Thru the Storm

by Bensiamin

Chapter 4

Monday was business as usual, and there had been a number of patient discharges which meant that sign-out didn't run long, and they were ahead of schedule for seeing patients and then rounds. Liam figured he'd be late for noon conference. He was able to grab his coat and wallet and get to his car and down the hill in time to meet Roger at noon.

They exchanged greetings and ordered their coffee, then decided to add a croissant sandwich to the order so they'd have some calories in their system for the afternoon. After they sat down, Liam said, "Thanks again for meeting me. You didn't have to, and you barely know me."

"That may be true technically, but you know what? You're one of the residents on my husband's hospital staff, and I liked you when we met at our house a week ago, so why would I not try to help out. What's on your mind?"

"Well, now… I mean after the last couple of days, I wonder if I even need to waste your time."

"I can assure you that you're not wasting my time. Tell me about it. What was on your mind when you called last week? What happened over the last couple of days? Fill me in and we can talk."

"Well, I was kind of wrestling with what we'd talked about. You know, Epicurus and sensualism versus hedonism and whether or not I was a hedonist in the worst meaning of the word. And like you saw, Troy and I are trying to sort out some issues in our relationship. So that made things seem worse than they probably were. But then yesterday we were both off and went bowling and then without even thinking about it I asked him to come along when I went to visit my mom, and he did, and we all had a good time, and now, I don't know. It doesn't all seem so terrible."

"Terrible is an interesting choice of words to describe what you thought you were seeing last week. I told you I thought your mom was a wise woman and I hope she was as cool and accepting as mine was when I first brought Jerrod home to meet my folks. Is that what you did, bring Troy home to meet your mom?"

"What? No, not like that. I mean it wasn't some kind of intentional get the approval of your parents thing. I had some books from the library to take to her and it was closer to go there from the bowling alley than take Troy home and then go back."

"Ahh. I see. And Dr. Freud wasn't involved in this decision in the least little bit, was he?"

Liam saw Roger's face break into a wide smile. "God, Roger. I don't know. It's been tense and he's not out and has this control issue and I told him he needed to get his shit together because I wasn't going to inflict any more pain on myself. Like I'd had enough pain in my life already. And then we admitted we didn't like being apart and then we were having fun bowling and I asked him if he wanted to go to my mom's with me, and… I don't know. Maybe I'm totally fucked up."

"I doubt that. You're too intelligent and caring to qualify as a total fuck up." He grinned at Liam. "Why don't you tell me about the pain part. What you said about having had enough pain in your life already."

Liam swallowed and then told Roger about the auto accident that killed his father and sister, and then they talked about the consequences.

"You told me some of that the other night. I'm sorry that happened to you and that you had to go through it. Kids shouldn't have to suffer like that."

"It wasn't just me. I mean it was my mom too, and she had polio as a kid and has been handicapped and on crutches all her life. Then she meets my dad who doesn't care about that and accepts her and loves her in spite of it, and then the accident happens. It's just not fair. But we talked about that."

"We did, but it seems to me that there's some other concern or fear you're still struggling with."

"I don't know what you mean."

"I mean that on the one hand you personally and your family have had more than your share of trauma and pain. On the other hand, you and Troy are, as you said, sorting some things out in your relationship, but do you have any concerns about where that could go?"

"Well, no. I mean, it's really early. Like it's too early to worry about where it'd go, don't you think?"

"I certainly understand why you'd think so. Tell me about your other relationships."

"Well, I came out when I was thirteen, so had a bunch of relationships in junior high and high school. A few longer-term ones in college. A couple during med school. Why?"

"It sounds like they were all fairly short term. Was there a reason why?"

"I don't know. You're right in that they didn't last that long. The longest were three or four or five months. Why does that matter?"

"It may matter, Liam, because relationships are scary. They require a huge amount of vulnerability. It's natural for both people entering into a relationship to feel scared, hesitant, or unsure, but the tricky part is figuring out what those fears mean. Sometimes the fears are about the commitment itself, and sometimes they're about the person you're committing to. Can you tell me if that's some of what you've been feeling?"

Liam looked out the window and then back at Roger. "Yeah, all of that scared, hesitant and unsure."

"Is it about the person, meaning Troy, or the relationship, meaning the commitment itself?"

Liam thought and then said, "At first, I thought it was about Troy, and maybe that's why I was so hard on him. I dumped on him, and I don't think I was fair about it. But after the last couple of days and seeing how he was with my mom, I'm pretty certain it's not Troy. We can work our issues out."

"So, then," Roger said softly, "you're telling me that the feelings of fear and hesitancy aren't about the person, but about the commitment itself?"

"I don't know what that means."

"It can mean a number of things. For a lot of people, it can mean fear due to feeling unworthy, or it can mean fear that someone better may come along, or within broken relationships fear that they won't improve. I don't think any of those apply here. I think that what you're worrying about is that somehow based on what's happened to you in your life so far you don't deserve a committed relationship and that it'll end badly, and you'll be hurt like you have so many times before."

