Mother's Gift

Chapter 7

I did call Sara Jenkins and her and I did go out. In fact, we went out for several weeks. She was pretty cool the first couple of dates. The longer we were together, however, the more pressure I was under. She wanted a regular romantic relationship. She wanted to kiss all the time, which I was able to handle. It was rather disappointing to me. I didn't feel a thing for her when we kissed. I tried to be as pleasing to her as possible, but I just couldn't make my own feelings stir.

It was rather obvious that Sara expected me to make more physical moves when we were out together. I finally told her that I was saving myself for marriage. She accused me of being a religious fanatic and dumped me. That was the end of my social life with the "in" crowd. I couldn't have cared less. They were all mindless sheep following the whims of every fad that came along.

School had started again not long after my breakup with Sara. She wasted no time at all in telling everyone that I was a religious nut, as well as a virgin. I suppose I should have been upset by this, but I really felt more like thanking her. This gave me the perfect excuse for not dating people. That is until Trish started coming to our school. She had been home schooled, but her parents decided that she needed social skills with her peers before she went away to college. Everyone thought that she and I would make the perfect couple. Cole even told me that I should go out with her, since she had made it clear that she believed in abstinence until marriage.

Trish was a sweet girl from a strict religious family. They didn't like the fact that I didn't go to their church when we started seeing one another, so I started going to pacify them. They were Southern Baptists. I quickly learned that you aren't allowed to think for yourself about the truth in that church. They tell you what the truth is and they expect you to defend it to the death just because they said so. Excuse me. The church gave me a good excuse for breaking up with Trish. She didn't want to, but when I started telling her that I had problems with her religion, she started to get mad at me. She was the perfect little Baptist girl. She had been brainwashed into the mindless devotion they demand.

Cole had been dating the friend of his parents all of this time. Sharon and her parents had settled into town over the summer, and he and she were hardly seen apart. Suddenly in the middle of the school year, he called things off. He told everyone that he felt too young to be so settled into a relationship. He wanted time to enjoy his youth. He started hanging out more and more at my house. We would play video games, do our homework together, or go outside and shoot basketball at which we were both lousy. He made me look bad with my parents, though. He would always rush inside when my mother started cooking. He would watch everything she did, sometimes even taking notes. I just wanted to eat; I didn't care how the food was prepared.

The following summer, Cole and I returned to our careers as lawn care specialists to the cranky and wrinkled. We spent another hot summer dreaming of the futures we would have and spending our hard earned money on movies and junk food. It was just the two of us the whole summer and I had never felt so good.

I still had to fight myself when I would get erections being around him. I wouldn't admit even to myself that I was gay. I couldn't be. I wouldn't be.

Another school term started up. My mother was sick a lot now. She had been to the doctors over and over, but they just couldn't seem to make her any better. A month into that year of school, Mom and Dad finally told me what had been going on with her. She had cancer. They hadn't wanted to tell me, but the treatments weren't going well so I needed to be prepared for the worst.

At first I didn't want to believe it. I got mad at them for lying to me, but I realized that they were telling the truth. My mother was dying and there was nothing any of us could do about it. Mom got really strange as some of the meds worked on her mind. She wanted to know how Cole and I were doing all the time. He became more of a fixture at my house and I did at his as well.

I noticed that Cole had begun acting strangely around me as well. I thought it might be that he was uncomfortable around me because of what was happening with my mom. He stared at me a lot when he thought I wasn't looking. I was doing the same to him, but I knew why I was. I had accepted finally that I was gay. I had no intentions of ever telling anyone about it, though. I would wait until I was in college and away from everyone I knew and come out then. That way I wouldn't disappoint the people I cared about at home.

Our junior year of high school came and went as my mother's battle with the disease took more and more of her away from me. I grew distant from my family and my friends as I tried to withdraw from my pain. I didn't want to be around my parents and watch my mother dying. I didn't want to be around my friends and have to see the pity in their eyes for the poor little boy who was losing his mommy. My feelings about Cole were the most complicated of all. I was so drawn to the strength he was showing at helping my mother, but at the same time I saw some of that same discomfort in his eyes that I could feel around the other kids from school. Then there was the other reason to stay away from him. I couldn't stop thinking about that day we had met when I saw his dick.

