The Lernier Family
© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved




Chapter 40: Rick’s Mother

Rick woke up in the middle of the night, wondering what had caused him to come out of a deep sleep.   Then, he felt two little hands touch his face.   “Dad,” JJ said.   “I can’t sleep.”

“That’s alright, little buddy.   You can sleep with me, tonight,” Rick said.   He lifted the blanket that covered him and Zach.   JJ quickly slipped under the covers, and snuggled close to his father.

Rick put his arm around his little boy, and drifted off to sleep.   The next morning, he awoke to find that Josh had joined them, at some point during the night.   The two boys were like salt and pepper; one with dark brown hair, and the other with blond hair.  He ruffled their hair, waking them.  He smiled, as the boys opened their eyes, and looked over at him.  

JJ’s chocolate brown eyes met his, and he smiled.   JJ was a miniature version of himself, except for his eyes.   Those, he had gotten from Glenn’s side of the family.  JJ also inherited Glenn’s quirky personality.  “Good morning, Dad.”

Rick said, “Good morning, boys.”

Joshua’s strikingly beautiful deep blue eyes sparkled like sapphires in the morning light.   Josh looked like a carbon copy of Glenn, but had Rick’s deep blue eyes.  Rick thought to himself, “Josh is going to be quite the charmer, with those eyes.”  Of course, he knew all about that!  

Josh said, “Good morning, Dad.   I’m hungry.”

Rick smiled at his boy, and said, “I figured you would be hungry.”

JJ said, “Josh is always hungry.”

Josh said, defensively, “I’m a growing boy.   Daddy said so.”

Sensing the start of an argument, Rick said, “It’s okay, boys.   JJ is taller, but you’re bigger, Josh.   Everyone is different.”

JJ said, “I look like you, and Josh looks like Daddy.”

“But you have the same body type as Daddy – tall and skinny, while Josh is going to be big, like me.” Rick said.

Zach, who had been listening to the exchange between Rick and his boys, said, “Each of you got different things from your parents, just like Cammy and Skye inherited different things from me and their mother.”

JJ frowned, as he tried to process what Zach said.   Rick said, “Uncle Zach is trying to help you understand that Cameron and Skye have different things from their Dad, so they aren’t exactly the same.”

Josh said, “Cammy says he got your good looks, while Skye got your brains.”

Zach laughed.   “Well, they both got my good looks, and both are pretty smart.   However, they have different personalities.”   Zach’s tummy rumbled, causing the twins to laugh.

JJ said, “Uncle Zach is hungry, just like Josh.”

Josh said, “Yeah, Uncle Zach is awesome.”   He climbed out of bed, and ran around to the other side.  

Zach reached down, and lifted him onto the bed.   Josh put his arms around Zach’s neck, and kissed his cheek.   “You’re my favorite uncle.”

Zach met Josh’s gaze, and said, “And you’re my favorite nephew.”

JJ put his arms around his father’s neck, and hugged him.   “Dad, I miss Daddy.”

Rick held his boy close, and said, “I miss him, too.”

Zach said, “We miss him and Uncle Todd, but we’ll talk to them, tonight.   Is that okay?”

JJ nodded his head, and said, “Yes.”

Rick asked, “Who wants to help me get breakfast?”

Josh said, excitedly, “I do.”

Zach smiled at Josh’s exuberance.   “Do I get breakfast in bed this morning?”

Josh said, “Yes, you do, Uncle Zach.”

Rick looked over at Zach, and said, “Wow!   You must be pretty special, Zach.”

Zach leaned over, and kissed Rick on the lips.   “I AM special, just ask the boys.”

Rick laughed, and said, “Alright, Mr. Special, I guess you’re getting breakfast in bed, this morning.”

JJ climbed out of bed, and waited for his Dad.   Rick climbed out, and padded across the room to the en suite.   He took care of his needs, and returned to the bedroom.   “Boys, don’t you need to use the bathroom, before we go downstairs?”  The twins nodded their heads, and scampered across the room to the en suite.   Rick called after them, “Don’t forget to wash your hands, when you’re done!”

Zach looked up at Rick, and asked, “Are you going to be okay?   Todd told me that Glenn is really homesick.”

Rick looked at Zach, in surprise.   “When did you talk to Todd?”

“Last night, after the game,” Zach said.   “Todd thinks Glenn will be wanting to come home, by the end of the week.”

Rick’s voice was thick with tears, as he said, “I thought he was having a hard time, when we talked last night; and I’m not doing much better.   We haven’t been apart for more than a few hours, since I left the Marine Corps.”

The twins returned, each of them taking one of Rick’s hands in theirs.   Josh said, “Dad, let’s cook breakfast.”   He pulled on his Dad’s hand.

Rick laughed.   “Okay, little guy.   Let me get some clothes on, first.”   Rick grabbed his lounge pants and a t-shirt, and pulled them on, before allowing the twins to lead him downstairs to the kitchen.   They entered the kitchen, to find David making pancakes.

The twins ran over to him, grabbing him around the legs.   Josh looked up at him, and said, “You’re my favorite brother.”

David laughed.   “That’s only because I cook pancakes for you.”

Josh asked, “Are the pancakes ready?”

“Yes, they’re in the oven warmer.   I didn’t know when you guys were going to be getting up,” he said.  He looked at his Dad, and said, “Purev will be down in a minute.   I think I heard Kyle in the shower.”

Ashley walked into the kitchen, with her back pack slung over her shoulder.   “Good morning, Dad.”   She gave Rick a kiss on the cheek, and took a seat at the table.   The twins scrambled up onto their chairs, looking expectantly at Ashley.

She looked back at them, and asked, “I suppose you want me to help you with your pancakes?”

Josh nodded his head vigorously.   “Yes, please.”   She placed a couple of pancakes on each of their plates, poured on some syrup and cut them into bite-size pieces.

JJ said, “Thank you, Ashley.”

She smiled at her little brother, ruffling his hair.   “You’re welcome.”

The twins held a special place in her heart.   They had become the focus of her life, when her parents were killed in a car accident.   They were babies at the time.   Daddy had enlisted her help to care for them.   She had pretended that she was their mother, and told them many of the things her own mother had told her and her brothers.  She had been very happy, when her Dads had adopted her after her grandmother died, making the twins a permanent part of her family.

Ashley asked, “Dad, may I stay overnight at the Campbells?  Michaela has asked me to come over.”

“Yes, you may,” Rick said.   “I believe David and Purev are going over, as well.”

David said, “Yes, Mark asked us to stay overnight.   I think Mark and Michaela have talked to the Campbells about us staying overnight; but, I’ll check to make sure, when I talk to Mark.”

