The news that Jamie and Sarah were expecting twins again had the entire family excited. Even Marcus's mother was thrilled at the idea of being a grandmother again. Unfortunately, it meant she stayed an extra week. It also meant another Taylor family Sunday dinner before she left; this time at Nick and Jessica's home in the northern suburbs of the city, and Mrs. Taylor was in rare form.
I was lucky to have spent very little time with Marjorie during her stay. My luck ran out that afternoon.
George, Marcus's father, was being released from the rehab center. He had almost completely recovered from his stroke. He had very minor weakness still on his left side, but continued physical therapy would probably correct the remaining weakness. All three sons had gone to help their father get settled at home, and then were due back for dinner. George had decided to skip family dinner; he claimed he would be tired from the move. I think he had spent as much time with his ex-wife as he could stomach.
Before Marcus or his brothers returned to Nick's place, Marjorie cornered me in the living room. I had been playing outside with Mallory and the twins, until I needed to use the bathroom. As I exited the bathroom, Marjorie was sitting on the love seat.
Her sons all looked more like their father, except perhaps Nick. Marjorie did, however, have blue eyes. Where Marcus's eyes were warm, inviting, and full of life, hers seemed cool and distant. She had very short hair that she colored… I'm not sure that shade of red was found in nature. Impeccably dressed and controlled, she was the opposite of my laid-back mother in so many ways.
"Anthony, I have been hoping to have a little chat with you. Could you please join me for a moment?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Taylor, what can I do for you?"
"I will be blunt, Anthony. Every mother has hopes for their children. Marcus is a bright, handsome, and successful man. I really thought by now he would be over this gay thing. I know there is the perfect woman out there for him, a marriage that could change his life. He could be a congressman or even a senator, but with you in his life that will never happen. I want the best for him. And excuse me, but I don't think you are the best."
"Well, let me be equally as blunt. I love your son with all my heart. He is the most amazing man I have ever met. You should get to know him. Did you know he volunteers for the local AIDS organization? Did you ever ask him about some of the cases he won? The sons and fathers who are still a family, because your son cared enough to help them out."
She stared blankly at me.
"Yeah, that's what I thought. All I know is for three years he was the most amazing friend a person could have, I will never forget the things your son did for me. He saved my life and my sanity after I was brutally attacked. He has helped my parents in more ways than I can mention. Simply put, he is incredible."
"Well, Anthony, don't take offense. I didn't mean you personally. I meant any man. He needs to just put this gay thing to rest."
"This gay thing, as you put it, is not a phase. Despite your wish, Marcus is gay. That isn't going to change, no matter if I'm in his life or not. You say you want the best for your son, but you don't know your son. You certainly don't know me. He says that I make him happy. I hope I make him half as happy as he makes me. I know he makes me complete. I'm sorry Mrs. Taylor, but I have no intention in leaving Marcus's life. I can't help you."
"I hope someday soon you will figure out how much you hurt your son with your attitude. I wish you would get to know him for the wonderful, loving, and amazing person he is. You deserve some credit for the man he has become, but if you continue to try to change him you will lose him. If you don't accept him for who he is, you will never get to see what his future holds. Now if you will excuse me, your grandchildren are waiting for me to finish a game of kick the can in the back yard." I got up and began to walk away.
"Anthony, I don't believe I have finished talking to you."
"That may be true. But I'm done listening to you. Your son practically begs you to visit after more than a year. You swoop in and make judgments about things which you know nothing. You want to change him without discovering the man he is. Marcus Lucas Taylor is the most loving, generous, unbelievable person I have ever met. If you really cared about him, you would talk to him about his life, his work, and his dreams. Instead of trying to make him who you want him to be, try loving who he is. I will tell you this, it's easy as hell. I'll also tell you I am the luckiest man alive, because he loves me back." Tears I'd been holding back started to leak, but she was not going to see me cry.