I had stopped having dreams about other guys almost entirely. The overwhelming majority of my dreams, both asleep and awake were of Cole. I had become practically obsessed with him. I could barely concentrate on anything else if he was in the same room. My heart would race, my skin would burn; at times I thought I would die just from being near him. One of those times occurred near the beginning of our senior year.
Just after our senior year started, Cole and I were asked to take part in a state wide chess tournament for the best high school players. I was thrilled to be considered as such, but the details of the event terrified me. We would be traveling all the way across the state and would be staying in a hotel room for two nights.

I had stayed at Cole's house before, and he at mine. We had slept in separate rooms, though. This time we would be in the same room. At least there would be separate beds.

The day arrived and Cole picked me up in his car. His parents being slightly better off financially than mine, he had gotten his first car already. It wasn't anything spectacular, but to Cole it was the equivalent of a gift from the gods. It meant he was free from the hassles of the bus, and however I looked at it, it applied to me. I say it that way because this meant even more time around the boy that I wanted to be around more. At the same time, however, I now had to be that much more careful not to get caught looking at him for too long or looking at certain parts of him at all. I was sure that I was being tortured for being evil and wicked, desiring what I wasn't supposed to want and could never have in any case.

The chess tournament went well. We both scored in the top ten, but we were beaten out by a couple of kids that were originally born overseas somewhere. They obliterated all competition, us included, in short order. They wound up playing each other for the shot at the national tryouts. The game looked like it was going to take forever, and since we had driven practically all day to get there, we were exhausted.

"I think it's time for you to take me to a hotel room," I joked. I thought about the sexual implications that statement made after I had opened my big mouth. He didn't seem to catch on though, because he just walked away toward the car.

We got to the room and he immediately announced that he was going to take a shower. He ducked into the bathroom while I sat on the end of one of the beds and tried to find something good on television. I considered finding some porn to explain the bulge in my crotch when he came back out. I had a massive tent going on just thinking of him naked in the shower just on the other side of the door from me. Of course this was a family hotel, so there was nothing worse than an R rating to be found anywhere. I finally settled on this really old black and white movie called Bringing Up Baby with Katherine Hepburn who is one of my all time favorite actresses. I was soon laughing enough that my more animalistic side was forgotten. I guess I was more tired than I thought though.

I woke up in the middle of the night with the blanket folded over me. My shirt had been taken off along with my shoes but my pants were still on, although the button and the zipper were undone. I looked over and saw that Cole was sleeping in the other bed with the covers pulled up to his chin. I thought that was funny as I didn't expect him to be cold natured or insecure. I stood up and undressed down to my underwear, which is what I usually sleep in. I crawled into the bed properly and then realized that if he had started undressing me while I had an erection, he might have realized that it was caused by my feelings for him. That would certainly make him insecure. I finally reasoned that he couldn't be too upset with me if he was still in the room and I was still conscious. He hadn't beaten the crap out of me or anything. Maybe he was just cold. I gradually fell back to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up, I looked over at his bed and saw that he too slept only in his underwear. He had kicked the covers away from himself in the night. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity just staring at his body. He was so gorgeous. He wore tighty whiteys and were they ever tight. I could make out the shape of him as clearly as if didn't have them on at all. I found myself getting out of bed and kneeling beside his with my face only inches from his body. I could smell the shampoo he used, and the unmistakable floral aroma of cheap motel bath soap. There was more to it than that, though. Over and under and all mixed in with those smells I could detect a musky, slightly sweaty smell that could come from no other place but his underwear. Unable to stop myself I knelt there deeply inhaling the scent of Cole, while wishing I had the nerve to crawl into the bed with him.

