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Weddingsong A Matthew Story

by Greg Swann

As usual, Matthew was ready first. He was waiting on the porch, the morning breeze dancing with his silky blonde hair and the sun just over the treetops crowning him with its glory. He stretched indulgently, like a cat, then turned to look out upon the dewy morning. His eyes were a piercing blue and they swept over everything and missed nothing. He scuttled down the steps to stretch a little more then adjusted his clothes, a bulky gray sweatshirt and bike-racer's shorts, cobalt blue with fiery yellow stripes down the sides.

Ann was coming up the hill and he raced down to meet her. He jumped into her arms and hugged his greetings and the two of them talked with animation and delight, as friends will.

Oblivious as always, Greg backed out of the door with a ghetto-blaster in one hand and a huge mug of coffee in the other, chattering a mile a minute. "Sorry to keep you waiting, mister," he said, not seeing that Matthew was with Ann at the crest of the hill. He turned and saw, then said, "Oh, time out for girls."

When he joined them, Matthew jumped down and said, "Okay. Let's go."

Instead, Greg put his things on a stone step embedded in the turf. "Not yet. Time out for girls, first. We're going to be gone all morning, and we have to be sure they'll be all right without us."

"Why?"

"Girls need lots of hugs, or else they'll fall apart." Ann howled at that, unable to stop the burst of laughter. "It's true, Matthew," Greg went on. "At any time a man's got to be ready to say, 'You look like you're going to fall apart. You need a hug.' And then he's got a hug them, so they don't fall apart. Take Ann, here. She looks like she could use a hug. Is that true?"

"I need a hug bad, Matthew."

"But I just hugged her!"

"Looks like you didn't do a good enough job," Greg speculated, pulling at his chin, inspecting her with feigned disinterest. "Hug her real hard, so she won't fall apart all morning."

"And what if I fall apart this afternoon?," she teased.

"This afternoon you can fall any way you want..."

"C'mon, Ann," Matthew said. "I'll hug you so you don't fall apart." She knelt before him and he threw his small arms around her and hugged her neck very hard.

"That's good. That ought to hold her. But you had better go hug Pammy, too, just in case. Just go tell her, 'You need a hug.'"

Matthew raced off and Greg turned to look for the brightness in Ann's eyes. She was wearing off-white corduroys and a yellow-and-white striped sweater, and the richness of line matched the languid luxury of her movements. She was the strong and serene mother of the morning, of every morning. The sun caught her auburn hair in a copper glow, but its light could not compete with the delight, the eagerness, the splendor in her eyes. Without thinking to do it, he reached out with both of his hands to hold both of hers, to stand back and look, but still to touch.

The smile that seemed never to leave her lips deepened. She said, "I think I may be about to fall apart again..."

"Nonsense. The boy did a fine job. You won't fall apart for hours." He laughed, the trickster's laugh.

There are simpler solutions. She put her weight on her heels and pulled forward at the same time, pulling him into her arms. "That's better..." For a while they just stood together, pressed tight, relearning what they could never hope to forget. She said, "What did Deborah say about the shorts?"

"Do you like them?" He stepped back so she could see. He was wearing teal-blue trunks, very light, a bright red tee shirt and the rich forest-green flannel shirt that he called his 'author's shirt'. Against his deep-tanned skin, the colors shrieked. The green of his eyes whispered, but whispered of mischief--or treason. "I call this my victory outfit. I keep hoping I'll land in the middle of a new country, so they can paint me, as is, for their flag."

"Ha! I was talking about Matthew's shorts, but as far as it goes, you just want to show off your tan."

"Why does everybody say these evil things about me...?"

"Because they're true."

"Nah. Girls just think like girls. You don't consider that there might be another reason for me to wear shorts."

"What reason?" Teasing him was fun for all the time she'd known him.

"Well, for one thing, men's legs don't get cold."

"Is that the reason, so your legs won't get hot?"

"Well, no..."

"Ha! It's so you can show off your tan."

"Not exactly."

"Why, then?"

"Well..."

"Yes...?"

He couldn't stop himself from laughing ahead of time. "If I don't wear shorts, my legs will fade."

She burst into laughter, collapsing against him.

"How did they get to be this color? By wearing shorts and communing with the sun. It's not that I want to show it off. I just want to keep it for as long as I can."

"What did Deborah say about Matthew?"

