The Lernier Family
© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 39: Austin, Texas

Todd and I boarded the plane at National Airport. After getting settled into our seats, Todd went over the project with me, for what seemed the one hundredth time. I finally put a finger to his lips, and said, "Todd, I got it. I think we'll be okay."

Todd took my hand in his and leaned over to kiss me. "I'm sorry for being so paranoid. This is a really important contract for me, and I'm very nervous."

I laughed, and said, "You aren't telling me anything I don't already know."

Todd grinned. "Okay, I've been stressing out too much about it; but I've got a bad feeling about this meeting. I've made backup plans, just in case things go badly with this deal."

I said, "Todd, everything will be just fine. Your client already thinks very highly of you, and I'm sure they'll be even more impressed as the project moves forward. Besides, as you've told me before, you've got another contract in the works; just in case this one falls through. You've done everything you can to make this project a success. We've been over your check lists several times, Babe.  So, relax and enjoy the flight."

Todd nodded his head. "Thanks for the vote of confidence." He put his hand on my leg and rubbed my inner thigh. "However, the best part of this project is the fact that I get you all to myself."

I put my hand over his, and said, "I'm a little nervous about that part." I saw Todd's frown, and quickly added, "Not about being with you. I'm worried about Rick."

Todd relaxed. "Rick will be fine. Zach is with him and will be there to help, as needed. It's not like we won't be going home every couple of weeks. It will do him good to work with the boys and their schooling."

"I know, but Zach works long hours and spends a lot of time travelling. Besides, Rick hasn't really been home alone with the kids very much," I said.

"Glenn, you have three older children who can help out," Todd pointed out.

"Yes, but Rick hasn't had to homeschool four active boys. That job has fallen to me and you," I said.

Todd replied, "We'll be talking to them every night. Don't worry about Rick and the boys. Cammy and Skye know the routine pretty well, and they're a big help with JJ and Josh. Not only that, we've done everything we could to help Rick with the homeschooling. We left him detailed lesson plans that should last him until the end of the month. Remember, Rick is currently out of work, and homeschooling the boys will keep him busy."

I sighed and leaned back in my seat, still holding his hand. "I'm just a worrier, Todd. You know that."

"Yes, I do know that. You've been rubbing off on me, because I've started worrying about things, like this new contract," Todd said.

"Okay, I'll make you a deal. You stop worrying about your new client, and I'll stop worrying about our husbands being left to fend for themselves," I said.

Todd laughed. "Mr. Lernier, you have yourself a deal!"

For the rest of the flight, I leaned my head on Todd's shoulder and tried to get some sleep. I had been up late the night before, making sure everything was in order for Rick. Rick had finally picked me up and physically carried me off to bed. We made love to each other into the early hours of the morning. In fact, I was a little sore from our extended sex play!

Todd shook me awake, as our flight began its approach to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. "We'll be on the ground in a few minutes, Babe."

A while later, we were standing at the baggage claim when we were approached by a young Hispanic man, holding a sign that said, "Anderson-Ingram."

Todd smiled and said, "I'm Mr. Anderson-Ingram."

His dark eyes sparkled as he smiled. "I'm Juan Gallegos. I'm supposed to drive you to our office."

Todd said, "Thanks, Juan. This is my business associate, Glenn Lernier. He will be working very closely with me on this project."

Juan extended his hand and I shook it. "It's nice to meet you Juan."

I had already given Juan the once over. He looked to be in his early twenties, with jet black hair, eyes like obsidian, and a thin black mustache over a generous smile. As I raised my eyes from his crotch, he met my gaze and winked at me. He still held my hand in his. "I'm very happy to meet you. I hope that you'll let me show you around Austin tonight."   The way he said it gave me goosebumps!

Todd said, "We would love that, Juan."

Juan released my hand and turned to Todd. "May I take your luggage?"

Todd declined, "No, thank you for the offer. I have only one bag and it's easy to pull."

I grabbed my suitcase off of the luggage carousel, and returned to where they were standing. "I'm ready to go."

Juan led us out of the terminal to the parking lot. He opened the trunk of his Volkswagen Jetta, and we threw our luggage inside. We climbed into the car with him, and he made his way out of the airport. He turned onto Ben White Boulevard, heading west into the city.

Juan pointed out a couple of restaurants as we passed. "If you're looking for authentic Mexican food, those two restaurants are the best. They may not look like much, but the food is good." He turned right onto the service road for Interstate 35 and soon merged onto the freeway, heading north to Round Rock.

Juan said, "Danny told me you guys are renting an apartment near the company headquarters."

"Yes, we're renting a place at the Lodge at Warner Ranch," Todd said. "It's a two bedroom place. From the website, it looked pretty nice."

"It has two master bedrooms," I said.

Juan said, "They're pretty nice. I have some friends that live there. I live with my parents on Thibodeaux Drive; which is a few blocks away. We can run by your apartment, before going over to the office. We have a little more than two hours before we have to be at your opening meeting with our staff."

Todd said, "Sure. We've already taken care of the paperwork, so all we have to do is pick up the key."

Juan pulled into the parking lot, and found a space near the office. We walked into the rental office, and were greeted by nice looking brunette with bright green eyes. Her name tag said, "Mary Ann." She smiled and asked, "How may I help you?"

Todd said, "We're here to pick up the keys to our apartment."

"Come this way," she said, leading us into her office. She pointed at the chairs in front of her desk, "Please take a seat." She logged onto her computer, and said, "You must be Mr. Anderson-Ingram." She looked at Todd.

"Yes, I am, and this is Glenn Lernier, who will be sharing the apartment with me," he said.

She smiled and said, "I'm happy to welcome you to Round Rock." She pulled out a welcome package and two sets of keys. "Here are your keys and a packet of information about local businesses, restaurants and other services." She pulled out another folder and handed it to him. "This is copy of your lease and a couple of forms for you to fill out, once you're moved in. Please don't hesitate to call me if you have any questions."

Todd said, "Thank you very much." We stood and shook her hand.

We left the office and walked around to the apartment, letting ourselves in with the keys we had been given. We walked around the apartment, looking at everything to make sure there weren't any damages that needed to be repaired.