He moaned something in his sleep and began to move. I jumped up and practically ran across the room. I grabbed my clothes from the suitcase and literally dove into the bathroom. I stripped and jumped into the shower. When I got out, I dressed before coming out of the bathroom. Cole jumped and snatched at his covers as I came into the room. I pretended not to notice.

"You're up awfully early," he said quietly.

"I thought I would go out and get us some breakfast before the matches today," I lied quickly.

"That sounds great," he told me. "I'll be up and dressed by the time you get back."

"You'd better, young man," I fussed in my best impersonation of any one of our southern parents. "It's already 6:30, the morning is half over," I continued.

"Yes, Dad," he groaned and then we both cracked up.

I left and found the Mickey D's two doors over from the hotel. It wasn't great... Ok, it wasn't even good. I'm not even sure it was food, but we ate it anyway. The orange juice was the best part of the whole meal.

As promised he was dressed and ready when I had returned to the room. He had obviously taken another shower. It was when I looked at his wet head that I suddenly couldn't recall if I had adequately cleaned the tile wall after my earlier emergency shower. When we finished eating, I started gathering my clothes to put the dirty stuff back into the suitcase so we could leave. I couldn't find the undies I had worn the day before. I would have sworn they were on the bathroom floor. I started to ask Cole, but for some reason, I was too ashamed of not being able to keep up with my own underwear.

We fared no better that day than we had the day before. By mid afternoon, Cole and I were on our way home. We had taken third and fourth place, which wasn't bad out of a statewide tournament, but once again the brothers had mopped the floor with us. On the way home, Cole asked me about the senior prom that was coming up. He had shared with me that he was thinking of not going, and I had agreed. He then came up with the idea of the two of us going together.

"It's our senior prom, after all," he reasoned. "We won't get another one."

"Alright, once again you twist my arm into doing something," I teased. He nearly ran off the road into the ditch.

"I twist your arm?" he shouted. "I like that. Whose idea was it to double the amount of sulfur we were supposed to burn in Chemistry last year so that there wouldn't be any more and we wouldn't have to do it again?"

"It worked didn't it?" I retorted. "We didn't have to do it again."

"We weren't allowed in the lab with each other any more," he reminded me.

"Well, you're supposed to be the brain in science," I pointed out. "Why did you suddenly pick that day to do something my way?"

"You're crazy, you know that?" he asked as we both laughed for several miles after that.

The night of our senior prom arrived and Cole was still asking if I wanted to go with him. I considered joking about it being a date, but I couldn't do it. I wanted it to be a date so badly that I just couldn't make fun of it. Ever since the night in the hotel, my feelings for Cole had gotten completely out of control. I was obsessed with him now for sure if I hadn't been before.

While we were at the dance, Cole walked up to me and asked if I wanted to go out and get some fresh air. It was kind of stuffy in the gym, so I agreed. We walked out of the building and stared up at the sky for a moment. I was actually thinking that I hadn't wanted to come to the dance because my mom was not doing well at all.

She couldn't take pictures of me in my suit like she wanted. She hadn't even been able to sit up in bed and see Cole and me off to the dance. I had suggested that I stay at home, but she insisted that I go. She said that Cole and I should have this night like any other pair of teenagers. There was something odd about the way she said the word pair, though. To make her happy, I went to the dance. It was a decision that I would agonize over for a long time. Cole's voice brought me out of my thoughts about my mom.

"I have to talk to you about... I have to tell you something." Cole was talking to me, but it was obvious that he didn't really want to do it. I had never seen him so upset by anything.

"All right, Cole." I was starting to get nervous myself. "Whatever it is, it can't be as bad as you think."

"No, it's worse," he mumbled. We were at one of the picnic tables around the campus. It was the one where we ate our first lunch together. I didn't suppose he would remember that, though. "I have to tell you anyway, though. You should know this. You have a right to... even if it ...."

"Hey Cotton, Cole!" someone yelled, interrupting his somewhat incoherent babbling. "You two have to come here, now."