Kyle and Purev walked into the kitchen.   Kyle walked over to Rick, giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek.   “Good morning, Dad.”

“Good morning, son,” Rick said, smiling at the young man.  

“Dad, Catharine has asked me to attend her early morning religious classes,” Kyle said.   “Would it be okay for me to go?”

“What church does she belong to?” Rick asked.

Kyle named the denomination.   “But they are studying the Old Testament, just like we do here at home.”

Rick said, “I would prefer that you invite Catharine to join us for our own bible study, rather than attending her church’s religious classes.   You know how anti-gay her church is, don’t you?”

Kyle nodded his head.   “Yes, I do.   That’s why I thought I would ask you about it.   I’ll invite Catharine over for our bible study, then.”

Purev said, “Don’t forget to invite Justin, too.   I really want to meet him.”

Kyle laughed.   “I haven’t forgotten.   I’ve met Justin, and he’s really good looking.”

A troubled look crossed Purev’s face.   “Do you think he’ll like me?”

“Yes, he’ll like you,” Kyle said.   “Don’t worry, Purev.   Everything will work out fine.”

David brought a plate of pancakes to the table.   “Here are the blueberry pancakes I promised to make for you guys.”

Purev grinned.   “Thanks, David.   You’re the best.”

JJ said, “David made chocolate chip pancakes for me and Josh.”

“And plain ones for me,” Ashley added, with a smile.

David said, “I tried to make everyone happy this morning.”

Rick said, “I think you succeeded.”

He pulled down a breakfast tray from the cupboard.   He took a plate of pancakes, and poured syrup over them.   He placed some fresh strawberries on the plate, next to the pancakes, then added a glass of milk to the tray.   He carried the tray upstairs to his bedroom, where Zach was waiting.

Zach sat up in bed, and Rick placed the breakfast tray on his lap.   Zach grinned.   “Thanks, Babe.”

Rick said, “When do you need to leave for the airport?”

Zach said, “I’ll need to leave in a couple of hours.   Our next game is in Boston.”

“I’ll miss you, tonight,” Rick said.

Zach smiled.   “I know you will, but you’ll have the twins to keep you company, just like last night.”

Rick laughed.   “That’s true.   I won’t lack for company.   Maybe we can a have a slumber party in the family room.   I know Cammy and Skye will like that.”

Zach said, “Yes, they will, especially if you let them watch their favorite DVDs.”

Rick said, “I think that’s what we’ll do, then.”

When Zach had finished eating, Rick took the tray, and returned to the kitchen.   He found Cammy and Skye had joined the rest of the children.   They were making their way through a big stack of pancakes.

Cammy said, between mouthfuls, “Good morning, Uncle Rick.”

Rick smiled, and responded, “Good morning, boys.”

Skye said, “May we start working on our robot this morning?”

Rick said, “Yes, I think that would be a great way to spend our morning.   Don’t you agree?”

The twins nodded their heads, in unison.   “Yes, Dad, that would be really fun.”

Kyle said, “I wish I could stay home, and work on robots, like you guys.”

David said, “We could work on a robot after school, if you want to do it.”

Kyle said, “Maybe, but I won’t have time after school, because of rehearsals.”

The front door opened, and Jeff appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.   “Are you ready to go?”

Kyle said, “Yes, we’re ready.”

Rick asked, “Do you want some coffee?”

Jeff replied, “No, thank you, Rick.   I’ve got a fresh mug of coffee in the car.”

The four teenagers left the kitchen to get their back packs and coats.   They returned, and gave Rick a hug and kiss on the cheek. 

“Good bye, Dad,” Ashley said.   “We’ll see you after school.”

Jeff said, “I’ll see you in a little while.”

He turned, and followed the children out of the kitchen.   He was still amazed at the closeness of this family.   He was glad of their example, and it gave him hope that his relationship with his girls would continue to improve.   He drove them to their respective schools.

Later that same day, Catharine and Caroline walked toward their drama class.   Caroline asked, “Do you think we made it?”

Catharine looked at her friend, and said, “I think we did, but I’m not sure about the guys.   Mr. Ketchum made it clear that he would give drama students priority placement in the musical, because our grades depend on our participation in drama productions.”

Caroline said, “I’m glad he’s doing that.   I wouldn’t want to get a bad grade in drama, because I didn’t get to be part of the cast for the musical.”

They joined their classmates, who were gathered around the casting sheets, to see who had made it into the musical.  As they stood, straining to see if their names were on the list, the drama teacher, Mr. Ketchum, joined the group of students huddled around the casting sheet.

Mr. Ketchum was a tall, thin man, with a thin black mustache, a long thin nose and watery blue eyes.   His shoulder length black hair was flecked with gray.   He dressed casually, in golf shirt, khaki cargo pants, and flip-flops.   When he walked, it was like watching a spider move across the floor.

Mr. Ketchum’s strong southern Louisiana accent was very apparent, when he said, “I need to let all y’all know that we have had to cancel the musical.”

There was a general chatter of disappointment.   Catherine, who was standing nearest to him, asked, “Why?  What happened?”

Mr. Ketchum replied, “We were unable to get the rights to the prerecorded musical score, so we’re looking into doing a different musical.”

“Which one?” asked Catherine.

“We’re looking at doing ‘Singing in the Rain,’ or ‘Carousel.’   I’ve directed both of them before,” Mr. Ketchum said.

“When will you know which one we’re doing?” Caroline asked.

“We’ll know tomorrow.   Ms. Peabody has been on the phone with the copyright owners, and is waiting for a decision from the principal.   Right now, we’re leaning toward doing ‘Singing in the Rain,’” Mr. Ketchum said.   He glanced at his watch, and said, “All y’all had better get to class.”

Catherine and Caroline walked to their drama classroom, followed by Mr. Ketchum.   They took their seats, and waited for Mr. Ketchum to start the class.   Meanwhile, Catherine sent a quick text message to Kyle, to let him know about the musical.

Caroline looked over at Catherine, and asked, “Are you texting Kyle?”

She nodded her head.  “Yes, I told him about the musical.”

Caroline asked, “Are you going over to Kyle’s house this weekend?”

Catharine nodded her head.   “Yes, I’m going over to help him cook dinner for his family.   Kyle says he doesn’t know how to cook.”

Caroline laughed.   “He’s a jock, Catharine.   You can’t expect him to know how to cook.”

Catharine said, “I know, but he’s so smart.   I thought maybe he had learned how to cook from his Dads.”