Liam was quiet, the inner turmoil showing on his face. Roger went on quietly, "Fear is a powerful thing. You have every right to worry about more pain that you might experience, based on what's happened to you in your life so far. But here's what I'm going to tell you, and you already know it. One can't live a whole and happy life in fear. I don't think the difference between being a sensualist or a hedonist matters at all. You want to know why?"

Liam nodded silently.

"Because at the technical level, the difference between the two schools of thought is that hedonism is the belief that pleasure, or happiness is the highest good in life. On the other hand, sensualism is the belief that gratification of the senses is the highest good. In my view, they're two sides of the same coin, both subject to interpretation and distortion. The larger question is why you've personally been on this pursuit of pleasure to achieve happiness." He paused, and then said, "Is it because it's a coping mechanism to deal with the pain and trying and stay one step ahead of what you expect to happen in your next relationship?"

Liam just looked at Roger, speechless.

"Liam, that's a hypothetical question. I don't expect an answer. I just would ask that you think about it. Noodle on it, as they say, and then let's talk some more. What do you think?"

Liam nodded, quiet and then said, "Thanks, Roger. I don't know what to say, but thanks."

"You don't have to say anything, and I wouldn't expect you to say anything right now. All I ask is you think about all of this, okay?" He glanced at his watch and said, "I've got to get going so I can review the charts before my afternoon appointments begin. Are we good for now?"

Liam smiled and nodded, and they walked together out of the coffee shop. Roger put his arm over Liam's shoulder and said, "All the people who say life is easy or a cake walk, are full of shit. Just hang in there and you'll work this out." Then they went their separate ways, and Liam felt like he was on autopilot for the rest of the day.

That night after he got into bed in his apartment, he texted Troy.

Busy day, but thanks for being with me yesterday. 😍

He was almost asleep when his phone pinged that a text had come in.

Thank you, and it was a great time. Can't wait for the next one. 😍

Liam reveled in the emojis with the heart eyes as he fell asleep.

After rounds the next morning, Troy and Jerrod had their usual meeting. When they'd completed their discussion of patients, Jerrod looked at Troy and said, "So, how are things going on the relationship front?"

Troy smiled and said, "Liam and I went bowling on Sunday. It was nice."

"Meaning you've established a working truce, or something like that?"

"It was more than a truce. We had fun and then he had to go by his mom's house and asked me if I wanted to go along, and I did. It was a hoot. She's a great person. Now I know where Liam came from."

"That all sounds positive. What about on the personal front?"

"I guess. I've been doing a lot of thinking since the talk at your house, and I've listened to that song a lot, read the lyrics a lot, and… and cried… a lot."

"Tell me about that."

"Well, I got the message in the first verse," Troy said. "The business about control and what it can get you, like picked apart and thrown away, and then there's that contrast with feeling free."

"It is quite a contrast, isn't it?"

"Parts of the second verse about killed me. I mean 'come around, don't take it hard' which I wish Liam would do, and the last line, 'what would I find living this life without you.' That hurt."

"Why hurt?"

"Because it's the way I'm starting to feel about us not being together. And then it goes on about being swept up in a world so strange, like my world, and being a stranger and not knowing why."

"Poignant words, aren't they?"

"Yeah," Troy replied, "but nothing like how the verse ends, 'but your words/They brought me out onto steady ground/When I was wounded and ashamed.' That's how I realize I feel now about getting to know Liam."

"Have you told him that?"

"No, because we haven't had 'the talk' yet. He told me I needed to get my shit together first."

"Good plan. And by the way, what is the plan?"

"Well, I guess I'm figuring out that if I can tell you how this makes me feel, then I can tell Liam. Then I have to get serious about the rest of it, the denial and the control part."

"Can I point out one more really important part of the lyrics for you?"

Troy nodded. "It's the last verse. It starts out 'Feel the storm coming on/Feel the darkness at your gate,' and then about living the loneliness of life. Remember that? And then it concludes, 'the sky is shades of gray till you see it from the other side.'

Troy was listening to him closely, his brow furrowed. "So, it concludes about the way the storm looks, stormy and dark and gray, till you see it from the other side. And then you realize that it's only some occasional rain. We can all deal with occasional rain."

There were tears on Troy's cheeks. "Trust me, Troy. If Liam is the guy for you, then whatever happens with your parents or expectations or whatever, they're only occasional rain."

The next morning at the end of their meeting, Jerrod said to Troy, "What are you doing on Sunday evening?"

"No plans, why?"

"Because you're being invited to dinner at our house. Roger is inviting Liam, and we're having another couple over that I think you'll both enjoy getting to know."

"This isn't a setup, is it?"

Jerrod grinned at him. "It totally is! Not that you need us to set up a date with Liam, based on what you told me yesterday. Why are you worried about it, anyway? Just be at our house at six thirty and let us take care of the rest."

The work week moved by, and Liam observed that Troy was softening, or at least the hard edges at work were coming off of him. He was open and conversational. Liam for his part appreciated it and engaged, but made a point of maintaining space so he wasn't intruding over some boundary Troy had that he didn't understand. By Saturday, though, the vibe was positive. After updating their patient lists and turning them over to the night residents, they'd changed and were heading for the parking lot.

