My parents were in town for March break when Marcus's mother Marjorie called to let him know his grandparents had passed away that day. She was devastated, but Marcus seemed to be taking things fairly well. He insisted he hadn't been close to that set of grandparents. Still, I have no doubt he felt the loss, and he was concerned for his mother.
"Babe, in the morning I need you to set up the caterer for Saturday. I left a message tonight giving them an idea of what we need. The caterer is one we have used at the office for luncheons. They are good for this sort of thing. I will call the church to make arrangements. Calling hours will be Friday night and the funeral the next morning. There won't be services at the cemetery until sometime in May, depending on Mother's schedule, because of the frozen ground. I think she will be flying in on Thursday.
"Wednesday night, the family is meeting at Jamie's for dinner. Betty and Sam, you are invited to join my family, of course. I have a couple of crazy days at work to start the week. I'd love to spend one night firming up the guest list for August, especially the Wallace side. I don't mean to be so directive, but when Mother gets into town things will be intense at best."
"Marcus, what can I do to help? Surely, I can make something for dinner on Wednesday. And after the calling hours on Friday, your family should come back here. I'll fix up a late meal for everyone." Mom insisted.
"Betty, don't worry about Wednesday, but that's a good idea for Friday. Let's keep it light and simple."
"I'll make my homemade beef and barley soup, an antipasto, and some bread. It will be a hardy snack and give the family time to unload some stress. I also think when you call the church tell whomever you talk to the reception is being catered. If your church is anything like the one back home, there is a group who usually put out food. They could make desserts or cookies instead. If not, I'd call the bakery where we tasted the cakes and get a few things including some cookies."
"You're absolutely right, Betty. I understand my grandmother was always part of the church group that put things together. I wonder if anyone still remembers them at this church. I can ask when I speak with someone tomorrow. I checked with my father and he gave me the name of the church secretary. My Mother seemed to think we should take care of everything ourselves."
"She has been out of town for years. Your Mom has lost touch with the church up here. But I would guess the church secretary will know what you can expect."
"Okay, I will call right at nine. I have a meeting at ten, so I will call here and let you know what I need done. I appreciate everything you are doing for my family; all of you... "
Marcus wrapped my parents in a hug and started to choke up.
"I know I've said it before, but you are amazing. I love you both. Thank you."
"Don't be silly dear, of course."
Just at that moment the door bell rang. Marcus got a questioning look on his face as I went for the door.
"It's dinner, Hon. I called for Chinese. Grab some plates and utensils, I'm starving."
The four of us chatted over sweet and sour pork, fried rice, egg rolls, and some assorted pot stickers. Marcus seemed quieter than usual, but still laughing and obviously enjoying time with my parents. After dinner, Marcus checked in with his mother. We called it a night about ten, and chatted as we lay in bed.
"My mother is flying in on Thursday morning. Apparently, she booked herself a hotel. She doesn't want to stay at Jamie's because she's afraid she'll get no rest at all with the babies. Thursday night I want to take her to dinner. I'm going to be responsible for taking her around town on Friday; she doesn't want to rent a car and drive herself this time either. She's concerned about the weather. She seems really out of it; she's taking this hard."
"I can't imagine losing both parents within hours of each other. She's been a caregiver for years and now they're gone. She's probably completely lost. I feel so bad for her."
"Thanks for understanding. I love you."
"I love you more. Now, try to get some sleep."
The next morning, Mom and Dad were at the table chatting with Marcus before he left for work. I got up to see if he needed anything from me before I started getting the catering arranged. As soon as I walked out of the office, they stopped talking. I was still half-asleep and didn't think twice about it.
"Babe, you are up early on a day off. Your parents and I were talking about going to Amy and Fran's for dinner tonight and then working on the guest list later. How does that sound?"
"Sounds good, but will probably sound better after I have my coffee... "
"You are too cute. I need to head out. I'll call you before my meeting. Thanks for taking care of things for me. I have a house closing at eleven, and then another meeting at one. Finally, I have court this afternoon, but it should be a quick one. We already have an agreement worked out; the judge just needs to approve it."