Caroline said, “Maybe he just wants you to come over, and wanted an excuse to invite you to his house.”

Catharine said, “Do you think so?”

Caroline replied, “Yeah, I do.”

“Well, he’s asked me to bring my cousin, Justin, with me.   He wants Justin to meet Purev,” Catharine said.

“Why?” Caroline asked.

“Justin is gay,” Catharine said.

Caroline said, “Oh, I see.   Purev is gay, too.   How can your cousin be gay?   Doesn’t your church hate gays?”

Catharine said, “No, we don’t hate gays.   Well, some of us don’t.   Justin doesn’t go to our church, anymore.   The other kids at church were giving him a hard time about being gay.”

Their conversation was interrupted by Mr. Ketchum.   “Okay, students, let’s begin planning for our one acts.”

Kyle said, “I’m glad it’s Friday.”

His friend, Robert, agreed.   “My parents are taking us to New York City for the weekend.   I want to go to acting school, and my parents agreed to check things out.”

Kyle said, “That’s really cool!   Are you going to see a Broadway play?”

Robert said, “Yes, we have tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera.”

Kyle said, “I really like the music to Phantom.   My Dads took us to see Phantom last year, before we moved back to Virginia.”

“Your Dads are way cool,” Robert said.   “My parents weren’t too happy, when I told them about your Dads; but, after they met them, they seemed okay.”

Kyle said, “I’m glad they aren’t homophobic.   Catharine’s Mom is pretty cool about it, too.   Their church is very anti-gay.   They have given a lot of money to fight gay marriage.   My Dads have warned me to be aware of how much hatred members of that church have for gays.   I told them that Catharine and her family aren’t like that.”

“Has Catharine’s Mom met your Dads?” Robert asked.

“No, not yet,” Kyle responded.   “Catharine’s cousin, Justin, is gay; so, I think she’ll be okay with my Dads.”

“But do they accept him for being gay?” Robert asked.

“Catharine says they do, but I haven’t been around them enough to really know,” Kyle said.

The two teens saw several of their teammates standing in the hallway, surrounding someone.   One of them, Eduardo, was shouting obscenities at another boy.   As they approached the group, Kyle realized it was Purev.   He said, “That’s Purev.”   He quickened his pace.   He came up beside Purev, and faced Eduardo.   “What’s going on, Eduardo?”

“Purev tried to put his hand on my butt.   I don’t want his kind anywhere near me,” Eduardo said, with a sneer.

Purev said, “Eduardo’s lying.   He and his friends came up to me in the hall, and started yelling at me.”

Robert asked, “Is that true, Eduardo?”

Eduardo looked from Kyle to Robert, who was standing on the other side of Purev.   He said, “Alright, he didn’t touch me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want him anywhere near me.”

Robert said, “Then, you need to keep your distance from him.   If you so much as lay a finger on Purev, I will find you, and you won’t like what happens to you.”   Robert’s expression and his tone of voice left no doubt that he meant what he said.

One of the other football players asked, “Why are you protecting the faggot?”

Robert looked at Travis, and said, “Because, he’s my friend.   Don’t tell me you’ve got a problem with that; because you know I can take you down in a heartbeat, if you do.”  Robert looked around the circle of his teammates, and said, in a menacing tone of voice, “That goes for the rest of you, as well.   I will hunt you down, if you so much as call him names, or harass him, in any way.”

Chad said, “We’re sorry, Purev.   Eduardo, apologize to Purev.”

Eduardo glared at his friend.   Robert asked, “What are you waiting for?”

Travis said, “I’m sorry, Purev.   We won’t bother you, anymore.”

Eduardo said, “I won’t bother you, Purev.   Just make sure you stay out of my way.”

Purev said, “Thank you.   I’ll make sure Silvia knows you’ve promised to leave me alone.”

Eduardo glared at him, “How do you know my sister?”

“She’s in my math class.   She’s really smart.   Silvia warned me that you don’t like gays,” Purev said.

Eduardo said, “She’s right, I don’t like gays.”

As he finished speaking, his sister and her friends were walking past them to their next class.   She walked over to Purev, and put her arm around his waist.   “Eduardo, I’m glad you’ve met my friend, Purev.   I like him a lot.   I hope you weren’t causing him any problems.”   She gave her brother a very pointed look.

Eduardo didn’t answer her question.   He shrugged his shoulders, and turned to his friends.   “Let’s go.”

Robert said, “We need to get moving, or we’ll be late.”

The guys left Purev and Silvia standing in the hallway with her friends.   She said, “I know Eduardo was being obnoxious.”

“Robert told them to leave me alone,” Purev said, smiling at her.

Silvia smiled, “I like Robert.   Can you set me up on a date with him?”

Purev said, “Sure, I’ll tell him that you want to go out with him.”

Gbemi said, “I want to go out with Travis.   I’ve asked Eduardo to talk to him, but he won’t do it.”

Purev said, “I’ll let him know you’re interested in him.”

Silvia said, “Just don’t talk to them around Eduardo.”

Purev said, “I’ll make sure he’s not around.   He was pretty rude to me.”

Rachel said, “Let’s go to class.   Come on, Purev.”   She put her arm through his, as they walked down the hall toward their math class.

Purev was glad to have such good friends, like Robert and Kyle.   He also loved having lots of friends that were girls.   They understood his attraction to guys, and didn’t ridicule him for checking them out.

After school, Purev was standing outside in the kiss-n-ride, waiting for his friends to join him, when Travis and Chad walked past him.   He called out, “Hey, Travis!”

Travis looked over at Purev, and would’ve walked past him, but Chad stopped in front of him.  “What’s up, Purev?”

Purev said, “Gbemi wanted me to tell Travis that she would like to go out with him.”

Chad looked over at Travis, and grinned.   “Hey, maybe we should become friends with Purev.   He’s got connections with the girls.”

Travis smiled.  “Maybe, but how do we know you aren’t trying to mess with us.”

Travis was 6’2” (189 cm.).   He was broad shouldered, and well-muscled.   He had sandy blond hair and blue eyes.   He wore a white muscle shirt that clung to his chest, and a pair of jeans that showed off his assets very well.   Chad was just as good looking.   He was just as broad shouldered and well-muscled as Travis, only he was an inch shorter, at 6’1” (185 cm.).   He had light brown hair, brown eyes and a slightly crooked smile that gave him a jaunty air.  He wore a blue tank top and khaki shorts. 

Purev looked them over, wishing they were gay!  Sighing, he said, “I promise you, she really told me that.   I wouldn’t risk getting you mad at me, by lying to you.”

