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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance

Chapter Twenty-A

By Nick

Going back to college, even if it was only for recreational purposes, was more of an undertaking than it originally sounded like. Our plan was to take a couple of easy elective classes for the fun of it, maybe meet some new people in the process, and just take things easy for a change. I guess it’s true what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, because from the get go, I found myself outpaced by my much younger, much savvier classmates.

Luckily, I had Gerald to lean on, and being fresh out of school, he still had all of those great study habits that somehow slipped out of my grasp at some point during the last 14 years. Quite honestly, I have no idea how I would have made it through the first week without him, much less the entire month of January. Our pottery teacher seemed to have a chip on his shoulder all the time, and for whatever reason, he always seemed annoyed with me. Perhaps it was because he had to go over everything twice for me, while everyone else caught on right away.

Oh well, it wasn’t like I really gave a damn what he thought. Now my cooking class was a different story altogether. Our teacher made it a point to let us know that in her, we had the best instructor at the entire school, all courses included. She was very confident in her ability to teach, and she told us all that if there was anyone in the class who was worried about not making it, to relax because she had it all under control.

Somehow I doubt she was expecting someone who was as incompetent in the kitchen as I was to sign up for her course. Luckily, Gerald was a whiz around the stove, and I copied all of his notes during class. When it was finally time to cook, we were given the task of making buttermilk biscuits from scratch. Gerald put me in charge of the dishes and the oven, and he would measure, add and mix the ingredients.

Well, I was great at the dishes part, but I may or may not have forgotten to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When it was time to put the biscuits in, I realized that the oven was a cool 72 degrees, but I didn't have the heart to tell my fiancé that much. So instead I took a chance by putting the biscuits in the oven and setting it to broil white Gerald covered the table with a table cloth and lined the decorative basket that we were planning to bed the biscuits in with linen.

My knees were practically knocking at first, but in a moment that can only be described as fate intervening on my behalf, the warm glow of the top burners lit up the oven and almost right before my eyes, the biscuits started to rise. Not only that, but they cooked on the top to a perfect, golden brown, so I quickly removed them while there was still time and turned the oven completely off. As they cooled, I was still in a bit of a panic. I had no idea whether or not the insides were cooked all the way or not, but I knew I’d find out soon enough.

A very happy looking Gerald turned his attention my way just in time to see a pan of scrumptious looking biscuits cooling on the stovetop, and he gave me a curious look.

“That was quick,” he said, and I just nodded, knowing deep down that we might be in deep s**t when the teacher came around to inspect our work. I stayed tight lipped and watched as Gerald placed each biscuit in the basket so that it sat perfectly in its place, then he carried the basket over to the table and set it right in the center. At any moment, I figured, the truth was going to come out, and in a moment of uncertainty, I called Gerald over to the sink to tell him what happened.

Just then, though, she came around and Gerald walked back over to the table with a clean fork in one hand and a paper plate in the other. He confidently handed her the fork, and my heart sank as she grabbed a biscuit sitting on top of the pile and turned it sideways. Then, in an agonizing moment, she used the fork to separate it, and that was when her eyebrows went up and she looked my way, then at Gerald.

“These layers are perfect,” she said. “And the table cloth and the basket were a very classy touch. Good job, guys. It’s too bad you didn't put any jam out with the biscuits, or I could have given you a hundred percent on this assignment.”

And with that, I let out a long sigh of relief and swore to myself that I was going to be more studious about following all of the steps. Gerald gave me a cute smile and a wink, and all I could do was wink back at him confidently, grateful that he’d never know how I almost screwed us both over on that cold January day.

Our next assignment was to cook a marinated chicken dish, and Gerald and I settled on Teriyaki. While I cut a whole chicken apart, then de-boned it, Gerald cooked rice and what he called a special marinade on the stove. The truth be told, his “special marinade” was nothing more than a quart of soy sauce and about 20 packets of Splenda cooked over medium high heat. After de-boning the chicken, I diced the meat up into small pieces, passed it over to Gerald, who dropped them into the pot of now boiling teriyaki sauce, and covered it.

Once again, we somehow pulled a miracle out of our asses. I say that because there was no way in hell we were getting by on skill. But after a few weeks, I stopped fretting about the way I was struggling and learned to laugh at our faux pas in the kitchen, and I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I’d probably get a low B or a high C in pottery. Once I was able to concentrate on enjoying myself, and enjoying the time Gerald and I were spending together, I actually started to do a lot better in both classes.