"Sounds like a busy day. I'll talk to you in a little while and see you tonight."
We kissed and Marcus dashed out the door. Mom made scrambled eggs for Dad and me. After I showered and got dressed, I waited for Marcus's call. He filled me in on his conversation with the church secretary. Apparently, there are still people who remembered his grandparents and mother. The auxiliary would be happy to set up and clean up the reception. A few of the older ladies would make a dish to pass or a dessert, but with the number of people expected to attend services he suggested using both the caterer and the bakery. Marcus's grandmother especially was remembered very fondly and a big crowd was expected.
"Babe, when you call the caterer, please make sure you have them do a couple of hot dishes and sandwiches. They should also do some salads. Get a couple of cakes from the bakery and a huge plate of cookies. I'm sure the ladies from the church will supplement things. Once you have things ordered, please call Jerry at the rectory to fill him in. That way if more dishes come to the church at least we have a good foundation for the reception, from the caterer. I really appreciate you doing this, I need to dash to my meeting. I will call you when I can. Love you."
"Don't work too hard. Love you more."
It barely took me thirty minutes to feel good about the arrangements. I made sure both the caterer and the bakery would be all set up before the funeral was over. Marcus said to expect an hour long mass. He called between his meeting and court, so I let him know everything was ready to go and paid for. He could settle things with his mother later. He had one more piece of news before he hung up.
"She asked me to give the eulogy. What the hell am I going to say? I barely knew these people, how can I possibly do this?"
"Hon. Talk to your Dad about them, and if that doesn't help, find out from your Mom what you should cover. Do you have any really good memories to share? There must be some memory of them that makes you smile. Find out how they met, where he worked, and how long they were married. It doesn't have to be a novel, just highlight their lives. You can do this, it's right up your alley."
"Thanks... You're right. I'll pick my mother's brain when she gets into town. I'll call when I get out of court. Talk to you later."
Dinner that night at Amy and Fran's was delicious if subdued. Fran was under the weather and Amy was busy taking care of both the front and the back of the restaurant. The food however was amazing as always.
"You all have to try this deep fried macaroni and cheese ball. At first, I thought I might eat most of this myself, but they are so rich you really can't eat more than one. How is the Gnocchi with the sage-butter sauce?" Mom asked.
"The Gnocchi is good, but I like your sauce better. However, this cranberry dip is unreal." Dad replied. "And I never thought I'd enjoy the Creamy-Dill-Cucumber toasted thing, but it's really good especially with the dates wrapped in bacon."
"I'm really glad we let Amy pick a few tastes for us. She really has some really unique bites here. Don't you think so?" I added. "And some of the bites go so well in combinations."
"Absolutely, try some of this asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. I'm seriously going to have a hard time choosing just ten different things for the wedding. Which reminds me, we promised Fran to get that done soon." Marcus said. "I'm almost ready to just let Amy surprise us. I don't think there has been anything we all haven't loved."
"Oh my God, I was thinking exactly the same thing. Plus it's winter now and the wedding is in the summer. So, by then Amy will have all new fresh items to work with. I think we should just let her choose. What do you guys think?"
Dad smiled and started to speak when Mom cut him off. "Yes dear, I know that roasted artichoke salad we had the first time here is a must, but the boys are right. It's impossible to pick just ten things."
"Yes, the artichoke salad is a must for me, but I'm good with the rest." He laughed.
Amy finally joined us after we stuffed ourselves. She looked a little harried, but completely in her element.
"Wow, it's crazy in here for a Monday. Sorry, I couldn't spend any time with you tonight. Fran has an upset stomach and I made her stay home. What did you think of the stuff I sent out tonight?"
"I loved those macaroni and cheese balls. They were so good and not greasy at all. I was amazed." Mom smiled. "We were just talking about how every time we have something from here it is just so yummy."
"Amy, we were just discussing the wedding choices and I think we've come to a decision. We are totally going to let you choose." I laughed, "The only thing that is an absolute must is the artichoke salad for my Dad. Otherwise, we think you could make anything and it would be amazing."
Amy laughed, "You guys are great. You really seem to appreciate the complimentary tastes. Not everyone gets it."
