Aaron was already in the kitchen, getting coffee for himself, when I came down the next morning.
Aaron poured me a cup and nudged the sugar bowl at me. "Getting dressed, I assume. She sailed in here, said good morning, put on the coffee, and sailed out."
I stirred some sugar into the coffee. "What did you expect? Breakfast?" I pictured Lily Blumenthal's breakfast spread if the two of us had arrived the night before after she hadn't seen us in five months, starting with the lox and bagels and moving on to three kinds of eggs, banana pancakes, and latkas with sour cream, while the brisket for dinner was already simmering on the stove. I'm not a huge eater, but I always get hungry when I think of Lily's food. When I think of my mother's food, I pick up the phone and order take-out.
"She actually asked me if we were going to church with her." Aaron opened the fridge, looking for something, anything, to nosh on.
"And what did you say to that?"
Aaron pulled out a loaf of white bread and a tub of margarine. "I told her we were going to brunch. That's the gay version of church, isn't it?"
"Ha!" I watched Aaron regard the limp bread with disdain. "That's a good idea. Brunch. Forget the toast. Let's go to Dolly's."
"That trendy diner. It's just off Clifton in the heart of the Gay Ghetto. Best brunch on the West Side if you're a hungry homo. Of course, it's not as fashionable as the Inn on Coventry, but that's on the East Side and we'd need a passport."
"So what are we waiting for?" He put the bread and margarine back into the fridge.
By the time we got dressed and came back downstairs, my sister Anne Marie and Danny were waiting in the living room. Danny was patting Gorcey, who was jumping up and fawning on him. The old man was still in bed.
"Hey, Shea!" Anne Marie kissed me. "And Aaron! You boys are looking good!"
"You, too, Annie." Little Danny stared up at me. His eyes were hazel, dark green with gold, just like mine. "What's up, Danny Boy?"
The kid shrugged and kept petting the dog. "Don't know."
"You going to church with Nana?"
Danny's bottom lip trembled. "I'm hungry!"
I looked at my sister. "Didn't you give this kid anything to eat?" Anne Marie loves her son, but she's not always a candidate for Mother of the Year.
Anne Marie rolled her eyes. "I barely had time to get over here. Ma!" she called. "Get moving! We'll be late for 11:00 Mass!"
"Jesus, Annie! How's he going to last through Mass? I can hear his stomach growling!"
"Yeah!" Danny piped up, knowing he had an ally. "Stomach's growling!"
"Why doesn't Danny come to brunch with us?" came another voice.
I turned and gaped at Aaron. "Are you serious?"
"Sure," said Aaron. "Danny, do you want to go with us and have waffles? And bagels?"
The kid's eyes were like saucers. "Yeah!"
My mother came down the stairs, adjusting her shoulder bag. "I needed to find my new rosary. Patty brought it back for me from her trip to Rome. It was blessed by the Holy Father. Good morning, Shea, dear." She gave me a dry peck on the cheek.
"Morning, Mom. You look very nice. But why don't you wear the rosary around your neck, like Madonna?"
She blinked. Unlike my old man, who has a rather sardonic sense of humor, my mother has no sense of humor at all. And even less a sense of irony. "What?"
"Forget it, Ma," said Anne Marie. "Come on. Danny's going to breakfast with the boys." And before she had time to protest, my sister hustled my mother out the door and into her car. Five minutes later we were also on our way, Danny strapped into the backseat of the Toyota.
"You'll need a car in Indiana," said Aaron as we drove down Detroit Avenue. "What about this one? You can take this and we can get another for me."
"You mean a new one for you," I commented.
"Fine," Aaron sighed. "If you want the new car, that's okay by me."
"I don't care," I conceded. "I just want something to drive." And I didn't, really. The Toyota was only five years old and in good condition. "So, you think Danny will be a chick magnet at Dolly's? According to 'Cosmo' nothing attracts the babes like a guy who's dragging around a little kid."
"'Cosmo,' huh?" Aaron sniffed. "I thought this place was queer haven?"
"It is. But fags have their hags. Turn left here." We cut north and then hit Clifton. "It's over on the right."
We found a spot on the curb not too far from Dolly's, but we had to wait fifteen minutes for a table, which by Sunday brunch standards wasn't too bad.
While we were waiting I found out that 'Cosmo' had it right: not only was a cute kid a chick magnet, he was apparently a stud magnet as well.
"What's your name?" asked a strapping blond in shorts and flip flops.
"Danny," Danny said coyly.
"That's my favorite name!" gushed the guy like he was chatting up a potential trick. "He looks just like you!" he said to me. "Did you guys use a surrogate?"
"He's my nephew."
"He's so adorable!" said a second guy standing in line behind us. "Do you know that, sweetheart? Do you know you're adorable?"
Danny seemed confused. He'd certainly never had this much attention from his own family, let alone total strangers. But they were correct: Danny was an adorable little boy. Which means I must have been fairly adorable, too, since they were also correct that he looks like a smaller clone of me. But no one ever told me I was adorable. No one in my family would ever have thought to say such a thing to a shy and unsure little boy.
The hostess showed us to a table. We said we'd have the brunch buffet and she pointed to the adjoining room, where the steam tables were set up.
