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Roarin' 20's

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Jeremy didn’t make a habit of talking to strangers.

Unless he absolutely had to, he kept to himself— with the exceptions of a few close friends, and the musicians who played backup for him at his gigs, he never talked to anyone. He preferred it that way— less friends, less emotional baggage. Not to mention, he always found himself having to explain to almost everyone he met his physical situation.

But tonight, the bar was nearly abandoned, save for a few stragglers. Jeremy downed his third gin and tonic that night quickly, his eyesight starting to fuzz.

“Anotha’ one, Amelia?” The bartender, Anthony, asked, peering at him over his thin eyeglasses.

“Please,” Jeremy sighed, pushing his glass towards the old man. A few drinks ago, he may have cringed at the use of that name, but he was a little numb to it now— it still lingered in the back of his mind, but it swam away as the bitter taste of his fourth drink slid down his throat.

Across the bar, a burst of laughter broke the near silence— three men, looking roughly Jeremy’s age, raised their glasses and drank them nearly all at once in one swift movement. They all wore suits, and seemed fairly attractive- businessmen, no doubt, Jeremy thought to himself, crunching a piece of ice between his teeth absentmindedly. Oh well.

However, he couldn’t help but sneak another look at one of them— the one on the far right, in particular. He was tall, with broad shoulders and tan skin, his black hair slicked back artfully. His cheeks were flushed as he grinned at his friends, downing his whiskey through perfectly plump lips- he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but whatever it was sent a ripple of laughter through them.

“I see you admiring those young men, Amelia,” Anthony commented bluntly, eyebrows raising as he polished a glass. Jeremy blushed, snapped out of his attractive-man-induced trance.

“So?” He asked, finishing off what was left in his glass. “What do you care?”

“They’re dangerous. They do music,” He replied, snatching the now-empty glass from his hands. “No more drinks for you tonight.”

“Gee, you’re a pal,” Jeremy rolled his eyes, tucking a stray tuft of hair behind his ear. “I do music too, genius. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that’s-“

“‘How I make my living’,” Anthony finished for him. “I know, I know. And yet you spend half’a it on gin and tonic every night, and half'a it on that little boy a’ yours.” He poured a glass of water and set it in front of Jeremy, giving him a look. “On the house.”

“Wasn’t it you who was telling me to find a boyfriend the other day?” Jeremy asked, arching an eyebrow and taking a sip of the lukewarm water. Anthony shrugged, doing his iconic half-smile.

“Maybe. If I had said that, I certainly didn’t mean one of those fellas,” he smiled, putting the cup back into the cupboard.

“One of those fellas, hmm?” A voice asked from behind them, causing Jeremy to jolt. He swiveled his barstool cautiously, only to find himself face-to-face with the attractive man from across the bar.

Shit.

He was even cuter up close— deep brown eyes and a beauty mark above his lip, a lazy half grin on his face. “Tell me, Tony, what’d i ever do to you?” He questioned, a hand steadying itself on the bar ledge right next to Jeremy.

“Oh, you know what you did, driving all my customers away with your jazz,” Anthony groaned. The man grinned, his teeth surprisingly white, then turned to Jeremy.

“My friend noticed you, ah, noticing me,” He said quietly, cocky demeanor fading away just a little as he grabbed Jeremy’s hand. “I’m Michael,” he added, shaking Jeremy’s hand firmly. “What’s your name?”

“I’m J-Amelia,” Jeremy said back, catching himself last second. Michael was big, he noticed, and probably strong, and probably— hush. this is no time to be thinking like that.

“Well, Amelia, it’s nice to meet you,” Michael grinned almost dazzlingly, sitting himself in the stool right next to Jeremy’s.

“So… you like jazz?” jeremy asked, taking a sip of water. Michael chuckled, eyes sparkling mischievously.

“Do I like jazz? I love jazz, baby. I’m a pianist,” he explained, leaning against the bar’s edge and throwing his hand out. “People don’t like that shit though, so when I play around here, it chases them away.”

“Well, if it helps, I’m a jazz singer,” Jeremy replied, shrugging nonchalantly. Michael’s eyes went from sparkling to full on lit up, his grin becoming full-on.

“No kidding!” he exclaimed. “Where’d you last perform?”

“The hotel Cicero,” Jeremy shrugged, fiddling with his collar. “It’s been a while, but I got a gig tomorrow.”

“Well, shame. I’d love to come see it, but I’m afraid I have a gig as well,” Michael responded, sticking his bottom lip out in a pout. “But I’d love to hear you sing sometime, though.”

Then, in a moment of stupidity and cockiness, Jeremy said something that would change his life for the better.

“Well, take me back to your place and I’ll sing like a canary, just for you,” He giggled, tugging his jacket open just a bit. Anthony groaned, giving up on pretending to not listen.

Michael didn’t miss a beat, however— “Oh?” He asked, leaning closer to Jeremy, “Do I have to pay you?”

“Absolutely not,” Jeremy grinned, slapping a dollar down for his drinks and leaning even closer to him. “hell, you may even get me to hit a high note, if you play your cards right.”

“Well then, if it’s free, and I get to hear you sing…” Michael murmured, tilting Jeremy’s chin up with his fingers. His lip snagged between his teeth as he met Jeremy’s eyes, almost daring him to look away.

“Oh, get out of here,” Anthony jeered, rolling his eyes at them. “You barely know each other and now you’re practically-“

“Stay outta this, Tony,” Michael warned, a thick eyebrow arching up at him. He turned his attention back to Jeremy, smiling mischievously. “Well, I don’t think either of us are in much condition to drive, but I can just call us a cab and tell my asshole friends over there we’re going-“

“Hurry,” Jeremy said, shoving him lightly in the direction of his friends. “I won't be able to sing for long.”

-----

Jeremy knew he had made the right decision to go home with Michael the minute he got slammed against his lover for the night’s front door, his soft lips immediately crashing against his chapped ones.

“You should know,” he gasped, holding onto the lapels of Michael’s suit jacket, “I don’t really go by Amelia. call me Jeremy, please.”

Michael hummed, hands raising to cup Jeremy’s cheeks.

“As you wish, Jeremy,” He cooed, kissing him again as he stroked his cheekbones absentmindedly. Jeremy giggled, wrapping a leg around Michael’s waist.

The rest of the night was lost to Jeremy’s inebriated memory; he vaguely remembered Michael being under him at one point, but he wasn’t sure if that were fact or just his drunken imagination.

He woke up to his head pounding and the smell of bacon frying, the two things making him cringe and hide under the sheets. He was wearing pajamas, his brain not processing what that meant. His lower areas ached, waking him up more despite his wishes to fall asleep again.

He groaned, cracking his eyes open slightly and flinching at the blaring sunlight that filtered in through the windows. He eventually got up, shielding his eyes and making his way through the house, shivering once his feet hit wood.

He found Michael in the kitchen, sitting at the table and eating bacon, toast, and coffee. He smiled brightly once Jeremy got his attention; he ushered him over and pushed coffee towards him.

“So… how was last night?” He asked, Jeremy shrugging and taking a sip of the coffee.

“I don’t… remember?” Jeremy said slowly, Michael tilting his head. “I don’t really-” Michael started preparing a plate for him, and began to reach for the bacon. “I don’t eat bacon.”

“Really?” Michael’s eyebrows furrowed, and Jeremy pushed down a coo.

“No. I’m Jewish.”

“Ah. Sorry,” Michael said, giving him more toast and pouring him some more coffee. “I don’t remember a lot from last night, either- I think we took a bath together.”

“Really?” Jeremy asked, Michael nodding and taking a bite of toast. “That’s sweet.”

The two sat together, having dead-end conversations until Jeremy stood, running his fingers through his hair.

“Well, I should get going. Where’s my coat?”

“In the hallway closet.” Michael stood as well, kissing him on the cheek sweetly. Jeremy blushed, escaping from the room and quickly getting dressed.

The two barely said goodbye to each other, Jeremy running out of the house and to the nearest street sign, trying to gauge where Chloe’s house would be. Surprisingly, she was only three blocks away, the run barely taking Jeremy’s breath away.

He knocked on her door, a stately-looking young woman opening the door and raising her eyebrow at him.

“You are late.” Her words were thick with a Swedish accent, and he could hear annoyance dripping from her. “Franklin was worried; come inside, he’s in the living room.”

“Look, Chlo, I’m sorry,” Jeremy said, Chloe huffing through her nose.

“Heard that before.” She said, Jeremy groaning.

“Chloe!”

“Stop whining,” She told him, folding her arms. “Franklin is a baby, Jeremiah, not any older. He needs you, not me.”

“He loves you,” Jeremy said smally, Chloe snorting and shaking her head. They stopped short of the living room, where Jeremy could hear Frankie singing quietly.

I’m just the babysitter.” Chloe said, pointing at Jeremy. “ You are the uncle. I’ll let him still come over, but I don’t want you coming here hungover and clearly fu-”

Chloe!” Jeremy snapped, Chloe shutting her mouth with a smirk. “I get it, I’m really sorry.”

“It’s alright. Is tonight another shift?” She asked, Jeremy nodding.

“Yeah. The place that opened right after Jake’s.”

She snorted again, shaking her head in disdain. While Jake and her didn’t have the most healthy relationship, she still cared for him, and him for her. The speakeasy that opened right after Jake’s had stolen half of his workers and business, almost smudging his entire bar into the dust. He eventually came out on top and on good terms with the other bar, but Chloe still held a bitter grudge.

“Alright.” She leaned against the wall, Jeremy almost walking into the room before she asked, “Were they cute, at least?” Jeremy blushed, pushing past her to walk into the other room as she giggled innocently.

---

Jeremy fiddled with his dress, resisting the urge to nibble off his lipstick. He looked out onto the stage, watching to see who was his piano player for the night. He really hoped it was Jenna again- she was sweet, funny, and a amazing improviser on the piano. However, he wasn’t picky- perhaps less than what he should be.

“Amelia, you’re on in two,” Dustin whispered to him, kissing him on the cheek before darting away. Jeremy took a deep breath, smoothing his dress and waiting until the pianist came out- he couldn’t quite see his face, but he figured it didn’t exactly matter.

The audience cheered loudly- he must have been popular at this bar. Jeremy fixed a smile on his face, walking out on stage once the applause dimmed for the piano man, bowing to his audience as they started cheering again for him. He grinned brightly at everyone, striding over to the piano man and turning his face towards him to tell him what song to start with.

Once his gaze landed on the man, Jeremy stopped dead, staring in shock at who was sitting at the piano.

How High the Moon , F major,” he mumbled without looking Michael in the eye, ignoring Michael’s smirk as he stepped up to the microphone.

“Hi everyone!” he said into the microphone, earning another round of cheers. “I’m Amelia, and it’s my pleasure to be performing for y’all tonight! Without further ado, this is How High the Moon!”

The crowd cheered again as the piano started, Jeremy closing his eyes and snapping his fingers before singing sweetly, “Somewhere there’s music, how faint the tune…”

He sang for a while, avoiding Michael’s eye whenever possible. A few louder men in the back demanded him to sit on the piano and sing, something that made Jeremy curse becoming a jazz singer as he sat far too close to Michael.

“Though the words to this song may be wrong, we hope you like high, high, high, high, is the moon!” he sang, letting the piano hit its final chord and earning a burst of applause.

“What’s next, pretty boy?” Michael asked softly over the cheering, quirking an eyebrow at Jeremy.

“Uh- I- um- Girl From Ipanema, E flat,” Jeremy stuttered, hating the feeling of his cheeks flushing. God, he’s even cuter when he’s not naked, he thought to himself as he turned back to the audience, smiling his best charming smile for them. He started to sing, Michael suddenly playing too loud. He shot him a look, singing louder. “Tall, and tan, and young and lovely, the-“

Michael only played over him, causing him to have to sing even louder to be heard, earning a few laughs from the audience. “Oh, but he watches so-“

Michael hit a high C on the piano, Jeremy’s toes curling in his shoes. He shot him a dirtier look as he matched the note, the audience cheering as he did.

At the end of the song, Jeremy’s throat was sore, Michael was standing at the piano, and the audience was whooping and cheering as Jeremy held intense eye contact with a smirking Michael.

“Well, thank you all for coming out tonight! We’ll both be back here, sooner or later,” Jeremy smiled, quickly mouthing “ I hate you,” to Michael.

Michael grinned wider at him, before grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him in for a kiss— the crowd cheered as he dipped Jeremy, Jeremy squeaking and kissing back naturally and tasting a slight tang of moonshine. His face burned angrily as he pulled away- Michael’s lips were covered with his red lipstick.

He walked offstage as cheerfully as he could, immediately screaming into his hands as soon as he did so. Michael had followed him offstage, causing him to spin on his heel and shove the man as hard as he could.

“You absolute dirtbag!” He yelled, his voice cracking and making him cringe at the pain of yelling. “What on earth were you trying to do? Making me lose my voice, and then kissing me onstage-“

“Shh, honey bee,” Michael whispered, looking down condescendingly at his companion, who was half a foot shorter than he was. The other man bared his teeth, giving him a dirty look.

“I ain’t your honey bee, and there’s no way I’m ever letting you shush me!” Jeremy hissed, coughing and massaging his throat. “I’m goin’ home.”

“Wait!” Michael said, Jeremy turning around and looking at him darkly. “I’m- I’m sorry, I’m drunk right now-”

“Really?” Jeremy asked severely, raising a condescending eyebrow. Michael nodded, suddenly much shyer and quieter than he was not even three minutes ago.

“I- I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea- ‘m real drunk, ‘m sorry,” Michael mumbled, shuffling his feet like a child. Jeremy sighed, looking up at him with mild disgust.

“Listen, Michael, I don’t doubt you’re a nice guy. But you were a real dick head tonight,” Jeremy shook his head before pulling out a piece of paper, grabbing a pen and writing something down. “G’night.”

As he walked away, Michael read the loopy handwriting, followed by a phone number— call me when you’re sober. kisses, J.

____

“Hello?” Jeremy picked up the phone, lounging on his bed with a cigarette.

“Jeremy, hey,” a soft voice said, Jeremy pushing back a laugh when he realized who it was.

“Michael, I see you’ve sobered up,” He said, the person humming. “And in only, what, four hours?”

“I’m sorry how I acted tonight. I was actin’ cocky, and I don’t know why I kissed you.” Michael apologized, the phone making his voice crackle. “‘m real sorry, I’m such a-”

“Don’t start saying that sh-t,” Jeremy scolded him sharply. “You did act like an a-s tonight. Just ‘cause you were half-seas over doesn’t fully excuse you, but-” he sighed, taking a drag from his cigarette. “Listen, you seem like you need a friend. You wanna come over?”