"It'll wait," Cole growled.

"Not according to Mr. White," was the response. "He said he wants to talk to you right away."

Mr. White was the principal. We were certain that we were not in trouble, but no one keeps the big guy waiting. We began walking toward the gym again, but we met Mr. White on the way. He had always reminded me of a mortician. The man had a pasty white complexion and the coldest hands in three states. You have to shake hands with the principal a lot when you win four district chess tournaments, and have starring roles in three consecutive school theatre productions.

"Would you boys follow me to my office in the main building, please?" Mr. White began. "There is someone on the phone for you, Cole. I thought my office would provide some privacy. The gym is rather crowded and noisy."

"Did the person say who they were?" Cole asked. I already knew what the call was about, though.

"A name was not given, but I believe it is your father," Mr. White replied. He turned to look at me. "Cotton, I would like to thank you again for your stellar performance in this year's theater production. I was wondering if you could perhaps share your soliloquy from the third act at a luncheon for a civic organization of which I am a member?"

"I would be happy to, sir," I answered hollowly. "Could we wait just a bit before we schedule anything, though? I am concerned about my...Well; I mean I'm afraid...."

"Quite understandable, my boy," Mr. White assured me. "You let me know when you can. I will leave the timing to you." He paused as he started searching his pockets for the keys to the office. "Well, here we are," he said as he opened the door. "I daresay you two are unfamiliar characters to these environs," he laughed nervously, gesturing around the room.

"No sir, I mean, yes, sir," I stammered. "I'm sorry, sir."

"No apologies are needed, son," the principal assured me. "As I said, I understand that your mind may be elsewhere at the moment. I hope the news is better than you expect," he added as he backed out of the room, giving us some privacy.

"Hello?" Cole said into the receiver. "Yes, Pop.... I see....Should I....Yes, sir, I agree....We'll be there in a few minutes. Goodbye.... I love you too, Pop.... I'll tell him. Bye." Cole looked at me as he hung up the phone. A single tear trickled down his cheek.

"She's...." I couldn't say the word. I just couldn't.

"She's not gone," Cole told me quickly. "She will be soon, though. She's asking for both of us. We have to get you home, right away."

Mr. White knocked as he opened the door again. He explained that Sergeant Fahy had been patrolling the parking lot and had been asked to escort us wherever we needed to go with proper haste. We were ushered by the principal to the waiting cruiser, and swept away from the building with lights and sirens blaring.

"Geeze, now I know what it feels like to be a criminal," Cole shuddered, as he pointed out that the back seat had no door handles.

"Certain you're the first boyos to be a'ridin' with me without the shackles," Officer Fahy laughed softly in a deep Irish brogue.

"Cool accent," Cole murmured to me quietly. We didn't think he would hear us over the sound of the siren.

"Why thank you," the policeman replied, suddenly sounding totally American. "When you have a fine Irish name and you're on the police force, it seems to be expected of you. My family has actually been in this country since before this land became a state, though."

He cut the lights and the siren off a few blocks from the house. As we drew closer, I could see a lot of commotion on my street. There was an ominous black station wagon parked in the driveway when we got to my house.

I walked in and found my mother still lying in her bed in the little sunroom we had converted to a bedroom for her. She smiled weakly as we walked in. Dad motioned us over closer.

"You boys look so beautiful," Mother whispered. "I want you both to know that I love you very much. I am so proud of you both. I want you to be proud of yourselves as well. Don't ever let anyone make you feel badly because of who you are." She was quiet for some time, and we could all tell that she was in great pain. Dad offered her a shot, but she shook her head. "I'm sorry to ruin your prom, boys." She tried to hold her hands out, but didn't seem to have the strength. I knew what she wanted.

I had not realized until that moment, when he released it, that Cole had been holding my hand. He had grasped it as we left Mr. White's office, and only just let it go. With that realization came a wonderful warm feeling, followed by emptiness as his fingers slipped from mine.

