A Suitable Lover

Chapter Twenty-One : He didn't tell you?

The event that Skip was never to stop thinking of as "the disaster" began to incubate in earnest several weeks after the initial dinner with Marcus's family. There had been a couple more meetings, each a bit more comfortable than the last. But more and more conversations between Marcus and Skip went like this one:

" . . Yeah, but not tonight. I have a deadline tomorrow. I'm in danger of having to pull an all-nighter."

"Okay, then, but that means not until, um, three days from now, because I'm getting some crap in tomorrow I have to do right away. That work?"

"Yeah, but not all night. I have a meeting in the morning. Ridiculously early."

This particular conversation took place in the evening when they should have been eating dinner together. They hadn't seen each other in the flesh for four days. The phone went dead in the middle of some ridiculously sentimental protestations of love, and since they had been attempting to say goodbye anyway, Marcus gave it up, first checking to see that it was in fact Skip's phone that had died. He put his phone away, rubbing his forehead in a gesture anybody but he or Skip could see was picked up from Skip, muttering, "Maybe this being a professional thing isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Isaac, passing by the open archway to Marcus's work corner, said, "Or maybe you could live together, and then you'd sleep together for at least a few hours almost every night."

"Skip doesn't want to."

Isaac turned. "You've talked about it? Does he say why he doesn't want to?"

Marcus grimaced. "I'm pretty sure it's because he's afraid of getting thrown out on the street again."

"But --"

"I know. He won't admit to it. He just says it's too early."

"I married four weeks after graduation," Isaac said. "We'd have done it earlier if anybody would have let us." At Marcus's quizzical look, Isaac said, "She turned eighteen after graduation. It took a couple of weeks to get jobs and an apartment of our own, and another week to arrange the wedding."

"You were in a hurry."

"Good thing, as it turned out. We didn't have that long."

Not for the first time Marcus wondered how Isaac and Reva were getting on with their respective ghosts. He didn't know Reva's, but he assumed she must have them at her age.

Any further conversation they might have had was interrupted as Marcus's phone went off. He opened it and greeted the unfamiliar woman's voice on the other end.

"Is Christopher available?" she asked.


"I'm looking for Christopher Ritter. He left a message from this phone a little while ago. I'm his mother . . ."


Skip heard pounding on his door. He stood up slowly, stretching painful kinks out of his back, and limped to the door with a dead foot. Except for the phone call with Marcus, he hadn't talked to anybody properly in days. Simon was out of town meeting journalists and setting up showings. He had no idea who would stand there beating on his door like that. Marcus had a key and they had just talked a few hours ago before his phone died.

The pounding got louder. Somebody was calling from the other side of the door, too. Probably loudly, though the voice was muffled and Skip could not tell whether it was a man or a woman out there.

He wished his phone wasn't dead. If it was trouble he ought to be able to call 911.

He opened the door cautiously, then threw it open with a huff of relief. "You scared me," he said to the diminutive form outside. "What's all the yelling about?"

"You never answer your phone," Jinny accused him as she walked in. "I thought you were hiding again."

"No, I just can't keep my phone working. What's so urgent, anyway?"

"Wow, this is like a travel agency for Fairyland in here," Jinny said, looking around at a forest of wires strung across the room and sagging under the weight of pictures clipped to them. "Is this what you do in your spare time?" She walked around the little room, craning her neck to peer at the finely-detailed illustrations.

"What spare time?" Skip said, almost but not quite bitterly. He wanted more time to spend with Marcus, but other than that he couldn't say he resented his work.

"This is your work?" Jinny asked.

"Yeah," Skip said. "Um, do you want coffee?"

"No, I'm just here to deliver the ultimatum."

Skip flinched. "What?" What did I do now? "Ultimatum?"

"Yeah. We're having the party for Reva and Patrick on Sunday and you're coming with no excuses."

"Patrick and Reva?"

"Reva's retiring, Patrick's getting a promotion," Jinny said. "And you're coming. It's catered, but you can bring something if you want so long as it's not meatloaf."

Skip didn't react to the bait. Instead, he asked, "What time?" and "Where?"

"We close at five, the party starts at three upstairs in the community room as usual. Be there early so I don't think I have to come after you with a whip."

"I'll be there," Skip said. "You don't have to threaten me."

