Mack’s brothers and sisters took their father’s Suburban back to the motel after Mack told them he would give his parents a ride to the motel later. The whole family needed to have a sit-down to discuss his intentions for the future, but Mack believed it would be better if he started with his parents. His mother was already giving him wary looks over the course of the evening, so there was no use putting the confrontation off as he’d hoped he could do.
“So, after I get this business cleared up at Sacred Heart, I’m leaving the church,” he blurted out feeling the meal they ate earlier churn in his stomach. He prayed it stayed down.
Sean looked down at the table, but Mack was paying more attention to his mother’s face. She was trying to keep from showing any emotion, and that had him quite worried. “Well?” he asked again. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt his mother had a list of arguments in alphabetical order in her head. She might as well get them out and let the discussion begin.
Surprisingly, his father started chuckling before he burst out into a hearty laugh. His hand was pounding on the table, and he had tears rolling down his cheeks, which surprised Mack. “What?”
He turned to see his mother was quite angry at his father, and while Mack appreciated his father drawing some of his mother’s ire, it wasn’t going to start a productive dialogue. “Dad, I don’t think that’s going to help much,” he scolded.
Sean wiped his eyes with his handkerchief but continued to snort a bit. He turned to Molly and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, giving her a kiss on the temple. “Your mother—she brags she knows her children better than me, but I told her the other week when you came home that I believed you were reconsidering taking your final vows. She’s just mad because now I get to join that fishing club Wilbert Dell has asked me to participate in for the last ten years.
“I’ll be honest, Mack, I’m surprised you’ve lasted as long as you have. We’re proud of the work you’ve done, son, but I had a hard time seeing you as a lifer. It’s no offense to you, I promise, but I have the feeling you might have gone to the seminary for the wrong reason,” Sean finished. Molly still hadn’t said anything, but Mack was pleased his father had offered the understanding.
“And what wrong reason was that Sean McCord? If you know Seamus so much better than me, what’s the reason he joined the seminary?” his mother snapped.
“Us, Molly. He joined because of us. When he first mentioned he was thinking about it after he chose to major in Theology and minor in education, we badgered the boy about going into the priesthood. Hell, I had lunch with Marvin once a week back then so I could talk to him about it. He told me we had to let Seamus make his own decisions, but I think you and I got caught up in the idea one of our children would go into the service of our Lord, and I think we pushed him too much.” His father squeezed his hand reassuringly and turned to Molly.
Mack looked at his mother who took a deep breath and released it. “I agree with you, Sean, and if that was one of the reasons you went or even why you stayed, Seamus, then I’m sorry for my part in it. I know we kept telling you how we thought you were making the right choice, but my reasons for supporting your decision to enter the seminary were different than I think your father’s reasons might have been back then. I think you know what I mean, don’t you, son?” Molly asked as she stared at Mack with a look he was sure many mothers wore on their faces when they figured out the truth about their children… their gay children.
The tears started to roll down Mack’s cheeks, unbidden. He was surprised when his mother got up from her chair and walked over to him, cradling his head to her chest as she kissed the top of his hair and whispered, “I was wrong back then, son. I said things I shouldn’t have said or even thought, and I did things that were hurtful to a family I didn’t take the time to get to know because I judged them unworthy of my friendship. I had no idea I would be hurting my own son the most. I’m so very sorry,” she told him as she sat down in the chair next to him and reached up to wipe tears from his face.
“When you’re ready, I’ll be very supportive of you. I have some reservations,” Molly told Mack as she glanced at the garage apartment before she looked back into her son’s eyes and continued, “but I’ll remain open-minded. Now, please come home for a visit, soon. And, let me know how that priest is doing. I’ll have Father Marv say a Mass for him,” Molly offered. Mack nodded.
They turned to see Sean staring at them with confusion. “Don’t worry. Your father will be fine when you’re ready. Can you give us a ride back to the motel?” Molly requested.
