The Lernier Family
© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved




Chapter 34: A Lernier Family Christmas

David sat near the rear of the science classroom.   It was his habit to sit where he could observe everything that was going on.   He loved watching people.   He didn’t always enjoy interacting with them; because most of them were so illogical.   He loved watching the original Star Trek series because he could so relate to his favorite character – Spock.   His teachers often thought he wasn’t paying attention in class; however, they quickly learned that he had an amazing memory and that he missed nothing.   He could repeat verbatim every conversation he heard and could answer any question they may throw at him.   Because he already knew the academic material being taught in his honors classes, he kept himself from being bored by watching his fellow students.   He tried to figure out why each one acted the way they did.   It was like being Sherlock Holmes to him as he tried to deduce what was behind the behaviors he observed.   Sometimes, he would go up to his classmates and ask them random questions.   They thought he was odd; but he was actually very meticulously filling in holes in their individual profiles that he had built in his mind.  

He had spent a lot of time with his Dad; since Purev had started seeing Idree.   David was trying to make sense of the feelings of rejection he felt, and had confided in his Dad that he wasn’t sure who he was anymore.   He had been so sure of himself until Purev had entered his life.   David had started off his conversation with his Dad by telling him about his favorite pastime.   Dad had listened intently to David’s explanations about how he observed people and why he did it.   He had opened up about his dreams for his future, including finding Mr. Right.   He had expressed his fears of rejection if he approached a guy (other than Purev).   He felt so much better now that he had been able to talk about his feelings.   Dad had helped him work through his emotions and had shared some of his own experiences.   He was glad his Dads had adopted him.   He couldn’t imagine living with straight parents who couldn’t relate to him as a gay teen.

David’s attention was drawn to the front of the classroom when he saw the new kid enter the classroom and approach the teacher with his paperwork.   Mr. Rogers had looked it over and then had said, “Class, please welcome Mark Henderson.   He’s just moved here from Texas.   Mark, please take the seat next to David.”

Mark was tall, blond and lithe of frame.   He had dark brown eyebrows over electric blue eyes, a cute smile, and a smallish, round nose.   He wore a blue muscle shirt that matched his eyes, and jeans that hugged him in all the right places.   David was trying not to stare at the handsome stranger as he moved down the aisle and sat down in the desk indicated by Mr. Rogers.   He looked over at David and extended his hand.   “Hi, I’m Mark.”

David shook Mark’s hand and replied, “Glad to meet you.   I’m David.”   Mark didn’t release his had right away.   Mark stared into David’s eyes almost as if he knew David’s innermost secrets.   David liked the feel of Mark’s hand in his, and didn’t attempt to break Mark’s grip on his hand.   The teacher started his lecture, causing Mark to let go of his hand and turn back to the front of the room.

Mark pulled out his note book and started taking notes.   David was glad the teacher had started his lecture; because he was feeling really confused.   When he shook hands with Mark, he felt a shock of electricity, or something like it.   Mark had held his hand a little longer than necessary; but the thing that really had him shook up was how Mark had gazed into David’s eyes.   Those electric blue eyes had peered into his soul, making a connection between them.   David was so unnerved by what had happened that he couldn’t concentrate on what was being said in class.

The bell rang and Mark turned to David.   “What’s your next class?”  David didn’t answer; so Mark repeated his question, “What’s your next class?”

This time David said, “English with Ms. Hardy.”

Mark looked at his class schedule and said, “I have the same class as you do.”   He passed his class schedule to David and asked, “Are you in any of my other classes?”

David glanced over the classes and said, “Yes, you’re in my Tech Tools class, as well as my history class; and we have the same lunch schedule.”   He handed Mark his schedule.   As his hand brushed Mark’s, he again felt that shock of electricity pass between them.

Mark noticed David’s reaction to his touch and grinned at David.   “Do you mind if I hang out with you during lunch?   I don’t know anyone here and you seem like a great guy to know.”  David had blushed at Mark’s statement.   Mark saw the color rise in David’s cheeks and said, “You don’t need to be embarrassed.   You’re handsome and cute at the same time.   I think we’re going to be great friends.”

They stood up and moved toward the classroom door.   David’s mind locked onto Mark’s statement.   He had said David was cute.   He wondered if Mark was gay.   As he followed Mark out of the room, David noticed they were exactly the same height, and that Mark had a nice butt.   It was one that he was sure his Dad would’ve said it just asked to be fucked.   When he asked his Dad to explain what he meant, his Dad had replied that David would know it when he saw one.   Well, now he knew what his Dad had been talking about!   More importantly, he could relate to the strong physical attraction that existed between his Dads.   Dad had explained that his attraction to his husband had nearly overwhelmed him at first.   He had added that it was still as strong as it was when they first met.   David wondered if the serious attraction he felt for Mark would be something that would last as long as what he had witnessed between his parents.

Mark turned and saw David staring at him.   He met David’s gaze and smiled.   “Do you like what you see?”  David didn’t dare speak; but he nodded his head in the affirmative.   Mark’s smile widened and his eyes sparkled with delight.   “That’s good because I like what I see as well.   We are going to get along famously.”  

They walked side by side down the hall, their arms brushing against each other, as their fellow students pushed past them on their way to their classes.   David asked, “Where do you live?”

“I live in Kingstowne.   My house is a couple of blocks from here.   Maybe you could come over after school today.   We could do our homework together,” Mark said.

“I would like that.   I’ll have to call my Dads during lunch,” David said.   Mark had come to a dead stop as if he’d been hit by a freight train.   The kid who had been following behind him swore at Mark as he swerved to keep from running into him.   David turned and asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Did you say you were going to call your Dads?” Mark asked, staring hard into David’s eyes.

“Yes, I did,” David said.   “Why?”

“Are they gay?” Mark asked.

“Yes, they are and so am I,” David said.   “Is that a problem?”

Mark’s smile was huge and his eyes danced with excitement.    He replied, “No, it’s not a problem; because I’m gay, too.”

David grinned at his new friend.   “Thank you for telling me.   It will be nice to have someone to talk to who understands me.”

Mark said, “Yes, it will be good to have a gay friend.   I was afraid I was going to have to pretend I was straight to have any friends here.”   Then his expression changed to one of worry.  “But you have to promise not to tell anyone else.   My parents would throw me out of the house if they knew I’m gay.”

David frowned and said, “Don’t worry.   I won’t tell anyone; but may I tell my Dads?”

Mark thought for a moment.   “Yes, you may tell them; because they’re gay, they will understand why I can’t tell my parents.”

“Dad’s family disowned him when they found out he was gay.   He wants to be reconciled with them; but I don’t think they will ever change,” David said, feeling sad for his Dad.

They entered their English class and sat down together.   Mark pulled out his schedule and presented it to the teacher.   They spent the rest of the day together, moving from class to class.   At lunch, they had a table to themselves.   David had no other friends.   He ate lunch with Ashley when she had the same lunch period; but today she had an earlier lunch period.

Mark asked, “Do you always eat lunch alone?”

“No, I eat lunch with my sister on orange days.   On white days, I eat lunch alone,” David said.

“How old is your sister?” Mark asked.

“She’s 12.   She’s in 7th grade,” David responded.

“My sister, Michaela, is the same age as your sister,” Mark said.

“That’s really cool,” David said.

“Michaela is in the 7th grade, too.   Maybe they have met each other like we have,” Mark said.

David said, “Maybe.”   He doubted it, but didn’t want to contradict Mark.

Mark saw the look of doubt on David’s face and said, “Even they haven’t met, do you think your sister would like to come over to our house and meet Michaela?”

