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And Manny Makes Three (Gay Romance)
By Trina Solet
Copyright © 2013 by Trina Solet
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales or actual events is entirely coincidental.
This novel contains material intended for mature readers.
By Trina Solet
Zack and his son, Al, were living together happily in their comfortable house. If they were missing something, they didn't know it. Maybe they couldn't miss something that was still unknown to them. Instead of yearning for some unknown element that would make their lives complete, Zack and Al were following their bedtime routine.
There were many delays and digressions before Al actually got into bed. He had to speak to PJ, the cat, about several important matters. He also had to show PJ his latest drawing. Pawing and sniffing at it is how PJ showed her appreciation. Al finally got under the covers making sure to leave room for his father. But it was never enough room. When Zack sat down, Al shifted again as his father crowded the small bed. Zack settled himself on top of the cover with the book, and Al squirmed as the cover got pulled too tight.
“You're too big,” Al told his father. Zack was 6'1” and in good shape, and he stayed that way mostly by trying to keep up with a five year old.
“You're too small,” Zack told his son.
“No, I'm not. I'm a kid.” Al tried to pull the cover free from under Zack. Zack stared at him and waited for Al to realize that that was impossible.
“You're heavy,” Al complained now huffing with futile effort.
“You're just weak. I told you to eat your broccoli. But you didn't listen.” Zack waited another second or two for his message to sink in then moved a little to free up the cover.
“Dad, read already,” Al said when Zack didn't start reading immediately.
Al settled himself into the pillow so that he could see the pages of the book. Zack turned the book a little more his way so Al could read along and look at the illustrations of course.
The first time Zack picked up and opened James And The Giant Peach, he was a little stunned. Al had seen it on a bookstore shelf and asked for it. The first page of the book had an illustration of the four year old James as a dark eyed, serious boy with a big head. He was holding in his arms a cat. This was almost a drawing, but more a caricature, of Al at the exact age when they got PJ, their cat. Zack laughed, not believing his eyes. To Zack, it seemed like a miracle. Especially since Al had specifically requested this book because of his fascination with giant food. It was as if this book was written just for Al. It then waited on the shelves for Al to be born, to walk into a bookstore, to recognize and demand it because it was rightfully his.
“It sounds kind of scary,” Zack had warned him after reading just the first paragraph.
Zack knew what Al's answer would be. Al was a tough little guy. He wasn't daunted.
“I won't be scared,” he promised. “I want it,” he had pleaded and demanded at the same time as only a child can.
Zack couldn't really pass up the book with such a fitting illustration. And he couldn't wait until Al saw it for the first time.
The first time Al had seen that illustration of James with a cat, he had gone bug-eyed.
“He has a cat, he has a cat! Just like me,” Al had yelled pointing a finger at the book then leaned close to peer at this other boy with a cat. It was a lot like when PJ looked at herself in the mirror, not quite sure what she saw. But soon enough Al was impatient to hear the story. Of course he kept waiting for the cat to make an appearance in the story which it never did. But there was plenty of fun in the book for Al. The aunt named Sponge always got a giggle out of him. When James started crawling inside the peach, Al would lean forward like he wanted to jump into the book.
By now the book had been read many times, and Al knew what to look forward to. The appearance of the peach in the story was greeted with a round of applause from Al. As Zack slouched down so Al could lean against his shoulder while they read, their heads were close together over the book. Zack's hair was dark blond while Al's was dark brown as were his eyes. Zack's eyes were blue, and he often took them off the page to watch Al's reactions. While Zack traced the words with his finger, Al followed along sometimes mouthing the words he recognized or remembered.
Zack watched to see how sleepy Al was getting. He saw Al yawn, but he refused to shut his eyes yet. He would soon. When Zack started to notice Al's eyes begin to half close as he fought to stay awake, he would slow down his reading and soften his voice to lull him to sleep. Zack knew that Al was fully asleep when he stopped reading and there was no objection. Then the trick was for Zack to get up very slowly and carefully while lowering Al gently to his pillow. Zack always lingered for a moment. His excuse was that he was making sure Al would stay asleep. Really, he just liked watching his peaceful, sleeping face.
In the mornings, Al was always dragging his feet before kindergarten. As usual, he was playing with the cat, threatening to make Zack late for work. Before Al came along, Zack would often go in to work early and stay late. Sometimes he would go in at 5:00AM if he couldn't sleep. That way he had the whole office to himself. At one time, he had been proud of his workaholic tendencies. But taking care of Al had made him strictly a nine to five guy. His life was about Al not about work. Now he was worried that the new Borden project would endanger his time with Al. It was a big account and very important to their fledgling company. If they got it, there would be a lot of extra work and just in time for Al to be out of kindergarten for the summer. Zack planned to take as much of the work home as he could manage. That way he could be there for Al in the evenings. But there was still the problem of what to do with Al during the day over the summer break.
Little Rainbow World was where Al spent his afternoons after kindergarten let out until it was time for Zack to pick him up when he finished work. The place, which he and Al just called Little Rainbow, had a long waiting list of gay and lesbian parents who wanted to make sure their little ones spent time in a positive, accepting environment. It was important to Zack too that Al played with other kids who had two dads or two moms though some like Al had single parents. Zack had only managed to get Al in for the afternoon program for the summer months. The half day summer program was booked well ahead by smarter and quicker parents than him.