"She blamed me, naturally. Matthew came to our room this morning in long pants. He saw me in shorts and a tee and came back in two minutes wearing shorts. It's true what I said about men's legs, but I made him go back for the sweatshirt and I put on this so he wouldn't feel set apart. When I got to the kitchen, Deborah said, 'Why did you tell him to wear shorts?'"

"So you said, 'I didn't.'"

"No. Of course not."

"Of course not. What did you say, Greg?"

"I told her he came to our room in trousers but I made him go back for shorts. I told her that I said, 'Matthew, a man's got to keep his testicles ventilated.'"

Ann convulsed in laughter again. When she had barely regained control of her voice she asked, "What did she say to that?"

"She gave me that smoky glare and said, 'Greg Swann, I know you didn't say that! You would have said, "A man's got to keep his balls cool."' I nearly died laughing, and just then Matthew walks in and says, 'A man's got to keep his balls cool.'"

She could do no more than hold him and laugh. Their hips still locked together, she pushed back at her shoulders to look at him, a sudden softness in her eyes. "You're talking to him now?"

"Yes, and you could do me a favor."

"That is?"

"Talk to Deborah. Tell her what I'm doing. Dad agrees, I think, but Deborah sees it and is afraid of it. Tell her that we all want the same things for Matthew. That as scary as it might look, I won't ever let him be hurt."

"...what exactly are you trying to do?"

"I'm teaching him to be one of us, a man in this family. I'm teaching him to say 'fuck you' to god."

"Not in that language."

"Not even close, I promise. With you, I'm having a serious, Greglike talk with Matthew. But with Matthew I'm just goofing around in the sun with my brother and chattering about whatever seems important. I do have an agenda, and it's to be the best brother I can be to Matthew--and to my brother becoming. Today is part of it."

"Does he really need that kind of pressure...?"

"It's not pressure, you see that. It's fun. But he has to learn it. There are too many strong men around for him to be able to grow up weak. He has to be able to say 'fuck you' to god so that someday he will be strong enough to say 'fuck you' to me or to his father. He's going to grow up around us, and now's the time for him to learn how to handle us."

She pulled at her lip, the doubts racing across her face.

"Don't worry," he said, stroking at her cheek. "Nobody ever knows what the hell I'm talking about anyway. I'll be my usual oblique, impenetrable self and later Matthew will tell you that Greg's fun, but he's a goose."

She laughed again, quieter, and hugged him tight to her. "Be careful..."

"You bet." Matthew was coming back down the hill. "Listen, about this afternoon: the house will be empty. Dad and Pam and Jim are going water-skiing, and Deborah and Matthew are going down to a crafts fair in one of the towns. Which do you prefer?"

She touched him where Matthew couldn't see. "Go ventilate your testicles." She laughed.

"I think you're trying to trick me into establishing the counterpoint for your art..."

"Hmm... Am I doing a good job?"

"The evidence is in your hands. Judge for yourself."

"Whatcha doing, guys?," Matthew asked.

"Ann wanted me to make sure she wasn't falling apart. I think she might be. You'd better hug her again."

She picked him up and they hugged. Still in her arms Matthew turned to Greg. "Is she okay now?"

"Indeed. You do great work, Matt. I bet she won't fall apart all morning."

"Do you think he's teasing you?," Ann asked Matthew.

To Greg, the boychild said, "I think you're a goose!"

"Think what you want, mister, but I think if you were twenty years older, I wouldn't have a chance at her. How do you like that?"

"It's true, Matthew," Ann said. "He'll always be second-best, and you will always be the man of my dreams..." Her eyes went dreamy and her head collapsed to his tiny shoulder, as though she had swooned from thinking about him.

Matthew laughed his approval.

"That's what I'm talking about," Greg said.

"I know. And you'll do fine." She looked to Matthew's burning blue eyes. "Have a good time at the lake."

"You could come with us. Couldn't she, Greg?"

"I think I want to stay and talk to your mother." She winked at Greg. "Is that all right with you?"

"I guess so." He wriggled down, then grabbed two fingers of Greg's hand. He said, "C'mon, Greg."

"See?" Greg stole a kiss before Matthew could steal him away. "A born order-giver. I don't want him ever to lose that..."



Through the trees the sun shattered and splashed to the ground in fleeting shards, but it held full reign in the sky over the lake and it was warm when the wind didn't blow. They were at the end of a long dock and the cedar planking was sun-baked, heavenly to touch and to smell.