"Nobody's seen hide or hair of you in a month," Jinny said. "We were beginning to think you were starting to get above your raisings."

"Above my what?"

"Just be there, picture boy. Nice work, by the way," Jinny added over her shoulder as she strolled out the door.

"I ought to send Marcus an email about the party," Skip mumbled, turning back to his work. "Or call him when my phone charges up. If it charges up."


Sunday Skip worked all day. He was deep in the throes of it, occasionally remembering that he had something he had to do today, when the booming of his door reminded him what it was. He stumbled to the door facing an irate Jinny.

"You did not just shine me and the whole fucking library on, picture boy," she said.

"I was coming. I just had to finish some crap. Go on back. I'll just shower up and be right there."

"Right. I'll wait here or Patrick will have my ears in a basket," Jinny said. "What's distracting you anyway?"

"I have too much work," Skip said.

"Complain to Simon. He's supposed to be your friend, not a slave driver."

"He's my boss, Jinny. And it's my own fault I have too much work." Skip rummaged through the tiny closet. He had more "good" clothes now, because he had to let Marcus buy things to keep the peace, but he had little more occasion to wear them since he had become overwhelmed with work.

"How is that? You spun straw into gold last time and now you have to do it again?"

"Something like that. Not quite. People wanted me to do stuff and I told them to ask Simon because he's my boss. He said I had to develop some time management skills of my own and not depend on him so he said yes to everybody that asked him about me and told me to sort it out but he expects the same work for him as be

fore too."

"How's that working out?" Jinny asked, amused.

"I'm getting it done," Skip said, slipping into the bathroom with his clothes and emphatically turning on the shower.


The first thing Skip saw at the library party was Simon sharing a joke with Isaac. This reminded Skip of two embarrassing things: he had forgotten to mention this party to Marcus, and he was still behind on some material he had to deliver to Simon the next day. He checked his pocket. His phone was in there: had it held its charge this time? He was so going to have to break down and buy a new phone - - - but this time, it was charged. A record for the last couple of weeks. A whole six hours and it was still live. Eyeing Simon uneasily, Skip looked for a way to step out of the fray to make the call.

"No you don't, picture boy," Jinny said, grabbing his arm and holding it tight. "You're going to face upto this. Consequences of your actions and all that."

"I just want to call Marcus, I wouldn't dream of leaving," Skip said.

"Call him in a minute. First, you have to put up with sharing the guest of honor spot long enough to get some pictures taken and stuff."

"Guest of honor? You said this party was for Patrick and Reva. Anyway, I quit a couple months ago, it's too late --"

"Never too late. And if I told you this was in honor of you, would you have come?"

"Actually, yeah," Skip said. "But I wouldn't be happy about it. And I'm not happy about it now, either."

"Shut up and go talk to people, picture boy."

"When did you start calling me that? And being so --"

"Being so what? I've always bossed you around. You're just romanticizing your menial job at the library in retrospect because you're pissed off that your dream job is so much work."


"And I started calling you picture boy when you started drawing pictures for a living and not just as an excuse not to have a social life. Oh, it still is, isn't it? Go talk to people."

Skip thought that maybe he'd escape Simon. He threw himself into a conversation with Reva about her plans for retirement. "Naples and Venice. Isaac has some places he wants to show me. Honestly, I think we're doing a little exorcising, because the only other time he went to Italy it was with his wife just before she died. But I don't intend to let that ruin my day. We'll drink a little and cry a little and spend all day hiking around town gawking at things. It'll be grand."

"Sounds grand," Skip agreed. "I'd like to see all that."

"You probably will . . . Well, hello, Simon. Glad to see you. Patrick wasn't sure you'd get back in time."

"It was tight, But I'm glad I made it. I don't think I've ever seen Patrick so pleased." He turned on Skip. "Where's Marcus?"

"Good question. My phone's been acting up. I was working all day," he wanted to be sure that Simon knew he wasn't screwing off, "And I just noticed the phone works again. I was trying to call him, but Jinny wouldn't let me."

Simon laughed. "Well, call him now. He should be here."

"Just cover for me with Jinny, okay? She thinks I'm trying to duck out."

"And you aren't?"

"I wouldn't dream of trying. I know I'd never succeed."

"Go. Anyway, Reva, there's a cafe you have to go to in Venice . . ."