"I've got to drive down from here to Jerrod and Roger's tomorrow, so I'll pick you up a little after six, okay?"

Troy glanced at him, "You sure?"

"Certainly. From your place we drop down the hill, cross the Sellwood Bridge and we're almost there. No point in taking two cars."

"Cool. Do I get to hold your hand on the way over?"

Liam grinned at him. "We can probably arrange that. See you tomorrow."

Troy was happily smiling as he slid into the passenger seat the next evening. He wanted to lean over and give Liam a kiss but was hesitant. Liam saw it and said, "It's okay. I want it too." The kiss was short and then Troy did hold his hand for the part of the drive when only one hand was needed on the wheel.

When they arrived, Jerrod opened the door and in the living room they were introduced to another couple. "This is Matt and Jessica. They're among our oldest friends, all the way back to high school."

"Seriously? I've only been out of high school eleven years, but I'm not that close to any of them," Troy said.

"Maybe you didn't have the experiences that tightly bind you like Roger and I did with Matt and Jessica." He took their drink orders and disappeared into the dining room. "So, you're both docs up at Doernbecher?" Matt asked the question but already knew the answer.

"Sure are. I'm a first-year resident and Troy's the Chief Resident, meaning, he's directly under Jerrod, and he's my boss."

"But you probably hear hospital talk all the time," Troy added. "Tell us something about yourselves. You guys go back a long ways."

"Like Jerrod said, we go back to senior year in high school. Then somewhere in that year, another friend's mom who was a high school coach brought Jessica into the mix."

He looked at his wife who went on, "We were both applying to Portland State. I was studying to be a coach as well, and Matt was chasing a football scholarship. So, I ended up a coach and he got a summer job with a construction company, started studying civil engineering and now is a senior project manager on major construction projects."

"What she's leaving out is that I got the scholarship, but I was just an okay player," Matt said, "while she was on the all-state girls' volleyball team and has been one of the top girls varsity coaches in the state." He grinned at his wife. "She's too humble for her own good."

"What about kids?" Liam looked at both of them. "We met Imelda and Armando a couple of weeks ago."

Matt chuckled. "Jerrod and Roger were slow getting started. We've got two boys in high school. The oldest graduates this year."

"I heard that disparaging remark," Jerrod said as he walked back in. "You guys graduated and were free to have a family. We had grad school to deal with, and decided it would be too hard. By the way, Roger says dinner in fifteen minutes."

They chatted for a few minutes and Jerrod left to help Roger. Then Matt asked how long they'd been a couple.

Troy and Liam looked at each other and then Liam said, "We're kind of coming to the conclusion that we are. That probably sounds dumb, but we work together at the hospital so that complicates things, and actually we just connected a few weeks ago." He looked at Troy to make sure what he'd said was okay.

"Liam's being careful because it's so new and I've been having a hard time coming out publicly. You know, the whole work and professional hang ups. The fact is that we're still working out our relationship."

Matt and Jessica looked at each other and both laughed. "You won't have that problem for long," she said, "if you become friends with these two. There's Matt's little brother Nate and his husband, who's a vet. Will and Kim are also high school friends, but they live in California, so we don't see them that often. And then there's David and Jackson. Have you met them?"

"They're the uncles, right?" Liam shook his head, "No, we haven't met them yet, but we've heard about them."

"So, what you're saying," Troy added with a smile, "is that if we continue to be friends with Jerrod and Roger we will be surrounded by a bunch of gays."

Jessica smiled back at them and said, "More correctly put, you will be surrounded by a group of friends who will be your second family, most of whom are gay. There's a few exceptions like Matt and me."

Jerrod walked in smiling. "You always were an exception, Jessica. It took an exceptional person to tame that guy you're married to." He looked around the group and said, "Come on, dinner's on the table."

The dinner conversation was light and convivial, and when they moved back to the living room, it continued. For most of the evening, Jerrod had a playlist softly playing on the stereo. He turned It off and put on a CD. As the first song started to play, Troy looked at him and said, "Is this the band that I think it is?"

Jerrod grinned knowingly at him and said, "Sure is, The War On Drugs. The album is titled I Don't Live Here Anymore ."

"I'm still listening to that song you gave me."

Liam looked at him curiously and Troy saw Matt's eyebrows go up.

"At the risk of butting in on something private, Jerrod, you haven't done to him what I think you have," Matt asked, "have you?"

Jerrod looked at Troy questioningly, and Troy seemed to sense that the question opened up a good thing, and nodded back at him.

"Sure have, Matt. Troy and I have been having a few talks, and with the approval of our resident psychologist here, I played him a song and gave him the lyrics to think about."

Matt grinned and looked at Troy. "Has it changed your life yet? You won't know this, but in high school I was angry and hostile and a bully, and at one point when I was really in the pits, Jerrod came over to my house and made me listen to Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb . It took that to make me realize I'd been raging so long I was used to it and become comfortably numb. Totally rang my bell. Then a little later on I was still being an angry prick and David sat me down and played me The Who's Behind Blue Eyes, and that rang my bell again. I finally started to figure out what a lot of people had been telling me that I just hadn't been hearing."

