Ray Person didn’t have much to do in his office at The Grassy Knoll. Webster refused to trust him with any of the juicy stories since that time he traded a blow job for a source (totally worth it) so he was left answering reader’s questions, writing editorials, and spicing up the personal ads. Ray brought hope to the hopeless despite what Leckie claimed.
On Sundays he got a chance to run his own column about dating and relationships in the Greater D.C.-Metro Area. Once a month he pulled out what he liked to call Greatest Proposals Ever Witnessed. The fodder for that piece increased 100-fold when he met Duro Metzger, his brother Agron, and Agron’s husband after a dizzying rash of proposals, Nasir Karimi. Ray was proud to proclaim he knew of at least thirteen of them.
One: The One with the One Ring
Nasir Karimi was late, so very late, but that was the cost of switching shifts so he could get this weekend off. It was important that he had time to savor three days at the side of his partner, Agron Metzger. He just didn’t plan on that last shift at Bethesda running into are you fucking kidding me levels of emergencies and delays. He was supposed to be at Agron’s military retirement party two hours ago. It would be their first time alone together without involving military bases in three months, and Nasir’s stomach was already twisted with the knowledge of Agron’s disappointment.
When he finally arrived at the bar in D.C., Saxa grabbed his arm and dragged him aside. He’d expect nothing less than the fierce protectiveness of Agron’s baby sister.
“Where the hell have you been? We had to pour half the bar down his throat because he thought you weren’t coming.”
“Work hell,” Nasir said. He gestured to his clothes. “I’m still wearing my uniform pants, Saxa. I was changing my shirt in the friggin’ parking lot to get here as soon as I can.”
She glared at him. “You’re excused this time only because you look fucking exhausted and this bar is eventually going to run out of beer. Go, now.” She shoved him towards the center of the bar.
Agron was in the back corner, laughing and leaning between his brother Duro, and their friend, Ray Person. There were more people gathered around, all semi-familiar faces with names Nasir couldn’t quite recall. The Metzger siblings tended to gather friends wherever they went and Nasir never could keep up with everyone.
“Nasir,” Agron yelled. He grinned and slapped Ray on the shoulder. “See, I told you he’d come. You said he’d run off to Oceanside with Rudy, but he’s here.” Agron tried to stand, thought better of it, and leaned in closer to Duro. “Duro taught me a poem while we were waiting. Would you like to hear it?”
Duro shook his head at Nasir, eyes pleading to make the drunken hug and slobber of his older brother stop. As far as Nasir was concerned, he deserved it.
“I once met a man from Nantucket,” Agron began.
“Oh, god no,” Nasir said. He crawled over Duro and placed his hands over Agron’s mouth. “We agreed, love, no limericks, remember? You tend to yell the last few lines and there are only so many times I can talk the officers out of citing you for vulgar language.”
Ray leaned over Agron’s shoulder. “You’ve really had to do that?”
Duro laughed. “At this point Nasir is on the first-name basis with various MPs and D.C. beat cops.”
Nasir wanted to tell Duro where he good put his laughter but Agron was busy trying to lick his fingers. He pulled them back quickly and wiped them on Duro’s shirt.
“Dude,” Duro yelled.
“You gave him vodka be thankful I am only wiping spit on you,” Nasir hissed. Agron had a distinct reaction to vodka which he didn’t mind in private. In public, well, he didn’t want to explain to his commanding officer just why he was found in a public area with another man’s hands down his pants.
“I am going to kill you,” he calmly informed all the Metzger siblings. Agron’s fingers were already wandering towards the back of his pants. “I will bury you alive in a shallow grave covered in lye.”
“Nasir, I don’t think you should be talking about you premeditated murder plans in the open,” Ray said. “I don’t want to be charged as an accessory.”
“Thank you for your concern, Ray.” He gripped Agron’s wrists. “Hands, no.”
