Excerpt for Courting 4: Concur by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


CONCUR

J. Rocci



The Courting Series #4




SMASHWORDS EDITION

Copyright © 2017 by J. Rocci


______________________



Thank you for downloading this free eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. Thank you for your support.


This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.


Contains Adult Reading Material


Discover other works by J. Rocci through the author’s official website:

http://www.jrocci.com/



______________________



Author's Note


Josh and Garrison are two of my favorite characters to write: former Marines, one a cop, the other a lawyer, both reserved but so obviously in love. Concur is the fourth short story in the Courting Series, but can be read as a stand-alone story. I originally wrote this as a short story for Torquere Press' Sips line, released in June 2010. I hope you enjoy Concur, and check out the other stories in the Courting Series:

Commitment

Cornerstone

Concordant

Competition

Connections





______________________


CONCUR


______________________



Josh wakes slowly, disoriented from a bad dream in which he was trapped in thick cobwebs and futilely trying to tear them off his arms and legs. Dismayed, he gropes at Garrison's side of the bed until he remembers that he took a dose of NyQuil and a mid-afternoon nap. Garrison was going shopping for…something.

Frowning, Josh rubs his face in his pillow and tries to drift off again, but he can't get comfortable. A summer cold has his sinuses blocked and his throat sore, and all he really wants is to sleep until it's winter again.

Normally, his response to a little sniffle would be a hard run to clear his lungs and nose, then some hot tea with lemon. But he's already been chewed out for trying to jog it off, a sharp reminder from Garrison that they are neither in the Corps nor in their twenties anymore and Heaven help Josh if he so much as sets a toe outside until tomorrow.

An ominous ripping noise comes from the closet. Much like the cobwebs had sounded in his dream.

The frown turns into a glower and he pushes off the bed with a stuffy growl. Stalking over to the closet, he yanks the door open and clicks on the light.

Munchkin, their honey-colored Chihuahua pup, blinks up at Josh innocently. He's sitting in the black and grey remains of Josh's spare uniform shirt, drycleaner's wire hangar sticking straight up. An entire sleeve has been shredded.

Josh closes his eyes and counts to ten, taking deep, steady breaths that might have worked if he wasn't congested.

Nope. He still wants to kill the dog.

"Munchkin," he croaks, and it's enough to have the little heathen darting out of the closet like a shot.

Josh turns on his heel, following that tiny orange behind out of the master bedroom and down the hallway. Muttlee is sacked out on the couch, and only raises his huge German Shepherd head far enough to watch Munchkin bounce off the side of the armchair and into the kitchen. The tell-tale scrabble of puppy claws is abruptly cut off as the dog door slams shut.

Rubbing his face and the short strands of his brown hair, Josh feels dizzy, achy, and now he has to replace a uniform shirt, which means a trip into the city, unless Garrison wants to pick one up for him.

Sighing, Josh plops down on the couch next to Muttlee.

"At least you stuck to eating furniture and drywall," Josh mutters, coughing as he rubs between Muttlee's eyebrows, and notices a bit more white in his fur. "Although I wouldn't put it past you to have trained the little sucker. You're gonna lose the Destructo Dog title at this rate."

Ecstatic yipping starts up outside and Muttlee looks to the door expectantly. Garrison's SUV pulls around the driveway's curve a moment later. Josh just sits tiredly on the couch and watches through the living room's bay windows as Garrison unloads shopping bags from the trunk, talking either on his Bluetooth or to himself. It's an even toss-up on which one.

As he opens the door, though, it's obvious he has someone on the line.

"--don't think it's weird at all. If you want to get married on a beach, then you go and find a beach you like… Mmmhmm… Then don't let her pay a dime. She can't complain if she isn't paying for it…"

Garrison gives Josh a quick grin, then a concerned frown when Josh sneezes, and takes his bags into the kitchen. Josh manages a tired wave before Garrison goes, and laughs when Muttlee practically trips over himself to follow at Garrison's heels. Munchkin trots smugly behind them, little legs taking five steps to each of Muttlee’s one.

Pushing up from the couch with a groan, Josh eventually follows. Garrison is halfway done unpacking his shopping bags, stacking fresh fruit and boxes of cold medicine and tissues on the counter as he keeps talking. Both dogs are sitting on the floor behind him, watching his every movement.