Troy had been listening to Matt intently, and said, "I can't tell you how important hearing you say that is. Liam doesn't know about this exercise yet, but he will before tonight is over. I'll just say that what you described it is pretty accurate, it rang my bell."

The subject changed, and in a few minutes, Matt asked Jerrod if they'd heard from Nate and Michael? Jerrod shook his head, and Matt went on. "You will. They'll be here next weekend on their way to Pendleton. His folks are retiring and selling the ranch, so he and Nate are going up to get some stuff. His folks are downsizing and moving into town."

"That makes sense," Jerrod replied. "I'm surprised they've kept it this long, but his dad is one tough dude." The conversation drifted to their summer in Pendleton years ago, and then to how well Michael was doing on the staff at the Oregon State vet school.

"Yeah, can you imagine if he'd ended up being a vet back in Pendleton. He'd have been the only gay vet in eastern Oregon, and what would his husband do in that town?"

"You're right. Corvallis worked out much better. College towns are much more progressive and accepting."

They all turned to look as the sound from the front door as Imelda and Armando came in with their nanny, Conchita. She took their coats and then they both came into the living room. With a quick "Hi, daddy" to Jerrod and Roger they ran towards Matt and Jessica. "Uncle Matt," said one while the other squealed "Aunt Jessica" as they received a hug from the adults. A minute later, when they'd quieted down, Jerrod asked them if they remembered Troy and Liam from before. Armando looked at them quizzically, but Imelda said, "They're doctors, like daddy."

"You are right. They're both doctors at the hospital where I work. They take care of children, just like you two. Don't you want to say hello to them?"

Imelda and Armando slowly disengaged from Matt and Jessica and walked over to Troy and Liam, their faces a mix of curiosity and shyness. A few words were exchanged in greeting, and then Imelda looked at them both and said, "Do you have kids like our daddies and Uncle Matt and Aunt Jessica?"

Liam said, "No, sweetie. We don't have kids, but I had a sister who was about your age.

Imelda said, "You do. I want to meet her!"

Liam knelt down in front of her and said softly, "My sister isn't here anymore. She was in an accident. But we'll be your friends. How's that?" He felt Troy's hand squeeze his shoulder as they saw the understanding move across Imelda's face.

"Okay Mr. Liam. You and Mr. Troy can be our friends." She looked at Armando for agreement, and he nodded his head. She stepped forward and hugged Liam, getting her arms only part way around his shoulders. Armando followed her forward and wrapped his arms around Troy's legs."

Trying to change the subject, Liam said, "Thank you Imelda. We want to be your friends too. Because what's special is that you have a twin brother. Is it as cool as it looks to have a twin?"

Imelda looked at Armando next to her. He and Troy were watching her interaction with Liam. Then she looked back at Liam and said, "I know what he thinks." She smiled mischievously, and Liam glanced at Roger who shrugged his shoulders.

They heard Jessica and Matt stand up, and then Jessica say, "We've got to go. Specifically, we've got to get home in time to make sure our boys have their homework done, and let you two get these children to bed." Liam disengaged from Imelda and stood, and Troy said, "We should go too."

As they all put on their coats at the door, Liam looked at Imelda and said, "Can I give you a hug goodbye?"

She put out her arms and stepped into his as Liam picked her up and gave her a hug. He handed her to Troy and looked at Armando who was hesitant but did the same. When they put both kids back down, they turned and ran over to Matt and Jessica, who gave them a hug and then Jessica said, "Now, you go with your nanny and get ready for bed."

On the drive back to Troy's house he took Liam's hand and began stroking the palm. "That was something, wasn't it. Especially with the kids. They're so happy."

"And disarmingly candid. I had this moment of emotion when she asked if we had kids and I said I had a sister."

"I know, I was watching your face. It was so innocent because she wants more friends." Troy paused and then added, "You know we got set up tonight, don't you."

"I was suspicious about it, that's for sure, Roger just calling me out of the blue with a dinner invitation. Once we got there I knew we were being played. In the best way possible, mind you, but played all the same."

"Will you come inside when we get to my house so I can tell you about meeting with Jerrod and this song thing?"

Liam glanced at him and said, "Sure, but on one condition. You have to let me tell you about my meeting with Roger."

They both broke out laughing.

Troy poured them each a glass of wine and they sat on the couch in his living room. "We've got to have some ground rules because we haven't had our talk yet, even if you did take me home to meet your mom."

"Troy, don't get ahead of yourself!"

Troy grinned devilishly and said, "I was kidding about the mom thing. I mean two things by ground rules. First, my meeting with Jerrod wasn't somehow being furtive, and I wasn't hiding something from you. It was part of working on my issues. I hope you understand that."

"I do. The same with my meeting with Roger."

"The second ground rule is that we're still sorting things out and I didn't ask you in here so I can seduce you. Okay?" He paused and Liam nodded and then he went on, "Jerrod could see, just like you could, that I was a wreck at the hospital and that it was affecting my work, and he made me talk about what was going on, and that led to me talking about our tensions and my fears about coming out and my control issues."

