Chapter contains brief sexual discussions and content.
February 10, 2017
I squeezed his hand as I gave him a reassuring look, then we both returned our gazes to our therapist as Nate said, "We've discussed this in depth. We're confident in our decision."
After exhaling a cloud of smoke, Uncle Farid glanced between us, from one to the other, his gaze considering and serious. Finally he smiled and shook his head.
"Both of you remain mired in the aftermath of Richard's handiwork, though Greg's somewhat further along since meeting Kyle last year forced him to deal with what he'd been hiding from himself for so many years. For you, Nate, we've only recently stumbled upon this pseudo-phobia that's based on your feelings for Greg."
He took another puff from his cigarette before tamping it in the ashtray.
"Normally I'd emphasize the need for separate therapy sessions as it would allow us to freely delve into and discuss and address the issues you both face." Both Nate and I looked ready to interrupt, so Farid lifted a hand to forestall our argument. "However," he continued, "I'm nobody's fool. Greg's the catalyst for your healing, Nate, because without him you wouldn't know about or have the ability to face the fear Richard spent so much time engendering within you. It will probably assist us to have him here so you're consistently pushed to face that fear and empowered to overcome it, allowing us to inspect it, understand it, and ultimately dismantle it.
"Besides," he added with a grin, "as long as it took the two of you to reach this place, with all you've faced and all you've fought, I'd be a fool to try to separate you."
Jotting down a few notes on the pad in his lap, his eyes not on us, he asked, "Any preference on the day of the week? It'll be longer than your sessions have been in the past since we'll be dealing with both of you at the same time, individually and as a couple, so bear that in mind."
I looked at the beautiful man beside me, our hands clasped with fingers intertwined, and we silently discussed the matter with a series of expressions that lasted no more than a few seconds.
Back to Uncle Farid I answered, "Fridays. Can we still have mornings and just extend it?"
He nodded as he wrote a little more. "I'll have Jan update the schedule and send a confirmation to both of you."
When he finally looked up, his avuncular humor slid away as his therapist seriousness slipped into place. "With that settled, let's begin with you, Nate. From what you boys have told me already, it took a powerful sexual event with Greg to help you see beyond your fear and realize what you stood to lose if you let Richard win. Sex can be atavistic, a primal, instinctual coupling with no purpose save the coupling itself, which is where I believe you two started that night. But sex can also be transformative, even transcendent, when the strength of the event helps someone see beyond their own understanding, if not actually allowing them to overcome the limitations imposed by that understanding. Given that, tell me, Nate, why do you think the experience was profound enough to help you see beyond the fear and understand it was a construct built to hinder your happiness rather than protect it?"
* * * * *
March 14, 2017
We lay in post-orgasmic bliss, sweaty with chests heaving and muscles weak and wants sated and needs fulfilled. Nate's head rested on my chest as he drew lazy patterns on my torso with his fingertips.
"I want you to make love to me."
"What?" I coughed, clearing my throat since it suddenly felt constricted.
"I told you before, G-Man, we're equals in this, all of me for all of you."
"But I told you—"
"You're not built for first-timers, I know. Which is irrelevant. I see what it does to you when I make love to you. I want you to make me feel the same thing." Propping himself up on his elbow so he could look me in the eye, he asked, "So what do we do to make that happen?"
"Butt plugs," I responded. In for a penny and all.
"Come again?" His eyebrows jumped up despite the trace of a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"We'll start small, work our way up. It'll take a few days. You'll wear each to grow accustomed to it, then we'll step up a size."
I stopped his words with a kiss, slow and expressive of understanding and trust. When I released him, he looked so much more relaxed, not to mention a wee bit lustful and a whole lot happy.
"Trust me, Little Big Man."
"I do," he whispered before he captured my mouth with his.
* * * * *
March 18, 2017
Nate stormed into the house, his shirt flying across the room as he dropped his sweatpants and underwear, stepping out of them, leaving him naked except for his shoes and socks.
"Look at it!" He was pointing at the impressive erection standing tall and firm in front of him.
"Me like," I responded in a husky tone, my eyes glazing over.