Travis said, “Well, that’s true.   I guess you wouldn’t do that.   Do you have her cell number?”

“Yes, I do,” Purev answered, and gave it to him.  

Travis immediately sent her a text message.   He grinned, and said, “She wants to go out with me tonight.”   He punched Purev in the shoulder.   “I guess you’re alright.   Thanks.”

Chad said, “Hey!  What about me?”

Purev asked, “Who are you interested in?”

Chad answered, “Silvia’s friend, Monique.”

Purev said, “I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll ask her.”

Chad said, “Here’s my cell.   Tell her to give me a call.”

Purev typed in Chad’s number into his cell.   He smiled, and said, “I’ll do my best.”

The two guys high-fived each other, and moved into the parking lot.   Travis unlocked his car, and they climbed in.   Kyle, Caroline and Marie joined him on the curb.   Travis pulled up next to them, and rolled down his window.

“Hey, Kyle, Purev is quite the matchmaker!   He’s set me up with Gbemi,” Travis said.

Kyle laughed.   “I knew Purev was good for something!”

Travis laughed.   “Yes, he is.”   He looked at Purev, and said, “You’re welcome to sit with us at lunch.   I promise to keep Eduardo from being rude to you.   See you guys!”  

As he pulled away from the curb, Jeff pulled up, and the teens climbed into his SUV.   He greeted them, “How’s it going?”

Caroline said, “We’re good, now that school is over.”

Marie said, “Dad, thanks for picking us up.”

Jeff glanced over his shoulder, “You’re welcome.”

Purev said, “I just made two new friends.”

Caroline said, “I’m glad that Travis and Chad have decided you’re okay.”

“Me, too,” Purev said.   “I only wish they were gay, so I could go out with them.”

Caroline said, “You’d have a lot of competition, because every girl at the school wants to go out with them!”

Kyle laughed, and said, “Including you!”

Caroline blushed, but nodded her head.   “Yes, including me.”

Purev said, “Do you want me to tell Travis that you want to go out with him?”

Caroline said, “No, I don’t, especially not after you just told him that Gbemi wants to be his girlfriend.”

“How about Chad?   He’s just as good looking,” Purev said.

Caroline thought for a moment.   “Okay, you can tell Chad I want to go out on a date with him.   He seems nicer that Travis.”

Purev said, “I don’t know which one is nicer, because they both look pretty good to me.”

Caroline punched him in the shoulder.   “Haven’t you learned that looks aren’t everything?   Just because they are both good looking, doesn’t mean that they will treat you well.   I’ve heard that Travis was pretty mean to Felicia, before he dumped her.”

Purev said, “I hadn’t heard about that.   I knew they were a couple, but then they weren’t, anymore.”

As the girls and Purev continued comparing notes on the various guys they were interested in, Kyle looked over at Jeff, and said, “Listening to them, you would think all they did at school was watch the guys walk by.”

Jeff laughed.   “Well, don’t you and your guy friends watch all of the girls walk by?”

Kyle replied, “Yes, we do, but we don’t sit around talking about them.”

Jeff glanced over at the young man sitting next to him.  “Okay, please don’t tell me that you and your friends never sit together, during lunch, discussing this girl, or that one.”

Kyle said, “Okay, I admit we do that, sometimes; BUT, not all the time.”

“So, you admit that guys talk about the girls, just like the girls talk about the guys,” Jeff said.

Kyle said, “Yes, but…”

“But you haven’t been forced to listen to the girls talk about the guys, until now,” Jeff said.

Kyle said, “Yes.”

“Well, I think you’ll be okay,” Jeff said.   “At least they aren’t talking about you.”

Kyle laughed.   “That’s true, but I know that Caroline did talk about me, because that’s how Catharine got up the courage to talk to me.”

“I see.   It’s okay for them to talk about you, when it benefits you,” Jeff said, smiling.

Kyle laughed.   “Yes, and it’s okay for them to talk about all the other guys, as well.   I get the point.   I’ll stop complaining about it.”

Jeff chuckled.   “I thought you might feel that way.”

They continued to make idle conversation the rest of the way home.   Jeff dropped off Kyle and Purev at the Lernier home, and continued on to his apartment.   They entered the apartment, and the girls went to their respective rooms, to store their school gear.  

He walked down the hall toward Caroline’s room, when he heard her exclaim, “Oh, no!”   He tapped on the door, and asked, “Is everything alright?”

Caroline opened the door, and looked up at her father.   She wore a stricken expression, and tears were cascading down her cheeks.   “Dad, Samantha is dead.”

Jeff asked, “Do you mean your friend from girl scouts?”

“Yes.   Moriah just sent me a text message,” Caroline said.   “She says that Samantha committed suicide.”

Jeff took her in his arms, and held her close.   He held her, until she stopped crying, and she pulled away from him.   “I’m sorry,” he said.

She said, “I’m going to call Moriah.   She wouldn’t say how she died.”

She walked past her father, and down the hall, to the front room.   She sat on the couch, and pulled her feet up underneath her.   She dialed Moriah’s number.

“Hey, Moriah,” she said.

“Hey, Caroline,” she responded.

“What happened to Samantha?”

“She committed suicide.   She broke up with Quinn last week, and they were still fighting,” Moriah said.   “She left a suicide note that said she couldn’t go on living, without Quinn in her life.”

“How’s Quinn doing?” she asked.

“He’s really busted up about it,” Moriah said.   “His parents have put him on a suicide watch.”

“Does everyone else know?” Caroline asked.

“All of the drama department knows.   I sent everyone a text message,” Moriah said.

“Okay.   Thanks for telling me,” Caroline said.   “I’ll talk to you, later.”   She ended the call.   Her cell rang, just as she was returning it to her pocket.   “Hey, Kyle!”

Kyle said, “Did you hear the news?”

“Yes, I just got off the phone with Moriah.”

“They are having a candlelight vigil for Sammy, tonight, at 7 PM.   Do you want to go?”

“Yes, but I’ll have to ask Dad if it’s okay,” she replied.

She looked over at her Dad.   “May I go with Kyle to a candlelight vigil at the school for Samantha?”

Jeff said, “Sure.  Do you need me to drive you to the school?”

She asked Kyle, “Who is driving?”

“I don’t know.   I haven’t gotten that far, yet.   Can your Dad drive?”

“I think so,” she answered.   “Dad, can you drive us to the school?”

“Yes, I’ll be happy to go with you,” Jeff replied.

“Okay, Dad says he’ll drive,” Caroline said.  “I’ll send you a text message when we get close to your house.”

Kyle said, “Thanks.”