Liam turned on the couch, lifting a leg up on the cushion, and then softly said, "Go on."

"Well, it helped a lot. Including the song thing that I'll share with you in painful detail when you're ready."

"Okay. On my side I was wrestling with whether or not I'd been fair to you when I told you I'd had enough pain and you had to stop hurting me and get your shit together. Roger gave me his card and I called him, and we ended up talking about commitment and he helped me realize that I've been shying away from it forever because of fear. Being afraid of the inevitable… of getting hurt again."

Troy pulled him close. "I'll never knowingly hurt you, Liam."

"I know that now, and I think I can live with the 'knowingly' part now".

"You'll trust me with that?"

"Yeah. What about the song?"

"Well, it's amazing, and who writes lyrics like this? Anyway, it's a song about control, and all the damage it does in a relationship. Meaning my relationship with you. You'll love the lyrics when I show them to you because the secret is to be able to get past the paranoia and walk through the storm to the other side, and then guess what? You discover that this big scary thing you thought was a storm is only occasional rain."

"That's very cool." Liam was staring at Troy, his blue eyes sparkling in the light from the lights on the end table. "Can we stop talking now so we can make out? I want you in my arms. I want you kissing me."

"That is a desire that's very easy to fulfill," Troy whispered in as sultry a voice as he could, as he let Liam pull him close.

The week had gone well. Liam and Troy were acting like they were friends who happened to work together. Jerrod noticed that all the tension had disappeared, but was wise enough not to say anything.

On Friday he managed to pull both of them aside just before lunch and say, "I hope you're both free on Sunday night?" Not getting a negative response, he handed them each a small envelope that had their names written on it in children's handwriting.

"You're invited to a Valentine's party on Sunday night. I know Valentine's this year is on Tuesday, but that's a school night. Besides, Michael and Nate got here today and are in town for the weekend, and so we're having a little Valentine's party on Sunday night. Imelda and Armando are inviting you to come."

"They are? We barely know them."

"Consider them good judges of character. Imelda keeps talking about the two cute new doctors she knows, as if Roger and I are no longer cute. Anyway, Matt and Jessica will be there too, and so will David and Jackson. Roger and I really want you both to meet them. So, will you be there?"

"God, Jerrod, how could we say no to an invitation like that?"

"Great. Now, I have one other question, even if it's personal and a lot of it isn't my business? Are you two good? Have you sorted out whatever issues you were working on? Because, you give all the appearances of having done so."

He looked back and forth at both of them, and Troy and Liam looked at each other and back at him. "We're making great progress," Troy said. "We've still got some stuff to work out, but it's happening," Liam added.

"That's good news. So, I'm going to say one other thing. Don't let this fraternization on the job thing hang you up. It looks to us like you're in love. That's a wonderful thing. It's also not the kind of relationship that the fraternization policy was created for. That was for abuse and harassment. That's not even part of this picture, and you're both intelligent and mature young men, and you can figure out how to make your relationship work even if you both work at the same place." He paused. "Are you hearing me? The fact that you both work here should impose no limit on your relationship or exploring what it can be."

In his peripheral vision he saw Troy carefully take Liam's hand and then say, "We hear you, Jerrod. Thanks for making that clear, especially for someone like me that needs to hear it explicitly."

"Okay, then. We'll see you at six o'clock on Sunday." With that he turned and walked away leaving Troy and Liam holding hands in the hall.

"Are you kidding me," Liam said quietly. "How did that happen?"

"I think we're lucky enough that we just fell in with the right crowd." He paused and took a deep breath. "Before we go back to work, will you have dinner with me tomorrow night? I mean at my house. I'll cook. We're both off on Sunday, and I'm asking you to spend the evening with me."

A wry smile spread across Liam's face and turned into a grin as he said, "I'd love to have dinner with you. I'll bring a bottle of wine."

When Troy opened the door for Liam the next evening, the waft of Italian spices poured out the front door. "Wow! That smells incredible."

"Good, that's the idea. Get in here so I can kiss you as long and hard as I want." Troy pulled Liam into the hall and shut the door. Liam struggled to hold onto the wine bottle as Troy passionately kissed him.

When they finally broke, Liam said, "Wow! You missed me that much, and it's only been since this time yesterday." Troy smiled and said, "Yeah, that much. Now come on into the kitchen." He led Liam by the hand and pulled him into the kitchen. "This is my grandma's lasagna recipe, and the great thing about lasagna is that you can serve it with a salad and garlic bread, and meanwhile you can spend time with your date and not worry that much about cooking."

Liam said, "I'm glad I brought red wine," and Troy opened the bottle of wine as Liam stood across from him at the island. Troy looked up after pouring the wine and as he handed Liam his glass, he noticed the grin on Liam's face.


Liam's eyes moved to a bowl of fruit, atop which sat a bunch of ripe bananas. "Been practicing?"

"You wish! They should make the banana thing part of sex ed in high school. It would make the first few times out so much easier."

