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Ashes to Ashes by Jason Banks (1)


A bright ray of sunshine blazed through the window on a Sunday morning in June as Maxwell sprung open his eyes, blinded by the ultraviolet wonder. He turned over in bed and met the stare of Brogan Baxter’s amber irises. This wasn’t an unusual feeling for Max, he looked forward to his weeks home from work where he could spend all his free time pleasing his man. But the morning in particular was special to the two lovebirds. Max raised his right arm and lassoed it around the older silver fox. Wisps of a gentle breeze entered through the window and the waving sheers danced with each gust like a ghostly apparition.

“Good morning, Papa Bear,” Max whispered. He took his left finger and traced the edges of his man’s salted eyebrows.

Brogan smiled, leaning his head onto Max’s chest and licking at the nips of his younger man’s pecs before gently sliding his tongue to meet Max’s quivering lips.

Max moaned slightly, now fully erect with absolute excitement. “Mmmmmm…”

Max enjoyed this feeling and nothing else in the world could steal away these moments. He shuddered as his lover dove in deeper for a passionate kiss. Brogan’s lips were reminiscent of the salty edge from a fresh margarita. Max slithered his left arm around Brogan’s neck, head locking his man in a tight embrace that he never wanted to release.

“Good morning to you, too, love” Brogan whispered gently.

Hesitant to release his snakelike grasp around Brogan’s neck, Max loosened his grip as he let out a cavernous yawn.

Brogan followed his young lovers’ gesture and returned in the same tired sentiment. “What’s for breakfast? You think I should whip up a couple waffles?” He said, stifling his second yawn.

“That sounds good. But not as good as the taste of your lips. Come here, tiger,” Max hissed.

As the two lovers tackled each other atop their memory foam mattress, tiny bare footsteps were heard gliding across the cherry hardwood floor from the hallway.

“Shhhh…” Brogan’s right ear perked up and he placed his forefinger on Max’s lips. “Lil’s awake. Guess it’s breakfast time for sure now.”

Grinning, Maxwell nipped at Brogan’s finger before glancing toward the sunshiny little princess donning a turquoise nightgown entering the doorway.

Brogan sighed. “Ouch, what was that for?”

“Maxie, Maxie!” Lily screamed, running into the bedroom with her arms stretched out. “I miss you.”

Maxwell smiled, feeling satiated to see the glimmer in her eyes sparkle so brightly. He never really felt like such a father to Lily, since Brogan was much older than he was. But back in 2010, Brogan’s convincing charm talked Max into finding a surrogate mother, so they could raise a family. Max always had his reservations about the idea but figured since he was about to get extremely busy on photoshoots overseas, it would give Brogan something else to take care of. This was the basis of Brogan Baxter’s very nature—nurturing and fixing.

A comforting guise warmed over Brogan’s visage. He felt at ease seeing how comfortable Lily was with his partner. Though Max was home just occasionally, any time the two of them could spend together was a treasured memory that Brogan could hold onto within his core.

“Time for breakfast, Flower,” Brogan mentioned. Flower was a nickname he called Lily, because to him she was as beautiful as a long stemmed masterpiece sprouted from the ground.

Lily released her grasp from Max, “You make us Mickey cakes, please please?”

Max smiled widely, “I think we can handle that, sweetheart,” he replied, patting Lily on the top of her head while sliding off the mint green silk bedspread.

“Sure, we can. Anything for my sweet little flower,” Brogan obliged. Pacing toward the doorway, he looked back at the other two. “Well come on, mouse shaped pancakes wait for no princess.”

Downstairs in the kitchen, Lily hunched over in a bar stool with both palms pressing into her chin. Max began pre-heating the waffle iron while Brogan whisked Lily’s pancake batter and meticulously poured it onto the griddle to form the shape of Mickey Mouse.

Adjacent to the two lovers, Brogan’s iPhone buzzed intermittently atop the stainless steel counter. Max reached to grab the device and saw the two new message indicators on its lockscreen.

“Looks like you got a couple texts waiting, hon.”

Brogan nodded. “It’s probably just the hospital, someone reminding me about our M&M presentation this afternoon. On a damn Sunday no less,” he sighed. “I really don’t want to go out today,” he added, placing the spatula underneath the hotcake to flip over.