There were still a few weeks of kindergarten left giving Zack a little time to figure things out. For now he just had to get Al to sit down and eat breakfast.
“Al, if you don't want cereal, just say so. I'll give you broccoli for breakfast every morning,” Zack said just loud enough for Al to hear. Sometimes that worked better than all the shouting.
“You can't do that!” Al said as he ran into the kitchen to make sure there was no broccoli in his cereal bowl. “There's no vegetables for breakfast. It's not allowed,” he told Zack even as he saw his bowl was full of cereal and milk and nothing green.
Al pulled out the chair noisily and sat down to eat still looking at his father to make sure he got the message about appropriate breakfast foods. But Zack wanted to make sure his own message got through.
“Who says there's no vegetables for breakfast? I told you before. I'm a grown up. I can do whatever I want.” Zack was eating toast and drinking coffee in his usual way - while standing up and checking a few things on his laptop.
“No, you can't,” Al contradicted him.
“If you want to grow up and do whatever you want, eat your broccoli.” It was an often repeated claim in their household.
“No. I'm having cereal.” Al was slurping cereal with a big spoon as he preferred for some reason.
“Fine. But don't blame me if you stay little.”
Al frowned into his cereal bowl. Getting big while not eating broccoli was a conundrum of his young life. He had been told repeatedly that it was impossible, and it worried him. He didn't want to stay little and not get to do all the good stuff. But he wasn't going to eat broccoli no matter what.
As Al finished up his cereal, Zack got a phone call. George called telling him that plans would need to be redrawn. Zack listened to the stuff George told him with only one ear. It was all too detailed and technical to mean much to him. They would be getting all of that in writing anyway, and George and Yuka would be dealing with most of the issues. He would just get to play with the numbers.
George had pulled Zack into Advanced Planning and Design years ago when it was still a two person operation on the verge of shutting its doors. George Kirby and Yuka Mishima had secretly called their company Intelligent Design and were one lost bet away from making the name official before Zack came along. Unlike the two of them, he was not an architect. He was just “the guy who got shit done”. That title, coined by George, almost made it onto Zack's business cards. Thank God the printer called him to double check that he really wanted his cards to say that. Curtailing George's sense of humor was sometimes the main part of Zack's job. At the beginning, he had been in charge of marketing, client relations, which meant keeping clients from strangling George, also keeping Yuka from strangling George, and making sure they made a profit. Now that the company had grown, he mainly focused on the financial stuff, leaving the rest to their capable staff.
“Did you put fresh water in PJ's bowl?” Zack asked after he was finished with his phone call. He had made that Al's job since Al was the one whose crying got them stuck with that cat.
“Yes,” Al confirmed while putting on his shoes. He could tie them himself, but it was a painstaking process.
“Good. And food?”
“Yes,” Al said again. He had to start all over on his left shoelace. It would have been easier and quicker for Zack to do it for him, but Zack knew it was his job to suffer while watching Al do things the hard way so he could learn.
“Not too much food, right?”
“Just half, like you showed me,” Al said with a show of exaggerated patience, which he may have learned from Zack.
“Good, we don't want PJ getting fat. Let's go.”
As Zack headed toward the front door, he found Al blocking his way.
“We can't go yet,” Al said. He stood with his arms out so Zack couldn't pass.
“The litter box.” Al huffed a little. He had it so rough.
“No. Why?” Zack complained as he took the laptop bag off his shoulder.
“You told me to remind you.”
“Good job reminding me,” Zack said sarcastically.
Zack went off to what he called the cat's bathroom. It was the powder room where PJ had her litter box.
“Damn cat,” Zack grumbled as he got down to scoop out the clumped litter and other lovely treasures PJ had buried.
“What did you say?” Al asked poking his head around the door frame.
“Did you say a bad word? You have to put a sorry in the Sorry Jar,” Al told him sternly.
“You didn't even hear me. You don't know what I said,” Zack told him as he got up and tied off the stinky bag.
“You said a bad word.” Al was absolutely sure of this even though he couldn't have heard him very clearly.
Zack decided to admit his guilt and take his punishment.
“Fine. Write me a sorry. A little one,” he told Al.
“You have to write it yourself. It's the rule.” The rule was really meant for Al so he would take responsibility for what he did wrong and also practice his writing. But as usual Zack got caught in his own traps.
“We should have got a fish,” Zack said as he threw away the bag and washed his hands.
“Can we have a fish?” Al said excitedly. He was bouncing up and down at the idea.
“No.” Zack said to him, trying to undo the damage.
“You just said...”
“No, I didn't.”
“We can have a fish. You said!” Al still persisted.
“No, we can't. PJ would eat it,” Zack said finally finding a use for that cat.
“No, she wouldn't.” Al denied it, but he also frowned worriedly. It would take just a little more convincing for this idea to take root.
“Yes, she would. She would eat it,” Zack insisted. “Cats eat fish. You saw the picture of a fish on her treats, didn't you?”
“OK.” Al relented sadly.