There was a sigh- or gasp- on the other end of the line before Michael replied “I suppose you’re right. That okay?”

“Mhm. I’ll give ya my address,” Jeremy smiled, reciting his address and saying a soft goodbye before hanging up and stubbing out his cigarette. He fell back on his bed, groaning as his back ached horribly.

A few minutes later, there was a soft knock on the door- Jeremy smiled to himself as he pulled his robe tighter around himself, emerging to open the door.

“Hey,” Michael said softly, still in his suit from the bar. “You doin’ alright?”

“Yeah,” Jeremy laughed softly, leading him to the couch. “You want a drink?”

“That’s the last thing I need right now,” Michael smiled sheepishly, Jeremy nodding in agreement. “Can I just- ugh, god, Jem, I’m so sorry.”

“Michael, please,” Jeremy smiled, putting his hand on Michael’s thigh, “Thank you for apologizing. You’re an idiot, but I still quite like you.”

Michael laughed, fiddling with his tie. “Tonight was kind of a wake up call for me,” he explained, “I realized I really shouldn’t be drinking as much as I do.”

“Really?” Jeremy asked, offering him a cigarette and Michael accepting it happily. “Good for you! I stopped drinking as much when the feds started gettin’ more strict about child stuff-“

“Woah, what?” Michael stopped him, his eyebrows raising. “You have a kid?”

“Well, kind of,” Jeremy waved his hand, “he’s not my kid, he’s my nephew. I take care of him, since my brother- he ain’t the best man in New Jersey.”

Michael hummed, looking for an ashtray and stubbing out his cigarette.

“Sorry, but is it possible for me to eat something?” He asked, “I skipped breakfast, and lu-“

Jeremy was out of his seat in a flash, searching for the sugar cookies he knew were out of Frankie’s reach in the cabinets.

“Don’t skip meals,” he commanded sternly as he gave Michael a cookie, who eagerly devoured it.

“Of course not, sir,” Michael grinned, taking another bite. Jeremy then took the loaf of bread from the bread pan, cutting a thick slice of it and using the same knife to smear butter on one side. “You know what would be great?” Michael asked suddenly, Jeremy humming as he took a bite. “Pre-sliced bread.”

“Well, put a patent on that,” Jeremy smiled, giving Michael another slice and sitting on the couch with him.

“But wouldn’t it be just perfect?” Michael asked, balancing his slice on his knee. “You have each slice perfectly equal-”

“And everyone’ll have to eat three times the bread to fill up,” Jeremy sighed, raising a playful eyebrow at him.

“You’re impossible to please,” Michael huffed, slouching in his seat.

“Don’t slouch, Michael. Do you want to see a picture of Frankie?” Jeremy asked, reaching for a frame on the table. Michael peered over his shoulder to see it— it was a picture of Jeremy and a little boy at Coney Island, Jeremy wearing a nice shirt and suspenders and the little boy wearing a sailor’s outfit. He had wildly curly hair, like his uncle, and the same toothy, dimpled grin- he’d almost believe he were his own son.

“His hair is black- and my eyes aren’t as pretty as his,” Jeremy said, Michael realizing that he said that aloud. “Still, he’s adorable, ain’t he?”

“He is,” Michael agreed, Jeremy taking a drag from his cigarette before offering Michael another one. “Nah. Too much smoking hurts my lungs.”

Jeremy snorted, putting the open pack on the table. He then picked it back up, picking and pulling at it in his hands.

“It’s gettin’ pretty late- d’you want to come over some other time?” Jeremy asked, Michael perking up. “Maybe for dinner, or…?”

“I’d love that,” Michael said excitedly. “Maybe meet the kid?”

“Maybe,” Jeremy smiled, standing up and starting to put the food away. “Still, it was nice talking to you.”

“‘Course, baby,” Michael said teasingly, standing and skipping lightly over to the kitchen, kissing Jeremy faintly on the cheek. “Next Tuesday?”

“Wonderful.”

----

Michael rocked on his heels anxiously, biting his lip and tapping his fingers on his knee. He was at Jeremy's house, which was a cute little place that was squished between two other houses. There was a small vegetable garden, along with two flower pots on either side of the door.

Michael knocked again, only having to wait ten seconds before he heard the door unlatch and begin to open. Michael straightened himself up, forming his mouth into a sauve smile.

However, the person at the door was tinier than who Michael was expecting. Tinier, much younger, and, as the kid opened his mouth, much, much louder than Jeremy.

“There's someone at the door!” The kid bellowed, keeping eye contact with Michael the whole time. A familiar voice called back, relaxing Michael’s tense body.

“Who is it?”

The kid crossed his arms, giving Michael a judgmental look that made him feel very uncomfortable.

"Who are you?” The kid asked, tapping his foot impatiently. Michael cleared his throat, and tried to make himself sound as friendly as possible.

“My name’s Michael, little man. What’s-” He was cut off as the kid started yelling again.

“It’s some guy named Michael!”

“Let him in!”

At that, the kid sighed rather dramatically and grabbed Michael's hand, pulling him inside the house with amazing strength. Michael stumbled a bit, following the kid up some stairs into what seemed to be a kitchen, confirmed by the fact that Jeremy was there, chopping up some green vegetable. Jeremy spun around, smiling and quickly walking around the table to greet him.

“Hi!” Jeremy bounced up on his toes and kissed Michael on the cheek, Michael hearing a small “ugh” and feeling the kid let go of his hand.

“I’m hungry,”   the kid then whined, grabbing Jeremy's attention by tugging on his pant leg. Jeremy squatted by him, ruffling his hair.

“Why don’t you get some paper and your pencils, then you and Michael can draw, alright?” Jeremy asked. The kid shrugged, but then quickly scampered off to a room that Michael assumed was his. Jeremy pushed himself back up to his normal height, smiling at Michael. He grabbed his hand, pushed him in a chair with a “sit,” and went back to his vegetable.

“Is that your Frankie?” Michael asked, Jeremy nodding.

“Yes- he’s sweet once you get to know him.” Jeremy assured him, Michael laughing quietly. “He’s… suspicious around new people. His ma actually tried to visit yesterday- he’s still tense about it.” Jeremy looked vaguely sad as he told him, turning back to the food quickly. Michael hummed, feeling a surge of sympathy for the kid.

Michael knew what it was like to be with bad parents. Before his mothers adopted him, Michael was tossed from home to home, more homes bad than good. The kid- Frankie- was just lucky he had a family member ready to take him.

Michael was tugged back into reality when Frankie, rather aggressively, slammed paper and some coloring supplies down, grabbing a dark green crayon and starting to draw circles. Michael took a sheet of paper as well, choosing a pinkish red and starting to sketch.

“Frankie, can you tell Michael how old you are?” Jeremy asked. Frankie, without looking up, carefully counted three fingers and held them up so that Michael could see.

“You’re three?” Michael sputtered a bit, hearing Jeremy snort behind him. Frankie nodded proudly, setting down his crayon.

“I'm turning four soon,” he said, lifting his pinky so that he had four fingers up.

“January isn’t soon, Frankie,” Jeremy said, having walked over to the two and brushing Frankie’s hair away from his face. “It’s only October.”

“But I’m gonna turn four soon.” Frankie protested, pouting. “Chrissy said so.”

“Christine said we’re gonna be celebrating your birthday party soon, only because she’s going to Paris.” Jeremy reminded him. Noticing Michael's confusion, Jeremy added, “My friend Christine is an actress, and a movie she’s filming takes place in Paris. She’s leaving in December, and she doesn't want to miss Frankie's birthday.”

“Christine… Canigula?” Michael asked, coughing in surprise when Jeremy nodded proudly. “My friend Chloe adores her!”

Jeremy smiled— he has a dimple? Oh shit, he has a dimple. That’s adorable. “Most people do— she’s one of the sweetest people I know,” he replied, slicing the final piece of parsnip and sweeping it into a pile.

“Whatcha makin’?” Michael asked, watching as Jeremy bent over to grab a pot along with some cooking sherry.

“Pasta. Butter noodles for my little man,” Jeremy ruffled Frankie’s hair, “And garlic alfredo for us.”

“Us?” Michael’s eyebrows raised, watching as Frankie’s scribble turned into something that looked like a mouse.

“Aren’t you staying for dinner? We only have two chairs right now, but I can pull up an armchair,” Jeremy suggested, putting the pot on the stove and filling it with water. “You don’t have to if you don’t want, but we always love having guests, don’t we, mon petit chou ?”

Frankie nodded, absorbed in his all green drawing. Michael smiled, watching Jeremy’s nimble hands pour some water— he has pretty fingers. He’d make an excellent piano player.

“Sure, I’ll stay. I’m always a sucker for alfredo,” Michael laughed. Jeremy smiled to himself, glad his back was turned to them as he measured out how much pasta he would need— he could feel his cheeks flushing pink with drunk happiness.

“Excellent,” He said, turning from the stove and coming back to where his guest and nephew were. “Frankie, what did you draw?”

“Mouse,” he declared, holding his paper up and showing it to Jeremy proudly. Jeremy’s mouth split into a wide grin as he looked at it, his eyes lighting up with delight.

“That’s amazing, Frank! You’re becoming such a good little artist,” Jeremy cooed, pinching his cheek affectionately.

“Stop it, uncle Jer,” Frankie giggled, whapping his hand away. Jeremy laughed at him, booping his nose before turning to Michael.

“And what did you draw, Mr. Mell?” Jeremy asked, leaning his elbows on the counter and clasping his hands together absentmindedly.

 

Michael smiled to himself, sliding his scribble of a bird sitting on a piano across the table to Jeremy, who started to compliment it just as he did with Frankie’s drawing. He didn't notice Frankie’s mischievous smile until there was a green line cutting right through his bird, with loud giggling erupting from Frankie when Jeremy gasped in shock.

“Franklin!” Jeremy took the green crayon away from him, looking at Michael apologetically. “I’m so sorry, he’s usually not this naughty-” Frankie tried to grab the crayon back, Jeremy holding it way above his head.

“It’s fine!” Michael said quickly, taking his drawing back and looking critically at it, turning the paper upside down in a attempt to make Frankie giggle. “It’s very bold, Franklin, and-”

“My name is Frankie ,” Frankie whined, now trying to get Jeremy to pick him up. Jeremy did so almost instinctively, putting down the crayon and carrying Frankie back to the stove and setting him down on the counter, giving him a scrap of the same mysterious green vegetable to play with. Michael got up as well, leaning on the counter as he pointed at the vegetable. “What’s that?”

“Okra,” Jeremy told him, holding up a stalk and pointing it at Michael. “Aren’t you Southern?”

“Well, yes,” Michael tried to defend himself, Jeremy merely raising an eyebrow.

“Doesn’t seem like it,” he teased, chopping the okra and setting it in a small bowl full of egg yolk, sliding it to Frankie along with a fork and a odd hand motion, Frankie following his instructions as he began to coat the okra pieces in egg.

“You seem more Southern than I am— you’re making a full course meal for three people,” Michael shot back, Jeremy rolling his eyes at him.

“It’s good hospitality,” he said, moving back to the stove to drain the pasta. He then grabbed a jug of vegetable oil, pouring it into a skillet and beginning to heat it. He took a few egg-covered okra slices from Frankie, putting them on a plate and pushing it towards Michael.

“Let me get some flour and cornmeal- then you’ll have something to do,” Jeremy said, Michael groaning and rolling his eyes sarcastically.

“Aw man, but I love eating okra like this,” he joked, Frankie giggling wildly as Jeremy shook his head at him and hid his smile with the cabinet.

“You wanna eat? Then you gotta help,” Jeremy replied, raising his eyebrows.

“So much for good hospitality,” Michael muttered good-naturedly, taking the bag of flour and cornmeal from Jeremy. Jeremy slid a bowl across the table to him, and Michael poured equal parts cornmeal and flour before starting to coat the orka slices in the mixture. The room was quiet exempt from Frankie accidently clattering plates and silverware together, and the loud sizzle of the okra slices hitting the oil.

“I’m hungry, ” Frankie whined suddenly, kicking his feet and wiggling dangerously close to the edge of the counter. Michael grabbed him under his arms, picking him up and off the table so that he didn’t hurt himself. Frankie froze, becoming nearly a solid chunk as Michael put him on the floor. Once he felt his feet hit the floor, he screamed and ran off, startling the two men and causing Michael to laugh.

“He’s just a ball of energy, isn’t he?” he chuckled, Jeremy nodding in agreement.

“He sure is,” he laughed softly, stirring cheese and cream together for the alfredo. “He’s a handful, but that’s why I have two hands.”

Michael chuckled again, watching Jeremy’s nimble fingers wrap around the wooden spoon. “You’ve got a nice place here,” he said, looking around the kitchen.

“Aw, aren’t you sweet? It’s not very big, but we make do,” Jeremy replied, smiling softly and showing his dimple again. “Listen, um…”

Michael hummed in encouragement.

“Would you like to stay the night? I haven’t had anyone to talk to other than Frankie for the past few days, and while he’s a joy to talk to, he’s not one that enjoys talkin’ about Wilson or politics.” Jeremy joked, Michael smiling a bit.

“Sure,” Michael said, Jeremy brightening up and going back to his pasta and frying, humming a tune that sounded suspiciously like ‘The Entertainer’ by Scott Joplin. Michael shook his head vehemently to bring himself back to focusing intently on the bubbling oil and the expert way Jeremy could flip and take the okra off the oil as he kept stirring the alfredo.

Michael could hear soft squeaking of the floorboards as Frankie trudged back in, sitting on his own seat by the table and starting to draw again, and only when Jeremy finally started to plate the boy’s food did Frankie perk up.

“Yummy!” Frankie said, his voice becoming guttural and vaguely terrifying at the word. “Thank you, Uncle Jeremy!” He added, his voice returning to its natural pitch. He ate somewhat loudly, earning a gentle reminder from his uncle to chew with his mouth closed and not to slurp his pasta. Jeremy ushered Michael over to the table as well, grabbing the armchair and pushing it to the table before he quickly plated and served their own pasta.

“Are you gonna be ready to take a bath when you’re finished, mon petit chou ?” Jeremy asked Frankie, winking at Michael discreetly.

“But it’s so early,” Frankie whined, swinging his feet.

“It’s almost 7:00. 7:30 is your bedtime, little man,” Jeremy reminded him, ruffling his hair as Frankie slurped another noodle.

“But we have guests over, and I always get to stay up when we have guests,” he protested.

