As much fun as we had on our vacation, the next morning was not. We arrived in Tampa during the night. We’d packed the night before, even before going to dinner. Like those ever present and inevitable lifeboat drills before really getting into the trip, there was the disembarking. Not fun. It was ordered chaos! It wasn’t that it was early, it was early, but we had to clear out of our suite so the ship could get ready for the new passengers to arrive later that day. Then Sasha and the other crew would be doing it all over again with new guests. We were assembled in various parts of the ship. Tony and I were to wait in the theater. Then as our deck was called, we left the ship and then to customs and then got into a waiting taxi that took us to the airport. It was there Tony clicked on his phone. I’d signed up for time and logged into a computer onboard so we could check email and send pictures. Tony used the time to keep in touch with family and a few clients. But if you left your phone on, there were roaming charges, unless you signed for their Wi-Fi. But why? Email was better, I thought.
“Hi, Kathy.” Tony said into his phone. “Yes, we’re heading back. We’re at the airport waiting for our flight. I got you emails. How is Dad?” He waited a few seconds as he heard the reply. “His back?” Then he listened again. “Okay…yes, I know he worked hard on the docks for years, I’m sure it did cause problems, but his pain didn’t seem like it was in his back. He was holding his chest.” He listened again. “I see. Well keep me informed.” Then he chuckled and held the phone to me. “Melissa wants to talk to you.”
I smiled at that. “She bypassed you to speak to me?” I took his phone. “Hello, Melissa.”
“Those pictures you sent are so totally awesome! I am so jealous!” Melissa claimed. “When are you two coming back to New York?”
“I don’t know, I sort of used up my vacation time on this trip.”
“Well, come soon. I can’t wait to hear everything.” Melissa said with all the enthusiasm of a girl now seventeen about to be eighteen. She maybe mature with others, but she was so comfortable with us that she almost reverted!
“We’ll be glad to.” I smiled at Tony. “But don’t you want to talk to your uncle?”
“I am!” Melissa said simply. “I hope you got me something more.”
There it was. Like every child when a parent, grandparent or family member comes from a trip, the did you bring me anything request.
“Maybe.” I said with that tone that said we did, but she knew that without asking.
“Oh! I’m off to college in the fall, maybe I can come to Charleston! Mom and Dad said no to bumming around Europe for a year, but I’d love to see you for the summer. Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
“That would be awesome.” I chuckled, loving her spirit. “But your other uncle will have to say its okay. Not to mention your parents.”
“Mom and Dad will be fine with it. Let me speak to Uncle Tony.”
I handed the phone back to Tony who was shaking his head. Then for the next few minutes, Tony listened with an occasional yes, maybe and we’ll see. When he finally got off he grinned at me. “Still think you’re not a part of the family?”
I chuckled. “Nope.” But I remembered why he called. “What was that about your Dad’s back?”
Tony shook his head. “The doctor put him on a medication for his back. He thinks it’s because of all that lifting he did on the docks.”
“Well, he is the doctor.” But I knew they weren’t all perfect. “Is Papa going to get a second opinion?”
He nodded. “That’s what Kathy said. She doesn’t think it’s just his back. She’s taking him, much to Papa’s protest, to a specialist in gerontology.”
I nodded. “She’s a nurse. Trust her.”
Tony nodded. “I am.”
When we finally got back to the condo, why was I so tired? We’d been on vacation! I collapsed on the sofa, looking all we had brought back. Dirty clothes that needed washing. What a relief it was that all our purchases we had sent by mail or courier, but…I don’t know…it’s impossible for what clothes you take to simply multiply? That what it looked like had happened. Tony plopped down beside me with a tired sigh.
“I’m beat.” Tony said wearily.
I nodded. “I’ll unpack tomorrow. We still have a few days before I go back to work on Monday.” I said as his arm came around me pulling me close to him. He kissed me and then laid his head against mine.
Traveling was exhausting and we fell asleep shortly after sitting down. We didn’t even move from the sofa.
But our old routine came back. I did unpack, with Tony’s help. I did get the clothes washed and put away. The dress clothes and others that needed dry cleaning sent. Then it was Monday morning.