I walked towards the sliding glass patio door, as I passed the kitchen I saw Marcus and his brothers standing there. Marcus had tears in his eyes, too. Apparently, the Taylor brothers had returned from their Dad's home, and they had heard the conversation. Marcus walked over to me and wrapped me in his arms. He hugged me as tight as I had ever been held by him.
"Mother, listen to Tony. You need to realize that who I am and who you think you want me to be are miles apart. I will never be that person. If you can't be happy for me and accept that I have the most incredible man in my life, I'm not sure I want you to be a part it. And for the record, Babe, you make me twice as happy. What do you say? Let's finish up the game you started with the kids."
Jamie and Nick glared at their mother.
Jamie spoke quietly."Mom, you are making a huge mistake. Tony is absolutely right."
Marjorie crossed her arms in front of her and let out a huff of disgust.
Finally, Marcus and I went into the backyard to play with the kids. Nick and Jamie joined us outside. I think it was a not so subtle way of showing support. When we came back inside for dinner, I had Nick on one side and Jamie on the other, their arms around my shoulders, all of us laughing.
Dinner itself was back to a normal Taylor meal. The kids were chatting away and the adults carried on in the usual way. Only Marjorie was silent. It was a cold silence and she glared at me for the duration of the meal. What amazed me was the fact I didn't care. It invariably was so important to me that any discomfort needed to be addressed. I hated to feel like there was tension in a room, ever. But she had crossed the line with me. I could care less how she treated me, but when she hurt Marcus, I was done with her.
Marjorie went back home the beginning of the next week. Marcus was still spending a lot of time at work, but his father's return had eased some of the stress. George wasn't back full time, but at least Marcus wasn't covering all the cases at the firm. Physically, George was almost back to normal.
During that same week, Ian and I met with the Dean of the School of Education, and had successfully convinced him the project could benefit both the students and the university. Ian was ecstatic. He was also happy with the way the peer education group was coming together.
Marcus and I decided to travel to New Hampshire the first weekend of November. We planned to drive up on Friday night after school. I know my father was looking forward to spending time with Marcus going through the old albums. I was excited to show the new ring to my mother. The weather had changed dramatically and cold had settled in.
"Babe, I really want to get out of town as early as possible on Friday. What time do you think we can be on the road? Do you think Jen would want a ride to her parents?"
"I don't know about Jen. I will call and offer her the chance to go with us. I think Friday I am done with classes at two. I have no meetings so we can be on the road before three. If we don't stop more than once we can be at my parents by eight thirty. I think we should leave on Sunday by no later than five. It always seems like a longer drive in the dark."
"Yeah, but you know your parents will want to do brunch on Sunday. Then your mother will try to get us to stay for another meal. We need to make sure they know the plan. I don't want to disappoint your mother. I've had all the mother stress I can stand for a long time."
"Don't you dare compare my mother to yours," I gave him a truly fake horrified look.
"I'm not. You know I love your mother to pieces." Marcus bowed his head.
"I know; I was just busting on you. Relax, Hon. You are pretty easy to kid sometimes, Mr. Serious. I will call Jen and see if she wants to make the trip with us." I wrapped him in a hug and gave him a kiss.
Jen was excited that she could make a trip home. Plans were set to leave at three. We did manage to get on the road by four and after dropping off Jen, we arrived at my parents about ten.
I woke the next morning to the sound of laughter in the kitchen. Marcus and Mom were busy cooking breakfast, and Dad was sitting at the table drinking coffee.
"Well it's about time. We were about to send Marcus in to see if you planned on sleeping all day." Dad chided me.
"Seriously, it's still only eight in the morning. I need coffee and some people who aren't so chipper when they start the day."
"Babe, your parents and I already have your day planned out for you. Since you're the last one up, you pretty much have no choice." Marcus laughed.
"Okay, I'll bite. What are my plans?"
Mom started, "Well, Marcus and your dad are going to use the morning to look at photo albums, while you and I go to the grocery store for last minute supplies. After lunch, we are all going to the movies."
"After the movies," Marcus jumped in. "Mom and I are going to work on supper, while you and your father hang out. Then after supper, we are all playing cards."