Zack was a little surprised and pleased that his reason actually put an end to the wheedling. He wondered how many potential pets he could veto by citing PJ's carnivorous tendencies. Certainly all birds and amphibians would be on the list of potential casualties and off the list of potential pets. That left the problem of the dog Al was always asking for. PJ couldn't eat a dog, but maybe a dog could eat PJ. Zack stored away that argument for future use and hoped all this talk of pets eating each other wouldn't give Al nightmares. But he wasn't too worried. Al had always been a good sleeper and a sturdy, resilient kid.
Even though he was an adult, Zack envied Al his steady, obstinate resolve. He credited his mother for that. Zack's own mother had died when he was young. He and his father lived quietly in the same house with his mother's memories for a few years. Then everything changed. They closed up the house and moved out. They were starting a new life. Zack now had a stepmother, Anne, and a little stepsister, Kelly. It wasn't too bad most of the time. And he and his father were a little happier and a little less lonely in their new life than they used to be.
They had ten good years of it before Zack's father died, and it all fell apart. Zack's stepmother unraveled. She used to have a drinking problem that Zack didn't even know about. After his father's death, Anne went back to drinking, more all the time. She deteriorated slowly until one day she drove herself into the back of a truck. Kelly was a teenager at the time. Zack was in college. Kelly would now have to go and live with her father, a man she had no contact with for ten years. She ran away rather than go back to live with him. Zack got a few phone calls from her, months apart. He offered to help her repeatedly. He begged her to tell him where she was, but she always refused.
Her last phone call to Zack was different. She asked him to come see her. Zack had been doing well after college. Having landed himself the kind of job he wanted, he could now afford a nice apartment and a new car. He dated happily without getting into any serious relationships. Except for the lack of a boyfriend, his life was exactly where he wanted it to be. He could help Kelly now more than ever. But instead of giving him hope, something about Kelly's phone call had chilled him. He took time off to go and see her. Her request had sounded serious, while Kelly herself had sounded strange over the phone.
Kelly had been renting a room in the back of an old lady's run down house. Zack encountered the old lady first. She told him that Kelly no longer had any money for rent, but the old lady, Mrs. Stillman, let her stay on and even helped her with the baby. Kelly had a child. That should have been the big news. Zack would have given anything if that had been her only news. But Zack barely glanced at the baby in the crib as Mrs. Stillman showed him into Kelly's room then left. For a while Zack just stood there. Looking at Kelly had knocked the wind out of him. She was painfully thin and so pale she looked gray under a faded, blue blanket. But he had still recognized her right away just as if his sixteen year old stepsister was sitting in that ripped recliner.
Kelly was the first to speak.
“Look at you standing there like a dork. You still don't have a cool bone in your body, do you?” she teased him.
Zack couldn't say anything in reply. If he opened his mouth it would be to sob. Then a loud wail startled him out of his sadness. The baby was crying. And he was really loud.
“Listen to him. The lungs on that kid.” Kelly pointed a thumb toward the crib. “Go pick him up,” she told Zack.
Zack moved cautiously toward the crib. He couldn't imagine what kind of thing could be making that awful sound. He first saw the head of dark hair then the scrunched up red face of a baby. Zack picked him up, bringing the toothless, howling mouth even closer to his ear.
“Not so loud. Huh. Come on. Turn the volume down,” he told the kid who did slow his crying then stopped.
“Is he stinky?” Kelly asked.
“Thank God, no,” Zack told her.
“Too bad. I was going to make you change him.” She smiled up at Zack. It was her familiar, evil smile.
“Is he your kid?” Zack asked. He felt a lump in his throat. He already knew the answer. It was just hard to believe. The child turned toward him. Now that he wasn't crying, he was chewing on his own hand instead, and his eyes were open. He had Kelly's big, dark eyes.
“What do you think? I'm babysitting?” Kelly said, scolding him for pretending not to know the answer. She could see him looking at her kid and recognizing him for who he was. Even if no one had said anything, Zack would have known him as Kelly's son as soon as the kid opened his eyes.
“Hey. I'm your uncle,” Zack introduced himself. The kid ignored him due to his cannibalism. He was still trying to eat his own hand but only managed to cover it in drool.
“Step-uncle,” Kelly corrected him. She had to just to uphold the tradition. She had always done the same thing whenever he introduced her to anyone as his sister. But when Zack's father introduced her to people as his daughter, she didn't say anything. She only looked shyly at her shoes.
Kelly had acute leukemia and she was dying. Knowing she had no future, she had gotten in touch with Zack. She needed to see him so she could ask him to adopt her son, Al. As she asked this of him, she told him to put the baby down so she could tell him why.
For the first time, Zack heard the reason why Kelly had run away rather than go and live with her father after her mother died. The man had beaten both Kelly and her mother. When Kelly was five, he broke her arm. That was the last straw. Her mother finally came to her senses. She took Kelly and ran away. Years later, when Kelly was faced with the choice of going back to live with her father, she ran away too.
But now she was afraid for her baby. After her death, her father, as the closest living relative, could get his hands on her son. Not trusting the rest of her family, who had defended her father and made excuses for him, she got desperate. She told Zack if he didn't adopt Al, she didn't know what she would do. She couldn't let him go to her father after what he had done to her.
Zack couldn't even imagine how difficult it was for her. It would be too much for anyone to wait to die, to suffer, and to think about her own child going to a man who had broken his daughter's arm when she was so little and helpless.
