Uncertain, Marty teetered back and forth in place for a moment, watching through the screen door. Coyote was sitting on the back porch steps, his back to the house. Marty heard Coyote sniffle and choke back a sob, his shoulders sagging and head hanging.


            Now completely certain, Marty pressed his hand to the screen door frame to open it. He walked out and, at the sound, Coyote stiffened. As Marty sat down beside him on the steps, he saw Coyote rub the side of his index finger against the side of his nose, then wipe his whole palm against his cheek. He quickly wiped the tears off the other cheek in the same way and sniffled. He glanced sideways at Marty and sniffled again. “How’d you know?”


            “Sweetie phoned me. He’s concerned about you.” He reached up and slid his fingers through the green streaks in Coyote’s hair, then cupped the man’s still-damp cheek and kissed the corner of Coyote’s mouth.


            It twitched slightly in recognition of the affection, but the man sniffed again and shook him off. “I was gonna call, but then I came out here to be alone.” He raised his arm and rubbed his forearm against his eyes. He brought it back down with a sigh. “I couldn’t stand all their sympathy and fussing.”


            Marty nodded. “I understand.” But he made no move to leave. Instead, he offered over a glass of water and a tissue box he’d brought along with him.


            Coyote pulled a tissue out of the box and blew his nose hard into it. Somehow it wasn’t quite so embarrassing to blow his nose when it wasn’t because of a cold or his allergies.


            “Go on,” Marty coaxed, water in hand. “Your voice sounds awful. You don’t want to strain it now, do you?”


            Coyote shrugged as though he didn’t care if he did. But he still took it and gulped down a bit. His mouth twitched again in a not-quite-smile and it looked as though he were quite glad for the drink, really.


            Marty smiled and set the tissues down on Coyote’s lap. “Give me a call and let me know you got back safe,” Marty told him. He started to get up but Coyote reached up and stopped him by grabbing hold of the hem of Marty’s shirt.


            “I can’t drive myself there,” he said, and his whole hand closed on that part of Marty’s shirt, getting a tight grip he would not let go of. “Flights are all regrettably booked. And a Greyhound won’t get there in time. Can you maybe take a couple of days off work?”


            Marty paused, again uncertain. “I thought you said you wanted to be alone.”


            “Yeah,” Coyote nodded. “But I want you there, too.” He let go of the shirt only to pick up Marty’s hand and slip his fingers in-between Marty’s with a tight squeeze. “That is, if you wouldn’t—”


            “I don’t mind. And I can take the time off,” Marty said quickly.


            At that, Coyote sighed, his shoulders sagging again. He leaned to the side and rested his temple against Marty’s shoulder. Only a few moments later, his body lurched forward and his head snapped down so his chin bumped his chest. “AHHHChushhh!


            “Bless you,” Marty replied automatically as Coyote went for the tissues, sniffling. “Perhaps sitting outside isn’t so good for your allergies.”


            “Then I’ll take a Sudafed,” Coyote replied, sniffling. “But I want to stay out here. The house is so crowded, it’s the only place I can go to be as alone as I feel.” Again he rested his head on Marty’s shoulder, but this time he slipped his arm around Marty’s waist as well.


            They sat in silence for a long while, the sun setting and evening falling down all around them. When the back porch light automatically clicked on at 8 o’clock pm on the dot, they suddenly noticed it had started to grow dark. The grass behind the mansion and to the right of the covered pool was a gray-green and stretched out towards the already dark forest.


            Coyote raised a hand and closed it carefully around something in the air. “Lightning bug,” he whispered. He opened his hand to reveal a long insect, black with what appeared to be a stripe down its back. It was crawling across his palm, trying to decide where to go. Coyote kept tilting his hand and the bug kept crawling to where it thought was the highest point before Coyote moved it again. Finally he let it crawl up to the tip of his index finger. It spread its tiny wings and took off, flashing its bright yellow rear just a moment after departure. “When I was little, I used to catch lightning bugs and I’d keep them just long enough to run and show my mom how bright they could be.”


            Marty now noticed the multitude of lightning bugs, now. Tiny bursts of light flashing in a random pattern between them and the forest. Suddenly, he realized Coyote was crying. Not just crying, but shaking with sobs. Strong sobs that would have been silent apart from snuffly breaths whenever Coyote could manage to breathe. Not knowing what to say, Marty simply wrapped his arm around Coyote’s middle and hugged the same way Coyote was hugging him.


*          *          *          *          *


            Marty clicked the little button on the side of the door for the third time, obsessively making sure it was unlocked as he waited. It was too early in the morning to honk the horn. With the exception of maybe Olly, the mansion’s residents were largely night owls. He checked his wristwatch. Ten minutes until six. He’d wait until six before he really started to worry.


            Movement caught his eye, however, and he looked over to see someone leaving the mansion through the large double doors, but it wasn’t Coyote. It was, in fact, Olly and he was heading straight for the driver’s side window, carrying a large box. He bent over and motioned for Marty to roll down the window, while glancing nervously towards the house.


            “Morning. Olly, right?” Marty asked, knowing perfectly well but wanting to ease into things.


            Olly nodded. “Right. Hi.” He nodded to the box in his hands. “We thought you two could use a few things, but there’s no talking to Yo right now so I’ll explain to you.” He reached in and pulled out two large baking pans as well as a brown  paper bag. “Sweetie and Auntie Al stayed up pretty late cooking so you’d have something to bring to the reception. They also packed you a few sandwiches and snacks to eat on the way down.”


            Watching the man juggling the items, Marty quickly exited the car and took the dishes from him, setting them on the floor in the back of the car.


            While he was there, Olly thrust a fistful of money at him. “We all chipped in a little and have money for gas and any tolls—”


            “I do have a good job. I can pay for that myself,” he said, holding his hand up in refusal.


            “I know,” Olly replied, his tone gentle. “But we’re trying to help as best we can, and there’s not a lot we can do. So let us help with this. Please? We’d really appreciate you taking it.” Marty listened to the argument, then accepted the money graciously.


            Olly pulled a bunch of white carnations from the box. They were wrapped in tissue paper and bound with a thick red ribbon. “Coyote called my sister’s shop about these last night and she drove them over an hour ago so they’d be fresh. They’re free of charge if he asks.”


            “Only carnations?” Marty said skeptically. They weren’t particularly formal. Then, before Olly could answer, “Because of his allergies. Of course,” he said with understanding.


            Olly nodded, then he glanced back at the door to be sure Coyote wasn’t out yet. “And, last, I’ve got these.” He pulled out a small Ziploc bag. “There’s Aspirin, Sudafed, and Pepto Bismol, just in case. And this…” He pointed to the small bottle. “Look, I don’t know what he’ll be like, but if he’s having trouble sleeping tonight or needs some rest on the drive, have him take one of these.”


            Marty took the bottles and put them in the arm rest compartment. “Thanks. I’m sure all this will help him out tremendously.”


            Olly nodded. “Wish we could do more. But he just seems to want to be alone. Apart from you. So take care of him for us. Just… be there for him.”


            “I will,” Mary reassured him. “And I’ll call if I run into any problems.”


            With a relieved thank you, Olly made himself scarce before Coyote could find him there. Marty sat back down in the car and returned to clock-watching duty. It was now two minutes past six. His leg nervously tapped the break pedal. He grabbed his cell phone out of the compartment in the armrest and switched it on. No messages. And, just as importantly, it said three minutes past six. Just as he began debating calling or getting out of the car and ringing the doorbell, the front door opened again and out walked Coyote. Marty sighed with relief and clicked the button again to quadruple-check that it was unlocked.


            Coyote pulled open the passenger side door and slumped into the seat. Marty reached over and took his suit coat. He leaned back and hung it on the hook above the door along with his own.


            “hahh-AHShooo! HahSchuhhh! Ughhh…


            “God bless.” Marty looked slightly concerned.


            “I’ve been like this since I woke up,” he informed Marty. He turned the latch on the glove compartment and pulled out a small box of tissues. He blew his nose twice and crumpled the tissues up.


            “You took something for it?” Marty asked, reaching over to be sure the man wasn’t running a fever.


            “Just a few minutes ago,” Coyote answered. “Hasn’t kicked in yet.” He rubbed his nose, then his eyes. “So fucking early.”


            Marty started up the car, with the air conditioning on low, and the tires scraped against the circular gravel driveway until they hit pavement. As they progressed onto the main roads, Marty glanced over. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep? I can’t imagine you got much last night.” Despite Coyote’s requests, Marty had refused to stay the night. Wounds were too fresh and they’d never managed to sleep in bed together without fooling around. And though Coyote insisted that might be a good way to kill the pain, Marty thought otherwise.


            “Need to give you directions,” Coyote replied, shaking his head. For the first time, Marty noticed that the streaks in his were gone. Not electric blue or striking green or beautiful purple. Every bit of his hair was a gentle, medium brown now.


            “I dug up some of my AAA road guides last night and I did a MapQuest on it. I should be good for five and a half hours at least.” He reached over, strangely attracted to the normal but uncharacteristic hair. He touched it gently. “So you can go to sleep. Save your nose some sniffling.”


            Coyote shrugged. “Maybe in a little bit. But right now…” He reached up and punched the button that turned on the radio. The morning show on the local mix station Marty listened to was starting. Coyote relaxed back in the seat but, surprisingly enough, was asleep by the time a song started.


*          *          *          *          *


            “And a right turn at the next light, after the—” he cringed “—roadhouse.” He rubbed at his eyes again and gave another sniffle. He’d drifted on and off during the whole ride, but his allergies had backed off pretty much the whole time as well. Now the only time he needed tissues was to muffle an occasional sob and dry his eyes.