Walking back into the hotel, I was greeted by those that knew me and welcomed back and then as I went to my office door.
“Hey, this is for employees only.” Alan said gruffly from his office door. Then he smiled at me. “Damn! Look at you! I almost didn’t recognize you! You’re so dark!” He marveled as he came over and held my arms out. “You’re so….tan!”
I chuckled as I opened my door. “That’s what’s supposed to happen when you vacation in the tropics.”
Alan nodded as he followed me inside. “That’s what I hear.” He groused, indicating he would like to know that personally. “Maybe Kent and I can take one of those tropical vacations.”
Hearing him talk about the new love of his life was nice. “I take it all is well with you and Kent.”
Alan nodded with a little bounce. “Yea, we’re good.” Then he lapsed into a memory I knew was a little more than…let’s just say things were a lot more passionate for Alan now. “Very good.” Then he was back. “We’re moved in together. It’s nice having someone there.
I nodded chuckling. “I agree.”
Alan smiled. “You look really relaxed. So no problem with that hunky Italian husband of yours?”
I grinned, but I was good with faking expressions. “You mean Tony?” I waved the thought off. “Nah, he caught the eye of our hunky Russian waiter named Sasha and left me for him.”
Alan was only shocked a split second, then grinned. “Not possible. He loves you to death!”
I laughed. “You don’t believe me.”
Alan shook his head. “If it’s raining outside, don’t tell me angels are pissing on me. That’s a bunch of crap! I know you love him. Try a new one. You guys are in this life permanently together!”
A girl I hadn’t met that was working the front desk knocked on my door, which was open. “Excuse me, Mr. McKenzie? A florist came by and told me to give you this.” She held a single red rose.
I smiled at her. “Thank you…” I read her name plate on her blouse. “Debbie.” I took the rose not even needing to know who or why it was here.
Alan shook his head as Debbie walked back out, probably wondering why I’d gotten a single rose. Then Alan frowned. “I’ve gotta speak with Kent. This romance between you and Tony has been going on for over two years! I’ve not gotten so much as one single plant!” He grumbled.
And my come back to reality was done. I had school again. Because it was on my schedule, my being gone for two weeks hadn’t interrupted my classes.
Then one evening just into July, I get home as Tony was on the phone, but he didn’t sound happy. In fact, you just know when something awful was happening, that feeling you get where your heart sinks and you just know.
“…I see.” He said sadly. “But he’s getting treatment?” He nodded, and of course whoever he was speaking to didn’t know that. “Well, I’ll be there soon, but keep me informed. Bye.”
I don’t pry about anything, but this had the sound of very serious. “Tony?” I said coming and sitting by him on the sofa.
He took a deep breath as his voice almost broke. “Dad has cancer.”
I was expecting something, but cancer!? That was like being hit by a rock! “How bad?”
Now tears were coming from Tony’s eyes. “It’s very bad. It’s in his esophagus. The problem is, he’s had it so long, its already metastasized to other organs.” He shook his head. “Without treatment he only has a few weeks, with the treatment they’ve given him maybe a year. But he’s going to die!” He said in a wail and collapsed into me. He’d only done that once when he spoke of his trauma with the World Trade Center. Now he wept again.
There was nothing to say. No words would make it better. I just held him as he cried. What else could I do?
It was a few minutes later, he suddenly stood. “I’ve got to go to New York.”
I stood beside him. “We’ll pack.” I said heading for the bedroom.
“Mitch!” Tony said surprised. “We’ve just came back from vacation. You can’t take the time.”
That bothered me. “My husband’s father is dying. You go, I go!”
He shook his head. “But you could lose your job! No matter if your boss understands, will those in control understand? We’re not legally married.”
“Then I’ll quit!” I said firmly. I walked over to Tony. “We vowed never to separate a single night. We will be separated if you go.” I raised a hand as he was warming for a protest. “I know! Things will happen in life where we’ll have no choice but to separate. This is will be a choice. Papa is sick.” I reminded him, I put my arms around Tony. “You’re always telling me the money’s ours. We have the money. Working is a choice, not a necessity. I like my job, but this is way too important! I’m going!” I said and walked into the bedroom to pack.