Getting back into the daily grind of the work world proved to be much less of a challenge than I anticipated. As a matter of fact, it was a breeze. I almost had to wonder why they needed a Director Of Finance, my official title, to begin with. Basically all I had to do was verify and sign off on the work everyone beneath me did, and I had such a competent staff that there were very few mistakes to correct.

My office was a lot bigger than the one I had before, and it was full of leather chairs, a leather love seat and a very nice leather ottoman. In the corner was an air Ionizer from Sharper Image that ran all the time. One day I wondered if I should change the filter, but when I looked at the back of it, there was a date tag that had just been initialed two days before hand, indicating that someone was doing that work for me.

Of course, getting to know an entirely new group of employees is always awkward at first, but I acclimated to my new staff with ease, and they all treated me warmly. I got ogled by a few of the female staff, but just laughed it off in my office and casually spread the word around the office that I was about to be married. Of course, even armed with that knowledge, some of the women still tried to push up on me, and I took it all in stride. I even reveled in it for a brief moment, accepting it as a compliment on my looks and my net worth out in the field, even if it was a field of horny women.

I wasn’t out at work yet, but in time I knew it would be inevitable. It wasn’t something I was going out of my way to hide, but at the same time, I wasn’t advertising it either. There were some very cute guys at work, but I just wasn’t interested anymore. Life had afforded me a luxury that money couldn’t replace, and the hottest, most available and willing man in the world could never amount to the treasure chest I had waiting for me at the door everyday at 5:15 when I pulled into the garage with dinner made and a clean towel hanging by the shower for me.

I hadn’t given much thought to what the reaction was going to be when I finally did come out to my staff, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't care about what they might think.

“Judy, are you sure?” Gerald asked with a gasp, and my mom nodded as she carefully extended the delicate package to him. After he took it, he delicately unraveled it, holding it up in the air and looking it over with almost a sense of reverence. He was careful not to let it touch the floor, even momentarily, then he looked over at me with misty eyes. “Isn’t it beautiful, Dennis?”

“It’s lovely,” I said thoughtfully, drinking in the sight of the flowing gown my mother was wearing when she married my dad.

“I know you won’t be wearing a dress,” my mom said softly. “But on the day Dennis was born, I told myself that I was going to pass this dress along to his bride. Now I want you to have it, honey.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Gerald said sweetly.

“Say you accept it,” she said with a grin and a wink, and I let out a soft chuckle.

“Of course I’ll take it,” he exclaimed. “Thank you, Judy.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” she said, very cautiously leaning into him for a hug so that he wouldn’t lose his grip on the white wedding dress. “I love you very much, Gerald.”

“I love you too,” he told her. “And I love Dan too.”

“You know this makes it official now, don’t you?” I jokingly warned him. “Once you take the dress, there’s no backing out.”

“Then here, you hold it,” he said with a grin, handing me the gown and letting his arms drop.

“Why don’t we hang this thing up?” I suggested, motioning with my head for Gerald to grab the wooden hanger and help me with it. “We’ll put it back in the plastic in a little bit and put it in the closet.”

As it turns out, we had a really nice visit with my mom. I knew she was going to give Gerald the dress because she tried to give it to me the day before, but I insisted that she give it to him instead. She agreed that it was a better idea, even though Gerald wasn’t my bride. He was still the man I loved, and if it was going to be passed along properly, it couldn’t go to me.

“Maybe if you two adopt a little girl, you can pass it along to her when she gets married,” my mom said hopefully.

“Oh that sounds so romantic,” Gerald gushed with a dreamy look in his eyes. “I’ve always wanted to raise a daughter. I know that a lot of gay couples want sons, but I’d love to have a little girl.”

With that, he leaned into me and clutched my arm as we made our way over to the couch, where we took a seat and visited with my mom for another hour. Between work and school, we were seeing a lot less of my folks, which was a good thing in my eyes. Not because I don’t love my mom and dad. It’s just that Gerald and I needed some “us” time, a couple of weeks where we weren’t talking about wedding details every waking hour of the day. Now, with the wedding only a week and a half away, it was time to get back into the mode of planning every last detail. And while it was nice to see my mom again, it was also nice when she went home so we could be all by ourselves for the rest of the day.

Before my mom left, the two of us walked out front by ourselves and she gave me a long hug on the front porch. When she let it go, there were tears in her eyes that I reached out and gently wiped away with my thumb.