“Not tonight, Frankie,” Jeremy said softly, “Mister Michael and I have to eat and talk about grown up things. I don’t think you’d find it very interesting.”

Frankie huffed, finishing his pasta and moving onto his okra. He pouted as Jeremy turned his head to Michael, starting to talk to him.

“So, Mister Mell,” He said, spinning noodles around his fork. “How are you?”

“I’m doing well,” Michael said, pushing his okra to the side so that it didn’t touch his pasta. “I’ve got a gig in a few days- maybe you and Frankie can come and watch?” He saw Frankie perk up, and he looked excitedly at Jeremy, bouncing in his seat and thunking his fork against his plate.

Ple-ease , Uncle Jeremy?” Frankie asked. Jeremy bit his lip in thought.

“What’s the crowd gonna be like?” He asked, taking a bite of his pasta. “I ain’t bringing Frankie if there’s flappers.” He sounded slightly disgusted, and he lowered his voice so that Frankie couldn’t hear him.

“If you bring him early, they’re nice folks- you just gotta leave around seven or so.” Michael tapped his fork against his plate, leaning his chin on his palm. “What do you say?”

Jeremy thought about it, tapping his fingers on the table and ignoring Frankie’s pleas.

“Fine,” He decided, Michael and Frankie exchanging a smile across the table. “We’ll stay for an hour, but if I see even one flapper, then we’re leaving.” He raised an eyebrow at Michael, his right cheek a bit chubbier with the food he had tucked it there so that he could talk. “Got it?”

“Got it,” Michael said, and he was about to change the subject before Frankie stood up on his seat, starting to ask Michael question upon question about playing piano and performing. He told Michael about Jeremy’s job- they both decided to not tell Frankie that they, in fact, met at Jeremy’s workplace.

Before they all knew it, it was nine at night, and Frankie was starting to lose steam. He was laying on the couch in the other room, having ran off there as Michael and Jeremy were talking about stocks and the presidential election coming up.

“I’m mad that I can’t be seen as anything but a woman in their eyes,” Jeremy said, his lip curling up in disgust, washing the dishes as Michael dried them and put them in their rack. “I’m happy I can vote, but-”
“They won’t count your vote less, I’m sure,” Michael tried to assure him, Jeremy smiling and shaking his head as he cleaned a glass. “It’s my first year voting, too, and I-”

“Wait, how old are you?” Jeremy asked, his hands stilling on the glass he was cleaning.

“Twenty-one.”

“You could’ve started-”

“I know,” Michael interrupted, starting to slowly rock on his heels. “I guess I never really wanted too, and-”

“I get it,” Jeremy said, picking up another glass after putting down the now-cleaned one. “Votin’ is hard, but…”

“You have much more of a reason than me to vote,” Michael said, Jeremy looking at him in confusion. “You got Frankie, and I know you ain’t-”

“Aren’t,” Jeremy corrected him, Michael rolling his eyes good-naturedly.

“Says you. Aren’t. You’re not a lady, but-”

“Ah.” Jeremy stuck his tongue out in disgust. “I understand- but you have as good as a reason for me to vote, as well. Didn’t you once say your mothers were immigrants?”

“Yeah,” Michael said, shrugging and starting to play with the bubbles in the water. “I guess I’m just afraid that they’ll lessen my vote because of my-”

“They won’t do that,” Jeremy assured him, patting his shoulder and leaving a wet handprint. “Whoops.”

Michael giggled, Jeremy joining in before Jeremy got up, leaving his half-cleaned cup for later.

“Frankie?” Michael asked, Jeremy halfway out the door already. Jeremy gave him a thumbs up, ducking out of the room before reappearing with a sleepy-looking Frankie.

“Say goodnight to Mister Mell, Frankie,” Jeremy instructed, Frankie repeating his words and waving at Michael before putting his head down on Jeremy’s shoulder. “ I’ll be right back, ” Jeremy whispered, Michael waving him off and taking over washing and drying the rest of the dishes.

It was about twenty minutes past ten when Jeremy came back out of Frankie’s room, doing a double take when he saw that Michael had cleaned all the dishes, and was now sitting on the couch, reading the day’s paper.

“Mell, are you an angel?” He asked, opening a high cabinet and pulling out a pipe and tobacco, and a pack of cigarettes. “Which do you want?”

“I don’t think angels smoke, Heere- cigarette, please,” he said casually, holding his hand out. Jeremy rolled his eyes, lighting him one and then one for himself. He then opened another cabinet, pulling out a small bottle of alcohol and smirking inwardly at Michael’s impressed whistle.

“Thanks for doing that,” he said softly, taking a long drag. “Frankie’s too little to help that much around the house, so…”

“It’s my pleasure,” Michael chuckled, “trophy wife’s duty.”

Jeremy scoffed and took another sip of his drink, studying Michael’s features intently; he was just as handsome as the night they had met, with a sloping nose, freckled brown cheeks, and large, sympathetic dark eyes. His heart skipped a beat as he looked over him once again.

“Say, where’d you get this alcohol? And why’d you get it this strong?” Michael asked, cringing as he took a sip. Jeremy smirked, polishing off his glass and winking.

“My friend makes it himself- he’s particularly good at making stronger flavors, but he struggles with the weaker ones.” He pointed at Michael’s drink with his cigarette, blowing out the smoke slowly. “I get it for free, although he makes most of his customers pay…”

The sound of that made Michael’s stomach pang with jealousy.

“That so?” Michael asked, taking a larger drink to try and distract the images trying to flood his mind.

“Of course- I give him business for his speakeasy,” Jeremy said, taking another drag. “It’s all innocent- what were you thinking, Mell?” The smoke blew out in a large puff, then smaller tendrils pressed through his teeth and he looked suspiciously at Michael.

“Nothing,” Michael said quickly, taking a long drag and almost coughing, but holding back at the last moment. “The way you said it-”

“Aw, I got you flustered? That’s sweet,” Jeremy giggled, draining his glass and refilling it quickly, Michael flushing and puffing out his smoke.

“The smell of cigarettes is good,” He said quickly, changing the subject as best as he could. Jeremy looked over the rim of his glass with a suspicious look, but then set down his glass again, shrugging as he straightened.

“I suppose. Frankie likes the smell as well.”

“Really?” Michael folded one leg over the other, tapping his fingers on his calf. “Say, how old were you when you took in Frankie?”

“Nineteen,” Jeremy said shortly, Michael sensing a tenseness and, once again, changing the subject quickly.

“Any… relatives here?”

“Nah, not anymore.” Jeremy smiled vaguely, stubbing out his cigarette and lighting another one. “Remember the swine flu epidemic?”

“Who doesn’t?” Michael said. “I had a real bad case of it- I was sick for three months.”

“Really?” Jeremy asked, his eyes widening. “I got it too- but I was only sick for three weeks!”

“Like I said, bad case.” Michael tapped his fingers on the couch. “Why did you bring it up?”

“Oh!” Jeremy laughed. “It’s a bit of a funny story. I moved here when I was eighteen, yeah? So, I’m in this brand new apartment, I’m about to look for a job- then I got sick. I was here for five days!”

“Sucks,” Michael laughed, Jeremy smiling.

“I was datin’ Christine Canigula at the time-” Michael spluttered, Jeremy’s smirk widening for a second, “So she took care of me ‘til I was better. But Frankie walked into my life, and we decided to cut it off. We’re still friends, but…”

“Spark died out?” Michael asked, Jeremy nodding.

“Yeah, you can say that. Spark just… fizzled away. Left us really knowing each other,” he said slyly, Michael nearly choking on his drink.

“Jesus of Nazareth, you have a kid upstairs.”

“He’s sleeping,” Jeremy said off-handedly, shrugging and taking another drag. “Anyways. I used to have family here, but they all moved away when one of my cousins passed from the flu.”

“And left you here?” Michael asked, his chest feeling weirdly tight as he finished his drink. Jeremy shrugged again, stubbing out his cigarette and almost going for another one, deciding against it.

“None of them knew I was here.” He said, his eyes catching sight of the clock. “Oh, Jesus, it’s nearly one!”

“Really?” Michael asked, getting that anxious feeling he got whenever he realized he had lost track of time. “I should be getting home-”

“No kidding,” Jeremy said, already up and grabbing Michael’s coat. “It was wonderful seein’ you- I’ll try to get Frankie and I to your gig, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Michael said, letting his coat rest on his shoulders and not putting his arms through the sleeves. “Wednesday.”

“Sounds perfect.” Jeremy smiled up at Michael, kissing him quickly before reaching around him and opening the door. Michael kissed him again, Jeremy laughing and pulling away after a few seconds.

“Sorry, bank’s closed,” Jeremy said, Michael huffing good-naturedly. “Good night, Michael.”

“Night.”

---

Michael sat at his piano, scanning over the sizeable crowd that was packed into the bar. His eyes kept darting to the door, his heart jumping whenever he saw a blond head of hair; then it sunk and kept on sinking when it turned out to be a woman who had ditched her hat or it was a much taller and bulkier man.

The lights dimmed, the lights on the stage reflecting on the smoke already rising above the crowd in a pleasant smell. Michael sighed in disappointment, tearing his eyes away from the door and testing his piano keys before giving a thumbs-up to the man who was going to be introducing him to the crowd.

Michael didn’t listen to what the man was saying- he could’ve been spouting lies and cracking jokes about the color of his skin, for all he knew. He only came back into reality when the man walked off the stage, being replaced by a rather scantily dressed girl who leaned over the piano, asking Michael what song he was going to play first. He told her, and she nodded before introducing herself to the crowd as Brooke, then she counted off by mouthing, “One, and two, and-” silencing as Michael began to play a bubbly tune that she quickly got into the rhythm of, her short curls bouncing as she began to sway to the beat.

Michael noticed that Brooke was rather bouncy as he watched her dance around the stage in a much more innocent dance than the men from the crowd seemed to have believed. She also had a very pretty voice, and Michael decided that, if he was not attracted to men only, that she would be a girl he would be trying to get together with.

He and Brooke played a few songs together, before Brooke requested to rest her voice and let Michael take over. She walked off the stage as Michael played a jaunty tune, then the crowd’s attention was on him. He swallowed down his nerves (something that only jumped on him the second Brooke walked offstage), and began to play a song that allowed a lot of improvisation.

He let himself be swept away by the music, and at the end of it, he found himself standing as he played a grand finish, the crowd cheering and applauding. He sat back down, waved at the audience, then began to play Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer.’ It was a rather old song, having come out in the very beginning of the century, but it was a favorite of many.

He soon was tapped on the shoulder by Brooke, her telling him to relax and go home- her friend Jenna would take over for the rest of the time. Michael thanked her, then went off the stage, pressing through the crowd and trying to find a quieter, less crowded place that he could recollect his thoughts.

He ended up standing outside, pulling out his pack of cigarettes and lighting one, taking a long drag as he leaned against the cold bricks, staring up at the cloud of smoke he created. He smoked through two cigarettes, stubbing both of them out by grinding them on the brick of the wall behind him before he went to go back inside, taking in a deep breath of the cold, crisp air before opening the door and being met with the warm, humid, and heavy air of the bar.

He would have ordered a strong drink, but he was reminded that this wasn’t a speakeasy when the bartender, who introduced himself as Dustin and who Michael remembered faintly, offered him a fruit cocktail and a small glass of apple juice that could have least been fermented.

Michael slowly ate through the fruit cocktail, chewing slowly and sipping the apple juice at a snail’s pace. His head began to pound from the hum of activity around him, so he started to massage one of his temples, grimacing as a man bellowed out a joke right next to him, the man then beginning to laugh loudly with his group of other loud men and women.

Michael was just getting ready to leave before he heard someone yell his name, and he looked up to see Jeremy and Frankie pushing through the crowd to get to him. Michael perked up, and he spun on his chair to kiss Jeremy quickly on the cheek before letting Frankie jump up into his arms.

“We were looking for you!” Frankie yelled over the music and talking, bouncing excitedly and proving himself rather difficult for Michael to hold onto.

“I was looking for you! ” Michael replied, Jeremy sitting in the vacant seat next to him.

“We watched you perform- we came in through the other door,” Jeremy explained, pointing at a obscure door that was not visible from the stage. “You two were real good up there- Brooke really is a choice piece of calico, hm?”

“Thanks,” Michael said, starting to feel too warm and crowded. “Can we, you know…” He pointed at the door, and Jeremy nodded, taking Frankie back into his own arms and letting Michael run and get his tips.

Once they were all outside, Michael entertained Frankie by teaching him how to count by fives and tens, Jeremy watching with a soft smile as Frankie loudly counted up to eighteen dollars and forty-seven cents.

“We gotta get home,” Jeremy said eventually, putting his hand on Frankie’s head gently. He leaned closer to Michael, his lips barely brushing against his ear, and whispered, “You were really good tonight. Reminded me of when we first met.”

Michael blushed at the blurry memory, smiling and waiting for Frankie to look away to kiss Jeremy’s cheek.

“Goodnight, Mister Michael,” Frankie said, running away from Michael’s attempts to hug him but ultimately running back to hug his legs.

“Goodnight, Frankie. G’night, Jeremy,” he added, kissing Jeremy’s cheek again and earning an ‘ick’ from Frankie. “When will I see you two next?” He asked, Jeremy humming and tapping his foot.

“Well, I’m going to start working on Frankie’s Halloween costume-”

“Oh! What are you gonna be, little man?” Michael interrupted, Jeremy looking mock-annoyed before he smiled and looked down at Frankie, who rocked on his heels.

“Peter bunny!” Frankie said, Jeremy translating for Michael.

“He’s going to be Peter the rabbit from the Beatrix Potter books,” he said, Michael humming and nodding.

“Well, I have some blue fabric, but I’m not sure if it’s what you need- can I bring it over?”

“Sure. Around dinner tomorrow?” Jeremy asked, Michael agreeing with the time and giving Jeremy yet another peck on the cheek before Jeremy took Frankie’s wrist in his hand and started to walk down the street. Michael watched them turn a corner and vanish from sight before walking his own way back home.

Once he got home, he went down in his basement and dug up the blue fabric he was thinking of, folding it neatly and placing it by his shoes so that he wouldn’t forget it.

---

As always after going to a performance, Jeremy couldn’t fall asleep.

He had read Frankie’s good night story to him (‘The Tales Of Peter Rabbit,’ as was the usual), then cuddled with the little boy until he could feel him fall asleep. He then got up and gotten into his own pajamas, wrapping himself up in his blankets and reading his own book until his eyes burned. He laid in bed in the most comfortable position, closing his eyes and breathing deeply, writing his own continuation of the book in his head.