Skip had to try three times to reach Marcus. The first time he reached a busy signal. He waited a minute and then tried again: another busy signal. Finally he got through. Marcus did not sound pleased. "Where the hell are you, Skip?" he asked. "We were supposed to be there half an hour ago."

"I'm here," Skip said, puzzled. "I thought you didn't know about it. I've been trying to call you."

"Know about it? I set it up. And unless you can teleport, you're not there: I just came from there."

It dawned on Skip that he and Marcus were not talking about the same "here" or the same "there." He cleared his throat, and asked carefully, "Where did you just come from? I'm at the library."

"The Limone, like I told you days ago. Why are you at the library, of all places?"

"It's a party for Reva and Patrick. And maybe me? I don't know why, but Jinny said something. What's at the Limone?"

"Your parents, if they haven't gotten disgusted and gone home. Look, I'm on my way to get you now. You really can't back out of this. They're dubious to begin with. I should have known you got it from somewhere."

"Jinny's going to kill me if I leave now."

"I'll seriously kill you if you don't." Marcus sounded breathless. There was a percussive beat to his speech: was he running?

"Wait, my parents? What did you do?"

"I answered my phone, something you don't do enough. I'm on the stairs now. Don't come down. I'll make your excuses---" and the phone was out of charge again.


Marcus raced up the stairs. His mind was working furiously. He was furious, period, though it seemed as if that was unfair. He was so going to buy Skip a new phone. This was simply unacceptable.

He burst into the community room, finding Skip right where he ought to be, edging towards the doors with the now-familiar haunted expression. Yes, Marcus understood it this time. If he really hadn't known about the meeting with his parents, and Jinny really had been pressuring him to come to this shindig and stay, of course he'd look like that. And when he caught Marcus's eye, he lit up with grateful relief. So he trusted Marcus to make sense of this carnival of mixups. Like all of Skip's life. Like Marcus's life since he'd met Skip.

Marcus strode up to Skip and hooked arms with him as if they were going to dos-y-dos, carrying him along as he swept through the little crowd, picking out people and, as he promised, making Skip's excuses for him. "Family emergency," he said softly in one ear, "Something came up, sorry," in another ear. And to Jinny: "It should only take an hour, and if it does take too long to get back here we'll come by during the week, I promise, it's not the last you'll see of Skip."

She glowered. "I didn't realize he was enough of a coward to get you in here to spring him. Fate worse than death, huh, to hear people say they'll miss you? Heaven forbid they might thank you for your help or anything."

"I wouldn't be pulling him out for that, Jinny, you should know that by now. I'd be making him stay for that if it wasn't for this other thing. I promise. I really will bring him back if I can."

Then he was flying down the stairs with Skip stumbling behind. "No time for the elevator," Marcus said. "I'm parking in the unloading zone."

"Crap, you shouldn't have. They love to give tickets in that spot. Even on Sundays." Skip's voice was ragged and breathless and Marcus was sure it wasn't from the effort of keeping up with him. They barreled through the front door and on to the sidewalk, skidding to a stop at the passenger door of the car just as the little electric cart of the parking control lumbered away like a satisfied bumblebee leaving a flower. Flapping in the late afternoon wind was a newly-laid ticket, crisp and clean in its pastel papers.

"Crap," Marcus said, fumbling with his keys, his hands shaking from hurry.

"Let me," Skip said, surprisingly smooth, slipping the keys out of Marcus's hand and opening the door. He handed the keys back to Marcus solemnly, catching his eye for only a second before dropping heavily into the passenger seat.

A propos of nothing at all, Marcus said as he fastened his seatbelt, "You want to get your license? Probably take a couple weeks for you to learn to drive."

"Don't know," Skip said. "I don't want a car. But it might come in handy if we want to go on a road trip. Or something."

"I definitely want to go on a road trip with you," Marcus said. "Go someplace where nobody knows either one of us. If there's such a place."

"Antarctica, maybe," Skip said. "Summer in Antarctica might be kind of cool. Penguins and like that . . ."

"More than cool, even in the summer. And penguins bite," Marcus said, pulling into traffic.

"So how did you come to set me up with a secret meeting with my parents?" Skip asked, his tone suspiciously light. Marcus chanced a glance at him before whipping his eyes back to the dinner traffic. Skip's face was as open as sex: no attempt to pretend that everything was all right.