Troy motioned Liam to follow him, and they went into the living room. "I'm going to play the album by The War On Drugs, if that's okay with you." Liam nodded and Troy pushed the start button on the stereo and pulled him down onto the couch. "We've got half an hour before we need to pull out the lasagna and put the dressing on the salad." He stopped talking, just looking at Liam's blue eyes and said, "I feel like I'm in high school again. All I want to do is hold and kiss my date."

Liam smiled slyly and said, "Oh, wait! That's right. I am your date, aren't I." He leaned forward and stroked Troy's cheek. "This is our first formal date, you know? I've been waiting for this, and you know what? We haven't even had our talk."

"You're right. Is that a deal breaker?"

"No, Troy, I'm busting your chops. I think everything we've talked about in the last week, starting with dinner at Roger and Jerrod's and what we individually talked with them about, pretty well covers the talk we said we needed to have."

Harmonia's Dream started to play. "That's the second song on the album. Do you like the music."

"Yeah. I like the vibe a lot. I know I've heard their music before, probably on Spotify playlists."

"Me too. It's musically great. I mean, how many alt rock bands use brass and keyboards?"

They talked about music and that spring was just around the corner, and that somehow, they'd gotten invited to a children's Valentine's party the next night. The Troy said, "Before dinner, I want to skip to the last song on the album. That's Occasional Rain , the song Jerrod made me listen to. I want you to read the lyrics with me, so you understand what I meant when I said it rang my bell and made me get serious about stuff I wasn't even aware of and have been avoiding."

Troy advanced tracks with the remote and picked up the lyrics sheet that Jerrod had given him from the coffee table. They leaned back on the couch, shoulders touching, and read and listened together. When it was over, Troy stopped the CD and was silent.

Liam finally said, "Wow! That was heavy. You processed all of that, all that stuff you told me you understood in the lyrics?"

"I did. Well, Jerrod pointed me in the direction, but I was hurting enough, just like Matt told us he was way back when, that I understood it. I understood me in a different and deeper way. I want you to know it's not like I'm fixed or anything, but I think I can say I've turned the corner and I want us to be together. If you do."

"Of course, I do. You do understand that you're not the only one that had to work some stuff out for this relationship to work? For it to take off, right?"

"Well, it takes two to tango, and both need to know the steps and be able to dance to the rhythm. I think we're there."

Liam said, "I think we're talking too much," and pulled Troy over for another kiss. A timer went off in the kitchen, and Troy said, "We'll have to resume later."

Later was after they'd eaten, washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen and settled in the living room again with another glass of wine. Troy had his arm around Liam's shoulder, holding him close, and said softly, "We're both off tomorrow. Will you stay with me tonight?"

He heard a soft chuckle emanate from Liam's chest, followed by, "Just to be clear, that's an invitation for sex, right?"


"I want to hear you say it."

"I want to have sex with you, again. I want us to make love." Troy paused and swallowed. "Is that explicit enough?"

"Works for me. So, what are we doing here in the living room?"

Later, after they'd duplicated the fabulous sixty-nine, they'd experienced their second night together, they were laying in each other's arms on Troy's bed. Troy was running his fingers through the light black hair on Liam's chest, down to his belly and what to him was the totally delightful triangular patch of soft black hair that formed at his hips and ran above his pubes and peaked at his navel. "God, I love the feeling of this."

"I love the feeling of you loving the feeling." Liam paused and then said softly, "Thanks for playing that song for me and sharing the lyrics with me that way. You opened your heart to me in a way I never anticipated."

"I figured it was about time. If we're in this together, then we've got to share it all together, don't we?"

"Yeah, we do. And we won't do a perfect job of it. You probably think it's easy for me because I'm so open about sex, but opening up my heart isn't any easier. But I promise I'll do my best."

He felt Troy's head nod on his shoulder and felt more than heard him say "me too."

Liam felt Troy's fingers slip into his pubes and slowly stroke around the base of his cock. He sighed and said, "Keep it up and I'll be hard again."

"That's the plan. This time we can take our time and really make love."

Liam pulled Troy up on top of him, and they kissed and slowly ground together, expressing the rising passion they were both feeling. In a minute Troy slid down, stroking Liam's belly and then thighs, and took his cock into his mouth. He heard Liam groan and reach for his head, running his fingers through his hair and over his scalp. A minute later he heard Liam say, "I'm ready, Troy. I'm already clean for you."

That's when to his total surprise, Troy pulled off and slid back up Liam's body for another deep kiss. Then he heard Troy say, "And I'm clean for you. Tonight, you're going to fuck me. l've never felt this way about someone before, Liam."

Liam's eyes widened in the dimly lit room, and he said, "God, Troy. You're sure you want this?"

Troy pulled back from the kiss, looking at Liam and said, "I'm sure. It's how I feel about you and I'm sure I want you in me." He kissed his lover and then said, "You'll have to go slow and get me ready. This is a first, but I want it."

