And it didn't help that someone at the florist's shop had switched cards, giving Theo one that said, I'm sorry. Forgive me. I was a fool."


"Wow! I'd have been seriously pissed!"


"And Theo was."


"Wills, I saw the way you looked at him when we were at your apartment; that's him doing something stupid, not you."


I went on as if he hadn't spoken. "The stupid thing I did was putting an old friendship ahead of him without realizing how it would hurt him. Theo could never believe that I'd stay with him. He was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. When I didn't come home that day of all days… well, as far as he was concerned, that was the other shoe dropping. I've known love all my life, Pat. I never once doubted I was loved. But Theo… "


"What happened? I mean you're still together, and JR says you're getting married."


"Yeah. I went after him." And once I'd found him I'd lost my temper and popped him one in the nose, but I wasn't going to tell Pat that.


I took the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car.


Pat scrambled to get the seatbelt unfastened, then swung out and let the door slam shut behind him. "Wait a minute!"


"I came really close to losing him. So don't ever think I haven't done my share of stupid things." I opened the trunk and handed him the bags from Paine's. "Here."


It was a good thing I was going to get the hot cross buns, the braided egg bread, and the pastries tomorrow. There were so many bags in the trunk and the back seat nothing else would have fit.


"Take these, and tell Jar to get his butt out here to help me."




"Suppose he's a she, babe?" Theo asked. He'd been talking about Jill's pregnancy since we'd come up to get ready for dinner.


"No. Mathesons run to boys." I pulled on a pair of brown twill trousers, tucked in the tailored, beige shirt, and looped the chocolate tie around my neck.


"Wills, you've gotta stop with the brown!" He tied the tie for me, then stepped into his boxer briefs.


"Why?" As I worked the cuff buttons, I had my head down so he couldn't see my grin.


"'Why'? Are you kidding? You're not at work now. You're with your family."


"But you told me this tie brings out the color of my eyes."


He stared at me for a minute, then curled his hand around my neck and drew me to him. "Ass," he murmured against my lips.


God, I loved kissing him.


"I love you." It had taken him a long time to say those words, but it was worth the wait.


"I love you too, babe. Now get dressed." I cupped his package. "Or we'll be late for dinner."


One last kiss, and he let me go and reached for the black trousers he'd selected.


"Now, if all the Matheson babies are boys, how do you explain Marti?"


"She's a delightful aberration." I threaded my fingers through his hair and gave a slight tug. "Face it, Theo: if you want girls from me you're going to be disappointed."


"You never disappoint me. But… will we have children, Wills?" He put on his shirt and tie and stepped into his shoes.


"Sure." It was my turn to tie his tie.


"How can you say 'sure'? Adoption isn't easy for gays."


"It's not easy for anyone. We can go the surrogate route." And if the legal route proved too difficult, there was the… less legal route. The WBIS would find a way to make it happen. Just as there were ladies available for the night, I was sure there were some who were available for nine months.


And if Theo got too stressed about it, I'd tell him that. The Boss might not be too thrilled about it, but I was more concerned about Theo than about him.


"I'd… I'd really like to raise a baby with you, but… suppose it doesn't work. With the baby, I mean."


"I knew what you meant, Theo. It'll work. I promise you." I kissed his chin. "All you have to decide is how many you want to have." There was a tap on the door. "Yes?"


Jar poked his head around the door. "C'mon, you guys! It's time for dinner!"




At dinner Theo insisted that he would cook breakfast. "I make pretty wicked blueberry pancakes." He grinned and buffed his knuckles on his shoulder.


"Wills has told me about your pancakes, and I'm looking forward to sampling them," Alice said. "And if you don't mind, Jill, I think I'll sleep in."


"Of course I don't mind! Are you feeling all right?"


"I'm fine. Just a little tired."


And it occurred to me that she had to be almost 70. Her daughter Ginny was still calling and insisting she come down to help out.


Theo reached across and patted her hand. "Why don't you let me take care of all the meals tomorrow?"


She smiled at him. "Thank you."


I studied her carefully. Usually she'd object that she could handle it. After dinner I'd have to ask Dad if anything was going on.


"Hey, I could cook!" Jill sounded affronted.


"No, Jilly," Dad said. "I want you to take it easy."