"I tried to tell you," Marcus said. "We're getting you a new phone tomorrow. Your mother called me. I think she thought my phone was yours. You and I were planning to get together today anyway, so I set it up on the spot and called you. I figured you'd pick up the message when you got your phone charged. I didn't know you were going to let it lie there for three days."

"I didn't. I've been charging it and checking it. It won't hold a charge for more than a few hours. I never get to checking my messages before the phone goes dead again. I'm surprised they called you, though. I left them my number. I've been giving them the same number for years now and they just don't seem to want to use it."

"I guess this time my number was on their caller ID or something. Anyway they sounded pretty nice on the phone. And they seemed okay at Limone."

"Oh dear god, you've got them stashed at Limone."

"Yeah, I said so. Is there something wrong about that?"

Skip grimaced. "Maybe not. Probably not. It will be okay. This is going to be so hard."

"Really, it will be okay. I've got your back, you know," Marcus said. He could hear Skip shift in his seat as he slumped in some kind of relief.

"You've got the best luck in the city," Skip said. "That's a legal parking place right in front of the door. That never happens."

"It has to happen to somebody," Marcus said as they climbed out. "I mean, it happened to the people who usually clog up all the arking places."

"I always thought they were dmmies. Prop cars or something," Skip said.

Marcus fumbled in his pocket as he studied the meter. "Now this I can't believe. Whoever just vacated this spot left an hour and a half on it."

"Don't add to it," Skip said. "That will be our escape clause."

"Your parents already have one. The babysitter has to leave in an hour from now."

Skip hesitated outside the door to the cafe and Marcus could see him composing himself. "look," Marcus said, stalling him with a hand on his arm. "Just a minute. You know that thing you do? Where you smile like nothing's bothering you? You pretend everything's all right and you don't care about anything?"

"No, I don't," Skip said, but he was doing it again.

"Just don't. Okay? It's annoying, it doesn't fool anybody, but it makes people think you don't want to care and that throws them off. You've been being real with me since we got together, and it's a relief."

"I don't necessarily think it's a great idea to let my parents know they terrify me," Skip said.

"Just try. Or at least don't try so hard to act like you don't care. Somewhere in between is good."

"I'll try," Skip said.

Marcus was afraid that Skip's parents really would be gone by the time they got back to the cafe, even though he was really gone for less than fifteen minutes. But they were there, apparently enjoying their coffee. They both shut down when they saw Skip coming, though, which Marcus thought couldn't be good at all.

Skip came to the table and stood like a schoolboy in trouble. He hadn't seen them in over four years -- how is it that they could hold such a power over him? Marcus's parents didn't do that to him, and he had it on good authority that his mother was one of the most formidable women any of his friends had ever met. Come to think of it, Marcus's parents didn't do that to Skip, either, though he had been nervous to meet them.

"Christopher," his mother said, guarded. She was nervous too. Well, she had told him so.

"Hello, Mother, Dad," Skip said, flicking his eyes at the chair he stood behind in a wordless request to be allowed to sit. Marcus sighed, grabbed Skip by the elbow, and sat him in the chair before dropping heavily into the one beside it. Skip continued to look like a berated child, his head bowed, his eyes wide and vulnerable.

Skip cleared his throat. "How are you guys? And everybody?" He was even talking like a kid. Marcus refrained from kicking him.

"Fine . . ." the way that Skip's father drawled out the word (Arvid, Marcus had been told earlier: and his mother was named Gina) Marcus thought it not unlikely that he would not speak again during this meeting.

"I've been doing okay," Skip said, with a strange little squeak of a nervous laugh Marcus had never heard before. This was mesmerizing in the fatal train-wreck sort of way, watching his boyfriend, a manly competent fellow who had defenses as thick as the shielding on a nuclear reactor, reduced to this -- this open, quivering wound. Marcus reached under the table and gave Skip a squeeze just above his knee, thinking too late that it was the wrong move because it might make him jump. But Skip didn't seem to register it at all. All his attention was on the entirely normal and pleasant looking couple in front of him.