"Anything you want, kid. There's plenty of everything." I took a tray for me and one for Danny. But he was befuddled by the array of choices.
"We'll just pick out some things for him," suggested Aaron, immediately taking charge. "You like waffles?" Danny nodded. Aaron indicated for the server to put one on a plate. "And strawberries. With plenty of whipped cream on top! And the same for me!" Aaron loves Belgian waffles.
"Yeah! Berries 'n' cream!" Danny was getting into the swing of brunch.
"And bacon. And sausages." Aaron doesn't even pretend to keep kosher when he's not around his mother. Frankly, his years with me are proof of that -- I'm as trayf as they come and so is my dick! "You want eggs?"
Danny looked at the food already on his plate and shook his head. "Nope! No eggs! Don't like eggs!"
"Okay," said Aaron. "What about hash browns?"
Danny nodded vigorously. "Yeah! Potatoes!"
"Good. I like potatoes, too." Aaron piled plenty on both their plates. I took some scrambled eggs, fruit, and a sesame bagel. Then we carried our trays back to our seats.
"Aren't you a cutie?" cooed another man as he and his partner paused by our table.
"I know," Danny said brightly as he stuffed a piece of waffle in his mouth. He was learning fast!
"This kid is getting more action than a Calvin Klein underwear model at a circuit party!" Aaron laughed.
"He ought to -- he's a lot brighter!"
"It's not the brains they're interested in, Shea, it's the beauty," Aaron said. "That's why I have to keep a close eye on you -- to keep the wolves away!"
I watched as Danny glanced around the restaurant, catching the eyes of different men and then giggling when they smiled back.
"He's not going to waste any time," I said. "He's already mastered the come-hither look. You better watch it, Danny Boy. Nana will take you to church and have you exorcised!"
"By the time he's old enough, no one is going to care if someone is gay," Aaron asserted. "Wait and see. It won't be like when we came out."
"You don't know my family."
"I know them well enough," he said. "And I know how they treated you. But things change, Shea. Times change. And people change. Did you ever think we'd be able to visit your folks like this? Sleep together under their roof?"
"Don't think because they aren't screaming and throwing things at us that they're okay with queers, because they're not. I'm sure my mother is praying for my soul at St. Clement's at this very minute." I took an aggressive bite out of my bagel. "And the old man... he's too sick to make a stink. But don't kid yourself, Aar. We're fags and he'll never forget that -- or forgive it. But Danny -- my father will be long dead by the time Danny brings home his first boyfriend. Then my sister will be the one to deal with it. Hopefully, as long as it doesn't cramp her style or Danny doesn't make a play for her man, she won't give a shit."
"You ever think about having kids?" Aaron asked out of the blue. "You and me?"
I stopped in mid-chew. "What?"
"Kids. A family," Aaron said. "We'll have a house in Indiana, with plenty of room."
"In case you forgot, we're two guys," I reminded my partner. "I'm missing the requisite equipment to pump out progeny."
"So? There's adoption. Or, like the guy said, surrogates."
I was glad I'd almost finished my scrambled eggs, because I longer had an appetite. I put down my fork and pushed my plate away. "What put this idea in your head?"
"I don't know." His eyes were on Danny. "I've always wanted a family. The work I've been doing on my film has made me think about it a lot." Aaron's documentary-in-progress was on gay adoption. "I'm 36. Most of the guys I grew up with have kids. My sisters and your sisters all have kids. Why shouldn't we?"
How could I answer that? Because our relationship was already shaky? Or because I'd be the one who would have to stay at home and take care of a kid? There was no way in hell Aaron was going to put his career on hold to change diapers and clean up baby vomit. Or because it would cost an arm and a leg for adoption or surrogate fees? Those only topped the long list of reasons why not.
"Can we talk about something else?"
"Sure." Aaron sat back in his chair. "We can discuss it later."
"Hello!" A grey-haired man came up to Danny. "How old are you, honey?"
Danny grinned and held up five fingers. "I'm a big boy!"
"Oh, yes! You certainly are!" The man beamed. "You have such a lovely family! Take good care of this beautiful boy! I only wish I were a young man today. So many things I'd do differently."
Aaron looked at me pointedly.
"I like this place!" Danny proclaimed after Aaron paid the bill and we walked out to the car. "Can we come back tomorrow?"
"They don't have brunch again until next week," said Aaron. "And by then your Uncle Shea and I will be in Indiana."
Danny's face was all tragedy. "Don't go! I wanna come back and have waffles!"
"Sorry, buddy. Another time," I said. "Whenever that will be."
Danny clutched my hand. "I wish you was my daddy!"
Gulp. "I'm your uncle, Danny. That's a good thing to be." I appealed to my partner, but Aaron looked away, as if to say, This is all yours.
"Where is my daddy?" the boy asked. "If I don't got one, you can be him, okay? And I can go with you guys! Can I?"
I couldn't say no to my nephew, but I also couldn't say yes. I couldn't say anything, and once more I cursed my fucking family. Instead, Aaron and I hustled him into the Toyota and took him back to the Desmond House of Dysfunction, where we awaited further instructions.