"I'm fine!"


"Of course you are, but- " He sent me a panicky glance.


"But I want to show off what a great cook Theo is!"


"Thanks, babe. How does stifado sound?"


"As long as it isn't the Easter bunny!"


"No, Wills." His eyes were light with laughter.


"Oh… all right." Jill had been watching us. "Pass the mashed potatoes, please."


"And you know what, Alice? After dinner you can go put your feet up, and we'll take care of the dishes."


"I'm not an old woman, you know."


"We know. But you may as well get your rest while you can. It's going to be a madhouse when this baby is born."


"Somehow I don't think so. He'll be a sweetheart, just like JR and Marti."

"What about Wills?" Marti asked.


"I didn't know your brother when he was a baby, but he was the sweetest little boy."


I felt my cheeks heat up. "I wasn't a little boy when you came to stay with us."


"But you were sweet, babe."


They all laughed.


"Can we change the subject?" They probably thought I was blushing because I was being teased. It was a good thing they couldn't see Theo running his foot up under my pants leg.




We didn't get around to coloring the eggs. Princess Kimba went into labor. By 10:30, she had delivered the last of four kittens, all males. Jar and Marti cleaned up the birthing box, and then we left the proud family to sleep.


"Geez. I'm wiped out." How was I going to make it through the birth of our child when the time came?


"Let's go to bed," Theo murmured in my ear. He put an arm around my shoulders. "Goodnight, everyone."


Part 4


Sometime after midnight Theo woke me by stripping off my pajama pants and spooning behind me. He ran nipping kisses from my shoulder to my neck and then settled in to suck a good-sized hickey. And finally he slid lubed fingers into my ass, followed by the thick, hard length of him.


"Shhh," he whispered in my ear. "You don't want to wake the family, you do?"


And having to be quiet drove me crazy. I gasped and whimpered and bucked against him, turned my head and bit at my pillow. He kept murmuring, "Shhh," and probing my ear with his tongue while he plunged in and out of me.


He turned my face toward him, dropped his hand to curl around my cock and began to stroke it in a smooth, steady rhythm. He drove into me a final time, and his mouth on mine swallowed my hoarse shout.


I lay there shivering, my breath coming in hitches. Eventually he started to soften. I clamped down internal muscles, but he still slid out of me.


"It was good, wasn't it, babe?" he asked.


"Are you kidding?" I could barely uncross my eyes. "Knowing the family was just down the hall… Not being able to make a sound… God, that was hot!"


He was quiet, and I knew something was bothering him. I twisted around to face him. It was dark, though, and I couldn't make out his expression.


"What is it, Theo?"


"You went off like a firecracker."


I could feel myself blushing. "Well, you lit the fuse."


"What happens when we get home?"


"What do you mean?"


"Michael taught you not to make a sound."


"Theo, you're not Michael."


"No, I'm not." He sounded miserable.


What the…? "Listen to me. You've given me more than he ever did."


"But I made you be quiet."


"And I thank you for that. I don't think I could have faced my family if you'd let me react the way I usually do." I pulled him close to me, and he tucked his head under my chin and held onto me. "Baby, when we get home, I'll be more than happy to howl for you."


"You will?"


I tipped his head up. We weren't usually in this position – Theo was the one who cuddled me – but this made an interesting change. I kissed him and whispered against his lips, "I will."




It was some hours later when I woke up again. Theo was sitting on the edge of the bed. "Go back to sleep, babe. I’m going to start breakfast."


I yawned, "Okay," buried my head under the pillow, and was asleep so fast I didn't even hear him close the door.


By the time I'd slept myself out and woke again, the morning sun was coming through my window.


I showered and shaved, tilting my head to the side so I could study the love bite Theo had given me. It was a big sucker, no pun intended. Back in my bedroom, I put on a turtleneck and jeans and made the bed.


Ready for the day, I went downstairs for breakfast.


The family was already up. On the center of the table was a platter with only a couple of pancakes on it. There wasn't any bacon.


JR looked up, saw me, and grabbed the last two pancakes.




"Sorry, big brother. You snooze, you lose."


Theo brought me a cup of coffee. "Sit down, babe. I'll have your breakfast ready in a minute."


In less time than that a plate stacked high with pancakes was placed before me, surrounded by strips of bacon.


