“HI, MOM. What are you doing?”

“Sitting home alone like a dog.”

That’s Mom’s logic. If their house isn’t full of people eating and carrying on, she’s alone. “Where’s Dad?”

“In his den, watching the game on TV as usual.”

I’m Bobby McGrath. Since this is my story, I should tell you more about myself. I have frizzy red hair, green eyes, and a swimmer’s body, thanks to the pool at my gym. The swimmer’s body is thanks to the pool. The red hair and green eyes are courtesy of my dad’s side of the family, which my mom calls the Bad Seed. And I passed the bar. I don’t mean I’m a recovering alcoholic. I aced my bar exam, and I’ve been a junior lawyer for nearly a year now.

“Bobby, are you listening to me or thinking about one of your cases?”

“I’m listening, Mom.” I sat on the window seat in my Victorian apartment’s turret and gazed out at the carolers appropriately dressed in Victorian garb as they sang in front of the department store across the street. That’s the department store where my father is manager and plays Santa every December. “How did Dad’s physical go with Dr. Sherman?”

“He said Dad’s overweight. Like we didn’t know. For that we shelled out a thirty-dollar co-pay.”

“Did you mention how Dad’s been forgetting a few things lately?”

“I told him how your father forgot to take out the garbage, sweep out the garage, and chase the squirrels out of our summerhouse in the backyard.”

I couldn’t help thinking Dad’s memory lapses were intentional.

“Dr. Sherman asked Dad some questions, like Dad’s birthdate and our anniversary.”

“And?”

“Your father never remembers things like that, so I answered for him.”

“Mom, you shouldn’t have—”

“Your father’s fine, except for an enlarged prostrate.”

“That’s prostate.”

“Don’t correct your mother, especially now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You know I don’t like to burden you with my problems.”

“All right. I should get on my laptop to do some research for a—”

“I’m worried about your sister.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them.”

I took a sip of Lemon Zinger tea and braced myself for a long story.

“They work so hard at their jobs and taking care of the kids, they never see their husbands.”

My sisters’ know-it-all spouses? “Is that a bad thing?”

“Watch your mouth, mister. I’m your mother. In my day we never disrespected our parents, no matter how wrong they were about everything. And we never took drugs.”

“I don’t take drugs, Mom; neither does Paolo.”

“But plenty of young people today are drug addicts, Bobby. They say they’re nervous. If young people are nervous, they should do what I do, and take a Prozac.”

As Mom rambled on about the sad state of our youth, I glanced over at the antique cherry coffee table to a framed picture of Paolo and me smiling in front of the Mascobello villa in Capri, Italy. That’s where I met Paolo, when I visited my extended family. Don’t freak out. Paolo is a very distant cousin. He has dreamy sapphire eyes, wavy chestnut hair, more muscles than a daytime television star, and a little-boy pout that makes me want to take care of him for the rest of his life. Which I do. Since Paolo was quite the playboy in Capri, I had my doubts about our relationship. But we’ve been living in boyfriend bliss here in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, for a year now.

“I just hope your sisters don’t get divorces.”

“Colleen and Roseann are getting divorces?”

“I wish I knew. They’ve always worked for the Secret Service.”

That’s Mom’s code for people not telling her every detail of their lives.

“Unlike your sisters, you always told me every one of your problems. That’s why I have that worry crease between my eyebrows.” She whispered as if sharing international secrets, “I suspect Gavin is cheating on Roseann.”

“Why do you think that?

“He’s in finance.”

“Everyone in finance doesn’t cheat. You don’t cheat on Dad, and you’re a bookkeeper.”

“For a very reputable sanitation engineering company.”

“Yes, a garbage pickup company in Philly is the epitome of top business ethics.”

“Will you stop being so smart and listen to me?” Mom paused for dramatic effect. “Gavin won’t look me in the eye.”

“Maybe he has a vision problem.”

“Or maybe he’s screwing around with an investor. I wanted to lock him in the basement, shine your father’s flashlight on him, and interrogate him, but your father wouldn’t let me. And Roseann talks about her personal trainer more than her husband.” Mom sighed. “No wonder fifty percent of heterosexual couples get divorced.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“At a PFLAG meeting and during the priest’s sermon in church.”

“Mom, you know when you donate to PFLAG and to the Catholic Church, your money is canceling itself out. PFLAG lobbies for equal rights for LGBT people, and church lobbyists fight for so-called religious freedom laws that take away our rights.”

“Stop disrespecting the Pope, Bobby. He wears a beautiful gown. And he has an adorable wave. Plus, he loves Christmas time, just like you.”

Dressed in a nightshirt and slippers, I felt the heat from the white marble fireplace. The dancing amber and vermillion flames, flanked by the gold lions on either side, complimented the sunset’s radiant shafts of violet, scarlet, and marigold adorned by cottony snowflakes. In the department store windows were holiday scenes of sleigh-riders, children making a snowman, a family opening gifts at the tree. Did the husband and wife mannequins appear angry with each other? Were they happily married, or faking it for the sake of the smiling kids and expensive-looking home? “Thankfully Colleen and Roseann won’t argue with the kids here. They learned that from your father and me.”