I stepped forward to give my mother her last hug. Her arms had only enough strength for one quick squeeze. I barely heard her last words to me.

"Never be afraid or ashamed of who you are."

I wish that I could say that I understood what she meant by it the minute she said it. I did not. My grief and pain were blocking my thoughts. I watched numbly as she hugged Cole and whispered to him as well. Dad stepped up and took her in his arms then. They whispered back and forth a few times before they embraced again.

I felt as if I were watching a movie. I saw her thin arms encircle his chest. I saw him bend his head and kiss her. I watched her hands drop limply to his sides. I looked on as Dad began to sob, but there was no sound. In fact there was no sound in the room at all. I could see Cole's mom leaning against his pop crying, but I couldn't hear it. Everything was silent and in slow motion.

Gradually reality returned. I heard my Dad weeping first. Within a few minutes, everything went from slow motion to super speed. Events were blurred. The wake, the funeral, going back to school, finishing out the year; it all seemed to happen so fast. Only one moment still stands out in crystal clarity.

Dad told me to stay with the Millers on the night of the wake. He was staying at the funeral home with Mother. I was a zombie still, going and doing only where and what I was told when I was told. I rode to Cole's house with him. I sat at their dinner table, but only ate when Mom prompted me to do so. She finally gave up and suggested that I go to my room.

Cole walked in a few minutes later. I was still dressed in my suit, sitting on the edge of the bed. He sat down beside me, and took my hand in his. We sat there quietly for several minutes, and then suddenly he pulled his hand away.

"I'm sorry," Cole said quickly. "I've been doing that a lot lately."

"It's ok," I told him. It was more than ok. I felt lost and he was the anchor in the storm. I took his hand in mine, and he smiled.

"Aren't you getting tired?" Cole asked. "You should be sleeping."

"Not sleepy," I muttered, and then yawned. Cole giggled and shoved my head backwards. I fell onto the bed with a quiet sigh, which brought another smile from Cole.

"You won't be very comfortable like that," he mused. He unfastened my tie and then pulled me back up and helped me out of my jacket. He unbuttoned my shirt and pulled it off of me as well. He had been standing, leaning over me on the bed. He dropped to his knees, his face only inches from mine.

"I'm so glad I have you," I told him drowsily. "What were you going to tell me at the prom?" A look of pain flashed across Cole's face and he practically jumped up.

"It was nothing," he mumbled. "You need to rest." He left quickly. I wanted to go after him, but the emotional roller coaster I had been on had sapped all my strength. I fell back onto the bed and was asleep by the time I hit the pillow.

The night of graduation, I still didn't feel much like partying, so I skipped the class party and just decided to go home. Dad invited the Miller's over and said we could have our own private party, just the five of us. He hinted around that he had some big surprise for me, but try as I might, he wouldn't give in and tell me anymore.

Just after we had eaten the steaks dad had cooked on the grill in the backyard, he looked over at the Miller's with a questioning look on his face. I was still in the dark, and from what I could see on Cole's face, so was he. Dad cleared his throat and stood up.

"Boys, I have a gift for the two of you, and before I give it to you, I want you to know that it actually was bought and paid for two years ago by Cotton's mother," Dad told us.

"Two years ago?" I asked. "What could she have bought us then that she wouldn't have given us then?"

"Well, son she wanted to make sure that you had a very special graduation, because she knew even then that she might not be there for it," he told me as he wiped a tear from his cheek. He handed me a napkin and I did the same. I looked over at Cole and saw that his eyes were damp as well. "She bought the two of you a weekend in Vermont."

"I don't get it," Cole said out loud. "I can't ski and neither can Cotton. Why would she send us to Vermont?"

"Son, at the time, that was the only state that would allow you two boys to legally get together," his mom explained, not that her explanation made anything any clearer.

"HUH?" Cole mouthed in characteristic brilliance. I loved him, but he would never be known as the brightest crayon in the box. Then I realized how dumb I had just been. I only at that moment understood what our parents were telling us.