Kyle returned his cell phone to his pocket, and walked into the kitchen.   Rick looked at him, as he put a green salad on the table.   Seeing the stricken look on the young man’s face, he immediately walked over and took him in his arms.   “What’s wrong?”

Kyle wrapped his arms around his Dad’s waist, mumbled into his shirt, “Sammy committed suicide, today.”

As sobs wracked Kyle’s body, Rick held him tight.   When the storm had subsided, Kyle pulled back.   He looked up into his Dad’s eyes.   “Why did she do it?”

Rick said, “Did she leave a note?”

Kyle pulled away from Rick’s embrace, walked over to the table, and sat down.   “She said she couldn’t go on living without Quinn.”

Rick said, “Didn’t you tell me they broke up a last week?”

Kyle nodded his head.   “Yes, they had a really big argument at school.   Everyone knew about it.   They are having a candlelight vigil for her tonight at the school.”

“Do you want to go?” Rick asked.

“Yes, Caroline asked her Dad to drive up to the school,” he said.   “I hope that’s okay with you.”

“That’s fine.   Just make sure you’re home by midnight,” Rick said.

Kyle gave his father a wan smile.   “I haven’t forgotten our house rules.   I’ll make sure I’m back before midnight.   Besides, Jeff will insist that we obey the rules.”

Rick smiled.   “Jeff is a good friend.”

Kyle said, “Yes, he is.   I’m glad Caroline and Marie are treating him much better, now.”

Rick looked closely at Kyle, and asked, “Are you going to be alright?”

Kyle met his Dad’s gaze.   “Yes, I’ll be okay.   I’m just really sad to lose a good friend.   Sammy helped me a lot in math.   She was the smartest one in the class.   I’m worried about Quinn.”

“Maybe you should call him,” Rick suggested.

Kyle nodded his head, pulling out his cell phone.   He dialed Quinn’s number.   “Hey, Quinn!   I’m so sorry,” Kyle said.

Quinn’s voice was choked with tears.   “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

“Do you want me to come over?” Kyle asked.

“Sure,” he replied.   “Robert is already here.”

Kyle put his hand over the phone’s speaker.   “Dad, may I stay overnight with Quinn?”

Rick said, “Sure, son.”

Kyle said, “Quinn, I’m going to stay overnight at your place.   Okay?”

Quinn said, “I’d like that.”

Kyle said, “Caroline and I are going to the candlelight vigil at the school.   Are you going?”

Quinn said, “Robert says I should go.   I don’t want to go.   I don’t want everyone to see me crying like a baby.”

Kyle said, “It’s okay to cry, Quinn.   Robert and I will be with you.   It will be okay.   We’ll come by to pick you up.”

Quinn stifled a sob.   He was hurting so much, he just wanted to end it all.   “I want it to stop hurting, Kyle.   My parents won’t let me go anywhere alone.   They’re afraid I’ll do the same thing Sammy did.”

“Well, are you?” Kyle asked.

“I’ve thought about it,” Quinn admitted.   “I can’t help it.   Sammy did it, because I broke up with her.”   Kyle heard Robert’s voice in the background.

“What’s Robert saying?” Kyle asked.

“My parents are taking us to the vigil at the school.   We’ll meet you there,” Quinn said.

Kyle said, “Okay, see you.”

He ended the call, and looked over at Rick.   “Quinn is in really bad shape.”

“Go get your stuff, so you’ll be ready when Jeff gets here,” Rick said.

Kyle stood up, and walked over to give Rick a hug.   “I love you, Dad.”

“Do your best to help him, son,” Rick said.

Kyle left the kitchen, and bounded up the stairs, two at a time.   He entered his room, and grabbed his gym bag.   He stuffed in a pair of clean jeans, a t-shirt, socks and underwear.   As an afterthought, he grabbed his lounge pants.   He normally slept in his underwear, but thought he might need to wear the lounge pants at Quinn’s house.   He grabbed his toiletries and his bible, throwing them into his gym bag.   He zipped it up, and looked around his room.   He decided that he had everything he needed.   He flicked off the light, and closed the door to his room.

As he walked down the hall, Ashley’s door opened.   She saw her brother’s face, and asked, “What’s going on, Kyle?”

He stopped in front of his sister.   “Sammy died today.”

She wrapped her arms around him.   “It will be okay.”

“Why does it seem like its worse than when Mom and Dad died?” Kyle asked, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“It’s because you are older, now.   Remember how our Dads were there for us, and helped us during that difficult time?   They were there for us when Grandma died, as well,” Ashley said.

Kyle said, “Dad has been a big help to me, tonight.”

“See, everything will be okay, because you have a wonderful family that loves you,” Ashley said.

“Thanks Ash.   You always know what to say to cheer me up,” Kyle said.

She released him, and asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the vigil at the school, then I’m going over to Quinn’s house.   He needs us to be with him,” Kyle said.   “Dad said I could stay overnight.”

Ashley said, “I’m glad you’re going to be with Quinn, but you have to be strong for him.”

Kyle smiled at his sister.   “I know, just like I was strong for you and David when our parents died.”

Ashley said, “Yes, just like that.”

There was a knock on the door, and Rick turned off the stove, before he went to answer it.   He opened the door.   He said, “Come inside, Jeff.”

Jeff stepped inside, followed by Caroline and Marie.  “Is Kyle ready?”

“I believe so,” Rick said.   He stepped to the bottom of the stairs, and shouted, “Kyle, your ride is here!”

Kyle leaned over and kissed his sister’s cheek.   “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” she said, and retreated into her room.   She was glad Kyle was going to help Quinn.   If anyone could help Quinn, it was Kyle.   Kyle had comforted her and David each time they had lost someone close to them.   He knew just what to do.   She turned her attention to putting together her overnight bag.   David and Purev were also getting things together, since the three of them were staying overnight at the Campbell’s home.   Michaela had already sent her a couple of text messages, asking when they were coming.

She had just finished putting her toiletries in the bag, along with her pajamas, when she heard a light tap on her door.   She opened the door to find David standing there. 

David asked, “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes, I’m ready,” she answered.

“Good.   We’re ready, as well,” he said, as Purev came up behind him.   Both boys had backpacks with their gear slung over their shoulders.

Purev smiled.   “I’m really excited.”

Ashley said, “I hope you’re not disappointed.”

“I won’t be, because I know that Catharine is bringing her cousin over on Sunday.  So, if things don’t work out with Gabriel, I still have Justin to look forward to,” Purev said, smiling.

