Marco in the Park

by Nick Brady

Part 8

Marco's birthday rolled around and we celebrated by shopping for furniture. We found a nice sofa and armchair combination with coffee table, end tables and a pair of lamps. It wasn't high end stuff, but looked nice. The bedroom in the new apartment wasn't big enough for a king size bed but we figured a queen size would work just fine. There were lots of other things that we would like to replace, but decided that we could wait on them.

We negotiated an acceptable price and talked them into holding the new furniture until November first before delivering them to the new apartment. They even agreed to haul off the old stuff while the truck was there. Everything else we would muscle over ourselves. One good thing was that it would be carried down a flight of stairs rather than up.

Next we went to see what the Walmart had in the way of some new duds for Marco. My gift for him was a pair of khaki slacks, two pairs of stone washed blue jeans, some polo shirts and a couple of long sleeve sweaters he could wear to school or to church. He bought himself a new pair of black jeans and a long sleeve white shirt for Luigi's. He also bought some sneakers, socks and boxer shorts. He had a whole new wardrobe.

The big day arrived on a Monday. I took the day off work and Marco phoned in sick to school so we could devote ourselves to the move. The furniture guys grumbled a little about horsing our old stuff down from the second story, but a twenty dollar bill made them feel a lot better about it. It took most of the day, but we got everything moved before time for dinner. The big chore was boxing up all the clothing and kitchen things, but we had done as much of that as we could in the days before our move.

We sat on our new sofa and looked around. "What do you think?" I asked.

"I think it looks good," Marco said. "We even have a little patio. Maybe we should get a charcoal grill or something."

"Maybe. We need a bigger dresser or maybe a chest of drawers for your clothes. We might think about that later, maybe at a thrift shop," I suggested.

Marco was grinning. "This is so cool. Now it's OUR apartment."

"Now it's home," I said. "With you here it's home."

"Yeah, it is." Marco grinned.

"I'm tired and hungry. How about you?"

"I'm always hungry, but I don't feel like cooking anything. Could we go out?"

"Good plan. This is a time to celebrate. What do you think about checking with Wayne and David to see what they are doing?" I suggested.

"Sure. Give them a call."

I phoned Wayne. "Hey, what are you guys doing for dinner? Marco and I just moved into our new place and are ready to go out for something to eat. Could you join us?"

"Just a minute. Hey David. What are we doing for dinner? Want to meet Marty and Marco?" There was a pause. "That sounds good. Where do you want to meet?"

"How about Luigi's?" I said in a moment of inspiration.

Wayne laughed. "Isn't that where Marco works on weekends?"

"Yes it is. I thought it might be fun for him to be on the other end of things. Have you ever been there?"

"No, but I hear it's good. Meet you at 7:00?"

"See you then." I clicked off my cell phone.

"It's Luigi's at 7:00," I told Marco. "Are you up for that?

"Sure," Marco said. "It will be cool to be waited on there." He had a silly grin. "That's kind of romantic since it's where we first met.."

"That's the idea," I smiled back at him.

"We need to shower first. I know I'm stinky," he admitted.

We undressed and did our shower dance. It was 6:30 and we didn't have enough time for the Mambo, but we smooched for a minute. We dressed for dinner in khakis and knit shirts. For Marco, this was dressing up.

At seven o'clock we arrived at Luigi's and went inside. There was a fair crowd there for a Monday but we got a nice table near the back patio and waited for Wayne and David. After a minute, Luigi himself appeared with the menus.

"Hello Marco. Don't you want an apron?" He teased.

Marco was wearing a big smile. "No sir. I am here to be pampered."

Luigi gave out a big laugh. "We will do our best!" Then in an aside to me he said. "My business has increased on the weekends because of this boy. I will take good care of you fellows."

Just then our friends arrived. Nice to see you guys, thanks for coming."

"Thanks for asking. Is this a special occasion?" David asked.

"It is, actually. A week ago was Marco's birthday and we moved into our new apartment today," I explained.