"That doesn't seem bad, but what's the catch?" I grumbled slightly. "I mean the plan is still lobster ravioli, right? My two favorite foods in one fell swoop. That seems cool."
"Babe, you are too cute. Yes, the plan is still lobster ravioli. But, your mom and I decided to start with fresh lobsters… so guess who gets to clean the lobsters to retrieve all the meat?"
"Seriously, you people are really going to make me work for this aren't you? I think the plan needs a small adjustment."
"Anthony Michael Wallace, don't you dare start whining about cleaning a couple lobsters." Mom burst in. "I think it's the least you can do to help your boyfriend and me with supper."
"Please, I promise to be good. I was called Anthony enough in the last couple of weeks; no more, please."
"Oh, and what trouble were you in that you kept being called Anthony?" Dad laughed.
Marcus got a guilty look on his face. "My mother was in rare form for her visit. Your poor son was Prince Charming to the max and still it didn't help. She was a witch, with a capital B. Sorry, but she was. She had an agenda and wasn't listening to anything we said. My boyfriend, unfortunately, caught the brunt of it at one of our family dinners. You would have been proud of him. He stayed polite and respectful, but made it very clear to my mother that she was wrong and needed to adjust her attitude."
Marcus grabbed my hand, "I didn't think it was possible, but I fell more in love with him at that moment.
But, I think breakfast is ready. Let's get this day started."
After breakfast, Mom and I went to the grocery store. It couldn't have worked out better for me if I planned it myself. Before we got out of the car, I took the ring from my pocket and handed it to her.
"Mom, can you believe how amazing it looks. The jeweler did exactly what I wanted, the large diamond in the center with two smaller pieces on each side. Now I just need to figure out where, when, and how to do the proposal."
"Baby, it will happen when it should. Ask your father some day about his proposal to me. I think he carried the ring around in his pocket for months, until he finally popped the question"
"I never heard that story. Tell me what he did."
"Well, remember our house belonged to my parents. Your dad and I spent a lot of time with my parents. Apparently, after weeks of trying to get the nerve up, and find the perfect place, your father finally asked me to marry him down by the pond. It was so special. Just the two of us walking around the pond on a crisp fall day, I think he had been playing with the ring in his pocket. Suddenly, he grabbed my hand, gave me a kiss, got down on one knee, and proposed. It was so romantic. Personally, I've heard of big gestures, but that wasn't who we were. After I said yes, we stood there, our hands joined, my head on his chest, and just taking in the moment. It was perfect, the colors of the leaves and the sunshine reflected off the water. To this day, I get teary eyed when your dad and I walk to the pond. It looks totally different now, but we can still find the exact spot.
"Baby, you need to stop thinking so hard about it. I'm sure you will find the right moment. Just let it happen. When you propose to him, it will be exactly right for the two of you. I'm sure you'll figure this out, just relax about it."
"Thanks, Mom. That's such a sweet story. I hope I can figure this out. I love him so much. I just want it to be perfect."
"I know, Baby. Listen to me; it will be perfect because of the moment. No matter what you do, it will be perfect for the two of you. Just be happy, and stop worrying."
"I know. Okay, now what do we need to get for supper? Besides the fresh lobster that is… "
Mom and I took our time at the store. There was no need to rush home; Marcus and Dad were looking at photo albums. After grabbing stuff at the grocery store, we headed to the fish market on the shore. Mom had called earlier in the week and ordered the lobsters. We wrapped up all the shopping and headed back home. It was so wonderful to spend time with my mother. I knew my parents were amazing, but after my encounter with Marjorie, I had a new appreciation for just how good I had it.
Dinner was delicious, and the evening spent playing cards was a riot. Mom and Marcus won three games in a row until Dad finally decided we needed to change up teams. Unfortunately for him, Mom was wicked lucky that night. She and I won the next few hands. Finally, Dad decided he had enough, so we all went to bed.
"Babe, I love your parents. I really am glad we made the trip here for the weekend." Marcus whispered, after we called it a night.