After what seemed to be thirty minutes of mental writing and breathing, he felt himself slowly start to fall asleep, but he was woken up as a beam of light shone over his face and, when he opened his eyes just a tad, he could see Frankie standing in the doorway, clutching his rabbit stuffed animal. He quickly ran into Jeremy’s bedroom, not bothering to close the door before jumping on his uncle’s bed and burrowing under the blankets, obviously trying to be as quiet as possible. Jeremy pretended to be asleep until the child had laid down next to him, then he proceeded to roll in the bed until he was almost on top of Frankie, Frankie squealing and struggling like a wild animal until Jeremy rolled off of him.

“Don’t do that!” Frankie yelled at him, Jeremy laughing before Frankie’s tiny feet kicked him rather harshly in the side, his ribs starting to hurt rather quickly.

“Ow, ow- okay, okay, I’m sorry, love, I’m sorry,” He said, moving away from Frankie’s angry kicks. However, Frankie wasn’t done with punishing Jeremy for rolling on him, since he started to scold him.

“That hurt, and I didn’t like it! You- you’re mean, uncle Jeremy! I- I-” Jeremy could hear Frankie’s voice wobble, his protective instincts starting to flare up.

“Hey, Franklin, Franklin, look at me, darling,” Jeremy said softly, pulling the little boy closer to him and nuzzling his hair, feeling Frankie’s shaky and uneven breaths. “It’s okay, Frankie, it’s okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” He soothed the child as best as he could until he felt Frankie’s breathing even out again, holding onto Frankie with one arm and flailing the other around until he turned on the lamp. “What’s wrong?”

“Scary,” Frankie sniffed, his breathing still a bit ragged.

“You had a nightmare?” Jeremy asked, Frankie nodding and starting to explain.

“Mister Michael was- was being scary, and he- he-” Frankie cuddled closer to Jeremy, taking in a few breaths before continuing. “He pushed you.”

“He pushed me?” Jeremy asked, Frankie nodding and continuing.

“Down a buncha stairs. I- I runned down to the bottom, and you were-” Jeremy could feel Frankie shaking more as he relived the dream; he realized that it was sounding a lot like the morbid end to one of Christine’s films, where she had, in fact, been killed by a insane lover.

“But you know that Mister Michael wouldn’t really do that, right?” Jeremy asked, Frankie making an unintelligible noise in response. “He’s a nice man, and he loves me and you, right?”

“Mm-hmm,” Frankie sniffed. “He won’t hurt you, right?”

“That’s right,” Jeremy cooed gently to him, kissing the top of his head. “He won’t hurt me, and he most certainly won’t hurt you, if I have anything to say about it.”

“Would you beat him up?” Frankie sounded almost excited, causing Jeremy to chuckle.

“Well, I hope that I won’t have to, but… yes, I would if he hurt you.”

“‘Kay. But Mister Michael is nice, and he makes me happy. I don’t want you to beat him up.”

“I don’t want to beat Mister Michael up either, lovey,” Jeremy hummed, kissing his head softly and petting his hair afterwards, starting to feel sleepy at Frankie’s warmth.

“And he won’t call you a bitch,” Frankie said quietly, Jeremy gasping and waking back up quickly.

“Franklin Alexander! We do not use words like that!” He scolded, Frankie starting to protest.

“It’s what-” Jeremy shushed him and covered his mouth, barely reacting to Frankie licking on his hand.

“Good night, mister,” He said, Frankie sighing and cuddling under his chin. He could feel Frankie’s breaths go from ragged to even, eventually growing longer as the little boy fell asleep. He turned the lamp off, kissing the crown of Frankie’s hair before feeling himself drift off.

Jeremy woke up to a loud crash in the kitchen, his body up and moving before he fully knew what was happening. He heard Frankie’s high voice, but then there was a deeper undertone that made his heart jump into his throat.

His hand scrambled underneath his bedside table, wrapped his fingers around a switchblade he always had beside him, and ran out into the kitchen. He only just saw the back of a man before he grabbed Frankie’s shoulder, pulling him behind his back protectively before fully processing just who was in front of him.

“It’s just Mister Michael, Uncle Jeremy, it’s okay,” Frankie said innocently, Jeremy laughing awkwardly and putting the switchblade down on the counter, Michael looking at him in equal parts terror and respect.

“Yes, it’s just me,” Michael laughed, “please don’t stab me in the face. Or the chest. Or… wherever.”

Jeremy noticed Michael was holding rolls of blue fabric, and took it from his hands gratefully. “Thanks for this,” he said, “Sorry I’m not looking too hot. I wasn’t expecting you this early.”

“It’s alright,” Michael said, motioning towards Frankie. “The little guy figured out how to work the telephone all by himself- it was really impressive!”

“Really?” Jeremy asked, looking down at the smug face of his nephew. “Smart boy!” he ruffled his hair, earning a groan from Frankie. “Would you like some coffee?”

Michael hummed, nodding as he sat at the counter and helped Frankie up onto a stool. He took out a plate from the cabinet, but Jeremy made him put it back as he pulled out his pancake batter, which he had made the day before for dessert.

“Frankie, can you please grab the lemon syrup from the basement?” He asked, Frankie nodding and asking Michael to put him down before he scampered off the the basement, leaving Michael and Jeremy alone.

Jeremy started to lightly whip two egg whites, telling Michael where the skillet was as he heard Frankie run up the stairs again, holding a large jug of light yellow syrup.

“Thanks, love,” Jeremy said, taking the jug and setting it on the counter, humming a tune Michael didn’t quite recognize under his breath.

“ Every honey bee fills with jealousy when they see you out with me, I don’t blame them, goodness knows ,” he sang softly, My honeysuckle rose. ”

Frankie seemed to be humming along as he grabbed a piece of paper, coloring contentedly and swinging his little feet. Jeremy poured a round of batter onto the skillet, the kitchen filled with sizzling and the smell of pancakes.

Jeremy made about fifteen or so pancakes, he and Michael discussing the fabric Michael had taken.

“It’s perfect, really- thanks, Michael,” Jeremy said, Michael perking up happily before bringing a roll of the fabric over to Frankie, Frankie putting down his pencils and rubbing the fabric between his palms before rubbing his cheek on it.

“Soft,” Frankie said, cooing at the texture.

“Soft,” Michael agreed, leaving Frankie with the fabric and heading over to Jeremy again, going up to the cabinets and taking down three plates, along with three cups before going to the silverware.

“He likes texture, hm?” Michael whispered softly to Jeremy, Jeremy nodding.

“He sure does- his daddy sure didn’t like that, though, so he dropped him off at my front step two years ago, with only his rabbit and a blanket.”

Michael’s eyebrows creased, and his mouth tightened.

“That’s horrible,” he said, Jeremy humming and pouring the lemon syrup all over a pancake, giving it to Frankie and reminding him that big kids don’t eat their pancakes with their hands, but instead with a fork and knife. When Jeremy got back into earshot, Michael whispered, “Was Frankie… hurt? By his parents?”

“Oh, yes,” Jeremy said, shaking his head and taking a large gulp of coffee, barely reacting as the steaming hot coffee no doubt burnt his mouth. “He was bruised all over- the poor baby didn’t even know who I was, and I had only seen him once, on the day he was born.”

Michael’s heart panged for the toddler, who was happily swinging his stubby legs and making up the words to a silly song as he ate his pancakes. “Poor thing,” he whispered.  

“Indeed,” Jeremy sighed, taking another sip of coffee, watching Frankie over his rim. “Hey, mister, no hands on the pancake!” He set down his coffee, quickly jogging over to Frankie and wrangling a fork and knife into Frankie’s hands as the toddler squealed with laughter, Jeremy giggling as well as he gave Frankie a crash course on how to eat a pancake. Michael chuckled as he watched the scene, Jeremy gently guiding the tiny pancake bits into Frankie’s mouth. He stole a few bites as well, Frankie giggling and trying to get to the piece of pancake before Jeremy got to it, leading to a few bonked heads.

After Frankie had eaten an adequate amount of pancake, Frankie jumped out of his seat, and Jeremy excused themselves so that Jeremy could get Frankie dressed. As Michael waited, listening to Frankie and Jeremy’s muffled laughter, he served himself his own pancake, ransacking Jeremy’s cupboards to find powdered sugar. He successfully found some, and he sprinkled it on top of the lemon syrup, starting to eat as Frankie squealed happily as he was carried downstairs by Jeremy, who was now wearing actual clothes as well.

“You two look nice,” Michael complimented them both, Jeremy blushing a bit and setting Frankie down, pushing him lightly in the direction of their shoes.

“Thanks,” Jeremy said, then, “Frankie’s gonna go to his friend Charlotte’s house, so that he can play with her and their other friend, Quentin- maybe we can have a little day on the town, just the two of us?” He winked as Frankie’s back was turned, and it was Michael’s turn to blush; he knew Jeremy wanted more than a day on the town, but didn’t say anything with Frankie still in the room.

“Sounds great,” he grinned, running his hands through his hair to fix it a bit as they all headed outside, Frankie grabbing onto both Jeremy’s and Michael’s hands tightly and skipping down the sidewalk, telling Michael about his friends, Charlotte and Quentin.

They got to a house that was in the poorer side of town, but it was painted a nice shade of light blue; there were ivy plants growing up the sides of the side of the house, giving off a warm, homey feel. Jeremy let go of Frankie’s hand, and Frankie ran up to a little girl with deep red hair and a little boy with light brown hair. Jeremy waved goodbye to Frankie, and he then waved at who must have been either Charlotte or Quentin’s mother. The two men then headed towards the town, Jeremy making a loose agenda for the day.

“First, I need to pick up some supplies for Frankie’s costume- then we’ll get some food, and then see where the rest of the day takes us, hm?” Jeremy said, his implication clear as he bumped Michael on the shoulder. Michael blushed, bumping Jeremy back.

“When will we pick Frankie up?” He asked.

“Around two or so- it’s eleven right now,” Jeremy told him, Michael humming and feeling Jeremy slip his arm into his, their steps evening up to match the other.

They got to the fabric store, Michael admiring all the fabrics and accessories as Jeremy headed towards the button section, pulling out a small green book out of his pocket and flipping through the pages, looking intensely at the watercolor.

“My friend Christine told me that Peter wore an Edwardian jacket,” Jeremy said, clearly talking to himself more than he was talking to Michael. “If I could just find some gold buttons, I think-”

“Like these?” Michael had busied himself looking through the buttons, finding a pack of three gold, intricately decorated buttons. Jeremy held out his hand, looking at them closely when Michael put it in his hand. He then flipped the package to look at the back, checking the price tag.

“A dollar ?” Jeremy gasped, looking up at Michael angrily. “A damn dollar for three buttons? That’s ridiculous!”

“It sure is,” Michael agreed, doing the math mentally. Each button was a little over 33¢ each, which wasn’t that surprising, seeing as how gold colored objects usually were boosted economically quite a bit, no matter what the actual product was.

“A dollar,” Jeremy mumbled grumpily, still holding the package but scanning the aisle again, trying to find a cheaper alternative.

Michael dug into his pocket, pulling out three dollars and pushing them towards Jeremy, Jeremy looking down but then snorting in disgust, pushing Michael’s hand away.

“I don’t need handouts, ” Jeremy said, ignoring Michael as Michael tried to pry his hand open to put the money in it. Once that didn’t work, Michael resorted to snatched the buttons out of Jeremy’s hand, running up to the bored-looking young man who was watching over the shop, shoving over the buttons and a dollar.

“Hurry- he’s mad at me,” Was all Michael was able to say before Jeremy was beside him, stomping silently on his foot before grabbing the buttons after the cashier told them they were all set, stalking out of the store bitterly. Michael ran after him, walking beside him quietly until he accidently bumped Jeremy’s shoulder, which caused Jeremy to snap and begin to scream at him in the middle of the mildly busy town square, not noticing the people stopping to stare at him.

“WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!” He yelled, his hand crinkling the plastic that surrounded the buttons. “DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THE PHRASE ‘I DON’T NEED HANDOUTS?’”

“I was being nice, Jeremy,” Michael said back, considerably calmer but still unable to control how choppy and snappy his words sounded. “Has anyone ever been nice to you before?” Jeremy snarled at him, his hands carding so violently through his hair that he ripped a few strands out, having to shake them off his hands.

“I’ve told you before, I can take care of my own damn life without your help,” Jeremy poked his finger harshly into Michael’s shoulder, the poke actually quite painful and causing Michael to grimace. “And if I don’t want to spend a dollar on three measly buttons, then it’s your best bet to let me not spend that fucking-

“It was my money!” Michael protested, trying to back into a more private place so that he didn’t have to feel the stares of parents and shopkeepers. Jeremy followed him, not noticing what they were doing as he kept glaring at Michael. “I can’t be nice to your nephew, now?”

“He’s my responsibility!” Jeremy’s voice cracked, causing his voice to go up in both pitch in volume. “If you want to give him the damn world, I’ll let you, but at least-”

“At least what?” Michael asked, Jeremy throwing his hands up before landing them on his face, Jeremy rubbing his eyes and forehead as he obviously tried to calm down.

“God, I’m sorry. Thank you for this, really,” he muttered, sighing heavily. “I’m an a-shole, God-“

“Hey, no, it’s fine,” Michael soothed him, not daring to touch him.

“No, it isn’t,” Jeremy sighed, slumping against a wall. “You tried to be nice to me and I acted real swell about it. I’m really sorry.”

Michael noticed his hands were shaking, and he grabbed them lightly; he expected Jeremy to pull away, but instead he stepped closer, leaving barely an inch of space between them. Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael’s torso, tucking his head underneath Michael’s chin. Michael rubbed his back, then pulled away so that he could look Jeremy in the eye.

“It’s alright- I shouldn’t have done that,” Michael apologized, Jeremy’s eyebrows coming together and his lips puckering into a pout.

“You don’t have to apologize- I messed up,” Jeremy said, Michael closing his jaw by pushing up on his lower jaw.

“But I wanna apologize,” Michael said, smiling as Jeremy snorted and rolled his eyes, pulling his head away from Michael’s hand so that he could speak.

“We have two hours before we have to pick Frankie up, do you just wanna go back to my house and cuddle for a while?” he asked innocently, this time not hinting at anything else. Michael nodded, grabbing his hand and leading him back into the square. They both hid their faces a bit, running through the square to an open street that lead to Jeremy’s house.

Once the two got there, Michael sat on the couch and took off his shoes as Jeremy placed the package of buttons beside the blue fabric, grabbing a roll and laying it out on the ground before grabbing a ruler and a notebook and pencil, kneeling on the ground and marking specific places on the fabric that, when Michael looked at it, made no sense.