Seamus nodded and stood, hugging first his mother, then his father. They got into his hybrid, and he drove them back to the motel. Before they got out of the SUV, he took hold of his father’s arm. “Can we have breakfast before you leave in the morning? It’s been busy tonight with everyone meeting for the first time, but I’d like you to get to know Carter better. He’s really a great guy, Dad, and I think you’d like him,” he requested.
Sean nodded and hopped out to walk around the vehicle to open the door for Molly. Mack turned to the backseat where his mother was unbuckling. “I love you, Mom. I don’t think I’ve told you enough,” he told her as she leaned between the seats and kissed his cheek.
Molly sniffled. “I love you, too, Mack. I’m very proud of you. You’re a good man. Get a haircut,” she told him as she tugged on his short mane. He laughed because it was typical of his mother to offer kindness with her criticisms. He wouldn’t know how to act if she didn’t.
When he arrived back at the Riggs’ house, he parked in front of the garage without opening the door, so he didn’t wake Carter if he was sleeping. He locked the vehicle and went up the stairs, thinking about the night.
A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. His parents weren’t angry about his decision to leave religious life, and it seemed his mother knew he was in love with Carter Riggs, even if she wasn’t jumping for joy. It was because of Carter’s past, not because Carter was a man, which was a huge relief. He knew if she got to know the man, she’d change her mind about him and be their most exhuberant advocate.
He went to his room to get ready for bed because he knew the morning would come early. His father was obsessed with getting on the road at the crack of dawn, regardless of the distance of the trip. When they were kids, they had to leave the house by five o’clock in the morning when they were going camping for vacation.
Back then, they had a second-hand camping trailer because his mother demanded, “Sleeping in that tin can” was as close to roughing it as she was going to tolerate. The boys slept in a tent outside, and the girls slept inside with their parents. Those were good times back then. It made him want to get the families together to maybe go to Lake of the Ozarks for a weekend very soon. It would be an excellent way for all of them to bond.
As he was turning off the light in the bathroom, Mack glanced into Carter’s room to see him sleeping peacefully. The bedside light was still on, so he knew Carter had tried to stay awake to wait for him.
Mack smiled as he walked into the room to turn off the light. He leaned forward to kiss Carter on the forehead when he heard, “Stay please.” He looked into Carter’s handsome face to see he was still sleeping, but Mack decided to err on the side of caution. Maybe Carter was having a bad dream and needed the comfort?
He got into the small, full-size bed and wrapped his arms around Carter Riggs, falling into a restful sleep as his breaths synced up with those of the man he loved. Things were looking up, so he offered a quiet prayer of thanks. Maybe the whole thing, this madness where he met Carter Lee Riggs and fell madly in love with him in a matter of hours one night while he was washing his boxers at a laundromat, was God’s plan for him all along?
Mack felt something tickling his nose, and when he tried to bat it away, he found his arms were trapped. He opened his eyes to see Carter’s happy smile. He had a section of Mack’s longer hair on top of his head, and he was using it to tickle him. Seeing those beautiful blue-green eyes and the sexy grin would be a joy to wake to in the future… hopefully, for the rest of his life.
“You’re a pest,” he whispered as he kissed the tip of Carter’s nose. Mack rolled onto his back and looked at the old-fashioned clock on the nightstand to see it was just about six o’clock.
He sat up and slapped Carter on the ass, seeing the sheet slip to show his nakedness. Mack laughed to himself. “I didn’t realize your bed was clothing optional,” he joked.
Carter laughed deeply. “It became clothing optional when I woke up to go to the bathroom and found a handsome man in it with me. I didn’t touch you at all, but I touched the hell out of me,” he teased as he gathered tissues from the floor by the bed and walked out of the bedroom to the bathroom in the hallway. Before Mack could respond, there was a knock on their front door.