“I want you to know how proud I am of you, Dennis,” she said with a smile as she composed herself. “I can’t believe that my baby boy has grown into such a wonderful man.”

“I love you ma’” I told her, leaning forward and planting a kiss on her forehead. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without you and dad. You know that, don’t you?”

“Something tells me that you would have built this life for yourself no matter what,” she said, hooking my arm as we slowly gravitated toward her car. “Gerald’s a lucky, lucky man.”

“I’m pretty lucky too,” I told her, and she nodded in agreement.

“You just take good care of him, Dennis,” she said. “He deserves to have the best. And so do you, son.”

“I plan on it mom,” I told her. “There’s nothing more important in my life right now that Gerald, and I’m going to make sure that I do everything I can to make him happy.”

With that, she opened her car door and got in. For a fleeting moment, I felt like I did the day she dropped me off for my first day of kindergarten. I’m not sure where that feeling came from. It just crept over me, and I almost wished that she wasn’t leaving. A silly way for a grown man to carry on, I know, but that was honestly what I was going through at the moment. Maybe it was because getting married is somewhat of a rite of passage into manhood. And even though I was grown and well past the age of consent, I was taking a huge step that, symbolically at least, would take me further away from my boyhood and into the great unknown that we call life.

Still, we said our goodbyes, and with almost a sense of closure, I watched her drive away. I stood at the edge of the driveway with my thoughts, and I realized that what I was feeling was probably also nature’s way of telling me what a good mother I had, and that I should be grateful for the blessings bestowed upon me. When her car rounded the corner and was gone from sight, I turned to go back inside, anxious to spend the rest of the afternoon cuddling with my soul-mate.

“Are you alright?” I asked Gerald as he gave my hand a tight squeeze. Our plane had just pulled away from the gate and was slowly starting to taxi to the start of the runway.

“Yeah I’m okay,” he said pensively. “I just hate flying.”

“We could have driven,” I reminded him gently, and in reply he sarcastically cut his eyes at me as if to ask me if I was serious. Before he could speak, though, we picked up speed and were glued to our seats. I turned to smile at my boyfriend, who seemed to turn white right at the same time that the front end came up off the ground, followed almost immediately by the rest of the plane.

As we were gaining altitude, we took a sharp right turn and were suddenly looking down at the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Gerald was sitting in the aisle seat, but took the opportunity to crane his neck just enough to see out the window, then he quickly shut his eyes and sat up straight against the backrest.

“This sucks,” he said through a deep breath, and I felt horrible for him.

“Baby it’ll be okay,” I said, trying to assuage his fears. “We won’t be in the air long, and once we’re there, you won’t have to worry about flying again.”

“Yeah right, until the trip home,” he muttered.

“We’ll rent a car, babe,” I assured him. “I’m sure we can work something out with the airline for a credit or something. If not, we’ll get a rental anyway. Besides, I think I’d rather spend a day or two on the road with you.”

With that, Gerald brought our hands, which were still joined tightly, up to his face and gently rubbed the back of my hand against his right cheek.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” he marveled, and I knew what he meant.

The night before, we packed our clothes and made sure that every I was dotted and ever T was crossed, so to speak. We carefully went through our itinerary for the honey moon, and we made a few spontaneous decisions amongst ourselves that made things seem a lot more exciting. Once we were finished packing and planning, we settled on the staircase, a random place for us to sit, I know, but it just felt right.

We just sat there and snuggled closely, and we talked. Not about our wedding day, but just about things. Things like playing on the monkey bars when I was in elementary school, or about how Gerald’s Uncle Mike, who still lived in Provincetown and was going to be at the wedding with his wife and kids, gave him a Bowflex when he was in high school. We never shared a sad memory, only happy ones. And every once in a while, we’d lean in at the same time for a kiss.

Eventually, our eyes were getting heavy, and it was obvious to us both that our conversation was coming to a close. I was about to get up and help Gerald to his feet when he literally knocked me off of mine.

“I never thought I’d be going back,” he told me. “When I was a little kid, I used to dream about having a safe life when I grew up. When I finished college and got the job with you, I thought I was there. Then my house burnt down and I was sure that I was going to end up back home, but you did it for me, Dennis. You’ve made all of my dreams come true, and I love you so much.”

All I could do was wrap my arms around him and hold him close to me so I could hear the beating of his heart, a heart made of gold. I found it very difficult to verbalize all of the ways that he had answered my prayers. That’s probably because before I met Gerald, I had no idea what I was supposed to be praying for. He came into my life and made me dream, then he brought those dreams to life.