"That's right," Wayne added. "You told us that was coming up. Congratulations, Marco."

Marco smiled at this. "Thank you. I am looking forward to a good year with Marty."

"And what did you get for your birthday? Any presents?"

"Yes sir. I'm wearing it. Marty took me shopping."

Wayne laughed. "Oh, please don't call me sir. That makes me feel old."

Marco looked a little sheepish. "Sorry, I was just trying to be polite. I don't think you look old at all."

A young lady I had not seen before sat a bottle of the house Chianti and four glasses on the table. "This is compliments of Luigi," she said with a smile, and took our order.

"It pays to be with a celebrity," Wayne teased.

I filled glasses for Wayne and David then looked at Marco. "None for me, thanks," he said. I left mine and his glass empty and smiled.

"We aren't much for drinks," I explained. "You guys will have to do the honors for us."

We began to chat as we waited. "Marty tells me that you two play music together at home," Wayne said to Marco.

"We like to do that sometimes, yes," Marco replied. "It's pretty simple stuff though."

"That doesn't matter, it's fun to do that sort of thing," Wayne agreed. "Did you know that David and I both play?"

"Oh, really?" I said with surprise. "I didn't know that. What do you play?"

"I play cello and David is learning the viola. Perhaps we could have a little piano quartet sometime."

"I'm not good at all." David demurred.

"You have not heard us," I cautioned. "We are definitely not ready for prime time, but it's fun to bang away, on our instruments I mean."

"I have some very simple arrangements if you would like to try it sometime with the four of us," Wayne suggested.

I was ready to decline, but Marco spoke up. "That sounds like fun!"

"Well then, that's a deal," David agreed. "But I am warning you that I may embarrass myself."

"Oh now, you're not that bad," Wayne protested. "And it will be fun."

So a deal was struck, and the next Sunday after church we met them at our apartment for a trial run. It was rough, but it was fun. It turns out that the difficult part was staying together. It turns out that the difficult part for us was staying in sync with each other. The odds for mistakes rise exponentially with the number of players, but after a number of tries we managed to get through a few things. The goal was not to produce anything of any quality but rather to have a good time doing it, and in that regard we were successful. It was at least good for some laughs. We agreed to get together again, and in the process became better friends.

Wayne and David jointly owned a home in a good part of town of Tulsa and we began to meet there on Sunday afternoons. They had a nice piano and more space. I had not socialized much at all before Marco and I had come together, certainly not as an openly gay man. It required a bit of adjustment for me, but Marco seemed to be comfortable with whatever came along. It was at a Christmas party that a problem arose.

Towards the end of December we were invited to a Christmas party at Wayne and David's house. It was on a Saturday night and at first I intended to decline the invitation because of Marco's job at Luigi's, but Marco said he really wanted to go and made arrangements to be off that night. It turned out to be a bigger affair than I had expected with about 30 people in all.

Other than our hosts, they were all new to me. There were other gay couples and some young men who appeared not to have partners. There were even some lesbian couples. The house was decorated with a large Christmas tree, drinks and a nice assortment of finger food laid out on a side table.

We were a bit under dressed in khakis and sweaters but made ourselves at home. Marco was the youngest person there and, in my mind at least, by far the most attractive. Over his khaki slacks, he wore a loose white cotton sweater purchased just for the occasion which set off his tan skin to perfection. He usually pulled his long black hair into a pony tail, but for this occasion had brushed out and let it hang half way down his back. He was young, vibrant, and absolutely stunning.

Towards the end of the evening a number of the guests had drunk more than was good for them. A man I had been introduced to as Carl gravitated to Marco and engaged him in conversation. Marco was cordial as usual and was politely laughing at the man's attempt at humor, made difficult by his stage of intoxication. I was only half paying attention to what was said, when I heard Marco raise his voice.

"No. Please stop!" he said sharply.

"Oh come on, you know you want to." Carl slurred.

"Please, I said no!" Marco raised his voice, creating a pause in the murmur of conversation.