He slipped out of bed and grabbed a pair of Carter’s basketball shorts and a large t-shirt with the name of a gym on the front before he went to the door in the living room. He couldn’t have slipped through the living room to get his own clothes because they didn’t have curtains on the door. There were louvered shutters on the living room windows, but the front door was bare, and there were two windows, through which he saw his father and Mark.
He opened the door and smiled. “I should have known when I asked to go to breakfast that you’d be here at the crack of dawn,” Mack teased.
Sean laughed. “Asses-in-seats. You know the rules, Mack. Anyway, your mother wants to see the apartment. She says it’s because she wants to make you something for Christmas, but we both know she just wants to nose around. She sent me up first to be sure you and Carter were decent.”
Mark walked back to Mack’s room and returned with a look of confusion. “You already made your bed? How early do you get up? Callie and I sleep, uh, never mind. Anyway, is Carter up? Is he coming with us?” Mark asked as the door opened and his mother and sisters came into the small apartment uninvited.
Erin walked to the couch and sat down on it, wiggling her butt a little. “This is decent. Where’d you get it? I’m thinking about getting my own place and maybe if you wanted something better, I could buy this from you.”
“That’s, uh, Tasha and Opie provided all of the furniture. It’s theirs, and right now, I’m not in the position to buy anything,” he informed her.
He looked around to see his mother was heading toward his room, so he rushed to follow her. “Uh, Mom, you don’t…” he began. He saw her looking around, and she smiled at him.
“You always were a tidy boy. I hope you’re going to change your clothes before… are you giving the special Mass this morning? Wasn’t it an anniversary Mass at Sacred Heart?” she asked.
It hadn’t occurred to him they’d scheduled an anniversary Mass that Saturday morning at Sacred Heart. With the church all but condemned, what were they to do? “I need to make a call. You don’t have to make me anything for Christmas, Mom,” he informed as he grabbed his phone to see a text message from Monsignor O’Keefe.
Fr. McCord – In light of yesterday’s events, would you please contact Mr. Maness and ask him to send a parish-wide message redirecting the congregation to St. Rita’s for the Anniversary Mass? I’m already at St. Rita’s, and since Fr. Kozlow is unable, I’ll give the Mass with Fr. Stillwell. I’d like to meet with you regarding your plans going forward. Thank you, Msgr. O’Keefe
Seamus heard screams and took off for the hallway on Carter’s side of the apartment where he saw his sister standing outside the bathroom staring at Carter who was holding his hands over his junk. “I’m so sorry. I thought you had a bathroom in your room, and this was the…” Shan gasped.
“I need… I need… We’re going to do laundry tonight, and I didn’t have a towel. I was going to ask Mack if he had one,” Carter blurted out.
Mack went into his room and grabbed a large bath towel and hurried over to Carter, wrapping it around the man’s hips as he mouthed, “Sorry.”
After Carter was safely in his room with the door closed, Mack clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. His mother was measuring the windows over the door with Erin’s help. Shan was looking through the cabinets in the little kitchen, and Sean and Mark were standing in front of the television watching highlights from the previous night’s baseball games.
“Where’s Paddy?” he asked out loud. Nobody was listening, so he whistled to get their attention.
When everyone stopped and turned to him, he sighed. “Where’s Paddy?” He hoped his brother wasn’t looking through his drawers, but he wouldn’t put it past the guy.
“He’s asleep in the car,” Shannon explained.
“Okay, uh, there’s a big chain restaurant by the highway. It opened at six, I think, so go get us a big table and as soon as I get a shower, Carter and I will be there. I think you’ve traumatized my boy… roommate enough for one morning,” he told his family, far too cognizant of the slip.
His mother started laughing. “Yes, let’s leave poor Mr. Riggs to put on some underwear. We’ll see you in a few minutes,” his mother ordered, and everyone started out the front door.