Juan said, "It looks like everything is in order. When does your furniture arrive?"

"The beds and kitchen furniture arrive tonight. I told them to deliver after 5 PM," Todd said. "The rest of the furniture will arrive tomorrow."

We dropped our luggage in one of the bedrooms and locked up the apartment. Juan said, "I guess we need to get to the office. The boss will be wanting to meet with you, before meeting the rest of the team."

Todd nodded his head. "Danny told us that yesterday."

Danny White was the project manager who would be overseeing our work. Danny had found out about Todd's company from a friend, Richard Mosely, at another software engineering company. Todd had done some work for Richard a few years ago. Richard had been so impressed with Todd that he had recommended him to several of his acquaintances at other firms. Those contracts had been small ones. This one was very different. Danny and Richard were golfing buddies, and had gone to school together. When Danny had asked Richard if he knew of anyone that could handle the large project, Richard had recommended Todd.

The vetting process had been pretty intense, but Todd had managed to secure the contract. The rest of our project team was supposed to meet us at the company headquarters in an hour. Our team consisted of Todd, Lenny Glassett, Alfred Bonito, and me. We would become an integrated part of a larger project team inside the company.

Juan pulled up to the guard shack at the gate to the company's parking lot. He showed his badge, and told the guard our names. The guard checked off our names on his clipboard. The guard said, "You'll need to sign in at the guard's desk, to get your visitor's badge."

Juan said, "I'll make sure they get to the right place."

The guard waved us through. Juan drove through the gate, and pulled into a parking spot near the front entrance. We got out and Juan led us inside, where we found the rest of our team waiting in the reception area.

As I had not met the other team members, Todd introduced me to them. "Glenn, I want you to meet Lenny Glassett and Alfred Bonito." The two men stood up. Lenny was 185 cm (6'1"). He had a swimmer's build with blond hair, light blue eyes, a long nose and thin mouth.

He extended his hand to me, and said, "Nice to meet you." He had a firm grip, and I returned it in equal measure. He grinned. "I look forward to working with you."

Alfred shook my hand, as well. He was 173 cm (5'8"). He was thin, but wiry. He wore his jet black hair in a pony tail that reached to his waist. His eyes were like obsidian. He had a pug nose and a broad smile. He said, "Aloha, Glenn."

I said, "Aloha. You must be from Hawai'i."

"I am. I'm from Maui. I'm working on the mainland for a while. My parents want me to return home and get married, but I'm not ready to settle down yet."

I turned to Lenny, and asked, "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Long Island, New York," he replied. His tone of voice was clipped and left no doubt that any additional questions weren't welcome.

Todd said, "Let me introduce you two to Juan Gallegos."

They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Juan said, "Please follow me. We'll get you squared away with the security guys."

We signed in with the guards, then went through the metal detectors; while our bags went through the x-ray machine. We retrieved our bags and followed Juan to the elevator bank in the center of the building.

"Danny wants to meet with you guys in his office," Juan said. Juan placed his badge on the reader, before pushing the button for the floor where Danny's office was located. The elevator moved quickly to the designated floor and the doors opened noiselessly. We walked out into a richly appointed reception area, where a number of attractive women sat behind a long counter.

One of them, a Latina, said, "Mr. White is waiting for you. Please go right in."

Juan led us into his boss' office. Danny White walked around his desk to greet us. He was about my height, but, where I'm thin and wiry, he was stocky, with a barrel chest and a little bit of a beer belly hanging over his belt. He had dark brown hair, speckled with grey and hazel eyes. He had a toothy grin and an outsize personality. His voice boomed across the room as he approached us. "Welcome to Austin, boys! I'm Danny White." He gave each of us a bone-rattling handshake. "It's good to see you, again, Todd. Why don't you introduce me to your team?"

Todd replied, "It's good to be here, Danny. This is Glenn Lernier, Lenny Glassett, and Alfred Bonito."

Danny fixed each of us with a penetrating gaze, as he recited what he knew of us. "Glenn, you're a Canadian from Saskatchewan, married with five children. I understand that you attended Georgia Tech."

"Yes, sir," I said, smiling.

"Lenny, you're from Brookhaven, Long Island, married with two children, and you graduated from NYU.   Your parents are from Argentina," he said.

Lenny nodded his head, but didn't speak.

He turned to Alfred. "You're from Hawai'i and descended from Filipino parents. You're single and attended the University of Washington."

Alfred grinned, and said, "Correct on all counts."

He turned back to Todd. "I trust you have briefed your team on the project's detail."

Todd nodded his head. "Yes, I have. I believe that we're ready to meet your internal team."

"We'll do just that in a few minutes. Please sit down. I would like to chat with you and your team about a couple of things."

We sat down in the chairs arranged in front of his desk. He took his seat behind the desk. He pressed his hands together in front of him, as he looked at us.

"I wanted to re-emphasize our company's non-discrimination policies. We do NOT tolerate discrimination against anyone, for whatever reason, and that includes sexual orientation. That being said, I think I need to give you fair warning about the attitudes we, Texans, have toward gays." He looked at me and Todd. "Our background investigation showed that you two are married to men. Our company's non-discrimination policy prevents me from saying or doing anything about my own personal feelings; however, please refrain from talking about your personal lives on the job. It will make things much easier for all of us. I will be giving the same instructions to the rest of the team. We have a very active Christian Fundamentalist group among the employees, here in the building. They have been warned multiple times that their recruitment activities are not allowed in the work place, as it violates our non-discrimination policy. We have employees working here from all over the world, representing most of the world's major religions. In order to maintain a positive work environment, we've provided breakout rooms for religious observances; but, we've forbidden religious activities in the office setting."

Todd said, "We're in agreement with your company's non-discrimination policies. We don't discriminate against straight people, or those whose religious views differ from our own. I look for the best talent, and hire only those that can abide by my company's policies; specifically, that they keep their religious views to themselves and they keep their private lives PRIVATE. To be honest, Mr. White, I am more than a little offended that you've made an issue of my sexual orientation, and that of a member of my staff. I think that this contract doesn't pay me enough money to make it worth my time; given the attitude you have shown toward gays. From what you've described, your company's non-discrimination policy is not worth the paper it's printed on." He stood and signaled that the rest of us join him. "My lawyers will be in touch with your procurement department regarding the cancellation of our contract with you."