“What are you doing?” Michael asked, Jeremy humming before writing down something n the notepad.

“Making Frankie’s costume, genius,” Jeremy replied, earning a pout from Michael.

“Right now?” he asked, “I thought we were gonna cuddle. Or… whatever.” At his complaint, Jeremy smiled, and beckoned Michael down to his level, kissing him sweetly once he did.

“Later- I just need to get the hard part out of the way.” Jeremy said, Michael grumbling bitterly but laying his arms on Jeremy’s shoulders, watching as Jeremy traced the beginnings of the coat.

Jeremy hummed a soft tune as he worked, something sounding faintly like ‘Round Midnight’ as his fingers glided effortlessly over the fabric. Michael watched him work, noting how precise and deliberate every mark and cut was. He must have been doing this for a while, he thought to himself as Jeremy continued his song.

Michael began to feel sleepy, and he felt himself lay his head heavier and heavier on Jeremy’s shoulder until he opened his eyes to find himself floating in his dream. Nothing clear happened- all he saw was a piano, a bear, and Jeremy, all spinning around him quicker and quicker until a faint jolt woke him up, meeting Jeremy’s eyes as he woke up more, seeing that Jeremy had more progress on the coat, and, when he looked at the clock, it was almost exactly time to pick up Frankie.

“It’s time to wake up, lovey,” Jeremy cooed, Michael rubbing his eyes before stretching, groaning as both his back and neck cracked. “who knew your head was so heavy? It was like having a bloody rock on my shoulder.”

Michael grumbled, standing and immediately leaning against a wall so that his lightheadedness would go away. He then recovered, and followed Jeremy out the door, suddenly feeling quite hungry.

“Hey,” Michael said, Jeremy turning to look at him as they kept walking. “When we pick Frank up, how about a late-lunch-early-dinner?”

“Sure,” Jeremy said, turning a corner and walking a bit faster, shoving his hands into his pockets. Michael had to jog to keep up with him, the two quickly finding the house Frankie was at.

Jeremy walked up to the front, knocking on the door and waiting patiently, his mouth spreading into a smile as the door opened and a woman with red hair, looking a lot like Charlotte, appeared.

“Hi, Mary,” Jeremy greeted, Mary saying hello back and giving Michael an odd look, but not saying anything.

“I'll go get your baby,” she said, shutting the door almost completely, the clop- ing sound of her shoes growing fainter. Jeremy and Michael waited patiently, and Michael heard several people coughing from inside the house, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“How often does Frankie come over here?” He asked, Jeremy looking at him suspiciously before understanding what he was asking, whacking him on the arm once he did.

“He doesn't come over often, and Charlotte's mother would tell me if there was an outbreak of consumption, Michael.

“I’m just-” Michael started to defend himself, but was cut off by Frankie yelling happily and swinging open the door, jumping into Jeremy’s arms and starting to ramble about what he and his friends had done that day.

---

It was January. 1921 came in with a bang, Michael and Jeremy both having to run around to three separate gigs on New Years alone. Frankie had stayed with Chloe- Jeremy picked him up at seven in the morning to Frankie sleepily singing Swedish Christmas songs to the best of his ability.

“Can you believe,” Jeremy asked Michael once they got home, Michael carrying a sleeping Frankie, “That she taught my Jewish nephew Christmas songs?”

“Terrible,” Michael said, his head pounding from the flurry of activity from the night before. Jeremy opened the door to his house, Frankie beginning to wake up at the squeak of the door opening. “It’s really up there with Wilson still being president.”

“Leave Wilson alone!” Jeremy scolded, shaking his finger at Michael. “He-”

“He threw America into the war!” Michael reminded him, Jeremy pausing and agreeing with him with a slow nod.

“Yes, but-”

“The same war he wanted us to be neutral in, remember?” Michael said, Frankie laying his cheek on Michael’s shoulder and sighing, the warm air tickling Michael’s neck. “He’s an old, racist Southerner who is stupidly impulsive- the only good thing he ever did was grant women the right to vote.”

“That’s a positive in my book,” Jeremy said defensively, Michael closing his mouth. “I agree, he’s been a shi-”

“I’m hungry,” Frankie suddenly announced, wriggling out of Michael’s arms and running to the kitchen. Jeremy gave Michael a look, Michael giving him one right back before slowly sticking his tongue out. Jeremy snorted, Michael’s stern look crumpling and his tongue going back into his mouth as he giggled.

“It’s true, Jeremy,” Michael said, getting back into his earlier mood.

“Any president that hasn’t destroyed America must have done something right.” Jeremy said in a final sort of way, starting to walk towards the kitchen.

"I agree,” Michael started following Jeremy into the kitchen, deciding to not pursue the conversation any longer with Frankie around. Jeremy scooped Frankie up, the toddler happily giggling as Jeremy set him on his hip.

“You’re getting heavy,” Jeremy teased him, kissing Frankie’s cheek before opening the ice box, pulling out some ice cream and corn flakes.

“I’m four now,” Frankie said to Michael, Jeremy struggling to get bowls from a high cabinet with one hand. Michael ran over to help him, Jeremy humming appreciatively.

“No no, you’re still three,” Jeremy corrected Frankie. “You’re four in… huh! You’re four in four days!”

“January fourth?” Michael asked, Jeremy nodding. “You know what that means, Frank?” Michael then asked Frankie, the little boy shaking his head.

“What?”

“Your golden birthday is this year,” Michael told him, Frankie looking confused. “That means you’re turning four on the fourth, which is pretty special, if you ask me.”

Frankie, still looking confused, just nodded and went back to watching Jeremy fix breakfast.

“When’s your golden birthday, Mister Michael?” Frankie asked after a while.

“When I turned seventeen,” Michael said, carrying two bowls to the table and sitting down in front of one. Frankie waited until Jeremy brought over the rest of the bowls and set Frankie down, handing him a spoon.

“When’s yours, Uncle Jeremy?”

“Hm?” Jeremy asked, Frankie repeating the question. “My what?”

“Golden birthday,” Michael reminded him, Jeremy ‘ohh’ing and thinking for a second.

“When I turn twenty-eight,” Jeremy said, taking a bite of his cereal. “Now, Frankie- since we already had your birthday with Aunt Christine, I think this year will just be you and me-”

“And Mister Michael?” Frankie cut in, Jeremy stopping his chewing and looking at Michael. “He wasn’t there at the last one, and I wanna him to sing happy birthday.”

“Would you like to come?” Jeremy asked Michael, Michael nodding quickly.

“Sure! Sounds fun,” Michael said, Jeremy smiling softly before going back to his cereal.

---

Frankie’s birthday was a quiet celebration- Michael had offered to pay for their dinner, something that Jeremy finally allowed him to do without him rolling his eyes and demanding to split the bill in half.

Michael brought them all to the small dinner place that Frankie always asked to go to when they were in town, Frankie ordering a sirloin steak. Michael decided to only get a salad then- he made a deal with Frankie that they would both eat half. Jeremy ordered mashed potatoes, making another deal that they would all eat a third of the steak, something Michael agreed to easily but required some cajoling for Frankie to agree.

Once the steak came out, Jeremy cut it into thirds, sneakily making Frankie’s third slightly smaller than the other slices (it ended up being a good move once Frankie found out that he could eat it all and feel perfectly full).

Frankie granted them permission for them to talk about grown-up people things once Michael bought him a milkshake, Jeremy stealing a few sips as he and Michael discussed different gigs that were coming up in their schedule. Frankie entertained himself by drawing with the crayons and paper provided by the restaurant, humming along to the song that was playing from the phonograph.

Once it started getting dark outside, they paid their waiter and left; Frankie had been getting lethargic in the booth, and Michael’s knee had been bouncing rapidly, making the table move.

Once Frankie breathed in the cold air, he perked up, almost running out of Jeremy’s grip before Jeremy started to hold onto his wrist.

“Can we go to the park? Please? ” Frankie begged, tugging his uncle by the arm. “I only wanna say hi to the squirrels!”

“We can only stay a minute if we do, love,” Jeremy said, Frankie bouncing excitedly and trying to run toward the park, Jeremy’s hold on his wrist stopping him. “It’s dark, and the squirrels may be sleeping.”

“They’re not! I saw them runnin’ around outside yesterday!”

Jeremy looked to Michael, Michael shrugging. “I don’t mind,” he said.

Jeremy bit his bottom lip in thought, then he started walking to the park, Frankie cheering and jumping around happily.

“Calm down!” Jeremy told him, Frankie only doing so for a second before he started skipping.

“I feel like I’m to blame,” Michael said once they got to the park, Jeremy telling Frankie to only stay in the streetlights and to not run off in the dark. Once Frankie ran off, Jeremy leaned against a tree, crossing his arms.

“I feel like I agree,” Jeremy said teasingly, tapping his foot on the stone. “Though, I’m to blame for letting you pump my nephew up with sugar, hm?”

“Sorry,” Michael said, replacing his ‘R’s with ‘W’s and sticking his lip out in a pout. “I hope you can forgive me, Jeremy.” Michael leaned up against Jeremy, Jeremy laughing.

“Stop that!” Jeremy pushed him off, his nose scrunching as he giggled. “You’re just as bad as Frankie, sometimes.”

Michael giggled, kissing Jeremy’s cheek and blowing a raspberry on it, Jeremy squealing and almost falling onto the stone as he thwacked Michael’s chest.

“Eugh!” He scrubbed his cheek with his sleeve, Michael noticing Frankie watching them curiously, his head tilted like a puppy. The four-year-old then skipped away, calling for squirrels by cupping his hands around his mouth.

“Does Frankie like me?” Michael asked, Jeremy scoffing.

“Of course he does, why wouldn’t he?”

Michael shrugged, sticking his hands in his pockets and breathing out through his mouth, his breath becoming smoky.

“Whenever we kiss, he acts disgusted-”

“He’s a baby, Michael!” Jeremy said, laughing a bit at the end of his sentence. “He loves you, I promise. He’s just not-” Jeremy stopped, shaking his head. “Nevermind.”

“He’s not what?” Michael asked, his interest piqued. Jeremy groaned, closing his eyes and thunking his head quietly against the tree.

“It's a long story- I'll tell you when we get home.”

---

On the way home, Frankie hopped into Jeremy’s arms, watching the park disappear in the distance. He yelled “Bye, squirrelies!” More than once, sticking his thumb in his mouth but then pulling it out when Jeremy batted his hands away.

Once they were home, Jeremy handed the very sleepy Frankie to Michael, who held him until Jeremy had taken off his coat.

“Are you sleepy?” Jeremy asked Frankie, the little boy nodding tiredly and holding out his arms to Jeremy, who took him back into his arms and started up the stairs with Michael following after him, to Frankie’s sleepy delight.

Once Frankie was dressed into his pajamas and his teeth were brushed, he chose a book for his good-night story (it ended up being Doctor Doolittle, a common choice). Jeremy opened up to a marked page and began to read, Michael almost dozing off with Frankie as Jeremy read on.

“Michael, wake up,” Jeremy suddenly whispered, Michael opening his eyes and cringing at the feeling of his glasses’s temples pressing into the sides of his head. Michael sat up, suddenly noticing that Frankie was clinging onto his arm, rendering his arm nearly motionless. Jeremy giggled, Michael joining him as he tried to twist his arm out of Frankie’s hold. “We’ll just talk here,” Jeremy decided, Michael nodding and stilling his arm.

“What were you gonna tell me at the park?” Michael asked, Jeremy’s smile turning a bit wooden. He sighed, folding his hands in his lap before talking.

“I took Frankie in when I was nineteen,” he started, motioning to Frankie with his hand. “He was around one or so- I thought that babies were real easy to take care of, back then,” he laughed softly, Michael chuckling with him. “So, I thought I could act like I was before- I would go to bars, hook up with a handsome guy or girl, and come back in the mornings and take care of him- Frankie, I mean.”

“Where’d he go at night?” Michael asked.

“Chloe’s house, just like now. But, back then, I was- I was looking for someone after Christine. I would give every single lover I had my heart, and most of them grabbed at the opportunity to have a pretty piece of-” Jeremy shook his head. “Anyways. I actually had a system- if one of them were getting real close to me, I would bring them home, show them Frankie. Most of them ran the other way after a week, but others-” He paused, looking warmly up at Michael. “Others were you.”

“I’m the only one who stayed more than a week?” Michael asked, feeling slow anger beginning to bubble up in his stomach as he looked at Frankie, who was still snuggled happily against his arm.

Jeremy chuckled sadly, biting his thumb. “Yes, you are.”

“But why does he act so- odd when we kiss?” Michael asked next, Jeremy sighing softly and taking his thumb away from his mouth.

“The ones who ran away didn’t leave without marks,” Jeremy said, giving Michael a sour taste in his mouth. “There were ones who would push me around, whack me if I didn’t act quick enough- but there were others who went after him. ” Jeremy scowled as he thought back to those lovers, plucking aggressively at the bedsheets. “There was one lady- she was real sweet, gave Frankie candy and kisses whenever she could, but-” his voice broke, and he took a second to recollect himself. “She was too touchy with him.”

The sour taste in Michael’s mouth tripled as he caught up with the implication. He felt the back of his neck prickle, and he wanted to hide Frankie away from all the terrible people in the world who wanted to dim his bright light.

“She didn’t-”

“No, she didn’t do anything to him!” Jeremy assured him quickly, Michael still feeling on edge. “Frankie told me that he felt yucky around her, so I made her leave- slammed the door behind her.”

“Smart boy,” Michael sighed in relief, massaging his nose under his glasses. “The both of you.”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said, resting his cheek on his hand as he tapped his fingers on his knee. “He’s such a happy child- I was a bit hesitant bringing you along to him, actually. He’s protective.”

“But he likes me now?”

Jeremy smiled, nodding happily.

“He does.”

---

It was now eight months since Jeremy and Michael had met- Michael was starting to stay the night for two or even three days at a time at Jeremy’s house, and Frankie was beginning to really warm up to Michael, jumping into his arms when he would come through the door.

However, Michael still hadn’t met any of Jeremy’s other friends. Sure, he’d seen them before- it was pretty impossible to not see Christine Canigula when she was on-screen, and Michael had almost been introduced to Jake Dillinger before Michael had gotten a bit too tipsy to be meeting anyone at the moment.

Michael assumed that he would meet all of Jeremy’s friends formally (perhaps at a performance or at a bar), but when he was spending the day at Jeremy’s one day, he realized that that was not the case.

