“Do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I stay up?” Troy was whining as he clearly struggled to keep his eyes open.
“Because it’s late, you’re tired, and we have a busy day tomorrow,” Alan said. “You’ve already stayed up way past your bedtime.”
“But it’s Fun Friday! We’re allowed to stay up. You said so! What are we doing tomorrow?”
“We’re going to the park to meet Bradley’s new friend Sam. Now, off to bed.”
Troy pouted. “It’s not fair! Bradley gets to play with his friends, and I don’t get to play with mine!”
Peter returned from carrying Bradley to his bed.
Alan put a stern face on. “Troy, no more arguing. It’s time for sleep.”
Troy turned to Peter. “Can I stay up for a bit longer?”
Peter’s lips twitched. “Sorry, champ, but it’s bedtime.” He leant forward and winked. “Steve won’t go to bed before you do, so you have to go to bed now or Steve will be really grumpy in the morning.”
Peter picked up Troy while Keidan chuckled. After Peter had left, Keidan turned to his boyfriend. “Remember, it’s your bedtime soon, too, Steve. Behave or you don’t get any treats before you go to sleep.”
Steve coughed and tilted his head towards Alan’s mother. “Be nice. There’s a lady present.”
Keidan blushed. “Sorry, Mrs. Thrush.”
Rosalie waved a hand to dismiss the issue. “Don’t worry about it.” She frowned and turned to Alan. “What was that about Troy not getting to play with his friends?”
Alan sighed. “We’ve got two playdates set up for this weekend for Bradley, but we haven’t organised anything for Troy. I can see why he’s upset, but it’s more difficult for him because we don’t really know who his friends are. He’s mentioned a few kids from school, but we don’t know how to contact them.”
“What about Marcus, Katie and Robbie? Haven’t they been around?”
Alan blinked. “Who?”
“The neighbourhood kids. Lisa told me that they quite often dropped in after school. Marcus and Katie live three doors up, and Robbie lives just the other side of them.”
Peter dropped into the seat next to Alan. “I haven’t seen them, but I usually get home around dinner time. Have you seen any kids hanging around, Alan?”
“Nope.” Alan paused. “I wonder if they’re staying away because they think it’s too soon after the accident.”
Rosalie shook her head. “Kids don’t think that way, but their parents might. I don’t know Robbie’s parents, but I’ve met Marcus’s and Katie’s mum a few time. Why don’t I drop in to see them tomorrow and organise something?”
“Thanks, Mum. That’ll be great.”
* * *
Rosalie waited until Peter and Alan had taken the boys to play with Sam and then headed out. It was a brisk morning, with heavy clouds promising rain to come. She hoped it would hold off until Bradley and Sam had a decent playtime together.
As she strolled up the street, she reviewed what she knew of Marcus’s and Katie’s parents. Lisa had previously told her that the family was involved with one of the local churches and that the mother worked part time for a charity in Thomastown, but Rosalie couldn’t remember if Lisa had ever given her details about which church or which charity. It had never been important information before.
She paused outside her destination and cast an eye across the yard. A couple of toys had been abandoned in the front yard, the lawn needed a mow, and the hedge required a trim. Rosalie could see movement behind a curtain and then caught sight of a small face peering at her from the window. She smiled, raised a hand in greeting, and then headed towards the front door.
She glanced around but didn’t see any bell, only an old-fashioned knocker set in the middle of the door. She raised it and banged twice.
After a minute, the door opened revealing a broad, swarthy gentleman who appeared to be in his early thirties. “Yes, can I help you?”
Rosalie smiled. “Hi, I’m Rosalie Thrush, Bradley’s and Troy’s grandmother. The boys have been missing Marcus and Katie, so I thought I’d come around to see if there’s any problem.”
The man cringed momentarily and then stepped back. “Come in, Mrs. Thrush. We were both really upset when we heard what had happened.”