“I can ask her,” David said.   He actually felt better about going to Mark’s house, now that he could ask Ashley if she wanted to go, too.   He had been feeling a little anxious about going with Mark; despite his desire to get to know Mark.

They finished eating their lunch and moved out into the hallway with a group of other teens who were heading to their next class.   David spied Ashley walking with her friends.   He zigzagged across the hall to catch up with her.   Mark managed to keep up with him and came up beside him.   David said, “Ashley, this is my new friend, Mark.   He and his sister, Michaela, just moved here from Texas.   Mark has invited to come over to his house after school.”

Ashley looked at Mark and smiled.   “Hi Mark.   I think I’ve met your sister.   She’s the new girl in my gym class.   She has long blond hair and the same blue eyes as you.”

Mark replied, “Hi.”   He suddenly felt shy, which was unusual for him.   He hadn’t expected Ashley to comment on his eyes.   “Yes, that sounds like Michaela.”

Ashley said, “She seems nice.”   She looked at her brother and asked, “Are you going to call Daddy?”

“Yes, I’ll call him right now,” David said.   He pulled out his cell phone.  

It rang once before I answered.  “Hello, David,” I said.

“I’ve met a new friend today.   He has invited me and Ashley to go over to his house after school.   He has a sister the same age as Ashley,” David said.

“Do you have their parents’ phone number?   I’ll call and make sure it’s okay with their parents,” I said.

David turned to Mark and asked, “What’s your Mom’s phone number?”

Mark gave it to David and he repeated it to me.   “Okay, I’ll call and then I’ll send you a text message to let you know if it’s okay or not.”

“Okay, Daddy,” David said.   “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

David ended the call and looked at Mark.   “Daddy will call your mother and will leave me a text message.”

Mark smiled and said, “I’m sure Mom will say it’s okay.   She wants us to make new friends.”

Ashley said, “I’ve got to get to class and so do you guys.”   She left with her girlfriends and the boys walked to their next class.

I called the number David had given to me.   The phone rang three times before someone answered.   The female voice on the other end of the line said, “Hello, this is the Henderson residence.”

“Hello, this is Glenn Lernier.   Your son, Mark, has invited my children, David and Ashley, to come over to your home after school today.   I’m calling to verify that you are okay with having them in your home.”

Mrs. Henderson said, “Thank you for calling.   Yes, I’m okay with them visiting with us.   I’ve encouraged Mark to reach out and make new friends.   We have just moved from Texas and it’s been hard on the children.   They really miss their friends.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“We live in Kingstowne, not far from the school,” she answered.   She gave me the address.  

“We will pick them up just before 6 PM,” I said.   “Is that okay?”

“That will be fine,” she replied.   “Thank you for giving them permission to visit our home.   I’m glad you called.   It lets me know that you’re watching over your children.   I know that one can’t be too careful these days.”

“I agree,” I said.   “It’s nice to talk to you.   We will see you this afternoon.”

“I look forward to meeting you and your children,” she said.

I sent a text message to both David and Ashley, letting them know of the arrangements I had made with Mrs. Henderson.

David felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket.   He knew his Daddy had sent him a text message.   He surreptitiously took his cell phone out of his pocket and read the text message.   He slipped the phone back into his pocket and turned to Mark.   “It’s a go for this afternoon.”

Mark grinned and said, “Great!”

David couldn’t concentrate the rest of the afternoon.   He didn’t handle change well and this was a big deviation from his routine.   It was a change he had initiated; but it still made him nervous.   The school day ended and they met Ashley and Michaela near the football field for their short walk to Mark’s house.

Ashley and Michaela seemed to hit it off and were talking animatedly about some of the boys in their physical education class.   After listening to them talk for a few minutes, Mark said, “I think they will be great friends.”

David had to agree.   “Ashley makes friends easily.”

Mark looked closely at David.   “But you don’t.   Is that it?”

David nodded his head.   “You are the first friend I’ve made at this school.   I have a friend that goes to Edison High School.”

“How many friends do you have?” Mark asked.   His curiosity was piqued.

“Other than my family, two; you and Purev,” David said.

Mark smiled, “Then I guess I must be extra special; because you became my friend the very first time we met.”

David nodded his head.   “Yes, I think you are wonderful.”

“And good looking,” Mark said, grinning.

David laughed, “Yes, and good looking.”

They arrived at Mark’s home and were met at the door by Mrs. Henderson.   Mark introduced them to her, “Mom, this is David and Ashley Lernier.”

“Welcome to our home,” she said.

Michaela said, “Mom, Ashley and I want to make cookies.   May we make chocolate chip cookies?”

“Certainly,” she answered.   “Go right into the kitchen.   Michaela, you know where the ingredients are.”

The girls disappeared into the kitchen.   Mrs. Henderson turned to the boys and asked, “What are your plans?”

“We’re going to finish our homework, first.   Then, we are going to play some video games,” Mark answered.

“Okay.   That sounds like a plan,” she said.

Mark said, “Follow me.”

Mark led David upstairs to his bedroom.   “This is my room,” he said.

David looked around with great interest.   Mark had several Marine Corps posters on his walls.   On the shelf over his bed, Mark had put his model tanks and airplanes on display.   There was a photograph of Mark and someone dressed in fatigues on his dresser.   Mark noticed David’s interest in the photo and said, “That’s me and my Dad.   Dad is in the Marine Corps.   He is stationed at the Pentagon.”

David said, “My Dad works at the Pentagon as well.”

Mark flopped down on his bed and said, “That’s cool!   But how can he work at the Pentagon if he’s gay?   Is he in the military?”

“He’s a civilian contractor,” David replied.   “He was in the Marine Corps when he was younger.”

Mark said, “That is really awesome.   Let’s get our homework done.”

David sat on the other side of the bed from Mark.   He pulled his homework out of his backpack and spread out his textbooks on the bed.   Mark followed suit and they soon were comparing notes and helping each other to finish their assignments.   Later, they played videos games until it was time for David and Ashley to go home.

Mark said, “I wish you could sleep over.   I haven’t had so much fun in ages.”

David grinned, showing his braces.   “I had a great time, too.   I’m glad I can just be a normal teen and not have to watch what I say about how good looking some of the guys are at school.”

Mark nodded his head in agreement.   “Best thing of all is that we’re friends.”

Mark and David came downstairs and joined Michaela and Ashley in the kitchen.    Ashley said, “You should try some of the cookies.”

Mark heard the front door open and said, “Dad’s home.”

Lt. Col. Clayton Henderson closed the door and dropped his briefcase on the floor under the coat rack in the hallway.   He entered the kitchen and was surprised to find strange teenagers sitting at the breakfast bar with his kids, eating chocolate chip cookies.   He smiled at the group of them and said, “Hello!   Mark, will you introduce me to your friends?”

 Mark said, “Dad this is David and Ashley Lernier.   We met them at school today.”

Clay said, “It’s nice to meet you.   I’m glad that Mark and Michaela have made friends so quickly.”

Michaela said, “Dad, Ashley has invited me to join her Girl Scout troop.   Is that okay?”

Clay said, “Sure it’s okay.   I think it would be a good way to make new friends.”

Ashley said, “The girls in our troop are wonderful.   They all come from good families and we are really good friends.   Michaela will fit right in.   We meet at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Tuesdays.”

Hearing that the Girl Scout troop was affiliated with a church confirmed to Clay that he was right to give his permission for his daughter to join the troop.   He was a staunch Baptist; but he was accepting of other Christian denominations; even if he didn’t agree with their doctrinal views.