Greg had sat cross-legged in the sun for a long time, his heavy shirt pulled about him against the lake breezes. He looked at the sun, directly and through his eyelids, feeling the heat against that fine skin. He watched its funhouse-mirror reflection in the water, still early enough to be almost still, rippled by wind and rarely by the boats of fishermen far away. In the water, the sun was a glowing gold shield, a huge slab of polished metal to stand between the man and the boy--and anything, a defense from any threat. Or maybe it was the base of the crown of god, with all the blues and greens and browns of the earth above it no more than plumage, finery, ornament. He felt the sun in his own brown hair and recalled its copper gleam in Ann's--as he looked to Matthew, crowned by the sun in gold...

He collapsed against the decking, falling back and kicking his legs out. Matthew jumped on his stomach as though he were a horse and laughed, his eyes afire with delight. He was only three-and-a-half, but he was growing so fast, both physically and mentally. He was a watcher and a questioner and he outgrew confusions even more quickly than he outgrew clothes. But he was still first a child, a boy and a roughhouser.

"Sure," Greg said. "Get it all out. We have things to talk about and you'll listen better if you're worn out."

Matthew puts his hands on Greg's ribs and leaned into them. His whole face the question, he said, "Can I ride on your shoulders?"

"Not too cool. If we fall, we'll get soaked. But you could ride burro style?"

"What's burro style?"

He lifted Matthew to stand then rolled around. "I get up on my hands and knees like this, then you hop on my back and ride. After a while we'll see if you can carry me the same way. How's that?"

"Let me ride first."

"Somehow I thought you might say that..."

They rode burro style up and down the dock, then wrestled, and it seemed that Matthew always won their matches at the last second. They rode some more and finally it was Greg who had to stop, exhausted. Matthew had left New Hampshire and Lake Sunappee far behind; he was a prospector in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, and his balky burro was all that kept him from finding the Lost Dutchman mine. When Greg quit, he protested.

"There are few times I'm called upon to think of the number of years I've graced this earth, but this is one of them."

"Huh?"

"My knees hurt."

"Oh."

"Come sit with me again, youngster." Greg was once more cross-legged in the sun. He put the boy on his crossed shins, Matthew's back to his chest, pulling his shirt tight around him. They could see the sun and the water and the trees, and they could talk very quietly, with none but the breeze to hear.

Matthew clenched the flannel in his small hands. "This is a big shirt." He ducked his head inside and said, "I'm in a tent!" His head popped back out and he laughed.

Greg brushed at the boy's hair, pushing the sweat-dampened ends into the breeze to dry them, while the "tent" of his shirt kept Matthew's skin from chilling. They were quiet for a long time and when Greg moved, it was to kiss the crown of Matthew's head, where the sun had kissed before. He said, very softly, "Are you ready to let me talk, now?"

"I guess so."

Greg reached behind him to press the 'play' button on the boombox. Patty Larkin's voice skimmed out over the lake, full even at low volume. He listened for a minute, then began to speak. "Matthew, I love you every day."

"I love you, Greg."

"I know you do, mister--and I love you for that, too. You're my brother, but you're a good friend, too, one of my favorite people to talk to. Do you remember me talking to you?"

"When you were at my house, with Ann."

"I talked to you a lot then. And I talked to you a lot last summer, too. But I bet you don't remember that."

"PammyJimmy's wedding?"

"Yes. We talked then, too. And we talked later last summer, when I stayed at your house. That was when we got your water gun. And we talked a long, long time ago--back before you could talk."

Matthew giggled.

"Laugh all you want, kid. I've been chattering at you for a long time, and you've been chattering back. What I want to know is, are we talking to each other?"

"Huh?"

"I want to tell you about a lot of neat stuff that's going on. Will you listen to me?"

"Yup. We talk all the time."

"We sure do. But this is going to take a while, so stretch your brain muscles, okay?" Greg sleeked the boy's hair with his palms and again kissed his head. "I think I may have caught that girl disease from Ann. Can you help me out?"

Matthew giggled.

"Turn around and hug me, so I don't fall apart."

Matthew hugged him tight under the arms and Greg watched the sun and the water against the mistiness in his own eyes. He smelled the water in the air and the sun in Matthew's hair. For a moment he sang with the tape until Matthew pulled back his head and said, "You sing like a duck."

Greg laughed, enfolding the child in his own arms. "Yes, but still I sing..." He kissed Matthew's forehead. "Are we cool with each other?"

"Yup."