            “Wait, is this the roadhouse?” Marty said, pointing as he turned the wheel one-handed.


            “Mmm,” Coyote nodded. “The town’s not big enough to have two.” He tried not to look at it as they passed.


            “Maybe that’s a good thing?” Marty suggested timidly.


            Coyote chuckled and rubbed again at his eyes and cheeks with his flat hand. “Knew there was a reason I wanted you along.” He reached over and petted Marty’s upper arm.


            “Is that it up ahead?” Marty asked, feeling silly asking after they’d just discussed how small the town was.


            “Yeah,” said Coyote, sounding incredibly close to tears. He swallowed hard and sniffled. “Dead ahead.”


            There was a parking lot on the right, and Marty pulled into it and parked. Though the lot was tiny, there were plenty of empty spots and Marty suspected most of the cars had driven in through the thin, windy paths to the site. He thought, for a moment, of offering to do the same. But Coyote was already reaching back for his jacket.


            More familiar with his own car, Marty beat him to it. He took both off the hook and pushed the button on the side of his door to unlock it. He pulled on his jacket and straightened his dark blue tie. Then he opened the passenger side door and offered a hand to Coyote. Coyote accepted it with a smile. And, similarly, when Marty held up his jacket, Coyote slid his arms through the sleeves and shrugged the jacket on. “All right,” Coyote said, with a deep breath. “This is it.” He smiled weakly, “Last chance to break up with me, ditch me here, and cut your losses.”


            Marty chuckled and gently patted Coyote’s back. “You’re not just saying that because you want to be alone, are you?”


            Coyote shook his head. “I am alone,” he said gravely. Then he turned and wrapped his arms around Marty’s shoulders. He kissed Marty’s cheek and hugged tightly.


            Marty rubbed his hand up and down Coyote’s back, then hugged back. He waited for Coyote to pull away, then they headed down one of the small paths towards a destination Coyote apparently knew.


            Coyote acted like he knew the graveyard like the back of his hand, in fact, heading straight for a destination and not bothering to look at any of the graves on one side or the other. Marty, on the other hand, couldn’t help but look around at the variety of very large, very well-kept grave markers. Quite a few had flowers sitting upon or against them. Some had little American flags and at least three by his count had Confederate flags. But they were all beautiful to a fault. Names and dates beautifully engraved in scripts or bold block letters that would stand the test of time.


            Up ahead, Marty could see an empty plot with a few dozen people surrounding it. The best-dressed of the bunch stood together at the point where the path Marty and Coyote were on continued onward away from that particular gravesite. Coyote paused in his steps when he spotted them, but then continued on with a brave face.


            They spotted him not long after that. One of them, a tall, blonde woman in the black dress, turned around with a look of surprise on her face for a moment. Then her expression and tone instantly turned into one of moral superiority. She practically turned her nose up at them. “Samuel, Darling, how nice that you were able to join us after all.”


            “Would have been here sooner, Darling Jessica,” he said, giving her a formal and not the least bit heartfelt hug, “had someone remembered to tell me when and where to be.” He shook the other two men’s hands with the same coldness and pretense. “Lincoln,” he said, nodding to the tall, brown-haired one. “And Jonathan,” he said to the blonde man.


            “You could have called us to get that information,” Jessica said.


            Coyote nodded. “If I’d have known my mother had passed away, I certainly would have. But I was just informed of that fact last night.”


            Jessica looked rather spiteful now and spoke sharply. “If you bothered to call once in a while, you’d have known.”


            “I call several times a week, not that it’s any of your business.” Coyote seemed to be fighting the need to justify himself to them and was, strangely, losing that fight.


            “If you lived here still you wouldn’t have to call at all.”


            Marty saw Coyote stiffen considerably at that, but the man’s voice was still filled with a forced lightness. “Some of us need to live elsewhere to make a living. We can’t all stay at home and mooch off our parent’s inheritance.”


            As Jessica’s eyes blazed with rage, Jonathan cleared his throat and jumped in with an equally condescending tone. “We are truly glad you could come today, Samuel. And glad that you toned yourself down a bit for the occasion.” Though his eye line started at Coyote’s hair, it traveled almost immediately over to Marty. “Though we had hoped you might not bring a date to your own mother’s funeral.”


            Marty’s eyes had widened throughout the whole conversation, but his jaw dropped at this. He had promised Coyote he would be silent and not speak his mind, and he had been thoroughly warned about Coyote’s step-siblings. But this was just appalling.


            “Now, now,” said the one called Lincoln, sounding just as high and mighty as the other two. “Clearly it’s not so serious an event. Look, he’s only brought carnations. What’s the matter, the serious musician can’t even afford roses?”


            Coyote rubbed at his nose in a nervous sort of way. “You know perfectly well I’m allergic to almost everything else,” he said, sounding much calmer and more rational than Marty would have. “And as for bringing company, I had a feeling I’d be facing this alone so I asked him along. I certainly didn’t count on getting any sympathy from you lot.” He cleared his throat. “This is Marty, by the way. Marty, these are my step-siblings. And there’s really no need to say anything more.” He took Marty’s hand and led him briskly past what remained of his family and to the gravesite.


            Marty wanted very much to comment about the conversation but sensed that now would be a bad time to do so. From the look of it, Coyote was trying very hard not to burst into a fit of tears again. Silent ones ran down the man’s cheeks. Marty handed over a hanky and took the flowers so Coyote would not squeeze them too much during the service. Instead, Coyote just squeezed his hand. And the man really had quite a grip. Marty’s fingers were practically numb by the end, but he knew that wasn’t even close to a fraction of the pain Coyote was feeling.


            Coyote had explained earlier that there hadn’t been a public viewing, as per his mother’s wishes. But there was an open casket at the funeral now. They were standing right up close so Marty had a good view of Coyote’s mother. She was a lovely woman, in a stunning albeit conservative blue dress. Coyote had her cheeks, her nose, and her ears, by the look of it, but hair was up for grabs because of the way Coyote wore his. Hers was brown and fell to her shoulders, straight but styled with feathered bangs and curls at the ends. And she was gorgeous, besides. Even her wrinkles looked good on her.


            Her name, he learned as the service began, was Abigail Ann Wallace-Parson. Though they were in the south, the hyphen did not surprise Marty in the least, given what he’d heard from Coyote about his mother. In fact, he’d half expected her to have bright pink hair and as many piercings as Marty’s roommate. But Marty could tell she was a lady, whatever else she might be. And, as the service went on, he understood the most important thing: that she had been well-loved by many.


            The service was short, sweet, and apparently perfect. Marty kept a close watch on Coyote who was holding back tears and a couple of sneezes as well. A few bible passages were read, and then there was a reading of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ by Byron. At the end of the poem, the casket was closed. Then a large shovel was produced and Coyote stepped forward at once for it, even though he was clearly on the verge of losing it. Marty discretely patted his back, and only then did he seem to be able to move.


            Hesitantly, Coyote stepped forward and, with a slightly trembling hand, he closed the casket. Then he took the flowers from Marty, kissed them, and laid them upon the top. They were mirrored in the shiny wood and looked far more beautiful than any simple carnations Marty had ever before seen. Coyote pressed the button to lower the coffin down into the hole that had been dug for it. The device lowered it slowly, and there were sniffles and sobs throughout the group during the descent.


            Coyote bent down beside it, watching it lower into the ground. When it hit bottom, he whispered to it. “I love you, Mommy.” He stared at it a few moments longer then shoveled in a bit of dirt.


            Quickly thereafter he handed the shovel back to the priest who had been conducting the service. Then he turned and briskly walked away. Not knowing what else to do, Marty followed. He could hear Coyote choking back sobs. His pace quickened until Coyote suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, about halfway down the path to the car. Right behind him, Marty literally bumped into Coyote’s back.


            Before he could apologize, however, Coyote wheeled around and buried his face against Marty’s shoulder, soaking his lapel in tears. When Marty did not pull away, they wrapped their arms around each other. Coyote hugged desperately, clinging to Marty. Marty just held the man tightly, patiently, willing to stand there as long as Coyote needed him to.


            Finally the crying broke and Coyote pulled back, sniffling. Marty produced a fresh handkerchief for his cleanup. “I’b sorry I’b such a softy,” he snuffled, working the tip of the handkerchief against his streaming nose. “I never got to say a real goodbye. And I already miss her so much and there’s this pain in my chest and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just… I want my mommy to make it all better but she’s not here any more to do that.” He rubbed his eyes now, which were still wet, though the majority of tears had already been shed. He looked past the hanky at Marty. “And now I’ve gotten your suit all wet.”


            Marty shook his head. “It’s black. No one will notice. Besides, that’s what I’m here for.”


            Coyote gave him a weak but grateful smile. “Let’s head over to the reception. I want to get cleaned up before the wicked step-siblings and the rest of the guests arrive.” He dried his eyes again and blew his nose, giving an almost chuckle. “Hey, good thing I’m gay, right? Real men aren’t supposed to cry like this, especially in public.”


            Marty put an arm around his shoulder as they started towards the car. “Yo, believe me when I say you’re a real man. I wouldn’t want you otherwise. And I think breaking down in public is more than fitting for what’s just happened to you. Don’t give it another thought.” 


            Coyote nodded and continued to rub his eyes and nose. “If you knew the kind of people around here likely to see me, you wouldn’t be saying that.”


            Biting his lower lip and resisting the urge to look around, as if to spot people who might be standing around watching them, Marty set his sights on the car and the drive over to Coyote’s mother’s house.


            The streets of the town were something of a maze, and Marty found himself utterly confused and turned around. Some of the streets were four lanes of heavy traffic and others were one lane one-ways. He was surprised when Coyote finally pointed ahead and coughed. “The white house with the yellow trim. That’s it.”