He was pretty steamed about being reprimanded by the general about his remarks about homosexuals.   Seeing that the children had finished their cookies, he said, “I need to talk to your mom for a few minutes.   Will you wait in the front room for David and Ashley’s parents?”

“Sure,” Mark said.   He led the way into the front room and took a seat on the couch.   The teens were soon engaged in an energetic conversation about who was better at video games:  boys or girls.

Clay sat down on one of the stools at the bar and started to vent his frustrations.   “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me today.”   He proceeded to narrate the events of his day.

Clay had met his team for the first time today.   The retiring officer, Garth Bachman, had briefed him on the project and then had introduced him to the staff.   He had taken time to review the profiles of each member of the team.   He had been very pleased to see that he had a very capable team; however, he had been informed by a member of his new team that two of the contractors were homosexuals.   He had thanked the guy for informing him who they were, and had made a mental note to make sure he got rid of them as soon as possible.

After meeting the team, he had gone to lunch with Lt. Col. Bachman, and had made a derogatory remark about homosexuals and expressed his opinion about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.   He had been surprised to be met with stone cold silence.  

Lt. Col. Bachman had quietly said, “I wouldn’t be so vocal about your prejudice against gays if I were you.”

He did a double take and asked, “Why?   The faggots don’t belong in the military.  Not only that, they shouldn’t be allowed to work for the military in a civilian capacity.   Homosexuals will contaminate the military with their evil ways.”   His voice had gotten louder and had carried across the room.   He hadn’t noticed General Tanaka and his staff sitting at the table behind him.  

General Tanaka stood up and approached their table.   He said, “Gentlemen please accompany me to my office.”   It was a quiet voice, but it carried the authority of command.   The two men stood and followed General Tanaka to his office.   He opened the door to his office and indicated that they should take the seats in front of this desk.

As soon as they were seated, he said, “Lt. Col. Henderson, I will not tolerate that kind of derogatory language from members of my staff.   Let me remind you that we have many civilian contractors who do great work for us, and some of the best happen to be gay.   If you endanger your project by driving away the talented gay men who are developing your programs, I will hold you personally responsible for the failure of your project.   Do I make myself clear?”

Lt. Col. Henderson said, “Yes, sir.”

“Good.   Make sure you treat every member of your staff with dignity and respect,” he said.   “If there is any on your team who has a problem working with gays, I want to see them in my office first thing tomorrow morning.   I will find them an assignment they can be comfortable with; like a listening post in the middle of the Egyptian desert.   You’re dismissed.”

They got up and left the general’s office.   Lt. Col. Bachman said, “I tried to warn you.”

Lt. Col. Henderson said, “That you did.   I’m sorry I ignored you.   Who are the fagg...I mean gays on my team?”

Lt. Col. Bachman said, “You have their files on your desk.   I suggest you read them thoroughly.   Besides, I saw Hagman bending your ear.   I’m sure he has already complained to you about them.”

He left Lt. Col. Henderson standing in the hallway.   He knocked on Rick’s door and then entered.   “Rick, I would get your things packed.   I don’t think you will like working for the new guy.   He’s about as anti-gay as they come.  Hagman has already been filling him full of shit.”

Rick nodded his head.   “I gathered that from the way he acted during this morning’s meeting.   I’ve already packed all of my personal belongings into a box that I will take home with me tonight.   I’ve written my letter of resignation and left it on the desk for Lt. Col. Henderson.  I have called the Pentagon personnel office and arranged to turn in my laptop and badge when I leave.   I called our human resources people and informed them that I will no longer work on this contract for them.   They tried to convince me to stay; but I said I could not tolerate working in such a hostile environment.”

“Have you told Glenn?” Garth asked.

Rick shook his head and said, “No, I haven’t but we have already put contingency plans in place.   He will begin full time work with Todd’s company the week after Christmas, and I will stay home with the children until I find a new job.”

“If you need anything, please let me know,” Garth said.   It pained him to see Rick leaving the project; but he had expected this very thing to happen when he discovered who was taking his place.

Rick’s cell phone rang and Garth said, “I’ll catch you later.”   He left, closing the door behind him.

Rick answered the phone, “Hey, Babe.”

“Hey yourself, sweetheart.   Can you pick up David and Ashley from their friends’ house?” I asked.

“Sure, what’s the address?” Rick asked.

I gave it to him, along with their phone number, just in case he got lost.   “I’ll see you when you get home.”

Rick said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

Rick broke the connection and sat down at his desk to finish the paperwork that had shown up on his desk that morning.   A few hours later, he looked up at the clock and decided it was time for him to leave.   He looked around his office one last time, and then picked up the box he had filled with his things.   He took the keys to his office out of his pocket and left them on the desk next to his letter of resignation.   He turned in his badge at the security office and was escorted out of the building.  He sat in his car in the Pentagon parking lot, staring at the big office building.   He was sad to be leaving his job here; but he was relieved at the same time.   Glenn was very supportive of his decision not to work for someone who was prejudiced against gays; so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to Glenn when he told him he had resigned from his job.

He put the key in the ignition and started the car.   He drove to the address he had been given by Glenn.   He parked on the street in front of the house and got out of the car.   He walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.

The door was opened by Mark.   “Hi, I’m Mark.   You must be David’s Dad.”

Rick smiled at the handsome young man who stood before him.   “Yes, I’m David’s Dad.”

“Please come inside.   My parents wanted to meet you,” Mark said.

Rick was shown into the front room, where he joined the other teens.   He had taken a seat in an armchair when he was surprised to hear the voice of his new (now former) boss at the Pentagon.  

Clay’s voice had risen as anger and indignation blossomed in his chest.   “I hate faggots and I’ll drive every one of them out of the military if I have my way; no matter what General Tanaka says.   They are vile sinners and shouldn’t be allowed to live.”

His wife said, “Clay, please control yourself.   We have company, remember?   I believe that the children’s parents are here to pick them up.   We should go out and meet them.”

Clay had forgotten there were visitors in his home; but he didn’t care who heard his opinion about gays.   He looked at his wife and then stood up from the stool and walked towards the front room.

Mark had been about to apologize for his Dad’s remarks, when his Dad walked into the room.   Instead, he said, “Dad, this is David’s Dad.”

Rick had gotten to his feet and gave Clay a steely eyed stare.   “Thanks for the introduction, Mark.   I believe that your father and I have already met.   I’m sorry that you feel so strongly about gays.   I believe that David and Ashley won’t be returning to your home where such hatred toward gays exists.   My husband and I have raised our children to treat everyone with respect and dignity; even if we disagree with their views.”   Rick turned to Mrs. Henderson.   “Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs. Henderson.   I know the children have had a great time.   David and Ashley, it’s time for us to be going.”

David and Ashley followed their Dad out of the front room and out the door to their Dad’s car.

A few weeks later, David sat cross-legged on his bed, listening to his music while he finished his homework.   Tomorrow was the last school day before winter break, and he was looking forward to sleeping in every day during the break.   He completed his last math problem and closed his textbook with a satisfied sigh.   He put away his homework and stretched out on his bed.  

He stared at the ceiling as he thought about what he wanted to get Daddy for Christmas.   Dad was easy to get gifts for; because he liked the same things David did.   David knew if he liked something, his Dad would, too.   Daddy, on the other hand, was more of a challenge.   He thought about his parents, and their little idiosyncrasies.   He smiled as he remembered his Dad’s way of winning an argument with Daddy.   David had watched his Dad in action earlier in the day as they were having a discussion about where to spend the holidays.   They were in the family room and didn’t know he was watching them.

