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March turned into April, Marcus and I were getting ready to head to New Hampshire. Dad was excited about his show Memorial Day weekend, in Boston, and wanted Marcus to help choose more photos. Although when he found out Crystal, the Hampton Beach gallery owner, told Marcus about the show first, Dad was a little upset. Marcus explained Crystal's concern about overwhelming him and he calmed down eventually. We were leaving for my parents' house Saturday morning.
Before that, Wednesday night dinner, with Jon and James, did not go as expected.
We arrived at Jon's house at six thirty that evening. The house was a large two-story Victorian-style mansion. Jon originally rented the top floor from a colleague at the university. When Professor Hudson retired, Jon bought the house and now rented out the bottom floor to a visiting professor.
The lay-out of Jon's space was very unusual. The stairs brought you to the rear of the building. After entering through a small foyer, the first room was the kitchen. With very dark walnut cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and brown-mustard colored walls, the kitchen was a huge space. A half wall separated it from the dining room, making the two rooms seem even larger.
A long hallway with a bedroom on each side led you to an amazing living room. Four huge bowed windows afforded one an incredible view of the city. Jon left the windows without treatment, except small half blinds at the bottom that could be drawn to give privacy. The living room was huge. Jon had created two complete conversation areas and a space to watch television. The effect was very unique and afforded the ability to make the room seem intimate for a small group.
One bedroom had been turned into an office; each room had its own bathroom.
Jon looked completely stressed out when he met us at the door.
"Come on in guys. I'm afraid it will just be the three of us tonight."
"Is James still at work?" Marcus asked.
"Honestly, I have no idea. He's working an undercover case. When he's at work I never hear from him, when he's home we don't talk much."
"We could make this another night..."
"No, I need to have a conversation with someone outside of school. Except for that rare interaction in classes, the only other person I have had any conversation with is Keith. Don't get me wrong Keith is a good kid, but he's pretty focused. We talk about school work or J. I need to know the rest of the world is still spinning."
"So you don't know what James is working on?" I asked.
"No, I never know what he's got going on until it's over. Most of the time it's no big deal, we can carry a relatively normal relationship without any problem. This time I'm at my wits end. He's moody and withdrawn when I see him, which is never. He comes to bed after I'm asleep and is up before dawn. I'm telling you I don't know how much more I can take... "
I walked over and pulled him into a hug. He started to sob on my shoulder, but quickly recovered.
"Look, I just want to have a nice dinner with friends and maybe talk a little. I'm not looking to have a pity party. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into; this time is a little over the edge. Please let's just have a nice meal and a real conversation."
"Okay," Marcus jumped in. "What can we help you with?"
"I would love a glass of wine. Could you open the bottle in the fridge? The meal itself is just about wrapped up. I have the roast resting and just need to mash the potatoes."
"Everything smells awesome." I said.
We sat down to eat. The conversation felt a little forced and artificial, as though we were trying to avoid any real subjects. Jon got up to get himself another glass of wine. Suddenly, the door slammed open and James dashed to Jon. He grabbed him, planted a kiss on his lips, and then just clutched at him.
"I'm sorry. God I'm so sorry, but it's finally over. Thank you for being so patient with me. This was the worst case I've ever had. But, it's finished. I promise things will get back to normal, or at least as normal as they ever are with me. I don't think I could have lasted another minute. I'm so sorry. I know I've been nothing short of an asshole. Please forgive me."
James continued to clutch at Jon.
Marcus spoke up, "We should go. It looks like you guys need some time."
James shook his head. "Actually, please don't dash off. I really need to decompress a little. I need to talk this out and I've already dumped on my boyfriend way too much. This case really fucked with my head. It would really help if I could talk it out. I mean I understand if you don't want to hang around; I know it's a lot to ask, but it would mean loads to me. You guys are the only ones I could trust with this... "
I gave Marcus a pleading look; he nodded his head at me, and smiled.
I finally said, "Of course, if you need us... We'll stay."
"Babe, the house smells amazing... Is there any left?"
Jon stood there stunned. James kissed him and grabbed his hand.
"Babe, I promise to explain everything. I will make it up to you. This really was as bad as it gets. But we got the whole fucking bunch of them. They started to roll on each other over the weekend."
He continued to clutch at Jon. Slowly, Jon's whole demeanor changed. His shoulders relaxed and his eyes started to smile. He gave James a kiss and then moved away. He pulled out a chair and began to fill a plate with food.
James ate in silence for a moment, while Jon and Marcus drank wine and I sipped at my coffee.
"Holy shit, this is so good. It fucking feels like I haven't eaten real food in a month."