"It's been like this all day." Despite trying to sound perturbed, his lust-filled undertone said otherwise. Not to mention the pure want in his expression.
"So you like the way that feels in your ass, huh?"
He squirmed a bit, slight movements in his hips telling me he was using his muscles to work at the plug. Then in a breathy tone he whispered, "Yeah. It feels... really good."
He had me pinned down on the couch before I could think of something to say.
* * * * *
March 21, 2017
"Thank you for dinner, G-Man. That was so good."
"Happy birthday," I whispered against his lips before kissing him.
When we came up for air, he tried for a stern gaze but accomplished something between humored and annoyed instead. "You shouldn't have bought me a new car, dude."
"Yeah, I should have. You've mentioned a few times that you'd like to look at something new. Once I got you to admit what you were interested in, I took it from there."
"But a car..."
"It's just a car, Nate."
He attempted an exasperated sigh, but it came out sounding pleased.
Pressing my body against his so he could feel my interest and I could feel his, grinding against him, I kissed along his jaw until I reached his ear, then I whispered, "I have one more gift for you, Little Big Man."
"No, G-Man, you've already—"
"Can you feel my gift pressing against you?" I asked, my voice husky and full of want.
"Oh fuck..." he moaned, thrusting his hips to press us together. "Tonight? Can we? Am I ready?"
"Let's head upstairs and find out together."
* * * * *
"Holy fucking shit..." Nate said sotto voce against my lips, his forehead against mine, his body resting atop mine.
I moved my hips just a little, which caused him to gasp. Though we'd both climaxed, I was still inside him and he was still feeling every bit of me.
"I think you liked that," I told him before kissing him slowly, sensually, lovingly.
"You have no idea," he groaned. "I've never had a hands-free orgasm before." He kissed me tenderly. "That was amazing, G-Man." The next kiss was a bit more needy, a bit more wanting. "Fucking hell, that was incredible." He gyrated his hips to move me inside him. His whole body trembled as he grabbed my face and proceeded to curl my toes with a soul-searing kiss. "Now I see why you seem to come apart when I make love to you. I'm gonna want to do that again." Another kiss. "And again." A deeper kiss. "And again."
"Maybe later. Because now it's time for part two of this birthday gift."
"Part two?" he asked, confused.
"My turn," I growled as I captured his mouth with mine while I flipped us over. I intended to ride him until he couldn't remember his own name.
Some immeasurable time later he lay beside me nearly incoherent, satiated beyond words, grasping me with needy hands and holding me close as he showered little kisses all over my face and neck. Just before he drifted into slumber, he whispered, "I love you so much, G-Man."
"Happy birthday, Little Big Man," I breathed into his ear. "I love you more than words can convey."
* * * * *
May 25, 2017
"Have you two given much thought to marriage?" Mom asked.
Though she was busy setting the table while Dad helped me in the kitchen, I could still see the mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"We've talked about it," I replied, intentionally sounding dismissive, as though the subject had little weight.
My father stared at me, clearly expecting more. When I remained silent, busy preparing dinner, he prompted, "And?"
"Fine," I grumbled with a roll of my eyes, though they knew it was all theatrics. After a swig of beer I explained, "Yes, we've talked about it. Yes, it's something we want to do. No, we're not ready." Then I went back to cooking.
Mom came up behind me and smacked me in the shoulder.
"Ow!" I wailed. Overly dramatic, of course. Rubbing where she hit me I spun around and complained, "That hurt, mother of mine!"
Dad hid his snicker by rummaging in the fridge for the fresh Parmesan cheese I needed.
"Oh please, son of mine," she began, her tone letting me know I was close to real pain, "if I wanted to hurt you, you'd know it." She took a deep breath before adding, "Now that I have your attention, let's get back to the subject we were discussing."
"Careful, Greg," Dad warned. "You're being brave or stupid considering how close she's standing to you."
"Better listen to your father."
"Okay. I surrender." I held up my hands to emphasize my point. Turning back to the stove lest I burn dinner, I told them, "Nate and I agree that we should continue our therapy and focus on getting better before we take a big step like that."
"But you guys have known each other—"
"For decades," I offered, completing my father's argument.