Rosalie sighed as she wiped her feet on the mat. “If only Craig…but we can’t change the past. I’m really sorry, but I don’t know your name.”
“I’m Warren.” He gave her a faint smile and raised an arm to point down the hallway. “Angelica is in the kitchen helping Katie with her homework. Katie’s never liked doing her homework, so I’m sure she’d love to be interrupted.”
Rosalie chuckled. “I’m sure she would.” As she passed the entrance to the living room on her right, she saw a familiar face peering at her. “Hello, Marcus. You’ve grown since I last saw you!”
“Hello.” Marcus took a couple of steps forward, glanced past Rosalie at his dad, and then turned and ran off.
Rosalie glanced at Warren and noted the frown on his face. She didn’t say anything but made a mental note that something was wrong.
A few minutes later, Rosalie, Warren and Angelica were seated at the table, exchanging pleasantries. The two kids had been told they could watch the television for a while, and they hadn’t hesitated to leave the adults.
There was an awkward silence for a few seconds once the pleasantries were over, which Rosalie ended. “Is there a reason why Marcus and Katie haven’t been around to play with my grandsons?”
Warren and Angelica exchanged looks; before Warren responded, though, he dropped his eyes to the table in front him rather than meet Rosalie’s gaze. “At first it was because we thought your family needed some space, some time without interruption, so we told the kids they couldn’t visit…”
“But then?” Rosalie prompted as Warren fell silent. She noticed Angelica was watching her husband, not her.
“But then I saw what happened at the funeral, and I told Warren that night,” Angelica said.
“And what was it that you saw?” Rosalie knew the answer, but she thought it was best if they brought it out into the open.
Angelica sighed and looked directly at Rosalie. “I’m not sure if you know, but your son…he brought someone to the funeral with him, and…”
“I’ve very much aware of who Alan took with him and who has been helping him look after my grandsons. Peter is a fine young man, and my son loves him deeply. I do, too. I couldn’t wish for a better son-in-law than Peter even if they can’t currently marry. Now, what has this got to do with your kids playing with my grandsons?”
“It’s just…” Warren started.
“We’re really just not sure…” Angelica added.
The two shared a long look, and then Angelica sighed. “We don’t know your son or his friend, and we’ve heard stories, so we…”
There was another awkward silence before Rosalie spoke. “I could point out that Lisa is very happy with who is looking after her sons or that Craig and Lisa arranged a long time ago for Alan and Peter to take care of Troy and Bradley if anything happened to them, but I suppose you have to get to know them yourselves.”
She watched them squirm for a moment before continuing in a less-harsh tone. “Is there any reason Troy and Bradley can’t come here from time to time? You’ll be able to meet Alan and Peter that way, too, and get to know them at your leisure.”
The expression of relief that appeared on Warren’s and Angelica’s faces at the suggestion almost made Rosalie snort with disgust. She wasn’t happy that they weren’t able to accept Alan and Peter purely based on Lisa’s approval, but she wasn’t going to hurt her grandsons by making an issue of the subject.
After some more polite conversation and having extracted a promise that Troy and Bradley could visit at any time, Rosalie took her leave.
Wondering if she was about to experience a repeat of that unpleasant experience, she went next door to Robbie’s house and rang the bell.
* * *
Alan led the boys into the park, while Peter followed with the bag that contained snacks, Band-Aids, jackets for the boys, and sundry other items. Rosalie had rolled her eyes when she realised that they were going out without taking what she considered essential supplies.
“Sam!” Bradley raced across the park to where another young boy was waiting with two adults. Troy glanced at Alan for permission before he chased after his brother.
Alan chuckled as he and Peter followed at a more sedate pace. “Somehow I don’t think Bradley’s going to wait until we say hello to Sam’s parents. What were their names again?”
“Olivia and Bill. They know we’re Bradley’s uncles, but I didn’t say anything more than that when I spoke to Sam’s mum.”