"Actually, you haven't," Jon said.
"Oh shit, Babe, I really am so sorry."
Jon gave a forced smile.
"Eat. Then talk."
After James wolfed down two full plates, he took a deep breath.
"I want to warn you guys. This case was really bad. It will all hit the papers tomorrow and maybe the news tonight. Hell it could already be posted online.
"Oh, and by the way, thanks for picking up on my head nod in front of the coffee shop, Tony. I was on my way to meet with a suspect. Well, now he's been arrested, but I was sure he watched my approach. Anyway, thanks."
"No problem, I almost messed it up."
"You did well though. I know it was tough to go against your regular nature, but thanks.
James then proceeded to tell us about the case. It started out as what seemed like a quick prostitution case, but when a sweep lead to pictures of a ten-year-old boy available for sale, the case turned ugly. James initially balked at going undercover, but the face of that boy haunted him.
As it turned out not only did they bust up a huge prostitution ring, but they caught a few child pornographers as well. As he told the story, tears rolled down his face. At one point he choked up, but after taking a deep breath he continued.
"The hardest part for me was the face of the little boy. How could someone do that to a child? I couldn't get him out of my head. Finally, we found him. His fucking mother and stepfather were using him to get money for their heroin habit. It took all the self restraint I possessed not to... Anyway, when we rescued him out of that hell hole, he just clutched at me. He wouldn't let go for hours. The entire time we interviewed him the first day, he wouldn't stop burying his head in my shoulder.
"The counselor from social services asked me to stay until he fell asleep. They wanted me back each morning to give him a sense of safety. Over the weekend, he finally started to act like a ten-year-old. We played catch for a little while between interviews. That little kid has been a gold mine of information.
"Hell he took down an officer in vice. The poor kid flipped out when the officer, Rodgers, sat in on an interview. It took me almost two hours to get the kid back to talking. But there's another fucking sleazebag off the grid. Apparently, that's part of the reason the case took so long. Rodgers was trying to slow us down, so he could keep himself safe.
"Unfortunately, that will be the headline tomorrow. 'Vice Cop Arrested' I can see it now. Not the major prostitution ring broken up or the arrest of ten people involved with child porn, or even the rescue of that innocent ten-year-old. Nope the big story will be the cop. Oh well, I can rest knowing what we accomplished.
"Actually, I shouldn't tell you this but the shit is going to hit the fan in your neck of the woods too, Tony. One of the people caught in the sweep is an elementary teacher in your district. Your superintendant is being brought up to speed as we speak. I'm guessing the next couple of days at school will be totally crazy for you and your staff."
During James story, Jon had started by cleaning things in the kitchen. By the time he was finished, Jon had James wrapped up in a fierce hug, as James rested his head on Jon's shoulder.
I gave Marcus a look. It was time for us to leave these two alone.
"Gentlemen, I need to call it a night. I have two court dates tomorrow and we are traveling to see Tony's parents this weekend." Marcus said.
"And it sounds like work will be intense for me. Thanks for the heads up. What part of the case did the teacher fit in?"
"Solicitation... just your run of the mill shit... nothing to do with the kid, but the press will lump it all together."
"James, I can't begin to appreciate what you've gone through this last month. I hope you get tremendous satisfaction knowing what a difference you made, especially to that little boy. I promise we will keep this quiet. If there is anything you need, please let us know." Marcus said.
I nodded my head and continued, "We absolutely mean that. Anything at all... Either of you... Even if it's just someone to listen, don't hesitate to ask."
"Thanks, guys, I hope we can get together soon and have a game night. I could use some laughter."
Marcus grabbed my hand and spoke up. "Well, after the weekend in New Hampshire, Tony is on break next week. Let's make it Wednesday night. What do you say?"
"Jon, what do you say? It's totally your call. I'm doing nothing but paperwork and making things up to my boyfriend next week."
"Sounds like fun."
"Cool, then it's a plan. I'll give you a call Tuesday, Dr. Miller. I will be seeking some advice about the last couple of classes for my doctorate too. I'm glad I took the semester off, after the accident I had the hardest time concentrating. But I need to get the last few classes finished up and then finish writing this thesis. So, Dr. Miller, I will check in with you Tuesday."
"Ok, Anthony, I would be happy to advise you on how to proceed. But if you call me Dr. Miller I may hang up on you." He smiled.
I gave him a hug and whispered in his ear, "If you need to talk, please call. You don't need to go through this alone you stubborn ass."
"I know, but you know I hate to whine. I promise next time."
We let go of the hug and looked at each other. I pulled him back in and squeezed him harder. As we let go I noticed James whispering in Marcus' ear. Finally the four of us said good night.