            The house was monstrously large. It was set back from the street with a long, windy stone driveway. Three floors were visible, the top clearly an attic with windows, the second sporting a nice balcony, and the ground floor surrounded by an enormous covered, wraparound porch. The white was soft, not harsh, and softened further by the pale yellow trim on every giant window and around the double doors. A well-kept yard surrounded the house with trimmed grass and several beds of flowers. A large willow tree stood in the front, but did not block much of the house. Nor did the bushes, which lined the property but did not come up higher than waist-level.


            “Man… this is a beautiful house,” Marty said with awe in his voice. He parked on the street so close to the curb that he scraped his tires against it. It would be a little bit of a walk, but this way they could make a speedy getaway if needed.


            “Mom really cared about keeping up appearances,” Coyote explained, looking up at the house. “She always wanted it to look nice. She always said that a person’s home is a reflection of their heart. If you keep it nice and warm, it will keep you nice and warm.”


            Marty smiled. “Is it yours now, then?” asked Marty.


            Shrugging, “Won’t know for sure until the will is read tomorrow, but probably. Apart from some photos and a few sentimental items, I don’t really care what I get.” He unclicked his seatbelt. “I’d rather have my mother back.” He pulled the door handle and let himself out. Marty followed a moment later, after he’d nervously clicked the door unlock button five times in rapid succession.


            Truthfully, Marty had been interested and almost eager to see inside the house. This whole day felt like putting together a puzzle, gathering details about Coyote’s mother in order to get a full picture of the woman he had never met. So far he had a few dozen pieces, most of which were the little stories Coyote had told him here and there whenever his memory was jogged. Marty presumed that a more complete picture would come together with the look of the house and items within it which would trigger more Coyote stories. But the first thing he noticed when they walked in made his heart sink.


            The whole place was covered with flowers. Bouquets and bunches sat on virtually every level surface in the place, from side tables to mantelpieces. There were even a few sitting on the stairs and on the floor beneath tables. He was reminded of a webpage he had found on Google the night before when he’d been brushing up on funeral etiquette. It had stressed the importance of sending flowers: A floral tribute can be of great comfort to the family. If you can imagine walking into a room filled with the loveliness and the soft fragrance of beautiful flowers, you can understand how something so simple can be so meaningful. Marty had laughed at it, imagining how terrible a situation it would have been… and now he did not need to imagine.


            Marty winced and glanced at Coyote, who looked stricken. “Have I mentioned how much I adore my step-siblings?” Coyote said through gritted teeth. He fumbled in his suit pockets for a handkerchief but Marty handed one over first. He’d been sure to carry a few at all times when he’d found out about Coyote’s allergies, but he kept his pockets especially stocked today with a couple handkerchiefs and some tissues. Coyote gave him a grateful smile, just before his eyes closed. “AhhShuhhh! hahhhShuhhh!


            “Bless you. But your step-sister and brothers couldn’t possibly have really kept all these around here just to bother you.”


            Coyote laughed. “Clearly you don’t know them well enough yet. I wouldn’t put it past them to have… hehhh… to have bought some of these themselves. Hahhh-Shoo! hahhhShuhh!” He walked over to the most extravagant, sitting on the center of the table, and pulled the card out of the center. He rolled his eyes and pressed the handkerchief harder to his nose. “Especially the unsigned ones. Hahhh-Chishhhh! ahhh-Chishooo! hahhhShuhhh!


            Marty heard the door open and turned, leaning to look past Coyote across the sitting room, down the hallway, to the front door. The three siblings in question were walking in.


            Jessica, clearly the ring leader, seemed to be in full swing. Her high heals clicked on the floor as she gave her orders. “Lincoln, go get the dishes from the kitchen. We’ll set up the food in the sitting room. Jonathan, I want you by the door to greet everyone who comes in. And… oh.” She noticed Coyote and Marty standing there and her expression immediately went from down-to-business to smug. “Ah, Darling Samuel and his plaything—”


            “Excuse me?” Marty said. He was supposed to be the silent support system, but he wasn’t going to let them think he didn’t mind being called that.


            “—are already here. How do you like the flowers?” Coyote rolled his eyes. “What’s the matter? I thought you gays were fond of floral arrangements.”


            “Fuuhhh…” Coyote started, and Marty’s eyes widened, finishing the phrase in his head as Coyote sneezed. “huhhhShuhhhh! Sniff! Funny, Jessica.” That was not how Marty had finished it. Not by a long shot.


            “I thought so,” she said, grinning. Then she noticed the two pans Marty was holding. “You actually brought food?”


            “Of course,” Marty said, clearing a place on the table and setting them down. He pulled back the aluminum foil wrap to reveal hundreds of small pieces of bread in each pan. There were labels with ingredients listed for each, so that people with allergies to nuts would know to avoid the pieces of banana nut bread and go, instead, for the pieces of tea bread. The rectangles were all cut to the same size and beautifully arranged in the pans in a spiraling pattern.


            “You are welcome to it if you like,” Coyote said, nodding towards the food.


            Jessica barely gave it a look, though her expression betrayed her, showing she was impressed with it. “We have to set everything up before the guests arrive. Lincoln, Jonathan?” They hopped to their assigned tasks and she went around moving the floral arrangements and plumping couch cushions.


            Coyote sank into an armchair with a sigh and a sniff. He scrubbed at his nose with the handkerchief but there was no escaping the sneezes. “huhh-EHChooo! hahhShooo! hahhhShuhhh! Ahhh-Chuhhhh!


            Marty had settled on the arm of the chair, his hand on Coyote’s shoulder. But he got up a moment later when Coyote kept sneezing. “I’ll get you something to drink.”


            Coyote looked up, puzzled.


            “Unless you’d prefer to swallow a Sudafed dry?”


            Shaking his head, “I dod’t huhh-Shoo! hab hah-ady hahhChuhh! ady Suda-Sudafed hahhhShooo!


            “I do,” replied Marty.


            With another grateful smile, “Water, blease.”


            Marty found the kitchen without too much trouble. It was down the hallway past the sitting room, past the powder room, and right past the dining room. Lincoln was there, taking cooked food out of the refrigerator and plates out of the cupboards. He did not even bother to look back at Marty.


            “Um, excuse me, where are the glasses?” Marty asked, not exactly interested in rifling through the kitchen which was not his own. He knew, right now, it was no one’s, technically. But he still felt like a stranger didn’t want to seem like he was prying by looking into all the cupboards.


            But when Lincoln did not acknowledge him or the question, he did not have much of a choice about it. So he played eenie-meenie-minie-moe and ended up finding the glasses on the third try. He went for the sink but Lincoln moved in front, blocking his way on purpose. Marty sighed and noted to himself how incredibly childish this was. So he simply filled the glass with tap water from the bathroom.


            Coyote swallowed the pill in an instant. But it took far longer for the sneezes to back off. Coyote stayed put until they did, alternating sneezing and blowing his nose. In the meantime, Marty went around, moving floral arrangements off chairs so that there would be room for guests to sit if they wished. When he returned, he found Coyote sniffling. He looked up at Marty, tears in his wide eyes which he was careful not to blink. Marty stood next to him, letting Coyote hide his face in Marty’s shirt and jacket again as the man let his tears out. Marty soothingly rubbed the back of Coyote’s head, letting this last as long as Coyote wanted.


            “You’ll be all right?” Marty asked when Coyote finally got up, rubbing his nose and his eyes and trying to compose himself. The first few guests had arrived.


            Nodding back, “You’ll be all right if I leave you to talk to some people?”


            “Of course,” Marty said, giving Coyote a pat on the back. “I’ll be right here if you need me.”


            “I know you will. And I can’t thank you enough,” he said, kissing Marty’s cheek quickly and discretely before leaving.


            Marty sat back and waited patiently as Coyote worked the gathering. No one— absolutely no one— approached him. Several looked in his direction, and fewer than a handful met his gaze or nodded at him. But not one of the guests came over to him or sat next to him or said a word to him. Marty wasn’t sure if this was because they had seen him with Coyote and knew who he was, because they didn’t know who he was, or because Coyote’s step-siblings had warned people not to go near him. Whatever the case, he didn’t really mind just sitting and waiting.


            Every so often Marty caught a glimpse of Coyote, often with a hanky pressed to his nose, but never crying. Instead, he looked calm and acted courteously when he was approached by anyone. He shook hands, he gave hugs, he even kissed a few women on their cheeks. Marty could tell the demeanor was just an act, though, like Coyote’s stage persona. He could tell Coyote’s thankfulness that the guests could make it was, however genuine a feeling, not the main emotion the man had at the moment. Whenever he sent someone on his or her way, Marty noticed Coyote sigh or secretly wipe a tear away one second and then look calm and composed again in the next.


            He wished that he could go up to Coyote and hold him tightly, give him support. But Coyote had already explained that it would be better for them both to appear more reserved. Everyone in town knew about Coyote’s sexual preferences, of course, but it was not a good idea to give the townspeople reason to gossip about the lack of proper respect Coyote was showing by flaunting his lifestyle in front of everyone. Besides, with what he’d heard and seen of the people in the town, Marty was quite content to stay out of the way and just watch from afar.


            He saw Jessica, Lincoln, and Jonathan going here and there as well. He saw them chatting up the visitors and also saw each one of them sample the breads Marty and Coyote had brought. Every one of the three went back to it for second and thirds. Jessica even went as far as to offer it around to a few people hovering by the table. Remembering where he was, Marty tried very hard not to laugh out loud at the irony.