"Dad, do you guys mean what I think you mean?" I had to ask.

"Boys, we are proud of you and we want you to know that we know that it had to be incredibly hard for you to keep your relationship a secret from all of your friends at school," Pop told us seriously.

"Our relationship?" Cole asked still confused, but the math was starting to make sense to me. Our parents had put one and one together and come up with two. There was only one problem. Only one of us fit into the equation.

"Mom, Dad, Pop," I began hoping my voice wasn't as nervous sounding as I felt. "This is really great of you, but there's one problem."

"What's that, son?" my dad asked.

"He's not gay," Cole and I both said at the same time. We stopped and stared at each other.

"Are you boys trying to tell me that you aren't...? That you haven't been....?" Pop stuttered.

"Cole are you saying that you are...." He cut me off by nodding his head silently while staring at me.

"And you are too?" he whispered hopefully. This time I was the silent nodder.

"You boys seem to have a lot to talk about," Mom observed sarcastically as we both blushed.

"I'll be... Well, I just never thought she was wrong," my dad was mumbling.

"You two have spent four years pining for each other and now you find out that it didn't have to be that way?" Pop voiced. "Well, they've been saying for years, 'Youth is wasted on the wrong people.'"

"Cole, do you mean that you've wanted...."

"I've wanted you from the first moment I looked at you in the hall that day at the beginning of ninth grade," he confirmed.

"I can't believe this," I mused aloud.

"You don't want me do you?" he whispered, sounding like a frightened child.

"Of course I want you," I assured him. "I always have." A light bulb suddenly went off in my head. "This is what you wanted to tell me at the prom?" He nodded as he started crying. I pulled him into a hug, but he kept crying. Another epiphany struck me at that moment. "Cole, what happened the night of the chess tournament?"

"I came out of the bathroom and saw you lying there on the bed," he began to confess. "I started out just wanting to make you more comfortable, honest. I took off your shoes and socks, and I sat and stared at your feet for the longest time. I found out that night that I may have a foot fetish. I just sat there looking at your feet."

"Dude, my feet must have been so rank, I had been in those shoes all day," I pointed out.

"I didn't care," he replied. "I was looking at a part of you that I had never really paid any attention to before. It wouldn't have mattered how bad they smelled or even looked, I couldn't get enough." He blushed hotly as he kept talking. "I finally looked away from your feet long enough to see that your shirt was all bunched up and uncomfortable looking, so I pulled it loose and took it off you."

"When did you undo my fly?"

"Boys, I think you might want to finish this in private," Dad suggested.

"It's alright, Dad," Cole told him. "I didn't do anything but loosen his pants. He wiggled then like he was about to wake up, and dove under the covers of my bed and pretended to be asleep. I watched him strip his pants off and get back into bed."

"Well, since you confessed, I guess I should too," I said with a sigh. "The real reason I got up and took a shower so early that morning had nothing to do with breakfast from McGreasy," I told him. "I woke up and saw that you had kicked your cover off during the night. You were laying there in nothing but your underwear. I got out of bed and crawled over next to you. I just looked at you from head to toe. I couldn't get over how good you smelled."

"T M I, son," Dad said with a slight blush.

"Sorry, but that's what happened," I replied. "I didn't do anything but look, I swear it. When Cole moved in his sleep, that's when I ran for the bathroom."

"I went in after you left and found your underwear on the floor and well, I saw the wall...."

"COLE!" I cried as I buried my face. "Our parents are listening."

"You hush," his mom scolded. "It's just getting to the good stuff." The two dads both turned and stared at her. "I was picking on them, relax you two," she laughed.

"Well, I think I will finish telling you about that later," Cole told me as he was blushing as hard as I was.

"Well, it sounds like the weekend in Vermont is a good idea after all, even if it doesn't end with a civil union ceremony," Dad announced. "I don't have to pay for a wedding yet after all."

"Maybe, maybe not," Cole said bravely looking directly at me.

"Cole, are you serious?" I gasped.

