Micah had noticed Katie’s momentary expression, because he didn’t come closer to us. That wasn’t okay, because if we were going to be here today, it had to be real, no hiding. I reached my free hand out to him, and after a moment’s hesitation he came to me, to us.
I kissed Micah, and then there was tension in his hand as Nathaniel leaned down for a kiss, too. It wasn’t that they didn’t kiss each other, but in public it didn’t always go over well. Even I tensed up, because I wasn’t sure if Zerbrowski was that secure in his manhood—or Katie either, so to speak.
“You guys are just cute together,” Zerbrowski said.
I gave him the smile that comment and the genuine look of happiness in his face deserved. Katie hugged her husband and smiled at us. “He’s right, you guys are cute. How did you and Micah meet?”
We told a version of the truth, but it left so much out that I always thought of it as a lie. Micah had already sanitized the story for the press; since he was interviewed a lot by the media as the head of the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Humans and Lycanthropes, the question had come up before.
“I came into town hoping to find a city that would understand what I was trying to do with the Coalition. Anita was there when I met the other wereleopards, and it was love at first sight for me.”
I took his hand in mine. “I had to be persuaded that adding another person to my life was a good idea.”
“Since I’ve never seen you happier, seems like it was,” Zerbrowski said.
I nodded and kissed Micah.
“So you met Nathaniel and Anita at the same time,” Katie said.
“I actually met Nathaniel first,” Micah said.
“And was it love at first sight, too?”
Micah shook his head. “No, I’d never dated a man before, so I didn’t see Nathaniel that way.”
“He’s your first . . . boyfriend ever?”
Micah nodded, smiling, and gave Nathaniel the look that went with the smile, which made them both lean around me and kiss again.
“You are all adorable together, but be careful with the public displays of affection around some of the other men, and even some of the wives.”
Zerbrowski frowned at her. “Katie . . .”
“I’m sorry, but it’s just the truth. You and Anita must both know what could happen if they did that out in the yard.”
“They’re not in public yet. They’re with friends, with us,” he said.
I wanted to give Zerbrowski a hug right then, but he was still hugging Katie, and I didn’t want to step farther away from my men in the middle of all this.
“No, it’s all right; we live in the Bible belt, Mrs. Zerbrowski. We know we have to be careful in public,” Micah said. His voice was neutral as he said it; if he was insulted it didn’t show in his voice, or face. He was good at hiding his emotions when he had to. We’d both learned to hide.
“It’s our kitchen and just us right now,” Zerbrowski said. “You don’t have to be careful around friends.”
Micah glanced at Nathaniel, but it was our shared boyfriend who put his arm across his shoulders, drawing him closer. Micah hesitated, but slid his arm around Nathaniel’s waist and his other arm across my shoulders, so we were politely cuddled. Nathaniel kept holding Matthew’s hand.
“Oh, don’t call me Mrs. Zerbrowski, Micah, that’s for work, and my mother-in-law. Please, it’s Katie, and my smart husband is right, we’re friends, and it shouldn’t matter when you’re with friends.”
“I know that not all the police officers coming today are our friends,” I said.
“Is Uncle Natty the prince?” Matthew asked. He’d been thinking about what he considered important while the adults had worried about things he took for granted.
“Prince of what?” I asked.
“Of you, your prince, if you’re queen and Uncle Micah is king, then is Natty the prince?”
“Well, actually, Anita is Prince Charming, but when she got promoted to queen I got the title,” Nathaniel said.
Matthew frowned at him. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay, Matthew. Yes, Nathaniel is my prince,” I said.
My answer seemed to please him, and he let it go. Matthew was teaching me not to overexplain, to explain just enough to make him happy, and not dig the verbal hole deeper. Talking to children is like testifying in court, answer just what’s asked, don’t elaborate, and don’t volunteer information.
“Nathaniel and I won’t kiss in front of the other guests,” Micah said.
“Aww,” Nathaniel said, and did an exaggerated pout at us.
Matthew said, “What’s wrong with kissing?”
Micah smiled at him. “There’s nothing wrong with kissing.”
“I don’t understand,” Matthew said.
“I don’t think we can explain it to you,” I said. I wanted to be upset with Katie, but I knew the cops that would be here today, and my two boyfriends kissing would not go over well. She was right, but I hated that other people’s insecurities and prejudices made it a risk for the men to touch too much in public. Literally, they risked other men screaming in their faces, or even trying to beat them up.