"And you've lived—"
"Together for three-quarters of that time."
"I'll finish my own sentences, thank you very much," my mother snapped, though the humored grin on her face belied her tone.
"Oops. My bad."
She hit me again.
"Ouch! Keep that up and I won't be able to finish dinner. We'll starve."
"Starving will be the least of your worries," Dad chuckled as he grated the Parmesan cheese.
"Gosh, you two are a tough crowd," I complained.
Mom ignored my remark and said, "Marriage. Discuss."
"We know our relationship is solid. We know we're closer than most married couples. We know there are no skeletons in the closet and no surprise personality traits and no hidden agendas and no need for getting to know each other. But it's more complicated than that. We're still dealing with therapy for what Richard did, so adding a new dynamic to our relationship is enough change for now. We want to make sure we're both better before we take the next step. So we need time. We don't want another surprise from that asshole to pop up and blow things apart. Let us deal with it in our own time, let us make sure we're healing and not regressing, let us make sure there's not another unpleasant surprise hidden in our heads, then we can feel confident about moving forward with marriage."
I spun around and pulled Yvonne into my arms, hugging her tight. "Give us time, Mom. I promise it's as important to us as it is to you guys. We've all waited long enough for Nate and I to be happy together. We're happy now, we can be happier still, but let us move at our pace and let us decide when we're comfortable and let us be sure Richard's not still lurking in the shadows waiting to cause more damage."
She rose on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek, hugging me tightly, and quietly said, "You've given me the answer I wanted to hear."
Mom released me and set about finishing the table for dinner.
Squeezing my shoulder, Dad said, "We're proud of you two, Greg, and we're really happy for you. We know you'll make the right decisions together and in your own time."
"Speaking of time, when's he supposed to be here?" she inquired.
"He's at the new gym, had a little extra work to do, but he's on his way. Should be here in fifteen minutes or so."
"Excellent. It'll be nice to sit down and enjoy a family dinner with the whole family here."
I caught the slight blush on Dad's cheeks after he heard Mom's words. She knew precisely what she was saying and how it would be interpreted, which gave me a little thrill for them. I was pretty sure our parents were getting close to patching up their relationship.
* * * * *
July 23, 2017
I gave Nate a considered look before asking in a hushed tone, "Have you thought about kids?"
"Of course I have, G-Man. You know I have."
Sure, I knew he had. I knew he'd thought about kids with a wife and a house and a white picket fence and all that jazz. I wasn't asking about that, though, wasn't asking about his ingrained response thanks to Richard.
Quietly, shyly, almost in a whisper I clarified, "I mean with me."
He lifted his head from my chest and settled it on the pillow beside me. Gently, his touch full of compassion, he pulled me over so I faced him. He grabbed one of my hands and held it as he settled the other on my cheek, letting his thumb caress my skin.
"Of course I have, G-Man." His tone was subdued yet sure. "I've thought about it for a long time, long before we figured out our shit and wound up where we are now. I used to fantasize about it even though I was scared of the idea."
"Don't sound so surprised, dude. You might have been in denial, hiding how you felt from yourself, but I wasn't. I was just scared of what I felt. That doesn't mean it wasn't in my face all the time and that doesn't mean I wasn't letting my mind wander all the what-if paths."
I rested an arm over his side and let my fingertips lightly trace patters on the skin of his back. "I've been thinking about it a lot, Nate."
"Oh yeah?" His question held a hint of awe, a touch of wonder, a lot of interest, and plenty of hope.
"Yeah." I couldn't help my dreamy quiet tone when I told him, "I've been thinking about it quite a bit. I've been thinking I'd like to have kids. With you. Build a family. With you. Live the dream with kids and pets and school and all the fun and torture that entails." Leaning my forehead against his, I let my words breathe against his lips when I finished, "With you."
Nate released my hand and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me to him, my face settling against his chest. Squeezing me and rubbing my back even as I returned the embrace, he kissed the top of my head before saying, "That's my biggest dream, G-Man, now that I have you. I want to build a family with you, grow old with you, have kids and grandkids and maybe even great-grandkids." He kissed the top of my head again before rubbing his chin in my hair. There was a slight hitch in his voice, a hint of tears, when he added, "I want us to have kids, Greg. I want all of it. With you."