            Several long hours later, it was all over. Marty did not budge from his seat in the dining room until Coyote came to collect him, looking depressed and awfully worn out. It seemed understood that Coyote would be staying in the house but the others would be leaving. Marty insisted that the step-siblings take home many of the leftovers, especially the bread. “Seriously, take the rest. There’s more than enough food to go around.”


            They continued to adamantly refuse, until Coyote just lost patience and thrust several pans and plates at them. “Go on. Go home. I’ll see you soon enough tomorrow and you can resume with the insults then. I just want to be alone in Mom’s house for a little while.”


            Surprisingly enough, none of them objected again. When they had gone, the door closed and locked behind them, the huge house was silent and empty apart from them. There was a faint ringing in Marty’s ears at the silence, and he was almost happy to hear Coyote sniffle again. Marty looked over at Coyote, seeing a much different man standing there than had been there just a few moments before. Gone was the courteous smile and back was the despondent expression. Gone was the calm man in a somber suit and back was the man who was uncomfortable with everything, including himself.


            Marty decided he was done following Coyote about. It was time to take charge. “Let’s go to the kitchen,” he said. “Fewer flowers in there.”


            Coyote stared blankly forward and walked automatically from the foyer to the kitchen, hanging off of Marty’s arm. Coyote sat down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table, staring straight ahead, unblinkingly. Clearly he noticed Marty there, but did nothing apart from sniff a few times.


            “It’s almost dinner time,” Marty announced, sitting down in another of the chairs. “If you’re feeling up to it, we could go out. Fresh air away from all these flowers might be good for you.” Coyote shook his head adamantly. “All right. We can stay in. There are some casseroles in the fridge which I could heat up.” Coyote shook his head again. “I saw some cans of soup in the cupboards,” Marty went on. He stood and walked to the second cupboard he’d opened earlier in his search for glasses.


            “No. I’m not hungry,” Coyote told him.


            Marty took a can of cream of mushroom from the cupboard and read the directions on the back. “I understand, but you need to eat—”


            “Oh I do, do I?” Coyote said, sniffing hard and standing up. He marched over and grabbed the can from Marty’s grasp. Shouting, “What else is it I need to do, Marty?” He violently slammed the can down back down on the shelf and stared at Marty, fire in his eyes.


            Marty kept his gaze, staring back, not backing down. “You need to quit yelling at me, for one.”


            Coyote sighed, shoulders slumping. He turned and found his chair again, sinking into it with a sigh. “I’m sorry. Sniff! Sniff!


            “It’s all right,” Marty said, sitting down again, as well, and scooting his chair closer. “I understand.”


            Coyote shook his head yet again. “It’s not all right. No excuse for snapping at you.” He reached out and took Marty’s hand in his own, squeezing it.


            “Hey, if you want me to go get out of your hair for a while so you can be alone here, I can go take a drive,” Marty offered. “I’ve been thinking of calling around to motels so I can get a room, but I could just as easily drive around and find one.”


            Blinking confusedly, Coyote cocked his head. “Why would you stay in a motel?”


            Marty shrugged. “I wanted to give you the option, in case it got too strange for you to have me here. And I assumed your mother and your family wouldn’t want me staying here, at the very least.”


            “Ha!” Coyote had to laugh at this. “I don’t give a damn when my step-sister and step-brothers want. And if my mother didn’t mind me bringing guys over when I was fifteen, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind now.”


            “You had guys over at fifteen? Sleeping with you and staying overnight?” Marty asked, a bit shocked. “Coyote, I thought you weren’t that kind of girl!”


            Coyote laughed again. “All right, the furthest it ever got was some kissing on the couch .”


            “So you’ve never slept with a guy under your mother’s roof before,” Marty reasoned. He recalled their conversation from the previous night about how Marty wouldn’t stay over because of their track record in bed. While everyone coped with death and grieved differently, killing grief with sex was not going to help Coyote in this case.


            “Yeah, but I know my mother wouldn’t have minded…” Coyote insisted, while Marty still looked doubtful. “How about if I promise to have some soup?”


            As Marty was eager for Coyote to eat something, he did not dare turn down the offer. “All right, but I’m staying down here on the sofa and that’s not negotiable.”


            Coyote paused, then nodded with agreement. “So long as you’re nearby if I need you.”


            “That’s why I came. If you need me, I’ll be at your side in a flash. All you’ll have to do is call.”


            Rolling his eyes, “Jeez, Marty. You sound like a corny, romantic pop song.”


            Marty laughed as he picked up the soup can again and read its contents. “How about I work on dinner while you go upstairs,” Marty suggested. “You look beat, Yo.” Unsurprisingly, of course. “You have time for a nice shower, which should help your allergies if nothing else, and then you can get into bed and I’ll bring the food up to you.” He set a hand on Coyote’s shoulder. “If you want, that is. You’re welcome to stay here at the table, staring off into space if you’d prefer, of course.”


            Coyote rubbed at his nose. “I’ll go upstairs, thanks.”


            As he listened to Coyote’s feet shuffling across the rooms and upstairs, Marty decided to take his time with the soup. After dealing with so many people today, he was pretty sure Coyote could use some time alone. So Marty went the stove-top route, rather than using the microwave. He also went to the effort of using milk in place of water when mixing the soup; that always worked best for creamy soups, despite the instructions on the can.


            He found some nice, bland saltine crackers and set a handful down on a plate to accompany the soup on the tray he was preparing to take upstairs. It wasn’t the most beautiful dinner in the world, especially considering the nice dishes in the refrigerator. But it was easy and just the sort Coyote was actually likely to eat.


            As he walked up the enormous staircase with the sliver of teal carpeting running down the middle, Marty realized he had absolutely no idea which room was Coyote’s. And, when he reached the top of the stairs and stared down at the hallway which had at least fifteen closed doors, he really wished he had asked which one it was, or at least which side of the hallway. He thought of trying every door he came upon, but that felt invasive to him and the tray was heavy so that holding it with one hand against his body risked dropping it. Marty walked down the hallway, wondering which door— and they all looked identical from the outside— gave off more of a Coyote vibe. Halfway down the hallway, he heard a sniffle and froze in his tracks, honing in on the sound. That wasn’t difficult to do as another sniffle came a moment later.


            Carefully balancing the tray, he quickly turned a doorknob and nudged the door open with his shoulder. It was definitely Coyote’s room.


            It definitely had the touch of a Southern woman, from its lovely lace window coverings to its floral bedspread. The walls were plastered with posters of rock stars and groups, but they were all neatly framed and hung straight on the walls. Marty might have been amused by the sight, if not for what he saw in the center of the room.


            Coyote, who had at least changed into his flannel pajama pants, lay on his side on the bed, half-curled up. He hugged a pillow to his chest and his head was on one side of it as well. His whole body was rocking as he sobbed harder than Marty had ever seen him cry. He coughed with congestion, his nose running, his tears overpowering his already clogged sinuses.


            Marty quickly put the tray down on top of a low dresser, with a mirror hanging over it. He could see Coyote in the reflection. Coyote’s eyes opened for a moment, seeing that Marty was there. He reached out towards Marty, and Marty gestured that he’d be there in a moment. Marty left the room and tried all the doors in the hallway, unapologetically and systematically, until he found the bathroom. Wonderful woman that Coyote’s mother was, there were at least a handful of tissue boxes under the sink. Marty thanked her out loud and grabbed one of them, glad he’d left the door to Coyote’s room ajar because he was turned around in the long hallway already.


            Marty pulled a half dozen tissues out of the box, one at a time, and thrust the whole bunch into Coyote’s face. Coyote nuzzled into them, drying his face a little. Then he started to blow his nose and Marty scrambled to help, pinching Coyote’s nose gently beneath the tissues. Coyote choked and coughed as the sobs stopped in favor of the blowing, and he sighed when he was done and Marty could throw the tissues away. “I’b so sorry,” he whispered to Marty.


            Shaking his head adamantly, Marty ran his hand over Coyote’s head. The black hair was hard to get used to, but it touch of it felt the same. “You have nothing to apologize for. You’re allowed to fall apart.”


            Coyote nodded and sniffled. “I dow… but I’b sorry you hab to be here add go through all this, see be lige this. Snuff! Snuffff! Uh…” Marty knew what that sound meant, and he got another tissue ready, holding it to Coyote’s nose for him.


            “And I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. It’s terrible.” He continued to pet Coyote, sliding his hand through the hair as soothingly as he could. “But you don’t have to apologize about it to me, either. I’m glad to be here to help you, even if it means meeting those horrible siblings of yours and seeing you blubber a little.”


            “A little?” Coyote asked, cracking a smile. He reached up and dried one of his cheeks off by rubbing the side of his hand from his nose to his ear.  


            Marty nodded. “Hardly noticeable.”


            Coyote laughed at this, a lovely sound, but soon the laughs gave way again to sobs and he couldn’t help himself again. He buried his face in the pillow, crying freely again. Marty sat down on the edge of the bed, tissue box on his lap, and continued to pet. There was nothing more to say, and the dinner was getting cold, so the only thing left to do was to keep petting. He was willing to sit here and do that as long as Coyote wanted him to.  


            Marty had no idea how long that turned out to be. He did know that it went from dusk to dark behind the lace curtains. And his own stomach started to grumble a little. Finally Coyote’s sobs died away and he felt like he couldn’t cry any more.


            He looked up at Marty apologetically. “Can I have sub crackers?” he asked. He coughed again.


            Marty nodded and brought a few over, along with the glass of water. “Would you like anything else?”


            Coyote shook his head as he ate. “Just tired,” he said. “Add worried about sniff-sniff toborrow.” He rubbed at his face. “How ab I ever goig to get to sleeb?” Coyote really looked exhausted, and really did need his sleep.