“We still have a few things to finish up so the food will be ready,” Nathaniel said. “Why don’t you take Matthew outside.”
Katie smiled at my prince. “That’s a great idea. Besides, Zerbrowski is dying to show off his new grill.”
“That’s right, he always grills the meat, and he’s never set anything on fire,” I said.
“Grilling meat is the only thing he can do without needing a fire extinguisher, but let him near the stove, or oven, and it’s terrible,” she said.
“I grill vegetables just fine,” he said.
“I’ll give you that,” she said, and went up on tiptoe to kiss him.
Nathaniel kissed me and then Micah good-bye. Normally he would have kissed Micah more thoroughly, because he might not get another chance for hours, but we’d started doing less of the tonsil-cleaning kisses in front of Matthew—not just between the men, but between me and the men, or anyone and anyone. Why? Because Matthew liked to imitate, and he’d gotten sent home with a note from preschool. We’d been left having to explain that certain kinds of kissing was grownup kissing, and he had to be a grownup to do it. He’d accepted our reasoning and filed it away on the same list as driving a car, drinking liquor, or being able to lift weights. It made perfect sense to him that it was just one more thing he wasn’t old enough to do, yet.
Matthew hugged Nathaniel bye, and took my hand in his, then reached for Micah’s hand. We followed Zerbrowski as he led the way through the house. Matthew was almost skipping between us, excited about meeting other kids, and playing outside. I wished I was as happy about being here. I glanced across at Micah and he met my eyes, both of us still in sunglasses. I thought we’d keep them on; it’s always harder to keep the hurt feelings, or anger, out of your eyes than the rest of you. We’d known that coming here was going to be a test of sorts, and it had been brave of Zerbrowski and Katie to invite us, but she’d already shown that her nerve wasn’t as strong as his. She was a teacher, and he was a cop. Of course, maybe Katie was just being realistic, and it was the rest of us that were fooling ourselves. When you live in a way that’s too different from everyone else, you get grief about it. Is it fair? No, but it’s still what happens. I wanted to go home.
Zerbrowski led us out the back door onto the deck with the other early arriving guests. There were a half dozen kids already playing in the yard. Matthew was so excited that he jumped up and down to get rid of some of the energy of it. There was no going home, no disappointing the kid, or even Nathaniel, who was finally in the kitchen with the other domestic partners. For our big boy, and our little one, we were going to smile and smile and have a good time even if it killed us. Strike that, no killing today, though depending on the level of stupid aimed at us, I was willing to look at a little mayhem.
Matthew asked permission to go play, we nodded, and off he went. He joined the running and laughing children as if he’d known them all his life. I’d half expected some hesitation, or shyness, but nope, the other kids accepted him just as easily.
Zerbrowski opened his new grill and began to wax eloquent about it. Micah and I stood with our arms around each other, pretending we cared—or I pretended, maybe Micah would actually grill meat if we had a grill.
I got greetings from the other cops of, “Hey, Blake . . . Anita, good to see you . . .” then they closed around us introducing me to their wives; so far I was the only female cop here. I introduced Micah as my boyfriend, but felt strange not saying that our third was in the house.
We got a lot of, “My husband, my other half, my guy, Dan, Saul . . . didn’t tell me you had a little boy.”
It took us almost thirty minutes of conversation to try and explain that Matthew wasn’t ours, but he spent a lot of time with us. Once we said that he was our nephew and we were Uncle Micah and Aunt Anita, they accepted it more easily. I’d originally been adamant that we weren’t Matthew’s uncles and aunt, so he couldn’t call us that, but it made him happy, and it made conversations like this much easier. I was tired of the topic long before the other women were, because they asked more questions than the guys. They were men and they were cops, most of that combination learns early not to ask too many personal questions. Micah helped me find a shorthand to explain, “His mother’s out of town on a business trip, and we’re the only family in town.”
Then there was more small talk. I met more spouses of fellow officers in the next few minutes than I’d ever met, and because I was the woman they seemed to expect me to be the chatty one. I wasn’t. Both the men with me today were more easily social than I would ever be. Micah did his best to redirect the conversation away from me and to him, but the women just didn’t seem to understand that I was the “husband,” and that our “wife” was actually in the kitchen with Katie. Of course, we didn’t try to explain that part either.