“I think we should spend the holidays with Grandpa and Grandma,” I said.

“But we should spend some time with your parents in St. Catharines,” Rick had insisted. 

“I hate spending all of that time driving,” I said, hearing the whine in my voice.

“Glenn, you know we don’t have to drive.   We can fly between the two places,” Rick said.

“That will cost too much money, Babe,” I said, trying not to give in to Rick’s logic!

“If we fly, we can also spend a day or two at the beach.   You know how much everyone loves the beach.   I’m sure if you talk to Grandpa and Grandma about it, they will gladly make arrangements for all of us to rent a house on Tybee Island,” Rick said.   He put his arm around me and started caressing my inner thigh and he leaned in to kiss me.

“Mr. Lernier, don’t think you’re going to win this argument by distracting me with your charm and good looks,” I said, knowing I was going to give in to him if he continued his seduction of my senses.

Rick laughed and said, “You know you can’t resist me.”   He continued his assault on my defenses.   My body responded to his touch and I moaned with pleasure.   I tried to resist the urge to give in to Rick, but failed miserably.  

“Okay, you win.   Just don’t stop what you’re doing.”  Rick put his hand behind my head and kissed me deeply as his hands roamed my body.

David had nearly started to laugh when he realized what his Dad had done.   He and his Dad had spent some quality one-on-one time together the day before.   David had asked him some pretty pointed questions about his parents’ relationship.   Dad hadn’t ducked the questions and had been very candid about things.   David really admired his Dad’s direct approach to life.   He knew he could ask his Dad anything and he would get a straight answer.   He had drawn closer to his Dads over the last few weeks since Purev decided he didn’t want to be his boyfriend.   Everything had been so perfect before his world had been shattered.   His Dads had helped him regain his equilibrium, specifically Dad.   Not that his Daddy wasn’t great because he was, but Dad was so much more logical.  

One of the things his Dad had shared was a tactic he used sometimes that could win his Daddy over to his point of view.   Watching his Dad put the moves on his Daddy made him smile.   He quietly backed away from the doorway and tiptoed up the stairs to his room.   He closed the door and laughed at the thought that his Dad could get his way so easily by distracting his Daddy.   He knew it was because his Dads loved each other very much and worked hard at making each other happy.  

David loved his adopted parents and wanted to have a loving relationship like theirs when he found his life partner.   His thoughts moved to the hot looking new guy that he met in his math class who had just moved to the area.   His name was Mark.   He had sat next to him in class his first day at Hayfield Secondary.   David’s thoughts about Mark were interrupted by Purev’s arrival.   He sat up and asked, “How’s Idree?”

Purev sat down on his bed and burst into tears.   “His parents have forbidden him to see me.   They met my father at a party and he told them I was gay.”

David stood up and crossed over to Purev’s bed.   He put his arms around Purev and said, “I’m so sorry, Purev.”

Purev clung to David and put his head on his shoulder as he cried.   After a while, Purev pulled back and said, “I’m sorry.   I shouldn’t be crying on your shoulder.”

David said, “It’s okay, Purev.   That’s what friends are for.”

Purev gave him a watery smile and said, “I don’t deserve such good friends.”

“Yes, you do, Purev,” David said.   “You’re part of this family and we love you.   You’ll find a new boyfriend.   Just wait and see.”

Purev nodded his head and said, “I know you’re right; but it just hurts like hell right now.”

David held Purev in his embrace until Purev seemed to be fully recovered.   He released him and asked, “Are you okay, now?”

Purev nodded and said, “Yeah, I’m okay.   How are you and Mark doing?”

David smiled, “We’re good.   Dad has relented on his edict that we were forbidden to go over to Mark and Michaela’s house.   Ashley convinced him that just because their Dad was a bigot and someone to be avoided that didn’t mean we couldn’t associate with his kids.   Mark and Michaela are okay with our Dads being gay.   In fact, Mark is gay; but hasn’t had the courage to tell his Dad.”

“I can imagine his Dad would disown him just like mine did,” Purev said.

David nodded his head in agreement.   “That’s why Mark hasn’t told his Dad.   We have most of our classes together and we have the same lunch schedule; so we spend a lot of time together.   Mark wants us to be good friends.   He thinks that if we’re still good friend after high school that we can talk about becoming romantically involved with each other.”

Purev smiled.   “Did you have the same discussion with him about not having sex until you’re 18 as you did with me?”

David nodded his head and said, “Yes, I did.   He agreed with me.   He doesn’t want to risk being found out.”

Purev said, “Do you want to play video games?”

David laughed.   “Are you sure you want to play with me?   You haven’t been able to beat me yet.”

Purev said, “I’m going to beat you on of these times and you will have to admit that I’m a better gamer than you!”

David punched Purev in the shoulder.   “Yeah right!”

The two boys left their bedroom and made their way to the living room and turned on the flat screen TV and the game console.   They were soon concentrating on their efforts to keep the other from winning.

It was Christmas Eve and Rick and Glenn gathered their family around the Christmas tree to read the Christmas story.   Rick said, “Okay, everyone.   Who is going to be Joseph?”  

Kyle raised his hand, “I am and Ashley gets to be Mary.”

Ashley said, “That was obvious.”

Kyle grinned and said, “I’m good at stating the obvious.”

Cameron said, “We want to be the shepherds.”

Rick said, “Okay, you and Skye can be the shepherds.   JJ and Josh, what do you want to be?”

JJ said, “I want to be one of the sheep.”

Josh said, “I want to be a camel.”

“Good, we have one sheep and one camel,” Rick said.

Zach said, “I get to be the angel.”

Todd said, “I think you’re already an angel.”

Zach smiled at his husband and leaned over to kiss him.   “So are you.”

I said, “Then we’ll have two angels.”

Todd laughed and said, “I’d love to be an angel.   Growing up, I always had to be a shepherd or a wise man because Adam wanted to be the angel.”

“We need three wise men,” Rick said.

Purev looked at David and asked, “Do you want to be a wise man or a shepherd?”

“Let’s be wise men,” David replied.

“Okay,” Purev agreed.

Rick handed me the last Christmas present from under the tree.   It was a small beautifully wrapped box.   He sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders.   “Go ahead and open it.”

The children watched me, as I unwrapped my gift.   I opened the box and stared at what lie on the tissue paper.   Kyle leaned over to see what was in the box.   “It’s a set of keys.”

“I can see that,” I said.   I reached inside the box and lifted out the keys.   They were on one of those cheap tourist key chains that you find at the beach.   This one said, ‘Malagá.’  I shifted the tissue paper around in the box and noticed there was a card underneath it.   I pulled it out and opened it.   A folded piece of paper fell out on my lap.   The card read, “Merry Christmas, Glenn!   Love, Rick 8-3-1-4.”   I unfolded the piece of paper that fell out of the card.   As I read it, my eyes got as big as saucers.   “Rick, you didn’t”

“I did,” he said.  

Ashley said, “What did Dad do?”

“He bought us a house in Malagá, Spain.   It’s a villa on the beach,” I said.

Rick smiled and said, “Joey and Tyler called me about two months ago about a house that was for sale next door to their parents’ home in Malagá.   It’s a large home with a swimming pool and 8 bedrooms.   I thought we could live there this summer and tour Europe.”

I gave Rick a hug and a kiss.   “I love you, sweetheart.   Thank you so much.”

Kyle asked, “So does this mean we’re going to Spain next summer?”