"Do you think I'm playing straight with you? Not trying to cheat you or get away with anything?"

"You never did that."

"And I never let you do that to me. We've always been square with each other, haven't we?"

"Yup."

"Okay, what I want you to know is that I'm telling you the best truth I know and it's very important. Is that cool?"

"Pretty cool."

"Okay, watch." He picked Matthew up and set him down facing him, cross-legged. He slapped the deck with the flat of his palm. "Do that."

Matthew slapped the planks and laughed.

Slap-slap.

Slap-slap.

Then Greg did slap-slap-pause-slap and Matthew followed it perfectly. And then he did a short spasm of Buddy Rich with both hands and Matthew followed with Buddy Rich muted, doubtless the Krupa influence... Matthew was just a bit astonished at how well he'd mimicked both the slaps and the sounds and the two of them laughed for the fun of it.

Greg said, "Pretty simple, huh?"

"Yup."

"Do you know there was a time when you had to try very hard to learn that game?"

Matthew laughed derisively.

"I'm not kidding, mister. When I met you, you were only eight-months old, just practically brand new. You were born in the winter and I was tied up in New York, and I finally got around to taking a look at you that summer, here at Lake Sunappee. You were big and strong and smart even then, but you were really new. You couldn't talk much and you couldn't walk on your own, but you had this great walker, and you could buzz around in it everywhere, very fast. Do you believe that?"

"I guess so."

"I played with you a bunch while I was here, talking to you and teaching you things. We spent a lot of time on that slapping game. You're a big boy now and you're very smart, but when you were a baby it took you longer to learn new things. Plus your body was different then. You look at babies a lot, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"I've seen you do it. Ever notice how their bodies are all scrunched up in the middle? Big head, big body, with tiny little arms and legs, right?"

"Yup. Babies look funny."

"Yup. But the deal is, they're born not knowing how to do anything, and not having much in the way of arms or legs to do it with anyway. Isn't that the way babies seem to you?"

"Yup."

"But think: you were like that and so was I. We were both babies, and when we were, we had to learn everything for the first time. I've played that slapping game every time I've seen you, and you get better and better at it. But the first time we played it, it was maybe ten minutes before I got you to understand that we were playing a game."

"Ha!"

"No joke, really. You were new and you moved and acted just like a new baby. I would slap the table and you would make a noise. And I would slap the table and you would smile. And I would slap the table and you would look over your shoulder to the other corner of the room. You kept hearing the sound of my slaps, but you didn't connect them to my hand moving and hitting the table. Then you caught on and slapped the tray on your walker." He mimicked Matthew's movements of the time, his hands stretched high and wavering unpredictably he swept his whole upper body toward the deck, landing on both hands with a thump. Matthew laughed with delight. "And then, once you got it, you held yourself up by one hand and slapped at your tray with the other. Yes. It was a long time before you stopped. When I got your attention, I slapped at the table. And you slap-slap-slapped back. And I said, 'No. Just one,' and of course you couldn't understand me then. So we just kept repeating it: I'd slap once, and you'd slap a bunch of times, then I'd slap once, and you'd slap a bunch of times. Do you believe that?"

Matthew just laughed.

"It's true. It took us a long time to get to the point where you'd slap once when I slapped once. And then more time to get to slap-slap. And all the time you were moving just like I showed you, always a half-a-step from falling down in any direction."

"I was such a goose!"

"No, sir. You were just new, that's all. You were perfect and smart, just like now, and you were doing your very best, just like now. You didn't know as much and you couldn't do as much, but that was because you were a lot newer to the job."

"Oh."

"Check: oh. Here's why I brought it up: when your new brother is born, he's going to be new, newer than you were when you learned the slapping game. Do you understand why we need to talk about this? Your brother is going to be a good playmate in time, but at first he isn't going to be able to do much. He'll be a baby--can't talk, can't walk, tiny little arms and legs. Can you picture it?"

"Yup."

"So that's the first thing. It's pretty cool that we're going to have a little brother. But he's going to be like you were when you were born and like I was when I was born. He's going to be new on the job and he'll need time to get used to things. If you just be cool and wait for things, you can be as good a brother to him as I've been to you. But you have to give him time. Can you do that?"

"Sure. Could I teach him that game?"

"When he gets to be about eight-months old. But you'll be able to teach him a lot of things before then. I'll show you some neat stuff even little babies can do. But you have to remember that there's a lot he won't be able to do, not right away. Okay?"