Agron pouted. “It’s my retirement party and you’re late. Don’t I deserve a reward for a successful transition into civilian life?”
“You’re drunk on vodka and molesting him a bar, I wouldn’t call that success, bro,” Saxa said.
“Or romantic,” Duro agreed.
“Fuck you, I can do romance.” He leaned over Nasir and delved into Duro’s pockets pulling out his keys. “Ha,” he yelled, shaking a replica keychain of the One Ring.
Nasir had a bad feeling this was going to get utterly ridiculous far too soon for his taste.
“See, ring,” Agron said. He patted Nasir’s head with a serious expression on his face. “Nasir, with this ring, I thee propose.”
Nasir pinched his brow. “To what, conquer the free peoples of Middle Earth? You know how I feel about megalomania, Agron.”
“You don’t want to marry me?”
Fuck. Agron’s voice actually sounded broken. He could feel the judgment coming from all sides of the table. Fucking Metzgers. Fucking Marines. Fucking Emotional Retired-SEALs.
He leaned up and kissed Agron’s nose and his lips twitched at the smile that instantly bloomed.
“Of course I want to marry you, Agron. Just after we’re both in a professional and personal capacity to handle such a change in our lives.”
Agron tilted his head. Right; vodka.
He kissed Agron’s cheek. “Not right this instant, love. Definitely later.”
Agron leaned his forehead against Nasir’s. “I’ll hold you to that.”
“Awesome, can I have my keys back?” Duro asked.
Agron and Nasir both gave him the finger in response.
Two: The One with the Cat
Agron didn’t know how Runner Conley’s cat allergy was his problem. Somehow he still wound up with the stray kitten Chuckler Juergens found since his roommate refused to live with that much fur or sneezing.
Nasir was spending his vacation at Agron’s townhouse and he had plans for a whole week of just Nasir and not Navy Corpsman Karimi. A stray kitten did not factor into those plans.
He looked up from the ball of fluff in his lap when he heard Nasir come down the stairs.
“You’re home,” he said. He vaulted over the couch and suddenly stopped himself from leaning over. “You have a kitten.”
“Chuckler found it. He can’t keep it and he was worried about it wasting away in a shelter. Hoosier can’t take it because his fostering a dog,” he explained.
Nasir ran a finger over the kitten’s fur. It was a tortoise shell according to Hoosier. It was barely bigger than Agron’s first.
“Does it have a name?”
“I’ve just been calling it Jackass Fluffball since it decided to use my shoes as a litter box.”
“Your shoes smell, I’m not surprised,” Nasir said. He scratched behind its ears. “Is it a boy or girl?”
“I respect the cat’s privacy.”
“Thank you, Martin Blank, for your outdated reference.” He picked the cat up and nodded before settling it back in Agron’s lap. “A girl cat named Jack. How very Johnny Cash of you.”
“She’s a badass survivor who can rock it.” Agron said.
“I hope so,” Nasir agreed. He leaned on Agron’s shoulder. “My dream life always included living in a townhouse with an overly affectionate hulk of a husband and a female cat named Jackass Fluffball.”
“Jackass Fluffball Metzger-Karimi, Esq.”
Agron rested his head on top of Nasir and watched as Jack tried to attack a loose thread from Nasir’s shirt.
“Wait, did you just subtly propose?” he asked.
“It didn’t involve vodka or limericks, but yes.”
They couldn’t do anything about it now. Not with Nasir still enlisted in the Navy and D.C. yet to legalize gay marriage. Still, Agron could make plans.
“Well, I don’t think I can truly accept without a ring.”
“You’ll have to go with an IOU for now,” Nasir said.
Agron kissed the top of Nasir’s head, thankful just to have him here. “I can do that,” he promised.
Three: The One with the Food Poisoning
“You have to kill me,” Agron begged.
“I’m pretty sure my medical vows forbid me from doing so.” Nasir pressed a kiss to Agron’s sweaty forehead and tried not to grimace at the heat rolling off of him.