Zack’s father had always wanted to adopt Kelly. He called her his daughter until Kelly called him Dad. But Kelly's mother was too afraid to let Zack's dad adopt her daughter. After they had no contact with Kelly’s father for so long, Anne was afraid it would draw her ex husband back into their lives, set him off. Kelly's mother had told her about this only after Zack's father died. She wanted Kelly to know that he loved her as his daughter and wanted to make it official but couldn't.
As Kelly told him this, Zack thought about his father, how much he had wanted to be Kelly's father too. The baby made a noise, and Zack looked his way. The little guy was kicking his feet in the crib. He needed Zack as did Kelly. She was finally letting him help her, and he was just standing there speechless. As Zack considered such a momentous decision, it was like his dad came to stand next to him. Looking down at Kelly huddled in her armchair while her baby fussed in his crib, Zack knew there was only one possible decision. How could he let all of them down, Kelly, his dad, and baby Al? Though he was gripped by fear and sadness, Zack agreed. He hired a lawyer to make sure the adoption was airtight, that Al could never be taken away from him. And then Zack signed every paper he was given to sign, and made Al his son.
As Zack scrambled to find somewhere to put Al for the rest of the day during the summer, Mia kept mentioning her live in, gay nanny as an option. Her kid didn't need a nanny any more, and this was as strong a reference as he could hope for. Still, Zack just didn't feel comfortable with that kind of arrangement. Now Mia was asking to have lunch with him. He was busy and tried to put her off, but she insisted. Mia was mainly a work friend and Yuka's protégé. She and Zack often had lunch together, and she had even given him good parenting advice when he was stumped and desperate for it. Though she was a feisty, little blonde, she was unexpectedly sensible and not usually so pushy. As an excuse, she claimed to have important news to share, so Zack had to agree to lunch. She dragged him out of the office and off to an outdoor table at a nearby restaurant. But as they ate lunch, all she wanted to talk about was how perfect her nanny would be for Zack.
“Because he's gay?” Zack concluded.
“And because I'm gay?”
“Yes,” she admitted without hesitation. “Mark has been great with Dorie. He's wonderful and trustworthy.”
“And you picked him up off the street, as I recall.” Zack knew some of the history from what Mia had told him before.
“He was never on the street. I told you very clearly that I took him in when his family threw him out. He didn't spend one minute on the street. I made sure of it. He had been babysitting Dorie for months before that happened. He was an angel. Oh God it was so sad when his family did that to him. He's such a good kid, and he's been so much help.”
“He's a kid?” Zack said. That was one strike against him.
“He was a kid. He's nineteen now and going to college part time. He said he could arrange his schedule around Al's. He is perfect.”
Zack stopped with his fork midway to his mouth.
“You mean you already mentioned this to him?” Zack said not liking it at all. He hated for this guy to be disappointed when he wasn't offered the job that Mia had as much as promised him.
“I had to make sure he was willing to work for you. I wasn't a hundred percent sure he wanted to have another nanny job. But he agreed to consider it. Now you need to meet him and see what a good guy he is,” Mia said.
“Then why are you throwing him out on his ass?”
“I would never do that,” she said defensively. Then she leaned forward. “OK. Here is my big news. But you are not to say anything to anyone. You hear me?”
She started out by whispering but then her voice rose uncontrollably.
“Frank is getting transferred to Spain. Can you believe it?! Freaking Spain! Shh,” she said even though she was the one who had nearly shouted. “I am so glad I took Spanish in high school and college and not French. If I hadn't, I would be kicking myself so hard right now.” She was nearly breathless as she talked. It was understandable. This was a big deal. “But I don't want anyone to know about the transfer yet. I mean, Yuka knows of course. At this point the transfer is a sure thing. It just hasn't bee officially announced yet.”
Zack congratulated her. She took a break to sip her club soda and take a bite of her salad before continuing.
“When we go, we can't take Mark. And anyway, Dorie doesn't need him any more. He has already been feeling like he doesn't contribute enough and looking for a job. I'm telling you, you better snap him up before he finds something better.”
“Maybe he should just get another job.”
“Come on. He doesn't just need some minimum wage job. He needs a job and soon a place to live too. And he is a perfect angel. You will kick yourself, and I will kick you, and Al will kick you too if you miss out on this opportunity.”
“Bullshit. You just want to stash him at my place so you don't have to feel guilty for ditching him to go frolicking in Spain,” Zack accused her.
“It's still a great opportunity for you. You can't do better than Mark. I'm telling you, you'll regret it.”
“I'll give it all due consideration,” Zack promised her.
Roy was down for the weekend, but Mark wasn't even sure he wanted to see him. That is, if Roy could find time for him this visit. It had happened before. Roy would give him some half-assed apology for leaving for college without ever seeing him.
“You know how it is,” Roy would say.
And then Mark would want to remind him that he didn't. He didn't know what it was like to go to college full time at his parents' expense. Mark didn't know what it was like not to have to work to support himself. He didn't know what it was like to be busy with one's own family. The last thing Roy knew and Mark didn't want to know about was what it was like to have a girlfriend.
Mark would find out if Roy had time for him when he called, giving him no notice. He would demand that Mark meet him somewhere because he needed him. He had to see Mark. He was dying for him, only him. Then Mark would feel his insides melt and he would go.