Danny stood and his voice boomed across the room. "Now, you just wait a minute."

Todd ignored him, and continued out of the office. We followed him and made our way to the elevator. Juan came running after us. Juan said, "You can't leave."

Todd glared at Juan. "Are we prisoners here?"

Juan looked at Todd, in disbelief. "No, but you can't leave us like this. You have a contract with us."

Todd said, "We HAD a contract with you. I believe my contract with your company ended with the conversation we just had with Mr. White. I specifically added a clause to the contract stating that if we found that a hostile work environment exists at the work site with regards to the gay staff working for my company, that the contract would be declared null and void and subject to immediate termination without penalty for either company. Your contracting officer signed the contract and agreed to my terms."

Juan looked defeated as he escorted us out of the elevator and to the guard's desk, where we turned in our temporary badges.

Juan made one last attempt to keep us from leaving. "Won't you please reconsider? Mr. White didn't mean to offend you. He was just going over our company policies."

Todd nailed him with a look that caused him to step back a pace. "Juan, if you really believe that is all that happened in that office a few minutes ago, then you need to go back and listen to the recording that was made of our conversation."

Juan's jaw dropped. When he recovered, he asked, "How did you know that we were recording your conversation with Mr. White?"

"It was obvious from Mr. White's booming voice and his careful placement of his words. He acted so uncomfortable that there had to be something not right about the entire meeting. If there's one thing I've learned, Juan, it's don't trust anyone. I came prepared for the worst case scenario, and, unfortunately, it came to pass. Good afternoon, Juan," Todd said, dismissing him.

We stepped outside the building and gathered around Todd, waiting to hear what Todd wanted us to do next.

Todd said, "Lenny, did you rent a car?"

"Yes, I did, Boss," Lenny said, grinning.

"Let's head over to your hotel," Todd said.

Lenny led us to his rental car. We climbed inside and Lenny drove us to his hotel. While we rode in the car, Todd placed several phone calls to his attorney, and to his other business contacts in the Austin area.

When we arrived at the hotel, Lenny escorted us to his hotel suite. Todd nodded his approval. "Good job, Lenny. I had a feeling we would need to make this our center of operations, for a short while." Todd indicated that we should sit down at the dining room table. "I've had a bad feeling about this contract for some time; so, I have executed a backup plan. I've put in a bid on another contract, here in Austin. It's not as lucrative as the one I just cancelled; however, it's a long term project."

Lenny asked, "What do you mean by long term?"

"It's will be a five year contract. The number of people needed will be smaller. It will require the four of us initially, but, after the project's initiation, we'll need two of you full time and the third will be needed on an occasional basis. The advantage of this other contract is that we can work from home, except for a monthly meeting that will be held here in Austin," Todd said. "My plans are to have Lenny and Glenn work it full time. I'll work the occasional stuff." Here he looked at Alfred. "I've got another contract I'm bidding on that I want you to head up." Alfred looked doubtful. "Now, before you decide what to do, please hear me out. It's a contract working with the military in Hawai'i."

Alfred's eyes lit up and he sat forward in his chair. "Do you mean I'll get to move back to Hawai'i?"

"Yes, if you're willing to lead the project," Todd said, grinning.

Alfred nodded his head in approval. "Of course I'm willing to be your project manager."

We were interrupted by Todd's cell phone. He answered it. He stood up from the table and walked into one of the bedrooms, closing the door behind him. He returned a few minutes later. He was smiling like a Cheshire cat.

"The contact with the other company has just informed me that the contract will be awarded this afternoon, and that we won the bid," Todd said.

"When will we start work?" Lenny asked.

"Tomorrow, if everything goes well," Todd said. His cell rang again. He answered it. He listened for a few moments, then, ended the call. "That was my attorney. The contract has been voided. Apparently, the company had second thoughts about having us work their project, but felt the only way they could get out of it was to make sure we knew we would be working in a hostile environment. They agreed to reimburse us for our travel expenses."

Lenny asked, "So, what are our plans for the rest of the day?"

"Let's take a drive around Austin," Todd suggested.

We did just that. We walked around the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, and toured the Texas State Capitol building. Todd called the apartment complex to arrange for them to let the delivery guys in with our new beds, so we could have dinner downtown. During dinner, Todd received a call confirming that the contract had been officially awarded to us, and that a project kick-off meeting was scheduled for the next day.

Lenny dropped us off at our new apartment, then he and Alfred left for their hotel. Todd opened the apartment door and we went inside. We walked into the bedrooms to find the beds had already been assembled. There were new sheets and a comforter set on each bed. I looked at Todd in surprise. "Who bought the new bed sheets and comforters?"

Todd grinned. "I asked Mary Ann if she could pick up a couple of things for us. She said she would send one of the receptionists out to pick out the sheets and comforters."

I walked over and put my arms around his waist. "Todd Anderson-Ingram, I love you." I kissed him deeply. When we came up for air, I said, "Let's get our beds made."

In short order, we had both beds made. "Which room shall be ours?" Todd asked.

I said, "I like this one. It has the view of the pool."

Todd said, "Okay." We gathered our gear from the other bedroom and unpacked our things.

"Are you ready to call home?" I asked.

Todd nodded his head. Let's use the laptop, so we can use the web cam."

We got online with Rick and the children. Zach was playing a game tonight, so he wouldn't be home until later. Rick said, "Glenn, the twins have created a slide show they want to share with you."

"Okay, JJ and Josh. Send it to me on e-mail, so I can see it on the screen," I said.

JJ came into view on the web cam and said, "Okay, Daddy." JJ turned his head and looked over his shoulder at Rick, and asked, "What's Daddy's e-mail?"

Rick said, "I'll write it down for you on this note pad. Then, you can type it in yourself."