"Plus, Tony brought up the fact that in August there are so many different fresh items to choose from for your bites. We really want you to unleash your creativity to the max." Marcus added. "Do you mind? We completely trust you will pull out all the stops for our wedding."
"Nothing would make me happier. I'm so glad you enjoyed tonight's bites, but I'd better get back to the kitchen. I hope to see you soon, Betty and Sam. Take care, Tony and Marcus, I will see you soon."
"Good night, tell your wife we said get well."
Wednesday night we were due at Jamie and Sarah's for dinner. I had a meeting at the university with a couple of the masters' students working on the curriculum project. We were trying to incorporate some of the peer group suggestions into the course work. The ideas that came from the peer group were very insightful, but difficult to mesh with the actual coursework. After a productive couple of hours, we set up a meeting for the following week.
I texted Marcus to let him know I was finished. He called me back right away.
"Babe, we are already at Jamie's. Just come directly to the house. How did your meeting go?"
"It went well. Unfortunately, we need to meet again. It's not easy to combine the ideas with the courses. But, that's not important right now. Give me about twenty minutes to get there."
I didn't have anything to give my godsons so I stopped at the store on the way. When I arrived at the house, I started down the hall towards the dining room. It seemed unusually quiet in the house.
"Happy Birthday, Uncle T." Josh yelled.
Stephen shouted louder, "Yeah, Happy Birthday, Uncle T; did we surprise you?"
"What the heck is going on?"
"I told you Marcus, he completely forgot it was his birthday." Mom laughed. "He remembers everyone else's, but never his own."
"Well that explains why I had no idea when his birthday was for the first couple of years we knew each other. Babe, this was the easiest surprise party ever. I thought you might be on to us Monday morning when you got up early, but you never noticed the conversation."
I burst out laughing. I really had forgotten it was my birthday.
"You got me. I did notice you stopped talking the other morning, but I didn't think twice about it. This is so unnecessary."
"Babe, it is completely necessary. You do so much for everyone else. We needed to do this for you. Stephen and Joshua find the presents for Uncle T."
Marcus whispered in my ear, "You will get my present later."
"Oh, that sounds like fun." I grinned.
"Well that present goes without saying, but I did get you something for your birthday. Hopefully, you will like it. Right now it's time for dinner, cake and then presents."
It was a truly wonderful evening. Dinner was chicken parmesan with pasta. Mom made my favorite cake, lemon with buttercream frosting, and even managed to get the frosting just right.
"I thought you said the frosting only comes out all crunchy when you do something wrong. How did you manage to make it perfect again?"
"Well I finally figured out that it's all about not creaming the butter and sugar all the way through. When the sugar doesn't completely dissolve you get it the way you like it best. It's only taken me twenty years to perfect the mistake." Mom started laughing.
"Well I appreciate it. Thanks, Mom, you are the best."
Stephen yelled, "Grandma Wallace, this cake is yummy. I like the frosting lots."
"Me, too; But Uncle T you gots to open presents now." Josh continued.
"Okay, as soon as I finish my cake. But, I'm not the only one who has presents tonight. I think there may be something in a bag I left in the hallway."
"Oh boy, that's cool." Josh went running for the bag.
"Boys, it's Uncle Tony's birthday, he gets to open presents first." Jamie scolded the twins.
The first present I opened was labeled from Tommy and Ben. I opened it and sighed. It was a photo of me holding my godsons while they were still in the hospital. It looked as though I was singing to the boys.
"This is an incredible picture. I can't thank you enough. This means so much to me."
"Babe, that really is a sweet picture. We are going to need to find a really good spot for it. However, I'm thinking at the rate we're going, we need to find a house soon. I mean we have enough pictures and artwork to fill the walls of a small mansion." Marcus chuckled.
"Are you serious?"
"Actually, yeah I am. I love the condo, but I want a back yard, and a garage, and a dog, and at least two kids, but we could skip the white picket fence..."
Marcus grabbed the frame from my hand and pulled me in for a kiss. It was one of the most intense kisses I could remember. He wrapped me in his arms and just held on. After a moment of just being held, I gave him a questioning look. He grabbed both my hands.