            “I have something that might help,” said Marty. “Olly gave some pills this morning—”


            “I dod’t wadt to tage adythig…”


            “How about half a pill, then? Just to help you get to sleep.” He petted Coyote’s head again, and then placed a kiss on Coyote’s forehead.


            Coyote nodded finally. “Just half. Add you’ll stay with be udtil I fall asleeb? Add be sure I wake ub id tibe?”


            “Absolutely.” He got a few more tissues out of the box and had Coyote blow his nose again. “I’ll be right back.” Marty grabbed and ate a granola bar on his way back, as well as a knife to cut the pill with.


            Coyote was crying a little still, and looked up, sniffling and teary. He was quiet as Marty cut the pill and helped Coyote sit up to swallow it. Then he tucked blankets around Coyote and sat down on the edge of the bed again. Coyote began sobbing again. “I miss her so much,” he whimpered. “So strange… being here… without her.”


            Marty nodded and decided to break his own rule, for a little while at least. He lay down on the bed, right up against Coyote’s back. He gently petted Coyote for a few minutes more, then just held the man in his arms until breathing slowed and Coyote drifted off to sleep.


*          *          *          *          *


            Marty’s apprehension about poking around the house ended after the first hour alone in Coyote’s mother’s house. He’d passed the time waiting for Coyote’s return by making some phone calls and doing the dishes from breakfast. But then he decided twiddling his thumbs wasn’t as exciting as it sounded and decided to go exploring instead. He’d set down a ground rule for himself, though: only looking and no touching allowed.


            He found a study on the second floor with an adjoining library with more titles than in some libraries Marty had been in. There were paintings of ships in practically every room and a small plaque and framed photo in the study explained it. Someone— presumably Coyote’s stepfather— was a sailor. One of the bedrooms was a hideous pink and lavender, and another was blue with a predictable border of sailboats around the top. But Marty was less interested in these things and more interested in other aspects.


            For a long while he stood and examined Coyote’s mother’s dressing table. Brown hairs still in a silver-handled brush. An open jewelry box with a beautiful string of pearls and a stunning gold and ruby bracelet. A hat with a brim slightly bent. A purple glass perfume bottle which was empty but still smelled sweetly when Marty bent over and sniffed it. No touching; that was the rule.


            Except that he bent his rule, slightly, when he opened the cabinet in the main hall to get a better look at its contents. The china cabinet in the dining room held some gorgeous Wedgwood dishes. But this one, the one in the main hallway, held a collection of Hummel figurines.


            Marty’s own mother collected them, so he was quite familiar with them. He recognized many older pieces among this collection which were very intricate and very valuable. There were also a few that Marty’s mother would have died for. But Marty would never even think about asking Coyote for them and taking them without asking was completely out of the question.


            The door opened and Coyote walked in. Marty jumped and turned to him at once. He wanted to ask how it went but was nervous about doing so in case the answer was the one they didn’t want.


            “It’s all right,” Coyote said immediately. He knew what Marty’s silence was about. “It went well.”


            But Marty was not completely convinced. He tread carefully, worried Coyote might break down again. “You were gone a very long time.”


            “Lots of things to sign,” he said with a nod.


            “Does that mean…”


            Coyote nodded again. “I got the house.” Marty sighed with relief to hear it. He’d been expecting it, but it was good to know for certain. “And there’s so much money, Marty. The wicked step-siblings got a little and Jess got some jewelry as well. But nearly everything went to me.”


            “That’s so great!” Marty said, congratulating him with a hug.


            But Coyote shook his head. “No, I mean a lot of money, Marty. Enough to pay the funeral costs and pay this place off and keep it up for years and years. I’ll always have a place to go If I need one.”


            Marty knew what this meant to a guy who’d moved ten times in the last five years and who had never called another other place a real home. “You would want to live here? In this town?”


            Coyote shrugged and shook his head. “So many terrible people and horrible memories. But there are a lot of good ones, too. And it’s my home now. God, Marty!” He tried to pick Marty up in order to spin him around in excitement, but he didn’t have the strength. Marty laughed and picked Coyote up instead. It was just half an inch, but it was enough to spin around a few times, laughing. “I own a house! I own this house!” he announced joyously, throwing his head back for a moment, then looking back down at everything around him again. He gripped Marty’s shoulders in surprise, freezing them in place. “Marty… Babe… where are all the flowers?”


            “Oh, so you noticed?”


            Coyote pulled away and left Marty in the foyer to look around. The flowers were indeed gone from every table and every room.


            “I didn’t want you having another sneezing attack the moment you came back, so I got rid of them. I hope you don’t mind too much, but you looked so miserable yesterday and I was just trying to help.”


            “Where…?” Coyote asked, still looking around, as though expecting to see them peaking out from a hiding spot under the couch or as a bulge behind the floor-to-ceiling drapes. Really, Coyote looked amazed at the sudden lack of flowers. He could not imagine how he hadn’t noticed this sooner. “Where did they go?”


            “I called the hospital and they sent someone over to pick some up. But I also saw that magnet on the fridge for the retirement home and so I called them to pick up the rest.” He walked over to the table that had been swamped with floral arrangements and food only hours before. Now it displayed a small, beautifully crafted wooden box Marty had found in the study. “I saved each and every note and letter and I took pictures of them all with my camera phone.” Given that Coyote still had not said anything, Marty was getting worried. “Yo—” he began.


            Coyote kissed him deeply, hands on Marty’s cheeks, noses bumping without a care. “You,” the man said when he had pulled back and caught his breath, “Are the best boyfriend a girl could possibly have.”


            “You’re all right with it? Really? You had me worried when you were so quiet…”


            “I’m great.” He took a deep breath. “And, best of all, I’m not sneezing my head off.” He kissed Marty again, then walked over to the box to flip through its contents. “My gramps was in that retirement home. That’s where the magnet came from. Nice people there. You made some excellent choices, Marty.” Then Coyote noticed the open display case. “You have a thing for Hummels, do you?”


            Marty laughed, shaking his head. “Yeah, they’re perfect for my cubicle at work. No, seriously, I was just looking. My mother collects them, too. Isn’t that neat? Both our moms—”


            “Take them.”


            Marty continued to laugh. “I couldn’t possibly. I was just looking when you came in and forgot to close—”


            “I said: take them,” Coyote insisted, covering Marty’s mouth with one hand. “I have no use for them, and they’ll just go to a consignment store or something.”


            “Eebahh. At lease tousun,” Marty said through Coyote’s hand, trying to communicate that some of the figures would go for at least a thousand if sold on eBay.


            Coyote got the message. “I don’t need a grand, Marty. I need to thank you for taking care of me. And you never got a chance to know my mother. Let me and her thank you and your mother by doing this. I have packing to do tonight, so I might as well pack up a box of these for you.” He rubbed at his face. “God, there’s so much to go through tonight.”


            Taking advantage of Coyote feeling overwhelmed, Marty pulled Coyote’s hand down and spoke freely. “Then you’d better get some food in you. You must be starving.”


            Coyote shrugged and nodded. “But you’re not going to get me to change the subject. You’re taking the Hummels.”


            Marty sighed, wishing he could think of a way to get out of it now. Finally, he conceded, “Thank you, Yo. My mother will be thrilled. I’ve told her about you and she likes what she’s heard but now she’ll probably insist I pop the question or something because this is so generous of you. Really, you have no idea.”


            He looked into Marty’s face and smiled. “Oh, I think I do understand. Because you being here for me has meant the world. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had to do this alone.”


            “I was glad to be here for you. And, after we make a dent in some of the dishes in the fridge, I’ll be here to help you pack up if you want me to.”


            “Oh, I want you to!” Coyote exclaimed, looking around. “This is going to be harder for me than almost anything else.”


*          *          *          *          *


            As it turned out, Coyote had not been exaggerating. Ten minutes into packing a box of pictures and albums, Coyote burst into tears again and curled up on the floor. It was all Marty could do to pull Coyote’s head into his lap and pull out a bunch of tissues from his pocket. “I’m… cough-Cough… I’m s-sorry,” Coyote choked through the tears.


            “Shhhhhhh,” Marty said, stroking Coyote’s forehead and hair. “It’s all right. You can cry all you need to.” Fingers sifted through the dark, monochromatic hair as tears ran down damp cheeks. Coyote pressed the bunch of tissues to his nose as the tears came without a break long enough to allow him to blow his nose.


            Coyote rubbed at his nose, then reached out and touched the stack of framed pictures. “Th-thought I could… handle this…” His sobs slowed, fading away in favor of deep breaths and calm.


            Marty nodded. “Do you want me to box these up for you?”


            Shaking his head, “I need to do this. Can’t hide. Sniff! Sniff! Need to be strong.”


            “Okay,” said Marty, having Coyote sit back up. He shifted about so that he was sitting behind Coyote, arms wrapped around him. “Then let me at least hold you while you do it. You can cry if you want, but I’m here to hold you up and keep you going. All right?”


            Coyote plowed onward, sniffling and lifting his arm repeatedly to wipe his eyes on his sleeve. The pictures took up three boxes, one of which became a box specifically for Coyote’s step-siblings. In it went some other items from awards to ties which clearly had been possessions of Coyote’s step-father. Those were easy to pack into boxes; what made him tear up were things like a rubber-banded stack of his mother’s high school report cards or the fact that she had saved every single postcard Coyote had ever written to her.


            “What about the clothes?” Marty asked as Coyote rooted around in his mother’s closet on all fours. He was trying to keep his mind off the view— Coyote’s lovely behind— as it was completely inappropriate to act on his urges.