* * * * *
November 8, 2017
"So are you gay?" Kyle asked Nate.
"It's complicated," I answered as I wrapped a towel around my waist and walked into the bedroom.
"It really isn't," Nate said. "The answer is no, I'm not gay."
"So you're bi?"
"No." Wrapping an arm around me, he pulled me down onto his lap and held me tightly as he told Kyle, "I'm not gay or bi. I'm straight. I just happen to love a man, this wonderful, beautiful, one-of-a-kind man right here." He kissed my shoulder to alleviate any confusion about the man he spoke of. "Making him happy makes me happy, so here we are."
Never one to silence his curiosity, Kyle asked, "So you're not attracted to any other men?"
"Not at all. Not once have I seen a man who made me wonder what it would be like to be with him. Except this one. Just this one and no other. He's the only one for me."
He slid out of the chair and settled me in it, stealing my breath with a kiss before saying, "Just this one, Kyle. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I need a shower."
"Catch you later, man."
"Good to talk to you again, Kyle."
"Same here, Nate."
Basketball Boy's eyes tracked Nate as he walked away. The effect was something like having a voyeuristic laptop, its field of vision limited only by how willing I was to move the computer and its attached camera.
"You look healthy," I noted, glancing at his bare torso on the screen. "You're more defined and you have more muscle mass than you did when you were here for my birthday."
Though we'd texted a few times, it had taken two months before he called and another month before we started regular video chats. Over the intervening months, our contacts grew in frequency and our conversations and interactions slowly returned to the comfortable intimacy we'd once enjoyed.
I understood his distance and the time he needed to overcome his feelings for me. First loves that didn't work out never made life easy and never went away, but they could be managed and they could be turned into good memories and even better friendships. It just took time, which I gave to Kyle in whatever quantity he needed.
"Still working out?"
"Sticking to the diet?"
He ducked his head, looking a little embarrassed.
"It's okay," I told him. "You're young and your metabolism is turned up as far as it'll go. Just try to stick to it when you can. It'll help with adding muscle."
"What happens when I think I have enough?"
"We'll help you change your routine and diet from growth to maintenance. No big deal at all."
"Thanks. You guys are too awesome for words."
"Again, I'm glad someone recognizes my greatness."
"I was mostly talking about Nate."
"No he's not," Nate shouted from the bathroom. "He's just being honest."
"Asshole!" I shot back. After our laughter faded I asked Kyle, "So what's up, dude? You said you had something important to ask."
If blushes were fire, Basketball Boy would have spontaneously combusted. His cheeks flamed red, the tips of his ears turned crimson, and his neck looked like a rapidly spreading burn making its way from his head to his chest.
"Dude, calm down," I chuckled. "It can't be that bad."
"No," he mumbled. "No, it's not bad. Just... Well, I mean..."
"Spit it out, dude!" Nate shouted, still in the bathroom.
"I thought you were taking a shower!" Kyle shouted back.
"I'm getting there."
When I glanced at the en suite, Nate had stripped and stood at the walk-in shower, hanging a fresh towel on the rack near the door. He caught my gaze and mouthed, "I love you."
"I love you," I replied. Then my eyes wandered up and down his body, taking in every inch of his mouthwatering beauty. It made me lick my lips.
"He's naked, isn't he?"
"Huh?" I muttered, turning back to the screen. "Oh, yeah, he is. How'd you know?"
"Come on, man, licking your lips, your eyes glaze over, you look like you're ready to leap from the chair and tackle him. Seemed kinda obvious."
"Oh. Right. Suppose so." Resetting my thoughts and erasing the image of naked Nate standing there waiting for me to devour him, I looked at Kyle, whose blush had ebbed, and prompted, "So you had something to talk about."
And the blush flared up again. "Right. Okay." He took a deep breath. "You... like... I don't know... You..."
"What?" I laughed. This had to be good with the way he was acting.
Another deep breath fortified him. "You like to suck dick, right?"