"Nothing would make me happier than finding a house where we could build our lives together. I want exactly those things. Especially the kids... Babe, should we start looking now or wait until after the wedding."
"I think we should wait until at least tomorrow." I grinned.
"Smart ass," He whispered so only I could hear.
"Okay you two, there are more presents here. Tony, finish unwrapping these presents so the boys can open what you brought them."
I finished with the rest of my gifts. The older twins made me a coupon book with coupons for games or reading time or all sorts of things for us to do together. It was wicked cute.
"This is the most awesome present ever you guys. I can't wait to use some of these coupons for popcorn and movie night or a day at the arcade."
"Well Uncle T, one of those coupons is for our spring show. You and Uncle M gots to come see us sing, we have been practicing all year." Stephen explained.
"I can't wait buddy. When is the show?"
"Ask Mommy. She knows."
I laughed. "Yeah, moms know everything." I winked at mine.
"Okay, I think you guys can open your present now. Give the box for Tommy and Ben to your Dad for me. Thanks Buddy."
"No problem Uncle T." Stephen gave me a big hug before running off with the box for the babies.
"You know, Tony, godfathers are not expected to bring gifts every time they come to visit." Jamie chuckled.
"Yeah, well, I'm new at this godfather thing so I figure I can do whatever I want for now. Maybe when they are in college I'll stop."
"Except you saw Stephen and Josh's room, Tommy and Ben will have enough hand-me-downs to keep them more than occupied. Trust me. The house is already bulging with the stuff the older boys' godfathers just had to give them."
"Well then I guess I have some catching up to do."
"I give up. There's no way I'm going to be able to talk sense into you... Just try to leave some room in the house for me and Sarah." He laughed.
We actually called it a night fairly early. Marjorie was due in town the next day. My parents went off to bed and Marcus and I retired to the office and the futon.
"Babe, I'm so glad we got to celebrate your birthday before my Mother descended on us. You have one more present to unwrap."
I walked over to him and started unbuttoning his shirt.
"What about your present?"
"You said one more. I thought you meant you."
He kissed me, grabbed my hands, and grinned.
"Okay, two presents then. But open the box first."
"Hey it's my birthday and I can open whatever present I want first. So, I think you need to let me unwrap the best present I ever got. And then I will take care of the box."
He shook his head and chuckled. I went back to unbuttoning his shirt. Next I took off his belt and unzipped his pants. He lifted my chin and began to kiss me. I moved my hands to push his pants off his hips. I cupped his erection and sighed. As I rubbed his hard cock through his briefs, he intensified the kiss. I moaned into his mouth.
"Babe, I need to do some unwrapping myself now. What can I do for you for your birthday?"
"No talking. If this is going to be about what I want, I think you are pretty clear on that... "
His smile was bright and full of need. We moved to the futon, both of us naked, both hard. I traced my tongue down his chest towards the present I'd been thinking about since hearing the word surprise. I began to lick just the head. I felt his whole body shiver at my actions. After a moment, he lifted my chin and kissed me. He gently pushed me onto my back. He moved so his knees rested between my legs. He put his hands behind my knees and pushed back slightly.
When he entered me, he put his mouth on mine to capture my moan. We slowly moved until I lost control and needed more. I tried to pull him into me even deeper with my hands on his ass. He increased the pace, matching my desire.
Suddenly, he stopped. I looked at him with a question in my eyes. He smiled and moved us so he was spooned behind me. He lifted my right leg. He re-entered and began to slowly move again. At this angle, his constant assault on my prostate had me on the edge almost instantly. He had me wrapped in his arms. His left hand tilted my head towards his, his hunger, as he kissed me, pushed me over the top and I exploded. I could feel him unload inside me at the same time.
Slowly, as I recovered from the unbelievable high, my breathing returned to normal. I turned towards Marcus.
"Now that's what I call a birthday present. Un-flipping believable... You are just incredible. I love you so much."
"Happy Birthday, Babe."
We cuddled for a while. I was beginning to nod off. I grabbed my robe and headed for the bathroom. After a quick clean up, I returned to the office and Marcus. When I got back, he was sitting on the futon with the wrapped box next to him.