Just like I told him before, the flight didn't last long. In fact, I was actually a little shocked at how quickly we landed, and even more of a pleasant surprise was the fact that my folks managed not to cause a scene the whole way, which was a blessing in its own right because they were seated right in front of us. Of course, flying first class probably took a bulk of the misery away that one usually feels when they’re flying coach, and that may have contributed to the seemingly short flight.

Once we landed at Logan Airport, we retrieved our luggage and the four of us chartered a ferry from Boston to Provincetown. It wasn’t lost on me that we’d just landed in the city where Gerald’s parents lived, and that there was always the possibility that they could have been at the airport, waiting to confront Gerald and I in hopes of ruining our early weekend. I knew that feasibly, it was a long shot, and that they were probably at work since we landed at noon, but the idea still lingered ominously in the back of my mind.

On the boat, we took advantage of the air conditioned cabin and the full service bar. My mom threw back a few more martinis than I thought she would have while my dad nursed a bottle of stout ale he mistakenly purchased the whole way across the water. I stayed with my typical scotch and Gerald had a few glasses of White Zinfandel. All in all it was a nice boat ride, and once we ported at Provincetown, I felt fully relaxed and ready to enjoy the last two days of my bachelorhood.

When we stepped off the ferry, Gerald had a distant look in his eyes for a minute, and I knew that he was quietly taking in the sight of his hometown. He turned and gave me a warm smile, then he reached for my hand and we proceeded to hail a cab to the hotel.

Of course, I had very little idea of what to expect given the fact that I felt almost every detail of the wedding up to Gerald and my mom, including the hotel reservations. I had confidence in the two of them, though, that they would manage to get the absolute best of everything, and man, did they ever come through. The Surfside is a beautiful hotel, and our suite was breathtaking. I felt like a little kid as I excitedly opened all of the doors to see what was behind each one with Gerald right by my side, just as giddy as I was.

I’ve traveled to a lot of spots in my time, for business and for pleasure, and for the most part, the novelty of going to a new town and checking into a really nice hotel had worn off. And maybe it was the occasion doing it this time, but for whatever reason, I was stricken with a sense of wonder and adventure as I looked at my surroundings, almost as if I were a kid in a candy store. I wanted to head down to the beach for a long, romantic walk, but Gerald reminded me that we had to get ready to have dinner with his aunt and uncle and my parents, so I relented. Before we left, though, Gerald promised me that later on, we’d sneak off for that walk, and for a grand tour of the town that he grew up in.

“Hey, no fair,” I pleaded as I scrambled to put enough distance between my fiancé and I.

“All’s fair in love and war,” he called out mischievously as he pulled the rubber band back and aimed it at me before letting it fly. I turned away from its approach, and it glanced off of my shoulder, so I leaned over to pick it up when out of the blue, I felt sand pouring down the back of my shirt.

“Oh that’s it, you’re going in,” I declared as I charged him, grabbing the bottom of his ankles and playfully hoisting him into a fireman’s carry. Once I had him where I wanted him, I recklessly jogged out into the water, where a massive wave crashed into both of us, taking me off of my feet. In turn, I dropped Gerald, and he landed on top of me. We were both soaked to the skin as the wave receded off of the beach, leaving us laying in the glistening sand. The moon beams seemed to catch all of his facial features perfectly, highlighting them and making his lips so kissable at the moment.

Before I had a chance to act, he leaned forward and planted a long, passionate kiss on my lips that I luxuriated in. When he pulled off of my mouth, his smile and translucent gaze held me captive for an extended period of time before he collapsed on top of me and our tongues dueled once more. It was the perfect way to cap off a perfect day.

Meeting Gerald’s Uncle Mike, his aunt Erin and their two kids, Lexy and Marty, was a lot less stressful than I was afraid it would be. They were the exact opposite of Gerald’s mom and dad, and yet, at the same time, they never spoke an ill word about them.

When we made it to the restaurant, they were waiting in the foyer, and as soon we walked in, they all practically leapt to their feet and took turns hugging Gerald. The kids were in their young teenage years, but they carried themselves very properly. When they all finally separated from my fiancé, he very graciously introduced me to his family. I was a little unsure about what my reception would be with them, but they were so warm and loving from the get go. When Gerald introduced my mom and dad, they got the same warm reception that I enjoyed.