I heard Tony follow me, but he grabbed me in a tight embrace. “I love you, Mitch.” He said and I could hear him start to cry again. “That you do this…” he separated from me to see my face. “…but tell Alan. Don’t just not show up. Don’t burn bridges.”
I nodded. “I will.” I went to the phone and called Alan.
“What’s up? You never call.” Alan said knowing something was wrong.
“Tony’s dad was diagnosed with cancer.”
“Oh, shit.” Alan said and I heard him sit down with a plop over the phone. “It must be bad for you to call.”
“It is. Tony and I will take the next flight to New York. I don’t want to leave you high and dry, but I have to go.”
Alan was thinking, I could almost see his scrunched face. “I know. The Family Medical Leave policy won’t cover a father-in-law of a gay man. It’s not a legal marriage.”
“I know, but I can’t let Tony do this alone, you know that, too!” I took a deep breath. “If you fire me…”
“No!!” Alan said emphatically. “I won’t do that.” Then I heard him moving on the other side, no doubt pacing. “Okay. You’re on leave until further notice.”
“Alan, this may be short, it may be long…”
“Don’t argue with me!” Alan nearly shouted back. “You’re a good manager, but I am the manager in charge! I say! I’ll not put anything on your file except you’re on leave.”
“I could quit.” I offered. “I don’t want to cause you problems.”
“Mitch, I was at the wedding. I saw you marry Tony.” He said softly. “If they want to make a case of this, fine, but I know you are. As of now, you’re on Family Medical Leave. Okay? If they excuse someone for a domestic partner’s parents being sick, then why not us? I make the decision and I was a witness, so, I’m doing it.”
I smiled. “I love you, Alan.”
He chuckled. “Sure, I’ve heard that before, but I know. You take care of Tony. I wish you the best, but you come back!”
I chuckled. “I plan to.” Then I turned to Tony. “We’re fine. Make an airline reservation. We’ll take the first flight out.”
Tony smiled at me and kissed me. “You are a Delveccio.”
“You’re damned right! Andiamo!” I pointed at the closet.
“We’re going, we’re going!” Tony still smiled as he headed in the closet to pack.
After we got the first flight out of Charleston, this time it was a direct flight to New York. Jet Blue was new, but offered flights there now. The prices weren’t bad, but we really didn’t even look at those.
It was late when we arrived at the Delveccio home. Tony rang the doorbell as he set the suitcases down. He didn’t live here, so why shouldn’t he?
Kathy opened the door. “Hi, guys.” She smiled and hugged both of us. “I’m glad you’re here. Maybe you can talk sense into Papa, Tony.”
Tony frowned as he and I carried some luggage in. “Why does he need to be?”
She closed the door behind us. “He’s saying no to the treatments.”
“What!?” Tony asked startled, but so was I.
“Why not?” I asked.
Kathy shrugged. “He says it’s his time to die.”
“Is he crazy!?” Tony balked and was instantly up the stairs two at a time.
Kathy smiled at me. “I am a little surprised to see you. You just got back from vacation.”
“My boss is gay.” I said. “You remember Alan at the wedding. He’s put me on leave. I offered to quit or even said to fire me…”
Kathy chuckled nodding. “I get it. It’s nice to see you, in spite of what’s happening. You may want to…”
That’s when we heard the voices, and I mean they were loud! All in Italian.
“…cover your ears.” Kathy shook her head.
I frowned. “I’m getting used to it.” Then smiled. “The shouting anyway.” I took Kathy’s hand. “How’s Mama doing?”
Kathy motioned toward the kitchen. “I have some coffee up, you want some?”
“Sure.” I nodded.
“Mama’s not taking it well at all.” Kathy explained getting the coffee. “Al finally gave her a sedative for her to calm down and sleep.” We both looked up when we heard two male voices almost screaming.
“They really do love each other.” Kathy said, and I don’t know it was to comfort me or herself.
I sipped the coffee and listened as the voices still came angry down the stairs.