“I saw that,” Agron said. “You think I’m dying too but you don’t have the heart to tell me.”
“You’re not dying,” Nasir promised. He cracked open a bottle a Gatorade. “I need you to drink that for me.”
Agron glared at the orange liquid. “I just had water. Do I have to drink all of it?”
“Every last drop. Take the orange now or get the grape forced upon you later.”
“I could die and your last words to me will be a threat.”
“The only thing you’re in risk of right now is dehydration. Which is why you need to drink that.” He tapped the bottle. “It’s also why I need to go out to the store and grab more.”
Agron pouted. “You’re leaving me.”
“Only for twenty minutes.”
Agron looked down at the bed. “What if things get…explosive again?”
“I have a plan. Come on, up you go.” He helped maneuver Agron out of the bed, only stumbling once, as he carried/dragged him to the bathroom. “See, I’ve made you a blanket nest. You’re near the tub and the toilet. Your cell phone is in there as is a portable dvd player. Stripes is ready to be watched. There’s more water and some Gatorade. I trust you to survive for half-an-hour.”
Agron settle down in his nest and burrowed under his favorite quilt. “You might be overestimating my abilities.”
“I’ve seen you survive gangrene, an IED explosion that left shrapnel above your heart, and the open bar at your parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary. I know you can survive this.”
Half-an-hour later he returned to find Agron asleep, forehead resting on top of the portable dvd player and two empty water bottles at his side. Jack was on top of the toilet batting at Agron’s hair. The Gatorade still wasn’t finished; at least Agron attempted to drink more than three sips.
He opened the popsicle wrapper in his hand and nudged Agron awake.
“That’s a firecracker popsicle,” he rasped out.
“It is. Your mother said she always let you have one when you were sick to offset all the plain ones she made you eat. We’ll be following that procedure.”
Agron took the popsicle. “You bought me my favorite childhood popsicles.”
“You’re pretty much my perfect Prince Charming right now. Once I’m able to be more than five feet from a bathroom for an extended amount of time we are getting married.” He rested his head on Nasir’s shoulder. “Can’t have you buying firecracker popsicles for anyone else.”
Nasir grasped the back of Agron’s neck and was pleased to feel much cooler skin.
“I wouldn’t even dream of it.”
Four: The One with the Blizzard
Nasir stared out of Agron’s bedroom window and despaired. He needed to be at work in an hour. It was only a ten-mile drive. There was at least a foot of snow on the ground and counting. Agron’s townhouse had already lost power and he could hear tree limbs snapping under the weight of ice and snow outside.
Nasir poked Agron until he woke up.
“Nasir, go back to bed.”
“I will legitimately marry you if you go dig my car out.”
“Love ya, babe, but no.” Agron pulled the covers back over his head. “Just call out of work.”
“I have a responsibility.”
“Right now the whole fucking area is closed down. You’re an administrator anyway, not a caregiver.”
“I could be for the short-staff.”
“Nasir, you are not attempting to drive in that. Call Doc Bryan and explain. He’ll probably yell at you for being idiot enough to even attempt thought about driving in this shit.” Agron huffed. “I can’t believe you just fake proposed to me in order to get your car dug out.”
Nasir kicked in the general area of Agron’s ass. “It wasn’t a fake proposal. Just a time-delayed one.”
“Well then this is my time-delayed fuck no, I’m not going out in that snow.” He lifted up Nasir’s side of the blanket. “Get your cold feet back under the covers. Call Doc and Naevia and then for the love of god, go back to sleep.”
Five: The One with the Hangover
Nasir lightly scratched through Agron’s hair; occasionally letting his hands dip down to rub his temples or the back of his neck.
“Oh god, marry me.”
“Maybe when you don’t still reek of tequila.”
Agron whimpered. “What did I do last night?”