The three teenagers made their way down the stairs.   They walked into the kitchen, where the two sets of twins were already seated at the table.   Rick said, “Please, take a seat at the table.   As soon as we’ve finished dinner, we’ll go to the Campbells.”

The three of them joined the others at the table.   Rick asked, “David, will you say grace for us?”

David replied, “Sure, Dad.”   He reached out to take Purev’s hand on one side, and JJ’s on the other.

When he finished, everyone chorused, “Amen.”

Cammy said, “Thanks, Uncle Rick for cooking dinner.   This is pretty good.”

Rick smiled, “You’re welcome, Cammy.   I’m glad you like it.”  

Rick had prepared a vegetable stir-fry, with white rice.   He liked using the wok to cook.   He and Glenn loved Chinese food, and the wok allowed them to cook many of their favorite dishes.  They also loved cooking curry dishes.   All of which required rice of some kind to be served with them.  As a result, the twins loved rice so much, Rick was beginning to think his boys had been switched at birth with a set of Asian twins!   Cammy and Skye loved rice just as much, so the same thing may have happened to Zach and Todd!     

Rick watched the boys inhaling their food.   He said, “Slow down a bit, and enjoy it!”

JJ stopped, with his fork half-way to his mouth, and said, “But I’m hungry, and I want seconds.”

“There is plenty of food, so you don’t have to rush,” Rick insisted.   “You’ll make yourselves sick eating as fast as you are.   Slow down, and chew your food, boys.”

Obediently, JJ put his fork down.   He frowned, and made exaggerated chewing sounds, while he chomped the food in his mouth.   Rick laughed.   “JJ, you don’t have to be so dramatic about it.”

“Why don’t you count how many times you chew?” Ashley suggested.

JJ swallowed his food, and said, “How many times do I have to chew my food, before I swallow it?”

Ashley laughed.   “There isn’t a set amount, little brother.   You chew it until it’s soft, and there aren’t any big chunks left.   You don’t want to choke on your food, but you don’t need to completely pulverize it.”

Josh asked, “What does pulverize mean?”

David said, “It means to smash something into tiny little pieces.   It’s what your teeth do to your food.”

Josh turned his Dad, and said, “I’m going to use my teeth to pulverize my food.”   He giggled, and put a mouthful of rice in his mouth.

Cammy said, “You’re just being silly.”

Josh replied, “I am not!”

Skye, always the peacemaker, said, “Cammy, Josh is doing what Uncle Rick asked him to do.   He’s just making it more fun, by using big words.”

Cammy looked at his twin, and wrinkled his nose.   “Why are you always defending Josh?”

“Because he’s my cousin,” Skye said, smiling.

“Well, he’s my cousin, too,” Cammy said.

Rick decided it was time to redirect the conversation.   “Since we’re staying home by ourselves, what do you want to do?”

Cammy said, “May we have a sleepover?   We can put our sleeping bags in front of the television, and have a movie night.”

Skye said, “I want to watch Star Wars.”

Cammy said, “You always want to watch Star Wars.   May we watch something else?”

Rick said, “Why don’t we put our favorite movies on a slip of paper, and put them in a hat?   Then, we can draw one out, and we’ll watch whatever movie is on the slip of paper.”

Cammy said, “That would work, as long as we get to watch more than one movie.”

Rick laughed.   “Cammy, you are always looking to find a way to get what you want.”

Cammy grinned.   “Dad says I’ll make a great businessman, someday, because I know how to negotiate a better deal!”

David said, “You’re Dad is right about that.”

Ashley said, “Michaela wants me to teach her how to crochet, like Mrs. Bartucivik taught me.”

Rick said, “That sounds like a good thing to do.”

“Do you think we can visit with Mrs. Bartucivik this weekend?” Ashley asked.   “I want her to teach me more stitches, so I can teach Michaela.”

“Sure.   Let’s plan to go over on Sunday.   That way, Kyle can play the piano for the residents, while you visit with Mrs. Bartucivik.   I’ll call the center to make sure it’s okay for us to come,” Rick said.

“Thanks, Dad,” She said.

“Why don’t you invite Michaela to go with us on Sunday?” Rick asked.

Before Ashley could respond, David said, “May we invite Mark to come, too?”

Ashley gazed at her brother, giving him a wilting look.  “Can you let me answer Dad’s question, first?”

David looked sheepish, and said, “I’m sorry, Ashley.   I should have waited until you were done talking.”

Ashley said, “I would love to invite Michaela to join us; however, I think her grandparents are leaving for Texas that day.   I’m not sure what time they’re supposed to be leaving.”

David said, “They are leaving in the morning.   Mark said his Grandpa wanted to get on the road as early as possible.”

“Well, we can ask them, if they want to join us for the afternoon,” Rick said.

“Okay,” Ashley said.

They continued talking about their plans for the weekend, as they finished eating dinner.   When they were done, Rick said, “Everyone clear your own plate plus three other things from off of the table.”

The children quickly obeyed.   David emptied the dishwasher, while Purev put the clean dishes away in the cupboards.   Then, the two teenagers reloaded the dishwasher and turned it on.   Rick wiped down the counter tops and table, while they did the dishes.  

When they were finished cleaning up the kitchen, Rick said, “Okay, let’s go.”   The teenagers gathered up their overnight gear, and trooped out to the mini-van.   Purev and David helped put the twins in their car seats.   Cammy sat in between JJ and Josh in the back row, while Skye sat in the middle, between David and Purev; leaving the front seat for Ashley.

Rick climbed into the driver’s seat, glancing over at Ashley.   “I see that the boys have let you have the front seat.”

Ashley smiled.   “They know how to treat a lady.”  

She said it so smugly, that Rick burst out laughing.   “I’m glad you have them so well trained.”

Ashley gave her Dad an impish grin.   “It was hard work, but I managed to do it.”

He shook his head in wonder, and put the van in reverse, backing it out of the garage.   He turned the van around, and pulled up to the guard shack.   He rolled down the window, as Cole approached the vehicle.

“I’ll be back in an hour, or so,” Rick said.

Cole nodded his head.   “I’ll be on the lookout for you.”

Rick rolled up the window, then pulled through the gate.   He drove to the Campbell’s home and pulled into their driveway.   David and Purev helped get the twins out of their car seats.   Once free of their restraints, the twins jumped out of the van, and ran for the front door.

Rick laughed.  “You can’t tell that they’re excited, can you?”

Ashley said, “They love coming here.   The General always has surprises for them.”

“Yes, he does,” Rick agreed.

By the time Rick reached the front door, the twins had already found the General.   The General smiled up at Rick.   “Your boys want to take my wheelchair for a spin.”