Liam kissed him again, then rolled him over onto his back and began kissing down his belly, tweaking his nipples, and feeling Troy's hard cock against his chin. He nuzzled into his pubes, then licked up both of his thighs before taking just the head of Troy's cock into his mouth. He worked the head with his tongue, and when he heard Troy groan he went down, taking it all. He heard Troy gasp and felt his hips lift off the bed. Troy said, "There's condoms and lube on the nightstand."

Erratic thoughts flew through Liam's brain because this was the exact opposite of what he'd expected would happen tonight. He'd expected that Troy would fuck him like before. Now he had to decide what to do, and it only took an instant. He had to, and would, make this the most intense and unbelievable experience for Troy that he could.

"Troy, baby, I'm going to go slow, okay? You need to go with me. Are you up for that?" He was stroking Troy's belly and waited till he heard him say yes. Then he went back down on his cock, sucking its length till he heard Troy's breathing turn to panting. At that point he pulled off and licked along both of Troy's thighs and then lifted his knees to give himself access to his balls, which he licked and sucked. Raising Troy's knees further, he ran his tongue below, licking down toward his hole. He heard Troy let out a deep and guttural gasp, and knew he was doing the right thing.

He licked a few more times and then pushed Troy's knees up and back further, fully exposing his hole, throbbing in its pink glory. He licked it carefully, assuming it was a feeling Troy had never felt before. He felt Troy writhe and groan and then wheeze out something that sounded like "Oh my god, Liam." He knew he was on the right path, and that Troy was, in fact, a sensualist just like him. He licked again and then again, and slowly felt Troy relax and quiver in his hands. He continued to work him with his tongue, feeling the excitement build in Troy's body, and then slipped a finger into him, slowly working it around. When he felt more relaxation, he licked more with his tongue and then also added his index finger and could now reach Troy's prostate, which caused him to buck on the bed and groan again.

Liam continued to slowly open him with a third finger, and when he slid them out, he could feel Troy's hole stay partially open and so he slid his tongue in as deeply as he could. Troy let out a deep and feral gasp, and then Liam pulled off and reached for the condom. "Just a minute, baby, just a minute."

Liam applied lube, put Troy's ankles on his shoulders, and softly pushed the head of his cock against Troy's opening, saying, "I'm going to go slow. You tell me if it's too much." As he pushed past the first ring, he felt Troy's hand's tightly grip his knees, then shortly relax. "Are you okay? The pain will pass in a minute."

Troy nodded, and Liam slowly pushed further in, ever so slowly beginning to thrust in order to open Troy up further. Within a minute, he was all the way in and heard Troy say, "Oh my god, I can't believe it." Taking that as a good sign, Liam began to pick up the pace, beginning with partial thrusts. He could see that Troy's eyes were glazed and half closed, and he was only half-hard. He grasped Troy's cock and said, "Baby, look at me." Troy opened his eyes and Liam said, "This is all for you." Then he did his best to stroke Troy's cock in synch with his own thrusts.

He could feel Troy's cock hardening in his hand as he stroked, and was amazed at the sheer beauty of his lover spread out before him, having given himself totally over to him, and appearing to have the pleasure ride of his life. Troy's breathing became shallow and got faster as his cock became harder in Liam's hand. He could feel himself get close as the tight and hot feel of Troy surrounded his own cock, and suddenly he was thrusting faster and stroking Troy's cock faster and then he watched in wonder as Troy came with a shout, shooting up onto his chest and belly, the sight putting Liam over the top, and he came inside Troy with an equally loud cry.

He released Troy's cock and slowed his own thrusts, aiming to keep the feeling going for Troy as long as he could. When he began to soften himself, he pulled out, took care of the condom, and then purposefully lay himself on Troy. He felt his lover's arms wrap around him, and wiggled his belly against Troy's. He heard Troy try to whisper something about how wonderful it had felt, and his own thoughts acknowledged that fact and also that they were totally mixed together— again.

Liam had gotten up, brought a warm wet towel from the bathroom and cleaned them both up, and then they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms. They both partially woke at five thirty, as they would on normal mornings, got up to take a pee, and then went back to bed, Troy spooned up against Liam.

Two hours later, they woke to winter daylight slowly illuminating the room, and Liam turned over in Troy's arms. He watched one of Troy's eyes open, the other blocked by the pillow, and then saw a smile slowly creep across his lover's face. He leaned close and kissed Troy's lips and softly whispered, "I don't think I told you last night how I feel about you, how much I cherish you."

"I know you do, just based on how you made love to me last night. I'd have never dreamed it could be like that. That it could be so intense."

"So good? So… sensual?"

"Yeah, all of that too."

"And an anatomy lesson, too, if I'm not mistaken, Dr. Whiteside." Liam grinned as he said it.

"Geez, I guess. It gives one a whole new appreciation of the anus." He leaned forward and kissed Liam and then added, "And of the amazing dexterity of the human tongue."

Liam's grin widened. "Yeah, what a muscle. Do we have to get up?"

"Only if we want to eat and get anything else done today."

They grudgingly got up after a while and walked to the bathroom. The shower was a large single, but there was room for two standing close together, and that's exactly what they wanted to do. The washed each other's hair, soaped and rinsed each other's bodies, and then embraced, kissing and holding each other close until they felt the water start to cool.