I looked to see Carl standing much too close to Marco with his arm around his waist and his hand on Marco's butt. Marco turned quickly and pushed the man away. "I said stop!"

Carl was already unsteady on his feet and the motion caused him to fall backwards over an ottoman and sprawl out on the floor with a thud, spilling his drink on himself. Now look what you made me do," he said drunkenly.

Marco looked upset and said to me, "I told him to stop, but he wouldn't take his hands off of me."

Wayne was over in a flash, helping the drunken man to his feet at the same time looking at Marco. "Are you alright?" he asked. I wasn't sure which of them he was speaking to.

Wayne hustled Carl to the kitchen to get him out of the room and to help wipe his shirt with a towel. "What happened?" I asked Marco.

"He wanted me to go to the bedroom with him," Marco told me, looking very unhappy.

"Are you OK?" I asked.

"I'm fine, I just wanted him to stop pawing me. He wouldn't take his hand off my ass." Several people standing close enough to overhear began to laugh.

By this time Wayne had returned. "I'm afraid Carl had a bit too much to drink," he said. "His partner is taking him home. I'm really sorry, Marco. Carl isn't usually like this."

"Marco looked unconvinced and said to me. "I'm about ready to go home if you are."

I turned to Wayne, and by now David had joined us. "I'm sorry, but it is getting late," I said. "I think we will be running along."

David assured us. I'm sorry you have to leave. I hope Carl didn't spoil your evening. I should have been watching to see who had too much to drink. I hope you enjoyed the evening otherwise."

Marco seemed to have recovered his poise. "That's OK, I really had a nice time. Thank you for inviting us," he said as he smiled and shook hands with our hosts.

David fetched our coats from a bedroom and walked us to the door. "Thank you for being understanding," he said to Marco. "You look so fantastic this evening that I suppose he was overcome." It was a lame attempt at humor but David was embarrassed.

Marco gave David a hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Really, it's OK. You and Wayne have been great to us both, but I'm kind of tired."

"Of course, it's getting late. I imagine we will see you fellows at church in the morning. Good night, and thank you for coming," David said.

Once in my car and driving home, Marco slumped down in the seat. "Sorry Marty. Maybe I should have handled that better. I'm new at cocktail parties."

"It wasn't your fault. The guy was drunk. If I had been standing closer I would have pushed him myself."

"Would you have come to my rescue?" Marco asked with a shy smile.

"Of course. But I thought you handled that very well."

"Why wouldn't he take no for an answer?"

"He was drunk. People do stupid things when they are drunk," I tried to explain. "And you do look fantastic tonight."

"I should have worn a dirty sweat shirt," Marco grumbled.

"That's why I don't drink," I said. "It seldom brings out the best in people."

Marco sighed. "I just want to go home. I always feel safe with you."

We pulled into our parking space and walked into the apartment without much more conversation. Marco opened the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of milk, drinking it where he stood.

"I'm ready to go to bed now," he said and walked into the bedroom.

We undressed. He hung up his khakis and folded his new white sweater, putting it in the top of the closet. His boxers went on the floor with his socks and he crawled under the covers. I joined him in the same state of undress and we moved to the center to hold each other close.

He kissed me on the neck, under my chin. "Actually, it was a nice party until the end. Sorry."

"I thought you were cool. But I would have thought you were cool if you'd tore off his head and shit down his neck."

This made him laugh. We kissed, then ground our cocks together and made sweet love in our nice new queen sized bed. I really couldn't blame Carl. This kid was worth taking a chance for.

In the morning we got up, dressed for church and attended the late service. Wayne and David didn't show. We guessed that the party ran late.

As we were walking out Marco said, "They had a nice Christmas tree."

"What?"

"David and Wayne. They had a nice Christmas tree."

"Oh. Yes, it was pretty."

"We never had a Christmas tree."

"Who? You mean you and your mother? Why not?"

"I don't know. We just never did."

"You think we should get a tree?" I asked.