The day started off on a low note; Frankie had refused Michael to touch him in any way whatsoever, instead dragging a large blanket around his shoulders as he moped around the house. Jeremy had told him that Frankie got like this sometimes- it was more common after Frankie had been surrounded by people for a long time, which he had- Jeremy and him had come back from a long day of shopping for groceries, which had only worsened his bad mood.

And then Jeremy, who was looking paler than normal and was a little wobbly on his feet, hurled, with no warning, on the kitchen floor. Michael cleaned it up with minimal gagging as Jeremy went to lay down- he didn’t tell Michael exactly what was wrong, but when Michael brought him pain medication and a glass of water, it seemed to be the correct thing to do when Jeremy took them and told him he would be feeling better in an hour.

So Michael was left with trying to read on the couch, the words scrambling on the page even more due to his awry attention span. He was constantly getting up and getting a drink of water, his restless energy leading him to wander around the living room on repeat.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a loud buzzer rang through the house, and he could hear a upset yell coming from Frankie from up in his room. Jeremy came out of his own room, clearly still feeling miserable as he dragged his feet to the door, having to take a second to compose himself.

“Jeremy!” There was a loud, chipper voice, and Michael almost expected Jeremy to slam the door in the person’s face, grumbling ‘I’m too tired for this’ as he went back into his room. But, instead, he perked up, leaning out of Michael’s range of vision to hug the other person before letting them inside, and-

Oh, God. Michael was five feet away from Christine Canigula.

He stared at the young lady, not even thinking about how creepy he must look. Canigula had thick, black hair that was cut into the fashionable bob, and she was wearing a black suit that was fitted perfectly to her shape. Jeremy was visibly happier around her- he let himself be pulled into many hugs and cheek kisses, giving her a few himself.

“Oh- how are you?” She must have noticed Michael, striding over and holding out her hand. “I’m Christine Canigula, but you may call me Chrissy, or Chris, or Christine- I’m open to all nicknames!”

“Um…” Michael stood, Christine’s head rising with him.

“Wow, you’re tall,” She whispered, Michael laughing through his nose as he took Christine’s hand.

“Michael Mell, ma’am,” He introduced himself, Christine grasping his hand firmly and shaking, keeping confident eye contact. Christine then dropped his hand, and she half-skipped and half-ran to the stairwell leading to the bedrooms, the gait looking very odd on a full-grown woman.

“And where is my darling Frankie?” She called up the stairs, Jeremy coming up beside her and quietly explaining Frankie’s dark mood, Christine humming in an understanding way.

There was a loud thump before Frankie appeared at the top of the stairs, his weighted blanket gone, but he was now holding a beaten-up stuffed rabbit that looked like it used to be blue once. He sat down at the top of the steps, sliding down on his butt until he was close enough for Christine to touch him, but he shied away from her before she could even think of touching him.

“I missed you,” He said bluntly, Christine sitting beside him on the steps and waving away Jeremy and Michael.

“Leave us alone,” She demanded, Jeremy laughing slightly and walking away, heading to his room. Michael followed him, and he sat on the bed beside Jeremy once they got there.

“She’s early,” Jeremy remarked, Michael falling down on his back, sudden giggles rising out of his chest at the deadpan way Jeremy said it. “What?”

“You- Christine Canigula, ” Michael wheezed, giggling more and feeling like he was in one of Christine’s films. “You just- she-”

“You knew we were friends!” Jeremy told him, beginning to laugh as well. “She just said that she was coming home in April, not-”

“She’s in your house! I shook hands with her!” Michael laughed, holding up his hand that he shook her hand with, staring at it. “I’m never washing this hand again.”

“Eugh,” Jeremy fake-gagged, looking at Michael in fake disgust. “That’s gross.”

“You sound like Frankie,” Michael said, Jeremy giggling more. “ That’s gross, ” Michael said, raising his voice to a squeaky, crackly pitch that sounded more like a broken violin than a four-year-old.

“You are terrible, ” Jeremy scolded him, Michael’s stomach beginning to hurt from laughing. “I let you into my home, eat my food, and you make fun of my nephew?” He tsked, shaking his head at Michael. “I am… disgusted.

“You lo-ove me,” Michael teased him, Jeremy pushing himself up on his forearms and trying to whack Michael, missing terrifically and giving Michael more of a stomach ache from laughing. “Jesus Christ,” Michael giggled, curling into a ball around his stomach.

“Indeed,” Jeremy agreed, giggling breathlessly. The two lay beside each other, the mood turning into a warm, peaceful silence. Michael’s stomach still ached, but he was able to uncurl himself and lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling as he felt Jeremy’s hand slip into his own.

---

A while later, Christine called them both out of Jeremy’s room. Frankie seemed to be in a much better mood, him bouncing around and rambling about what seemed to be ten things at once- even Michael couldn’t keep up with him.

However, Christine must have been a child whisperer because she convinced Frankie to leave the three of them alone- he went to go play up in his room as the three adults began to talk. Jeremy pulled out some of Dillinger’s alcohol- Michael was getting rather used to the strong flavor, while Christine muttered “Piss water,” before taking a sip.

“Still terrible,” She decided after, pursing her lips and setting the glass down, pushing it away from her. Jeremy picked it up, pouring it back into the flask. “It’s so odd to be back in America- in France, there were people drinking at ten in the morning!”

“Really?” Michael asked, taking another drink. “When’s your film coming out?”

“Soon,” Christine told him, winking slyly. “Jeremy, I took some wine back home; do you want a bottle?”

“Please,” Jeremy said, putting the drink container back in the cupboard. “Champagne?”

Christine pouted, her eyes going big. “I have one bottle of champagne,” She said, leaning against the counter. “One bottle of champagne, and one of- of-” Her pouty face broke as she squished her face up in thought, her nose wrinkling. “The demon wine- don’t laugh!” She told Michael, who was beginning to chuckle.

“Elixir Combier?” Jeremy asked, Christine snapping her fingers excitedly.

“Yes! The demon wine!” Her face rapidly switched back to pouting. “I’ll share the champagne at your birthday,” She said, fluttering her eyelashes.

“I don’t think calling it ‘the demon wine’ is going to make me want it more,” Jeremy said, adding, “And you know Jake gets that imported to his house, right? I want the champagne, please.”

Christine threw her hands up in the air, making a sound that sounded like a yell.

“Fine! I’ll give you the champagne,” She said, looking at Michael and shaking her head, looking back at Jeremy. “And to think, I almost married you!”

“Wait, what?” Michael asked after almost choking on his drink. Christine thumped him on the back a few times, and he waved her off once he could fully breathe again. “I knew about the dating, but you two almost-?”

“We were dating for two- no, three?” Christine looked at Jeremy, who agreed with the latter. “Three years. Neither of us proposed- the tabloids did that for us.” Christine drummed her fingers on the table. “But then Frankie showed up at Jeremy’s doorstep- we then decided we both had more important things to do than play pretend.”

“Pretend?” Michael asked. “Didn’t you- don’t you two love each other?”

“Well-” Christine started, Jeremy cutting in.

“We weren’t as serious as the papers made it seem- Christine went with it all, since she was the celebrity in the relationship, but I didn’t like interviewers twistin’ my words into something I didn’t even think of saying about her.” Christine started to giggle, and a smile stretched across Jeremy’s face. “According to the papers, I was making sexual innuendos, left and right!”  

“No, that’s true,” Christine and Michael said at the same time, nodding at each other in solidarity as Jeremy sputtered.

“Hey!”

“Is for horses,” Michael put in, Christine snickering and smacking the table. Once the laughter died down (and Jeremy wasn’t as red in the face) Michael asked Christine, “Anyone you have an eye on now?”

“Chloe,” Christine gushed, her hands cupping her face. “Chloe Valentine, Swedish songbird and the-”

“Wait, Chloe Leanne Valentine?” Michael asked, Christine nodding and swinging her legs. “Same Chloe?” He asked Jeremy next, Jeremy nodding.

“Same Chloe.”

“Same Chloe!” Michael repeated, Christine looking a bit confused.

“You know her?”

“I grew up with her!” Michael said excitedly, bouncing slightly on his chair and almost spilling his drink. “We met when we were six! She helped me get my first ever boyfriend, and I helped her get her first ever girlfriend!”

Christine hummed, starting to rock on the chair in sync with Michael. Jeremy finished his drink, then took Michael’s cup away from him, despite the cup only being half-gone.

“Hey,” Michael whined, his mood still not fully diminished.

“Is for horses,” Jeremy replied, Christine letting out a loud whoop and clapping her hands.

“Take that!”

---

Two years later

Frankie had been coughing a lot recently. Ever since his first day of school, his coughs slowly grew worse until Jeremy had been shaken awake by the tiny six year old, who was coughing so harshly that he couldn’t speak, and his inhales were stolen away too quickly for him to get any real oxygen. Luckily, Michael had been there that night, so he had picked Frankie up, gotten into the bathroom, and turned the water in the bath onto its highest setting so that it would steam up the bathroom, sitting with Frankie and rubbing his back soothingly until he was able to actually breathe.

Jeremy had to often wake up in the middle of the night, hearing Frankie coughing from his room. He would then to boil some water, carry Frankie to the boiling water, and have him try and breathe in the steam the best he could, rubbing his back and shushing his desperate whimpers as he struggled to breathe.

Jeremy had been hoping that it was just a bad cold- when he was reading to Frankie one night, he felt that the little boy was warmer than normal, but it had gone down for a few days, raising Jeremy’s hopes that it was just a minor illness, nothing more, nothing less.

But when Jeremy saw small spots of blood freckling Frankie’s pillow, he had to face the truth- Frankie was truly sick. His fever spiked, landing him in bed with almost nothing to do but read his books, talk to Jeremy, and cough. Jeremy had allowed him to try and read certain parts of the newspaper Jeremy had cut out, but he had grown bored of that quickly, and just asked Jeremy for the pictures and comedy strips.

Jeremy had to clean Frankie’s sheets every about three days, fixing Frankie up on the couch with pillows until he was comfortable before he began to clean. Sometimes Frankie would feel good enough to try and help, but most of the time, Jeremy would have to tiptoe around Frankie so that he wouldn’t wake him up.

Michael came over to their house much more often- he always brought little treats or toys for Frankie to play with, and he often brought books that Jeremy would read to Frankie for his bedtime story. Michael would also give Frankie more piggy-back rides than usual, seeing as Frankie would fall on his face the second he tried to stand on his own legs.

Michael also would bring old family remedies to their house- Jeremy no longer had to stay up for hours and wait for Frankie to wake up to his whole body racked with pain, after Michael made a lotion of some kind that gently heated Frankie’s skin and relaxed his muscles. All Jeremy had to do was make sure Frankie’s arms, legs, feet, and back had a considerable amount of the stuff on, then Frankie would sleep the whole night, not waking up to his muscles cramping and rendering him motionless.

However, there was one thing Michael couldn’t handle, no matter how much he tried- the blood that came up whenever he coughed. There had been a memorable time where, when Jeremy and Michael were both sleeping in Frankie’s bed with him so that he didn’t have to yell if he needed anything. Around three in the morning, Frankie woke Jeremy up, blood dripping down his chin and speckling his shirt, pillow, and neck with red. Michael had taken a single look at the blood, then promptly leaned over the side of the bed and gagged. Frankie and Jeremy teased him about it for days afterwards.

Jeremy had been collecting money for a doctor- even though Michael had told him multiple times that doctors were giving their services for free, Jeremy still wanted to pay the doctor fairly. When he finally had enough, he called for a doctor, the man arriving only two hours later and giving Frankie a through checkup.

Jeremy knew that Frankie was sick. However, he still didn’t want to hear the doctor’s verdict when he finished the checkup and asked Jeremy to follow him out of the room.

“It’s consumption.” He said, Jeremy’s heart slamming into his stomach and his knees almost giving out.

“Oh, God, ” He whimpered, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling, trying to keep his watering eyes from overflowing. The doctor sighed heavily, and patted him sympathetically on the shoulder.

“There’s not much I can do- the only thing I can suggest is to get outta here.” The doctor said. Jeremy, having restrained his tears for the time being, looked at him in confusion. The doctor continued: “New Jersey is packed to the brim- it’s a breeding ground for consumption. Bring your little boy to a cleaner place, like Alabama or Michigan or whatever, and…” The doctor massaged the bridge of his nose. “I ain’t saying he’s gonna live if you do that, but he has a much better chance in either of those places than here.”

“But-” Jeremy fidgeted with his shirt, plucking at a loose string. “What about iron lungs? Don’t they-”

“Those are worth more than my payment for the next seventeen years,” The doctor said, Jeremy’s shoulders sinking more. “I mean, if you somehow have 2,000 dollars laying around, go right ahead, but if I were you, I would book a train ticket.”

Jeremy rubbed his face, taking in a shaky inhale before thanking the doctor and numbly asking for his price. When the doctor insisted that he needed no pay, Jeremy still gave him five dollars for his troubles.

Jeremy saw the doctor out, then composed himself before opening the door to Frankie’s bedroom, watching as Michael read ‘Doctor Dolittle’ to Frankie. As Jeremy watched Frankie correct Michael’s mispronounced words and giggle at his different voices for the characters, he noticed how shallow Frankie’s face was- his eyes were beginning to look sunken, and there was barely a lift in the blankets where the rest of his body was.

“Michael?” Jeremy said, catching both of their attentions. “May I… we should talk.” He finished, Michael getting up, pressing a quick kiss to Frankie’s temple, then following Jeremy out, shutting the door behind them.

“What’d the doctor say?” Michael asked, batting Jeremy’s hand away from his mouth, restricting Jeremy from biting his nails.

“It’s consumption,” Jeremy said shortly, biting his lip and closing his eyes, trying to not react to the burning that was building up. Michael sounded like he was punched in the gut, and Jeremy could hear him sag against the door. The burning in his eyes spread to his nose, and he took in a audible, sharp inhale.

“Jesus Christ, ” Michael muttered, sitting on the ground and leaning against the door. Jeremy got onto the floor next to him, curling up under his arm and pressing his face into the side of Michael’s chest, feeling Michael’s breathing slowly get more erratic. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”

“Hey, shhh,” Jeremy tried to console him, holding back his own tears as Michael’s head hit the door. “We caught it early, but…”

“What do we do? Jesus Christ, what do we do?” Michael asked, his voice beginning to sound panicked.