Alan glanced across. “You mean about the two of us?”
Peter nodded. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to do. You stayed in the closet at work because it wasn’t relevant, and I thought that might be the same here. I didn’t want to out you when you’re going to be the boys’ primary carer.”
Alan sighed. “I’ve been thinking about it, too. I really don’t know what to do, but the boys know the truth. I think they’ll say something eventually, so it probably won’t be a secret for long, but there’s no rush.”
Peter wondered if this meeting would be a good chance to try telling the truth. If it didn’t go well, it would be easy to minimise the fallout since Sam was only available on weekends. However, before he could make the suggestion, they walked up to the other couple.
Bill smiled, took a half step forward, and extended a hand. “Hi, I’m Bill, and this is Olivia. Alan and Peter, I presume?”
Alan grinned and shook hands with Bill. “Yep, I’m Alan.”
Olivia frowned as she stared past the two young men. “Sam! Don’t swing that stick around! You can hurt someone if you do that.”
Peter turned to see Sam, Troy and Bradley facing each other with sticks in their hands. It looked like they had been about to start a swordfight.
“Sorry!” Sam dropped his stick and grabbed Bradley by the arm. “Come on, I’ve found a great place for hide-and-seek.”
Olivia rolled her eyes before smiling at Alan and Peter. “Sorry about that, but Sam gets so enthusiastic at times that he doesn’t think ahead.”
“He’s only five, dear,” Bill said. He waved a hand towards a nearby picnic table. “Why don’t we sit down? I expect the kids will spend the next half hour wearing each other out, but there’s no reason we can’t relax while we keep an eye on them.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Alan said. He grinned. “I used to think I was fit until I started looking after the two boys.”
Bill laughed as they strolled to the waiting seats. “It’s a different type of exercise. Sam’s very much an outdoors kid, but he only seems to have two speeds in his gear box: flat out and neutral.”
Alan raised an eyebrow as he sat down. “Can I ask what you do for a living?”
“I’m an automotive engineer. I guess it shows. Yourself?” Bill sat opposite Alan, with Olivia and Peter sitting next to their partners.
“I’m a motor mechanic, though I’ve got an extended leave from my job until my sister gets out of hospital so I can look after the boys. Peter’s a communications salesman.”
Peter raised his eyes to the sky. “Great. I bet they’re going to talk engines now.”
Olivia chuckled. “It’ll be either that or the kids. It’s two things they know they have in common.” She paused, and the smile dropped away. “How’s Bradley’s mum doing?”
Alan sighed. “She has a long fight ahead of her. She’s got lots of plastic surgery to get through, and she’s going to have to learn to walk again. We hope she’ll be home before Christmas, but that’s not guaranteed.”
Peter glanced at him in surprise. “You didn’t tell me that!” He felt vaguely unsettled about the news, though he didn’t try to work out why.
Alan shrugged. “Mum mentioned it to me yesterday. She spoke to the nurses when she was visiting Lisa.”
Bill looked at Peter. “I presume Bradley’s dad was your brother.” He grimaced. “I’m so sorry.”
Peter gave Alan a wide-eyed look. He didn’t know how to respond without saying more than might be safe. As Alan was the primary carer, Peter felt it should be his choice as to whether to come out.
Alan stared back for a moment before giving Peter a faint smile. He turned to the other couple. “No, Peter’s my partner. He’s not related.”
Bill blinked, but Olivia was quicker on the uptake. “You’re a couple?”
Alan nodded. “My name’s on the guardianship papers, but Lisa and Craig…” Alan’s voice caught for a moment. “They knew it would be both of us looking after the boys if anything happened to them.”
Olivia reached over and put her hand on top of Alan’s. “If you need any advice or if you need some help on the weekends, just give us a call. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be thrown into parenting like that.”
Alan’s smile was weak but genuine. “Thank you. We’ve got a lot to learn, but we’re getting there.”