"No, I don't think that's unreasonable at all. Rick, you're an artist; people expect you to be eccentric. I say take advantage of the stereotype." He's gesturing now with a carton of orange juice, but Josh just hovers in the kitchen doorway, taking him in and not even trying to follow the conversation. "No, my mother helped us. Lord knows we didn't have the time… Mmmhmm. Ms. Anne Marie did the cake…"

Garrison's brown skin has a sheen of sweat to it from the summer heat, making his silk shirt cling to his firm pectoral muscles and his trim waist, and his expensive slacks are wrinkled at the knees. He's the only person Josh knows who gets dressed up nice to go grocery shopping.

Josh owns maybe two pairs of slacks besides his police uniform, and Garrison has threatened more than once to torch his collection of jeans and t-shirts. Josh calls them well-worn and comfortable; Garrison disagrees. New jeans magically supplant his old ones every six months.

Scratching at his legs through his sweats, Josh fails to stifle a cough and gets a sharp glance. Garrison opens a box of tissues and hands it to Josh before starting to peel an orange, all the while making noises of assent into the phone. If he's talking with Rick, his best friend, Garrison won't be off for a while.

When Garrison finishes with the orange, he hands the peeled slices off to Josh and shoos him into the living room.

Sighing, Josh returns to sprawl on the couch and turns the TV on low, randomly flipping channels. His own cell phone is charging on the coffee table, and he checks for new messages. There's a text from Roby, his partner on the force.

Rick and E getting married. E freaking. SOS.

Snorting congestedly, Josh looks at the time stamp. An hour ago. That explains the weird conversation going on in the kitchen.

Roby is the one who introduced Josh and Garrison to Emmanuel Reyes back when they first moved to Vermont. Emmanuel, or "E" to his friends, is a divorce attorney the next county over. He's also a bad-ass mofo and a former Marine who spars with Josh, Garrison, and Roby at the gym some weekends.

When E started dating Rick -- and Josh has to think for a moment on how long it's been; Josh and Garrison have been together for nine years, so that would make it four for them -- no one expected Rick and Garrison to hit it off so well and become best buds.

Garrison is, well, anal-retentive, and Josh thinks that with love because he himself is a neat-freak, while Rick is… Rick. Put the two next to each other and people see an affluent black man from Boston best friends with a hippy white boy from podunk Vermont. Messy to a fault, Rick's a little campier than any of their other friends and fancies himself an artist, owning the only tattoo parlor in a forty mile radius. He's colorful. Dramatic. The antithesis of Garrison's steady calm.

Josh has a foreboding thought of wedding-type things he hasn't had to deal with in six years. No way will Rick quietly leave his bachelorhood behind.

Yeah, E should be freaking out, all right.

Rather than call Roby, Josh texts, u talk E in off ledge yet?

It's a few minutes of channel-flipping before his phone buzzes again. Garrison is still talking in the kitchen, but there are food smells now and Josh is hungry.

no help from u

Josh rolls his eyes. im sick

liar

This from the man who routinely calls out "sick" during Superbowl season.

ass

xoxo

Josh has to laugh at that one. Roby is a pain in Josh's ass sometimes, but he's a good guy.

"I see you've risen from the dead," Garrison says with a grin in his voice.

Josh cranes his neck to look up over the arm of the couch as Garrison comes around to set a bowl of soup on the coffee table.

"I'm not actually dying," Josh points out, and spoils it with a punctuating sneeze.

"Of course you aren't, dear." Garrison clearly doesn't believe him. Perching on the edge of the couch, he brandishes an ear thermometer. He doesn't give Josh a chance to protest before he jams it in an ear and clicks the button.

Josh submits to it with all the grace of a wet cat. He glowers and rubs at his head when Garrison's done.

"Well, it looks like your fever's gone down," Garrison says with a worried frown. He pops two DayQuil out of the bubble pack that appears from his back pocket. "Here, take these. I'll get you a glass of water."

He's off again before the dogs even settle on the carpet. Muttlee looks like he wants to follow, but Garrison reappears quickly enough.

"If you're not feeling better by tomorrow, maybe I should make you a doctor's appointment." Garrison frets as Josh dutifully takes the pills.

"I'm fine," Josh grumbles. To distract his husband, Josh grabs the soup bowl to hold it up like a shield and asks, "So Rick and E are getting hitched, huh?"

The look Garrison gives him lets him know he's not off the hook for some tender loving care, whether he wants it or not. Josh has a tendency to lick his wounds in private and gets grumpy when he's ill; Garrison's known that for years.

"Emmanuel proposed this morning over breakfast in bed. There were rose petals and a latte with foam art involved. Apparently it was all very romantic." The fond glance Garrison gives him means Josh isn't the only one remembering the burnt dinner, dog-munched roses, and missed reservations of Josh's proposal. "Rick now has free reign to plan the wedding as he wishes, so of course he called me in."