As I drove home, Marcus and I held hands. Curiosity got the best of me so I asked Marcus what James was whispering.
"Well, I can only tell you if you promise to keep it to yourself. James doesn't want Jon to know until they have had time to discuss things. Can you keep this between us and not tell anyone else?"
"Sure, it's not anything bad is it?"
"No, but it's a big move for James and Jon, if Jon agrees to it."
"Okay, tell me what's going on."
"Well, I think that ten-year-old has affected James incredibly. He asked me to be his lawyer and help him navigate the foster system. I bet if he had his way, James would adopt that kid in the blink of an eye. But, he knows this would be a huge move for the two of them. Right now he just wants legal advice; he and Jon will need to talk this one out. He wants me to make sure the kid has legal counsel and doesn't get jammed into the foster system."
"What does that mean? James has hired you to be this kids' lawyer?"
"No, James wants me to be his lawyer. He wants me to alert my friend, Sarah, to the situation. I know she will take care of that little boy."
"Oh, I understand now. Did he say when he was going to start talking to Jon about it?"
"Yeah, after the week is over. I just hope this doesn't come between the two of them. Jon may not understand James' feelings. And he may not be ready to become a father of a ten-year-old. They haven't been together that long."
"Maybe if James sees your friend helping, it will be enough."
"That and a little distance... I hope when he can step away a bit; his head will clear. That's why I suggested he wait until after the week."
"Hon... You are amazing. I love you.
"I'm wondering how bad things will be for Ian and the school district. I mean soliciting is bad, but child porn would be worse and anything to do with that poor ten-year-old... I can't imagine."
Whether good or bad, the vice cop being arrested for solicitation involving a ten-year-old boy completely overshadowed the arrest of an elementary school teacher.
Dr. Hunter set up a small group of teachers to help students. Because I spent time in the building, Ian had me involved. Most of the kids seemed to be unaffected by the whole situation, but a couple of the older students, who had that teacher, needed to talk things over. By the end of Friday, I was exhausted and completely drained.
That night after dinner, Marcus and I were finishing up packing when I was slammed by a headache. Since they had abated for the most part, the headache really hit me hard and surprised me. Marcus snagged my meds and I called it an evening.
"Babe, try to relax. You've had a tough couple of days and it's hitting you hard."
"Damn, I thought I was past these headaches. This is ridiculous."
"You need to calm down. Don't make it worse by fighting it. Just close your eyes and take deep breaths. Remember only five months have passed since the accident. I think you have been fortunate lately, but we knew this could happen. Please calm down."
I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth. I fought the impulse to just snap at Marcus. He was right. It didn't make it any easier to deal with, but jumping at Marcus wasn't fair. I didn't want this to spiral into more.
"Sorry, thanks for understanding. I'm still frustrated, but a good night's sleep will help."
"I'll call your folks to let them know we aren't rushing out there tomorrow. No need to rush around in the morning. We'll get to New Hampshire when we do."
The drive to New Hampshire was quick and easy. It was still cold, winter seemed to be holding on longer than usual. As we got out of Marcus's car, he moved to kiss me.
"Babe, is it pathetic I want to walk over to Old Man Jones' Rock while we are here?"
I grinned at him. "No, I was thinking the same thing. Before we leave, we should take a walk around the pond."
I gave him a kiss and grabbed his hand.
"Are we going to walk to that spot every time we come out here for a visit? Cause I'd be okay with that."
"Me too... Babe"
"Well let's go inside so you and Dad can get started."
Dad had quite a few pictures already chosen for the show. So rather than choosing shots, he and Marcus discussed the sizes the pieces should be. Mom and I sat at the breakfast bar while they worked.
Dad started, "Crystal and her staff are being paid to do all the matting and framing for the show. I was hoping you'd help me figure out the sizing for the pieces. It's something I'd like to get more involved in. I think a few of the shots Crystal did for the first show were sized wrong. What do you think?"
"I think it's awesome that you want more control over the aesthetics of your work. Tell me what pieces you thought were wrong and what you would have done differently so I can help see your vision."
"Ok... Let's start with the piece you bought... "
It was fascinating to watch them go back and forth. What really amazed me was the way they could disagree and explain their perspectives. During the entire afternoon of looking through photos, they didn't always agree initially but seemed to get there, together, as they talked. Occasionally, Dad would get very animated about his vision. Every time that happened, Marcus would get a twinkle in his eye. He really seemed to be enjoying himself.
Mom and I chatted about the wedding while we watched.
"So, do we know how many people for the rehearsal dinner yet? What is the name of the hotel you guys reserved the rooms? I need to let the neighbors know."