"Hey!" It was Jar's turn to protest. "How come he gets all that bacon?"


"It pays to- " I swallowed my words. I couldn't say, 'It pays to sleep with the cook,' not in front of my family.


Dad and Jill were grinning, but I pretended not to see.


"It pays to be engaged to the cook." I slathered the pancakes with butter and real maple syrup and dug in.


I'd made some decent inroads on my breakfast when I saw Jill watching me. I raised an eyebrow.


"Wills, would you mind taking JR and Marti and Patrick to the movies?" she asked. She sprinkled chocolate chips over her pancakes.


"I'd love it. Once I've been to the bakery, we can go. Bend it Like Beckham is playing, isn't it?" There was no way I was taking my baby sister to see any of the R-rated movies that were out now.


Theo gave a spurt of laughter. "Your neighbor won't be happy that you went to see that and didn't go with her!"


"Wills? What's the joke?"


"Patricia invited me to see that."


"She even said I could go with them, although I could see she viewed me as the crowd."


"As in two's company?" Jill shook her head. "I'm just glad Jar is too young for her and Patrick is gay." She added more chocolate chips to her pancakes. "What a Girl Wants is playing, and Marti hasn't seen that yet. She has quite a crush on that young actor who's in it."




"That's okay, Marti," Pat said, speaking for the first time during breakfast. "I think he's a hottie too!"




Going to the bakery took longer than I'd anticipated. Everyone wanted bread and pastries for Easter, and the line was out the door.


Once back, though, I left the bags for Jill and Alice to put away. I tossed the keys for the Mustang in the air, and then caught them. "Theo and I are taking the kids for pizza, and then we'll go to the movies."


"You're a good brother." Jill kissed my cheek.


"I try. We'll be back before dinner."


Alice looked up. "I'll make sure it's a light meal. Between the pizza and the snacks at the movies, you'll probably all be stuffed."


"Not me!" Jar wound a scarf around his neck.


"No, you've got a wooden leg!" Marti announced.




"That's what Gram says!"


"She means a hollow leg."


"That too!"


"Last one in the car is a monkey's uncle!" That got them going. "Do you need anything else while we're out?"


"No, the run you made yesterday stocked us up."


"Okay. We'll see you later, then."


Theo looped his arm through mine, and we walked out to the car.


Jar, Marti, and Pat had already piled into the car. It was a little snug in the back seat, with the three of them trying to squeeze in, and Pat trying to keep his casted arm from being jarred.


"Sorry, guys. Next time I'll rent something bigger."


"But Wills, you love renting sports cars!" Jar protested. "And besides, you promised to teach me to drive a stick!"


"I did?"


He leaned forward and swatted the side of my head.


"Hey! Sit back and buckle up. Everyone ready? Okay, then. Let's go." I turned on the ignition and began backing out of the driveway. "What kind of pizza do you want?"


"Double cheese!"




"Veggie." Surprisingly, that was Pat. I'd have expected him to want some like Il Supremo, topped with everything. "But no spinach!"


"Artichoke hearts and pepperoni." And that was Theo. I looked to my right and smiled at him, and he pursed his lips and blew me a kiss.




Easter was fun. We all went to the 9 AM Mass, although I would have skipped it. I still wasn't sure how God could accept me, not only for being gay, but for doing what I did – what I'd do again – for the WBIS.


But the roof didn't cave in, flames didn't shoot up from the church's basement, and the statues didn't point and denounce me.


When we got home, Dad and Alice used the excuse that Jill shouldn't be on her feet to keep her out of the kitchen. And while Theo was helping Alice, the rest of the family went into the living room.


Marti dove into her Easter basket. Jar and Pat both protested they were too old for that, but they didn't turn down the chocolates from Paine's that Jill had made sure were in their baskets. Even Theo and I had bunnies.


"Don't spoil your appetites," Jill warned. "We're having dinner early this year. Wills and Theo have a long drive ahead of them."


We were driving down to Seaford to see Gram and Gramps Matheson.


Princess Kimba and Jad bal Ja sprawled in front of the fireplace, nose to nose, while Miss Su curled up on my lap.