“We move,” Jeremy blurted, Michael’s head snapping up. “The doctor said New Jersey’s a breeding ground for this. If we went somewhere like Michigan, or Missouri, or-“

“Or Alabama!” Michael tried his best to keep his voice down, the idea coming to him quickly. Jeremy looked up more at him, and he continued, his voice quieting down. “My mothers- they live in Alabama, we can live with them or near them when-”

“When?” Jeremy asked, Michael nodding his head and adjusting his glasses. “Michael, it’s-”

“A lot of money, I know,” Michael said, adding, “But Frankie might live! ” His voice was quiet but excited, and he rubbed under his eyes to swipe away any tears that were forming. “I have almost- Jeez, how much do could three train tickets cost?”

“Fifteen dollars,” Jeremy said, “In all.”

Michael’s eyes lit up, already plotting what they would do. “I have about a hundred bucks in the bank right now-“

“Woah, from what?” Jeremy asked.

“I save up all the tips from my gigs. We can take fifty out of the bank- spend fifteen on the tickets, and spend the remaining on food and other things until we get to my mothers!” He grabbed Jeremy’s biceps and pulled him onto his lap, where they could talk face to face. “I would just need to send a letter to them, so that-”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Jeremy cut in, Michael shutting his mouth and listening to Jeremy. “How are we gonna tell this to Frankie? He’s only been out of the state once, and that was when we all went to visit my father in New Orleans, and that was only two weeks. How are we gonna tell him?”

Michael thought for a moment, leaning against Jeremy’s chest. “We tell him we’re going on an adventure,” he decided, “he loves adventures.” At that, Jeremy sighed, rubbing his face with his hands and allowing Michael to cuddle him how he wished.

A loud thump from Frankie’s room sprung them into action- Michael jumped up, flinging open the door as Jeremy ducked under his arm to get inside. They were greeted with Frankie, still in bed, looking up guiltily at them, with the ‘Doctor Dolittle’ book landed spine-up.

“I dropped it,” Frankie admitted as Michael picked up the book, giving it back to him and then sitting on the edge of his bed, Jeremy crawling on fully and putting his arm firmly around Frankie, the little boy cuddling into his side immediately. “What were you two talking about?”

“Well, Frank…” Michael hesitated, biting his lip and tapping his fingers on his knee. “D’you know where Alabama is?”

Frankie shrugged, and looked suspiciously at the both of them.

“Why?” He asked. Michael opened his mouth, but Jeremy started talking first.

“Well, me and Mister Michael decided that New Jersey isn’t the best place for us right now,” He said, Frankie gasping and looking up at him in excitement. “So, we’ve decided that we’re gonna move to Alabama, where we can meet Michael’s mamas, meet new friends, see Bubbe more often...“

Frankie broke out into a grin, hugging Jeremy as best as he could from his position. “Uncle Jeremy!” he squealed, obviously too excited for his own good. He vibrated happily, bouncing still as Jeremy wrangled him gently under his arm again, Frankie looking up at him with wide eyes. “When are we moving? Is Mister Michael comin’ with us? Can-”

“Slow down, love,” Jeremy laughed, brushing Frankie’s hair away from his face as he did. “We’re gonna move soon- I think we’ll be on a train in about two weeks. And-” Frankie snuggled even closer to Jeremy, his bright grin lightening Jeremy’s mood. “Yes, Mister Michael is coming with us- we’re gonna live with his mamas for a while, just until you feel better and we find a job.”

They all talked for a while, trying to give Frankie’s questions furtive but solid answers. Eventually, Jeremy got up to go out and get the mail, leaving the two other boys alone. Frankie opened his book again, looking at all the pictures and running his fingers down the spine of the book. Michael cleared his throat, Frankie looking at him expectedly.

“Frank, may I ask you something?” He asked, Frankie nodding but looking back at his book. “Well, you know how your uncle and I have been dating for a while…”

Frankie looked up quickly, his eyes wide. He didn’t close the book, but he stilled his fingers, not quite making eye contact with Michael.

“So, I wanted to ask you- do I have the permission to marry your uncle?”

“Yes!” Frankie yelled, his hands flying up in the air and dancing happily. “Yes!”

Michael chuckled, his chest feeling like it was flooded with sunshine. His nose started to burn from emotion- he choked out “Thank you, bud- really.” Before trying to discreetly rub his eyes.

“You’re welcome!” Frankie chirped, ignoring Michael’s watering eyes and instead firing off questions. “When’s the wedding? Can I be ring bearer? Are-”

Frankie was cut off by his own coughs, making grabby hands for a hankerchief. Michael handed it to him, Frankie hacking into it as Jeremy walked back in.

Michael could see Jeremy react almost like a cat- his eyes widened, and he went up on his tiptoes before his heels landed again and he got onto the bed. He rubbed Frankie’s back, Frankie’s coughs slowly coming to a stop.

“What happened?” Jeremy asked once Frankie gave him his now-spotted handkerchief. Then, noticing Michael’s eyes, “And what’s got you all emotional?”

“Nothing,” they both said at the same time, Frankie looking up at Jeremy.

“Uncle Jeremy, can I please have tea?”

" May I, Frankie. But yes, you may.” He left again, Frankie looking at Michael and giggling.

" Man, you’re good.” Michael rubbed his eyes, watching himself in the mirror until he looked normal again.

---

The day they left for Alabama, Michael had a suspiciously great start to the day. He didn’t forget anything from his house, the people who had agreed to live in his house until he came back to New Jersey were right on time, and the sun was shining happily, putting Michael in a great, whistling mood.

However, when he arrived at Jeremy’s house, his day took a dramatic downfall into one of the most stressful days he had ever had in his 25 years of living.

“He’s gotten worse,” Jeremy said, having flung open the door after only twenty seconds of Michael waiting. Jeremy looked terrible- his face was red and puffy, and his hair was unbrushed and all over the place.

“What?” Michael asked, entering the house and walking quickly to Frankie’s bedroom, his frazzled boyfriend following after him, gnawing on his thumbnail.

Michael heard loud, painful-sounding hacks from inside the room, and when he opened the door, he nearly fainted at all the red that was dripping down Frankie’s chin. Jeremy made a distressed sound, collecting Frankie in his arms and rubbing his back as he wiped away the blood on Frankie’s chin, leaving Michael to stare at the scene blankly, feeling like he was frozen.

Once Frankie stopped coughing in a way that sounded like he might cough up a lung (which, Michael’s mind whispered darkly, he probably was), Jeremy looked back up at Michael, tears welling up in his eyes again.

“What do we do? ” Jeremy asked, his voice cracking in raising desperation. “We can’t stay- Frankie’ll certainly die here, but we can’t spread this to the other passengers on the train!”

Michael took in a deep breath, shutting his eyes and massaging the bridge of his nose as he thought. He opened his eyes again, noticing how deep the blush was on Frankie’s cheeks, the pink contrasting with the sickly white of the rest of his skin. He was leaning tiredly against Jeremy’s chest, coughs still bubbling up at times and causing him to curl further into his uncle’s chest.

An idea suddenly hit Michael, and he ran out to the kitchen, finding a towel that he could easily wrap around his nose and mouth. He ran back into the room, sitting on the bed beside his boyfriend and (hopefully) future nephew, taking the little boy out of Jeremy’s arms, ignoring the pang in his stomach as Frankie stared at him blankly with half-lidded, dull blue eyes. He tied the towel around the back of Frankie’s head, pulling it up over his nose and down over his mouth. Jeremy looked extremely unimpressed by the get-up, taking a deep, calming breath in.

“How the hell is Frankie looking like a cowboy gonna help us with anything?”

“Consumption is spread by air, right?” Michael asked, Jeremy grabbing back his nephew a bit aggressively and holding him tightly. “So, if we block off the flow of air from Frankie’s infected lungs-” As he explained more, Jeremy’s eyes brightened, and he cut Michael off.

“We can, possibly, stop the disease from spreading!” He said, Michael smiling back at him and nodding proudly. “Michael Leviticus Mell, you are a genius! ” Jeremy stood as he still held Frankie, his worried face setting in again as he directed Michael to where their bags were, along with some money Jeremy had put aside for a ‘special occasion.’

“This is an special occasion, alright,” Michael said lightly, Jeremy huffing and shaking his head as a small smile cracked on his face.

“I suppose you’re right.”

---

They got onto the train without any trouble; Frankie had fallen asleep in Jeremy’s arms on the taxi ride there, but Jeremy had soon passed him over to Michael to hold, as his arms were getting tired.

When they got to their seats on the train, Michael shifted Frankie so that his chin was laying on Michael’s shoulder, and his head lolled to press against Michael’s cheek, making it more difficult to talk. Jeremy had left to go get food- Michael knew that there was a very good chance that the ‘food’ he would get was either candy bars or a gourmet meal. He could never know with his lover.

He could feel himself getting shot odd looks- he tried to look as inconspicuous as he could with a child with a towel wrapped around his nose and mouth holding onto him.

He could feel Frankie start to wake up- he didn’t fuss as he sat up and looked blearily around the train, tugging a little on the towel. “You doin’ okay?” Michael asked softly, earning a sleepy nod from Frankie. Michael chuckled as Frankie curled up against his chest again, ruffling his hair and whispering a soft ‘i love you’ before Frankie’s breathing became even. He had no doubt he was tired, although to him it was a miracle he could sleep on the train.

Jeremy came back a few minutes later, carrying chocolate bars in his pockets and menus in his hands. He handed Michael a menu, then softly ran his finger over the exposed part of Frankie’s cheek, scooching closer to Michael after he sat down.

“A waitress will ask us what we want- train food’s gotten a lot better than when I was little, I suppose,” Jeremy laughed softly, looking over the menu and pulling the chocolate bars out of his pocket, handing them to Michael. He then pulled out a pack of candy cigarettes, placing one in his mouth and tilting the box towards Michael, letting him take one as well before putting the pack into their bag, nibbling at the candy. “So, Mister Mell, what are your mamas like?”

Michael’s face lit up at the mention of his mothers, and Jeremy could tell he needed to prepare for a long winded speech. “Well, for starters, their house is huge,” Michael started, “they own one of the businesses in town- best handmade ice cream for miles around. They’re the sweetest gals you’ll ever meet, even though Mama might scare you a bit. Not to mention, they’re the best cooks ever…”

Michael rambled on as Jeremy listened contentedly, watching his lover and his nephew with loving eyes. Frankie was sleeping soundly on Michael’s shoulder, and Jeremy could hear quiet snores that were mostly masked by Michael talking about his mothers and his hometown.

“Rich’s definitely gonna come visit- he’s a great pal, really,” Michael was saying, shifting Frankie minutely as he did. “He acts tough, but it’s only ‘cause you don’t know him y-” Michael trailed off as the train began to move, his eyes flicking to watch outside of the window.

Michael and Frankie had both only been on one train before; it was their trip to see Jeremy’s father in New Orleans when Frankie was four. They both had had their faces squished to the window, calling out the colors of houses and how many people they could count until Jeremy had pulled them away to try and get some sleep.

The memory sent a pang through Jeremy’s heart as he looked at Frankie; he was limp against Michael’s chest, and his cheeks were still a bright pink. His eyebrows were slightly creased; Jeremy smoothed his thumb over the space between Frankie’s eyebrows, and the crease disappeared. He sighed, biting down on his candy cigarette and crushing it between his teeth, grimacing slightly at the sharp taste of mint that filled his mouth and traveled up to his nose.

“You alright?” Michael asked, clearly having noticed Jeremys’ cringe.

“I’m fine, it’s just-” Jeremy gestured to the candy cigarette, “Minty.”

---

“So this is where you grew up,” Jeremy whispered, staring over the rooftops. They’d had a long evening of tending to Frankie and chatting with Michael’s mothers, and they were both exhausted, even now as they sat on the roof of the big house. The night was warm and comforting, the air sweet and fresh as the laughter and music drifting up from below. It faintly reminded Jeremy of New Orleans— only less jazz and more churches.

“Pretty, huh? I used to sit up here every night and wish on the first star I saw,” Michael laughed softly, the noise making Jeremy’s heart flutter.

“Heh. We couldn’t really see the stars in NoLa,” Jeremy said, leaning against Michael’s shoulder. “Too many trees in the garden district.”

“That’s sad,” Michael said, leaning his head against the top of Jeremy’s head and entangling their fingers together. “Well, now that you can see the stars- do you like ‘em?”

Jeremy giggled, nuzzling underneath Michael’s chin. “I love ‘em,” he replied, feeling calm for the first time in weeks. He could feel Michael sigh, and he pressed himself closer, closing his eyes and relaxing in the warm Alabama air.

Michael sighed, his hand trailing to Jeremy’s lower back to massage that place gently. Jeremy leaned against him, feeling truly calm for the first time ever since Frankie got sick.

“You wanna go back inside?” Michael asked after a while, Jeremy nodding and standing, allowing Michael to help him down the roof to the fire escape, where Jeremy hopped into the room they were staying in, Michael following after.

After they both got into their pajamas, Jeremy was putting away some glasses that they both used to get a drink of water before he felt Michael’s arms wrap around his waist, Michael kissing the back of his neck sweetly.

“Hey, there,” Jeremy said softly, turning around so that they were face to face. “What’s up?”

“I love you,” Michael murmured, “more than anything else in the world. You know that, right?”

“More than fried okra?” Jeremy asked teasingly, getting into bed and letting Michael wrap his arms around him once more after he got comfortable in the sheets.

“Way more,” Michael assured him, his fingers running over his stomach. “I love you more than the stars and the moon and the sun and jazz.”

“I love you too,” Jeremy whispered, putting a gentle hand on his neck and kissing him softly. Michael kissed back, their noses pressing together and making them giggle like teenagers as Michael pressed the kiss deeper, pulling away only so that he could take his glasses off.

“This’ll end up just fine,” he whispered as he came closer again, kissing Jeremy’s nose. “Everything always works out in its own way, right?”

Jeremy nodded, snuggling into Michael’s shoulder. “I agree. The only thing I’m not hopeful about is our s-x drives by the end of this affair.”

Michael gasped, whacking the back of Jeremy’s head. “Jeez, jeez. sorry,” Jeremy laughed, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t mean it like that, goodness.”

Michael flushed red, grumbling and burying his face into the small space between Jeremy’s head and the pillow he was laying on, and Jeremy could feel that his cheeks were warm. “Why are you so flustered about that, ma chérie ?” he asked softly, chuckling as Michael grumbled.

“You reminded me,” he murmured, “That we haven’t, ah…”

“Michael, it’s 11:30 at night. Far past our bedtimes and s-xy times,” Jeremy said mock sternly, “I believe you’ll survive- you’ve survived so far.”

Michael chuckled softly, kissing Jeremy’s forehead. “G’night,” he whispered, hugging Jeremy close again. “I love you.”