A few moments later, I saw JJ's e-mail pop up in my mailbox. I downloaded the attachment and opened the file.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/8SKBUOb9J9n2-Uu89aEzEpbfZTDvmThDEtC6H7aMCmx1sRcOTrYj3cSS_SoKOAgoDaNqeVTyMjVvuvnUQRoFwcjovU0pMu0mHRXjHdfmm-PLPharskGqbTBdlsrWcJ5tFwE
https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_kgfFBHALnXYyWbjxd3vQdhOq0AN84KB1za1x5A2GhHbxYdudMj2khdwqUIQ8OxfuRYpf64oCrlgd5Zqr1JlAb7Fm-dwzZjAxsbrU3fHyk2pVS7KlJEDVpvytf5NBwAEZf8https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/qaoXz9yIjZgAEObrNUJehZEjeNWc3iTQIMh0f46bDX7fkp_mgw2l86o3-4jr6mGxNlnAg9eVG36owNEQn8vMP-058tHLOdxj7uLxTQEvpUUpQiAwIvwjqzxYgSUKivHUuZchttps://lh6.googleusercontent.com/0pezagTWSWa0fiLHE5rg_QddG9WpJqNHXla3iocBZAbBrd7rs9c83XiZRrcYMmwXTTGRSaT0V7jgQ6cDUsWbsQkiTvPI-3WcwbEIJzcGI0SkGQeMmcrcMUHPBMkkJiOmMWQ

Todd and I watched the slide show. As I read the words on the slides, my vision clouded over, with the tears that came unbidden to my eyes. For a moment, I was so choked up with emotion, I couldn't speak.

We clicked back to the web cam, and I saw JJ and Josh looking at me. I smiled and said, "Thank you for such a beautiful gift."

Josh said, "I picked out the pictures and JJ wrote the words."

"You both did a great job," I said.

JJ said, "Ashley helped us use the computer. She showed us how to find the pictures."

Rick said, "Ashley has been a big help to me today. I'm amazed that she was able to keep the twin's attention long enough to put together that slide show."

Ashley came into view of the web cam, and said, "Daddy, Dad did a great job today. He even had warm chocolate chip cookies and glasses of milk waiting for us, when we got home from school." She kissed Rick on the cheek. "Don't let Dad fool you. He's doing fine."

Rick smiled, and said, "Thank you for the vote of confidence, Ashley."

I could see David and Purev standing behind Rick. "What about you guys? Do you think Dad is doing okay for his first day?"

David said, "Dad did great!"

Purev nodded his head in agreement. "He managed to cook dinner without burning anything!"

Rick turned around to face the boys. "Hey! I think I did pretty well with the food preparation duties. You have to admit you guys sure ate your fair share!"

David laughed. "Dad made breakfast for dinner."

Todd and I laughed. Rick is famous for his pancakes. "It doesn't surprise me that he cooked pancakes for you," I said.

Rick said, "It was a safe bet that I could make everyone happy by making pancakes."

Purev guffawed, "Yeah, but that's all you know how to cook!"

Rick responded, "Then, we'll just have to rotate kitchen duties. That way, everyone will get a turn cooking dinner for the family."

Kyle groaned. "But I hate cooking, Dad."

"Then, you'll have to negotiate with your brothers and sister to get them to take your turn in the kitchen. Maybe, they'll trade you for the vacuuming, or laundry," Rick replied.

Ashley said, "Maybe you could convince Catharine to help you cook dinner. I bet she's a good cook. Her family is from the Philippines and I'm sure she's learned how to cook from her mom."

Kyle's face lit up at the idea. "Thanks, sis! I knew there was a reason I loved you." He hugged her and turned back to the web cam. "I'm doing okay, and I got all of my homework done. Just so you know I'm not slacking off, Daddy."

I had spoken to him about concentrating on his studies last night. He had been paying a lot of attention to his girlfriend, and his grades showed it. I smiled, and said, "I'm glad to hear it. How's Catharine doing?"

"She's doing okay. She went to Thailand for the holidays, with her family. Her grandparents are going to move here in a couple of months," he said.

Purev said, "Catharine tried out for the musical with me and Kyle. We'll find out tomorrow if we got a part."

"Remind me which musical it is," I said. "I know you've told me, but I've forgotten."

Kyle sang out, "Senior MOMENT! You're just getting old, Daddy."

"I'm still younger than you," I said. "You're an old man compared to me."

Kyle laughed. "Maybe, you need to get a secretary to take notes for you. That way you'll remember things!"

Purev said, "We're doing Beauty and the Beast."

JJ said, "I like Beauty and the Beast."

Purev said, "I tried out for the part of the prince."

Kyle said, "I tried out for the part of Cogsworth, the clock, and Catharine tried out for Belle. Robert tried out for the part of the Beast. I think he'll get the part."

Rick asked, "When will you know if you guys got the parts?"

"Hopefully tomorrow," Purev answered.

Rick moved away from the computer and called out, "Cameron and Skye, it's your turn."

I traded places with Todd, so he could see his boys. "Hey guys!"

Cameron said, "Hello, Daddy."

Skye said, "We miss you, Daddy."

"Did Uncle Rick keep you busy at your studies?" Todd asked.

Skye nodded his head. "Yes, he did. We're going to build a robot out of Legos."

Todd and I looked at each other in surprise. Building a robot hadn't been in the lesson plans we had left Rick.

Cameron added, "We started designing it today. I'm going to build the most awesome Robot!"

Skye said, "Daddy, Uncle Rick says we have to learn some more math to help us build the robot."

Rick stood behind them, and said, "We are using math to build the robot. They get to add another part to their robot with each new math concept they learn."

Cameron said, "It makes learning math lots more fun!"

Skye said, "Uncle Rick is making us write a story about our robot for our English class."

Todd nodded his head approvingly. "I like Uncle Rick's ideas. What is your robot's name?"

Cameron said, "I haven't given my robot a name.   It's going to be a remote control car like the one Uncle Rick showed me on-line."   He held up a piece of paper with a photo of the robot printed out on it.   We couldn't see it very well, but we got the idea.

"I'm going to name mine Skipper," Skye said. "He's going to be a robotic dog.   Uncle Rick says we'll build it out of Legos."