"Time to open your other present... "
"You know you didn't have to do this. It's already been the best birthday."
"It's not much. Just open it."
Inside the box was a gold heart charm. It had a small loop on the side, and was engraved with three simple words... "Love You More"
I looked at him and began to tear up.
"No tears. Smile. The little loop on the top should let you wear it on the chain I got you for Christmas. I hope you like it."
"It's wonderful. Thank you. I love you so very much."
He just smiled and pointed to the heart.
At the bottom of the box was a folded sheet of paper. I pulled it out and gave Marcus a look. I unfolded it to find a reservation for two rooms at the Boston Harbor Hotel for a weekend in May. I gave Marcus a kiss.
"I suppose you have an explanation. Boston sounds like fun, but I'm not sure we need two rooms."
"Cute, Babe, real cute. But the rooms are for us and your parents. That weekend in May is when Crystal says your Dad's show will be. The gallery owner in Boston is ready to exhibit your father's work. He was so impressed with the pieces Crystal sent; he's prepared to fill his gallery. She called me last week to see what I thought of the date; its Memorial Day weekend. I figured we could treat them and the four of us could enjoy a couple of nights in Boston. What do you think? Your Dad doesn't even know yet."
"Holy shit that's awesome. He will flip out. I'm so thrilled for him... but why did she call you and not Dad?"
"She is going to surprise him when they get home. She wanted my opinion on how he's going to react and whether or not he'll have enough pieces after the expected success of the Boston show. You know how he freaked a little in Hampton Beach. She doesn't want to throw a lot of pressure at him at once.
"Your Dad is incredibly talented. Crystal is convinced the show will be so well received the word of mouth and excitement will spill over into her gallery all summer long. She really wants him to be prepared both mentally and with plenty of pieces ready to go."
"What did you tell her?"
"That she didn't give him enough credit. You saw how much he grew just from one day to the next at his first show. Plus, he and I have found a ton of pieces. Sometimes he under values some of his photos, but mostly he's able to judge his own work very well. Frankly, I simply enjoy spending time with him talking about his photos. I really just reinforce his ideas."
I just stared at him for a moment, finally pulling him in for a kiss.
"You never cease to completely amaze me. Thanks. It never seems enough, but it's really all I have. I love you so very much."
'Babe, it's time to call it a night. Mother is coming to town tomorrow and who knows how it will all go; Happy Birthday, my love."
Marcus was able to wrap a couple of things up at work before heading to the airport to get his Mother. We had no plans except dinner with her. I expected Marcus to be with his mother all day.
Mom was already working on her soup for Friday night and sent me out with a quick grocery list. When I returned to the condo, she was still busy cooking. Dad was chatting on the phone, so I decided to do a little work in the office.
After lunch, I had enough school work and began surfing the web a little. Somehow, I started looking at real estate sites. It was interesting to see all the different houses available in the area. I honestly wasn't sure what kind of place we wanted but there were definite things I couldn't live without.
My idea of the perfect house for Marcus and me included an updated and loaded kitchen. I also loved the huge bathroom in the condo, so a big master bath was a must. I figured we need at least five bedrooms or four with an office already in place. I told myself not to even look at prices. I figured we would find something close to what we wanted and then do a little remodeling. But I really didn't want to have to make a lot of changes to an existing place.
Nothing came remotely close to what I thought we wanted. It was fun to look and a few places might have been possibilities, but really needed more work than I was hoping. All in all, it was a fun waste of a couple of hours.
Marcus sent me a text about three to say he was at the hotel with his Mother. She was unpacking. She wanted to go to the funeral home and to the church to make sure things were all set. After about six texts he finally called me.
"Babe, I'm sorry. She is really down and I'm trying to go along with whatever she wants at this point. I think the best plan is for me to just take her out for a quick dinner just the two of us. I have never seen her like this. I'm sorry. Do you mind? You and your parents can go out or I'm sure your mom is already cooking away for tomorrow night."