“Mmm, love you too,” Jeremy hummed, already feeling sleepy as Michael turned on his back to turn off the light. “Michael?” He asked after Michael laid down besides him, his eyes shutting. “Have you ever thought about marryin’ someone?”

Michael’s eyes snapped open.

“Wh- maybe,” Michael said, sitting up on his forearms. “Why?”

Jeremy blushed, averting his eyes and shrugging.

“I- I dunno, it’s just-” he rubbed his nose anxiously. “We’ve been going steady for three years, and I-”

“Well,” Michael interrupted, laying his head on his arms and scrunching his nose in thought. “I have thought about marrying a certain someone, but…”  

“Now I know you’re awfully fond of that Lohst girl, but…” Jeremy joked, earning a gentle pap on the arm from Michael.

“No, I mean…” Michael sighed, shifting so that he was on his side, facing Jeremy more. “My certain someone has a little boy that, in all senses, is more important than anything in the entire world, and at the moment, he’s-”

Jeremy felt tears prickle in his eyes, and he tried to rub them away before they could well up. Michael grabbed his hands, kissing his knuckles before he continued— “he’s handsome, and talented, and so smart, and so kind and nothing short of the love of my life, and I’d love nothing more than to be married to him.”

Jeremy’s eyes glistened with tears as he grabbed Michael’s hands tighter, leaning into his shoulder. “Who would that be, sir?” he asked in a watery voice.

“I think you know,” Michael said softly, Jeremy huffing playfully.

“I wanna hear you say it,” he smiled, sitting up with Michael. Michael grinned, leaning in so their noses touched, and asked without a hint of hesitation—

“Jeremiah Heere, will you make me the happiest man on earth and marry me?”

Jeremy couldn’t help the squeal that escaped him as he latched onto Michael, kissing him fiercely and pushing him into the pillows. “Yes,” he laughed, “yes, yes, yes!”

Michael hushed him, kissing him passionately and grabbing onto his shirt a tad roughly. Jeremy giggled into his mouth, wiping both of their tears away as he fell back against the pillows.

Michael’s kisses trailed to his neck, affectionately kissing his neck and collarbone before Jeremy pulled him back up, kissing him fully once again.

“I adore you,” Michael said softly, kissing Jeremy’s jaw and underneath his ear. Jeremy giggled, playing idly with Michael’s hair, curling his fingers in it and tugging softly.

“I adore you as well,” Jeremy replied, his now-fiance stopping his kisses and pulling Jeremy into his chest, humming deep in his chest to create a soothing vibration that started to easily lull Jeremy to sleep. “G’night…” He mumbled sleepily, Michael petting his hair softly as Jeremy felt himself drift off.

---

Frankie was on the long, painful road to recovery. After two weeks of being sat outside in a makeshift cot for hours at a time, he was starting to not cough as much, finding enough energy to begin to sketch birds and trees that were in the scenery, even once getting out of bed himself to crawl a bit closer to a baby bunny that was giving itself a bath just outside the screen door. Of course, his doting uncle was never not nearby, constantly on edge in case of a coughing fit or anything of the sort. However, it was easy for him to get lost in his book and cup of coffee, and usually left Frankie alone to draw his animals.

Frankie’s chest still hurt, and it felt like he was always sleepy and lazy, but he decided that this was a better improvement than when it felt like his lungs were trying to get out through his throat. Michael (he was now allowed to call him that) always told him in a few months he’d get to explore the same creeks he did when he was a kid, the mere idea of it making Frankie grin to himself. Michael couldn’t draw at all, but he tried his very best to draw the creek he liked to go to when he was Frankie’s age. Frankie had it stuffed under his pillow; he looked at it daily, counting down the days until he felt okay enough to go to that creek.

No matter how much Frankie didn’t like talking about when he was sick, everyone else seemed to love to remind him about it. One time, he had heard his uncle reading a book to Michael (he guessed it was just Michael’s good-night book) about people who purposely make themselves look like they were sick, because apparently consumption was a ‘artistically beautiful’ way to die. Frankie didn’t know that coughing up blood was pretty. Huh.

Even though Frankie knew that everyone was ‘worried’ about him, he felt okay! Yes, he needed Michael or uncle Jeremy to carry him if he’d been standing up for too long, but that was it! Frankie could eat, and talk, and he wasn’t coughing anymore, right? He was okay !

Frankie never complained to uncle Jeremy or Michael, though- he knew that they still were being gentle with him. Michael wasn’t allowed to tickle Frankie as much as he used to- he couldn’t ‘agitate Frankie’s lungs,’ according to his mamas.

Michael’s mamas were real nice to Frankie and uncle Jeremy- they always kissed Frankie good morning and good night, and they gave him a lot to eat to make him chubbier (He noticed that uncle Jeremy was feeling softer when he hugged Frankie, too). They always gave Frankie seconds and thirds at dinner, but they had to tell Michael that he wasn’t allowed to eat as much as Frankie and Jeremy (Michael always acted sad, but Frankie knew he was just pretending).

He had also heard whispers of school— Michael and Jeremy talking quietly after he was supposed to be asleep, murmurs of ‘classrooms’ and ‘accommodations’ for his ‘illness’ . The idea of going to school scared him— although he would admit the idea of being around children his age did appeal to him quite a lot. He hadn’t seen anyone under the age of 24 since he had come to Alabama, after all.

He still missed Quentin and Charlotte- Quentin was sending him a letter every week, talking about everything that Frankie was missing. Frankie sent him his own letters back, but he’s pretty sure that uncle Jeremy reads his letters before he sends them and rewrites them in his pretty, swirly writing, because Quentin’s letters looked just as swirly and pretty, even though Quentin still didn’t know which way to write his ‘E’s when Frankie left. Charlotte sent him candy and yarn dolls she made every month, but uncle Jeremy didn’t let him eat all the candy right away. Michael’s Mami, Jasmine, was starting to teach Frankie how to make yarn dolls; he was planning on making the prettiest one ever so that he could send it to Charlotte.

He was coloring in one of his drawings (one of a bat) when his uncle Jeremy came into his bedroom, sat beside him on the bed, watching him draw for a few minutes.

“Frankie, can I interrupt?” Uncle Jeremy asked, Frankie humming and putting down his pencils, looking up at uncle Jeremy. He saw his uncle sigh, then sit up and take Frankie’s hands in his, holding them tightly and putting a nice, warm pressure on his wrists. “Frankie, I know you’ve been going through a lot, but-”

“Are you pregnant?” Frankie asked bluntly, his uncle Jeremy doing a double take. Frankie giggled at him, his uncle starting to laugh with him.

“I’m not pregnant, love.” He told him, Frankie making a sound of disappointment. “Do you want me to be?”

“Yes,” Frankie said, his uncle laughing through his nose. “‘Cause I want a baby cousin!”

“Why?” His uncle asked. Frankie crawled into his lap, starting to explain.

“I want a baby cousin ‘cause then I can teach it how to read, and how to be nice, and I can play with it and teach it how to draw, and-” He could feel his uncle laugh, and he cuddled closer. “And I can tell it the same stories you told me.


“That’s a lot of reasons,” His uncle said, Frankie humming and resting his thumb on his bottom lip. “Well, I think Michael and I should talk about that some more, since we already have to take care of you, right?”

“But-” Frankie started to protest, his uncle shushing him, to his annoyance.

“I need to talk to you about school, hon,” He told Frankie, gently pulling him away from his chest and pressing down on his wrists again once they were face to face.

“Oh.” Frankie mumbled, slumping and looking up at his uncle’s face. He smiled back when his uncle smiled at him, and he could feel him start to massage circles into his wrists.

“It's only November, and Michael and I agreed we didn’t want to send you into school right now, so don’t worry about that. There’s a nice little primary that Michael used to go to, just down the street, and you and I will get to walk there every morning! They’ll have new friends, nice teachers, art classes…”

Frankie perked up at the mention of art, sitting up more and looking more intensely at his uncle, who winked at him.

“I knew you’d like that.” He said, Frankie nodding and rubbing his cheek on his shoulder, the scratchy fabric making him flinch away from it. “You might have to retake first grade, but…”

“No!” Frankie whined, suddenly feeling very grumpy and moody. He ripped his wrists away from his uncle, immediately regretting it as the pressure stopped. “I hate first grade!”

“Hey, hey,” Jeremy cooed, hugging him lightly. “That’s okay, that’s okay. I didn’t think you’d want to do that, anyway.”

Frankie kicked his feet, still feeling angry at even the thought of first grade. He hated first grade! The teacher was mean, he wasn’t allowed to read and he had to pretend that he couldn’t because it wasn’t ‘natural,’ and everyone laughed when he said that his daddy wasn’t nice! Only Quentin and Charlotte were nice to him, even though he was the only kid to bring in a uncle instead of a mommy or daddy.

“There’ll be new kids at this school. They won’t be mean like the ones in New Jersey,” Jeremy told him reassuringly, pulling him onto his lap. “Well, some of them might be, but if they ever try anything, you can come straight to me, alright?”

Frankie giggled, imagining his uncle Jeremy scolding another little kid his age.

“Okay,” He said, uncle Jeremy kissing the top of his head. “But can you and Michael please talk about having a baby?”

“Any kind of baby?” Uncle Jeremy asked, Frankie nodding. “Even a little girl?”

“Well…” Frankie shrugged. “That’s okay, I guess, but I want a boy.”

“Then I guess me and Michael will have to order a baby boy from the catalogue,” Jeremy said, Frankie giggling as Jeremy ran his fingers over Frankie’s sides.

____

Michael and Frankie were out getting groceries- ever since Frankie had started feeling better, uncle Jeremy had started sending them out more to buy groceries or to go to the park, something that Frankie found out was even better than New Jersey’s park.

Frankie was dutifully carrying a bag of yeast and flour, along with a small bag of sweets that Michael let them buy after Frankie had told him that uncle Jeremy’s favorite sweet was black licorice, something that Michael had gagged at and called an ‘abomination.’

They were headed to the post office when they both heard a loud whistle, along with someone calling, “Well, I’ll be damned!” from across the market square. Michael looked to see who it was, then smiled widely, Frankie following after him to a short man who wore a greasy button up and dirty pants.

“Richard Goranski!” Michael said, shaking hands with the man. Frankie hid behind him, peeking out from behind his legs as the two of them shook hands- then the man noticed Frankie. His eyes widened, and he put his hands on his knees, looking at him, then Michael and starting to laugh.

“Michael Leviticus, you leave for eight years and you bring back a kid?” He asked, adding, “I never took you to be the one who slept arou-”

“He isn’t mine!” Michael interrupted, Frankie hiding behind his legs more. “He’s my boyfriends’ nephew, and he’s only six, Richard.”

The man- Richard- straightened, crossing his arms and looking down at Frankie. Frankie, surprisingly, didn’t feel unsafe; Richard reminded him of Mister Jake.

“Hey, kid. My name’s Richard, but you can call me Rich or Richie, need be,” Richard said, holding out his hand. Frankie shyly took it, shaking his hand before his hand retreated back to his chest.

“Hello, Mister Richard,” Frankie said quietly, adding, “My names Frankie.”

“Nice to meet ya, Frankie.” Mister Rich said, Frankie smiling up at him as he decided that Mister Rich was nice. Michael and Rich started to talk, Frankie playing with his coat and eyeing the candy that he was still holding, despite having to put down his yeast and flour to shake Mister Rich’s hand.

He and Michael talked for a little longer, Frankie getting bored and starting to twirl Michael’s engagement band around his finger. Uncle Jeremy and Michael were now starting to plan their wedding- Frankie was gonna be the ring bearer, and one of his aunts (who was younger than him) was going to be flower girl.

It was weird to have an aunt younger than him. It was also weird to be in a wheelchair, but he was getting the hang of it. Jake had come down from their old home and taught him wheelies, which gave Uncle Jeremy and Michael a million heart attacks but was a whole lot of fun.

-——

A few months later

Michael’s breath was taken away as soon as Jeremy appeared at the top of the aisle.

He wore a nice dark green suit, tailored perfectly- small baby’s breath flowers were woven into his hair, and he had a gentle smile on his face as his father lead him down the aisle.

“You look amazing,” Michael whispered as he drew nearer, pulling Jeremy close and stroking his cheek. Jeremy’s cheeks were flushed, no doubt with a bit of help from Chloe’s rouge. The gentle autumn breeze ruffled Michael’s flower on his lapel, Jeremy smiling and adjusting it for him.

“So do you,” he replied, his blue eyes sparkling as he took Michael’s hand. The hot Alabama sun beat down, but neither of them minded too much- they stared at each other for a while longer as Frankie wheeled himself down the aisle, holding the pillow with the silver rings on his lap. Michael’s mothers fanned themselves with their fans, quietly cursing their son and future son-in-law for having their wedding outdoors.

Rich stepped up to the couple, smiling at them and whispering “good luck!” before starting his speech- “I was told to keep this short, and that I can save the long speech later for when I’m drunk,” he began, earning a laugh from the small crowd. “So, I grew up with Michael in Alabama. He went to college in the Big Apple, and came back with a boy on his arm and a baby-”

“I'm six!” Frankie yelled, bouncing enthusiastically on his wheelchair. The crowd laughed, and Jeremy put his arm around Frankie with a wide smile.  

“You sure are, kiddo,” Rich grinned at him, patting him on the back, “but my point is- Michael may have changed since he became a city man, but I know he’ll be nothin’ but amazing for Jeremy. So, I must ask- Michael Leviticus Mell, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do,” Michael grinned, feeling tears prick in the corners of his eyes. “I promise to take you as my lawful husband to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, ‘til death do us part.”

“And you, Jeremy Atticus Heere? Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?” Rich asked, Jeremy taking a deep breath.

“I do,” he whispered, reaching for the rings in Frankie’s lap. He slipped one onto Michael’s finger and saying softly- “Haray at mekudeshet lee beh-taba'at zo keh-dat Moshe veh-Yisrael.”

Rich finally gave up the formality to say, “Well, by the power invested in me, holy mattress moaney- you’re married, blah blah- kiss!”

Jeremy and Michael did so gladly, the congregation cheering and Christine throwing her rice in the air prematurely. It got into Chloe and hers’ hair, but neither woman seemed to care as they clapped. There were two empty seats where Brooke and Jenna were supposed to be, but Jake was on the mission of writing out the entire ceremony for the two to read.

Eventually, Jeremy pulled away, tears in his eyes- “I never thought I’d have a happily ever after like this,” he confessed, “not with someone as amazing as you. I love you so much, Michael Mell.”