I shared sections of the newspaper with Dad. Jill sat in the big chair Dad had bought her, leafing through Bon Appétit and nibbling on the chocolate Pat had gotten for her. He'd blushed when she'd teared up and kissed him.


Jar and Marti kept sneaking looks at Dad, and I raised the paper to hide my grin. I'd already told them I wasn't going to be the one to tell Dad we were cracking Easter eggs on our heads. He'd suspect if it was me.




"Yes, munchkin?"


"We were learning about family customs in CCD!"


Dad put down the newspaper. "Really?" He always gave us his full attention. That's what made him the best dad. I hoped I could be half as good when I had kids.


"Mmmhmm!" She peeked at him through her lashes. "Sister Anne explained how sometimes they just start, and the families like them so much they keep doing them every year!" My sister was a genius. I listened in awe as she spun her tale.


"That's very interesting."


"I thought so!" She gave Jar a poke in the ribs when he started snickering. "Anyway, we... I mean I thought it would be fun if we started a tradition of our own!"


"All right. And what might this tradition be?"


"Well… You know how we always tap our Easter eggs on the table to crack the shell? Well, I thought we could tap them on our heads!"


Dad glanced my way, and I got the newspaper up in front of my face.


"All right, munchkin. If that's what you want.  When did you want to start this new tradition?"




"All right."


"Thanks, Daddy!" She jumped up and threw herself onto him. Then she backed off. "Let's get Alice and Theo and do it now!"




"What-how-" Jar stared around at us in dismay as egg yolk ran down his hair and onto his cheeks.


"Oh, yuck!" Marti's eyes were huge.


I was biting my lips to keep from laughing, although Pat had no qualms about showing his amusement. Theo was studying the tablecloth pattern as if it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen.


"Whose idea was this?" Jill stood there with her hands on her hips, exasperation in every line of her very pregnant body, while Dad looked stern.


But I could see he was struggling not to laugh also.


"Daddy said we could!"


"Apparently it was Sister Anne. Something about starting new traditions."


"Well, this is one tradition we won't be following. JR, go get cleaned up. And please don't drip egg all over the stairs."


"Yes, Mom."


"Um… Alice and I have to get back to the kitchen."


"I'll help!" I got out of the dining room fast.


"How did that happen?" Theo asked once the door to the kitchen had closed behind us.


"Oh, my." Alice had a hand over her mouth, trying to stifle giggles. "We never got around to coloring the eggs on Friday, so Jill volunteered to do them yesterday while you were at the movies."


Oh. 'Oh, my' was right.


"Know something, babe?"


"What, Theo?"


"I love your family!"




By 1:30 the last of the dishes had been cleared away, and Theo and I went upstairs to get our carry-ons. We'd packed before breakfast, and I'd made sure he included a couple of my sweatshirts so he'd be warm.


Miss Su was waiting patiently in her Sherpa bag.


We kissed Jill, Marti, and Alice goodbye, then hugged Jar and Pat.


"Um… bye!" For some reason Pat had turned brick red. He bolted for the stairs.


I glanced at Theo. Later, he mouthed.


We put on our jackets, took our carry-ons and Miss Su, and the box of pastries I'd got for Gram and Gramps, and went out to the car.


"Drive carefully, all right?" Dad came out with us.


"I will, Dad. I'll give you a call when we get there."


"Thanks, son." He hugged me. "Theo, it was good seeing you again."


"Jack. We'll see you in August."


"Yes. You're sure you don't mind having the wedding on Long Island?"


"Not at all."


"Thank you. It will be a lot easier on my parents."


"To tell you the truth, I think my family will be more excited to be in New York than to be in Massachusetts."


"Well, give them my regards."


"Dad, we have to go."


"I know." He hugged me again and kissed my cheek, then did the same to Theo. "And Miss Su, you make sure these two don't drive like maniacs."


"She will, Jack. Bye. Happy Easter."


"Bye, Theo. Bye, son. Happy Easter."


"Bye Dad." I held him for a moment, then opened the car door, got in, and rolled down the window. "See you soon."


"Soon, Wills." He smiled as if he knew a secret.


I pulled away from the curb and headed for the Mass Pike. I was going to take I-90 W. We were going to be on the road more than four hours as it was, and this route was shorter both time wise and in distance than taking I-95.


"Find something on the radio, okay, babe?"