“Yes, is does,” Rick said.   “Joey and Tyler have a house there as well; but it’s a couple of houses over from ours.   We can spend a few weeks on the beach before touring around the continent.”

I looked around the room and said, “This means we need to redouble our efforts to learn Spanish.”

Zach laughed and said, “I knew you were going to say that.”

Ashley said, “We already speak Spanish, Daddy.   You’ve been teaching us Spanish for years now.”

Purev said, “I’m going to need extra lessons to catch up with everyone; since I have only lived with you for a month.”

I looked over at Purev.   “I think I can tutor you one-on-one if you’re willing to take the time learn it.   You already speak two languages; picking up a third should be easier for you than for most people.”

Purev smiled at me.   He and I had developed a close friendship over the last few weeks.   He admitted that Rick intimidated him and he wasn’t sure where he stood with him.   I had tried to reassure him that he had nothing to fear from my beloved husband.   Rick definitely is a man’s man; but he has a heart of gold.   Purev would agree with me, but I could see he wasn’t convinced.   I have talked to Rick about softening his approach to Purev and we agreed we would work on it together.   I looked over at Rick and nodded me head.

Rick understood me and said, “Purev, I would like to help you improve your Spanish skills, too.”  Purev looked at Rick in surprise; but he didn’t say anything.   Rick saw his expression.   He smiled and said, “Don’t look so surprised, Purev.   I’m not the big, bad wolf or something like that.   I love you, Purev, and I want you to reach your full potential.”   Rick held his gaze and Purev’s eyes began to sparkle with unshed tears as the realization that Rick didn’t hate him or despise him for his behavior with David and Idree.   “Just because I don’t necessarily approve of something you’ve done, doesn’t stop me from loving you.   I’m not like your natural father who hasn’t figured out that you are the most precious thing he has in this world.”   Rick saw a single tear escape and run down Purev’s cheek.   He stood up and crossed the room to Purev.   He took Purev by the hand, pulling him to his feet and into his embrace.   He held him for what seemed to be a long time.   Purev’s tears watered his shirt as he clung to Rick.  

Finally, Purev pulled back and said, “I love you, Dad,”

Hearing those words brought tears to my eyes, knowing how far Purev had come in order for him to be able to say those words to Rick.   Rick ruffled his hair and said, “I love you, too, Purev.”

Purev laughed and escaped Rick’s embrace as Rick gave his ‘evil dude’ laugh.   Purev knew that laugh and what it meant.   He had seen Rick in action with the other boys and knew he would end up being tickled if he didn’t make good his escape.

Rick grinned and asked, “Why did you run away so fast?”

Purev put the armchair between himself and Rick before turning to answer.   He grinned and said, “I know what you are up to, Dad.”

“What do you think I’m up to?” Rick asked, giving an evil laugh.

Kyle said, “You’d better run for it Purev!”

Rick laughed and said, “I won’t get you this time; but beware.   I’ll get you when you least expect!”

David said, “We’ll help you escape, Purev.”

Rick looked at David and asked, “What’s this, mutiny among the crew?”

I nodded my head and said, “Yes, it is, Babe!”

Rick returned to my side and said, “I guess we’ll have to deal with the whole lot at the same time then.”

I laughed and said, “I suppose you will because I’ve already dealt with it.”

“How’s that?” Rick asked.

“I’ve already told them that I’ll help them tickle you next time you start to tickle them,” I said.

Rick gave me a look of surprise.   He said, with mock sadness, “I’ve been betrayed!”

“No, we’ve just decided that we love you enough to tickle you back,” Kyle said.

I nodded my head.   I decided that we needed to get back to the subject of learning Spanish.   “If we’re going to live in Spain, we need to learn how to speak like Spaniards.”

Ashley nodded her head.   “I remember how you taught us to listen to how people speak; so we could identify where they are from by how they pronounce certain words.”

I smiled at Ashley.   “Do you remember what to listen for?”

“Yes, I do,” she replied and proceeded to recite from memory everything I had taught her.

Rick laughed and said, “I think she’s got it.   You had better watch out, Glenn.   She will learn to speak Spanish better than you do.”

I looked at Ashley and said, “I would be perfectly happy to see you learn to speak better Spanish than I do.   It would make me very proud.”

Ashley beamed and said, “I’ll try.”

David asked, “May we invite our friends to stay with us in Spain?”

Rick looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders.   He turned back to David and said, “If you mean you want to invite Mark, I think that would be okay.”

Ashley said, “Then may I invite Michaela?”

“Yes, you may,” I said.   I turned to Kyle and asked, “Do you want to invite anyone?”

Kyle smiled and said, “Yes.   Her name is Catharine.”

I looked at Rick with raised eyebrows.   “I think that would be okay,” I said.   “However, we need to make sure it’s okay with her parents.”

Todd asked, “What about Caroline?”

Kyle said, “Caroline is a good friend; but I wanted to date Catharine.”

Zach asked, “Is Catharine better looking than Caroline?”

“Yes, she is.  Her mom is really cool and thinks that my Dads are wonderful,” Kyle said.

Rick smiled.   “Of course, she does; because we are very wonderful.”

“How will Caroline react when she finds out you want to take Catharine?” I asked.

“She’ll be okay with it, since she knows Catharine and I really like each other,” Kyle said.

“I’m not so sure that’s true,” Rick said.

Kyle shook his head in disagreement.   “Caroline introduced us.   She wanted me to get to know Catharine.   She said we would make a perfect couple.”

“So when do we get to meet your new girlfriend?” Zach asked.

“Well, today, if it’s okay with my Dads,” Kyle said.

Rick laughed and said, “Yes, it’s okay.   I’ll take you out driving so you can get some time on the road.”

Todd asked, “How many hours of driving do you have now?”

“15 hours.   I have to have 45 hours of driving time before I can take the Behind the Wheel class and get my driver’s license,” Kyle said.

Zach said, “It’s a good thing.   It’s a wonder your Dad has any hair left since you got your learner’s permit.”

Kyle laughed.   “It helps that Dad keeps his hair short.   It makes it harder to pull out.”

Rick said, “Kyle’s a pretty good driver most of the time.   My only complaint is that he tends to drive too fast sometimes.”

Zach guffawed.   “As if you never speed!”

Rick gave us his ‘who me look,’ and put his hand on his chest.  “Not me!   I never speed!”

Kyle laughed.   “Dad!  You have your fingers crossed!”

Rick grinned and said, “Not only do I have my fingers crossed; but my legs and arms as well!”

We all laughed at that, especially since we all know that Rick has a lead foot when it comes to the accelerator!   I said, “There’s a reason we make it from here to Atlanta in record time!”

Kyle nodded his head.   “That’s true.   I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”

“Rick can’t be any worse than Zach,” Todd said, jabbing his husband in the ribs with his elbow.

Zach laughed and admitted, “Guilty as charged!”

Todd asked, “When are you flying down to Atlanta?”

“The day after tomorrow,” Rick said.   “We’ll spend 5 days with our grandparents and then well fly to Toronto to see Mom and Dad.”

Kyle said, “And we’re going to the beach.   Grandpa called last night to tell us about the beach house he rented for all of us.”

“It won’t be very warm; but I like being on the beach,” I said.   “In fact, it’s almost better to be there when everyone else is at home.   It’s so peaceful without all of the tourists.”

Zach said, “We like the beach as well.”

“Why don’t you go with us to Spain?   We would love to have you guys,” I said.

Todd looked at his husband.   Zach said, “I think we could go for a month or so.   That way I can be back in time to begin training for our next season.”

Todd said, “That sounds perfect.”

