Hugh Culber locked the car and slipped out of the driver’s side. Paul already waited behind the vehicle, slipping on his grey mittens and wearing a canvas cross-body messenger bag. His jeans fit his butt perfectly and made his legs look long. Paul insisted on wearing a dark blue sweater and a scarf to “keep from freezing his balls off”. Hugh had wanted to protest that this was Paul’s idea, but he knew better. Paul was grumpy about it, but inside he was like a child on Christmas morning. Hugh felt comfortable in his grey corduroy jacket, jeans, and boots. He watched as Paul checked his watch for the umpteenth time.
“If we want the good coffee, we have to get going before the line gets too long,” Paul grumbled.
Hugh walked over to him and ran his hand down Paul’s arm. “It’s only 7:30. I doubt it’s too long. Don’t worry.” He kissed Paul’s forehead, getting him to roll his eyes in an adorable way. “I’m ready.” He grasped Paul’s mitten-clad hand and squeezed it.
They walked out of the parking garage and onto the sidewalk. Only a few people walked downtown at his hour, most headed to the farmer’s marker like they were. Neither of them said anything as they walked. Hugh knew it was better to wait until Paul had his coffee to talk to him. He was a bear before then. A mother walked past with a little baby nestled in a carrier against her chest. The baby’s moccasin clad feet stuck out from beneath the blanket wrapped around him. He got a brief glimpse of the child’s dark brown eyes from beneath his winter hat with moose antlers sticking out. Hugh sighed. Absolutely adorable. Paul squeezed his hand back, seeing where he was looking. Someday.
They stepped out onto the corner of the Capitol Square where the farmer’s market went around the four long blocks, giving the vendors plenty of space to sell and the visitors plenty of space to walk. In the center of the square was the state capitol building. Paul pulled Hugh to the corner coffee shop and inside. It was warm, taking away some of the early morning chill. Hugh waited by the doors as Paul stepped up the counter and ordered his coffee, along with Hugh’s favorite tea. Hugh watched a father outside, playing with his toddler and chasing him to the corner. He scooped him up as the little boy laughed and reached for his dad. It was very sweet. Paul distracted him by pressing a cardboard travel mug into his hand.
“Thanks, love.” Hugh took a sip of the warm tea, humming at the sweet taste. Perfect. “What coffee did you get?”
“White mocha with a pump of hazel and caramel and coconut milk,” Paul answered. He took a sip and moaned. “So good.”
“I’m always surprised I don’t have to check your blood sugar after you drink your coffee and give you insulin to bring you back down. You drink so much sugar in your coffee.”
Paul shrugged. “I know you love how sweet I am.” He winked and motioned to the door.
Hugh stepped outside first. “I do love my honey-sweet Paul.”
Paul opened his mouth to make a witty comment but seemed to decide against it. A soft frown crossed his face, but he quickly smiled again. He grabbed Hugh’s free hand and they crossed the street to the market.
It was October and close to the end of the season, so there weren’t as many vendors. But it was still Paul’s favorite activity on Saturday morning. Hugh couldn’t complain. He loved watching Paul looking at all the vendors. His eyes glanced over the carrots, squash, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, and pumpkins.
“Oo, look at those!” Paul exclaimed. He pointed to a table with white baskets full of different types of mushrooms and bright colored signs, telling what each one was. Paul immediately began asking questions about one of them. He clarified with the vendor when their information wasn’t quite right. The farmer smiled and corrected himself. Paul did this every Saturday, so most of the mushroom vendors knew him and enjoyed conversing with him.
Hugh stood back a step, drinking his tea and trying to focus. He should’ve been enjoying this more, but his mood wasn’t quite right. Paul glanced back at him and Hugh gave him a reassuring look. It was okay. Hugh stepped over to the next vendor, pricing some of his squash. He’d been craving some squash and wanted to make some for Paul, who still insisted the squash tasted “icky”. He picked out one and paid the man.
Paul had finished buying the mushroom he wanted and tucked it carefully into his shoulder bag. Hugh opened the flap and tucked his squash inside.
“Ready?” Paul asked, giving him a strange look.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
Paul put out his hand, offering it to Hugh to hold. Hugh smiled at his love and accepted his hand, grateful that he’d removed his mitten. It felt more intimate to hold his bare hand in his.