"It would be nice. I mean, if you'd like." He looked hopeful.

"Sure. Where would you want to put it?

"In front of the window so people could see it from outside."

You want to string lights up too?"

"No, that's OK. But a wreath might be pretty, don't you think?"

"I think that might be very nice. Do you want to go find a tree?"

"Yes. I think that's a good idea."

"It's your idea," I pointed out.

"I know."

"Let's go to the Walmart. They have everything." I suggested.

"OK," he grinned as if it was my idea all the time.

Sure enough, the Walmart did have everything. We went inside and got a tree stand, a long string of lights, some tinsel and cute little ornaments. We found a nice wreath with a red bow and a battery operated candle in the center. Once back outside we picked a tree that looked full and tied it on top of my Toyota. We moved things around and set it up in front of the window and spent the rest of the afternoon decorating it. We fastened the wreath to the center of our apartment door. Marco had to leave for work before we had finished but I promised to have it ready by the time he got home. He called at 10:00 and I went to get him.

"Did you finish decorating the tree?" he asked as soon as he was in the car.

"You'll see."

When we pulled in front of the apartment he could see the tree though our front window and the wreath on the front door. He got out and stood looking at it, smiling broadly.

I stood behind him with my arms around his shoulders. "What do you think?"

He put his arms over mine. "I think it's beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever saw."

I had left the lights off in the apartment so that the inside was illuminated by the tree lights. Marco stopped just inside the door and looked at it. When I hugged him from behind I felt tears drip on my arms. "Thank you Marty. I really love it."

"I can't believe you never had a Christmas tree," I told him.

"This is my first real Christmas," he said softly.

"Merry Christmas, Marco. I love you," I whispered in his ear.

He walked over and sat on our new sofa. "Don't turn on the lights, OK? I want to look at it some more."

I sat next to him, put my arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. "Look as long as you like. It's not going anywhere."

"Neither am I," he whispered. "I'm going to stay right here forever."

We sat there admiring the tree for a long time. We sat until we both fell asleep. I woke up about two in the morning with a crick in my neck. Marco was sound asleep. I started to wake him then decided to just carry him into our bedroom like putting a little kid to bed. I don't know if he was really that sound asleep, but I laid him on the bed, pulled his clothes off and tucked him in, then crawled in next to him and held him close.

The next morning I woke up to the smell of bacon frying. It was my favorite way to wake up. There in the kitchen was my sweet Marco, naked except for an apron, scooting eggs around in the frying pan, the Christmas tree ablaze. I went back in the bedroom and changed into my clothes for work leaving him to his task. Our breakfast was on the table when I came back with bacon, eggs over easy and a pile of cinnamon toast on the side. He brought a cup of coffee to the table, then sat down with me.

Before I dug in, he stopped me. "When you were a kid, did you say a blessing before you ate?"

I looked at him, a little surprised. "Yes, we did sometimes. Mostly on special occasions. Why?"

"Well, I guess I feel kind of blessed. Could you do that? I don't know how."

I reached across the table and held out both hands. "It is nice to join hands around the table. I think it works OK with just two.

He took my hands and I recited what I had learned as a child. "Lord, we thank you for the bounty you have given us. Bless this food to our use and us to thy service. Amen."

Marco smiled at me and repeated, "Amen."

We ate breakfast in the glow of our Christmas tree. The simple ceremony of blessing our food had taken on new meaning for me. Marco changed into clothes for school and we walked out together; he rode off on his bicycle and I in my car. It was another day in paradise.

Christmas was on a Saturday that year and school broke for the Christmas holiday on Thursday. Marco came home and prepared a nice supper. When I arrived after work he was unusually chipper.

"Glad to get a break from school?" I asked.

"Yep," he said and handed me an envelope.

"What's this?"

"Look at it," he instructed.

I pulled out a 3x5 inch card on which his semester grades were written in ink. "I'll be damned. Straight A's," I read out loud.

He spread out his arms with a broad grin and said. " You may hug me now."