The color drained from my face at the same time Nate burst into uproarious laughter from the shower.
Shaking my head, waving a hand at him to dismiss the apology, I stuttered, "Well... Yeah, Kyle... I... Uh... Sure, yeah, you might say I like to suck dick."
"He's really good at it, too!" Nate shouted.
Kyle's laughter was loud and heartfelt. My blush was almost as pronounced as his had been.
"Shut it, you!" I hollered toward the bathroom door, though I had to bite back a chuckle so as not to ruin the stern tone I used. Then back to the laptop: "Now let's be serious. I'm sure you have a point. Yes, I'm a gay man and yes, I like sucking dick. Why are we having this conversation?"
"Can you teach me how?"
"What?" Nate and I asked simultaneously.
Basketball Boy's skin darkened and darkened and darkened. He had his eyes squeezed shut, his head down and shaking from side to side. "Fuck..." he mumbled. "How can he hear me over the shower?"
"Bionic hearing." I rolled my eyes for effect.
"I heard you roll your eyes," Nate announced.
Kyle and I laughed some more.
"Okay. You want to know about... well..."
"Giving a blowjob." He said it quietly, like a secret.
"He wants to know how to suck dick, G-Man. Give the kid a break and tell him all your secrets. Just wait, Kyle, he'll tell you how and you'll be an expert before you know it. You'll be blowing dicks like a pro and blowing minds like a Jedi master!"
"Jesus Christ!" Kyle howled, his whole body trembling with laughter.
"Nate, stop it, please!" I begged, though mostly the words came out jumbled and broken because I couldn't stop laughing despite feeling abashed.
"He's a few clowns short of a circus, isn't he?"
From the shower came a laugh-filled "I heard that, Kyle!"
After the laughter died, I sat in silence for a few moments, holding up a finger to indicate to Kyle that he should give me a minute. My mind settled and the humor faded, which left me facing a quandary.
Deciding a big brother should help his little brother, I let my concerns about the conversation slip away. "Are we talking about Mitch?"
His cheeks flushed once again and he diverted his eyes, only for a moment thought. Then: "Yeah. I think. Maybe."
"I didn't realize it was a hard question."
"Yes, okay, yes, we're talking about Mitch."
"Teach him everything you know, G-Man!"
"Why?" Kyle asked.
"Because he's the white wizard of gay sex, dude! Let Greg teach you how to work magic and your new boy toy won't know what hit him!"
Again our laughter was slow to die, as was Basketball Boy's blush.
After we caught our breath and calmed, I decided to get serious. Or at least a little serious.
"Okay, here's the deal, Kyle. I'll answer all your questions, I'll give you all the pointers and instruction I can, I'll tell you everything I can think of, I'll share all my secrets, but you have to promise me three things."
He squared his shoulders and gave me a determined look. "What three things?"
"First, you listen and take to heart everything I say about safe sex. Second, no matter how embarrassed you are or how silly you think a question is, don't hesitate to ask me anything no matter how big or small. And third, we get to meet your—Is he your boyfriend now or are you just fuckbu—"
"Boyfriend," he interrupted without hesitation.
The blush came back. "Yeah," he admitted quietly.
"Not really. A little touching. Nothing else. Not yet anyway." No hesitation that time either.
"Okay. The third thing is we get to meet your boyfriend. Bring him over and let's have a video call so we can talk to him, take a look at him, see if I need to come down there and threaten him within an inch of his life if he hurts you, all that stuff big brothers do."
Chuckling, he shook his head slightly before agreeing. "Okay. Sure on all three things. Besides, I already planned to have him here next time we do this because... well... I want you to meet him. I want to make sure you like him and I want to make sure he likes you."
I grinned, happy and overjoyed and thrilled about this turn of events.
"Okay," I began, "I'm glad we're on the same page. So let's get started. Got a banana?"
* * * * *
June 2, 2018
I hugged Kyle, the embrace tight enough to interfere with his breathing. But neither of us cared. He squeezed me with just as much fervor.
"I'm so proud of you, Kyle," I whispered in his ear. "I'm so very, very proud of you."
"Thank you," he said quietly.