They finished walking the first block and turned the corner, going past a group called Raging Grannies, who were singing a song about showing the money in regards to billionaires and politicians. Each woman wore some type of sweater, which was covered in flair pins from puppies to LGBTQIA pins to atoms. They were a wonderful group. The songs they sang were written by the group members and they stood up for the rights of all. Hugh loved seeing them at the market. He waved to Wendy, the leader of the group as they walked past. He’d had a few conversations with her while Paul was looking at mushrooms.
The second block had more flowers; sunflowers and mum-mums, which were still brightly colored. Most of the other flowers were out of season. Hugh stopped to buy more of his favorite white honey spread. It was absolutely delicious on crackers and toast. Paul stepped away for a moment. Hugh finished his purchase and turned to see Paul standing behind him, holding a foot-long cinnamon sugar twist doughnut. Paul licked his lips as he looked at it.
“I could eat,” Hugh answered.
They sat down on the edge of the fountain at the next corner. Paul bit into his end of the doughnut as sugar fell from it, getting on his shirt and scarf. He continued to chew as he attempted to wipe it off. Hugh smiled at his antics. He tore a bite from his end and carefully cupped his hand beneath it as he took a bite. Paul made a face. They ate quietly, the only sound was the sugar scattering with each bite and Paul’s groan as he tried to keep from making a mess.
Hugh watched as two little kids walked down the sidewalk, holding hands. They both had the same blond hair and couldn’t have been more than three years old. The girl wore a light yellow overall dress with a cream colored cardigan over it and matching leggings with ankle boots. The boy wore a grey sweater and khaki pants and dark green canvas lace-up shoes. They were definitely twins. The little boy smiled at his sister as she tried to pull him another direction. Their mother called to them and they both ran in her direction.
“What’s wrong?” Paul asked, getting Hugh’s attention.
He looked back at his love and saw his concerned look. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“I just asked you if I could pierce my ears and get a tattoo of your mom’s face on my ass. You didn’t answer, but just mumbled ‘yeah, sure’. Something is bothering you.”
Hugh ran his hands over his face and forced himself to smile at Paul. “I’m just distracted. Sorry. I’ll listen more and please don’t get a tattoo of my mom’s face on your butt. I love your butt the way it is.”
Paul didn’t press the topic for which Hugh was grateful. Hugh knew Paul could tell he was lying. After one is with someone for a long time, they pick up when they are upset or lying without much work. It was better that Paul didn’t press the subject right away.
Neither of them brought it up as they walked the next two blocks of the square. Hugh finished his tea and Paul finished his coffee. Paul kept his hand in Hugh’s, occasionally squeezing it. He started talking about each of the things he saw, gushing about the cinnamon roll vendor and the salsa guy. He bought a loaf of banana bread with cherries for Hugh and insisted that they have it for brunch. Paul kept him distracted by the farmer’s market. God, he loved Paul. Hugh almost let go of Paul’s hand once, but he quickly squeezed it tightly. Nope, he wasn’t going to let go of his love. As they walked, Paul moved closer to him until Hugh put his arm around his waist.
Paul kissed his cheek. “Better?” he whispered.
“Better. I promise.” Hugh put his hand on Paul’s cheek and gave him a soft kiss. He tasted the sugar on Paul’s lips, causing him to smile. Yummy. “Thank you.”
They rounded the last corner, putting themselves back at the corner with the coffee shop. Hugh smiled sadly at two dads, walking with their hands clasped and a baby strapped to one of their chests. The infant slept against his dad’s chest with his chubby cheeks visible from the side of the blanket on his head.
“Hey,” Paul whispered, getting Hugh’s attention. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Hugh pressed his forehead to Paul’s and shut his eyes to hide the moisture in them.
“And I want to have babies with you. Someday soon. I promise.”
Hugh opened his eyes, blinking as a stray tear ran down his cheek. Paul quickly caught it and used his thumb to brush it away. “You know,” Hugh murmured.
Paul nodded. “I’ve seen the look in your eyes as you saw all the babies and families today. It’s okay. It hurts me too to see them, but I know that it’s gonna happen for us. You’re gonna be a great daddy.”
“Thank you. You’re gonna be the best dad ever.” Hugh kissed him softly. “Are you ready to go home and have some brunch? I’m still hungry, even though we ate that whole doughnut.”