"I am, too. I love that you found a way to be close to both of them. Between the photos and the cooking, it's awesome. Thank you."
"Are you kidding? Don't thank me. It's wonderful. I love every minute. So, brunch tomorrow and then we hit the road. I want to get home before it gets too late. Is that okay?"
"Absolutely, I wish it wasn't such a long trip, but an early start is a good idea. Love you, Hon."
"Love you more."
Late the next morning we loaded into Marcus's Lexus and headed for brunch. My parent's new favorite restaurant was packed and noisy, but we only waited about ten minutes for a table. As we were being led to the table, my father stopped and started chatting with someone. I couldn't see who he was talking to from behind him. When he moved to the side, there was my ex-best friend TJ. I didn't know what to say.
"Tony, what's your problem. Say hello to TJ."
"Actually, Mr. Wallace, Tony probably isn't speaking to me; can't say that I blame him, either." He started to approach me. All of a sudden, Marcus was standing between us.
"What's going on boys? Did something happen between you two?"
"Unfortunately, and it's all my fault. Tony, I'm sorry. I was a complete jerk the last time I saw you. I had too much to drink and was trying to prove something to my army buddies. I was a complete ass. I don't expect you to forgive me. By the way, where the hell did you learn to punch like that?"
"Actually I got lucky. I'm sorry; I really didn't want that to happen."
"I deserved it." TJ replied.
"TJ, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend Marcus Taylor. Marcus, this is Toby Jones."
"Hello, TJ. I'd like to say it's nice to meet you, but then again Tony has told me so much about you…"
"Look, Tony, I am sorry. Your friendship did mean a lot to me. The way I treated you was ridiculous, and I have no excuses. I am truly sorry. And Marcus is it? I hope you know what a great guy he is… Anyway, I hope you're doing well." He started to walk away.
I started to go after him and Marcus put his hand on my shoulder.
"Babe, I know you want to go after him. But, maybe it's best to leave it there for now. Let him think more about it. He is still only on about the party. He hasn't even mentioned the rest of it yet."
"I know, but we were friends for so long."
"I get it. I really do, but give it more time."
We barely sat at the table when my father started with the questions.
"Look Dad, when Jen and I came back last year for TJ's engagement party, he said some nasty things to me. I was trying to leave the party and he stopped me. TJ took a swing at me and he barely hit me, but I threw a punch that hit him just right on the jaw. I walked away and we haven't spoken since."
"Babe, do you really think you will be able to forgive him? Never mind, look at who I'm asking. Of course you will, I just hope you think about it before you actually do forgive him."
"We were friends for almost twenty years… "
"You don't have to explain to me. I love this part of you; it's amazing for you to even consider forgiving him. I just don't want you hurt again. What he said was hateful. There is no question about that. But even more… the bullying and threats… Babe, I just want you to be careful."
Dad couldn't take it anymore, "Somebody needs to better explain what's going on here."
"Dad, it's a long story. Basically, when I tried to give him a hug at the engagement party, he called me some very ugly things. He used words I won't repeat in front of you and Mom. I tried to walk away that night, but he tried to punch me. I snapped."
"What aren't you telling me? Never mind, I can tell there's more to it than just the one incident. I'm sorry, if I had known I would never have put you in that position."
"Dad, honestly it's really not important. I missed his friendship, but Marcus, you are right; things went south long before that party. Actually, the more I think about it; maybe it's just as well that I leave things alone. I'm not sure there is anything left to salvage.
"Look let's forget about TJ. I'm starving. What's good here?"
Marcus gave me a worried look, but it quickly turned into a smile.
The food was top notch; I could see why my parents loved the place. Conversation turned to much less intense things. Before I knew it, time had come to head home.
I was saying good bye to my parents, when Marcus piped in. "Betty and Sam, Tony and I haven't really talked about it yet, but Thanksgiving dinner is at my place this year. I would love if you guys would come and be a part of my family's celebration. You can stay at our place. It would mean a lot to me. Plus, Betty I would have some help getting the dinner itself ready. You don't have to decide now, but please think about it."