"We haven't gotten any responses from here yet. Do you know who's coming for sure? And I think it's about twenty-five for dinner, depending on Marcus's mother."
"Well, I think all three of the neighbors will be there. So that's four rooms if you count your Dad and me. I think that fills our table too."
"Oh, ok... You guys aren't going to stay with us for the wedding?"
"Of course not; you guys need space that weekend. Have you thought about whether or not you are spending the night before together or separately?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well I suppose it's an old tradition that doesn't really fit the times anymore... but an about-to-be married couple would spend the night apart from each other and not see each other until the actual ceremony. I wondered if you were going to follow that tradition."
"I don't think we have given it any thought."
She burst out laughing. "Well, like I said times are very different now. What do you say we put a stop to the fun going on over there so I can get dinner started?"
After dinner, we played cards for a little while. As usual Mom was the lucky one, but this time Dad was her partner so he didn't want to switch teams. Unfortunately, I was visited by another headache and cut the night short. We all went to bed.
"Babe, are you ok? I think the trip tired you out. Look, we can do church and brunch with your parents and then chill tomorrow. There's nothing on my docket in the morning on Monday, so we can leave early and get home by the afternoon. We could both use a nice day away from everything. How does that sound for a plan?"
"It sounds great, but why does it feel like you are holding back information from me."
"I'm not, really. I'm worried about James; and Jon... I heard from my friend Sarah. The boy in the middle of James's case has been put with a good family, but he's having issues. Mostly nightmares and serious depression at this point, she says. I'm worried James might get wind of what's going on and try to help. He needs to clear his head first. He needs a little distance I think.
"I know you are going to worry about those two. I just wanted to leave it in New York for a couple of days. Sarah texted me just before dinner, I'm sorry I wasn't keeping it from you."
"I understand. Maybe James will take your advice and stay clear for the entire week. "
"I hope so. Can we not think about it until the weekend is over? Can you not worry about your friends for a day or two?"
"Probably not... But I can try."
"I can live with that. I love you."
He kissed me before I could respond. After the kiss he smiled and put his finger on my lips. We lay back and I was asleep almost instantly.
The rest of the weekend flew by and it was time to head home. We did manage to take a walk around the pond and spend a few minutes at the rock. As we walked quietly with our arms around each other, I reveled in the moment. We didn't speak at first; we just paused.
I looked at Marcus and shook my head. He smiled.
"Anthony Michael Wallace, every moment with you is incredible. I love you. I don't want to get all mushy and emotional, but you have made me so completely happy. I hope you really understand just how much you mean to me."
"Marcus, thank you. Thank you for waiting for me, for being the most amazing friend, for always being there when I needed you, and for never giving up on me. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here. I love you so much; it astounds me.
"We are quite the pair. Let's go before this gets sickly sweet, oops too late." He laughed and pulled me in for another kiss.
Tuesday morning I left a message with Jon. Marcus called me from the office before I heard back from him.
"Babe, what are you up to?"
"Waiting for Jon to call me back, what's up?"
"Can you meet me at the office for lunch? I have something I want to show you."
"Sure, what is it? You sound pretty excited."
"Just meet me at the office in an hour. You'll see."
"Alright, but this better be good."
"Oh, I think you'll be okay with the interruption to your day. At least, I hope so."
"You know you're going to make me crazy wondering what this is all about."
"Well, that's just an extra benefit," He said as he burst out laughing.
"I guess I'll see you in a little while. This better be good, or you will pay."
I hung up from Marcus and Jon called back.
"May I speak to Anthony Wallace, This is Dr. Jonathyn Miller."
"Really; you threatened to hang up on me if I called you Dr. Miller. You must be doing better than when I saw you last."
"Mostly, James is a little distracted, but things are pretty good. I really do think this is as bad as it gets for him. I hope anyway."
"So you guys are good?"
"Yeah, I have my moments where I'm not sure I can do this, but he really is pretty amazing. I just need to be patient. The good times are great. He really is working hard on making things up to me."
"That's cool. I was a little worried about you guys. So can we talk about my doctorate...? "
We did. Jon had strong recommendations for final course requirements and my continuing research. It was great to have my ideas reinforced. We chatted for a few more minutes and it was time for me to see what Marcus had up his sleeve.
It was the first time I'd visited the firm. I paused at the front door, tracing Marcus's name with my finger. As I entered I was greeted by a shriek. A fifty-something, tall, blond, and slender woman got up from behind an immense desk and made her way towards me.
"You must be Tony. I'm Dorothy, George and Marcus's administrative assistant. Can I give you a huge hug? I've been dying to meet you."