We continued to talk about our plans for the summer and enjoyed our time together.

Garth and Phil were on their honeymoon.   They had chosen to spend the week in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hawaii.   Tomorrow would be the last day of the year and they had planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beach, to be followed some awesome sex to ring in the new year.   Garth loved Phil’s youthful exuberance.   Everything was new to him and he shared the sense of awe at nature’s wonders with Garth.   Phil was so excited to climb Mount Kilauea, and see the lava bubbling below them.   Garth had laughed at Phil’s inability to contain his excitement.   It was like a kid in candy store.  

Garth smiled as he watched his new husband as he snapped photographs of everything.   Phil returned to Garth’s side and took his hand in his.

“Isn’t this great?” Phil asked, his eyes shining with joy.   “Thank you for bringing me here, Garth.”   He gave Garth a quick kiss on the lips.

The tour guide smiled and said, “You two must be newlyweds.”

Garth laughed and asked, “How could you tell?”

She replied, “It’s kind of obvious.   You both have that special glow about you.   Only newlyweds have that aura about them.”

Phil smiled and said, “That’s because we are so happy.”

She nodded her head.   “I can see that.   In fact, I’d dare say that you are very much in love with each other.”

Garth said, “That’s true.”

There were three other couples with them on the tour; two younger couples who looked to be Phil’s age and one older couple who looked to be in their sixties.   The elderly couple looked on Garth and Phil with disapproval, while the two younger couples congratulated them on their recent marriage.   Garth chose to ignore the older couple, and let himself be carried along with his husband’s excitement.

Later, at their hotel, Garth received a phone call from Lt. Col. Henderson.   “Hello, Clay.”

“Sorry to bother you, Garth,” Clay said.

Garth responded, “Not a problem.   What can I do for you?”

“Can I ask a favor of you?” Clay asked.   He had thought long and hard about how to approach Garth with his request, before actually making the call.   When Rick had resigned, Phil had also decided to leave the project.   Clay had celebrated with his staff that day.   He bragged loudly about his accomplishment, and he hadn’t been shy about making sure that General Tanaka knew how happy he was that he had managed to rid his project team of the two gay men.   General Tanaka had called him into his office to put Clay on notice that the project had not better slip any deadlines, or reduce the scope of its deliverables.  

It took about two weeks for Clay to realize that his project was sliding downhill fast.   His assertion that any straight man could do the job much better than any homosexual, caused three more of his project team to resign and leave their employment with the government.   When he had tried to recruit replacements for his vacant positions, he was bluntly told that he would have to find military personnel to fill them, because word had gotten out to the private sector regarding his prejudice against gays; and the discrimination he practiced towards civilian contractors.

He had taken his staffing problem to General Tanaka who told him to fix his own problem, since he had been the cause of it.   When his project missed its next deadline, General Tanaka delivered an ultimatum.   He gave Clay two weeks to remedy the situation or he would be replaced.   He was nearing the end of the two weeks, and he was growing desperate.   He had heard through the grapevine that General Tanaka had already recruited his replacement, and was only waiting for the allotted time to expire.

Garth replied, “It depends on what you are asking me to do for you.”

Clay asked, “Would you be willing to talk to Rick and Phil about returning to work on my project?”

Garth thought for a moment about how to respond.   “Clay, let me tell you something first, before I answer your question.   Phil and I were married last week, and we are on our honeymoon right now.”  Clay was stunned.   He couldn’t even articulate how shocked he was.   When he didn’t say anything, Garth continued, “Yes, I am gay and I married the most wonderful man in the world.   Now, think about what you just asked me to do.   Knowing how you feel about homosexuals and faggots, as you call us, do you honestly think that I would willingly ask my new husband to work for someone as homophobic as you?”  Clay tried to respond, but still couldn’t get a word past his lips.   Garth didn’t wait for an answer.   “The answer is absolutely not!   I won’t ask Rick to work for you either.   Both Rick and Phil are wonderful, hardworking individuals who would give you the shirt off of their backs.   You managed to run them both off of your project, and bragged to everyone who would listen to you about how you got rid of the faggots.   I’m sorry, Clay.   I think you will need to look elsewhere for a solution to your self-inflicted staffing crisis.”

Garth ended the call and turned to his lover.   Phil said, “Let me guess.  That was Lt. Col. Henderson.”

Garth’s expression softened as he looked into Phil’s eyes.   “Yes, it was.   The poor fool has got himself into a real pickle.   He wouldn’t listen to me or to General Tanaka.   He let his prejudice against gays rule his life, and, as a result, he is paying the price for his bigotry.”

Phil said, “As will all those who carry hate in their hearts.   Let’s not talk about him anymore.   I want you to fuck me before we go out to the pool.”   He wrapped his arms around his husband’s waist and ground his crotch against Garth’s.   He kissed Garth deeply.

Garth’s body immediately responded to Phil’s touch.   He said, “My wish is your command!”   Garth loved the feel of his young lover’s body under his hands as he gave in to the passion building in his loins.  

Clay still hadn’t recovered, when Garth ended the call.   He sat at his kitchen table in silence.   His wife and children were downstairs playing board games.   They had invited him to join them; but he needed to find a way to rescue his project, before his career came to a dead end.

He had tried calling Rick’s cell phone; but hadn’t been able to reach him.   He had called Phil’s cell phone with the same result.   When Garth had answered, he thought his luck had changed.   Hearing of Garth’s marriage to another man had left him feeling like he had run into a brick wall.   It had taken a lot of soul searching before he could bring himself to even call the two faggots.   He hated to admit that he needed them to keep his project afloat.   Then, to learn that his predecessor was a faggot, and was married to a faggot had been too much to for his brain to process.

He sat at the table, trying figure out what his next move was going to be.   He couldn’t think of anything; so he finally stood up from the table and made his way downstairs to join his family.   He found them watching a DVD.   He noted that Mark was busy sending text messages.   He sat down next to his son and asked, “Who are you texting?”

Mark looked up his father and said, “David.”

“I thought his father had forbidden him from having any contact with us,” Clay said.

Mark sent his text message and put his phone in his pocket.   “No, that’s not true.   He specifically said they couldn’t come here; because of your prejudice against gays.”

Michaela said, “We don’t hate gays like you do, Dad.   You have judged Ashley’s Dads to be horrible people without even knowing them.   You are breaking a commandment, Dad.   Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’  You are always preaching to us about being good Christians; but you are actions don’t mirror your words.”

Clay’s first reaction was to get angry at his daughter; but he found himself thinking that maybe she was right about his less than Christian behavior toward gays.   He pushed such thoughts out of his mind.   He refused to acknowledge that he was wrong about gays.   He had hated them for so long that hatred had become part of his very being.

Mark watched his father’s expression change as he struggled to maintain control of his anger.   Mark watched as his father’s face turn into a mask of hatred, and knew he could never admit to his father that he was gay.  He got up from the couch to put some distance between him and his father.   Just being near him made his skin crawl, despite the love he felt for his father.   Mark hadn’t noticed that his mother was closely observing her son and his reaction to his father.   She had begun to suspect that Mark was attracted to other boys, and worried about him, especially if his father ever found out.

Clay’s temper was legendary in his family.   His mother had warned Janelle about it and had given her advice about how to handle it.   Janelle feared that Clay would do physical harm to her son if he somehow found out Mark’s secret.

She said, “Let’s go upstairs and have some pie and ice cream.”

Michaela said, “That’s sounds good.”   She got to her feet and started up the stairs, followed by Mark and his mother.   Clay sat there staring at the television screen, thinking that maybe he could get Mark to send a text message to David, asking Rick to call him.