Josh almost spills his soup on Garrison's expensive Italian loafers when he starts laughing so hard.

"Oh, man. Oh, shit," he says as he alternates between coughs and chuckles. "What the hell is E thinking?"

"That he wants Rick to be happy?" Garrison suggests with a raised eyebrow. Josh takes that as the warning it is. Sometimes he forgets that Rick isn't as used to the shit-talking that he gets up to with E and Roby, and crosses lines without realizing it. Garrison tries to gently nudge him back if he does.

"I promised to help with coordination once they decide what they want," Garrison continues and Josh drops his head back on the arm of the couch with a groan, damn the consequences. "We're going out to lunch this weekend to get started."

Josh has seen Garrison in wedding mode. There are color-coded charts and threatening phone calls and at least fifteen alternatives previewed before deciding on the first of whatever they were looking at. He's not going to see his own husband for weeks.

"They decide on a date yet?" he asks dully.

"Well, Rick can't leave the tattoo shop closed for too long, so they're going to use their Caribbean trip in August as a honeymoon. If they have the wedding the weekend before they leave, that gives us seven weeks."

Josh's eyebrows climb high. "You and Rick are going to plan a wedding in seven weeks?"

Garrison's eyebrows descend. "Yes. We are."

Meekly, Josh slurps some of his soup. "Awesome. Looking forward to it."

"Mmmhmm." Garrison stands up, gathering the thermometer. "Now, which one of your dogs got in the closet?"

Somehow, they're only Josh's dogs when they've destroyed something. He can't win.


***


Two weeks go by and all seems quiet on the wedding front, if Josh doesn't count Garrison holing up in his home office every night with gay wedding magazines -- who knew they had those now? -- and his Bluetooth surgically attached. There's frequent yelling when Rick can't make up his mind, including up to how big or small an event they want it to be.

At least Josh is over his summer cold, even though Roby's still henpecking him about it at every opportunity, and the citizens of their fair Vermont town are displaying their amazing common sense in the hellacious heat wave weather.

"Dear Diary," Roby says out loud in his heavy Boston accent as he hunts and pecks at his keyboard from the other side of their double desk. "Today I learned that building an igloo out of dry ice in my basement is expensive and will land my stupid ass in the emergency room. P.S., the police get cranky when my paranoid neighbors call it in as suspicious behavior and then they have to save my frostbitten ass from suffocating."

Josh just keeps filling out his own reports on the pickup truck they'd pulled over for towing a monster truck tire full of teenagers down the freeway, and then the child protective services report for a mother who left her three-year-old locked in the car while she went clothes shopping. Luckily no one was hurt in either case.

Even when Josh thinks he hates his job, he doesn't really. He just wishes people thought more about their actions. Who says police officers lose their faith in humanity?

"You know what we need?" Roby says suddenly. "We need some time in the ring with our doomed compatriot and an ice-cold beer after. Assuming you're up to it, of course, princess…"

Ignoring the usual taunt, Josh glances at the clock. Garrison took half a day off to help Rick "choose a venue," so someone will be home to let the mutts out.

"Go ahead and call the missus." Roby sighs in resignation, propping his elbow on his desk and his chin on his fist with a hangdog expression that makes his mustache look funnier than normal.

"I'm telling." Josh points at him and picks up the phone.

Roby rolls his eyes. "’Cause I haven't heard that one before…"

Garrison picks up on the first ring. "Hey, babe."

"Hey," Josh replies with a smile. "So Roby called you my little--"

For a man with nearly fifteen years on Josh and the start of a beer belly, Roby can sure move fast when his life is on the line. He manages to wrestle the receiver out of Josh's hand while Josh shoves at his face.

"Evening, Garrison... Why, no, I did not. Would I ever impugn your masculinity or imply anything about Joshua's private life which I in no way ever wish to picture?" Roby swats at Josh's grabbing hand. "There's no need for violence, my friend. We Bostonites must stick together... Why, Garrison, I'm shocked. Hurt and shocked that you think I would-- Oh, all right, here he is."

Garrison's laughing, deep and rich, when Josh finally gets the phone back.

"Hi again," Josh says with a smile. "We're gonna hit the mats after our shift, maybe see if E wants to come out."

"Good." Garrison chuckles again. "Take Roby out and beat him."

"How'd today go?" He misses their quiet evening routine of dinner and TV before bed, but at least there's only five weeks left. Not that he's counting down or anything.