Unhappily accepting that reality, they dried each other, dressed and then made breakfast. It was hard to turn their minds back to the practical requirements of the day, but eventually Liam said, "I'm going to have to go. I've got laundry to do and some shopping and stuff to get ready for the week. I'll be back by five o'clock."

Troy nodded and walked him to the door, let him go with a brief kiss and watched him walk down to his car. He cleaned the kitchen and then got his own chores done, had the house cleaned up and had freshened up for the evening by the time Liam got back.

It was an intimate reunion, followed by a short talk about where things would go from here.

Liam smiled at him cheekily. "Are we officially boyfriends now?"

"Not officially." Troy smirked and then playfully said, "According to the old Troy, not unless I ask you."

"Well? You kind of told me last night how you felt about me."

"I know I did. So, will you be my boyfriend?"

"Does saying yes mean I have to commit?" Liam tried not to grin, but didn't succeed.

"Yes, you at least have to commit to cherishing me. We'll see about the committed relationship as we go. How's that?"

"I can work with that."

"You know we're not going to be able to hide this at the Valentine's party, don't you?"

Now it was Troy's turn to smile. "I know that for a fact. I'm guessing we'll both be wearing shit-eating grins and there'll be no hope to deny it. But so what! It's with that new extended family of friends we now have, many of whom are gay."

"And at the hospital?"

"Like Jerrod said, we keep a professional distance," Troy said. "But we're together, and I'm not going to be walking around holding your hand all the time, but I'm not denying that you're my boyfriend to anyone."

"You're sure about that?"

"As sure as I've been about anything."

"Okay, then! I think we've got a plan."

The Valentine's party was very casual, with Imelda and Armando being front and center the whole time. David and Jackson were already there when they arrived, acting like proud grandparents, and Matt and Jessica came in right behind them. Roger poured everyone a glass of wine and then the front door opened, and another couple came in.

The kids ran for the front door squealing. "Uncle Michael. Uncle Nate." As soon as they were picked up and hugged, the talk turned to when the kids would get to see cows and ride horses. "Well, it's almost spring, so the weather will be a lot better, and we can work out a weekend for your daddies to bring you down. I know a couple of ranchers that have cows and riding horses. If we time it right, you can be there for calving. Would you like to see baby cows being born?"

The kids squealed, clearly not sure if it was good or bad, but going along with the invitation. Then Matt introduced Troy and Liam to his little brother and his vet husband. The talk immediately went to veterinary medicine versus human medicine, and after a minute Nate walked over to Matt and said, "I'm a financial planner. I'm not part of that conversation. Tell me how my nephews are doing."

After a while Jerrod put some finger food out on the dining room table, and the kids' nanny carried in a large tray. "Come on, everyone. Foods on and Conchita has made fresh Pork Lumpia just like back in the Philippines."

The conversation continued as they ate, then Jerrod announced that for dessert there was Red Velvet cake with pink frosting and ice cream. Then he told them that ,"Afterwards, Imelda and Armando have planned a Valentine's special event for everyone."

After they'd cleared the dessert dishes, Roger said, "This is a Valentine's party that Imelda and Armando organized. They made the cake with Conchita. I think that means that Conchita baked the cake, and they helped frost it, but the point is that this is their party for you. So, now that dessert is over, they have party treats for everyone."

Roger looked at the two children and asked, "Are you ready." They both nodded, clearly anxious to get started.

Roger went on, "We are all couples in the lives of these two children, and that includes our newest friends, Liam and Troy. This is an idea Imelda and Armando came up with, and it expresses what they perceive and understand to be the main dynamic in the relationships we each have, and which spills over into their lives."

He looked over at Imelda and Armando, standing in front of Jerrod, who had his hands on their shoulders, holding them in place. It was obvious they wanted to get on with their plan. He nodded at them and said, "Okay, everyone's ready for what you want to give them."

The two children walked to each couple, Armando holding a basket from which Imelda gave each couple two small cloth bags. After each couple had their bags, one apiece, Imelda said, in her most mature voice, "Now, you give each other your bag."

Everyone exchanged a bag with their partner, and then Imelda and Armando started dancing around shouting, "Open your bags, tell us what they say!"

Liam and Troy, like everyone else, did as they were asked. When they opened the bags and poured the contents onto the palm of their hands, they all saw they were Sweethearts, heart-shaped candies with messages printed on them.

The kids were hopping up and down with excitement. "Tell us what they say. Tell us what they say."

The adults looked at each other and smiled. They kept hearing Imelda and Armando saying "Tell us what they say. Tell us what they say."

Liam looked at the heart shaped candies in his hand and read out loud, "I love you."

Troy looked up from the heart shaped candies in his hand and read out loud, "Love you too."

Thru The Storm - Bensiamin - credit by Christina Branco on Unsplash
Photo by Christina Branco on Unsplash

Many thanks to my editors, Michael and Toby, who's time and effort to catch all errors and suggest improvements makes these stories a better experience for readers!

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