Paul rested his hand against Hugh’s stomach, feeling his abs through his shirt. “I don’t think one big doughnut is going to hurt this amazing gut. How about we head home and eat some brunch?” Paul leaned in close to whisper in his ear. “Then we can practice making that baby.”
Hugh’s cheeks felt hot. “Oh really?”
“Absolutely. I think I need more practice in –”
Hugh slapped his hand over Paul’s mouth before he said something too inappropriate. They were still in a public location. He silenced him by kissing him again. “Okay, let’s go home. We can practice and then maybe we can look at some egg donors?”
“I love that plan.”
They started walking back to the parking ramp. Paul stuck his hand in Hugh’s back pocket as they walked. Hugh grinned. He copied the motion. Together, they walked away from the farmer’s market, with a bag full of mushrooms and other organic items, and hearts full of love.
Chapter 2: Years Later
The cool, crisp October air and overcast sky didn’t dim Paul’s excitement for the farmer’s market. It never did. Even when he’d been awake since four in the morning. Paul took the last sip of his coffee and tossed it in the recycling can. Hugh watched as Paul, dressed in his favorite jeans and blue and white stripped sweater, headed over to the apple orchard table. He grabbed a small red apple piece off of the sample plate and knelt down. A little girl with blond curls, wearing a dark blue dress with rainbows and pink rubber duck rain boots, took it from his hand. Paul smiled at their daughter; her pale skin and eyes matching his. She grinned and took a bite before giggling.
“I like apples,” she whispered, giving Paul another sweet giggle.
Paul brushed her hair behind her ear. Leaning in, he gently pressed a kiss to her forehead before she grabbed his hand and pulled it close to the sample plate again. He smiled down at her, squeezing her fingers. Paul picked up a bag of apples and paid for them.
“Those look delicious.” Hugh bounced up and down a little as he waited. “Did you like the apple, Tinley?”
Tinley nodded, trying to stick her hand in the bag of apples to take one out. “They turned out well this year,” she said. Four years old going on forty; she was incredibly smart – taking after her daddy, no doubt.
Paul let her take one before tucking the rest of the bag into his canvas bag. He ruffled her curls, getting a squeal out of her. Getting pregnant with her had been a bit of a challenge. Finding an egg donor they liked, deciding to play chance with whose DNA would be hers, and finally having their baby girl, it was an adventure. Seven weeks into their first try, there was a genetic abnormality with the baby and the baby miscarried. The second pregnancy brought their adorable and bouncy baby girl into their lives. Tinley loved to giggle and listen to her daddy read about his work and books about space travel. She wanted to be an astronaut someday.
Tinley flashed a smile in Hugh’s direction. “Papa, can I have a donut?”
“Yes, you and Daddy can share one.” Hugh loved that she inherited her daddy’s love of sugar. He’d even caught her trying to eat sugar out of the container in the kitchen. To be fair, Paul helped her get the container down from the cupboard and he had a spoon dipped in it too.
Hugh followed Paul and Tinley over to the donut stand, watching as Paul picked out his favorite foot-long donut, coated in cinnamon sugar. He couldn’t help but smile as Tinley jumped up and down, trying to bite the end of it as Paul took a bite and teased her.
Hugh let the wonder twins eat as he picked up some fresh purple, yellow, and green beans. Tinley loved all of the colors. It helped to get her to eat vegetables if they were brightly colored. Oddly, the same worked for Paul.
Paul came over to him as Tinley finished her part of the donut. He gently brushed Hugh’s arm. “Are you doing okay?” he murmured.
“I’m good. Still a bit tired, but good.”
“Do you want me to get you some tea?”
Hugh nodded. “That would be nice. I can keep an eye on Tinley.”
“I can take her with me. You can sit and rest for a minute.”
Hugh kissed Paul softly, brushing one hand against his cheek and feeling the stubble. He’d forgotten to shave the last two days. It was adorable. Paul glanced down and smiled before calling their daughter and heading to the stand on the corner. Hugh slowly sat down. A father walked past holding his son on his shoulders as he pointed to a stand with pumpkins. Hugh gave a soft smile. He watched as two girls shared a kiss, when one gifted the other with flowers. Adorable. Hugh closed his eyes and listened to life moving around him. It was… peaceful. Familiar giggles made him open his eyes. Paul carried Tinley on his hip as she proudly held onto the travel mug with tea.