The twins had climbed up on the General’s lap.   JJ looked up, and said, “The General said we could steer his chair for him.”

“Okay,” Rick said, smiling at his boys.   “Just don’t crash into anything.”

Josh said, “We won’t.   The General has taught us how to use the joy stick to keep from running into things.”

The General was beaming.   “You don’t have to worry, Rick.   I can handle these two.”

JJ asked, “General, may I go first?”

Cammy protested, “You got to go first last time.”

The General responded, “Yes, you may, since you asked.   Cammy, I’ll let you and Skye have extra time driving my wheelchair after the twins are done.”   JJ started the wheelchair moving.   They moved out of the foyer, and down the hall, with the General giving directions.

Cammy turned to his twin, and said, “Do you want to go first?”

Skye smiled, and said, “No, I know you don’t want to wait.”

David, Purev and Ashley joined him in the foyer, closing the door behind them.   Ashley asked, “Where are Mark and Michaela?”

Mark stepped into the foyer, and said, “We’re right here.”  Next to him stood a nice looking Latino.   Mark introduced him, “Gabriel, this is Mr. Lernier.”

Rick said, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Mark continued his introductions.   “This is David, Purev, and Ashley.”

The teens chorused, “Hi!”

Gabriel had curly black hair, dark brown eyes, a smallish nose, and a bright white smile.   He was skinny, but wiry.   He was 5’6” (168 cm.) with olive skin.   Rick could see that Purev was giving him the once over.   He glanced over to see how Gabriel was handling Purev’s rather obvious interest in him.

Gabriel was smiling.   He said, “I’m glad Mark invited me to stay overnight with you guys.”

Cameron said, “I’m Cameron; but you can call me Cammy, and this is my twin brother, Skye.”

Gabriel said, “It’s nice to meet you.”

At that moment, Mrs. Campbell came out of the kitchen, and greeted Rick.   “How are you, son?”

Rick walked over, and gave her a hug.   “I’m okay.   I’m missing my husband, but I’ll be okay.”

Mrs. Campbell asked, “How long will Glenn be gone?”

“He’ll be home next weekend for the twin’s birthday,” Rick responded.

She looked up at him, and asked, “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Rick nodded his head.   “Yes, I’ll make it.”

“Come into the kitchen,” she said.   “Mr. and Mrs. Paul would like to meet you.”

He followed her into the kitchen, while the teens disappeared into the music room.   The twins sat down on the floor, to wait for the General to return; each of them talking excitedly about driving the General’s wheelchair.

Mrs. Campbell introduced the Pauls, “This is Mark and Michelle Paul.   This is my son, Rick.”

Mark stood to shake Rick’s hand.   “It’s nice to meet you.   We’ve heard a lot about you and your family.”

Rick looked over at Mrs. Campbell, who smiled at him.   “I hope it was all good.”

Michelle said, “It was.   Our grandchildren think the world of your family.   They really need good friends, right now.”

Rick said, “I’m glad they have been able to be friends, despite their father’s shortcomings.”

Mark looked at Rick with raised eyebrows.   “There seems to be more to this situation than meets the eye.”

Rick took a seat at the table, and said, “Yes, there is.   I left my job at the Pentagon, because I refused to be treated poorly by your son-in-law.   I’m currently a stay-at-home Dad, while my husband is working in Austin, Texas.”

Michelle said, “We’re sorry that Clay offended you.   We didn’t know he had become so intolerant of other people.”

“It seems there are many things we didn’t know,” Mark said.   “I still think Janelle should leave the bastard.”

Rick said, “Let me tell you what happened.”   He narrated for them the events that had led to him leaving his job.   He ended by stating, “We told our children that they were not, under any circumstances, to step foot in the Henderson’s home, because of his homophobic attitudes.”

Michelle said, “The more I hear, the more I’m amazed that your children have befriended our grandchildren.”

Rick said, “They are good judges of character.   From my interactions with them, I’m very happy that Ashley and David have become friends with Mark and Michaela.”

Mark nodded his head.   “They are top notch kids.   Janelle comes home from the hospital, tomorrow.”

Mrs. Campbell said, “We’ve already set up her room, next to Mark’s room.”

Michelle smiled.   “Thank you so much for all you’ve done for my daughter and her family.”

Mrs. Campbell said, “It’s the least we can do.”

Rick said, “The Campbells are the best people in the entire world.”

Mrs. Campbell blushed.  “Thank you, Rick; but, we’re doing only what we think is right.”

Mark said, “No, Mrs. Campbell, Rick is right.   You’re a most remarkable person, as is the General.”

They were interrupted by the twins.   Cammy and Skye ran into the kitchen, followed by JJ and Josh.   They crowded around Mrs. Campbell.   Cammy asked, “Grandma Campbell, do you have any cookies?”

Mrs. Campbell replied, “Yes, I do.   Would you boys like some?”

All four chorused, “Yes, we would, please.”

“Go wash your hands, while I get the cookies and milk ready,” she said.

The four boys turned, and scampered out of the kitchen.   Rick laughed, as he heard them talking among themselves.  

“See, I told you we had to wash our hands,” JJ said.

“You’re just a know-it-all,” Cammy responded.

“Grandma Campbell always has us wash our hands,” JJ said.

Mrs. Campbell smiled, “At least one of them remembered.”

Michelle asked, “Are they all yours?”

Rick said, “No, only the two youngest are mine.   I’m taking care of the other two, while their Dads are out of town, working.”

The boys returned, and climbed up to the table.   Mrs. Campbell placed a plate of cookies in front of them, along with glasses of milk.   “There you go.”

Skye said, “Thank you, Grandma Campbell.”

While the younger boys were eating their cookies, the teenagers had split off into two groups.   The girls went upstairs to Michaela’s room, to have a “private” discussion about learning to crochet.

The boys were seated in the music room.   Mark and David were seated on the loveseat.   Mark put his arm around David’s shoulders, and kissed him on the lips.

Gabriel gave him a look of surprise.  “I didn’t know you were gay.”

“I’m not,” Mark said, with an edge in his voice.

Gabriel laughed.   “Okay, I get it.   You don’t want people at school to know you’re into guys.”

Mark scowled at him, then said, “Okay, I’m gay; but, I don’t want anyone to know, especially not the JROTC guys.”

Gabriel said, smiling, “But I’m one of the JROTC guys, so, how are we going to keep it a secret.”

“Just like you’ve been keeping it a secret that you’re gay,” Mark said, grinning at his friend.

Gabriel’s smile faltered.   “How do you figure that I’m gay?”