"We decided to go with the vineyard, with the ceremony on their arbor dais and then the reception on the outdoor patio. Emmanuel requested a smaller gathering, while Rick wanted to invite everyone who's ever friended him on Facebook, so I think this is a viable compromise."

Josh makes an encouraging noise and saves his latest report in the system.

"Rick's mother wanted a more formal set-up, but we thought that with Emmanuel's family not attending, having informal attire with a short ceremony outdoors would draw less attention to their absence. The canapés they serve here are some of the best I've tried--"

"Wait a sec," Josh interrupts after a stunned moment. "E's parents aren't coming? I thought they said they were cool with everything?"

Roby looks up in surprise at that, too.

Garrison exhales through his nose, a sure sign that he's put out. "Let's just say his mother was being overly hopeful when she spoke to him on the phone previously."

"Shit."

"A round or two at the gym might be the best thing for him today." There's the rustle of papers on the other end. "I'll see you when you get home, babe. I'm going to get some work done for tomorrow."

"All right. Love you."

Roby already has his personal cell phone in hand and is tapping out a text when Josh hangs up.

"C'mon," Roby says glumly, standing up. "He's gonna meet us there."


***


McAdams is a hole in the wall gym the next town over, set up in what used to be a thrift store. The lighting is crap and the floor is cracked linoleum, but most of the guys who go there are off-duty cops or wanna-be mixed martial arts fighters.

E already has his wrists taped when Josh pulls up in his truck. Roby parks his bike noisily in the next spot over. Josh changed at the station, so he goes over to E as Roby heads off to the locker room.

"Hey, man."

They greet each other by slapping hands and then it's just the quiet sound of guys working over the punching bags in the corner and lifting weights. Josh quickly wraps his own wrists and starts to stretch out his hamstrings.

"Garrison's working from home tonight," he offers when E hasn't said anything for a while. The two of them are quiet guys, but this silence is different than usual.

E nods and does a few quad stretches. He's shorter than Josh by a few inches, but he's compact and scary when he's determined. The intense expression on his face now does not bode well for Josh and Roby.

"Rick said they booked some vineyard," E finally says. "Place comes set up with everything we need. We just have to get married under a bunch of grapes or something."

"At least you'll be outdoors." Josh goes down into a hip flexor stretch. "Less claustrophobic. People can move around easier. Less noise. Ours wasn't so bad, with the country club."

E grunts. Roby comes back out and sits on the bench to fiddle with his headgear. They usually take turns in the ring.

"So which one of you pansies wants to take me on first? I'll go easy on you until you warm up, yeah?" Roby asks with overblown bravado when he's ready.

Josh smirks and exchanges a glance with E, who looks a little less intense.

"After you," Josh concedes with a nod of his head.

Forty satisfying minutes later, they're at the bar, nursing beers. Everyone's sore, Josh's elbow is bleeding sluggishly, and Roby's shoulder may never be the same. A typical day at the gym, then.

"Fucking Marines with your Semper fucking Fu," Roby grumbles into his pint, wincing when he has to raise his arm higher than his gut. Josh and E laugh.

They're all driving themselves home, so they're limited to a beer a piece. Josh is going to make his last. He takes a moment to really study E, and notices the weary look around the other man's eyes.

"Hey," he says. "How're you holding up?"

Glancing at him and Roby, E shrugs and taps his fingers absently on the table. "Not so bad. I must've been outta my mind to agree to an August wedding, though. We got less than five weeks left."

Roby snorts. "Yer outta your mind to get hitched, you ask me."

"And how is Carly?" Josh asks him drily. "Or is it Jessica this week? Sally?"

"Do I look like a man about to get tied down?"

"More like a man afraid of commitment," Josh mutters into his pint.

"Ch. Whatever, kid." Roby gives E an assessing look. "We gotta rent tuxes for this shindig? Cause I still haven't recovered from the monkey suit this one here made me wear." He nods at Josh.

"Garrison wanted a formal wedding and I didn't care," Josh says for the thousandth time. "You survived."

E snorts with a grin. "Can you see Rick putting up with a suit? I'll be happy if he doesn't show up barefoot in paint-splattered jeans."

"Damn hippy," Roby says fondly.

"His mom is trying to micromanage everything," E says suddenly, smile slipping. "And I feel bad, because I really don't have the time right now to help him out -- my caseload is crazy -- so he's bearing the brunt of it. At least Garrison is there. He made me write up a list of what I could live with."

Josh can't help the expression on his face at the mention of his husband, and Roby just gives him a look. "You're doing that dopey thing again."