“I bring your tea, Papa,” Tinley whispered, kissing his cheek.
Hugh took it from her small hands before she let go. “Thank you, darling. I love it. But I love you more.”
“I love you most, Papa.”
She squirmed free from Paul’s arms and went chasing a golden retriever nearby. Paul smiled at Hugh before going after their daughter to make sure she didn’t overwhelm the puppy. Hugh sipped his tea as he watched Paul be tripped by the puppy. The puppy flew through his legs, causing him to fall on his stomach. Hugh tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it. His laughter vibrated his chest. Hugh felt the little squirms against his chest as he stood up and started to bounce again. He glanced down, seeing two brown eyes looking up at him. Hugh cradled his arms around their son, swaddled against his chest.
“Hi buddy. Papa didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Their little three-week-old moved a little, opening and closing his tiny hand. He moved his head, nuzzling more against Hugh’s chest. His eyes fluttered as he fought to stay awake.
Paul came over to Hugh’s side, putting his palm against their son’s head. “Is he up?”
Hugh shook his head, watching as his little eyes closed. “I don’t think so. Just startled awake a little. He’s due to eat in about half an hour.”
“Love you, Ollie.” Paul gently kissed Oliver’s head. He was the perfect miniature version of Hugh.
Oliver, unlike his sister, had decided to make a grand entrance into the world. Tinley went all forty weeks, but Ollie came three weeks early and didn’t like sleeping much at night, but they were working on it. Hugh stayed up with him at night, rocking him and singing to him to try and get him to sleep. Paul kept him company for a little bit, but he was exhausted with work and ended up sleeping with Tinley’s pink blanket in the rocking chair. It was very sweet.
“Daddy’s here,” Paul whispered, tucking the star blanket around Ollie’s swaddle so he didn’t get cold.
“And he loves knowing that you are here for him.”
Paul made a face. “Sappy romantic.”
“You know you love me, despite my romantic tendencies.”
“Very true.” Paul opened his mouth to say something else, but he turned his attention back to Tinley as she tried to share her apple from her dress pocket with the puppy.
Hugh watched as he coaxed Tinley to leave the puppy alone and tossed the rest of her apple. He brought Tinley over and she rested her head against Paul’s shoulder. Very cute! They quietly continued their walk around the square, stopping at a few more stands and picking up some cherries for pie. They were having dinner with Tilly and Michael tomorrow and Hugh promised to make his cherry pie that they both loved.
“Fungi!” Tinley exclaimed, pointing at their favorite booth.
Paul set her down and she immediately grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the table. The man greeted her, pulling out a basket of a different mushroom and started telling Tinley about it. She laughed, making a comment. Hugh stayed back, watching both of them. Paul pointed to another basket, praising her as she named them and gave him a fact about them. Hugh sipped his tea, listening to the content sigh of his son as he wiggled, but continued to sleep. Hugh rubbed his back through the swaddle and smiled. Paul gave Tinley a hug as she squealed about a certain mushroom and his eyes were little hearts. He adored his daughter and his son.
Hugh loved this moment. He’d forgotten about the pain of seeing others with their children and wishing it was them. All of their waiting, it came to this beautiful moment. His love and daughter gushing about mushrooms as he soothed their son. Hugh’s heart felt so full.
They finished walking around the square as Oliver started to stir again, rooting for something to eat. Hugh pulled a bottle out of his bag and started to feed him. His lips, pink and soft, sucked gently at the nipple. It was the cutest thing to see. Ollie opened his eyes and watched his Papa as he ate, content in Hugh’s arms.
“Are you okay?” Paul whispered, as Tinley dozed lightly on his shoulder.
“I’m perfect.” Hugh kissed him with their children nestled between them. “Let’s go home. I’m tired and I think I know the right cure.”
“More donuts?” Paul winked at him.
Hugh put a hand on Paul’s chest, above his heart. “I was thinking along on the lines of a nice snuggle in bed.”
“I’d love to.”
Putting one arm around Hugh and gently sticking one hand in the pocket of Hugh’s jeans, Paul squeezed his butt. Hugh rolled his eyes but copied him. Together they walked from the market and headed home with their family.