Arvid didn't look anything like Skip. He was a a lean and angular man, probably a good six inches taller than Skip, with a peachy-pale coloring that would go white soon as he aged -- red around the cheeks and nose, that was already starting. He had ice-blue eyes, but really well-shaped smile wrinkles around them and an actual dimple along the smile line. Gina looked a bit like Skip, at least. She had the hazel eyes and dun-colored hair -- but neatly combed and styled, not a ragged thatch like Skip's -- and a familiar wariness about her.

Skip swallowed and started up again. "I just quit my job at the library a few weeks ago because I got a job doing illustration. You remember Simon, right? He's doing real good and he needs an assistant, so that's me. And --"

Skip's mother narrowed her eyes and Skip trailed off.

"Simon? The boy you left?"

Skip scratched his head. "Yeah, but I thought he threw me out at the time," he said. "We've worked that out. He's a pretty good boss, actually. Kind of lets me overwork myself . . ."

"I see," Gina said, and Marcus could see she wasn't happy about it at all. What did it matter to her? Was she afraid that Simon would hurt her boy again?

No such luck. After thinking about it for a moment, Gina said, "Well, just don't go lying to him again. You remember what happened last time."

Skip was momentarily derailed: Marcus could see it coming. "It wasn't lying. It was a different kind of screwup."

"Cheating's the same as lying," his mother said. "Just -- be good, Christopher. Simon's a good guy, and you don't want to hurt him."

"He's not my boyfriend any more. He's just my boss. He has a boyfriend, actually, a friend of mine from the library."

Skip's mother looked genuinely worried. His father was unreadable.

"It's a good job for Skip," Marcus intervened. "He can draw all day and night. He gets kind of carried away with his work. We're both kind of like that."

This almost mollified Gina, but not quite. "Just be good," she repeated.

"I try, mother," Skip said.

Silence again for a little while. "So, um, I heard I have a baby sister?" Skip tried.

His mother nodded shortly and looked away. Arvid stepped into the gap. "Your mother hit forty and decided it was now or never."

"Wow. I didn't know. How old is she?"

They looked a little guilty. "Almost five."

Skip blinked. "So that's why I couldn't stay with you back then?"

"Um, yes," Gina said, slowly.

"We told you, that room was in use," Arvid said. "By the time Dwayne moved out, you were already settled again, you said, so there was no point in having you come back then."

Gina looked panicked.

Skip was pale, but he was apparently set on ignoring this bit. "So what's she like?" he said. "Like Steven, or like me?"

"She's like herself," Gina said, clearly glad for the distraction. "I guess she has more Arvid in her than Stevie does."

"So I guess she's not a noisy little kid like we were," Skip said.

"No, she's every inch a lady already. She wants to be a diplomat."

"I don't think I knew what a diplomat was when I was her age," Skip said.

Gina laughed for the first time in this meeting. "Yes, well. Gabe --" she corrected herself so quickly Marcus was almost not sure he heard her right -- "one of our friends gave her a couple of Shirley Temple videos and the next thing we know she's demanding tap dancing lessons and ringlets and talking about growing up to be a diplomat."

"Cute," Skip said. The conversation died again.

"How long has Skip known he wanted to be an artist?" Marcus asked. They were clearly on the verge of more damaging revelations and maybe if he got them to say something, anything affectionate to or about Skip, the blow would be softened. Whatever that blow might be. Or maybe Skip had known all along that Dwayne had taken his old room, and that Gabe was more familiar with his family than he was.

Marcus doubted it though. Skip was looking pretty miserable. No -- wait for it -- there it was. The don't-care smile. Helped into place, no doubt, by Marcus's change of subject. For once Marcus didn't want him to wipe the smile off his face.

"I'm not sure -- was it sixth grade, Arvid? When he started those disturbing drawings? Scared me to death."

"Really? Disturbing pictures? I didn't know you were a Goth in your early life, Skip," Marcus said lightly.

Skip looked ready to crawl under his chair. "I wasn't Goth. I was illustrating every book I read. Mostly like science fiction and fantasy at that age. There's a lot of violence in them."

"I'm sorry," Gina said, exasperated for some reason. "We were just trying to look out for you. So you didn't turn out like your father."

"I think I'm a lot like Dad," Skip said. "At least I hope I am. He's creative, unassuming, and accepting. Those are good things."