“You and Dad argued when we were kids?”

“Never in front of you. But after you went to sleep, we had a few good ones.”

It was difficult for me to imagine my mellow father arguing about anything.

As if reading my mind, Mom said, “I know you think I provoked him, but your father has a wild streak, Bobby.” She giggled. “It’s one of the things I like about him. But we don’t argue too much. I don’t understand all this talk about women’s rights. Your father may put up a fuss from time to time, but in the end, he does everything I tell him to do.”

“Are you doing all the cooking again this year for Christmas?”

“Of course. Who else is going to do it?”

“Roseann, Colleen, me—”

“Please. We wouldn’t eat until Easter. I’ll make everything as usual, from the antipasto to the stracciatella to the fettucine, manicotti, lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, mussels in clam sauce, chicken marsala, chicken cacciatore, chicken picatta—”

“Mom, you make too much.”

“But everyone eats it. Still, it takes a toll on me. I may look like a young woman, but I’m not. One day you’ll find me lying on the kitchen floor, dead.” She sighed. “Then you’ll all eat at my funeral. Remember I want to be buried in a mausoleum, not underground. I’m claustrophobic.”

In order to avoid a lengthy story about how mom accidentally locked herself in a closet as a girl—therefore understanding first-hand the struggle of LGBT people everywhere—I focused the conversation back on Christmas day. “Mom, this year do Paolo and I have to sit at the kiddie table?”

“Of course. If you’re not married, you’re a kid.”

“Speaking of that—”

“Are you and Paolo engaged!”

“No.”

She groaned. “Oh.”

“Not yet.”

I peeked at the clock tower across the street and wondered when Paolo would get home from his fashion design firm. “Since we’ve both been working so hard, and we have some time off coming up for the holidays, I thought maybe… I’d ask him tonight.”

Mom cooed. “What a wonderful holiday gift!” Her voice hardened. “Is your hair combed?”

“Yes, why?”

“What are you wearing?”

“My nightshirt.”

“Ah! Put on your powder-blue shirt and tight jeans.”

“Mom, Paolo and I have been living together for a year. We don’t need to impress each other.”

She sighed. “Only a year and the romance has gone?”

Our brushed nickel doorknob turned and the cherry front door separated from the swirled gold molding around it.

“Mom, I have to go.”

“Call me tomorrow at work. Or afterward at the hairdresser’s.”

Images of Mom’s teased-out, stiffly sprayed, dyed chocolate-brown hair had me wincing.

She said, “I’m getting a haircut, dye, and blow job.”

“Enjoy!” I put down my phone.

Paolo hung up his coat and scarf. He looked good enough to eat in his apple-colored dress shirt and black dress slacks, both of which sculpted his muscles perfectly. The sapphire stone in his gold ring—handed down from his grandfather in Italy—matched his gorgeous eyes. Since he had run up the stairs, beads of sweat lined his olive-colored skin. He placed his laptop on our coffee table, walked by our white Christmas tree laden with gold ornaments, and sat next to me on the window seat. I felt as if in a lemon orchard as he rested his strong arm around me, kissed my cheek, and gently moved my head onto his shoulder.

“Rough day?” I asked.

“And evening. Edgar and his wife were in divorce court. As the junior designer, I had to finish all the new sketches for a client’s summer sportswear line that is due tomorrow.”

“Didn’t your boss already get a divorce?”

“That was from his second wife. This is wife number three.” He yawned. “And my sister called me from Italy. She and her boyfriend broke up.”

“Francesca and Bruno are over?”

He nodded.

“Why?”

“She caught him in bed when he was in the hospital, getting knee surgery.”

“Shouldn’t he be in bed in the hospital?”

“Sure, but not with the anesthesiologist.”

I sighed.

Paolo drew me in closer and buried his Roman nose in the fold of my neck. His Italian accent made the tiny hairs on my arms stand on end as he whispered in my ear, “What is it?”

“My mom and dad had a spat. And she’s worried about my sisters’ marriages because they never see their husbands, which I still contend isn’t a bad thing.”

His full lips parted, revealing a solid white smile. “That’s why we do things differently in Italy.”

I pulled away. “What do you mean?”

“Some men marry a woman to raise a family. While she feeds the babies, he goes out and feeds his passions. Then he confesses his sins to the priest, tosses some euros into the church collection plate, and the cycle begins again the following week.”

“Is that the kind of marriage you want?”

“Of course not.” His warm, thick hands enveloped mine, and I was home. “I want to spend my life with my distant cousin who wears a nightshirt and drinks strange tea.”

That reminded me. “There’s leftover dinner for you in the refrigerator.”

“I know. I made it this morning while you were still sleeping.”

I kissed his thick neck. “The chicken Florentine and Caesar salad were amazing.”