“Ray took you and Saxa out to a honkytonk. I’m not quite sure about the rest. I have some mysterious text messages and fuzzy pictures. I heard you did a lovely new dance routine to Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
Agron tried to hide his head under Nasir’s shirt. “I hate my sister. And Ray. And their powers combined.”
Nasir jumped at the quick bite of teeth above his navel.
“I love you though,” he said.
Nasir shook his head. Still drunk and horny. Typical Agron.
Six: The One with the Other Hangover
Agron was trying not to laugh at the picture Nasir, Duro, and Saxa made. They were sprawled out together in a post-Metzger-picnic haze. Nasir may have still been drunk. He’d tried to go drink-for-drink with Saxa and hell, even Lugo didn’t do that. He was giggling. Nasir was a grown-ass man and generally kind of serious. Seeing him giggle like a school kid kind of made Agron’s month.
“You’re pretty,” Nasir said as he pet Agron’s face. “We should get married.”
Agron did laugh at that. “You did promise Lugo last night you’d make an honest man out of me.”
“I will. I already would’ve if the military didn’t have their heads so far up their own asses.” He frowned. “Six more months of my contract though. I’m not going to re-up.”
That was an unexpected surprise. Nasir had been talking about transition to civilian life for months. Agron didn’t realize the decision was final.
He kissed him then, not surprised to taste the whiskey still on his lips. They had plans to make. And honest proposals to pursue.
Seven: The One with the SEALS and the Shoe (aka Nasir is NOT Cinderella no matter what Saxa says)
Even though Agron retired from the Navy two years ago he tried to reunite with his former SEAL team whenever he had the chance. It was always an event and Agron was always overjoyed when one of his military brothers came for a visit.
Nasir was currently benefitting from the connection. After months of debate over moving somewhere else or re-signing his lease, he’d taken Agron up on the offer to move-in. He mentioned hiring movers but Donar, Agron’s former second-in-command and a regular dinner companion, would have none of it.
His apartment was emptied and he was moved into Agron’s in less than three hours.
Most of the boys and Saxa were still up when Nasir tried to leave for his 5am shift. He needed to find his other work-shoe in the mess of bodies covering the living room and spilling out into the hallway.
“Right here,” Agron said as he waved the godforsaken thing.
Nasir hopped over and tried to snatch it but Agron pulled it back.
“If you make me late I’ll send Crixus over here to wake you all up with a bullhorn in a few hours.”
“So cranky this morning,” Agron teased. He slipped Nasir’s shoe on his foot. “I think this means I have to marry you now.”
Nasir’s noise of exasperation was enough to wake Saxa. She smirked at the two of them.
“Say a word and I will dye your hair fire-engine red,” Nasir warned.
“I’d still rock it, Cinderella.”
Nasir just glared at her, too tired to come-up with a decent comeback.
Eight: The One with the Football Snack Stadium
Agron and Duro stood proud in front of their achievement. Nasir assumed they deserved some award for creative use of cold-cuts, pretzels, tortilla chips, and guacamole. It was an extremely detailed football snack food stadium that took center stage on the dining-room table. They’d even made tiny sponsor labels.
The party wasn’t for another three hours and Nasir was just waiting for disaster to happen. Clearly the brothers forgot about the inevitabilities of owning a mischievous kitten. It took Jack less than an hour to bring down a side of the stadium. There were guacamole cat paw-prints throughout the house.
“It’s okay,” Nasir said. He patted Agron’s shoulder. “I’ll still marry you even though you can’t build a football snack stadium worthy of standing up to a helpless kitten.”
“Helpless my ass,” Duro said.
Nine: The One with the Sheep
The Metzgers had these sheep they dragged from house to house all around the world. Conrad Metzger came to the United States just in time to join Vietnam and earn his citizenship. Returning to Pendleton after his first tour, he met a protestor in the form of Mina Klaas who baa-ed at him like the sheep she claimed he was. In response he quoted William Blake’s The Lamb to her and six months later they were married. The sheep had been with them ever since, from military base to suburban home.