Mom jumped in, "Actually, we were going to ask you guys to come here for Thanksgiving. That sounds like fun though. But you have to promise that you really will let me help with the meal… What do you say Sam?"
"Sure, it will be fun to make the trip there. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. Our school calendar this year actually gives us that Wednesday off too. We could make the trip Wednesday morning, and then stay until Saturday. If you could stand us for that long, maybe I could bring a few albums with me, too."
"Excellent. That is absolutely perfect. I hope that's okay with you Babe."
"Sounds great, we have a half day that Wednesday, so I should be home by the time you get into town."
"Awesome, I'm so pumped. This is going to be fun. But we better get on the road again, Jen is expecting us. I think she has to work tonight. Thanks for a wonderful weekend, I love you guys. I'm so looking forward to Thanksgiving." Marcus hugged my folks.
"We will see you in about three weeks. Have a safe drive home. Tony, give us a call soon." Mom said.
"Don't worry; I'll call before the end of the week. Thanks for being the most awesome parents ever."
"Okay, talk to you soon." Dad put his arm around Mom, "See you in a couple weeks."
We picked Jen up and started back home. Jen was happy to leave as early as possible. She expected that it would be the work week from hell for her. The three of us quietly chatted as we drove back to New York.
About an hour out of the city, my phone rang. It was Jon, and he was frantic.
"Where are you guys? James has been shot, I'm at the hospital but they won't tell me anything. I don't know what's going on. Is there any way you can come up to the hospital? I'm sorry to bother you, but I don't know what to do."
"Okay, we are just about an hour from home. We will drop off Jen and then meet you there. What the hell happened?"
I put my hand over the phone and whispered to Marcus, "James has been shot. Jon is at the hospital. We need to hurry."
"Tony, I'm so sorry to bother you guys, but I didn't know who else to call. James called me from his cell when he got to the hospital, but that was two hours ago. Nobody will fucking tell me anything." He started sobbing on the phone.
"We will be there as fast as we can. Look that's Jen's hospital; maybe she can help us get some information. Let me talk to her and I'll call you right back. I'm sure he will be fine, we will be there as fast as we can."
I turned to Jen, but she was already on the phone. "Sarah, I need some information on a patient. It was a cop that was brought in with a gunshot wound. I know you're not supposed to share info, but just pretend like it will be my case later tonight. You don't know that it won't be. Please it's important, he's a friend.
"Okay… I see… so he will be my patient later… thank you so much… yeah I owe you one. Can you do one more favor for me…? There is a man in the waiting room, dark brown hair, about 30 or so. Probably looks like he's freaking out. Just tell him everything will be okay. Thanks, Sarah, I really owe you."
Jen hung up and tried to explain what was going on. James had been shot in the thigh while responding to a domestic violence case. He had wrestled the husband to the ground, but the man's father had taken a shot at him. He was in recovery after surgery. The surgery had been successful. Sarah had been in the operating room. James was very lucky, there was no major damage. He should have a complete recovery.
"Jon, I have news."
"I don't know how you did it, but one of the doctors just came out and talked to me. She pretended to be reading notes out loud, while she sat next to me. Thank you so much."
"Excellent, that was Jen's friend Sarah. Don't make a big deal with her, she could get into trouble. Trust me we will thank her for you. Relax; we will be there in about twenty minutes."
"Okay, I'm in the surgical center waiting room on the first floor. I can't thank you enough."
"We will be there soon. It sounds like James will be fine. Deep breaths, we will see you in a few."
Jen was scheduled to be at work in a couple of hours, but decided to see if she could find out more information for us. When we reached the hospital, she dashed off while Marcus and I tried to find Jon.
"Thank you, guys." Jon wrapped us both up in a hug. "I can't believe you managed to get information so quickly. After two hours, I was going crazy."
"So does this mean you guys have gotten a little serious? How are you doing? Have you eaten?" Marcus led him over to a couch. We sat on either side of him.