David said, "Dad asked what I thought would interest the boys in doing their studies, and I suggested building a robot.   A couple of my friends in my tech tools class at school are on the robotics team.   I think it would be fun to build a robot.   Dad asked me to help Cameron and Skye with their robot designs."

I said, "I wondered where the idea for building robots came from!   I think it's a great way to teach math, and its application to the real world."

Todd nodded his approval.   "Cameron and Skye, I hope you'll listen to David when he's helping you."

Cameron said, "We always listen to David.   He's our buddy."

Skye said, "Yeah, he's awesome!   He shares his video games with us."

Hearing Skye's enthusiastic endorsement of David brought a smile to my lips.   Todd and I had been working with the twins, to limit their gaming time.   If we let them, they would play video games all day long.

Rick said, "It's time for bed, boys.   Tell your Daddies good night."

The boys chorused, "Good night."

Rick said, "I'll call you after the children are in bed.   I love you."

"I love you, too," I said.   We ended the video call.

Todd put his arm around my waist and pulled me close to him.   "See?   Rick is doing fine."

I leaned over and kissed Todd on the lips.   "Let's get a shower."

Todd grinned and stood up, pulling me to my feet with him.   We stripped out of our clothes, as we walked toward the en suite.   The shower was just what we needed!


Rick turned to Kyle.   "Kyle, will you help Cameron and Skye get their bath and pajamas on?"

Kyle said, "Sure, Dad."

Next, he turned to Ashley.   "Will you help me with the JJ and Josh?"

Ashley nodded her head.   "I'd be glad to help them get ready for bed."

Everyone headed upstairs to the various rooms.   David and Purev entered their room and closed the door.   Purev immediately pulled David into his arms and kissed him.

David kissed him back; but, then, said, "Purev, I have a boyfriend."

"I know, but I just needed to kiss you," Purev responded, grinning broadly.

He released David and climbed onto his bed.   He put his hands behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling.   He wanted to have a boyfriend, but didn't know any gay guys at school, except Idree.   He hated the fact that Idree's parents had forbidden him from seeing Purev.   He and David liked to fool around, but David had made it pretty clear that Mark was his boyfriend.  At that moment, David's cell rang.   Purev knew it would be Mark, so he got up from his bed and padded into the en suite to take a shower.   He hated listening to David talking to Mark.   It reminded him too much of what he didn't have.

David answered the phone, "Hello."

Mark said, "Hello, yourself."

"I miss you," David said.   "I want to move in with you."

"You know you can't do that.   Your Dads wouldn't let you.   Not only that, my grandparents are still here.   They want us to move back to our townhouse, but the county social workers aren't sure that Mom is well enough to take care of us.   Mrs. Evans agrees with them.   She thinks we should wait until the end of the month."

"What do you think about staying longer with the Campbells?" David asked.

"I like it here, but I miss being at home with my parents," Mark said.

"But I thought you were afraid of your Dad," David said.

"I am, but the Marine Corps is helping Dad.   They've determined that he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.   Mom said he's starting his therapy sessions this week.   Maybe he won't be violent and homophobic when they're done with him," Mark said, hopefully.

David said, "Mark, how can you think he'll be less homophobic?   The Marine Corps is the most homophobic of the military branches of the service.   They aren't going to help him accept anyone who is gay.   My Dad has told us about what they did to his friend, Sam.   They murdered him for being gay."

"You didn't tell me about that," Mark said, surprised and a little horrified.

"Before my Dads got married, Dad was in the Marine Corps.   He served a tour overseas in the combat zone.   He saw a lot of things, but he said the worst was having his best friend murdered by his fellow marines for being gay.   At first, they tried to make out that he was murdered for drugs; but, in the end, the marines who killed Sam confessed they did it because he was a faggot," David said.   "Dad told me about it right after you moved in.   He warned me to be careful around your father, because he reminded Dad of those men who murdered his friend.   That's one of the reasons my Dads told me I couldn't go to your house."

There was silence on the other end of the line.   After a while, David asked, "Are you still there?"

Mark said, "Yes, I'm still here.   I'm thinking that maybe I need to reconsider joining JROTC next year.   I want to go to West Point.   Dad wants me to join the Marine Corps, but I like the Army.   After hearing what happened to your Dad's friend, I'm definitely not going into the Marine Corps.  Have you heard stories like that about the Army?"

"No, I haven't, but then my Dad and my Grandpa Scarborough were both in the Marine Corps," David said.

"I'd like to meet your Grandpa.   He sounds so cool!   Kind of like the General," Mark said.  

"I like the General.   My Dads think the Campbells are the best people in the whole world," David said.

"I agree with them.   I've never met anyone as nice as Mrs. Campbell," Mark said.   "My grandparents can't say enough good things about the Campbells.   Grandpa particularly has high praise for the General.   They have become good friends."

Purev walked back into the room with a towel wrapped around his waist.   He walked over to his dresser and pulled out a pair of clean underwear.   He dropped his towel, grinning at David.   "Tell Mark, ‘hello,' for me."

David said, "Purev says, ‘hello.'"

Mark said, "Why does Purev have to share a room with you?   I know he likes you."

David said, "Yes, Purev likes me, but YOU'RE my boyfriend."

Purev laughed and grabbed the phone out of David's hand.   "Mark, you don't have to worry about David.   He won't let me sleep with him, because he says you're his boyfriend."

Mark said, "You had better not be sleeping with David.   He promised me he wouldn't let anyone else have sex with him."

Purev said, "He's keeping his promise, but I need a boyfriend, too.   Do you know anyone I could date?"

Mark thought for a moment.   "There's a guy I know who might be gay.   His name is Gabriel.   His family just moved here from Puerto Rico.   He acts kind of gay, but I don't know.   If you want, I'll invite him over to the Campbells after school tomorrow."

"But aren't you and David having a sleepover?" Purev said.

"Yes, we are, but I can ask the Campbells if you can join us," Mark said.

"I'll ask our Dad," Purev said.   "Thanks, Mark.   You're really a cool dude!"

Mark smiled.   He had kept his promise to David to be nice to Purev, despite his feelings of jealousy.   "Make sure you tell that to David."

"I will," Purev said.   He handed the phone back to David.

"Hey!   What's up," David said.