This time Roy wanted to meet at their old place. It was a big rock inside the small nature preserve near the dry riverbed. It was a hidden spot where the two of them had sneaked away to play as kids. Later it was where they sometimes fooled around. Mark arrived first and waited. When he showed up, Roy was red faced as he climbed up to him. He had run over to their old meeting place like he used to in the old days. Mark had to admit that his enthusiasm touched him.
“Couldn't get the car,” Roy said, out of breath as he searched Mark's face for signs that he hadn't lost him.
Roy always needed to be reassured that Mark still wanted him, hadn't forgotten about him. Breathless and sweaty, Roy slowly leaned into him, pressed him to the rock. Mark waited for his next move. Roy was looking at his mouth. Mark wondered if he might kiss him. He hardly ever did. When he did kiss Mark, it was always a fast and hard kiss. It would be over before Roy could learn to enjoy it and risk becoming gay full time.
That was Roy's game of denial. He wasn't really gay. He just wanted Mark because of the bond they shared, only Mark. That's if you didn't count all the girls Roy fucked.
That's why he and Roy didn't kiss often, and it was never a sweet, slow kiss that Mark wanted from a lover. But that wasn't who Roy was. He was once Mark’s best friend. Now he was just a guy he couldn't stay away from. Being with Roy called to mind everything Mark was missing. The touch he craved wasn't Roy's hurried, desperate groping. Though he was turned on by it, Mark's mind flew away into the arms of some other man. Grinding against him, Roy was moaning. Hungry for more, he undid Mark's fly. He handled his cock through his boxers then pulled everything down. With his hands on Mark's ass, he pulled him close. He kissed his neck before saying Mark's name. Mark unzipped Roy, who groaned at the touch of his hand. Mark slipped a condom on him then applied lube. He turned around so Roy could fuck him against that rock. Mark prepared himself for Roy's usual clumsy entry. He clamped his mouth shut and shuddered as Roy slipped in too fast, too far. Roy pushed in again and Mark hissed.
“This is the best,” Roy said, pulling back slowly.
This wasn't the kind of fucking Mark fantasized about. He wanted Roy inside him because it was the only way he could have him. But it wasn’t so bad while he took it slow. But soon they were out of sync again as Roy lost patience for a slow fuck and rushed to the finish.
It never felt right with Roy, and it never would. That hope had died a long time ago. Maybe now he only used Roy to remind himself that there was no right man for him, that he didn't exist. There were only more guys like Roy. Mark had been with a few, and it was always the same. He would get off and never want to see the guy again.
Roy came with a loud grunt, leaving Mark hard and unsatisfied. After some heavy breathing, Roy noticed his erection. He took it in his hand and stroked slowly.
Since Roy had started college, Mark saw him much less often, and their rare sessions lasted longer to make up for lost time. Now that Roy had lost his impatience, he took it easy. Roy handled his cock tenderly, letting the pleasure build. Roy's eyes went from the working of his fist on Mark's cock up to Mark's flushed face. He groped Mark's ass with his free hand in rhythm to his pumping. He let Mark take his time coming like never before.
Roy had always rushed him, squeezed hard, fingered him to make it happen faster. On special occasions, he liked to give Mark a slow hand job and watch him come. He had only used his mouth on Mark once. It was after Mark was thrown out of the house because of him and living at Mia's. Roy had begged to see Mark then he begged to be forgiven. Roy was so desperate and wanted to prove himself so badly, he kneeled in front of Mark and sucked him off for the first and last time.
Thinking back to that, Mark came over Roy's hand, which he went to wash off immediately.
Being indulged like this told Mark that it would be a while before he saw Roy again.
And it was true. Roy told him that he would be going away for most of the summer. His uncle in Canada had invited him for a visit. He promised they would see each other as soon as he got back.
As Roy told him all about his summer plans, the two of them were sitting, sprawled against their rock. “Our rock” that's what they had called it when they were boys. Now coming here was just a nod to nostalgia. They were not boys. They were not best friends for life. And the rock was just a big, meaningless slab they leaned against.
Mark knew that Roy was his past. But he still gave in to him whenever he called begging to see him. Some part of Mark didn't want to admit that he and Roy had no future, and an even bigger part of him just didn't want to let go of a piece of his past that he could still keep. These days Mark had so little to hold onto. He was even going to be losing Mia and her family soon. Mark was happy and excited for them. Though Dorie was a little nervous, Mia was thrilled about the move to Spain. But Mark already felt lonely and even abandoned though he had no right to feel that way. The Prestons had been so good to him, better than his own family. He would miss them. Now that his life with them was coming to an end, Mark was worried about his future. He wondered if his future lay with this Zack Warner and his son, Al, at least for a little while.
Zack visited some day camps and rejected them all for different reasons. When he pictured his Al there, they were never good enough. Having looked at the other options, Zack had to admit that Mia's idea was sounding better all the time. After he got home from work, he dropped into the chair in his office and put his feet up on the desk. He called her to see if her guy was still available.
“He is, and I can send him over whenever you want,” Mia told him a little too eagerly.
“Send him where?” Zack asked not liking the sound of this.
“To your house.”
“You want to meet at a coffee shop or something?” She asked. He could hear some noise at her end that sounded like the TV was on.
“That's too much like a date,” Zack said. It wouldn't be if he wasn't meeting with a young, gay guy, but he was.