"Do what you need to do. I can't imagine how she feels right now. Give me a call later when you get a chance. Let me know if you need anything. I'll see you later. Love you, Hon."
"Love you more, Babe. Thanks, I knew you'd understand. I'll call when I can."
I sat for a moment. My heart went out to Marjorie. I really did feel bad for her. I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anyone. I tried to figure out something I could do to help her, but I really couldn't think of anything. She needed to be with her family.
"Okay folks, Marcus called. He is going to take his mother out to dinner just the two of them. That means we are on our own. What are you guys in the mood for tonight? Do you want to go out? I know we didn't take anything out for dinner. I'm not really in the mood for pizza either."
"Don't worry son. You know your Mom better than that. She is just about set with tomorrow night's meal and still made beef tips for us for dinner."
"I had a feeling Marjorie would need time with Marcus tonight. I hope she makes him go to Jamie's to see the babies. Nothing helps more when you've had a loss, than to spend time with new life, especially your own grand kids.
"I was thinking, we should go to services early tomorrow and then bring all the kids back here. That will give the family time to say goodbye without having to keep the kids occupied. Then the kids would already be here when everyone else stops by. We can feed the kids whenever; it will help the family. What do you think?"
"Sounds like a great plan. I'll give Sarah and Jamie a call to let them know. You guys are the best. Thank you both. Guess it will be a quiet night here; how about some cards?"
We played for a couple of hours and my parents called it a night. I spent a little time working on the curriculum project. Finally about eleven I could barely keep my eyes open. I just got settled into bed when Marcus got home. I got up and met him in the kitchen.
"How's your Mom doing?" I said as I gave him a hug.
"Not very good right now... She seems a little lost."
"I can't even imagine. Both parents within hours of each other... My heart breaks for her. C'mon, Hon, let's go to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day."
We settled in bed with my head rested on his chest, my favorite position.
"We are meeting Mom for breakfast. Then I need to drop her off at her friend Susan's house. I'll go back and pick her up about two so we can get set up for calling hours."
"Yes, definitely we."
"Okay, no problem. Is she good with that?"
"Great. I'll get our suits from the cleaner after breakfast. We will be all set.
"Hon, Mom, Dad, and I figure we will go to services right at the start and when the kids start to get fidgety we will bring them back here. That way you and your family don't have to worry. We will go in my car and bring the kids all back in Jamie's van."
Marcus kissed my head and held me tighter.
"Thanks... That's a good idea. The older kids won't last long. Let's get some sleep. Tomorrow comes soon enough. Love you."
The next morning we picked Marjorie up at the hotel and went to the same diner Marcus took me to the night we met. We ate quietly, until I just couldn't hold back.
"Mrs. Taylor, I am terribly sorry for your loss. I can't even imagine how difficult this is for you. How did your parents meet? How long were they married?"
She gave me an odd look, but slowly began to talk about her parents. We finished the food, but kept on chatting. Over an hour later, she and I were laughing about different memories. She actually was a wonderful story teller and really seemed to come alive as she shared different tales.
While she was talking, Marcus set his hand on my leg and squeezed. I looked at him and nodded my head slightly. Each time Marjorie seemed to slow down; I'd ask another question. Eventually, Marcus reminded his mother she was expected at her friend's for the afternoon.
When we dropped her off, she reminded Marcus to return about two so she could be ready for the evening. She then turned to me and smiled.
"Thank you, Anthony; I enjoyed reminiscing about my parents. I needed that to remind me just how wonderful they were. You continue to surprise me. I will see you in a couple of hours, Marcus. Anthony, I will see you tonight."
Marcus and I got back in his car and he started to drive. He got about two blocks away and pulled over.
"Anthony Michael Wallace, you are the most incredible man I have ever met. What did you just do? She smiled, she laughed, and she thanked you. Un-flipping-believable... You even got all the info I need for the eulogy. I love you more than words."
"She just needed to think about what her parents meant to her. She did all the talking I just helped her get there. I'm just glad we managed to talk without me spouting off. I feel good for a change after a conversation with your mother."
Thanks to some amazing people...
My hubby, Ray
David, the editor from heaven
and Fitz, another author who continues to encourage