Josh ignores him with long practice and says to E, "He's happy when he gets to plan stuff. I think he liked organizing our wedding more than he was looking forward to the day itself. I'm sure I'll get home and he'll have a whole set of battle plans drawn up for you."

E laughs like Josh wanted him to, and shrugs. "We're supposed to have a barbeque-slash-planning session at your place."

"Beer, steak, and weddings. Sweet." Josh salutes E with his pint.

Roby's attention has obviously wandered to a table on the other side of the bar. Josh follows his gaze and sees a blonde woman who's vaguely familiar.

"And that's…?" E prompts.

"Monica," Roby says with a leer. "If you gentlemen will excuse me…"

Josh finishes off his beer and rests his elbows on their small table, frowning when it pulls at his scab. E looks to be lost in thought, staring at the TV above the bar.

See, where Josh and Rick are content to just stand back and let life happen most of the time, Garrison and E are the organizers, the worriers and the planners. That's why Rick enlisted Garrison from the get-go.

"Seriously, you cool, bro?" Josh asks.

Instead of answering right away, E gazes downward into his beer.

"You didn't talk to your family for a couple years, right?"

Josh blinks. "Almost fifteen, yeah."

"Your pop ever come back around?"

Hesitating, Josh answers. "Not really. My mom thinks maybe he did, toward the end when he changed his will."

"My mom thinks mine won't." E says it simply, but Josh knows how much that hurts. E's parents are strict Catholics and he hadn't come out to them until he started dating Rick, but it's been four years of ups and downs. "I think she agrees with him, but doesn't want to completely shut me out, y'know?"

They're silent again. Josh thinks of how lucky he is to have Garrison and his accepting parents who insisted Josh call them mom and dad before he even married into the family; to have Ms. Anne Marie, who has known Garrison since he was knee-high and helps Josh spoil him rotten. His own mother calls him weekly from Ohio now, in the two years since his dad passed away. He talks to his sister on e-mail, and gets the occasional note from his brother. Yeah, he's lucky.

"Aw, man," E says with a frown and gives himself a shake. "C'mon. I'm getting married. I should be excited, right? It'll be awesome. No more of this moping bullshit."

"That, my friend, is why we get along," Josh says and punches him on the shoulder supportively, right where he landed a good shot in the ring earlier.

"Motherfucker, that's a bruise!"

They joke around about lighter things for a while before they split, Roby long gone with his blonde friend.

If Josh is a bit more physical with Garrison when he gets home, if he revels in each touch and presses himself into Garrison's warmth to savor that this is his -- his husband, his dogs, his house, his life -- Garrison just grins against his lips and goes with it.


***


The Saturday planning session turns out to be Garrison, E, and Rick flipping through catering catalogues on the back deck while Josh watches an old hockey game on the TV inside. The smell of grilling steaks wafts in through the open back door every so often, with a cool breeze now that the heat wave's finally broken.

Josh isn't surprised when E wanders into the living room with a six-pack of Bud. Rick and Garrison prefer to drink some local micro-brew. E tosses a can to Josh and settles into the couch.

"To men with taste," Josh toasts him.

E snickers and knocks his back. "All the menus out there were killing me. I'm starving."

Josh nods and they watch the game in silence. A real-estate commercial comes on.

"You guys still thinking about finding a bigger place?" Josh asks lazily. At the moment, they're living in the apartment above Rick's shop, but it's a buyer's market for houses and the two can afford it.

"I was leaning toward those new townhomes coming up in that subdivision. Rick wants something with a backyard and at least three bedrooms."

Josh thinks on that. "You could have a home office, he could have a studio. Rent out the apartment and you'll have some extra income."

"Yeah," E says hesitantly. "I, uh, don't think it's a studio he wants."

Josh gives him a questioning look.

"He's been looking at adoption sites, and we've been kind of talking about it more seriously…"

Nodding, Josh gives him a supportive grin. "I can see you guys with kids."

E doesn't relax. "The goldfish died, man. You know how hard it is to kill one of those things? We both kept forgetting to feed it and change its water."

Josh snorts and opens another can of beer. "I hear kids are a little more demanding than goldfish. Kinda hard to forget to feed them."

"It's just--" E says, falling silent until the next commercial. "I mean--"

Josh waits him out.

"It's not like we're going to do it right away, anyway," E finally says. "I know Rick will make a good dad, and he really wants kids, but I-- I'm not-- I don't want to mess some kid up for life."

Studying E's worried expression, Josh thinks carefully about his answer. When he'd been freaking out before his own wedding, he'd only had Roby for advice.

