All the grownups laughed, even Zerbrowski, but Matthew didn’t get the joke. He looked up at us, clearly puzzled. I didn’t try to explain the humor, I’d learned that humor is a skill set like a lot of socialization, and Matthew just had to learn it as he went. Explained jokes lose their funniness.
Katie said, “I was coming back from a movie with friends, and we went to see what was happening. I saw my future husband for the first time covered in black soot, hair every which way, his dorm monitor screaming at him, and him waving the fire extinguisher back at him.”
“Love at first sight?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No, but he was totally calm in the middle of it all. Everyone else was angry, or scared, or just confused, but he wasn’t.” She looked up at him with that shining look she saved just for him.
“She thought I was brave,” Zerbrowski said.
“You were and are,” she said.
He shrugged, but looked pleased. “She recognized my hair and glasses in class the next day, and started talking to me. I’d spent almost an entire semester trying to get the nerve up to talk to her, and she just comes up and does it for me. It was totally worth destroying the dorm’s kitchen and nearly getting expelled.”
She kissed him again, and then asked, “How did you guys meet?”
We all looked at each other, because our stories weren’t cute. Nathaniel said, “I was in the hospital after being attacked by someone who wanted to see how much damage a wereanimal could heal. Anita came to visit another mutual friend. The friend introduced us, and I spent a couple of years trying to persuade her to sleep with me.”
I stared at him, because it was all true, but so sanitized for the Zerbrowskis’ benefit that I wouldn’t have recognized it. The person who had attacked him had been a paying client, because Nathaniel had still been a high-priced and very specialized male escort when we first met. He’d also done a few p**n ographic movies, which he’d given me as a gift, thinking it was seductive. Sometimes I thought nothing short of deity intervention had gotten Nathaniel and me together, because when you just listed events, it seemed improbable. Yet here we were.
“Why wouldn’t you date him?” Katie asked.
“I don’t remember him asking to date me, at first,” I said.
“I was just aiming at being her lover, I never dreamed she’d date me for real, let alone be my queen.”
I moved in so I could go up on tiptoe and kiss him, while Matthew held his hand and the Zerbrowskis beamed at us. Happily married people like seeing happy couples.
“Oh, that’s so sweet, your queen, and are you her king?” Katie asked.
Nathaniel smiled at me, but said, “No, Micah is our king.” He looked past me to Micah, who was still standing by himself. I didn’t look behind us at my other sweetie; I watched Katie’s face flinch just a little. She was a good sport about it, but she didn’t really understand how I could be in love with more than one person, and there was that whole male/female/male dynamic, too. Zerbrowski just grinned at us all. If he had a problem with us, I didn’t know about it.
Micah had noticed Katie’s momentary expression, because he didn’t come closer to us. That wasn’t okay, because if we were going to be here today, it had to be real, no hiding. I reached my free hand out to him, and after a moment’s hesitation he came to me, to us.
I kissed Micah, and then there was tension in his hand as Nathaniel leaned down for a kiss, too. It wasn’t that they didn’t kiss each other, but in public it didn’t always go over well. Even I tensed up, because I wasn’t sure if Zerbrowski was that secure in his manhood—or Katie either, so to speak.
“You guys are just cute together,” Zerbrowski said.
I gave him the smile that comment and the genuine look of happiness in his face deserved. Katie hugged her husband and smiled at us. “He’s right, you guys are cute. How did you and Micah meet?”
We told a version of the truth, but it left so much out that I always thought of it as a lie. Micah had already sanitized the story for the press; since he was interviewed a lot by the media as the head of the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Humans and Lycanthropes, the question had come up before.
“I came into town hoping to find a city that would understand what I was trying to do with the Coalition. Anita was there when I met the other wereleopards, and it was love at first sight for me.”
I took his hand in mine. “I had to be persuaded that adding another person to my life was a good idea.”
“Since I’ve never seen you happier, seems like it was,” Zerbrowski said.
I nodded and kissed Micah.
“So you met Nathaniel and Anita at the same time,” Katie said.
“I actually met Nathaniel first,” Micah said.
“And was it love at first sight, too?”
Micah shook his head. “No, I’d never dated a man before, so I didn’t see Nathaniel that way.”
“He’s your first . . . boyfriend ever?”
Micah nodded, smiling, and gave Nathaniel the look that went with the smile, which made them both lean around me and kiss again.
“You are all adorable together, but be careful with the public displays of affection around some of the other men, and even some of the wives.”
Zerbrowski frowned at her. “Katie . . .”
“I’m sorry, but it’s just the truth. You and Anita must both know what could happen if they did that out in the yard.”
“They’re not in public yet. They’re with friends, with us,” he said.
I wanted to give Zerbrowski a hug right then, but he was still hugging Katie, and I didn’t want to step farther away from my men in the middle of all this.
“No, it’s all right; we live in the Bible belt, Mrs. Zerbrowski. We know we have to be careful in public,” Micah said. His voice was neutral as he said it; if he was insulted it didn’t show in his voice, or face. He was good at hiding his emotions when he had to. We’d both learned to hide.
“It’s our kitchen and just us right now,” Zerbrowski said. “You don’t have to be careful around friends.”
Micah glanced at Nathaniel, but it was our shared boyfriend who put his arm across his shoulders, drawing him closer. Micah hesitated, but slid his arm around Nathaniel’s waist and his other arm across my shoulders, so we were politely cuddled. Nathaniel kept holding Matthew’s hand.
“Oh, don’t call me Mrs. Zerbrowski, Micah, that’s for work, and my mother-in-law. Please, it’s Katie, and my smart husband is right, we’re friends, and it shouldn’t matter when you’re with friends.”
“I know that not all the police officers coming today are our friends,” I said.
“Is Uncle Natty the prince?” Matthew asked. He’d been thinking about what he considered important while the adults had worried about things he took for granted.
“Prince of what?” I asked.
“Of you, your prince, if you’re queen and Uncle Micah is king, then is Natty the prince?”
“Well, actually, Anita is Prince Charming, but when she got promoted to queen I got the title,” Nathaniel said.
Matthew frowned at him. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay, Matthew. Yes, Nathaniel is my prince,” I said.
My answer seemed to please him, and he let it go. Matthew was teaching me not to overexplain, to explain just enough to make him happy, and not dig the verbal hole deeper. Talking to children is like testifying in court, answer just what’s asked, don’t elaborate, and don’t volunteer information.
“Nathaniel and I won’t kiss in front of the other guests,” Micah said.
“Aww,” Nathaniel said, and did an exaggerated pout at us.
Matthew said, “What’s wrong with kissing?”
Micah smiled at him. “There’s nothing wrong with kissing.”
“I don’t understand,” Matthew said.
“I don’t think we can explain it to you,” I said. I wanted to be upset with Katie, but I knew the cops that would be here today, and my two boyfriends kissing would not go over well. She was right, but I hated that other people’s insecurities and prejudices made it a risk for the men to touch too much in public. Literally, they risked other men screaming in their faces, or even trying to beat them up.