"I've invited Purev to come over tomorrow night," Mark said.

"I thought we were going to sleep together," David said, with obvious disappointment.

"We are.   I'm going to invite Gabriel over to meet Purev.   I think he might be gay," Mark said.

David thought for a moment.   "Maybe.   I don't know him very well."

"David, I'm trying to be nice to Purev, just like I promised.   If I can find him a boyfriend, he'll stop trying to have sex with you," Mark said.

David laughed.   "Okay, I see what you're trying to do.   Okay, we'll talk to our Dads about it."

Mark said, "I've got to go.   Grandpa just knocked on my door."

"I love you," David said.

"I love you, too," Mark said, ending the call.


Mark shouted, "Come in."

 The door opened and his Grandpa Paul entered his bedroom.   "Hey, Sport," he said.   He walked over and sat on the bed next to Mark.   "It's time for you to get to bed."

"I know," Mark said.

"I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes," Grandpa Paul said.   "We're planning to return to Texas in a couple of days.   Do you think you'll be okay here at the Campbells?"

"We'll be fine, Grandpa.   The General and Mrs. Campbell have everything under control," Mark said.

"Yes, they do.   Now that your mother is here with you, I'm confident that things will get back to normal," he said.

Mark met his grandfather's eyes.   "You know that things won't be back to normal for quite a while.   Dad won't be home for at least another month."

Grandpa Paul said, "That's true.   Hopefully, the Marine Corps can help him.   Your Dad is a good man, Mark.   I've got to believe that whatever is wrong with him can be cured."

Mark eyes filled with tears.   He managed to talk past the tightness in his throat.   "I love my Dad, Grandpa.   I want my real Dad back, not the one that's been living with us since he returned from overseas."

Grandpa Paul pulled Mark into his arms.   Mark clung to his Grandpa and let his tears flow.   Grandpa Paul said, "We're all hurting, Mark.   Your Dad is a wonderful person.   He's just a little sick right now."   He held his grandson tight against his chest.   He released him when he felt the young man pull away.

Mark said, "I'm sorry, Grandpa.   I shouldn't have cried."   He wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands and tried to smile.

Grandpa Paul said, "It's okay to cry, Mark.   Don't ever think that tears are a weakness, because they aren't.   Men have emotions, just like women do.   We just try to hide them.   I think that we need to learn how to express them appropriately.   Your Dad is going to have to learn new ways to cope with his emotions.   I think that you can help him by modeling appropriate ways to express your emotions."

Mark nodded his head.   "I get it.   He expressed his emotions with violence when he beat up my Mom."

Grandpa Paul said, "Good.   I'm glad you understand.   Everything will turn out for the best, Mark.   I promise."

Mark smiled.   "I hope so."

Grandpa Paul gave him a hug and stood up from the bed.   "Good night, Mark."

"Good night, Grandpa," Mark responded.


David said, "Let's go talk to Dad about tomorrow night."

The two boys walked down the hall to the twin's room.   They opened the door to find them kneeling next to their beds with Ashley and Rick.   Rick looked up and saw the boys standing in the doorway.   He put a finger to his lips, then motioned for them to join them.   The boys tiptoed inside the room and knelt next to Rick.

JJ finished his prayers, and Josh began his.   "God in heaven thank you for our family.   Please bless Daddy and Uncle Todd in Austin.   Bless Dad, Kyle, Ashley, David, Cameron and Skye, and bless Uncle Zach tonight.   Help his team win their game.   Amen."

With their prayers said, JJ and Josh stood up and wrapped their arms around Rick's neck.   "I love you, Dad," JJ said.

"I love you, too, Dad," Josh said.   He kissed Rick's cheek.

Rick held both of them in his arms.   "I love both of you."   He kissed them on the cheek.   "It's time for you to get into bed."   He lifted them off of their feet and placed each one in his bed.

They scrambled under the blankets, pulling them up under their chins.   Ashley kissed each one on the cheek and said, "Good night boys."

David and Purev followed Ashley's example, kissing the boys on the check and bidding them good night.   They preceded Rick out of the twin's room.   Rick checked to make sure the baby monitor was turned on, then turned out the lights.   "Good night boys.   I'll see you in the morning."

The twins chorused, "Good night, Dad."

He pulled the door closed and turned to find David and Purev waiting for him.   It was obvious they wanted to talk to him.   Rick asked, "What's up?"

David said, "May Purev stay overnight at the Campbell's tomorrow?"

"I imagine that would be alright.   I take it that you've talked to Mark about it," Rick said.

"Yes, he's the one who suggested it," David said.

Rick raised his eyebrows at that statement.   "Since when has Mark decided that Purev's okay?"

Purev said, "Since he decided to help me find a new boyfriend."

Rick laughed.   "I see.   So, it okay for you to hang out with him as long as you're focusing on someone other than David."

Purev grinned.   "Yes, that's it.   I know Mark is very jealous of me, but he thinks that he knows of someone who might be gay."

Rick looked closely at Purev.   "What do you mean by ‘might' be gay?"

"He doesn't know if Gabriel is gay or not, but he thinks he might be," Purev said.

"That's not good," Rick said.   "I don't like the sound of this."

Purev said, "It will be okay, Dad.   I'll just tell him right up front that I'm gay and that I'm looking for a new boyfriend."

Rick shook his head.   "It's just not that simple."

Kyle joined them in the hallway.   "The boys are ready for their prayers, Dad."

Rick said, "I want to hear more about this sleepover.   I'll see you two in the family room in a few minutes."   He left the two boys standing in the hallway, as he followed Kyle down the hall to Cameron and Skye's room.

He entered the room to find the boys kneeling beside their beds.   He and Kyle joined them.   They said their prayers and he gave each of them a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Rick said, "Good night, boys.   We'll work on your robots again tomorrow, okay?"

Cameron and Skye chorused, "Okay.   Good night, Uncle Rick.   Good night, Kyle."

"Good night, boys," Kyle said.

Rick turned out the light as he left the room.   As they walked down the hall, Kyle asked, "May I ask Catharine to help me cook dinner on Saturday?"

Rick laughed.   "Sure, but ask her mother first."