"I have known you for four years, the best four years of my life because I was sharing them with you," he told me as he dropped to one knee in front of me. "I don't want to risk spending another minute without sharing it and myself completely with you now that I know you feel the same way. You do, don't you?"

"If you think for one second that I am going to let you get away after waiting this long to get you, you're crazy," I responded as I hugged him fiercely. Our lips found each other on their own and it was the most incredible moment of my life. We only broke away from each other only when both of our dads cleared their throats loudly. We blushed again, but we didn't let go of each other.

His mom was crying like a baby. I turned to her in fear. "You are really all right with this? All of you?" I asked looking at each parent's face in turn. They all nodded.

"I was ok with it when your mother told me that this was what she wanted for your graduation gift," Dad said. "I was disappointed for a while that I wouldn't have the grandkids I had always wanted, but I wanted you to be happy more than anything else."

"Hey, I never thought they would be allowed to be together legally," Pop announced. "I took the longest to convince because I was so easily fooled by the dates that you two went on with all of those poor deluded girls."

"They weren't all deluded, Pop," Cole announced to everyone's surprise. "Sharon knew about me after just a month. She agreed to keep dating me and telling stories around school to protect my image and reputation."

"Sharon knew?" We all gasped. He just nodded.

"I broke it off with her, because I realized that it was incredibly unfair of me to use her like that, to monopolize her time, keeping her from dating someone who could be the guy she deserves to be with."

"Well, I was never that lucky," I admitted. "I couldn't tell anyone, not even myself for so long. When I finally faced it myself, I just stopped trying to date anyone anymore. It wasn't right to lead the girls on like that."

"Well, we never have to do it again," Cole said firmly.

Two days later we arrived at a beautiful bed and breakfast inn on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont. We were met at the door by Henry and Charles who were obviously a couple. They weren't really over the top or anything; it was just something about the way that they looked at each other. Charles was a little overboard, I'd have to say.

"Oh, you guys are so sweet," he cooed. "I have been waiting to meet you for two years. I don't think I could have stood the suspense another week."

"I know I couldn't have put up with him another week," Henry said rolling his eyes. He then leaned over and kissed Charles on the cheek. "Come on in boys, and we'll show you to your room."

"I just couldn't get over it when your mother called us, Ralph," Charles continued. "Neither of our parents would have anything to do with us when we came out, and here was your mother arranging your civil union weekend for you. Well, it motivated me to get involved in the local PFLAG chapter."

"Will your mother be here for the ceremony, Ralph?" Henry asked. "I have to admit I have been looking forward to meeting such a loving and supportive woman myself."

I choked up and Cole answered for me. "Cotton's mom passed away two months ago," he said quietly. "She bought this weekend for us as her gift to us for our high school graduation present when she realized she wouldn't live to see it."

"Oh boys, I am so sorry," Henry told us.

Charles broke the sorrowful mood when he asked, "I'm confused; who's Cotton?"

"He was a blond, before it turned gray," Henry teased.

"Cotton is my nickname," I answered with a small grin, and pointed to my hair.

"Well, I don't mean to insult, but I think that's an odd name," Charles continued. "I don't see anything wrong with the name Ralph. I had a brother named Ralph."

"Yeah, but your last name isn't Lauder," I pointed out.

"I still don't follow," he said exasperatedly.

"Think of it this way, babe," Henry explained. "What if his name had been Hurl?" Charles still hadn't lost the blank look.

"Throw up louder," Cole suggested.

"Oh you poor thing," Charles suddenly gasped. "Cotton it is, then."

They left us alone in the room then and as they shut the door, Cole took me by the hand and led me to the private balcony overlooking the gazebo where we would have our ceremony the next day. We stood there silently staring out at the beautiful lake at sunset for several minutes before I spoke in a whisper looking up at the clouds overhead.

"Thank you, Mother for the best gift you ever gave me."

"She gave you to me too," Cole whispered. "I got the first best friend I ever had, and the last one too."

The End, but not for them.