When we finally released each other, he stepped over to Nate and they shared a hug and whispered words. Meanwhile, I turned my attention to Mitch.
When he put his hand out to shake, I stepped inside his arm and wrapped him up in a hug. "I think we can dispense with shaking hands and go right to hugs, don't you think?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he agreed with a smile as he wrapped his arms around me.
Mitch was a good looking kid—Hell, he was a young man, like Kyle, but they'd probably always be kids to me. I suppose I was feeling old.
Anyway, he was a good looking young man, a few inches taller than Kyle, so probably standing about five ten or eleven, with light brown hair short on the sides and just long enough on top to fall across his forehead. He probably weighed a hundred sixty pounds, give or take, making him lean, perhaps rangy but probably more like a well defined runner. He had honey-colored eyes that sparkled with all manner of intelligence and mischief. And he was a real looker, a handsome young man with a dimple in his left cheek and a shallow cleft in his chin.
We'd talked not long after Kyle started his sex education calls, meeting Mitch the first time as he sat nervously in Kyle's room looking like a deer caught in headlights. I never learned what Kyle had told him about me or our relationship, but he seemed intimidated by me. Not a few conversations with him were spent surreptitiously convincing him I was no competition for Kyle's affection, I didn't plan on killing Mitch unless he hurt Kyle, and I really wanted to be his good friend if he intended to be an important part of Basketball Boy's life.
Over time he calmed and relaxed, our burgeoning friendship soon growing to a comfortable level, allowing us to joke with each other. Eventually Mitch even felt comfortable calling me separately, sidebar calls focused on things he wanted to know about Kyle, things he could do to make him happy, things Mitch would run by me to make sure Kyle would like his plans, and of course things Mitch wanted my approval for or things he wanted to check with me before addressing with Kyle. More and more he treated me like his boyfriend's protective big brother.
I released Mitch and we chatted amicably as Kyle and Nate likewise chatted, but the Orlando afternoon grew warm and my stomach grew impatient, so eventually we said our goodbyes to Gerald and Teresa and MJ before herding Kyle and Mitch to the rental car. We'd promised to take them to lunch after graduation; I knew just the place to go.
* * * * *
"I can't believe Keigan owns this restaurant!" Kyle exclaimed after greeting our mutual friend from Dallas. Keigan wanted to stay and chat, but the restaurant was packed and he had work to do.
"He and his husband just opened this place," Nate explained.
"Yannis," I said in answer to Kyle's unspoken question. Well, unspoken with words but spoken clearly with his expression.
"The guy from your birthday party?"
"They own it together?" Mitch inquired.
"They both started out with restaurants in Dallas, one Greek and the other a burger joint."
"A really good burger joint," Kyle interjected.
"After Greg introduced them," Nate told the boys, "they hit it off, started dating, eventually moved in together, and then married just last month."
"With their combined restaurant expertise and Keigan's business acumen, they came up with a plan for places like this." I gestured around the rugged yet comfortable dining room in which we'd been seated.
"Wow..." Kyle mumbled as he looked around.
"Did they move here?"
Nate looked at Mitch and answered, "No. But their business plan has them expanding outside of Texas. This is the first."
"Orlando's a busy city with tourism, so it made sense."
"I can see that." Basketball Boy nodded appreciatively.
* * * * *
"SMU?" I couldn't hide the grin on my face. Kyle had been considering the school, but I hadn't pushed for confirmation, instead allowing him time to consider his options.
"Full scholarship," Mitch announced with pride.
"Yeah, Nate, for their engineering program."
"Wow. I'm duly impressed, dude."
"So am I," I agreed.
Nate turned to Kyle's boyfriend and asked, "What about you? Where are you going?"
"SMU," he answered, reaching over and joining hands with Kyle, the two sharing a beautiful moment full of loving expressions.
"Engineering as well?"
"No," he said to me, "I want to be a psychiatrist." He blushed then, looking down for a moment before meeting my gaze and adding, "I want to help kids. I want..."
"Tell him, Mitch." Kyle's voice was nervous yet supportive, encouraging his boyfriend to say what he needed to say. "It's okay."