            “Not going to bother with those on this trip. The important things are in plastic anyway.” The house was just way too big and there was far too much in it to be able to sort through everything in one night. He had already resolved to make more trips down, but there were many things that he did not want to leave behind. Coyote said that he didn’t want them to fall into his step-siblings hands, but Marty guessed that Coyote also just wanted them with him like a security blanket.


            Coyote moved from place to place and room to room with purpose. He seemed to know exactly where everything he wanted was and didn’t waste time with the rest. He did, however, spend just as much time breaking down as he did searching and sorting. Marty got a tissue box from the bathroom and carried it around with them though Coyote used his sleeve or Marty’s shoulder just as frequently.


            After several long hours, Coyote’s exhaustion took over. Once, when crying in Marty’s arms, he nodded off to sleep for a few moments. Then he woke with a start and rubbed at his eyes. “I think you’d better go to bed,” Marty said softly, kissing the top of Coyote’s head. “You can finish up in the morning.”


            Coyote shook his head, sitting up and still rubbing. “I’m pretty much finished now,” he said.


            “Okay,” Marty nodded, reaching over and taking Coyote’s hand. “Then definitely let me take you up to bed.”


            Coyote let him. With a smile, as they walked up the stairs and down the hallway, “You know, this isn’t my mother’s house any more,” Coyote said weakly. “It’s in my name now; it’s all mine. So that part about you sleeping in bed with me…”


            “Well, if you really want me to.”


            “I do,” Coyote said, a bit desperately. “I don’t want to feel alone. I want to feel you in bed beside me.”


            Marty snickered. “All right, but you need your sleep.” Coyote nodded wearily and barely registered Marty taking him into the bathroom for a teeth brushing, sitting him down on the bed, taking off his clothes and pulling on flannel pajama pants. “Do you want another pill tonight?” Marty asked when Coyote’s head hit the pillow and tears began to spill onto the pillowcase again. Marty sat down on the edge of the bed for the moment, stroking Coyote’s arm through the covers.


            It was at least a minute before the sobs broke and words made their way out. “No,” he choked out. He coughed and rubbed at his eyes. Before Marty could try to push the issue, “Can you get me… some warm milk instead?”


            “Of course,” Marty said, standing up and replacing himself on the bed with the tissue box. “I’ll be right back.”


            One microwaved mug later, Marty was sitting back down on the bed. Coyote was still crying, sniffling. He didn’t try to stop as Marty petted his head and his arm. But, after a while, the cries died down and he sat up. The cup was still warm, and he sighed after the first sip. “Did your Mommy used to make you warm milk to drink before bed?” Marty asked as he changed for bed as well. Coyote nodded.


            The couch had been comfortable enough, and he wouldn’t have minded sleeping there again. But he was willing to let Coyote make this call. After all, they were still planning on heading back home tomorrow. He slid into bed, scooting up right behind Coyote so that there was room for both in the bed and so that he could hug the man who was lying down again.


            “I called a locksmith earlier. He’s coming over around nine so we need to be up by then.” Coyote sniffled and moved his pillow a little so he wouldn’t be lying in tear-soaked spot all night. “Hopefully that’ll be enough to keep the wicked step-siblings away. Though they definitely got the message from me earlier today at the reading.”


            “That’s good. They’re really awful people…”


            Marty felt Coyote shrug against him. “They’re not completely horrible,” Coyote said. And, when Marty made a grunt of disbelief, he explained, “It was Jonathan who found me in the bathroom at the roadhouse. He could have left me there but instead he called my mother and an ambulance. And Lincoln once let me borrow fifty bucks so I wouldn’t have to take my guitar to a pawn shop. And Jess…” He paused, thinking. “She…” Clearly he was trying to think very hard and the only thing he could come up with was a weakly positive, “She forbade me from attending her cotillion when she was presented as a debutante.”


            Marty laughed at this, and kissed the back of Coyote’s head. “All right. I understand. But they’re still awful to you, and I can’t forgive them for that.”


            Coyote shrugged again. “They’re hurting, too, and it’s natural for them to insult me to make themselves feel better. That’s how it’s been since our parents got married.” He turned his head, straining to look over his shoulder. “I am sorry for the insults thrown your way. Don’t you believe a word they say.”


            “Oh, I don’t. I’m just disgusted by them…”


            The discussion was interrupted by a huge yawn from Coyote. He smacked his lips afterwards. “Sorry.”


            “Shhh, don’t,” Marty hushed him with another kiss to the back of his head. “Just go to sleep.”


            “You’ll be here when I wake up?” Coyote asked, closing his eyes. You promise?”


            “You bet. Right here,” Marty said, nodding.


            Coyote was asleep in mere moments and slept relatively soundly through to morning. Marty, however, had a violent nightmare about a car crash and being smothered by flowers in the hospital afterwards. Coyote’s step-siblings were there, laughing at him. Then Coyote’s step-father was there and insisted on throwing fish to Marty to give to everyone who was watching with amusement, like those men at that marketplace in Seattle. Marty kept trying to explain he couldn’t catch them with all the flowers around, but they were being thrown at him anyway.


*          *          *          *          *


            When Marty woke, however, all that remained was an unsettling feeling and his usual morning hard-on. But unsettled mixed with surprise and concern when he realized, a moment later, that Coyote’s hand was wrapped around it. “No, Yo. Stop. What’re you doing?” Marty asked groggily. But his hips betrayed him and bucked in pleasure at Coyote’s masterful touch.


            “Wanted to give you a nice awakening,” said Coyote with a kiss. “Now quit fighting it and let me give you what you need.”


            Marty was reluctant to do so, but Coyote’s hand really was convincing and it did not take long before he was coming with gasps and groans and it felt good to have this part of Coyote back. The man was grinning as he watched Marty and, afterwards, he playfully lapped a few times at the stickiness upon Marty’s stomach. Oh God it felt good to have Coyote back.


            “There’s nothing nicer than starting out the day like this,” Coyote said, stretching and rolling over onto his back. He folded his hands behind his head. “Especially after waking up in my very own house.” He gave a deep sigh. “I’m going to hurt for a long time. I know that. And I’m always going to miss my mommy. But I know she’d be happy for me to keep going. I’ve got amazing friends and a band that’s performing tomorrow night and I’ve got a really great boy.” Coyote turned his head and gave Marty’s cheek a peck. “A great boy who saw me through all this and who took care of me and who looks dead sexy when coming.”


            Marty laughed embarrassingly. “Speaking of which, do you want me to…?”


            Coyote shook his head. “Actually, I already took care of myself. But thanks.”


            Marty nodded back. If Coyote were in the mood to take care of himself again on any level, things were getting back to normal.




            Definitely getting back to normal. “Did you take your allergy meds last night?” Marty asked. Coyote’s morning allergy sneezes would strike even with medicine, but he couldn’t remember Coyote taking any the night before.


            Unsurprisingly, Coyote shook his head and rubbed a finger under his nose. “hahhh-ahh-Chihhh!”  


            Back to normal, though perhaps a little too quickly. Marty sat up with a yawn and started to get out of bed. “I’ll go get your allergy medicine.”


            Coyote got up as well. “No. You can go hit the shower. I’ll get it myself.”


            It only took Marty two guesses to find the bathroom, and it took as many for him to work out the strange handle and settings in the shower stall. But he managed to get it working and turned on as hot as he could stand it. The spray was strong, just as Marty liked it, and he found himself taking a much longer shower than usual because of it.


            He heard the door open and the water in the sink run. He peeked out to see Coyote sipping water out of a cupped hand then throwing his head back to wash the pill down. “Want to join me?” Marty called out over the sound of the shower.


            “Nah, I’m all right. I want to get downstairs so I can… hehh… so I can get a pot of coffee on for the locksmith. Hahhh-KTChhh!


            “Bless you. Coffee? The locksmith needs coffee?”


            Coyote nodded to himself in the mirror as he rubbed a tissue at his nose. “Southern hospitality, Marty. If someone comes to your house, you have to have freshly brewed coffee available. And, preferably, also an assortment of finger foods. But in this case I’ll probably just offer to make an omelet or something.” Coyote blew his nose again and tossed the tissue into the trash. “I’ll see you downstairs. Enjoy your shower.”


            “Thanks,” Marty replied, though now he felt obligated to get out immediately and go downstairs to help. He felt too used to helping Coyote out to quit cold turkey, even if it was good to see that Coyote was doing better.


            He sighed deeply and shut off the water. He toweled off quickly and pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. He figured he might be a little warm, but he didn’t like wearing short-sleeved shirts while driving because computer geeks were supposed to be pale. Then he headed downstairs to the kitchen and the strong aroma of coffee. Marty smiled, expecting to find Coyote hovering over the stove, happily cooking. Instead he saw the coffee bubbling in the coffee maker, a frying pan with burnt eggs on the burner, and Coyote sitting at the table with his arms crossed upon it and his head buried in his arms. His whole body shook with silent sobs.


            Marty went straight for the stove, removing the pan and shutting off the burner. Then he stood behind Coyote and put his hands on the man’s shoulders. Coyote gave a vocal sob, trying to communicate to Marty what was wrong. “I know,” Marty said, squeezing Coyote’s shoulders. “I know, just let it out. I’ll get the breakfast going.” The doorbell rang or, rather, chimed. “And I’ll get the door.” Coyote sobbed out loud again and Marty winced sympathetically. He rooted around in his pocket and set a wad of folded tissues on the table. “And you just stay put.” The door chimed again, twice, urgently.


            Flustered, Marty raced for the door, sliding on the tile floor in his socks. He practically crashed into the front door and then fiddled with the lock for a few moments before he managed to get the door open.


            The man at the door was the very picture of a locksmith. Toolbox in one hand, worn overalls, a frayed blue t-shirt. “Samuel Hastings?” he asked, reading the name off a clipboard.