As Molly was about to leave, she pulled Mack down by his ear. “That man has a backside made of granite. Get a haircut,” she barked, making him laugh as he closed and locked the door. He didn’t think he’d ever felt so happy since he was a kid.
He walked over to Carter’s bedroom door and knocked. “Uh, yeah, just a second,” Carter called.
“Babe, it’s just me,” Mack announced. When the door opened, he saw Carter was still wearing the towel. His face was still a little pink, and Mack thought he looked so cute in his embarrassment—and quite sexy.
“I’m sorry about my family. They just invade, and I don’t think they even realize it. You don’t have to come to breakfast with us. I’ll go and come back in a little while,” Mack suggested.
“Mack, I didn’t have the slightest idea anyone was here. I’d have put on some dirty clothes or even grabbed a dirty towel, but I thought it was just us until I opened the door and saw your sister standing there,” Carter frantically explained.
Mack pulled him into his arms and kissed his cheek. He leaned toward Carter’s ear and whispered, “My mom said you have a nice ass.” He swiped his tongue along the shell and blew a warm breath against it.
Carter shivered at his touch, leaving Mack to feel quite smug in that moment. He’d never believed himself to be the type of man who could inspire passions and elicit gooseflesh from anyone, but as he looked at Carter’s skin, he saw that was indeed what he’d done. “Get dressed and come with me. I have to meet with Monsignor O’Keefe later today, and then I have a date with a really hot guy tonight. By the way, I told my parents I’m leaving the church,” Mack announced as he crossed the apartment to his bedroom to change.
He put on a pair of khaki pants and a t-shirt, pulling a button-down shirt over it because he thought perhaps he’d find somewhere to get his hair trimmed again after his parents left and he dropped Carter off at the apartment. He’d shower after and change into his cleric’s clothes for his meeting.
Carter walked into his room, dressed in jeans and a knit sports shirt. “Aren’t you going to wear your uniform?”
Mack looked at him and cocked his head. “Uniform?”
“You know, the black stuff. I thought you were a waiter or bartender because I’ve never seen so much black stuff in one wardrobe,” Carter teased.
Mack chuckled. “I’m going to get my hair trimmed after breakfast, so I thought I’d wait to shower until before I meet with the Monsignor. I’ll have to wear my uniform to that meeting.”
Carter smirked at him. “How lucky am I? I’m dating a priest.” He then turned and sashayed that nice ass into the living room. Mack laughed as he pulled the longer top of his hair back to get it out of his way and then walked into the living room where Carter was looking at his phone.
Mack walked up behind him and wrapped his arms around Carter’s muscular body, resting his chin on the man’s shoulder. “You’re about to be dating a defrocked priest, and I doubt a lot of people would brag about that. I’m sure the Monsignor will ask me to reconsider and give it more time, so I might have to out myself immediately to make sure he understands it’s not something I haven’t given long and hard consideration.
“I’d like to finish up the close out of Sacred Heart before I leave, and I’ll need to think about what I’m going to do to make a living. Oh, do you have a driver’s license?” Mack asked.
“Yeah, I do. It was the first thing I did when I got out of Farmington, why?” Carter responded.
“Well, you’ll need to go see your parole officer soon, right? You can use my car if you need it. You can drop me off at the church, or I can walk. I guess with the Nash boys not helping us, it’ll be just you and me up there. I need to make a call, so I’ll be right down,” Mack told Carter as he quickly called Mr. Maness and left him a voicemail message. He was sure word had traveled through the congregation already, but he believed it was best to follow-up as the Monsignor had asked about redirecting everyone to St. Rita’s.
He locked up the apartment and ran down the stairs, seeing Carter standing on the pool deck speaking with Opie who was having coffee. Seamus let himself into the backyard and walked over to where they were chatting. “Good morning, Opie,” he greeted.
Opie smiled at him. “I saw the crew come through. Who screamed?” he asked with a big grin.