“Yeah, but isn’t it important?” Max responded, “I actually have a few edits to work on from the set in Venice last week.”

“I hate M&M presentations with a passion. They’re dreadful, reminiscing on our past patient deaths and complications—how we could be better doctors. I’ve been in the heart business long enough to know what it takes to keep their tickers going, I don’t need to be lectured about what I could have done differently. Sometimes bad things just happen to good people and I am most certainly not God, there are so many things that are out of my hands,” Brogan replied long-winded, needing to take in a breath or two before he shifted his attention to his daughter’s breakfast.

Max placed the iPhone back on the counter and reached his arms around Brogan’s waist, blowing warm air from his nostrils at the nape of his lover’s neck.

“You’ll be done with that meeting sooner than you can say Philadelphia cream cheese,” he whispered, assuring his man that work meetings might be caustic to his ego—but they were still par for the course.

Moaning slightly, Brogan’s left hand lowered to meet Max’s arm. “Yes, I’ll go. But make sure if I’m not back by 4:00, that Lil gets to her COA peer class.”

Being a parent to a daughter with a developmental disorder, Brogan always insisted Lily engage in the best therapeutic opportunities to enhance her abilities. If the Children of Autism peer class hadn’t been recommended to him by her therapist, Brogan wasn’t sure how she’d accelerate her social skills any other way.

As Maxwell prepared their waffles, he glanced into Brogan’s gaze. “Yes, love. I got that covered. We won’t be even a minute late, I promise.”

Parenthood didn’t come easily to Max. He had his uncertainties when it came to being responsible for another human being, especially to a girl on the spectrum with different methods of processing daily living. However, over the course of Lily’s growth, so has his parenting skills—even if he is out of town on a regular basis for work. He knew the importance of her routine and keeping on track with the COA peer classes.

“Love, would you get the whipped cream from the fridge?” Brogan inquired.

Max smirked. “Only if I get to have fun with it.”

“It’s for Lil’s pancake, you stud,” Brogan bit back with a chuckle.

Reaching for the can of ReddiWhip, Max noticed a hint of burning smell enter his nostrils from the waffle iron. “Shoot, I think that waffle is burnt,” he muttered.

“Then that’s the one you’re eating,” Brogan laughed, setting the plated Mickey Mouse head flapjack in front of Lily.

Lily’s face grew big. She always enjoyed her Mickey Mouse pancakes. It must be a kid thing, because Brogan nor Maxwell could understand why the shape of the pancake mattered, but both figured it just made eating more fun.

“Mmm, daddy makes the best Mickey cakes,” Lily responded as Brogan formed a smiley face on top with the whipped cream.

“Enjoy, my Flower,” Brogan replied, kissing the top of her forehead.

Brogan and Max sat at the counter on each side of Lily, enjoying their waffles while sipping on their cups of coffee. The atmosphere inside the kitchen was one of peace and contentment. To have all three of them at home together may have been infrequent each month, but it certainly was not an unfamiliar feeling for the couple.

***

As noon progressed later into the day, Maxwell remained propped in front of his home computer where he’d been for a few hours. He stared into the large monitor perfectly suited for a professional photographer, clicking and moving his mouse with precision inside his Photoshop program. This shoot was leftover work he’d needed completed for Plaid & Paisley Magazine where he’d spent most of his time the previous week in Italy. Time being of the essence, Maxwell edited quickly so he could send his files off to the layout department for the magazine.

Finishing on a pose with a tall and slender man in front of its lens, he looked over the image one final time to ensure its perfection. In the image stood a tall, slender Italian male with thick dark brown hair and a five ‘o clock shadow. The model looked stunning in his orange-green-yellow multi check plaid shirt and dark stain washed jeans. Max saved the file and proceeded onto the next image as he heard a swishing flush sound come from the downstairs hallway. As he looked beyond his desk, he took a swig of his soda.

“Are you alright, sweetie?” Max called out to Lily as she paced by the office doorway.

She turned her head to look in the room. “Yep. Just went potty.”

“Did you wash your hands?” Max responded, wiping his own left hand onto his shorts which collected condensation from the cold Sprite bottle.

“Oh, forgot,” she replied, covering her eyes from the sun’s glare in his office window.

“Well then, you know what you have to do. Remember it keeps you healthy,” Max responded.

On her way back to the bathroom, Lily acknowledged him, “yes Uncle Maxie.”