“Like you.” He brought me in for a long, wet kiss. As they say, there’s no time like the present. With my heart racing about two hundred beats a minute, I said, “I have something to ask you.”

We heard what sounded like a lion’s roar inside a tunnel, and Paolo touched his stomach. “Ask me while I eat dinner.”

A few minutes later, Paolo and I sat across from each other at our cherry dining room table. The scent of Italian cheeses, garlic, olive oil, mushrooms, spinach, and chicken filled the room. Between bites, Paolo asked, “What is it that you wanted to ask me?”

The candlelight from our antique brass candleholders made him look incredibly sexy. He didn’t need much help. I took in a deep breath. Though I had rehearsed my speech a hundred times over the last few months, what came out was, “I bought lemon gelato for dessert.”

He blew me a kiss. I caught it and placed it over my heart. Ready for take two, I took a sip of my herbal tea in a failed attempt at moistening my bone-dry throat. “Paolo, we’ve been living together for almost a year now.”

“Are you tired of me already?” He winked at me.

I slid to the edge of my seat. “During that time, have you… did you ever think about….”

He swallowed his food. “Bobby, I told you before. I look at other men. But you are the only one I want.”

“And you’re the only one I want.”

“Then it is a good thing we live together.” He continued eating.

“Do you miss your life in the villa with your family in Capri?”

“Not when I am with you. Don’t worry; we will never end up like Edgar and everyone else getting a divorce.”

“Why not?”

“Because we do not need a piece of paper to validate our love.”

The lawyer in me surfaced. “That piece of paper would enable us to make healthcare decisions for each other in emergency situations, and to protect our wills from a family member who might want to contest them.”

“Bobby, what is this about?”

“Don’t you want to stand in front of our family and friends and proclaim our love for each other?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Why wouldn’t you want to do that?”

Finished with dinner, Paolo poured the limoncello and we drank. “Bobby, I do not have to prove my love for you.”

“That’s not what a wedding is about.”

“Then what is it about?”

“The celebration of two people’s love and commitment.”

“Let straight people do that.” Paolo rose, lifted our plates and glasses, kissed the top of my head, and headed into the kitchen.

I followed him. As he loaded our small dishwasher, I said, “You’re suffering from internalized homophobia.”

“Because I have little interest in an ancient ritual?”

“Because you aren’t proud of our love.” Tears filled my eyes. “Paolo, don’t you want to proclaim our love, rejoice in finding each other, and take every legal step possible to bind us together?”

You’re the lawyer, Bobby.” Paolo headed to our bedroom with me at his heals. At the closet, he stripped to his undershorts. With the moonlight reflecting on his broad back, he looked like an Italian statue at dusk.

I sat on the bed. “Is it because you want to go out with other guys, like you did before you met me?”

“No. I told you I am not interested in that.”

“Are you embarrassed to be married to me?”

“No.”

“Then why?”

“I do not want to end up like my father who has mistresses that my mother pretends not to know about.”

“But we could end up like my parents instead.”

“Who just had a spat.” He sat next to me on the four-poster and our shoulders touched. “I have never loved anyone but you. I left my home and family to be by your side. And I intend on loving and living with you until the last beat of my heart. Because you are my heart. And you are my life.” He kissed away the tears on my cheeks. Then Paolo eased me down onto my back, his body over me like a blanket. He kissed my forehead, eyes, nose, and lips. “Not loving you would be like not breathing.”

“But—”

His warm, thick tongue explored my mouth as we kissed again and again.

Unable to stop myself, I wrapped my arms around his muscular back and slid them down to his firm, round buttocks. Paolo sighed, dropping his head against mine, and pressing our groins together. Clearly frustrated, he pulled off his undershorts, and I flung my nightshirt to the floor.

With the white comforter surrounding us like a fluffy cloud, Paolo kissed my neck and shoulders. I squeezed his pectoral muscles and then ran a finger around the eight compartments of his abdominals.

After he drew himself up, I nestled my nose in his thick black pubic hair and licked his scrotum. Saving the prize for last, I ran my tongue down the length of his long, thick, uncut shaft. I earned a shiver from Paolo, and a whisper of my name. When his head emerged, my dick shivered too, as if Paolo’s breath had touched it. I sucked as he ran his thick fingers through my hair and then massaged my scalp. “Ti adoro.”

I wanted Paolo to fill every cell in my body. As if hearing my wish, he took a lubed condom from the night table, rolled it on, and gently slid inside me. I wrapped my legs around his thighs, pushing him in deeper. While I whispered my love for him, Paolo nibbled on my erect nipples. His thrusts were slow, smooth, and loving, but they grew in speed and intensity as I massaged the muscles in his back. In Paolo’s arms, my fears and doubts were replaced with joy and fulfillment.

He grasped my long, thin dick and rubbed tenderly as we both released the result of our lovemaking. I looked up at the face I adored. Paolo’s eyes were full of love. “Sei tutto per me.”

“You mean everything to me too, Paolo.”

We nestled in each other’s arms until pleasant dreams overtook us.