Arvid leaned forward. "You know that's not what she means. And I know you feel you have things to complain about but you did turn out okay, didn't you? From what we knew, that wasn't guaranteed. We really had to watch out for you."

"That wasn't my father," Skip said. "You are."

"They keep saying that there's a genetic basis for -- those things. You know that. We thought you deserved to rise above it."

"Yeah," Skip said, slumping. Not going to argue. Marcus wondered whether he should ask what they were talking about.

Gina was blowing silent puffs of air out of her cheeks as if she was trying to control an onset of hyperventilation. "It's okay, Sweetheart, we don't have to go on about it," Arvid said, with the most expression he had summoned the whole time. "You can relax."

"Maybe not," Gina said. "Have you ever talked to him about it?" she asked darkly.

"To whom?" Skip's eyes darted to Marcus and away again. "No."

"You'd better. You wouldn't want him to find out from someone else."

"It's not an issue," Skip said. "We're not interfertile, you know?"

"You know that's not what I mean," Gina said.

"Mother. I have a steady job and a very law-abiding boyfriend. I'm not going to turn into a Somalian pirate any minute."

Marcus laughed. Gina didn't.

"It's not the specifics that you should be concerned about. Maybe not piracy, but you have to be aware . . . just keep a tight rein on the ethics."

"I do, Mother. Always. I'm really careful."

Marcus felt the need to intervene. "Really, he is."

Startled, Gina turned to Marcus. "He is?"

Marcus nodded. He squeezed Skip's hand under the table to apologize for what he was about to say. "If he had any less confidence in his suitability as a lover, we'd never have gotten anywhere. He's always checking."

Skip squeezed back, hard enough that Marcus jumped, barely suppressing a yelp. He looked at Skip. Skip was red and scowling, but also unsuccessfully biting back a smile. Marcus realized that Skip was thinking about his manner in sex, where he always asked before almost every kiss, almost every caress. Marcus didn't giggle. He'd been thinking about more than that. It wasn't funny anyway. Usually.

Gina looked sharoly at Marcus. Breathing deeplyh, she said, with exaggerated meaning, "But did he tell you?"

"Tell me what? About every mistake, real and imagined, he had ever made? I think so. About every misunderstanding he thought had to be his fault because it just had to be? I think so. He didn't tell me he's the sweetest, most loyal, most considerate man I've ever met. And funny and smart and creative too."

Skip was having fits. Marcus knew he hated being talked about this way, even -- no, especially -- with such fulsome praise. He'd have to get over it. Because arcus was loyal too and he wasn't going to let a moment like this go by without defending his man.

Gina shook her head. "He didn't tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"About his biological father."

"I didn't know he was adopted, but what does that have to do with anything? I mean, Skip's joke about the Somalian pirate was out of line, but I can understand why he'd want to make it. You've had him almost all his life, right? So you can expect that you'd have more effect on him than some unknown birth parents."

"You really didn't tell him, did you?" Gina said, tunring on Skip with real irritationin her expression.

"I told you so," Skip said, sullenly. "There was no reason to." To Marcus he said, "It wasn't a joke. About the Somalian pirate. Supposedly that's what my biological father was."

Marcus couldn't stifle a short bark of a laugh. He took a drink of water to disguise it, but failed. "Sorry," he said, choking. "But that's just so . . . surprising. I don't know how anybody could think . . ."

"You of all people should know you can't make any assumptions based on color," Gina said. "You know that's racist."

Marcus didn't know what to say to that. He looked at Skip for guidance, but Skip wasn't giving any.

"I suppose Christopher told you we kicked him out of the house when he was fourteen," Gina said. "It's not true. We sheltered him until he chose to leave, and he was well over eighteen when he moved out. We never stopped caring for him and we never stopped supporting him. Even after he moved out we paid his expenses, until he broke poor Simon's heart and disappeared."

Marcus opened his mouth to say something conciliatory, but Gina went on. "You have to realize that we were in an impossible position. We had another child to consider as well., And we had known parents who stayed in denial about their sociopathic children until a great deal of damage had been done. We didn't want to abandon Christopher, but we had Stevie to consider too. So we had to do something. All we ended up doing was insulating Stevie from Christopher just in case. But we made sure he had everything he needed or even wanted."

"I'm not accusing you of anything --" Marcus began, but Arvid cut him off.