The subject of Gerald’s parents came up a few times during dinner, and I was careful to watch what I said about them. It was obvious that Mike loved his brother and sister in law, but that he was bitterly disappointed in them for how they treated his nephew. I could appreciate those sentiments, even if I wasn’t in total agreement with them. It seemed like Mike and Erin were in a place with the two of them that Gerald probably wanted to be, and it seemed like it would be a healthier place for him to be.

“So let’s talk about something happy,” Erin said with a smile, steering the conversation away from Gerald’s mom and dad. “Lexy had her first date last weekend.”

“Oh, how exciting,” Gerald gushed. “How was it? Is he cute?”

“Totally,” she said with stars in her eyes. “He took me out for coffee, then we walked down to the water and just looked at the sky and talked. It was so romantic. I was kinda hoping I could invite him to the wedding, if you don’t mind.”

Marty rolled his eyes and snickered at his sister.

“Cut it out, son,” Mike said with a chuckle.

“You guys don’t know anything about being romantic,” Lexy said with a disgusted look.

“Well I think it sounds sweet, and of course he can come” Gerald said, giving her a wink. “The only thing that matters is that you enjoyed yourself.”

“Do you want to see the dress I got for the wedding?” she asked him hopefully, and he nodded.

“I’d love to,” he said, then he turned to Marty. “And I want to see what you’re wearing, too, young man.”

“When they were babies, Gerald used to keep them for us so we could go out,” Erin said. “When they got bigger, they started to beg us to go out and ask their cousin to watch them.”

“It was my only chance to get to wear all of my dresses,” Erin said. “I’d go change into a different one and then walk out like a super model, and Gerald and Marty would pretend to be camera men snapping my pictures.”

With that, Marty blushed with a sheepish grin, then he admitted, “Yeah, it was pretty fun.”

“We’ve all missed you kiddo,” Mike said, smiling proudly at Gerald. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to be sitting here with you right now. Dennis, that goes for you too. Mr. and Mrs. Mead, you’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

I sat there speechless, wondering how to even respond to such a compliment from someone I was so worried about meeting just a few hours earlier. It made me appreciate the fact that not everything in this world is set in stone, and it gave me a sense of comfort knowing that Gerald had at least two responsible, caring adults in his life as a child to keep watch over him. It also made me a little sad that Gerald’s own mom and dad couldn’t bring themselves to express the same pride in their son that Mike and Erin did.

Before we all parted company, Mike took Gerald and I to the side and slid a folded check into Gerald’s front shirt pocket.

“This is for the two of you,” he said in a low voice. “No one has to know about this but us, okay?”

“Uncle Mike, you don’t have to do this,” Gerald protested, but Mike waved him off.

“But I want to,” he said. “It’s only fifteen hundred dollars, so take it and enjoy a couple of nights out on your Aunt Erin and I.”

“I love you Uncle Mike,” Gerald said, wrapping his arms around his uncle and giving him a tight hug.

“I love you too kiddo,” he answered, then he broke the hug and extended his hand my way with a smile. “Dennis, it was great meeting you, and welcome to the family.”

“Thank you Mike, it was a pleasure meeting you and your family today,” I said as I accepted his handshake.

When we walked back to rejoin the others, Mike wrapped his arm around both mine and Gerald’s shoulders, a warm gesture that was more comforting than I thought it would be at first. We made plans to see each other the next day, then Mike, Erin and the kids were gone. My folks announced that they were off to soak in the hot tub in their suite, and that gave Gerald and I the opportunity we needed for the walk on the beach he promised me.

As cold as the water was, it was exhilarating to be on the beach with the man I was about to marry, indulging in his sweet kisses as the waves crashed over our bodies over and over until finally, we were ready to go back to the hotel and break in our suite the right way. Without a word, Gerald hopped up and reached for my hand, pulling me up off of my back and to my feet. Another wave rolled in, and he playfully used his foot to slosh water on me before he hightailed it across the sand, back toward the hotel. I was in hot pursuit of my lover when we made it up to the glass doors of the lobby, where we both stopped to catch a breath before we rang our clothes out and proceeded to walk through the lobby soaking wet as if nothing were the matter, earning us some incredulous stares. We were almost to the elevator when I thought I heard a familiar voice call Gerald’s name. Gerald must have heard it too, because it stopped him right in his tracks, and we turned just in time to see Gerald’s mother at the desk with a credit card in her hand and a suitcase at her feet, staring blankly at the two of us.

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