"Honestly, ever since the dinner at your condo, we have been spending time together. The last couple of weeks, it's been unbelievable, But now this… I don't know if I can do it… All we are is dating and this freaked me out. If it gets more serious, what am I going to do? I mean I never thought about how dangerous his job was until now. He's a cop. Every time he leaves the house he puts his life on the line. I don't know if I can keep doing this." Jon started sobbing on my shoulder.
Right at that moment I was at a total loss for words. Mr. 'Love is always worth it' didn't know what to say. All I could do was hold him while he cried. Marcus finally spoke up.
"Jon, as I see it you have two choices. First, you decide you can't handle the fear of not knowing if he's coming home in one piece. You break it off; you go on with your life. At first, it will hurt, but then you just move forward. Maybe you will find someone else, maybe not. But at least there is no fear.
"Or, you figure out that life has no guarantees. Every day any of us leaves the house something could happen. You find a way to put that fear in the back of your mind. You take a chance on love. You take a chance that this will grow into love, and that the love will overcome the fear. Everyday day when he leaves, you pray you'll get him back in one piece. Some people can't do it. I don't know if I could.
"I know one thing though, I learned something amazing from my boyfriend. Love is always worth it. The joy trumps the pain. You just have to decide if this is love and if it's worth the fear."
Right then Sarah came into the waiting room.
"Is there a Jon Miller here? Mr. Jon Miller?"
Sarah winked at us. "Mr. Miller, I have a patient who tells me he won't calm down until he sees you. Could you please come with me so we can get him settled down?"
"Can we all see him?"
"No I'm sorry, only two people at a time in the patients rooms."
Marcus pushed us forward, "You two go; I'll get you guys' coffee."
We followed Sarah upstairs to the sixth floor. James was sitting up in bed. He smiled the minute he saw us. Jon rushed to his side, but stopped a few steps short of the bed.
James suddenly looked crestfallen. "You decided you couldn't do this didn't you? I'm sorry, I completely understand. It's not the first time. I know it's not easy dating a cop. I really enjoyed our time together. I hope you find someone to make you happy. You really are a wonderful man, you deserve the best. Thanks for waiting around to see how I was doing before saying good bye." The tears started falling down his cheeks.
"You complete ass. Do you have any idea what you put me through?"
"I'm sorry. I promise not to call you again. I just… "
Jon took the last steps towards the bed. You could almost see the moment he made his decision in his body language.
"Look, if you thought getting shot in the leg was an easy way to get rid of me, think again. I'm not so easy to scare away. On the other hand, you need to make sure this doesn't happen again. I don't like sitting in a waiting room not knowing what's happening to… my boyfriend. So, if this relationship is going anywhere… there are some things that need to be taken care of…"
I slowly turned and left the room. Obviously, the two of them need to talk. But more importantly, they needed to be alone together. I walked out of the room just as Marcus returned with coffee.
"What's up, Babe?"
"Well it looks like Jon decided on the second choice. I think they need to talk for a while."
"Cool, I think that's wonderful."
"Yeah, it's great."
"Babe, what's wrong?"
"This was a minor surgery. Heck they didn't even have to put him under. What if it had been worse? I just hope Jon made the right decision for himself. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome, but I'm going to worry about Jon and James. I can't imagine how I would feel if it was you."
"Babe, you would have made the same call. Love is way too important to you."
"I know, but we brought these two together, I feel responsible."
"You can't help who you fall in love with. It doesn't always make sense. It doesn't always work out. But you have always been right about it being absolutely worth it."
"I love you, Marcus Lucas Taylor.
"I love you more."
Jon stuck his head out of the room. "Marcus, when you have some time… there are a few legal matters that need to be taken care of… I will not sit in a waiting room ever again and be kept in the dark while my boyfriend receives medical attention. Do you think you could draw up that paperwork for me?"
"I would be happy to do whatever you need. In fact, I need to draw one up for my boyfriend as well. I think I can get you a special group rate."
"Could you do a rush job on it? Please? I'm dating a cop; you never know when I'll need it."