He stood up and followed his family upstairs.   He sat down at the kitchen table and asked, “Mark, would you send a message to David, asking his father to call me.”

Mark asked, “Why?”

“I need to talk to him about coming back to work on my project,” Clay said.

Mark eyebrows shot up in surprise and he asked, “You’re joking, right?”

“No, I wish I were.   You know how much I hate faggots.   If I weren’t desperate, I wouldn’t even consider calling him,” Clay said.

“Yes, I know how much hatred you have toward gays, and that is why I wasn’t sure you were serious about sending David a text message for his father,” Mark said.

“I’m serious.   Now, please send David that text message,” Clay said, impatiently.

Mark sent the text message.   A response came back immediately.   He read the message and responded.   He looked up and met his father’s eyes.   “His Dad said that unless you want to apologize for your homophobic behavior, that there is nothing to more to be said.”

Clay swore and then he said, “I’m not apologizing to anyone.”

Mark sent back a text message stating his Dad’s position.   He read the message that came back in reply.

“Mark, stop acting as a go between for your father.   He needs to be man enough to do his own work instead of asking you to do what he’s is incapable of doing for himself.   I’m handing David back his phone so you can continue your conversation.”

Mark texted back, “Thanks Mr. Lernier.”   He put his cell phone in his pocket and finished eating his pie and ice cream.   Mark said, “Thanks, Mom.   The pie was fantastic.”   He kissed her cheek as he passed her on the way to the sink.   He rinsed his plate and loaded it into the dishwasher.   “I’m going to bed.   I’ll see you in the morning.”

He left the kitchen and climbed the stairs to his bedroom.   As soon as he closed the door, he stripped off his clothes and jumped into his bed.   He sent one last text message to David.   “I miss you.   I can’t wait until you get home from vacation.”

David responded, “I miss you, too.   I wish you were here at the beach with us.”

In the kitchen, Janelle looked across the table at her husband.   He had changed so much from the carefree young man she had married so long ago.   She wasn’t sure she knew him at all anymore.   He had served in Iraq and Afghanistan several times now, and she feared that his experiences had hardened him.   She found herself shut out of his life.   The passion and warmth that had characterized their relationship prior to his deployment overseas had evaporated into thin air.   It was like living with a stranger.   The hatred that he exhibited toward gays, single mothers, blacks, Hispanics, and or any other minority seemed to rule his life.

She met his gaze and she said, “The hate you carry in your heart will drive all of us from you, Clay.   You need to find a way to purge it from your soul.   I don’t know who you are anymore; because you have changed so much.   I’m afraid that if things don’t begin to change for the better that I will have to take the children and leave you.”  Clay gave her a baleful stare which she returned in equal measure.   “You can glare at me all you want, Clay; but nothing you do or say will convince me to stay if you can’t get your temper under control.   I have contacted your commanding officer about your violent temper and the irrational hatred you seem to have for everyone.”

What control Clay had, vaporized as he realized that his wife had called his commanding officer.   He went completely berserk.   When reason finally reasserted itself, his wife lay on the floor in a pool of blood.   He heard the footsteps of his children on the stairs and fell to his knees, sobbing as he realized what he had done.

That is the scene that Mark and Michaela saw as they entered the kitchen.   Mark pulled out his cell phone and called 911.   The dispatcher answered and Mark described what he saw and gave his address.   The dispatcher said, “An ambulance is on its way.”

David looked up at his Dad and said, “I’m sorry, Dad.   I know how you feel about Mr. Henderson.”

“Don’t worry, son,” Rick said.   “It’s not your fault that Mark’s Dad has issues.”

Grandpa asked, “Rick, have you decided what you’re going to do about a job?”

“Yes, I have.   Garth and I are going to start our own consulting company.   Garth thinks we can bid on some of the military contracts at Quantico,” Rick said.   “If we win the contract, I can work from home most of the time.   That will allow Glenn to work with Todd, while I’m home with the children.”

I put my arm around Rick’s shoulders and said, “Rick has volunteered to watch the children while I go to work.”

Grandma smiled and said, “Good for you, Rick.   I think it will do the children good to have you stay at home with them.”

Rick said, “I’m looking forward to it.   Glenn and I have worked out a schedule that will allow him to keep teaching the children their language lessons.   I could teach them, but I think it’s important to keep them in touch with their Daddy.”

I leaned over and kissed my husband.   “It also gives Rick a break from having to be the one teaching them all the time.   We’ve also worked it out with Todd to do the same for math.   It’s going to take some getting used to, but I think we can make it work; at least for the short term.   Todd thinks we’ll be able knock out this project in short order, despite the 12-month contract we have with the company.   Once we get the new program installed, it will only be a matter of making maintenance visits until the contract has expired.”

Their attention turned to David when they heard him cry out.   Rick stood and walked over to David.   “What’s wrong?”

David’s voice shook as he said, “Mark’s Dad attacked his mother.   They just transported her to the hospital and his Dad has been arrested.   The police are calling social services.   Mark doesn’t know what is going to happen to them.”

A shocked silence settled over the room.   Rick sat down next to David and took him in his arms.   He said, soothingly, “I’m sure that Mark will be alright.”

David looked up into his Dad’s eyes.   “Is there something we can do to help?”

Rick said, “Yes, there is.   We can call Mrs. Evans and ask her to check on Mark and Michaela.   She has contacts with Fairfax County social services.   We can ask the General and Mrs. Campbell if they would be willing to take in the two teenagers until their mother is out of the hospital.”

David’s lower lip quivered as he said, “Can we do that, please?”

Rick looked across the room at me.   I said, “Yes.   I’ll call the Campbells first and then we’ll call Mrs. Evans.”

I made the calls as promised.   When I had finished, I looked at David and said, “David, Mrs. Evans will let us know what she has been able to do.   Meanwhile, we can pray for them and ask God to watch over them.”

David nodded his head.   Rick tightened his embrace and asked, “Are you going to be okay?”

David nodded his head.   “Yes, I’ll be alright.   May I tell Mark about Mrs. Evans and the Campbells?”

“Yes, and make sure to tell him to ask the social workers to call her.   This is her cell number.”   I gave it to him and he immediately started texting with Mark.

Mark read the David’s text messages and stood up to go get a pencil and paper.   The police detective noticed him and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m getting a piece of paper and pencil.   Do you have a problem with that?” Mark said.   “I do live here, you know.”

The detective bit back a harsh reply.   He had a son the same age as this young man.   He was pretty amazed that he was holding it together given the circumstances.   He followed Mark into the kitchen where Mark retrieved a paper and pencil.   Mark started writing down the information David had sent him.   Then he dialed Mrs. Evans number.  

She answered her cell phone on the first ring.   “Hello.”

“This is Mark Henderson.”

“Mark, I’m glad you called me.   I’m on my way over to your home right now.   The Fairfax County social workers should be there right now.   Please don’t say anything or do anything until I get there,” she said.

“Okay,” Mark said.   He ended the call and walked past the detective, who had been trying to listen to Mark conversation.

Mark returned to the front room and sat down next to his sister.   A few moments later, two women entered the house, escorted by a policeman.   The officer introduced them to the children.   “This is Mrs. Shelton and Mrs. Carlton.   They will be making arrangements for you to stay with a foster family.”

Mark didn’t acknowledge them but waited in silence for them to speak.   Finally, Mrs. Shelton said, “I’m sorry about what has happened.”  Mark gave her a hard-eyes look and said nothing.   “We’re here to see if we can make things better.”