Agron had, somehow, managed to break two of the sheep in a backyard soccer game with Duro.
Sometimes Nasir felt like his life was The Babysitters Club: The Mid-20s Years.
Luckily Mina and Naevia had dragged Nasir along to every flea market and antique store in the area. He knew Mina had found two additional sets of the exact same sheep at one of her favorite spots. She planned to buy at least one of the sets for when all the kids found their spouses. With this knowledge in hand, Nasir left Agron and Duro with the sheep and the superglue and drove to Hidden Treasures to purchase both sets of sheep.
His life since meeting Agron meant that driving around with ten fake yard sheep in his car no longer caused more than a passing thought.
“They didn’t manage to superglue themselves to each other,” Saxa said.
“Thank god for small favors. Help me with the sheep.”
It took some careful repositioning and a quick soil rubdown to fit in the replacement sheep. Duro stuck one of the new sheep at the end and painted an anchor on its side like a friggin’ My Little Pony.
“It’s your sheep,” he insisted. “There’s no way in hell we’re letting you go anywhere when you can just magically pull yard statues from your magic bag of tricks.”
“I think Duro just proposed to you by lawn ornament,” Agron said.
Nasir shook his head. “Knowing your family, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”
“Our family,” Duro yelled from inside the kitchen.
Ten: The One with the Grandma
Nasir didn’t know how Grandma Karimi would accept Agron. She’d heard the stories of course, seen pictures of him over the years, but never had they met face-to-face. This was important. She’d raised Nasir and Dagan after their parents died. She was the most important person in his life and he was absolutely terrified.
So far Agron had Grandma charmed with his horrible jokes and his mile-wide smiles. It was going well. She was letting him eat the nice gingersnaps.
Dagan was watching them closely and waiting for any chance to jump-in and make it extremely difficult for Agron.
Nasir punched Dagan in the shoulder. “Don’t torture him. I plan on marrying that man one day.”
“You two will have to actually propose to each other first.”
Nasir smirked. That was one thing he never doubted. Grandma would love to hear that too.
“Agron,” he yelled.
“In the future once the military finally puts DADT in its grave and/or I leave the Navy, will you marry me?”
“Of course, babe, as long as Mrs. Karimi approves. Saxa’s already got a dress picked out for the wedding.”
Nasir turned back to Dagan and smiled. “Well?”
“Still doesn’t count.”
Nasir threw one of the couch pillows at Dagan while watching Grandma lovingly pat Agron’s hand at the table.
Her smile said it all. She completely approved.
Eleven: The One with the Anniversary
Ice cream cakes were for birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, and winning more than $30 in the lottery. Today it was for a not-real anniversary. It was one that Nasir celebrated on his own; he never had the chance to share it with Agron due to schedules and work rotations.
“Oh my god, ice cream cake after the fucking day I have.” Agron pulled him down into a kiss. “This is why we need to get married. You just know when I need surprise ice cream cake at the end of the day.”
Nasir rolled his eyes. It wasn’t worth breaking Agron’s sugar-induced bubble. He’d feel guilty and horrible about forgetting what today was and there was nothing sadder than a grown man gone sad while stuffing his mouth full of frosting. He kissed Agron’s cheek before cutting out his own piece before Agron ate the whole damn thing.
“Five years,” Agron said when they got in bed.
“What?” Nasir asked.
“Five years ago you finally returned all my phone calls and e-mails and agreed to meet me for dinner off base.”
“Which turned out to be a family brunch the very next morning.”
“I already knew then I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. I’d done nothing but talk about you for months. My parents wanted to meet you. Duro didn’t even think you were real. He called you my morphine-induced imaginary medical crush.”
“Is that why he spilled the orange juice when I showed up?” Nasir had always wondered just why Duro greeted his appearance with complete shock.
“He refused to believe me. Said the military was too damn big to have the same corpsman save my ass at two different locations a year apart.”