Carter laughed. “I was coming out of the john after my shower, and I didn’t have any clean towels, so I was gonna just to go my bedroom and air dry, but when I opened the door, Mack’s sister, Shan, was standing there. We both screamed.”
All three men laughed. “You guys can do laundry here if you’d like. Actually, I was going to ask if you might babysit Paul tonight so I can take my wife out for a date. We need to discuss this thing about the Nash boys because I’ve been thinking about it all night. I’m just not sure,” Opie explained.
Mack retrieved his phone from his back pocket and tapped out a quick text to his parents they’d need to have a raincheck because something came up. His mother responded it was okay, so he placed his phone on the table and sat down.
“If you’d like to tell me your concerns, I’m happy to listen. Don’t…” Mack stopped and turned to Carter. “I canceled breakfast with my family. Would you mind if I speak with your brother alone?” he asked.
Carter smiled and nodded. “I’ll cook. You want some coffee?” he asked as he headed for Opie and Tasha’s back door.
“Please,” Mack responded as he turned to Opie who looked nervous.
“Father, don’t you have to do Mass or something?” the man asked nervously.
Mack smiled. “I’m leaving the church after I finish shutting down Sacred Heart, but I’m still a priest right now so talk to me, Opie,” he implored. The man had been kind to him in the short amount of time they’d known each other, and if there was any way to repay that kindness, Mack was definitely going to try to find it.
“Oh! Wait, you’re not leaving because you’re living with Carter, are you? I mean, I can move him into the house with us. He’s not violent, Father,” the man began his protests.
Mack held up his hands. “Opie calm down. I don’t mean I’m leaving the area; I mean I’m leaving the priesthood. It has nothing… Well, not much to do with Carter. I’d made this decision before I came here, and it’s been a long-time coming. I’m not worried about living with Carter because I enjoy his company. He’s quite an interesting man, and after the church is closed, I’ll find a way to pay you and Tasha rent because I’d like to stay here with Carter if I can. I’ll be looking for a job, so if you hear of anyone looking for a theology teacher with no other skills at all, I hope you’ll let me know,” Mack joked.
Carter walked out with a pot of coffee and a mug. He filled one and then looked at his brother. “You want more? I’m making pancakes and scrambled eggs. I’m going to shred the leftover pork steaks from last night and put them in the eggs unless someone has a complaint?”
Both men nodded in agreement before Carter turned to go inside. Seamus watched him walk away in those tight jeans, and he agreed with his mother—the man had a nice ass. He heard a snort and turned to see Opie Riggs chuckling, though he couldn’t tell if it was a good thing or not.
“I see. Well, you’re not paying rent, Mack. I hope you know we’re glad to have met you, and we’ll still be happy to know you when you’re no longer a priest. Anyway, my concern with the Nash boys is I’m not sure if I can learn to love someone else’s children.
“Those boys deserve to have someone care about them and be willing to sacrifice everything to be there for them. Paul is the most important thing to Tash and me. I don’t know how to make room in my heart for two boys I don’t know. Tash says it just takes a little time, but I’m not sure. They’re going to have a lot of issues and require a lot of attention. I don’t want to take anything away from my son to help them the way they’re going to need to be helped,” Opie explained.
Mack nodded because he could understand Opie’s position about the problems the Nash boys might have, and it would definitely take someone with patience and a loving, compassionate heart to handle them. It might seem easy at first because those boys would do anything anyone asked if someone would just care about them. As they got more comfortable in a home and began to let down their guard, that was when things would get tough.
“How about you take it one step at a time. You’ll need to be certified as foster parents so that’s the first thing you should concentrate on. I’ll contact the social worker to check on them and see if I can visit them before I leave the church. They’re good boys, but they will have issues. For the sake of your family, it’s good to take things slow and be sure you’re committed to being there for them before you take on fostering them. It won’t be productive for the boys if they move around a lot. I’ll be praying for you, Opie. I believe God will guide your path,” Mack told him. He meant every word.
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