“Fine, meet him at my house,” Mia offered.
Zack considered that, but that didn't sound right either so he rejected the idea. He thought about the particulars for the first time. This guy needed a place to live and a job. Possibly Zack might be providing him with both. If he was going to take this seriously, and apparently he was since he wouldn't otherwise be meeting him just to jerk him around, he needed to show him where he would be living.
“He should see the house,” Zack decided.
“OK! That way you can see how he looks sitting on your furniture,” Mia said like she wanted to sabotage the whole deal.
“You are going to make me change my mind,” Zack warned her.
“Oh, please. It's a done deal. I know I'm right about this.”
“That's nice. But I need to know that he's right for Al. He'll be living with us. It can't be just on your say-so.”
“You'll know when you meet him. Now I have to warn you. He is a good looking guy. His mother, if you can call that bitch his mother. Anyway, his mother is half Asian and gorgeous. His father is Hispanic and a really good looking guy and an asshole. But Mark is an absolute sweetheart.”
“Why are you telling me about his ethnic makeup?” Zack asked her.
“So you can picture him.”
“Why do I need to picture him? I'm hiring him to take care of Al.” Zack was feeling a little exasperated with her.
“I just thought you might feel a little uncomfortable having such a good looking, young guy in your house so I wanted to prepare you.”
“Why? What? Why... Why are you making it sound like there's never been a good looking guy in my house? And what am I, Quasimodo?”
“Oh, you're OK, I guess.”
“I'm sure some OK guys have been at your house. Or have they?” she asked skeptical that he would ever bring a date home. “Anyway. It's different when someone is there full time who looks so tempting, but you're supposed to keep your hands off. Plus you have no social life, do you? So this might be a real challenge for you.”
“Gee, Mia, you think he'll be safe with me?” Zack asked with heavy sarcasm, but Mia answered him with a challenge.
“You tell me after you meet him.”
“Oh my God. It's off. The meeting is off.”
“Don't be a baby.”
It was true that Zack didn't bring men home, or take them anywhere much either. His involvements were few, brief and shallow. If he even went on a date and didn't see potential immediately, he would end it right there. He wasn't going to waste his time in pointless conversation with someone he didn't care about when he could be spending time with Al. Maybe it was too much to ask to feel an instant connection with someone, but spending time away from Al had to be worth it. And even the occasional one night stand didn't seem worth it sometimes. He did still indulge in them now and again, just to refresh his memory on the subject.
The following evening, Zack settled himself next to Al for their nightly book reading. But before he started, he wanted to talk to him and remind him what was happening the next day. Zack kissed his hair, and Al wiped at the spot.
“You wiped it off?” Zack complained.
Al wiped again just in case there was any trace of the kiss left.
“That's it. Give it back,” Zack demanded putting out his hand like Al was supposed to give him something tangible.
“What?” Al asked his crazy dad.
“The kiss. Give it back.”
“Here.” Zack pointed to the top of his own head.
Al understood but refused with a shake of his head and a loud “No!”
As a compromise, Zack pointed to his cheek. After considering the spot, Al agreed.
“OK.” He gave Zack a loud, smacking kiss. But then he wiped the kiss right off Zack's face.
“You wiped it off? Now you have to give it back again,” Zack told him.
Al sighed and gave him another kiss. This time he didn't wipe it off just shook his head at how crazy his father was.
“You know, you only have to wipe it off when a lady kisses you,” he told Al. That was his own rule, but why shouldn't he pass it on to his son.
Al looked puzzled by this new information, but he didn't disagree. He did demand that Zack start reading.
“Hold on. You remember that Mark is coming over tomorrow,” Zack reminded him.
“To see if you like him,” Al said to confirm that he remembered.
“Not like him.” Zack denied it only because of the way it sounded. What Al said was basically true. “I want to see if he's the right guy to help take care of you.”
“And I have to stay with Miss Olga,” Al said with a pout.
“Yes, you do,” Zack confirmed.
“I don't like Miss Olga. She makes me do homework even when I don't have any,” Al complained.
“Maybe she'll play the piano for you.” Zack doubted it, but sometimes when she was in a good mood, she did play for Al.
“Piano lessons are extra,” Al parroted Miss Olga's often repeated warning if Al went anywhere near her piano.
Zack had originally signed up Al for Miss Olga's piano lessons after kindergarten because she lived so close, and it doubled as babysitting. Miss Olga saw right through that ploy. Neither Zack nor Al wanted piano lessons for him so it was just as well when Miss Olga refused to teach him after only two failed lessons. Miss Olga had deemed Al incorrigible and also too young and undisciplined. But she was willing to allow him to stay with her but for no more than two hours on the condition that Al behaved himself like a young gentleman. In Miss Olga's book, that meant that he shouldn't disturb her TV watching.
Sometimes Al sat in on her piano lessons with other kids. He didn't like that because he had to be even more quiet so he wouldn't distract the student during his or her lesson. But most of the time, there was only Al and the TV to keep Miss Olga company. She was not Al's favorite person, but Zack wasn't worried about Miss Olga's grouchiness. All Zack cared about was that he could trust her. Since Al didn't have any living grandparents, not any worth knowing anyway, it wasn't a bad thing for him to spend some quality time with a grumpy, old person. And maybe it would make him appreciate Zack a little more.