"I will," Kyle said.   "At least I don't have to worry about asking her Dad."

"Why is that?" Rick asked.

"Catharine's father passed away when she was 10 years old," Kyle said.   "That's part of why we get along so well, Dad.   I can totally relate with how she feels about losing her Dad."

Rick nodded his head.   "I understand that.   Plus it doesn't hurt that she's very beautiful."

Kyle blushed but met his father's eyes.   "Yes, it helps that she's very pretty.   My friends on the football team have tried to date her, but she won't give them the time of day.   Catharine says she won't date any of them.  She wants someone with brains, not just muscle."

They walked into the family room where David and Purev were waiting for their father.   Kyle looked at them and asked, "Do you want me to leave?"

David said, "No, I want you to stay.   Is that okay, Dad?"

"Yes, if it's okay with Purev," Rick replied.

Purev nodded his head in agreement.   Rick and Kyle sat down on the couch opposite David and Purev.

"Okay, I need more information about what Mark is planning for you Purev," Rick said, looking into Purev's eyes.

Purev said, "Mark said he knew this kid, Gabriel, who might be gay.   He's from Puerto Rico and just moved here.   Mark said he would invite him over to the Campbells, so I could meet him."

"You said Mark didn't know if he was gay or not," Rick said.

"He doesn't, but it's okay," Purev said.   "I know you're worried that the kid might react negatively to me; but he attends Hayfield and I go to Edison.   Since we're at two different high schools, I'm not as worried about Gabriel trying to stir up the jocks against me, or causing me trouble."

"I'm more than a little worried Purev.   Most teenage boys aren't going to take too kindly to a gay guy asking them out for a date," Rick said.   "You may end up with a black eye and a broken jaw."

Purev nodded his head.   "I know there's a danger of that happening, but I don't think it will be a problem."

"Why don't you think it will be a problem?" Rick asked.   "What makes you so certain he won't get his guy friends together and try to teach you a lesson for asking him out; or even telling him you're gay?"

Purev looked away from Rick's intense gaze.   He knew that Rick was right.   He had been bullied at his old school.   He knew that he might even have been killed.   The jocks at his school had threatened to beat him to a pulp if he showed his face in the boys' locker room.   The gym teacher had even forbidden him from attending classes with the rest of the boys.

When he tried to complain about the way he was being treated, the school had called his mother to come pick him up from school.   She had picked him up and asked why she had been called by the school.   That is when he had told her that he was gay and that the gym teacher didn't want him attending his PE classes.   Later that night, when his father found out he was gay, he had disowned him and kicked him out of the house.

Purev looked up from the floor and met Rick's gaze.   "You're right, Dad.   I had forgotten how bad things got at my old school.   It's just that I want to have a boyfriend.   I want someone who will accept me for who I am."

Rick said, "Well, I think you should take your time getting to know this Gabriel and his family, first, before you decide to tell him you're gay.   I don't want you to get into a relationship and have a repeat experience of what happened with Idree."

Purev said, "Okay, I'll wait to tell him I want him to be my boyfriend, but may I still go over to the Campbells tomorrow night?"

"Yes, you may go," Rick said.

David and Purev high-fived each other.   "Thanks, Dad."   Purev got up and walked over to Rick.   He hugged Rick and kissed him on the cheek.   "I wish my real Dad was as understanding as you are."

Rick said, "Maybe someday, Purev."

Kyle said, "Purev, Catharine has a cousin who is gay.   He goes to West Potomac.   His name is Justin.   I'll ask her to invite him over for dinner on Saturday."

Purev's eyes lit up.   "That would be great!"

Rick said, "That would be much better than trying to figure out if Gabriel is gay or not."

Purev smiled.  "Thanks, Kyle."

Rick said, "You guys need to get to bed."

Kyle said, "Good night, Dad."

David and Purev chorused, "Good night."   The boys made their way to their bedrooms, leaving Rick alone in the family room.

He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialed Glenn.

When Glenn answered the phone, he said, "Hey, Babe."

I responded, "Hey!   Did you get the children to bed?"

"Yes," he replied.

He went on to narrate everything that had happened during the day, ending with the most recent developments with Purev.   I, in turn, told him about our experiences in Austin.

I ended by asking, "Why is it that it's okay for gays to be fired at will?   If they fired someone because of their gender, race or religion, they would have legal recourse; but, if they're fired for being gay, there isn't any protection against that kind of discrimination."

"Babe, it's the way things are," Rick said.

"I hate the fact that people claim that I'm violating their religious freedom because I'm gay.   The fact that I can be fired because I'm gay is just another example of religion intruding on our rights.   It's unbelievable how much power religion has over our government.   I thought there was supposed to be a separation between church and state in this country."

"Babe, you're right in the heart of one of the most religious states in the country.   Very little happens there without the approval of the powerbrokers in the churches in that state.   It's pretty amazing how much power they managed to gain over the state government," Rick said.

"It's pretty ironic, given that the case that made it illegal to put gays in jail came out of Texas," I said.

"Yes, it is.   Just be careful, Glenn.   I know how you feel about gay rights, and, more importantly, how you feel about religion.   Please try not to cause a scene on the job," Rick said.

"Todd has already been on my case about that, especially after what happened today," I said.

I heard Rick take a deep breath.   He said, "I want to ask you something, but I want you to hear me out before you answer."

I immediately grew concerned.   If he was trying to get me to remain calm, this wasn't the way to do it!   "Okay, I'm listening."

"Julie called me today," Rick said.

"What did she want?" I asked.

"She wants me to visit my mother next week.   Now, before your react, please hear me out," Rick said.

"I want to drive down with the family.   We'll visit her for a few hours, then, we'll stay overnight with Uncle Stan and Aunt Sharon," Rick said.

"Do you really think it's a good idea to take the children with you?" I asked.   "Are you planning to take Jeff with you?"

Rick answered my questions in order, "Yes, I think it's a good idea to take the children.   I want them to meet their grandmother.   Yes, I planned to take Jeff, Cole and Chaz with me.   I don't want to be caught off guard.   If anyone wants to mess with us, they had better be prepared for a fight."

