Matteo stood in the quiet churchyard, his new husband and son beside him, looking down at the graves. One had been there a long time, and the other still showed signs of freshly turned earth.
“These were my grandparents, Nonno and Nonna,” Matteo told Cooper.
The little boy looked up at him with brown eyes much like his own—although Cooper was adopted—with confusion in their depths. Matteo knew he was doing a shit job of explaining. He glanced at Flynn but knew he’d get no help from that quarter. Flynn firmly believed in letting Matteo struggle in his new role as father.The ass.
“Do you know what heaven is?” Matteo asked Cooper. He wasn’t sure he believed in a heaven, but it seemed the best way to explain death to a five-year-old.
“Tafari’s goldfish Skip went to heaven,” Cooper said seriously.Tafari was Cooper’s best friend from play group. Matteo latched onto this, glad for something that would help him explain.“Right, okay. Well, that’s the same as Nonno and Nonna. They went to heaven too.” He was going to add that Nonno had been buried here after Nonna brought his ashes to America from Italy, but he didn’t want to get into cremation with Cooper. This was difficult enough.
Matteo was quickly learning being a parent wasn’t easy, but he wouldn’t trade it for the world.Cooper’s brows dipped as he stared hard at the graves.
“You used to live with Nonna, and then she went to heaven to be with Nonno?” the little boy asked after a long moment.
“That’s right.” Matteo glanced at Flynn triumphantly. Explaining hadn’t been so difficult after all.
“But Mad,” Cooper said, pulling at Matteo’s hand.
“Yes, Son?” Matteo asked magnanimously.
“How did you fit Nonna in the toilet?”
Flynn made a choking sound that he quickly turned into a cough and walked a couple steps away, shoulders shaking.
Bewildered, Matteo knelt by Cooper on the cool grass.
“Um, I don’t understand, Coop. Why—What about a toilet?”
“When Tafari’s goldfish died, I was invited over for the fume-roll-”
“Funeral,” Matteo corrected.
“Fue-na-roll, and then Tafari’s dad flushed Skip down the toilet.” Cooper looked back at the headstone with the smiling photo of Isabella Costa above the engraved name. “If you gotta go down the toilet to get to heaven, I don’t see how you fit her in.”
Matteo could only stare at his son.
“The toilet’s only for goldfish,” Flynn said, having evidently decided to save Matteo. “When people die, they don’t need their bodies in heaven, so they leave them here and their spirits soar into the sky. The bodies are put under the ground in a grave, and we put a marker and sometimes a picture there to look at and remember them.” He gestured to the headstones.
“Oh,” Cooper said. He nodded before looking up at Flynn. “Can we go to McDonalds now?”
Flynn was not a fan of fast food the way Matteo and Cooper were, but he’d promised it for lunch as a treat—probably as much for Matteo as for Cooper.
“After you put the flowers on the grave and Mad pays his respects,” Flynn said, handing the bouquet of asters and peonies he’d been holding to Cooper.
Cooper carefully set the flowers on the grave, equally between the two headstones.“These are for you, Nonno and Nonna. You have to share them. I hope you’re having fun in heaven.” He looked up at his fathers and pointed to the corner where the fountain of Saint Rita poured water into a pool among the rose bushes. “Can I go look at the water?”
“Sure,” Matteo said.“I’ll go with him and give you a minute.” Flynn followed Cooper, and Matteo sat down in the grass. He studied Nonna’s photo a moment.
“Hi, Nonna.”He picked a blade of grass and fiddled with it, clearing his throat.“Sorry I haven’t been here in a while. I’ve got a good excuse, though. I got married, just like you always wanted.” He let out a puff of air. “Well, not exactly like you wanted.” Matteo looked at his grandmother’s smiling face.“I married a man, Nonna. I’m sorry I never told you this, but I’m gay. Or maybe bisexual, but that doesn’t matter because I’m in love with a man. I have been for a long time. You deserved to know, but I hid the truth from you because I was afraid you would hate me for it. But lately I’ve been thinking. Watching Coop—that’s Flynn’s and my son—every day, I know you would have loved him. You might have been angry at me for a while, but I now believe you would have forgiven me. Because if Cooper were ever to do something I thought was really bad, I know I would forgive him. I should have told you the truth. I owed you that for all you’d done for me, and I’m sorry.”
Matteo sat for moment, soaking in the sun along with the awesome feeling of a weight being lifted from his shoulders. In the corner of the churchyard, Flynn was giving Coop coins one at a time to throw into the fountain to keep the little boy occupied.
Matteo turned his attention to the other headstone. “Nonno, sorry I never knew you. I’m sure Nonna’s happy to be with you again.”Matteo climbed to his feet.“Love you, Nonna,” he said. Relieved to have his talk with Nonna over with, he called to Flynn and Cooper.“Hey, guys! Ready for McDonalds?”
Cooper took the remaining coins from Flynn’s palm and threw them all into the water before running to Matteo and taking his hand. Flynn joined them at a more sedate pace and clasped Matteo’s other hand. Matteo thought he’d never get tired of the feeling.
“Okay?” Flynn asked quietly.Matteo nodded and smiled.
“I want a Big Mac,” Coop said.
“A Big Mac is too much. You won’t be able to eat it,” Flynn told him as they walked between graves toward the gate.
“Mad always eats the rest,” Coop said.
Flynn turned accusing eyes to his husband. “Does he? Does Mad take you to McDonalds a lot?”
“Only when he picks me up from play group,” Cooper said, unknowingly ratting out his new father.
Flynn shook his head at Matteo, who tried to look innocent. When they reached the gate to the churchyard, Cooper stopped them. Turning back to the rows of gravestones speckled by sun and shadow, he called out, “Bye, Nonno and Nonna!” Matteo’s heart squeezed in his chest. He swept Cooper into his arms, kissed him on the cheek, and followed Flynn out of the graveyard, latching the gate behind them.