"Umm, sure, I guess. Why have you wanted to meet me?"
"First, I've never seen the boss so happy, not even close, second I've never seen he and his father get along so well, and finally I handled all the paper work on your settlement. You are an amazing young man. But you'd have to be to get Marcus to fall for you."
She gave me a hug and squeezed me for all she was worth.
"Now, let me introduce you to some of the staff."
She led me around the office. I met Jason and Abigail, paralegals, and Eric, Dorothy's assistant. All three seemed to be in their very early twenties and greeted me with almost as much enthusiasm as Dorothy.
"Well, I see you met our staff. How are you today Tony?"
"I'm good, thank you George. How are you?"
"Good, good. What do we owe the pleasure of your company? This is the first time you've been to the office, isn't it?"
"Yes, and Marcus said he has something to show me, I guess. I don't exactly know. He called about an hour ago."
"Excellent. I'm pretty sure I know what this is about. I hope you'll be as excited as my son.
"Dorothy, could you get Stephen Fryer on the phone. I want to make sure of a few things."
"Of course, Mr. Taylor, I'll put him through to your office so you can have some privacy."
"Thanks. Well, Tony, be sure you come back after you guys are done. I want to see how this goes."
"Okay, does everyone know what's going on except me? What is this all about?"
Dorothy piped up, "No one here is going to spoil the surprise. You just need to be patient."
Just then Marcus walked out from the office on the left of Dorothy's desk.
"If there is one thing Tony can't be... its patient. Hey Babe, I hoped you've cleared up your afternoon."
"Oh, it's clear for you. But how much longer am I going to be kept in the dark?"
"We are leaving now. Dorothy, if you need me, call my cell. The only thing that might need attention is the Donaldson case. Since the other attorney seems to be out of his league, I'm not sure when there will be movement. Before I forget, Sarah Rachel might call. Please ask her to call my cell. She probably will anyway, but just in case."
"No problem. I just need a couple of signatures before you go. Have fun... "
Marcus and I left the office shortly and got into his car. There was a white bag from the sandwich shop in the back seat. Marcus drove quietly, but had a big grin on his face.
"Before I go completely insane, do you have any intention of telling me what's going on? We certainly aren't going for a picnic lunch. It's way too cold for that."
"Relax, Babe. It will only take about fifteen minutes to get there."
"I think you enjoy making me a little crazy. Admit it."
"Well it is a fringe benefit. But I think this time, you'll enjoy the surprise. Would it help if I told you I haven't seen it yet either?"
"Not exactly; haven't seen what?"
"We are almost there Mr. Patience."
Another couple of minutes and we were now on the southern edge of the city. It was a neighborhood I had never seen before. We drove past an elementary school and a park with athletic fields. Less than a half a mile later, Marcus pulled into a driveway. There was a red Honda parked ahead of us.
As we exited the car, Marcus walked up to a grey-haired gentleman. The man was wearing a blazer with the name of the largest local real estate company. Marcus held out his hand.
"Stephen, thank you so much for meeting us. This is my fianc, Tony."
"It's very nice to meet you. Marcus and I have known each other for years. Marcus, take as much time as you need today. But I want you to know I can only hold it for another couple of days."
"Thank you. I will give you a call later today to let you know where we stand. I really appreciate you giving me this preview."
"Please it's the least I could do... How many sales have you helped finalize for me? Call me when you are done, so I can lock up."
"No problem and thank you again."
"What's going on? I don't understand. Why are we here?"
"Babe, I don't want you to freak out. Stephen is a real estate agent, obviously. He and I have worked on closing many houses for people. He just got a listing and thought it would be exactly what we are looking for... So, we are getting first crack at a house. It won't go on the market until later this week."
"Oh, a house... "
"Please don't freak. I just want to take a look at it."
"I'm not going to freak, it's just a surprise. When did you find out about this house?"
"This morning... Stephen called right before I called you. Is this ok?"
"Sure, I'm just surprised that's all. So, tell me about the house."
"Well, it's an old farmhouse the current owners modernized. It has five bedrooms and three full baths. There is an in-law apartment over the garage. The kitchen has been updated and there is just over an acre of land. You saw how close it is to the park."
"Sounds pretty amazing, let's take a look."
We started to walk up the driveway and I froze. I couldn't believe it. How was this possible? I hadn't shared any of the "visions" I had, when I was unconscious, with Marcus. Yet, here was the house I saw. From the white siding and black shutters to the wonderful bay window, the house was exactly as I saw it in my dreams.
"Are you okay? What's wrong Babe?"
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