“Alan’s mum is staying with us for a while to help out, but thanks for the offer. We really appreciate it,” Peter added.
Bill smiled then frowned. He stood up and yelled. “Sam! Put that stick down!” He shook his head. “Sorry. I presume you want your two boys to go home with both their eyes.”
Alan and Peter glanced across to where the three kids were playing.
“Troy! Bradley!” Alan yelled as he stood up and joined Bill as they marched over to disarm the giggling combatants.
Olivia sniggered. “Bill’s mum says that Bill was exactly the same when he was Sam’s age. She thinks it’s poetic justice at work.”
Peter smiled. “Boys will be boys.”
Olivia nodded. “Yeah, and it’s up to us mums and dads to make sure they survive to become men.” She grinned. “Can I say that I’m happy that we only have one boy to look after?”
Peter laughed. “Oh, that’s cruel. Accurate, but cruel.” He smiled as he watched Bill and Alan made the boys play something other than sword-fighting.
* * *
Olivia waved after she had put Sam into his car seat. “See you next week, and don’t forget to ring if you want to chat about anything.”
Alan waved back. “Thanks! See you later!”
Peter finished buckling Bradley into his seat and then smiled across the top of the car at his partner. “They’re a really cool couple. Even if he is another car nut.”
Alan poked his tongue out and then grinned. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat.” He glanced at the storm clouds that were threatening to release their load and then got into the front passenger seat before turning to look at the boys. “Old McDonald’s for lunch?”
“Yes!” the boys chorused.
Peter looked at Alan. “Any particular one? The nearest Maccas is at Greensborough Plaza, and it has a playground for the boys.”
“Playground? Don’t you think they’re probably played out?”
Peter glanced at the boys in the rear-view mirror. “For now, maybe, but I bet they’ll be ready to go again by the time we get there.”
Alan chuckled. “Probably. Okay, Greensborough Plaza it is. McDonald’s, here we come.”
“When can I play with Sam again?” Bradley asked.
“You’ll be going to visit him at his place next Saturday, champ,” Peter said.
“Today’s Saturday,” Troy told his brother.
“Then that means we can go to his place today!”
Alan and Peter exchanged glances. Peter smirked. “I’m driving. You can deal with it.”
“Thanks, buster. Thanks a lot,” Alan said, not really meaning it. He twisted around and tried to explain to Bradley that it would be the following Saturday that he and Troy would be going to Sam’s house.
Bradley wasn’t impressed to learn that the next time he’d see Sam was seven days away. “That’s forever!”
* * *
Rosalie was in the kitchen baking when Alan, Peter and the boys arrived home. The storm had rolled in, and there was a low rumble from the heavy rain on the roof.
“That smells wonderful. What is it?” Alan asked as he dropped what Peter and he had started calling the ‘kids bag’ on the floor.
“Can I lick the bowl?” Troy asked.
Bradley pouted. “Not fair! I want to lick the bowl!”
“Chocolate-mint slices for dessert tonight. I thought a treat was in order since we’re having a guest.” She smiled at the two boys and reached over to a nearby tin. “Here, boys. I made some Anzac biscuits earlier.”
Alan gave his mother a quizzical look while the boys snatched at the cookies. “Guest?”
She smiled. “Yes. Robbie is coming for a sleepover, so I thought I’d get prepared. He’s got a nut allergy, so I have to be careful what I cook for him.”
“Robbie is coming here?” Troy pumped his fist. “Yes!”
“Who’s Robbie?” Alan asked. “And you don’t have to cook. I’m happy to do that.”
“Robbie lives four doors up. He’s Troy’s age. I was going to visit the neighbours while you were gallivanting about, remember.” She smiled. “And you won’t be able to cook, because you won’t be here.”
“What?” Alan’s mouth dropped open. He looked at Peter, who seemed similarly confused.
“You’re supposed to say ‛pardon’, Uncle Alan. That’s what Mummy says,” Bradley said.