Then we heard the… “Fine!” From Tony, the sound of a door slam and the thump of heavy footsteps down the stairs. “Come on, Mitch, we’ll check into a hotel.”
I have never done this before. I stood. “No, we’re not.”
“No!?” Tony spun on me. “No!!”
“I’m not leaving.” I pointed at Kathy. “She’s here. Your Mama needs you both. We’re staying.”
“Fine. Stay!” He turned to leave again without me.
“Anthony Delveccio! Stop right there!!” I shouted causing him to look at me surprised, but he stopped. “Now, you come back here!”
He walked toward me. His face distorted in his internal pain. “He wants to die! He’s not even…”
“And leaving will change what? Listen to me.” I said softly.
“He’s not even considering getting treatments, he…” Tony began heatedly.
“ZITTO E ASCOLTAMI!!” I shouted for him to shut up and listen even louder which was very much not me. Shocking enough that he stood back a little, even Kathy was a little startled. Putting my hand on Tony’s chest softly. “Just take a deep breath.” I watched as he did what I asked him to. “Calm down. I know you’re in pain. You’re hurting and angry, but leaving is not why we came a thousand miles to be here.”
“But he won’t even talk about getting help! He’s going to die!” Tony said softly as tears came down his face.
I nodded. “But leaving will do nothing. Whether we’re here or not, he will die. We don’t want him to die, but leaving will do nothing. I’ve just started to get to know him. If it were my father, I’d be angry, too.” Then I smiled. “But he is my father because of you. I am a Delveccio by marriage.” I knew it was going to be hard on Tony. “He will die, which is his decision. We may not like or agree with his choice, we can only try to encourage him to stay longer, but in the end it’s his decision.” I rubbed my hand down Tony’s arm. “I know you. We’ll leave and then you’ll regret it, then come back, but in the end we’ll be back.” I shrugged. “There is no time to waste on regrets and impulsive decisions because you’re angry. I just know what will happen.” I got closer to Tony. “I’m just cutting out all the stuff in between.” I pointed to our luggage. “We’ll take the luggage upstairs. We’ll stay. This family needs each other. They need you.” I shook my head. “I’m not talking about just your father, he needs you, yes, but your Mama needs you here. Your sisters needs you here.”
Then Kathy sat at the kitchen table and looked at her coffee cup. “And guys, brace yourselves.” She said sadly.
Tony and I looked at her. There was more?
“Mama’s sick, too.” She said sadly.
“What!?” Tony asked in greater horror. “How? What wrong with her?”
Kathy shook her head. “She has cancer, too, only hers is breast cancer.”
Tony walked to the table and nearly collapsed into it. “How long have you known?”
Kathy looked weakly. “A few weeks.” She sighed. “She went to an oncologist, her cancer is treatable, but with her age….” She sipped on her coffee with a shrug.
Tony looked up at the sky for something….Devine intervention or just plan answers. “Oh, God…” he said in a strangled voice as his sorrow grew even more and then just lowered his head to the table in defeat. Then he sat up again. “But there’s hope for Mama?”
Kathy nodded. “More than Papa, but not much because of her age and it’s pretty advanced….you’re guess is as good as mine.”
I rubbed Tony’s back as I sat by him. “I think Papa knew about his condition for a while.” I saw Kathy nod. “He might not have had a clue as to what it was, but those few weeks ago, when we were here last, he kept saying he was old. He suspected for a while.”
Kathy nodded. “But he doesn’t know about Mama. She didn’t want to tell him.” Kathy shrugged again. “She was afraid telling him would just quicken the cancer Papa had. Not that I blame him.” The she looked at Tony firmly. “You get checked, damn it!” She held her head in her hands. “I’m not losing you, too. Cancer with this family is not a matter of if we’ll get it. It’s more a matter of when. I’m getting checked this month.” She looked up and her tired face held tears. “With Dad’s achalasia which he passed to you….you’re at much greater risk.”
I patted Tony. “I’ll get it done tomorrow if possible. But he will have it done.”
We finally got our things upstairs. Kathy was staying in the room she and her sister shared when they were growing up. No one asked her, but we knew she was staying. And so were we.