"We have to go now. The baby sitter is waiting for us. It should have been longer, but we didn't know we would have to wait almost an hour for Christopher to decide to come."

"Sorry," Skip mumbled, not bothering to protest that he hadn't known about the meeting until he was already late for it.

Watching Skip's parents as they left the cafe, Marcus turned to Skip and asked, "Why do your parents think you're the offspring of Somalian pirates? Is that what the social worker told them when they adopted you?"

Skip shook his head. "There wasn't a social worker. My mother is my biological mother. She was a teenager when she met this guy. I gather he was a con man. Anyway he told her he was a Somalian pirate trying to go straight. He said the rest of the Somalian pirates were after him because he knew too much and that's why they had to keep everything on the quiet. She's not stupid, Marcus. But she's kind of stubborn."

"I noticed," Marcus said drily. "But a Somalian pirate? I look the part more than you do."

"I guess you do, come to think of it," Skip said. :Are you adopted?"

"No." Abruptly, he changed the subject. "Are we going back to the library party?"

Skip grimaced. "We have to, or Jinny'll have me for breakfast tomorrow. I don't even know why she wants me there."

"You don't?"

Skip stood up, shaking his head. "She never liked me in the first place, I don't see why she'd want me there for the big party."

"You actually think she doesn't like you?" Marcus asked as they meandered back through the cafe. "I think you're mistaken."

"Right, she just adores me after I kept her from getting a full time job for at least a year after she should have gotten it."

"Why do you think she put up with it?"

Skip opened the door for Marcus. "Because her alternative was to get me fired and she's not mean enough? Not quite mean enough," he ammended.

As they emerged from the cafe and approached Marcus's car, Marcus asked, "Did you ever have a farewell party at the library?"

"No, why should I?" Skip asked.

"Because you were leaving and people would want to say goodbye," Marcus said. "Why else?"

"I think I said goodbye to everyone. I was just ascross the street anyway. And I've been in a few times to read stuff or look something up." Skip said.

Marcus shook his head. "Never mind, let's go."


It turned out Jinny did have an ulterior motive, beyond embarrassing Skip in front to f all the library regulars who had come to say goodbye to Reva and Skip and to congratulate Patrick on his new title ("it's not a real promotion," Patrick said. "I get a little more money but I also get a lot more work, and they save a bundle on not hiring a new reference librarian at Central to replace the guy who's taking Reva's place. -- no, I'm not moving to Central, they're moving a bunch of the online functions here. They threatened to close the branch otherwise.")

As soon as Marcus and Skip entered the community room, Jinny and Tesla were all over them, dragging them to meet the new branch head, a man almost as small and fierce as Jinny and considerably older-looking than Reva.

"These are the guys," Jinny said. "They did the last class." Then she and Tesla disappeared, leaving them facing each other with nothing much to say,.

"So. My name is Burton Burton," the man said, " and you are --?"

They introduced themselves.

"Do you even know why Jinny brought you to meet me?"

"Politeness?" Skip asked.

"One could wish," Burton said. "But no. Our friend is of the impression that you'd like to revisit your success with the afterschool program this year on a volunteer basis. Because of the budget."

"I don't know," Skip said, reluctant to come out and say no. "My new job is sort of overwhelming at the moment."

"You'll just have to ask Simon for the time," Marcus said firmly. He wasn't going to pass up another opportunity to work with Skip again. Not only that, but the way things were going it might be the only way to guarantee seeing his boyfriend more than once a week for a while.

"Oh please no," Skip said. "He'll say yes but he won't decrease my work load."

Marcus smiled brilliantly. "We'll get back to you on that," he said.


Half an hour later, Marcus said, "Have you talked to everyone you want to talk to?"

Skip looked over the group. "I guess. Why?"

"Remember how we haven't had any time together in the last what, week? More than that? We're going to go and have that time now."

Skip nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, let's."

Marcus pulled him back by the elbow as he charged for the door. "No, first, we have to go and say goodbye to everyone. Then we'll go back to my place and we'll take up a question I've been meaning to get back to for a long time."

"And that is?"

"You said I had a sexy nape. I've been meaning to see how the description applies to yours."

"Oh," Skip said. "I'd better get through all those goodbyes then."


A/N: so, I hate last chapters.

Anyway, it's done.

I guess.