"Okay."

"All right, here's part two. Because our new brother will be so new, he's going to need a lot more help staying alive than we do. Babies need to be fed and changed and cuddled all the time they're not asleep, right?"

"Right."

"Well, our new brother's going to be just like that. He's not going to know how to do anything yet, so people are going to have to spend a lot of time doing things for him. Not just mom and dad and the nanny, but Pammy and Gramma and Ann and everybody. Even me. Even you. Babies take a whole lot of time and a whole lot of work. I wanted you to know about that."

"Why?"

"Because everybody's going to have less time for you, Matthew. They won't love you less, but the new baby will make them very busy. You'll have to be a good boy and play by yourself sometimes. Is that okay?"

"Yeah."

"I just wanted you thinking about it. Sometimes it's going to make you mad, and when it does I want you to remember that everyone loves you very much, every day. The baby isn't trying to take anything from you. He's just new. Check?"

"Check," Matthew said.

"Okay, so look at it. First, the baby isn't going to be all that fun to play with, not when it's just born. Second, he's going to take up a lot of your playmates' time. You might have to play by yourself sometimes, and you might have to do more work around the house, to help Mom. It might not seem too cool at first, but it will get better and better as your brother gets older and learns more things. But, still, it's going to be a long time before he's a big boy like you, and by that time you'll be an even bigger boy. You'll always be able to show him all the neat things you learn, but you'll always be older than him, more experienced, better at things. When you want a challenge, you'll have to come to your mom or dad or me or Pammy or Ann or Jimmy or someone. Are you with me so far?"

"Yup."

"Okay, here's the fun part: Ann and I are getting married."

"Married?"

"We're going to live together in the same house, like mom and dad and Pammy and Jimmy. And we're going to have babies, and you'll be their uncle."

"Are you my uncle?"

"No, Matthew, you and I are brothers to each other--and to our new brother. But you'll be uncle to my children, and I bet you'll be someone they look up to. Think so?"

"Yup."

"Now the cool part later is that you'll be able to come visit us. When you need to talk man-to-man with me, or when you need to give Ann some hugs, you can come stay with us. When you get sick of us, you can go see Pammy and Jimmy, and when you wear them out, you can go home and teach new stuff to your brother. Pretty neat. And the cool part now is that we want you to help out at our wedding."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Keep our rings for us, so we don't lose them. And I may want you to talk with me some, and Ann may need a hug or two. Will you do it for us?"

"Sure."

"Okay. So here's the drill: you help out at our wedding and that's pretty cool. Then your new brother is born, and maybe that's not so cool after a while. But then you can come and see me and Ann or Pammy and Jimmy. Your brother will get more and more fun as time goes by. And then Ann and I will make some babies. And sooner or later Pammy and Jimmy will make some babies. And before long there will be a bunch of kids in the family. And you'll always be the oldest and the smartest and the strongest, the one the others will look up to and the one who can teach them so much. What do you think about that?"

"Pretty neat."

"Yup. Think you can handle it?"

"I bet I can do it."

"I bet you can, too. That's the way all of us are, mom, dad, Pam, Jim, Ann, me, and you, we're all people who get the job done. I always like to work with you, because I know I can count on you. And we're both going to be good brothers to our new brother, and you're going to be a good uncle to our children, I know it."

"I'm a good boy."

"You sure are, and a smart one. You're a very good brother to me. You know what, though?"

"What?"

"I think I might be falling apart again..."

Matthew got up and hugged his brother. They held tight and Greg continued to speak, just a murmur in Matthew's ear.

"I love you so much, child..."

"I love you."

"What I love about you is that you love you. I love Matthew and Ann loves Matthew and mom and dad and Pammy and Jimmy and Gramma and everybody loves Matthew because Matthew loves Matthew. You've been so good to yourself, and you've worked so hard to learn so much so fast, and you've made yourself so beautiful, so loveable. Everyone will always love you for that. And you'll keep growing and you'll get better and faster and stronger and smarter, better and better all the time. Forever, mister. It doesn't ever have to stop, if you don't want it to. You just love yourself more and more and more and get better and better and better. Pretty cool, huh?"

"Yeah."

He hugged Matthew tighter, then sang softly with the tape. "'Every minute it gives us one more chance to say, I love you every day...'"

"Wasn't that on before?"

"It's on that tape six times."

"Why?"