"Get a dog."

E blinks. "That's it, bro? Get a dog? Help a man out here."

"What should I say?" Josh gripes half-heartedly. "You already know you guys will be awesome parents. You know how much of a responsibility it is and between the two of you, the kid will come out disgustingly normal. If you're that freaked out about it, get a dog. It's like training wheels for parenthood." He sips his beer and continues when E still looks unconvinced. "You gotta stick to a daily schedule whether you want to or not, you feed 'em, clean up after them, and have to stay frigging patient the entire time. You're that worried, hit the local shelter first. Plenty of dogs there that would appreciate a good home."

E chews on his lower lip thoughtfully for a moment. "Is that what you and Garrison are doing?"

It's Josh's turn to blink. "Have you seen our schedules? He's a workaholic and my job is high risk. We barely manage with the dogs. Besides, we're not that interested in kids, but the dog shelters can sense a sucker a mile away."

"Oh."

A heavy breeze wafts more steak smells in and Josh's stomach growls. He levers himself off the couch and snags the remains of the six-pack, motioning for E to follow.

"C'mon, let's go sneak a steak."

"You just hate this game because your team got beat down."

Josh shrugs and doesn't deny it.

Muttlee is sprawled across the back deck, just out of danger of being stepped on. His head picks up eagerly whenever Garrison punctuates a sentence with his tongs. Munchkin, on the other hand, is darting back and forth between Garrison and Rick's feet, letting out warning yips if anyone steps too close.

"Something smells delicious," E announces as they step outside.

Munchkin darts for them and Josh scoops him up mid-leap. Rick pulls E in to be disgustingly cute and Josh averts his eyes to meet Garrison's amused gaze. Josh rolls his eyes and Garrison laughs at the irony -- yeah, Josh knows he gets sappy, too -- before reaching for the beer.

"Just in time," Garrison murmurs and gives Josh a quick peck on the lips. "Grab the napkins from inside, please."

When they're all seated at the deck table, Garrison drags a now-familiar notebook between his plate and Rick's.

"So we have a location, justice of the peace, catering, open bar, and music decided, and invitations sent out. What am I forgetting?"

Rick tilts his head, ash blond dreadlocks falling to the side as he thinks. "I suppose we need to find something to wear? If we really have to."

E laughs. "We're not going naked, sweetheart."

Rick perks up. "There's an idea! We could show off matching tattoos!"

"No." Garrison and Josh both say it at the same time.

"How about we compromise?" E suggests. "Dress shoes and slacks, but nice button down shirts?"

"I suppose that would work…" Rick doesn't look entirely convinced there won't be ties and vests and suit jackets involved.

Garrison looks a little disappointed, but considering he'd insisted on a small fortune in top hats and gloves for their wedding, Josh thinks E and Rick have the right idea.

"You can wear whatever you want for the reception," E adds to sweeten the deal and Rick claps his hands together in glee.

Josh catches a sideways glance from Garrison and goes for a pre-emptive, "I'm not wearing a suit in August. Forget it."

"You don't have to wear the waistcoat."

"No."

Garrison keeps looking at him and then it's a game of wills. Josh stares back just as stubbornly because this is one thing he's not negotiating on.

"We can tell Roby that a tux is required," E offers, breaking their stalemate.

Garrison grins, his smoky-colored eyes lighting up with delight. "Please let me tell him. I want to see his face."

"He's right," Josh says. "Lawyers are evil."

He gets kicked lightly in the shin for that one, but Garrison is in a far better mood after E gives him permission to inflict sartorial pain on someone else.

When E and Rick are ready to leave, it's already getting dark out and Josh stays out back to clean up while Garrison sees them off. He's just finished slipping leftover steak to the dogs when Garrison comes back out.

"I saw that," Garrison says with a smile.

"What? I can't buy their affection? You know they love you more."

"They don't love me more. They just know that you're a sucker when it comes to treats."

Josh rolls his eyes, but catches Garrison as he's walking past and reels him in.

"Hi, there," he murmurs and steals a kiss.

"Mmm. Hello."

Garrison's lips are soft and full, and he cups Josh's head with both hands, licking his way into Josh's mouth. They make out on the back deck for a few minutes, just enjoying each other's touch. The sun's going down and they're losing light, but it's nice. Intimate.

Muttlee decides there's been enough fooling around and noses between them, looking for leftovers or attention. Josh laughs and breaks away.

"You know what's funny," he says as he follows Garrison into the kitchen with the dirty plates. "E asked if we were using the furry children as a run up to the human kind."