Theo began fiddling with the knob. All he got was a lot of static.


"Theo, what was up with Pat?"


"Oh. He threw wood."


"Poor guy. He probably learned how to control it with girls. Now he'll have to learn all over again."


"Yeah. Wills?"


"Mmmm?" I merged onto the Pike and set the cruise control.


"Will they like me?"


"Gram and Gramps? They'll love you!"


"Yes, but… I've corrupted their grandson."


"Not without some help from said grandson. We won't talk sex with them, okay? Trust me, babe." I reached over and squeezed his thigh. "It will be fine."




I rang the bell, and in a minute the front door of the split level ranch opened. "Gram." She was looking good. "Gramps." He looked good too.


"Well, don't just stand there with the door open. I'm not heating the entire neighborhood!

Come in! Come in!"


"Yes, Gramps."


"William!" Gram hugged me. She looked good, but she felt thin as a bird.


"Step aside, woman." Gramps pulled me into a bear hug. "Will."


"Gramps, I need those ribs."


He laughed and let me go.


"This is Theo Bascopolis. Theo, my grandparents."


"Wills has spoken of you often. It's nice to finally meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Matheson – "


"None of that, my boy! If you don't feel comfortable calling us Gram and Gramps, then Elaine and Bill are fine."


Theo's smile was crooked and his eyes had the sheen of tears. "Gram and Gramps it is."


While they shared a group hug, I took out my cell phone and called Dad.


"We're here."


"How was the traffic?"


 "Not too bad. I guess everyone was still eating.  And speaking of which, I'm starved! Let me put Gram on. I want to get Theo settled so we can eat."


He chuckled. "Okay, son. I love you."


"Love you too, Dad. Gram, Dad wants to say hi." I handed her my cell phone.


Gramps was fussing over Miss Su while Theo stood there beaming like an indulgent dad.


"Where's Charlemagne?" They'd had the Harlequin Great Dane for the past seven years, and usually he'd come bouncing into the entryway to greet newcomers.


Gramps looked up, his expression sad. "He'll be here soon. His heart..."


"When did this happen?"


"About six months ago. It's just something the breed can be prone to."


"I'm sorry to hear that."


Just then clicking on the hardwood floor signaled his approach. He was a big dog, white with black splotches over his body.


"Hey, Charlie! How's the boy?" I ruffled his ears and scratched him under his chin. "Come meet your cousin, Miss Su."


They were both good-natured breeds, and they got along well, which was a good thing. Charlemagne would have crushed her if he'd sat on her.


"Bill, Jack wants to say hello. William, your father said something about pastries?"


"Yes, Gram." I handed her the box. "I'll show Theo our room, and then you can feed us."


"You always did have a wooden leg."


Theo gave a surprised snort of laughter.


"Hollow leg, Gram. And you'll be interested to know that Marti's picked that up from you."


"Well, we women have to stick together. Now shoo!"


"Yes, ma'am. Come on, babe. Get your carry-on."


The room I used whenever I stayed with them was off the finished basement. There was enough distance between where we'd be sleeping and my grandparents' bedroom that Theo might tempt me to do a little howling.


Theo saw my smile. "Babe?"


"I'll tell you later."




"You've got a great family, Wills," he said the next day as I turned in the rental car at JFK.  


"They are, aren't they?"


"I can't believe how easily they welcomed me into it."


"Well, don't get too excited. There's still my mother's side of the family."


Dad hadn't been pleased I still hadn't told Grandma and Grandpa Sabatini that I was getting married. Every time I'd called, I'd gotten Uncle Tony, and he'd snarled and slammed down the phone as soon as I'd identified myself. And I didn't think this was something that could be conveyed in a letter.


"I'm going to take the Mother's Day weekend off and fly down to tell them in person."


"I'll go with you."


"Thanks, babe."


We took our carry-ons and Miss Su's Sherpa bag and headed for the JetBlue terminal.


"Know something, Wills?"


"Hmmm?" I was busy searching for my photo ID and ticket.


"The next time we fly up here, it'll be because we're getting married!"


I stopped what I was doing and looked into his eyes. They were shining with happiness and excitement.


My heart flipped over, and I reached for his hand at the same time he reached for mine.


Yes, we were getting married!