The next day after work, Zack delivered Al and a takeout dinner for two to Miss Olga's. That was their arrangement if Zack dropped Al off after five. Zack had her favorite Chinese food memorized by now. Most of the time when Zack had her watch Al in the evenings, it meant he had a date. This time he was meeting Mark.
Back home, Zack took a look around his house to try and see it from the perspective of a potential nanny. He only saw the house he grew up in and gave up trying to see it any other way. When Mark called to say that he was on his way, Zack had offered to get him dinner as well. But Mark said he already ate. Zack ate a little as he waited. But he found he was too nervous to really chow down.
He was relieved when he heard Mark's light knock.
First thing after introductions, Mark pointed to the warning sign attached to the front door. It was on both sides. It read “Careful! Don't let the cat out.”
“Yes, there is a cat,” Zack said. But PJ proved her own existence by rubbing against Mark's legs. The slut. Mark bent down to pet the slutty cat.
“You didn't have her declawed? That's good,” Mark said.
Zack was surprised he had noticed. He shrugged.
“I couldn't do that. Especially to PJ. You see the note up there.” Zack pointed a thumb at the front door. “She's always trying to sneak out. One of these days, she'll be out there, maybe lost. I want her armed and able to defend herself.”
Mark smiled, nodded in approval and straightened up from petting PJ. He looked around the place as Zack looked at him. The first thing Zack noticed was his eyes, dark and ... No, not pretty. That was not the right way to think about this guy. But Zack couldn't help looking at him the way he would look at any other attractive man. And he was definitely attractive, stunningly attractive. He had broad shoulders and a lean but strong looking body. He was no more than an inch shorter than Zack. That put him in a perfect position for Zack to look into his eyes. Those dark eyes, almost black, were made for a lover to get lost in them. His hair was dark brown and soft looking not coarse like Zack's. His skin was just a little darker than Al's. Zack was going to look as pasty as a cheap Band-Aid next to them.
“I'll show you around since this place is part of the deal,” Zack said as he led the way through the house. “Mia thinks you are a saint. Are you?” Zack was almost prepared to believe him if he said he was.
“You'll kind of need to be,” Zack said, and he wasn't joking. “No booze, no drugs, no swearing. No having guys over, or anyone actually, not even friends. For now anyway. We can...”
“That's fine,” Mark agreed. His agreeing so quickly didn't mean that he would really follow those rules, but Zack felt sure of his good intentions. What he didn't trust was his youth. But more than that, Zack didn't trust himself around him.
Zack Warner's house was in a nicer neighborhood than Mia's. There were a lot of big, older houses there just like the one Mark was approaching. He liked the feel of the neighborhood. The street was lined with tall trees and lush gardens. There was a wide sidewalk too. But he worried that the people living there might be too old fashioned to be gay friendly.
He pulled into the driveway next to a beige, late model Pathfinder, a parent's car. After taking some deep breaths, Mark knocked lightly. He hated an obnoxious, loud knock and figured other people did too. He was apprehensive as he waited for the front door to be opened. Then there was Zack giving him a quick smile and rushing him through the door so he could close it before the cat sneaked out. Mark met Zack then PJ. PJ's fur was striped black and brown and silky rather than fluffy. Mark focused on her rather than Zack. He wanted to get himself under control.
Mark had started out being just plain nervous, but now he was nervous in a different way. He couldn't remember having such a strong reaction to any guy he had ever met. And he had certainly met more attractive men than Zack. But there was something about him. He was good looking in an unimpressive, blue eyed, dirty blond sort of way. Zack was only a hair's breadth taller than Mark but more solid and filled out. There was an easy masculinity about him of a young father and a family man, but also a sense of fun. His voice was just deep enough to tickle Mark's spine but still pleasant and unassuming. And he spoke like he didn't want anything he said to be taken too seriously. Though he must have been judging and evaluating Mark for the job, Mark didn't feel scrutinized. He only felt welcomed into his home.
Now that he was a little more used to the effect Zack had on him, Mark turned his attention to Zack's home. It was a sprawling, one story house. On the floor, beige carpet alternated with beige tiles. The living room was large and furnished in an old fashioned but comfortable way that surprised Mark. It didn't look like a thirty year old gay guy's house.
As if he could tell what Mark was thinking, Zack explained.
“It used to be my parents' house. I moved in here when I got Al.” Zack smiled as soon as he mentioned his son. “I didn't think my apartment was right for him. And I guess, it made me feel less alone. I was scared to be raising him by myself. Here I felt like my parents were watching over me and wouldn't let me screw up too bad. God, I wish they could have met Al,” he said wistfully. Then he pulled himself out of that mood. “OK, I'm done being sentimental and embarrassing myself. For now. Until I start telling you about Al's mother.”
Zack looked sad when he said that last thing though a smile still lingered on his face through the sadness. After pointing out his office, he led Mark past the living room and down a hallway. He showed him the door to his own bedroom. He opened it quickly, but they didn't go in. Next Zack led him to the guest room that would be Mark's if he got the job. Mark liked it fine, especially the private bathroom he would be getting. The furniture was old fashioned like in the rest of the house, but that was okay. Mark had glimpsed the same kind of furniture in Zack's bedroom too.