“It is strange when you think about it.” Nasir rested his head on Agron’s chest. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Fate, love. Can’t fight it, can’t argue with it.” His fingers worked out the tangles in Nasir’s hair. “Do you know I told Donar I was going to marry you after the second time we met?”
“I think that was the drugs talking,” Nasir said.
“Maybe, still true though.” He tilted Nasir’s chin up and kissed him. “We will, one day.”
Nasir nodded. They would. God help him, he’d be legally bound to the Metzgers, but it’d be worth it.
Twelve: The One with the Pumpkin
The Metzgers loved Halloween. Much like their family dinners, Halloween was an Event for the family.
Unfortunately none of them could carve pumpkins for shit. Nasir was actually appalled by the lack of skill. Even the triangle faces were crooked. The Metzgers were a badass military family who threw knives for fun. They should’ve been able to beat a typical eight-year-old in a pumpkin carving task.
He couldn’t take much more of this.
“Oh my god, back away from the pumpkin.” He hip-checked Agron. “How do you not know how to make a basic jack-o-lantern.”
“I’m sorry, Ichabod, it wasn’t a course we learned at any of the international military bases we grew-up on,” Agron said. He propped himself on the counter and shoved a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds in his mouth.
“Because your childhood was so tragic,” Nasir muttered. He managed to fix most of the damage. The face was still lopsided but at least it looked like a face and not a poor man’s pumpkin Picasso.
Duro jumped up next to his brother. “Wow, you get your own personally carved pumpkin,” he said. “That’s practically a marriage proposal.”
“Our current marriage proposal is not being done through carved squash,” Nasir said.
“Considering Ma did something similar for Dad two months before they married, it kind of is in our family,” Agron said.
Nasir turned to study both of them. “Please tell me this wasn’t some ploy of yours and you are actually horrible at carving pumpkins.”
Agron held up his hands. “You’ve seen the years of photographic evidence to prove that this family is not artsy. One year we gave up halfway through and none of the pumpkins had mouths.”
“Silence of the Squash,” Duro said. “Good times.”
Agron pulled Nasir between his legs after he washed his hands. “There’s a reason Halloween is an Event.”
“Your family’s strange,” Nasir said.
Duro and Agron both laughed, neither attempting to deny the truth of that statement.
One: With All My Heart
Nasir woke up to the smell of bacon. It took him a moment to figure things out. It was a Wednesday, a day off for him, and no one should still be in the house. He looked at the clock on Agron’s nightstand. Ten A.M. which meant Agron was supposed to be at the Pentagon two hours ago.
He grabbed a pair of track pants from the hamper and tugged them on. The townhouse was still cool for a late-April morning. He found Agron in the kitchen trying to save the plate of bacon from Jack’s attempted pouncings.
“What are you doing home?”
“Took a personal day.”
Nasir wrapped his arms around Agron’s waist and hugged him tight. Agron, like Nasir, like anyone who had seen and lived through war, had good days and bad days. Life wasn’t always sunshine and roses. They both needed their own time to sort out their heads.
“Anything you want me to do? Or would you rather be alone today?”
“No, it’s not that,” Agron said. He tugged Nasir around until they were facing each other. “I thought we’d go into the city today.”
“Sure, we can do that. Any particular place you want to go?”
Agron grasped Nasir’s face and smiled so hard his eyes crinkled. “I was thinking the Moultrie Courthouse.”
“Duro really did get certified as a wedding officiant then?”
Agron nodded. “Certificate arrived last week. Gannicus is our back-up plan, but I’d rather not hear mocking laughter throughout our wedding ceremony.”
“No, we’ll get enough of that from Ray and Saxa.” Nasir closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, I think that’s a great plan for the day. We’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to pick up the actual license. That’s my next day off.”
Agron nodded. “We can go by on my lunch. Chuckler will understand if I’m late returning.”
Finally it was happening. For real this time.