I gave him a rib cracking hug and swung him around in a circle. "When you said you were going to make me proud of you, you weren't just whistling Dixie!"

As we sat and ate the meal he had prepared, I had a little surprise for Marco. "With Christmas on Saturday, what is your work schedule this weekend? I asked.

"Luigi is a good Catholic guy. We'll be closed Friday and Saturday for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but open again on Sunday night. That will be a big day. Nobody wants to cook dinner the day after Christmas," he explained.

,"OK, but what are your plans for next week now that school is out until after the holidays?" I asked.

"Nothing, really. I thought I might see if I could ride for Mercer. Why?"

"Because I have accrued vacation time I need to take and asked to be off work next week. We will both be free, I know that Luigi will need you on Sunday, but what do you say we go off on a little boondoggle? We can leave Monday morning and come back on Friday."

"Really? Just the two of us? Where will we go?"

"I was thinking we might drive down to Padre Island where it's warmer this time of year. There are things we could do along the way and back."

"That sounds fantastic!" Marco exclaimed. "I've never really been anywhere outside of Tulsa."

"Actually, I thought we might stop for a night in Austin where my mother lives. I haven't been down to see her in ages."

Marco got very quiet. "You want me to go with you? To meet your mother? Really?"

"Yes, I do. It is time she knows about you. Part of what I decided when Wayne and I had that long conversation, was that I can't hide something that is so important to me. I want her to meet you and I want you to meet her. She is a nice person, Marco, and I need to visit my mother over the Christmas holiday."

"I thought this was really scary for you."

"It is, but she has to know eventually. I don't want to put this off any longer."

Marco looked me in the eye. "Introducing me to your mother sounds pretty serious. Won't this come as a surprise to her?"

"I imagine it will, but she is just going to have to accept you. Really, I think she will. I know she loves me and I think she will love you too. I want to get this behind me."

Marco looked uncertain. "Whatever you think, but what if she doesn't like me, or doesn't approve?"

"I'll have an honest conversation with her before we get there so you won't be part of an awkward scene. If she throws a fit we won't stop there. Please don't worry about it. Nothing she can say or do will change the way I feel about you."

"Is there anything I can do to make this any easier for you?"

"No, Marco. Just be yourself, your usual charming self and she will see who you are."

Marco was up early in the morning and made a very nice breakfast for us. "Did you get enough sleep?" I asked. "You were tossing and turning last night."

"No, er, yes, oh I'm fine. I guess to be honest I'm a little worried about meeting your mom. The only mother I have any experience with is my own, and she isn't a very nice person."

"My mother is really a sweet lady," I assured him. "But she has expectations for her only child and I don't suppose they include a gay partner. It is a hurdle to get over, but I really think it will be OK. I have put this off too long."

"I just hope she likes me."

"I think she will love you Marco. I'll talk to her tomorrow when I call to wish her a Merry Christmas."

Marco frowned. "She won't be expecting me to be her Christmas surprise."

"Don't worry about it right now. Tonight is Christmas Eve and I want to go to the service at St. Jerome's. Do you want to go with me?"

"Of course," he said with a smile. "I'm looking forward to it."

I went in to work and found that I was one of the few who had not taken the day off. I knew it would be a light day and wanted to provide coverage for any problems that might come up. It turned out to be an in-office holiday. Some of the ladies brought in food for a nice lunch and we spent most of the day eating cookies then left early.

Marco and I fixed ourselves a light supper and dressed in our finest; I donned my one good suit and a necktie. Marco wore the infamous white sweater that Carl had found so attractive. He was beautiful. At nine o'clock we left for church. There would be a crowd and I wanted to be able to sit in our usual pew. Late comers would find themselves in folding chairs at the back of the church.

When we walked inside, the sanctuary was beautifully decorated with greenery and little red votive candles in all the windows. There were evergreen trees on each side of the altar, strung simply with twinkling white lights. The space in front of the altar was filled with red poinsettias.

Marco expressed his approval with a quiet, "Wow, it looks so pretty." We sat behind Wayne and David, exchanging greetings and shaking hands.

The choir came in at 9:30 and we began to sing Christmas carols, the traditional kind from the hymnal. The organ played, and it was grand. The service started promptly at 10:00. It was a long service. Children came out dressed in bathrobes which passed for shepherd's costumes. A lovely young girl was dressed in a blue robe with a white scarf over her head and was attended by a boy of the same age who posed as her husband Joseph. They pantomimed the nativity story while several readers recited from the Gospel of Luke. At various times the choir punctuated the story with hymns. The Christmas message was given by our rector Father Hoover who might have indulged in a bit of Christmas cheer prior to the service. His homily was not long, but unusually cheery. It was a very beautiful service. To my surprise Marco stood, sat and knelt with the rest of us. The final anthem and recessional took place just after midnight and we adjourned to the parish hall for refreshments and hearty Christmas greetings.

We stood nibbling goodies with our friends David and Wayne, and wished each other a very Merry Christmas. On the way home Marco was rather quiet.

"That was really nice," was all he said. I left him to his thoughts.

Once back home we sat and admired our Christmas tree, with no other lights to interfere. Marco sat close to me with my arm draped around his shoulders.

Finally Marco broke the silence. "That was the very nicest church service I ever saw."

"Christmas Eve is always special," I agreed.

"I'm glad we went. It made me feel so good to be there with all that music and everything. I really like your church."

I passed my hand over his hair. "Well it's your church too. We both go there."

He sighed. "I guess. Maybe I should do something to make it official."

I hesitated before asking, "Have you ever been baptized?"

"No. That was not something that ever came up."

"Maybe you might want to ask Father Hoover about that sometime," I suggested.

"Maybe," he said quietly.

We sat for a little longer then Marco got up and disappeared into the bedroom, returning a minute later with a nicely wrapped package.

"Here," he said, handing it to me. "It's your Christmas present."

"It's lovely," I said.

"Well open it," he said a little impatiently.

I did. Inside the box were a pair of sterling silver ID bracelets engraved with our names. I started to put on the one with Marty on it, but he stopped me. "No, that one's mine. Yours says Marco."

My eyes suddenly filled with tears as I understood his intention. I was unable to speak for a moment then finally mumbled out, "Thank you Marco. That's really very beautiful. Thank you very much."

He fastened the bracelet around my wrist then held out his arm for his own. I worked the clasp with trembling hands and could think of nothing to say. We held each other for what seemed like a long time. Then I went to my own hiding spot and found my gift for him.

I handed it to him without comment. Inside was a sterling Celtic cross on a silver chain. He bit his lower lip and handed it to me, then leaned over to have it strung around his neck. He held it in his hand and examined it for a moment then threw his arms around my neck and kissed me very sweetly.

"Merry Christmas, Marty. I love you so much."

"I love you too, Marco." I could hardly speak.

He ran his finger over the bracelet on my wrist. "Your aren't supposed to ever take that off, OK?"

"I won't. I'll wear it forever." I promised.

"Me too," he said.

We sat looking at our Christmas tree for a long time, then he got up and pulled a carton of eggnog out of the refrigerator, filled two little juice glasses and came back to sit next to me. He handed one to me.

"Cheers," he said and raised his glass.

"Cheers kiddo." We clinked our glasses and took a sip. Then he insinuated himself under my arm and we sat for a time more before going into the bedroom and undressing for the nicest Christmas present of all. We were not quite naked. He was wearing a silver cross and we each had nice silver bracelets. They did not get in the way.

We slept in the next morning. After all it was Christmas and we had already exchanged our gifts. We spent the morning making sweet love to each other. We were finally driven out of bed by a ravenous hunger. I made biscuits. He emptied the refrigerator out of whatever might go in an omelet and outdid himself. We ate it all.

It was a lovely crisp December day and we decided to go bicycle riding, finding ourselves joined by a host of young children riding Christmas bicycles. We stopped at a small cafe which was miraculously open on Christmas day and had coffee and a danish. That the roll was a little stale mattered not at all. We decided that the owner must be Jewish and were grateful for him.

Once back in the apartment I called my mother and we had a long talk. I wished her Marry Christmas and told her that I would be passed through on Monday and would have someone with me that I wanted her to meet, someone very special. Marco stayed in the bedroom and pretended not to be listening. I told her that I wanted to introduce her to the person I loved more than anything and I hoped she would understand. I was very honest. She grew teary and asked me to tell her about my friend Marco. I told her he was beautiful, intelligent and that we loved each other very much. To my profound relief she admitted to me that she had suspected that I was gay for a long time but was hoping that she was wrong. Then she said she loved me and she wanted me to be happy. If Marco made me happy, she would love him too. She didn't mention grandchildren. I told her that I loved her and was looking forward to seeing her. We said goodbye.

I went into the bedroom to find Marco stretched out on the bed holding the silver cross in his hands. "I heard," he said.

I lay down beside him and held him close. "I told you it would work out," I said.

"He was quiet for a minute then he told me. "I'm not sure I did it right, but I was praying."

I looked him in the eyes. "You were?"

"Yep," he said. "I guess it worked."

"I guess it did. You do good work."

We kissed and the inevitable happened. First the shower dance, then the horizontal Mambo, then we slept.

I tried to let Marco sleep in on Sunday morning. He had to work that evening and then early Monday morning we would begin our adventure.

He was up soon after I was and joined me for coffee. "Are you going to church this morning?" he asked.

"I thought I might. There won't be many people there. This is what's called 'low Sunday' because so few attend the Sunday after Christmas. You want to go?"

He shrugged. "Why not?"

I chuckled. "You're becoming quite pious."

"What's pious mean?"

"I mean for a guy who was off religion, you seem to be getting in the church habit."

"Your church is different. I kind of like it. Besides I don't want to sit around here by myself."

"That sounds good to me. Want some breakfast first?"

"Let me fix it," Marco said. "I want some pancakes."

Before I could protest he had grabbed the Bisquick and was stirring up the batter. I got out the griddle and set the table for us. We had become a well oiled domestic team. He made good pancakes.

"Here, put this on your cakes." He set out the jar of peanut butter and some strawberry jam. "If it's good on bread, it's better on pancakes."

I tried it. He was right.

He dressed, and we drove the short distance to St. Jerome's. As predicted, it was sparsely attended. Our presence was appreciated.

When we walked into the narthex, Father Hoover smiled and nodded. "Good morning Marty, and Marco, isn't it?" We shook hands then went to our usual pew.

Marco looked surprised. "He knows my name?"

I chuckled. "Priests and politicians are usually good with names."

The service was shorter than usual due to the fact that the choir had the Sunday off. It was what is called a 'said' service; readings, prayers, and a brief homily, but no music. It made for a quiet time of reflection. After the service the faithful remnant gathered in the parish hall for coffee. Snacks consisted of cookies left over from Christmas Eve. I found myself chatting with a lady I barely knew while Marco prowled around on his own. When I looked for him he was talking with Father Hoover. After a minute they shook hands and he looked around for me and nodded when he saw me.

He walked up to me and asked, "You ready?"

"Sure. What's for lunch, or did you fill up on Christmas cookies?"

He grinned at me. "No, I can eat. You buying?"

"I might. What sounds good to you?"

"Anything. You pay, you get to pick."

"Well, in that case, let's go to Rio Verde and get some world class burritos."

"Sounds good to me," he said as he led me out to the car.

Our favorite Mexican restaurant was a little family owned place with excellent food. It catered to a mixed crowd during the day but a higher percentage of Hispanic customers in the evening.

I told Marco, "Conventional wisdom is that gringos might not want to visit here after dark, but I will probably be safe if you are with me."

He snorted, "I'm Seminole, not Mexican." I decided that I was not being very politically correct and dropped the subject.

There was a good crowd there for a Sunday. We found a table and a pretty little dark eyed girl took our order. They had a wide selection of traditional dishes but we wanted their 'wet' burritos, an enormous four tortilla with the meat, beans and rice all rolled up inside and covered with a mixture of salsa and melted white Mexican cheese. They served Coca Cola imported from Mexico which had a slightly different taste due to the kind of sugar it was made with. Marco got a carne asada burrito and I ordered mine with chili verde, pork stewed with peppers and onions. Both were delicious, and a big meal. We munched on chips and salsa while we waited. Tulsa was blessed with a lot of good ethnic restaurants.

We chatted while we waited. I was curious about Marco's conversation with Father Hoover but figured he would talk about it when he was ready. I didn't have to wait long.

"I asked Mr. Hoover about getting baptized," he said.

"Oh, really? You didn't waste any time."

"Well, I was just thinking about it and I asked him what I would have to do to get baptized."

"What did he tell you?"

"Not much really. He asked me if I had ever been baptized anywhere else before, then suggested that I call him when we get back so we could talk about it."

"That sounds good. Do you think you want to do that?"

Marco looked down at his napkin and fiddled with it. "I don't know. I just wanted to talk about it." He hesitated, "Is he going to ask me about being gay?"

"I seriously doubt it. That wouldn't keep you from getting baptized anyway."

He glanced up at me. "Really?"

"It is the understanding of the Episcopal church that God loves everyone, no exceptions. His love is inclusive, not exclusive."

He nodded thoughtfully. "It seems like if God made me this way he should be OK with the way I am."

"That's the idea. No exceptions." He nodded again. Our Mexican colas came followed by two big plates of burritos. The waitress carried them over in her bare hands and warned us they were very hot. Marco adjusted his plate and jumped.

"Damn, that's hot!" he cried. "How can she carry these plates?"

I laughed. "She has asbestos fingers."

Conversation paused while we dug in. The burritos were awesome. I ate half of mine and asked for a to-go box. Marco finished his, then leaned back and looked a little glassy eyed. "Man, that's a lot of burrito."

We talked a little while then noticed that there were some new comers standing around waiting for a table. "We better go," I said.

I picked up our ticket and stepped to the counter to pay. Before she rang up our tab I pointed to a little glass case by the door and she picked up a couple of reddish brown squares of something and quickly wrapped them up in a piece of waxed paper for us to carry out to the car.

"What's that?" Marco asked.

"Candied sweet potato," I told him. "That's dessert."

He nibbled a corner from one, "It's good," he said, looking pleased.

"Yep," I said with a wink. "I wouldn't steer you wrong my man." He laughed at that.

We drove home getting our fingers sticky on candied sweet potato, then licking our fingers. Once in the apartment, we set about sorting out clothes and packing for the trip. We had a long day ahead of us and we wanted to get an early start.

I took Marco to work at Luigi's, then waited for him to call. I spent the time puttering around, straightening out the apartment. There were still a few things to be put away after our move. When I had things as tidy as I thought they needed to be, I turned off all the lights and sat looking at our Christmas tree. It was one of many for me, but the very first for Marco. It surely would not be our last.

He called at 10:30 and I went for him. He sat down in the front seat with a paper bag.

"What do you have there?" I asked.

"It's a surprise," he said.

Once home he produced two Italian cannoli. "These are from Luigi. He said to tell you Merry Christmas."

I made a small pot of coffee and we sat looking at the tree and devoured the cannoli. "When we get back, please tell Luigi I said Happy New Year. These are just out of this world."

"I'll tell him." Marco assured me with a big grin.

After we did our shower dance and stretched out on the bed. "This new shower is bigger than our old one," Marco observed..

"It's nicer, don't you think?"

"I guess," he said with a grin. "But it's not as cozy."

We were both tired and did a bit of snuggling, but left off the Mambo lessons for the night. We figured we would have plenty of time to make up for that on the trip. We had the whole week to look forward to.

First Austin and then the world.

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