Garrison grins and opens the dishwasher. "And how did you react to that, babe?"

"I told him we weren't really kid people. Too busy."

"Hmm."

Josh hands him another dish and studies his profile. That was Garrison's "I'm thinking and I'm not sure I agree" noise.

"Have you thought about it?" He asks, because they haven't really had this conversation before. He never thought they needed to, but maybe he's been wrong.

Garrison shrugs. "Sometimes I wonder. Who doesn't? Just because I like kids doesn't mean I should have one, though."

Josh has thought about it before, usually with quick dismissal. About making room for a little boy or girl in their orderly life. A little one to chase the dogs around, to want cuddles and attention and possibly more than either of them can give.

The look Garrison gives him this time is sly. "You're wondering, too."

Josh shrugs. "Part of me thinks it might be cool, that we could step up to the challenge. Another part of me wonders if I'm just being selfish, wanting to nurture a copy of myself to send out into the world."

Closing the dishwasher door gently, Garrison turns to lean against the counter. "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. There are a lot of kids out there who need good homes, and you know that once we commit to something, we're in for the long haul."

"There's no guarantee that we would qualify for adoption," Josh points out, but his heartbeat is starting to pick up a little. This is more than them just laughing it off and moving on. This is them feeling an idea out, seeing where each other's boundaries and expectations are.

"I think we qualify better than some," Garrison returns mildly. "We have the income, the job security, and the stability. I'm fairly certain we can find the character references needed…"

Joyce down at Child Services might be able to give them some pointers, if they're serious about this. She's always had a soft spot for Josh since he took a punch over a little girl once.

"Well, no decisions need to be made tonight," Garrison says, tone still casual. "We can think on it some more."

Josh is starting to think they're already making one. "Yeah."

"C'mon," Garrison whispers, drawing Josh in close. "Time for bed."

Josh follows him willingly.


***


The day of the wedding dawns muggy and humid, already in the high sixties by daybreak and only promising to climb higher. Josh stretches out in bed and listens to Garrison sing in the shower. This morning's selection is Edith Piaf.

A cold puppy nose bumps into his ankle where the blanket has been kicked back and Josh sighs. He has time to take Muttlee for a run before he needs to get ready.

Rolling into action, he throws on his jogging shorts and a tank top, sunglasses and running shoes in place. Muttlee's barking will let Garrison know where they're headed, so he doesn't bother sticking his head in the bathroom. He lets Munchkin out into the backyard to run in circles while they’re gone.

They do a short circuit so no one gripes about the time, just down to the end of their street and back. Given that they're on a fairly remote road, that's about twenty minutes roundtrip for Josh. Muttlee is panting hard enough to make him feel guilty by the time they get back. Thick German Shepherd coats aren't meant for this kind of heat.

Josh is thinking humans aren't either.

Garrison is savoring his first cup of coffee when Josh comes into the kitchen. He's already dressed in his slacks and button-down. Josh snickers.

"What?" Garrison demands.

Josh leans in for a kiss, careful not to get his sweaty hands anywhere. "Just thinking it's funny that Rick's wedding clothes are what you wear to go grocery shopping."

Rolling his eyes, Garrison takes a half-hearted swipe at Josh's ass. "Go get ready. We're going to be late as it is."

Josh hauls ass, and the day just speeds up from there. In a way, he remembers their wedding being much the same -- all the anticipation and the bustling around to make sure the reception hall was ready. Only this time it's Rick's momma running around instead of Garrison's.

They pull up to the vineyard with plenty of time to spare and Garrison throws himself whole-heartedly into the role of wedding planner. Josh follows in his wake, keeping an eye out for their friends. It's not like anyone's going to be hung over, well, maybe Rick since his tattoo buddies took him out to some raver place as an impromptu bachelor party.

The vineyard is picturesque, with wide manicured lawns and neat rows of grapevines. The cellar and shop is made out of broad stones like a medieval castle, an array of trellises in dark brown wood spreading out from its main door to wrap around the building. Behind is where all the action is, as the caterers and DJ set up.

Everyone's gathered out under the arbor. E, Rick, and Roby are already there, with Rick's little sister. Josh gets introduced to the justice of the peace, Rick's mom with her bright make-up and brighter dress, and someone who probably works for the vineyard.

Then he's told to go direct guests to the arbor and he skedaddles before Garrison can think of something more boring for him to do.

Since this is mostly Rick's show, the ceremony starts when the thirty guests are milling around at the bottom of the dais. A couple brave souls even brought their kids with them. Garrison tugs Josh over and holds his hand the entire time, a warm and reassuring weight in his palm.