"Well, you already know how I feel about visiting your mother.   It sounds like you've made up your mind already, so go ahead and go.  Just don't expect me to go with you next time you visit her," I said, trying to keep the anger out of my voice, but not succeeding.

Rick begged, "Please don't be angry with me, Babe.   I want to have a relationship with my mother."

I said, "I know.   I am just not convinced of her sincerity, nor do I trust her.   You shouldn't trust her, either."

"I don't trust her, or anyone else in my family," Rick said.   "That's why I'm taking a security detail with me."

"I want you to send Jeff and the guys down ahead of time to scout out the premises and to set up their security measures before you go.   I don't want you to go in blind.   You know how strongly your Uncle George feels about gays," I said.

"I've already talked to Jeff about that.   He's going to contact the local sheriff to let them know our plans, and to let them know we'll be fully armed," Rick said.   "If things don't work out with the local law enforcement, we won't go.   I called Uncle Stan about the local sheriff.   He said the guy is reasonable, but has some pretty strongly held religious beliefs about gays."

"Does that mean he'll stand by and let illegal activities occur if it involves the administering of God's judgment on gays by the religious fanatics that live in his county?" I asked.

"I don't know," Rick said.

"I would strongly recommend that you find out the answer to that question before you venture to take our children to see your mother," I said.   "I haven't forgotten your family's attempt to murder us."

"I haven't forgotten it, either, Babe," Rick said, trying to blunt his husband's anger.

"Then, don't act like it never happened," I said, snapping at him.

Rick said, "I'm sorry, Babe.   I didn't intend to make you angry."

He sounded so contrite that I relented.   "I'm sorry for snapping at you.   I know that you'll do your best to ensure the safety of our family.   I'm not happy that you're going; but, if you're set on it, please take every precaution to ensure your safety."

"I will," Rick responded.

"I love you," I said.

"I love you, too," he said.

"I'll call you tomorrow," I said.   "Have a good night, sweetheart."

"You, too, Babe.   Good night," Rick said.

I ended the call.   Todd said, "I take it that Rick is going to see his mother."

"Yes, he is," I said.

Todd wrapped his arm around my waist and said, "Don't worry about Rick.   He'll do everything he can to make sure he and the children are safe."

I nodded my head.   "I know he will.   I'm just a worrier.   I know I shouldn't be, but I am."

Todd said, "I want you to take your own advice and relax."

I nodded my head and leaned it on his shoulder.  "I'm already missing my little guys.   I haven't been away from them for more than a few hours since the Child Protective Services took them from us when they were first born."

Todd said, "You've left them with your husband, Glenn.   They will be fine."

"I know they'll be okay.   I just miss being with them," I said.

"I miss Cameron and Skye, as well; but, I know that Rick has things well in hand," Todd said.   "Let's get a shower."

He led me to the en suite and turned on the water, adjusting the temperature.   Todd grinned at me and said, "Let's get naked."

We stripped out of our clothes, and he pulled me under the shower with him.   We played around for a bit, then got out of the shower.   We dried each other off and jumped into our bed.  

Todd kissed me and said, "I love you, Glenn."

"I love you, too," I said, rubbing noses with him.   I put my head on his chest and listened to the steady rhythm of his heart, as I drifted off to sleep.     


After getting the children to bed, Rick sat in the family room watching Zach's hockey game on the flat screen TV.   Normally, he would have been totally absorbed in the game, but this time his thoughts kept going back to his conversation with Glenn.   He knew Glenn wasn't happy about his decision to take the children with him to see his mother.   But he had to admit that Glenn had some legitimate concerns regarding their safety, given his family's track record.

He had talked to Jeff about the logistics of taking their security team with him.   Jeff hadn't liked the idea any more than Glenn had.   Jeff had agreed to do as Rick requested, but had counseled him not to move forward with his plans until he could ensure the family's safety.

The game ended with the Washington Capitals winning the game.   Zach would be coming home soon.   He turned off the television and made his way up to his bedroom.   He stripped off his clothes on his way into the en suite.   He showered, brushed his teeth and got ready for bed.   As he climbed into his bed, he realized how much he missed his husband.   He glanced at the clock and decided it was too late to call Glenn.   He lay looking up at the ceiling, wishing Glenn were in his arms.

He must have drifted off to sleep, because he startled awake when Zach joined him.   "Easy, Rick!   It's just me."

Rick rubbed his eyes and yawned widely.   "Sorry," he said.

Zach said, "No, problem."   He spooned up against Rick and placed his arm around his waist, pulling him close.   "Let's get some sleep, Babe.  I'm beat."

Rick said, "Congratulation on the win."

"Thanks, Babe," Zach said.   He nuzzled Rick's neck.   "I love you, Mr. Lernier."

"I love you, too," Rick responded.   He thought about how much he loved Zach and Todd, but it wasn't the same kind of love he had for Glenn.   Where Zach and Todd were his very close friends, Glenn was his soul mate.   He was glad that Glenn had insisted on placing limits on the relationship they had with Zach and Todd.   He had seen how much stronger Todd and Zach's relationship had become over the last couple of weeks.   It had also strengthened the bond between the two couples, because the level of trust between them had grown exponentially after Glenn had straightened things out with Todd.  Thinking of how good it felt to have such good friends, he relaxed against Zach and soon drifted off into a dreamless slumber.    


Prev To be continued . . .

A Note from Russ:

Music for this chapter:

Lonestar - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jm5gfuT9Z4

The Lodge at Warner Ranch - http://www.lodgeatwarnerranchapts.com/

Robotic Lego Dog - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7IqbWW5twE

First Robotics Jr. Lego - http://www.usfirt'sst.org/roboticsprograms/jr.fll

First Robotics Competition - http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc

U. S. Supreme Court Case - Lawrence vs. Texas - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_v._Texas

Kansas anti-gay legislation –

http://www.ryot.org/kansas-tries-implement-anti-gay-segregation/571197

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-kansas-legislation-gay-marriage-religion-20140214,0,6718807.story#axzz2tX7NapPj

Tennessee anti-gay legislation – http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/14/tennessee-gop-pushes-turn-away-the-gays-bill-to-legalize-lgbt-discrimination/