            Marty shook his head. “You have the right place. He’s indisposed at the moment, I’m afraid. But you can come on in and start work. Would you like some coffee? Just made it.”


            The man nodded and thanked Marty. Then he laid down a drop cloth and set the toolbox down on it. Marty went back to the kitchen for the coffee and found Coyote had progressed from hunched-over silent sobs to sitting upright and crying out loud. Marty gave his shoulder another squeeze and poured two cups of coffee- one for Coyote and one for the locksmith. Coyote nodded through his tears in thank you as Marty placed it before him.


            He gave the coffee to the locksmith, who refused the offer of cream and sugar, and then Marty okayed the deadbolt selection. “Would you like anything to eat? I was just going to make something.”


            “So grits’d be great,” he said, barely looking up as he pawed through his drill bits to find the right sized ones.


            “Sure,” Marty said, retreating back to the kitchen. Coyote had progressed again, the sobs having turned into mere tears and a little coughing. “Hey, done already?” Marty asked playfully, bending down and kissing his cheek. “Come on now. Keep crying. Let me see more.”


            Coyote chuckled and shook his head, drying his face with several tissues. “So sorry, I think it’s passed for now.” He managed a smile as Marty reached down and wrapped his arms around Coyote in a warm hug. “I just… didn’t want to be crying so much today. I wanted to be strong and not remember leaving this place in tears… again.”


            Marty broke off the hug and slid into the chair beside Coyote, putting on his best ‘I’m listening’ expression. Of course, he already knew what the ‘again’ portion of Coyote’s statement meant, as Coyote had explained in great detail the incident that occurred to make him leave his home years ago. But he also knew Coyote needed to explain what had set him off this time.


            “I started remembering the mornings when my mother used to make breakfast for me before school. When I was in grade school she’d drill me on my spelling and when I got older we’d talk about music. And after a while we started talking about boys. In a town where most people hated my guts after I came out, she was my best friend. And not in a trite ‘gay boy’s mother is his best friend’ sort of way, but because she really cared about me and what I had to say. And I wanted her to be happy, too. It was during one of our breakfasts that she dropped the news about wanting to marry my step-father. She always said she wanted me to find a man who’d make me just as happy as he made her. And she wanted me to be successful with my music.” His voice cracked and he looked down at his coffee, fixing his eyes upon it as they teared up again.


            Marty reached over and rubbed Coyote’s back. “It’s okay. I understand. If I don’t make you that happy I’ll go right now—” he stood up.


            Coyote laughed, grabbed Marty’s shirt and pulling him back down. “You jerk. You know I…” he paused, and Marty wasn’t sure he was going to actually say it. “You know I’m falling in love with you.”


            Marty said nothing for a moment, and Coyote shifted in his seat. “Is my timing off?” he asked worriedly. “I mean, we’ve been dating exclusively for a few months now, which is practically forever in gay men terms. But I’m not one of those guys who throws that l-word around. And if you think I shouldn’t have said it I’ll take it back and we’ll just chalk it up to how sweet and comforting you’ve been to me these last few days…”


            Marty shook his head. “Please don’t take it back.” He leaned forward and cupped Coyote’s cheek in his hand. Then he pressed his lips to Coyote’s gently. And gently lips parted and tongues lapped at each other. Suddenly, Marty pulled back, his eyes wide. “Oh my god- I almost forgot. That guy wants grits. What the Hell are grits?”


            Coyote laughed again. “I’ll make them,” he said, going for a pot.


            He made enough for all three of them, and made Marty try some. With an extra spoonful of sugar, Marty admitted they tasted wonderful. The locksmith liked them, as well. And Coyote was pleased with the job he did, both on the front door and both back doors. Coyote pocketed the two sets of keys and the man’s business card. Then he wrote out a hefty check and thanked the man at least ten times for coming by on such short notice.


            “We should pack up the fridge as well,” Coyote said, running his hand through his hair as he turned to face the house and Marty again now that they were alone together again. There was still a lot to do before they left town. “I think there’s a cooler in the basement so that the food won’t spoil on the drive home.” He disappeared through a door just outside the kitchen, leaving Marty there, having not realized that the house even had a basement.


            Marty did the dishes while Coyote emptied the fridge’s contents into either the cooler or the trash can. Then, while Coyote did one more spin around the house to be sure he had everything he wanted for this trip, Marty emptied all the trashcans they’d used over the last few days.


            He found Coyote sniffling over a box in the foyer. “You all right?” Marty asked, slipping an arm around Coyote’s middle and giving a half-hug. A full black trash bag dangled with red plastic handles from his other hand.


            Coyote nodded.


            “You can come back down any time you want,” Marty reminded him. “To see your house.”


            “I know,” Coyote said. “And I’m sure I will. But it’s still not going to be easy leaving this time.” He took a deep breath and picked up one of the boxes that were stacked by the door. “These all go, along with our luggage.” He gestured to one large box. “But I’ll hold that one on my lap so it should go out last. It’s going to Jess.”


            Together they loaded the car. Marty drove the car up the driveway and parked it right in front of the house, so they wouldn’t have to carry everything so far. Even with that, it seemed to take a hundred trips in and out. Their bags and the cooler fit in the trunk and the boxes all piled nicely in the backseat, still allowing Marty a few out of the back window. Marty checked twice to be sure they’d turned off the stove and had all their toiletries out of the bathrooms.


            He came up behind Coyote, who was standing in the foyer, and wrapped his arms around the man. Coyote folded his hands over Marty’s, against his chest. They rocked back and forth for a few moments and Coyote sighed deeply as he took a last look.


            “Do you want to be alone? I’d be happy to go wait in the car and baby-sit your valuables.”


            Coyote chuckled and shook his head. “You’re just where I want you. I wanted to have a few moments to say goodbye. Do you mind waiting?”


            “Take as long as you need.”


            Coyote took six minutes, which seemed a lot longer in the silence than it really was. Then he turned in place, still in Marty’s hold, and kissed the man. “All right. Let’s head out.”


            They went out to the car and Marty reminded a still-sniffling Coyote that there were tissues in the glove compartment. “Thanks,” Coyote said, rubbing his eyes with tissues and clearing his throat. “Okay, so to get to Jess’ house—”


            “Wait,” Marty interrupted, his hand on the shifter, set on drive though his foot was still on the brake pedal. “If I’m not going to talk you out of keeping this place, I want you to prove to me this town isn’t as bad as it seems.”


            Coyote smiled. “You want the happy-Coyote tour of the town?” Marty nodded, chuckling. “All right then.” He cleared his throat again. “First stop requires no driving. See that corner up there? I had a lemonade stand there. A few times every summer.”


            “You had a lemonade stand?”


            “Everyone had a lemonade stand as a kid. Didn’t you?” Marty shook his head. “Ah, well, you didn’t miss anything. I made maybe a buck or two every time and having tons of lemonade leftover. Drinking so much always gave me a stomach ache.” Marty laughed. “Now, straight ahead and make a right at the first stop sign.”


            Marty noticed that Coyote looked back over his shoulder at the house until the car turned the corner and his view was obscured. “The house up there with the green shutters was where the Kouchermans lived. Mr. K was my Cub Scout leader. Took us on our first camping trip and taught us how to put on a good pig roast.”


            “Pig roast?” Marty asked nervously.


            “Yup. You’re in the south now, remember? Grits and pigs on spits.” Marty didn’t look all too thrilled at the image in his head. “Hey, don’t worry. I wanted to get away from here for more than just the obvious reasons. Pig roasts aren’t nearly as much fun as they sound.”


            Marty smiled and Coyote went on, “Anyway… the house up there with the hideous teal and the navy blue trim, that used to belong to the Jones. Their daughter, Marissa Jones, was in my grade. She was the first girl I ever kissed. First and only, actually. Really nice girl— dated her for a little while when we were in middle school. Luckily her family moved away before I came out or the rest of the town probably would have burned her as a witch, too. The horrible paint job is a recent development.” He looked fondly at the house as they passed anyway. “Once you hit the main road up here at the light, make a left and an immediate right.”


            The road was long and windy, but after the turns, he found himself in an elementary school parking lot. “Yours?”


            “Mmhmm. Same old wooden playground, too.” It was one of those stylized wooden playgrounds once so popular at elementary schools along the east coast. Many had long since been demolished because of rotted wood or too many cases of splinters. This one, however, was still standing in all its glory: giant structures, mazes, nets of tires, and swings of all sorts as far as the eye could see. “Went here from kindergarten through sixth grade. And apart from the chicken pox, I would have had a perfect attendance record.”


            Marty grinned. “Little Yo all itchy with the chicken pox, huh?” He reached over and scratched at Coyote’s chin. Coyote growled affectionately and lifted his head to encourage more scratching. He tapped his foot on the floor of the car as though Marty had hit his sensitive spot, making Marty laugh. “So where to next?”


            “Um… go straight here through two… maybe three stoplights. I dunno. It’s been a while. But it’s a right turn on Bayville Avenue and then a left onto Main Street.”


            Marty kept his eyes pealed for the streets and suddenly found himself going fifteen miles per hour on a quaint, one-way street, surrounded by lovely old buildings on both sides.


            “Old town,” Coyote explained. “There’s the post office coming up on your left, and just past that is the movie theater. Up there in the balcony was where I kissed a guy for the first time. And I got kicked out once for getting a little too hot and heavy with another guy. Oh! And there’s the old library. I volunteered there for one summer when I was a kid. I made out with a guy in the bathroom there after-hours. Take the next left onto Picket.”


            It was another one-way street, this time more like an alley than anything else. The buildings were tall and let little sunlight down on the narrow street. “Let me guess. This is the alleyway where you gave your first handjob?”