Alan smiled down at the young boy. “Okay, Bradley. Pardon it is.” He glanced at his mother and raised an eyebrow.
She started to hum as she returned to her cooking.
“Yes, dear?” she asked, not looking up.
Alan gritted his teeth. “Can you please tell me what’s going on?”
She glanced up, a big smile on her face. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Alan glanced at Peter who wasn’t bothering to hide an amused grin. Alan glared at him before returning his attention to his mother. “Well?”
She glanced at the two boys. “Troy, Bradley, why don’t you go and work out what toys you want to play with when Robbie gets here?”
“Can he sleep in my room this time?” Bradley asked.
“He always sleeps in my room!” Troy said.
“Why don’t all three of you sleep in Troy’s room?” Rosalie asked.
“Yippee!” Bradley bounced out of the room, followed by Troy. “Robbie is coming for a sleepover!”
Rosalie sighed. “Aren’t they so sweet?”
“What’s going on?” Alan was proud of how even he kept his tone.
She chuckled and looked at Peter. “He’s getting a bit tense, Peter, dear. I think it’s just as well that you’re taking him out for dinner tonight.”
Alan turned to his partner. “What do you know about this?”
Peter held up his hands. “I’m innocent! I’ve got no idea what she’s talking about.”
“Really?” Rosalie asked, as she poured the mixture she had been stirring into a foil-lined tray. “I thought it was quite straight forward. You and Alan are going out for dinner with Steve and Keidan. I’ve already rung them to organise it. In the meantime, I’ll be babysitting the boys.” She glanced up. “I’d advise you to take advantage of the in-house babysitting service while I’m still here, but if you want to be martyrs, then that’s okay, too.”
Alan smiled and shook his head. His mother didn’t often become manipulative, but when she had her mind set on something, it was easier to just go with the flow. “And Robbie?”
Rosalie glanced in the direction of the boys’ bedrooms before answering. “Robbie’s parents had been stopping him from coming here because they didn’t want to intrude so soon after…” She shook her head and wiped her face with a floury hand. “I told them that the boys were missing their friend, so that’s when we organised the sleepover.” Her voice went hard. “Marcus’s and Katie’s parents on the other hand…”
“What happened?” Peter asked.
Rosalie glared at the partially made chocolate-mint slice in front of her. “What I would like to have happened was to rip them to shreds, but I managed to refrain. It seems that they were confused about the difference between homosexuals and child molesters and wouldn’t let their kids come here to play.”
Alan’s face went stormy. Peter put a hand on his shoulder, “Alan…”
Alan’s fists clenched, and he turned to stare out the window at the sky that matched his expression. “What did you do, Mum?”
She touched her son on the shoulder and made him turn to look her in the eye. “Not what I would have liked to have done. That wouldn’t have been fair to Troy and Bradley. The boys are free to visit Marcus and Katie whenever they like, and you can visit, too, but until their parents see that you’re just a pair of normal guys, they’re uncomfortable,” she almost spat the word, “with their kids visiting here.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t let the boys go there,” Alan said.
Peter’s eyes went wide at the dark tone. “Alan, calm down. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Rosalie nodded. “While I agree with the sentiments, Alan, that would be hurting the boys because those parents are ignorant. The kids are all innocent in this; let them play. Don’t put them in the middle.”
Peter could see that argument was getting through. “Just like we agreed with Craig’s parents. We keep the boys out of it.”
Alan’s shoulders slumped. “Okay. You’re both right.” He glanced at his mother. “Would it be better if Peter and I kept quiet about our relationship?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so, because the boys will talk, but that’s your decision. It always has been and always will be.”Alan slowly nodded. “Thanks, Mum.”
Copyright Notice - Copyright © December 2016 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's express permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank C James for providing feedback on the early drafts, and rec for his invaluable editing. I would also like to thank Ricky for that crucial final review before publication.