The vows are short and to the point, with E and Rick exchanging rings under a roof of intertwined grapevines. Josh realizes that E's more understated tastes have basically won out over Rick's propensity for glam, and wonders how E managed to work that out.

"You owe me a dance," Garrison murmurs in his ear as they walk with the group to the vineyard patio.

"I do?" Josh arches an eyebrow. "I don't recall owing you a dance…"

"I recall a certain wedding reception about, oh, say, six years ago. There was the promise of one last dance before the end of the night." Garrison's eyes are smoldering.

"Oh yeah," Josh agrees, voice low as a blush creeps over his neck. "I was all ready to make good on it, too, but someone pulled me into the ready room and we missed the last call."

"You were wearing a waistcoat, babe," Garrison says, as though that explains everything.

"Lucky for us everyone was already drunk at that point."

"Hmm."

The sun is starting to set when the DJ starts up the music, after Roby makes a nervous toast, tugging at the collar of his tuxedo every five seconds. It's all standard fare, but Rick's mom is sniffling into a handkerchief the entire time, and Josh doesn't really see how this is so different from Rick and E moving in together and declaring their relationship monogamous.

"It makes a difference," Garrison says, drawing him out onto the small dance area, twinkle lights in the trellis above their head. A jazzy tune is playing.

"What does?"

"Making it official," Garrison goes on as he tugs at Josh's hand, leading them in a slow dance. "I can see that look on your face."

"I don't have 'a look,'" Josh protests. Roby dances by with a brunette Josh doesn't recognize. "I just don't think weddings are something to get worked up about."

Garrison is quiet for a moment as they move across the floor. Rick and E are dancing cheek to cheek in a corner. Rick's sister is dancing with a toddler, holding the boy's arms up as he stands on her toes.

"Before you get all cynical," Garrison finally says near Josh's ear, "just remember what it was like when we didn't even have the chance."

Snorting, Josh raises Garrison's knuckles for a quick kiss. "I didn't say getting married was bad. I just don't see what all the fuss is about with weddings. It's one day. I'm with you forever; I don't need other people to cheer us on."

"It's romantic, you ass. We're sharing happiness and reflecting on how good our own lives are."

"I already do that every day," Josh murmurs. "I know I'm lucky."

Garrison sighs but gives him a fond look and Josh grins, knowing he's forgiven.

"Damn right you're lucky," Garrison says with a little attitude, but Josh spoils it by kissing him sweetly.

"Yeah. Yeah, I am."

Garrison watches the crowd, nodding at Rick's sister when he has Josh's attention. "Isn't that adorable?"

Josh glances over at the little boy studiously watching the feet he's standing on, waving his arms in her hands.

"It's cute."

"I'm thinking two," Garrison says, apropos of nothing, and Josh has to draw back, gazing into his eyes. He's serious.

Josh swallows. "Two, huh? What about starting with one and working our way up?"

Garrison's grin is a challenge. "We could adopt siblings, help keep a family together."

"Or go for an eighteen-year-old who already has a job?" Josh jokes, but his palms are sweating.

They're really planning to do this. That conversation in the kitchen was just testing the waters, but this -- this is Garrison having a plan.

"You think we can't handle two?" Garrison asks lightly.

Josh is quiet a moment, giving the issue the thought it deserves. They’re both the oldest of three siblings and they know how crazy that can be. Two might be a good number.

"I think we can handle anything," he responds, and Garrison rewards him with a breathtaking grin, eyes alight.

They laugh together, giddy and shaky and amazed. They've stopped dancing and are just holding each other's waists, foreheads close.

"What're you two on about?" Roby demands, pausing as he’s about to stroll past them with his date.

"Nothing," they say simultaneously and start laughing again. Garrison hooks his arm over Josh's shoulders and plants a kiss on the side of his head.

"Well, as long as you're in a good mood." Roby taps Josh's arm. "Let's make the DJ play the Funky Chicken!"

"Roby. You will not!" Garrison pulls away from Josh to follow Roby with a glare and Josh just has to laugh again.

His life is good. It can only get better.



End



Since 2006, J. Rocci has published LGBT romance stories, ranging from contemporary to steampunk to fantasy. Rocci currently lives near Washington D.C. with the love of her life and their furry children, and loves giving her characters happy endings. You can find Rocci on the web at:

http://www.jrocci.com/

http://j-rocci.dreamwidth.org/

http://jrocci.blogspot.com/

http://twitter.com/JayRocci/

http://jrocci.tumblr.com/



Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-27 show above.)