“Good girl, I love you,” he authenticated, while his vision returned to the computer screen.

Max continued to work at his desk peacefully while Lily remained upstairs in her bedroom drawing with crayons at her small, square art table in the corner. Before he realized it, the time swept him away in the digital design world of photography. He glanced at the wall clock, realizing how much later it was than what he actually felt.

“Damn it, it’s already 3:00,” he mentioned, talking only to himself.

As he wrapped up his work and compiled his files into a compressed folder ready for upload, Max’s phone screen lit up and rang mildly underneath the computer monitor. He glanced at the caller on the screen, it was Mel, his fraternal twin sister.

“What’s up, sis?” Max answered, raising the phone to his ear.

“Not too much, I’m just getting home from the grocery. I had a few minutes and wanted to check up on things over there. I’m having lots of anxiety today.”

Melanie lived all the way in a suburb of Indianapolis called Carmel. It’d been nearly a decade since Maxwell relocated to Denver, where he’d met Brogan inside the cafe court of a large shopping mall. Since the move, the two of them kept in such frequent contact with each other. As kids, they were inseparable. Though many miles of distance in-between, the digital world of mobile devices, FaceTime calls, text messaging and traditional calls, nothing was going to keep them truly detached from each other’s lives.

“Well not too much either, I just finished some editing work. Brogan’s still in a meeting at the hospital and it appears I’m gonna have to take Lil to her COA peer class in a few minutes.”

“Awww. Is she doing well?”

“Oh yeah, just fine,” he replied. “It seems like she gets bigger each time I return home from a business trip. I’d almost be convinced Brogan sneaks Miracle-Grow into her fruity pebbles.”

“No kidding, right?” Mel agreed.

“Did you get any good groceries?”

“Ohhhh you know me. The many, many temptations give me hell every time I go. I wished you were back here to just do my grocery shopping for me. Then at least I’d have better discipline.”

“I bet you’re doing great. How is the Weight Watchers going?” Max asked, concerned for Melanie. In the first few years since having left, he’d seen his sister go from a size 24 to a size 30. She suffered from severe anxiety and depression and she found food to comfort her feelings.

Melanie sighed. “Well I did lose 1.4 lbs last week. But I’m terrified I’ll be this huge forever.”

“Any progress is good progress, sis,” Max reassured her. “Besides, I think you’re a terrific person and beautiful whether you are big or small. Size doesn’t matter in this world, to me anyway.”

“Oh yes,” Melanie snickered. “It does matter to you in some aspects, you big homo.”

Max burst into laughter. “You have a point there, I gotta give you that,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.

“What time do you have to leave with my adorable niece?”

He glanced back at the clock, realizing that he hadn’t even changed his shirt. “Speaking of that, I’m gonna have to let you go. I still have to change shirts and I’m definitely not going anywhere in these exercise shorts.”

“Okay, Max. Thanks for talking a while with me.”

“Anytime, Mel. I love you and miss you too.”

“Love you more,” she replied.

“That’s impossible,” he stated. Stepping out from behind his desk, he added, “Stay out of trouble, missy.”

Max tapped on the screen to end the call. He shuffled out of the office and climbed the staircase. Quickly removing his shirt in the process, he shouted up towards Lily.

“‘Lil, get some socks on, it’s time to go to your class,” he instructed, almost tripping over a toy upon reaching the top step.

As he switched into a fresh pair of khaki cargo shorts, Maxwell slid open the closet door, tossing a clean KC Royals baseball shirt on top of the bed. He walked into the master bathroom and spritzed a dash of Calvin Klein cologne onto his chest, then returned to the bed so he could slip on his shirt. While putting his shoes on, he heard Lily scrambling into the room. Glancing up at her, he realized she didn’t have socks on yet.

“Honey, I told you to put your socks on. We’re almost running behind.”

She glanced into his face. “Okay,” Lily replied, shrugging her shoulders.

“Come on, let’s get your socks and shoes on so we can leave,” he firmly insisted.

Once Max finished with Lily’s socks and shoes, he scooped her up at his waist to carry her down the stairs. They’d finally be on their way, once he armed the home security alarm before stepping into the garage. He settled Lily into her back seat and buckled her up.

“Alllll rigghht. Let’s go girlfriend,” he said, swinging the door shut.