"I know it's presumptuous, Greg, but... but I'd really like to get my degree and then work for a place like Silver Rain, if not Silver Rain itself, to help kids who maybe don't get the help they need elsewhere."
Nate and I shared a look, silent communication passing between us. Then we both looked back at Mitch and I said, "When you get to Dallas and get settled, before school starts this autumn, how about you and I sit down and have a little chat, see what your passions are, your goals, your intentions toward Kyle—" I added that list with a humorous sternness in my voice. "—and then we can go from there."
"Really?" the boys asked in unison.
* * * * *
September 29, 2018
"Hey, Mom." Nate picked her up and hugged her.
As I embraced my father I said, "Good to see you, Dad."
"You too, Greg."
"Put me down, baby boy! Put me down!" She was giggling like a schoolgirl.
Nate set her down gently. We swapped positions and I hugged Mom against me, nuzzling my face in her hair.
"Good to see you, mother of mine."
"Always good to see you, son of mine." She rested her cheek against my chest and held me tight, rubbing my back.
When I released her, I noticed Nate and Dad in a whispered conversation. Lacking bionic hearing, I couldn't make out what was being said. Also lacking a nosy gene, I didn't ask about it either.
"I hope you boys are hungry," Gavin began as we turned toward the dining room, "because we somehow managed to make way too much for four people."
"Blame your father," Mom shot over her shoulder, smiling, her eyes twinkling when she looked at him.
"You know Nate eats like ten times his own bodyweight each day, so it shouldn't be a problem."
"Hey!" Since we were holding hands, he had to swing across his own torso to smack my arm.
"You struck me!" I whined. "Mom, Dad, he hit me!"
"They never grow up," she complained.
"It's like they never moved out, too," Dad added.
"Because they're constantly coming over to eat our food."
"And drink our beer."
"Our?" Nate interrupted.
And then I saw it. Giving Nate's hand a squeeze to get his attention, I gave him a look that told him the shit just got real. I released his hand and stepped to where both Mom and Dad had stopped and turned around, both of them looking like fish out of water as their mouths opened and closed with nary a sound.
Feeling Nate's watchful gaze as I moved, I reached down and grabbed Mom's hand. Her left hand. Pulling it to me, I gently held her fingers out so I could look at the ring she wore. The new ring. On her ring finger. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Nate saw it as well.
"Do you two have something you need to tell us?" he asked them in his best strict father voice.
"Stop," I said through a laugh. Surprisingly, they both slammed their mouths shut.
"We know. Greg and I already know."
"We've known all along."
"With Dad's laundry folded neatly in the basket waiting to be put away."
"With Dad's favorite beer in the fridge."
"With the looks."
"The attempts to hide said looks and touches."
"Not to mention the stolen kisses."
"Alright! Alright!" She was giggling and smiling.
"You caught us," Dad admitted.
"Except what, baby boy?"
"The ring, Mom." My tone was condescending yet humored.
"Set a date yet?" Nate asked.
"Are we invited?"
"I will not be a bridesmaid."
"Don't look at me to be a maid of honor. Ain't happening."
"Stop!" Dad growled, trying to stop his laughter. "You boys are a mess."
"So when did this happen?" I asked, turning serious, releasing Mom's hand and stepping back. Nate immediately took my hand in his.
They looked at each other, so much love in their eyes. I almost melted when they joined hands.
"Today," he began.
"This afternoon," she clarified.
"I couldn't wait."
"I didn't want him to."
"We were going to tell you."
"It's not a secret or anything."
"And of course you'll both be in the wedding."
"Like that wasn't going to happen," Dad scoffed.
"Hey," Nate said to get everyone's attention, his gaze especially keen when he looked at Dad, "let's eat before it gets cold. You can tell us all about the proposal and the wedding." Glancing at me and smiling, he said, "We definitely want to hear everything."
Next comes the epilogue. Surprised? I said in a previous comment that I abhor stories that climax only to dawdle in post-coital drudgery. I figure when a story accomplishes its goals, it's time to wrap it up, put a bow on it, and be done with it.
Thank you to all of you who have followed this story and offered your encouragement and feedback! I appreciate each and every one of you.