“You can’t change the past, Mrs. Shelton,” Mark said with an edge to his voice.

“No, we can’t,” she acknowledged.   “Do you have any family in the area?”

Mark didn’t respond, remembering what Mrs. Evans had said.   His phone vibrated in his pocket and pulled it out of his pocket.   He read the text message and looked up at Mrs. Shelton.   “No, but I want to talk to Mrs. Evans who just arrived.”

Mrs. Shelton looked puzzled.   “Who is Mrs. Evans?”

Another police officer appeared in the front room and announced, “This is Mrs. Evans.”

Mrs. Shelton said, “Nice to meet you Mrs. Evans.”

Mrs. Evans smiled and said, “Thank you.   It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Shelton and Mrs. Carlton.”

Mrs. Shelton’s cell phone rang and she answered it.   She listened for a moment and then ended the call.   She looked at Mrs. Evans and said, “Apparently, you are to take the children to stay with the Campbell family.”

Mrs. Evans smiled and nodded her head.   “Yes, that is why I have come here.”

Mrs. Shelton looked relieved.   She really hadn’t looked forward to trying to place two teenagers in foster care, especially given the circumstances.   “Thank you for taking care of the children.”

Mrs. Evans replied, “You’re welcome.”

Mrs. Shelton turned to her companion.   “Our work here is done.   I’ll let the detective know that the children will need to go upstairs to get a few things to take with them.”

She left the room and then returned.   “It’s okay for you to go get your things.”

Mark and Michaela both stood up and did as they were told.   They returned to the front room to find that Mrs. Evans sitting on the couch, waiting for them.   She gave them a smile and said, “Thank you for being so quick.   Let’s get you two away from here.”

They followed her out of the house and climbed into her car.   She didn’t talk to them on the drive over to the Campbell’s home.   She knew that both of them had to be in shock.   She pulled into the Campbell’s driveway and announced, “Here we are.”

They got out of the car and walked to the front door.   It opened before they reached it.   Mrs. Campbell stood in the doorway and said, “Welcome to my home.   Please come in, Mrs. Evans.   It’s nice to see you again.”

They followed her into the kitchen.   She said, “Please leave your things by the kitchen door and take a seat at the table.”   She soon had cups of hot cocoa on the table along with bowls of homemade chicken soup.   “I hope you like chicken soup.   I have canned soups in the pantry; but homemade chicken soup is so much better.”

Mark smiled at her and said, “Thank you.   I love homemade chicken soup.”   The teenagers made quick work of the light meal.

Mrs. Campbell said, “I’m sorry that the General isn’t here to meet you.   It’s past his bedtime and he’s been asleep for over an hour now.”

Michaela said, “That’s alright.   I’m sure we will meet him in the morning.”

Mrs. Campbell smiled and said, “That’s correct, dear.   I know you’ve had quite a shock with everything that has happened tonight.   I want you to know that you are safe here.   If you need to talk to me, please don’t hesitate to tell me you need me.   David has spoken very highly of you Mark.   In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would think he has a crush on you.”  Mark blushed.   He knew what she said was true.   David had tried to hide his feelings from him, but Mark knew David liked him a lot.   The feeling was mutual, but like David, Mark had been a little shy about sharing them with David.  

Seeing the color rising in Mark’s cheeks, Mrs. Campbell smiled.   “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.   David is a sweet young man.   I hope that things will work out between you two.”   She looked at Michaela and said, “Ashley tells me you’re a good friend.   She called me a while ago to tell me that you like to make cookies.   Would you like to help me make cookies tomorrow?”

Michaela smiled.   She was reassured by Mrs. Campbell’s gentle manner.   “Yes, I would love to help you.”

Mrs. Campbell said, “Good.   That’s settled.   Mark, the General has a shooting range in the basement along with a large collection of guns.   I think I remember David telling me that you are interested in the military.”

Mark looked at Mrs. Campbell and said, “Yes, I am.   I would love to shoot some guns on the shooting range if the General will let me.”

Mrs. Campbell laughed.   “Oh, the General will be more than willing to let you shoot guns with him.   He loves showing off his gun collection.”

Mark smiled and said, “Thank you for taking us in on such short notice.   David said he calls you Grandma.   May we call you Grandma as well?”

“Yes, you may; but never call the General, ‘grandpa.’   He’s the General and will always be the General,” Mrs. Campbell said.

Mark said, “I’ll remember that.”

Mrs. Evans said, “I’m going to leave you two in Mrs. Campbell’s capable hands.   If you need me, you have my cell number.”

Mark said, “Thank you for coming to get us before they decided to ship us off to some foster home.”

“You’re most welcome,” Mrs. Evans said.   “I hope you realized that you’ve been adopted into a wonderful family.   The Lerniers always take care of their own.   They are good people, as are the Campbells.”

Mrs. Campbell smiled and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Evans.”

They stood up from the table and Mrs. Campbell saw Mrs. Evans to the door, promising to call her in the morning.   She returned to the kitchen and said, “Let’s get you two settled.   Please bring your things and I’ll show you to your rooms.”

The teenagers followed her upstairs and she showed them their new rooms.   “Michaela, I hope you won’t mind staying in Ashley’s room.   She said you would like it.”

Michaela walked into the room and looked around.   She said, “It’s really nice.   Thank you.”

“The bathroom is through that door and you’ll find fresh towels on the rack.   I will see you in the morning.   Breakfast will be served at 8 AM sharp.   The General is a creature of habit and insists on breakfast at 8; so don’t be late.”

Mark hugged his sister and said, “Everything will be okay.   I promise.”

Michaela had been holding out pretty well until he hugged her.   She lost control of her emotions and cried.   She asked, “Why did he do it?”

“I don’t know, Michaela,” Mark answered.   “I don’t know.”

“Do you think Mom will be okay?” Michaela asked.

“I don’t know that either,” Mark answered.   “Mom looked pretty bad; but the paramedic said she looked worse than she was.   I overheard him talking to the hospital.   He thought she might have a broken neck.”

Mrs. Campbell had stood in the doorway listening to their conversation.   She said, “We will go over to the hospital in the morning.   That way you can see for yourselves how your mother is doing.”

Mark looked at her and said, “Thank you.”   He hugged his sister and asked, “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yes,” she answered.  

Mrs. Campbell said, “Mark’s room is across the hall from yours.   If you need him, you can knock on his door.”

She crossed the hall and opened the door to Mark’s room.   “This is David’s room.   He asked that I put you in his room.”

Mark walked in and immediately saw that it was indeed David’s room.   There were posters of robots and spaceships on the walls.   The entire room was decorated with stars, moons, and planets.   There was a mobile of the solar system hanging from the ceiling as well as a model of the spaceship Enterprise from the television series.   It was so David that Mark laughed.   “I can tell this is David’s room alright.”

Mrs. Campbell chuckled.   “Yes, you can.   With everything he has put on the walls in this room, it isn’t hard to figure that out.”  Mark put his bag on the floor and collapsed on the bed.   “I’ll see you in the morning,” she said and closed the door.

Mark kicked off his shoes and stared at the ceiling.   It was then that he noticed that there were stars on the ceiling.   He looked closer and realized they would glow in the dark.   He got up and turned out the light.   He climbed on the bed and looked up.   Sure enough, they glowed brightly against the dark ceiling.   He saw they had been arranged into the constellations just like they were in real life.   His eyes followed the outlines of each of the major signs of the zodiac.   His eyelids grew heavy and he soon drifted off to sleep.

Prev To be continued . . .