“I haven't changed much in here. Al's room used to be my room.” Zack showed him the kid's room next.
The first thing he pointed out was one of the pictures on the bedside table.
“That's Al's mother, my stepsister. She had me adopt Al because she knew she was dying. She had acute myeloid leukemia. It had progressed too far before she even knew she had it. She was gone so fast.” Zack's voice was very thick when he said this. It was almost like he was forcing the words out. Mark could see that he was teary eyed.
Zack noticed that Mark let him stare at that picture of Kelly and Al without any impatience or discomfort. He felt as if Mark might be capable of waiting forever for Zack to pull himself together. The picture Zack had showed him on Al's night stand was of Kelly, already looking a little pale, holding baby Al in the crook of her arm. Zack only told a few people who she was. Kelly’s family didn’t know anything about Al, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Al knew all about her. He knew that the dark haired girl in the picture was his mother because Zack had told him that since the first night he spent without her. Al knew that she loved him and that she was gone. Zack wished that he had more pictures of Kelly. Her mother had kept the family photos. After she died, Zack didn't know what happened to them. He only had a handful of pictures, all framed and placed around the house. In most of them, Kelly was still a kid. There was one of Kelly with his dad. On the back, it was labeled “Father and Daughter” in his father's handwriting. That picture used to sit on Dad's desk along with ones of him and Zack and another of him and Kelly's mother. The sun used to hit it so it was a little faded now. With his father's arm around her, Kelly was smiling, and his father was too. Though there was no resemblance between them, they did look unmistakably like father and daughter.
That was the next picture Zack showed Mark as they went back to the living room. Mark said that Zack looked just like his father.
“I'll take that as a compliment. I wish I was more like him in other ways. He was a top notch dad.”
“I'm sure you do fine,” Mark said not overdoing the reassurance since he couldn't back it up with any first hand knowledge. “When you got Al, was it just you?” he asked.
“No. My friend, Louise, moved in to help me out. That's her.” Zack pointed out another photo on the side table full of them. In it, Louise had a big grin as she held on to baby Al in the back yard while he tried to walk. Her red hair was unruly from the wind, but she looked pretty good anyway. Zack told Mark more about her. “When I got Al, she had just broken up with a guy she was living with. She was kind of depressed. I wasn't doing so well either since Kelly had just died. And I thought, hey, two depressed people are better than one. Actually, having to take care of Al was good for both of us. She grew really attached to Al. But then she got married and moved to Boston.”
“You guys must miss her,” Mark said turning his eyes to Zack with a look of understanding.
“We do. Actually she met Jack, her husband, because of Al. We were taking Al for a check up, and Jack was working as a nurse at one of the other doctor's offices in the building. She struck up an instant friendship with him, but she thought he was gay.”
“Because he was a male nurse,” Mark guessed. Zack wondered if he was sensitive to those kinds of assumptions since he was a male nanny. Of course, he actually was gay.
“That and Jack is really buff. It was a good thing that she thought he was gay. Louise gets really nervous around hot, straight guys and makes a complete fool of herself. By the time she found out Jack wasn't gay, he had already fallen for her. She did make a fool of herself later, but it didn't hurt her case as much.”
“It must have been hard on Al when she left.”
“He was still little so it wasn't too hard. After Louise moved away, we had Mrs. Krinos for a while. Al learned a little Greek from her then forgot it all when she left to live closer to her daughter. Then these two sisters, Molly and Dianna, took turns watching Al during the day. They were college students like you. They were fun and Al loved them. Then they graduated, and we got PJ.” To confirm that he meant PJ, the cat, Zack nodded at her. She was busy trying to wrap herself around Mark's leg. She was shameless.
“So you don't even need me,” Mark concluded.
“Oh, we need you. Cats make terrible nannies. This one is always leaving Al in the hot car while she goes off to score catnip so she can get blitzed and gamble away her paycheck.”
Mark shook his head in disapproval at the cat, but then he petted her. Zack had never before wished so hard that he was a cat.
Mark's visit had left Zack smiling as he went to the car to drive to Miss Olga's. When he picked him up, Al was full of questions. He pestered Zack about Mark the whole drive back. Zack told him a few things, but not too much. He wanted Al to make up his own mind about Mark.
Mia must have already debriefed Mark by the time she called Zack. Zack assured her that he would have called her eventually if she hadn't beaten him to it. She scoffed at that.
“What did you think?” she pressed him.
“You mean when can he move in?”
“Really? That's great,” Mia said jumping way ahead based on a little bit of sarcasm.
“What? No. I was being sarcastic. I'm considering this carefully. I will let Mark know my decision,” Zack said to let her know that she wouldn't be the first one he called.
“You're leaving me out of the loop?” Mia asked, appalled that her role as a middle-woman was already over.
“Yes. Mark is an adult. Right?” Zack reminded her.
“Fine. But I want to be the second to know,” she demanded.
“How about the fourth?” Zack offered.
“I'm first. Then Al then Mark,” Zack explained the pecking order to her.
“OK, fine. Al before Mark?”
“I'll want them to meet before I make it final.” Then Zack changed the subject a little bit to ask her, “How did he end up living with you exactly?”
He knew the story but not all the details. Now that he had met Mark, he wanted to know more. Mia filled in the blanks.