"Because that's the way I do things, either full-throttle or stop. No in-between. That's the way you do things, too. I've watched you." He held his brother close and there was tearstuff fouling his vision. "I love you every day, Matthew."

And for a long time Matthew sat in Greg's lap, the big green shirt wrapped around both of them. They watched the sun against the water and Greg sang along with the tape and Matthew listened and even sang a little himself. There were a few day-shift crickets and frogs at work and they had fun imitating the sounds for each other.

And the sun came higher in the sky and hotter. Greg stood and stretched into the sun, then took off the flannel shirt, threw it on the deck, and fell atop it. "Time for the sun, mister," he said. "And if you think I'm slow to wake up, look how long it took the sun to chase the cold away."

Matthew was laying on his sweatshirt. "It's okay now."

"It sure is. And if we're going to prospect for gold in the Superstitions, we have to keep tanned. If a man hasn't got the sun in his skin, it means he's been in the city or in jail. We don't want to look like that, do we?"

"Nooo..."

Greg laughed. "Matthew, I missed a chance. If I had known you were coming, I could have set up a great career for the both of us as con-men!"

He knew he was being teased. "You're such a goose!"

"Maybe I am at that. Because you can't read yet."

Matthew propped himself up on his elbow and his face was again all a question. "Huh?"

"I write, Matthew. That's what I do, that's my job. I write books and stories and other stuff. Ann warned me not to pressure you, but I'm letting you know that I'm ready for you to learn how to read. So I can write stuff to you. There's no hurry, but it's something else you might think about. Reading is fun, and it'll give you something to do while you're waiting for your brother to get to be fun to play with."

"I like stories."

"Me, too."

"What are your stories about?"

"They're about good boys who grow up to be good men."

"That's what I'm doing."

"That's what you're doing. And that's what I'm doing." He smiled warmth back to the sun, his eyes just barely open, letting only a spiked crown of sunlight through. "It's great working with you, because we always get the job done. But now we can relax, just let the sun soak in until we look like the driest and dustiest of desert rats and rapscallions. Right?"

"We can't relax."

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because we have to wrestle!" Matthew laughed and leapt.

Greg said, "Anhhh! Matthew, you're too much for me. You steal my woman, talk my ear off, then beat me up. I'm no match for you anywhere!"

The blonde-headed boychild just laughed.

"Well, deal gently with me, sir. Even in my defeat and humiliation I shall admire you, humbly and from afar, as the best and most deserving man."

"Are you going to wrestle or talk?"

"Ha! Why don't you see if you can shut me up?"

They playfought in the sun until both were sweaty and exhausted and full of laughter. When they left the lake, Matthew led the way back.



Later, after the house had not been empty through the afternoon, after the dusk had crept through the trees, after the cool of night had reclaimed the mountains, Greg caught up with Deborah in the kitchen. She was eight-months gone with the second-newest of the Swanns and her belly looked too big for the slight body carrying it. But she was beautifully pregnant; the roundness of the child was an answer to the circles of her face, the dawn-fresh loveliness of the Wisconsin farms she had left behind. And the baby made her beam, made her face a beacon of motherstuff.

Pam and Jim were on the floor in the living room, glasses of soda at their sides, playing cards. Dad and Ann were doing something down at the boat, probably as an excuse to talk about the wedding, two days away. Matthew was off doing something of his own design. For a moment the cabin was still.

"Are we cool?"

"We're cool, Greg," Deborah said. She gave him that look of mock forbearance that he knew was only part mocking--but not infinitely forbearing. "But, really, you're as bad as your father. You don't say things in front of him, you trick me into saying them..."

"Matthew's going to do the same thing. Him, too," he said, pointing to the boy becoming. "And if Ann and I have a girl, she'll be lippy and outrageous, too. And it won't ever be quiet in your life, not ever, ever again." He smiled, wickedly even.

"And you'll teach every last one of them to be a smart-ass, won't you?"

"Every last one."

She sighed and sought relief from the ceiling, teasing him back.

Matthew came scuttling into the kitchen and skidded to a stop between them. He looked at his mother and said, "You look like you need a hug."

Deborah picked him up and they hugged for a long time. The light over the table caught the back of his head and again he was crowned in gold.

"I'm going to be a good brother and a good uncle, mom."

"I know you are."

Matthew felt pretty good. He hugged his mother tighter and, though no one could see, his eyes were burning brightly, a little wet with happy tears. He said, "I love you every day, mom." That felt pretty cool, too...

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