            Sniggering, “Not quite. See that building there?” Coyote pointed to the one they were passing on the right. “That used to be a nightclub. It’s where I played my very first gig. Wasn’t even legal to drink yet and they had me playing ‘til two in the morning twice a week for months. It was spectacular.”


            “Bet you were spectacular,” Marty said, giving the brick building a good look as they passed by.


            “Oh no,” Coyote said, shaking his head emphatically. “I was terrible. But it was a fun time and it paid for my car.”


            Marty had a hard time believing Coyote was as terrible as he insisted he’d been, but he didn’t argue. He did, however, pause as the street led into a larger one.


            “Make a right and then, at the traffic circle, take the second right.” Marty missed it the first time around, but then hit it. It took him towards another neighborhood, this one slightly less fancy than the one Coyote’s house was in. “I had a daily paper route on these streets. From 12th and A to 16th and D. That’s when I learned I was a night owl. I absolutely hated waking up so early.”


            That, Marty had no problem believing.


            “Take the next left, go a block, and then turn left on 16th,” Coyote told him. On the way, “That’s the retirement home my gramps was in,” he pointed out. “And that’s the park where I played soccer for a season. Right behind that is the middle school, which is connected to the high school with a bridge. They must be renovating it now.” There were giant relocatable trailers sitting out on the fields, obscuring most of Marty’s view of the school building. “That yellow house… the one with the flowers on the pink mailbox. That’s Jess’ place.”


            Marty should have guessed. “Need me to go up with you?” he asked, pulling up to the curb and parking.


            Coyote shook his head. He’d been holding the box on his lap the whole time, and tightened his grip on it after he unfastened his seatbelt and opened the door. “It might be better if you don’t. Wouldn’t want you to hear whatever she has to say. I’ll be right back.” He paused, folding down the visor and looking at himself in the small mirror. “Do I look like I’ve been crying all morning?” he asked.


            Honestly, Coyote did, but Marty had already packed the eye drops in their luggage somewhere. “You look all right,” Marty told him, not a lie but not the whole truth either. Coyote seemed to understand he looked miserable but that there was nothing for it, and left anyway.


            Marty waited in the car. He took a good swig of water from the bottle in his cup holder, which was enough to last him through the first half of the drive at least.


            Marty’s hand found its way to the door and he clicked the unlock button repeatedly out of habit, not wanting to leave Coyote in enemy territory a second longer than necessary.  He bent forward and craned his neck, trying to look out of the passenger side window. But he could only really get a view of the stairs leading up to the door and two pairs of shoes- one familiar and one distinctly feminine and definitely expensive. He continued to click the unlock button until Coyote’s shoes left the stoop and headed down the stairs.


            “Ready to hit the road?” Coyote asked as he slumped back into the passenger seat.


            “Just what I should be asking you,” Marty said, reaching over for Coyote’s hand and squeezing it.


            Coyote nodded. “I’m ready. A few things to point out on the way out, though.”


            “Just show me the way,” Marty said, turning the key in the ignition and putting the car in drive again. On the way back to the interstate, Coyote made sure Marty saw the hospital and the spot where the old drive-in movie theater had been but was now a commuter’s parking lot. Marty noticed that Coyote looked at but did not mention the greyhound bus station they passed or the used car dealership, because apparently those were not stops on the happy-Coyote tour. Nor was the roadhouse which neither man gave the time of day as the car passed by it towards the ramp to the highway.


*          *          *          *          *


            The drive home turned out to be almost as quiet as the one down. Coyote dozed on and off. He offered to drive a few times but Marty insisted he could handle it. But Marty sighed with relief when they pulled in through the gate and up to the mansion.


            Marty had called the house from the road to let them know the ETA and nearly the whole house was waiting for them outside. The car had barely stopped before Coyote jumped out and wrapped one arm around both Nik and Sweetie. “I’m okay,” he told them, loud enough for everyone to hear. “So quit looking so worried. It kills me.” Nik gave him a kiss on the cheek and Sweetie patted his back.


            Marty popped the trunk and hit the unlock button another three times before getting out of the car and stretching. His legs felt stiff and his arms cramped from sitting in virtually the same position while driving for six or seven hours straight. “Yo, we’ll get the boxes to your room for you,” Marty volunteered them all. “Why don’t you go clean up?”


            Coyote nodded and shot them all grateful looks. Then he headed up the steps and inside. Marty hovered awkwardly by the car for a moment, not sure whether to say something or grab a box. It would go faster if everyone helped, but he was perfectly happy to unpack alone if they weren’t into it. But Sweetie came around the car and hugged Marty tightly. “Thank you for taking care of him for us,” he said.


            “Ith he really okay?” Nik asked, administering a hug as soon as Sweetie was finished with his.


            “Not completely,” Marty said. “But he’s a lot better now that he’s made it through the hard parts. Someone needs to keep an eye on him, though.”


            “We will,” Sweetie reassured him. “And we’ll help with the boxes. You shouldn’t have to do any more carrying. I’m sure you’re exhausted after the drive.”


            Marty shook his head. “I can help. I mean, I’m exhausted, but moving around a little sounds really good to me after the long drive.”


            So the five of them— Nik, Sweetie, Jamie, Pit and Marty— unloaded the car.  Marty made sure they left his bag and the box of Hummels Coyote had labeled ‘MARTY’. Marty took a box up, and then took the cooler to the kitchen to unpack it. Auntie Al was there, cooking what was presumably dinner. Whatever it was smelled exceptional. “Everyone loved the bread you sent with Coyote,” Marty said, holding a casserole dish over the cooler as it dripped from half-melted ice.


            “I’m glad,” Al said, smiling warmly. “Speaking of which…” The timer on the toaster oven went off and he pulled out a small tray of garlic bread. “Fresh from the oven. Can I tempt you?”


            Marty and Coyote had stopped about halfway through their trip in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Virginia. They’d had a light meal, but Marty was feeling hungry again and the bread looked wonderful. He took a piece, blew on it so it wasn’t quite so hot, and took a bite. It was buttery and soft against his tongue and so warm. There was a gentle mix of… something more than just garlic, which played with the natural taste of the perfectly-toasted bread. He practically melted with pleasure along with a happy sigh. “Oh my God, Auntie, this is the best garlic bread I’ve ever tasted!”


            “Take another,” Al prompted. “I’ve another batch ready to go in and I think I made too much too early anyway.” Marty popped the rest of the first small piece into his mouth and took another with a grateful smile.


            Sweetie came into the kitchen with Marty’s car keys jingling from his hand. “The car’s empty.”


            “Wow, that was fast!” Marty laughed, thinking of the many trips up and down the stairs and in and out of the house earlier today. “This cooler needs to be drained, but otherwise we’re done.”


            A nod. “I’ll take care of it. You should go see Yo before you leave. He’s out back again.”


            Marty started in that direction, then turned back. “Someone needs to make sure he eats and takes his meds. He’s been okay about sleeping and all but sometimes he forgets to eat like he should.”


            “We’ll watch him,” Sweetie promised. Then he smiled over at Auntie Al. “With Auntie’s cooking, Coyote will have a hard time resisting.”


            “I bet,” Marty said around another bite. “Thanks.” He headed towards the backdoor again. Through the screen door, he saw Coyote on the back porch steps and a bit of déjà vu washed over him. He popped into the bathroom and grabbed a tissue box. Then, with a deep breath, he pushed the door open and let it fall closed behind him.


            Coyote looked back over his shoulder and kept his eyes trained on Marty as the man walked over and sat down beside Coyote’s face was surprisingly dry. He did need a tissue, however. “ahhh-hahh-TChihhh! ahhhKShoo! H’Chooo!” As he grabbed for a tissue, he rubbed his palm at his nose, pushing the end of his nose up. “Damn allergies.”


            “They didn’t seem so bad when we were down south.”


            Nodding, “I’ve heard it said that some people develop allergies specifically after moving to this area. Mine just get worse here. hahhh-KITChhhh!” He sniffled. “Are you leaving?” Coyote asked weakly.


            “If that’s okay with you,” Marty said, putting a hand on Coyote’s thigh. “I need a good night’s sleep and to check my e-mail. Gotta be at work early tomorrow morning.”


            “Sorry,” Coyote said. “You should go.”


            Marty was uncertain about exactly what words to use, but he knew what he wanted to say. “Coyote… I have something to say to you before I go.” Marty’s hand reached up and he played with Coyote’s completely brown hair, pushing it back and tucking it behind an ear. Coyote cocked his head attentively. “Even though I’m really sorry for your loss and wish more than anything that you didn’t have to go through all that you’ve been through…”


            “Uh-oh,” Coyote interrupted. “This is the part where you break up with me, right?”


            “No,” said Marty nicely. He pressed his lips to Coyote’s cheek and whispered, “This is the part where I say I’m falling in love with you, too.” He kissed again. “And I wanted to let you know I liked going down to Carolina with you. I liked seeing where you came from and learning more about you. I’m glad you wanted me along and I’m glad I could be of some help.”


            After a third kiss upon Coyote’s cheek, he pulled back and turned to the side a little so he could better look at Coyote. “I may have to work late tomorrow, but I’ll call you when I get home. And you can call me any time you want on my cell phone— day or night. You have the number, right?”


            “Memorized,” Coyote said softly.


            “Good.” Marty smiled and kissed him on the lips with a gentle smacking sound. He studied Coyote’s face a moment. “Are you sure you’ll be all right if I leave you alone?”


            Coyote nodded. “I don’t feel alone any more.”






Endnotes: Thank you all for reading this labor of love :-) I wanted to mention that I used a funeral home website as a reference a little but actually also quoted from it at one point, so I feel I should supply the link: