Copyright © 2016
by David Lee
by David Lee
Joe decided that having their spring breaks at different times this year was a good deal after all. Although one of them was occupied while the other was on vacation, they had two whole weeks of sleeping together like a married couple.
The accommodations in Joe's dorm room, with twin beds, wasn't ideal, but Michael figured out a way to remedy the situation pretty well. He planned to have a king sized bed delivered to their house as soon as they got possession, so they'd need new bedding anyway. In anticipation of that, he purchased a king sized set of sheets, along with a comforter and a foam mattress topper. He pushed the twin beds in Joe's room together, using a couple of pieces of rope to keep them tightly aligned. Then, he laid the foam over both mattresses and made it up like one big bed.
"I know it's gonna be a bit hard in the middle where the frames meet, but we won't have to worry about slipping into the crack."
"Was that a Freudian 'blunder' about slipping into the crack?" Joe giggled.
"Ooh, you are SUCH a naughty boy! Should I put you across my knee?"
"That might be fun, but I'm not ready to get into spanking, so I'll be good. Anyway, your idea is a great solution!" Joe agreed. "Hmm, I could probably rent my room out for romantic evenings and make enough to pay for its cost for the whole semester! I couldn't do that to Duffy and Jared, though."
"By the way, that was a great thing you did for them. On top of that, my family loved having you there. I guess Noah hasn't stopped talking about it. Mom said she hoped he didn't stress you out. She never dreamed he'd crawl into your bed after he got up to pee in the night."
"He's a super little kid, and I wasn't upset that he got into my bed, even though he's an active sleeper. His presence made me think about having kids of our own someday. Luckily, I tend to sleep in boxers when I'm at someone's house in case there's a emergency, so it wasn't embarrassing for me."
"We might try having a surrogate mother and each father a little one. I'd love to have a son or daughter that looks exactly like you. If we could work it out to have the same egg donor, then our kids would be blood related."
"That'd be awesome!"
Michael's sleeping solution did work very well. It allowed the guys to make out without the fear of someone falling on the floor, and there was plenty of room to stretch out for sleeping. They found the set-up to be much more comfortable than the double bed in Michael's apartment.
Naturally, the guys couldn't spend every minute together, but Michael found plenty of ways to keep busy while Joe was occupied with classes and other school-related activities. During the first day, he completed what he hoped would, at long last, be the final draft of his thesis. He had included some of the statistics made available in the recent study of adolescent behavior that his committee had recommended he look into. That evening, after Joe and he had both proofed the changes, he sent it off to the committee electronically.
The second day, he visited the kindergarten that his little brother went to during the hours their mother worked. Kristen had contacted the school and signed papers to allow him to be with Noah. Since he'd already been vetted for his teaching certification, the process was a piece of cake. The head of staff put him to work helping with the children's physical activities during recess, and the kids took to him like ducks to water. Noah was very proud to show him off to the rest of his little friends.
During the week, Michael also kept up his running. On two occasions, Coach Weld had him come to get acquainted with the team he'd be coaching in the fall. The fact that he could run with the boys helped him form bonds with them quickly. Some of the seniors almost wished they could stay on another year to have him as their coach.
A couple of other times, at Coach Branson's invitation, Michael ran with the university team. Michael was pleased to discover that he hadn't lost his edge to any great extent. He still had adequate speed, and actually possessed more endurance than some of the college-aged runners. Joe was as proud as could be to see the respect and admiration for Michael in the eyes of his teammates.
Michael's master's degree committee was able to meet with him on Thursday afternoon. He had to forego running that day in order to make the time, but obviously his degree was his top priority.
Everyone had read the changes he'd made, and had approved them. It was now a done deal. All he had left to do was pay his graduation fees. He had the option of graduating in absentia, but Joe had urged him to walk across the stage for his diploma if he got to graduate that spring.
"Do I really need to do that?" he'd questioned.
"Yup! You've worked hard, and you deserve the recognition. Besides, it's an excuse for your family and me to plan a party!"
Michael had acquiesced as long as the celebration was something low key.
"I thought we were like an old married couple before, but these past two weeks really proved it," Joe grinned on Saturday night. "We've managed to take care of all our responsibilities and still find time to cuddle and make love. Wow!"
"Yeah, it's a foretaste of married life alright, and I think we've both adapted well. Of course there will be even more household tasks when we're home owners, but I suspect we'll adjust to that too.
The minute Franklin High's break was over, Michael was butt-deep in track practices and meets. He was bound to give the kids his very best even though he was leaving at the end of the term.
By now, word had gotten out about his departure. His younger boys had mixed feeling about the fact that he wouldn't be there the next year. Some were unhappy, and others were almost angry with him for leaving them.
One day after school as they had just dressed for practice, he sat down with them in the locker room and explained why he had to make the move.
"You've all probably heard by now that our little school district will be absorbed by Springfield within the next year. I wasn't at liberty to disclose that until today. Of all the coaches, I'm the low man. Everyone has more seniority, so it's highly unlikely that there would be a position for me after the merger. This year, an ideal job opened up and I applied. I'll be at my old high school in Ames, and be near my family. I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity."
"And probably so he could jump Jose's bones," some kid in the back said in a stage whisper.
The room went completely silent, all eyes on Coach Bartacek to watch his reaction.
"That comment is out of line, and I don't feel that my private life is anyone's business, but since the subject has come up, I'll explain how it is. Joe and I are engaged and will be getting married sometime this summer. Naturally, I want to be close to him instead of carrying on a long-distance relationship. I want to emphasize that our relationship was platonic until after he had graduated, and was no longer under my supervision. I don't want it rumored about that I was involved in anything illegal or improper. Is that understood?"
"Congratulations," a boy named Sean offered.
"Yeah, we're cool with that," someone else added.
Then, they all gave him a round of applause.
"Okay, let's got out there and hustle!"
The boys headed for the field, but one remained behind.
"I'm sorry about what I said," Ashton bowed his head. "I saw him come out of your apartment a couple of times in the morning when he was on break, and I figured you were sleeping together. It really wasn't any of my business, and I hope I haven't made trouble for you."
"Your comment was inappropriate, but there can't be any repercussions for Joe and me since we didn't cross the line. I hope in the future that you'll consider all the consequences before you spread gossip."
"I will! Am I still on the team?"
"Certainly! If we all got kicked out of things for speaking before thinking, many of us would have missed a lot of opportunities."
"Thanks, Coach! I'm really gonna miss you."
The next several weeks flew by. With track practice and meets on top of school, Michael and Joe didn't have much time to connect in a serious way. They texted often, and worked in a few Skyping sessions, but it wasn't like being able to cuddle.
Both of them took the inconvenience in stride, knowing that when this year ended, they would be living together in the same house, and wouldn't have to put up with as much separation.
Graduation exercises at the university would take place a week before Franklin High was out for the summer. Michael put out a general inquiry among the staff to see if someone could fill in for him to supervise the last track meet which was taking place at their school. Coach Brems responded immediately that he would be happy to take his place. Mr. Prentice said he would help too. Several other teachers had already volunteered for timing the events, and similar duties. Everything was under control. Once he knew his responsibilities were all covered, Michael could finally relax and look forward to his special day.
The ceremony was to take place on Saturday afternoon, so Michael would be on the road while his boys were on the track. He picked up Maria because she had expressed the desire to see him receive he graduate degree. On the way out of town, they stopped by the track so Michael could give his guys a pep-talk. They seemed really happy that he had taken the time to do that. He reminded them to kick butt! They promised to make him proud.
Kristen had a cold, picnic-type lunch ready to eat when everyone got there. Because time was limited, they ate with little conversation, and drove quickly to the theater where the graduate students were to receive their diplomas. It was a smaller, more intimate venue than the huge auditorium used for graduating seniors.
Although there'd be a smaller crowd, parking was still a hassle, so Phil said he'd find a spot for Michael's SUV while the rest got settled. He had to walk a fair distance, but he managed to get back well before the ceremony started.
As with all graduations, there were speeches and awards. The older students were probably as bored with some of the details as much as the younger ones tended to be, but they exhibited more patience. Noah wasn't restless because he had a video player with headphones to keep him entertained. No doubt, others in the auditorium envied the boy.
When it was Michael's turn to walk across the stage, his family stood as they applauded. Joe snapped several great photos of the process. Noah was pretty excited, but didn't yell out because his parents had instructed him about proper decorum. Unfortunately, some of the other adults in the theater weren't as well-mannered as he was when a member of their family was honored!
Michael's eyes were misty as he accepted his official certificate. He hadn't thought he'd be that emotional, but the remembrance of all his studying and hard work made him feel very happy that it had come to fruition.
The party at the Cooper's home was low-key as he had requested. Maria and Kristen had prepared a number of hors d'oeuvres, some of which had a decided Mexican flavor. They served these in the screened porch at the back of the house with a pitcher of margaritas to complement them.
It was a really nice time.
When it wound down, Maria took a nap in the bedroom she would be occupying for her overnight stay. The guys followed her example. It had been a busy day, coming right at the end of finals for Joe. Both were tired enough that they slept instead of fooling around.
Around 7:00 p.m., they sat down to a casual dinner that Phil cooked on the grill.
With the end of term, Joe would have to vacate his room in the dorm. It would be possible to move into another school housing facility since he was planning to take a couple of courses in summer school to get ahead in his studies, but that wasn't ideal.
He was hoping to settle into the house which would soon belong to Michael and him.
So, on Sunday morning, Phil and the guys went over to see how soon the tenants would be leaving. Phil had attempted to contact them by phone, and was beginning to be concerned about things since they hadn't responded to his messages.
He rang the doorbell several times, and then knocked and waited before using his key to unlock the front door. Immediately, he knew why they had been avoiding him. The place was a mess. Evidently, they'd taken all of their personal affects, but they hadn't done any cleaning. There was a bag of smelly garbage in the middle of the kitchen floor, and several surfaces were littered with old pizza boxes and the remains of other fast-food meals.
"Well, at least I have their damage deposit to spend on having the place cleaned. I'm not sure it'll cover the cost."
"I can work on it this week," Joe offered. "I'll clean the bedroom with the twin bed in it and sleep there while I deal with the rest."
"The place really isn't fit to live in!" Phil remonstrated. "I can't have my future son-in-law staying in this mess."
"I brought old jeans and a T in case we needed to do something here," Michael said. "I think the two of us could make it habitable before Maria and I have to go back home. But first, we need to take pictures in case they ask for their deposit back. You might need proof!"
"If you clean this yourselves, I'll give you the deposit they paid. It's the least I can do!" Phil insisted.
"It will save me rent if I can live here instead of a dorm, so that would be like getting paid double," Joe said.
"You will have earned it!" Phil maintained. "Let's go home to eat lunch and gather cleaning supplies. Then the three of us will tackle the job so it's clean enough for Joe to survive in it."
The three men made a lot of headway in the afternoon. After the scattered trash had been thrown into the garbage cans, the place began to look far better. When the main bathroom and the master bath had been sanitized, and the kitchen thoroughly cleaned, Joe was certain that he wouldn't feel like a street person living there.
At that point, Michael suggested to Phil that he should go home and relax while Joe and he went to Menards to look at paint samples. Michael had been worried that Phil might feel obligated to pay for paint, rollers, brushes, tape, etc., if he accompanied them. He really appreciated all that his family was doing for them, but he wanted to be sure to hold up his end. He didn't want to feel like a leach.
Fortunately, Joe and Michael had similar tastes and wanted to keep the colors fairly neutral. Since the walls had been painted an institutional white during the time the house was a rental, it wouldn't take a lot of work to cover them with a light buff color.
They purchased the other supplies they'd need, including a roll of thin plastic drop cloths to protect the floor coverings. It looked like the vinyl in the kitchen and bathrooms was still serviceable after being thoroughly scrubbed. Joe planned to apply a coat of wax on them on Monday.
The carpet was another matter. That would likely need to be replaced, depending on how it looked when it had been shampooed.
After sharing a supper meal together, Michael and Maria headed back home. Maria, who was normally on very upbeat, was rather quiet on the return trip. There were many things on her mind. She was proud of Michael for receiving his degree. She was impressed with his family for making Joe and her so welcome. At the same time, she was feeling a kind of loss because her little Jose wouldn't be coming to spend the summer with her. Granted, she'd only had him under her roof for a couple of years, but during that time, she'd grown quite attached to him.
Michael was like a son to her as well. She would miss him when he moved in with Joe. Of course, she knew that baby birds have to leave the nest and make their own way in the world, but still, she felt sentimental.
The final week of school was a busy one for Michael. There were exams to be given, projects to be graded – all those year-end details to be taken care of, culminating in graduation exercises on Friday night.
High school graduation came off with barely a hitch. Most of the kids were on their best behavior, even the ones who sometimes acted up. The solemnity of the occasion, and the fact that they'd soon be out in the cold, adult world, seemed to have a sobering effect on their mood.
The faculty members were lined up at the sides of the main aisle as the new graduates exited the auditorium to strains of the Grand March from Aida played by the band. They sounded rather professional; Verdi would likely have been proud.
Michael exchanged hugs with many of the seniors. He was especially touched when Ashton, who had made the smart remark about Joe and him getting laid, held him tightly for a second and whispered in his ear.
"I'm sorry, I guess I was always jealous of Jose."
Michael suddenly realized that the young man might also have had a crush on him. One never knew what was in the minds of adolescents.
Saturday was a workday at school. Final grades had to be turned in, and the classrooms needed to be packed away for the summer. Michael had been lucky that a few students had returned after their last final to help him. So, by the middle of the afternoon, Mr. Prentice got on the PA and announced that everyone who had finished up was welcome to leave.
Michael went to the main office to turn in his keys and say a final farewell to the secretaries and his principal. Then, with mixed emotions, he swallowed the lump in this throat and broke into a huge grin as he drove to his apartment to pack the last of his things.
It was around 5:00 p.m. by the time Michael had turned in the key to his apartment and had received his damage deposit back. His landlord told him that he'd never had anyone leave a place as clean. Michael would be missed.
Maria had an early supper waiting for him when he arrived at her house. He had really wanted to be on the road right away, but he didn't want to hurt her feelings by turning down her generous offer.
"Thank you for indulging a meddlesome old woman," she greeted him.
"Maria, you're neither old nor meddlesome!" he exclaimed as he hugged his hostess.
"I did sort of poke my nose into your relationship with my grandson."
"Only in an encouraging way. You never acted as if I were robbing the cradle, or being inappropriate."
"That's because you weren't! You were always careful not to pressure him or hurt him. You gave him the affection that his own father should have."
"Um, I don't think my current intentions toward him could be construed as being 'fatherly' in any sense of the word." Michael blushed.
"Of course not! You're engaged to be married. At this point, you two should be sharing your feelings in whatever way you're comfortable."
"I love you, Maria!"
"And I love you. Here now, don't try to clear the dishes. I have all night to do that. I'm going to send the leftover fajitas home with you. I'll put the beans and rice in something too, so you boys won't have to cook tomorrow night. I'm going to have Chinese, anyway."
Michael thanked Maria once more, and hugged her before he drove away.
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