“Because of how you checked out Purev just now,” Mark said.

Gabriel looked at Purev, and protested, “But he was checking me out, not the other way around!”

Mark said, “You were just as interested in him.   Come on, admit it!”

Purev said, “Don’t pressure him, Mark.   If he wants us to know he’s gay, he’ll tell us.”   He looked at Gabriel, and said, “I hope you’re gay, because I am.   I want to have a boyfriend to hang out with, who doesn’t go to my school.   There are too many homophobic guys in our school.”

Gabriel’s troubled expression cleared, and he smiled at Purev.   “Do you really think I’m cute?”

“Yes, I do,” Purev said.   “Do you want to be boyfriends?”

Gabriel said, “Yes, as long as no one finds out about us.”

Mark said, “See, I was right.   I’ll keep your secret, and you’ll keep mine.”

Gabriel met Mark’s gaze.   “Okay, I’m gay, and I want to have a boyfriend, too.”

Mark said, “Let’s go up to my room.   I want to make out with my boyfriend.”

Gabriel said, “Are we invited?”

“Yes, you’re invited,” Mark said.   “Did you think you could make out with Purev down here?”

Gabriel said, “No, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be alone with David.”

Mark said, “I do; but, later tonight.”

Purev asked, “Where are we going to sleep tonight?”

“You and Gabriel are sleeping in the room across the hall from mine,” Mark said.   “I asked Mrs. Campbell to let me and David sleep alone.”

“Do the Campbells know you’re gay,” Gabriel asked.

“Yes, they do, and they know that David is gay, too,” Mark said.

The four boys made their way upstairs.   As soon as the door was closed, Mark pulled David into his arms, and kissed him.   Gabriel looked at Purev.   Purev looked back, and grinned.   Purev walked over, and pulled Gabriel into his embrace.   He met Gabriel’s gaze, and said, “I like French kissing.”

Gabriel said, “I do, too.”

Kyle was sitting in the front seat of Jeff’s SUV, as they drove past Hayfield Secondary School.   He looked out the window, and saw that someone had painted graffiti on the fence across from the Hayfield Shopping Center.   His eyes widened in surprise, as he realized what it said.

“Caroline, look at the fence,” Kyle said, pointing out of the window.  

Caroline gasped.   “I can’t believe someone put that there.”

Jeff, who had seen the graffiti, but didn’t have time to read it, asked, “What does it say?”

“It says – R.I.P. Sammy!” Caroline said.

“Someone from Hayfield must know Sammy,” Kyle said.

“Maybe, or someone from Edison painted it on the fence,” Jeff said.

A few minutes later, they arrived at Edison High School.   There was already a crowd gathered around the stone in front of the school.   It had been painted black, with the letters “R.I.P Sammy,” painted in white.

Jeff parked the SUV, and they got out to join the gathering.  One of the parents in the crowd handed them each a candle, and a lighter.   They lighted their candles, and handed back the lighter.   Kyle kept looking around, hoping to see Quinn.   He spotted Robert and Quinn, standing next to the black rock.   He walked over to them.   He handed his candle to Robert, and put his arms around Quinn.   He said, “We love you, Quinn.”

Quinn returned his embrace, and said, “Thank you for coming.”  

Kyle turned to Robert.   “Hey, Bro.!   I’m glad you’ve been keeping an eye on Quinn.”   Kyle took back his lighted candle from Robert.

Robert said, “Quinn called me as soon as he heard the news, and I asked my parents to sign me out of school, to be with him.”

Quinn’s Dad came up to the boys.   “Thanks for coming.   I’m glad you guys are coming over to stay with Quinn, tonight.”

Robert said, “Not a problem, Mr. Sullivan.”

Mr. Sullivan turned to Jeff, and extended his hand.   “I’m Larry Sullivan.”

Jeff shook his hand.   “Nice to meet you.  I’m Jeff Dunn, and these are my daughters, Caroline and Marie.”

Mr. Sullivan smiled.   “It’s nice to meet all of you.   Quinn has talked a lot about his drama peeps.”

Jeff said, “Caroline does the same.   Her drama friends are very important to her.”

Mr. Sullivan said, “I’m glad they are getting together tonight.   It will help them begin the grieving process.   It’s been a very long day for us, at our house.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Jeff said.

“Thank you,” he replied.   “We loved Sammy very much.   We’re very worried about Quinn right now.”

After the vigil was over, Jeff took the girls home, while Kyle and Robert went to Quinn’s house.   They climbed the stairs to Quinn’s room.   As soon as the door was closed, Quinn threw himself on his bed and started to sob.

Robert walked over, and sat on the bed.   Kyle walked around to the other side of the bed, and pulled Quinn into his arms.   Quinn clung to him, and watered his shirt with his tears.   After a long while, Quinn pulled back, and looked at Kyle.   “I’m sorry, your shirt is all wet, now.”

“Don’t worry about the shirt, Quinn,” Kyle said.   “What’s important is that you let your feelings show.   You can’t keep them bottled up inside.   My Dads told me that, when my parents died.”

Quinn said, “I didn’t know your parents were dead.”

Kyle said, “They were killed in a car accident, when I was still in elementary school.”

“So, you know what it’s like to lose someone you love,” Quinn said.

“Yes, I do,” Kyle said.   “When my Grandma died, my Dads adopted me and my brother and sister.”

“That’s terrible,” Quinn said.   “First, you lost your parents, then your grandmother.”

“It was a really hard, but my Dads have been there for me,” Kyle said.   “They told me that my parents and my grandmother are waiting for me, in heaven.   I need to live my life the best way I can, so I can be with them.”

Quinn looked at Kyle, and asked, “Do you really believe that they’re in heaven?”

“Yes, I do,” Kyle said.   “I think that’s where Sammy is, too.”

“Do you really think so?” Quinn asked, uncertainly.

“Yes, I do,” Kyle said, firmly.   “I think she’s with my parents and my grandmother.”

Robert said, “I believe the same thing.   My parents have taught me that we go to live with our God after this life.   I think that’s where Sammy has gone.”

Quinn said, “I blame myself for what happened.”

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for the actions of others,” Kyle said.   “Each person is responsible for their own thoughts and actions.”

“But Sammy took her own life, because we broke up,” Quinn said.

“That’s not totally true,” Robert said.   “Her parents are going through a divorce, and she felt that she was the cause of their divorce.”

“But, she said she couldn’t face life without me,” Quinn said.

Robert said, “It was a combination of factors, Quinn.   All of us should have seen what was happening, and tried to stop her.   I remember how she talked about suicide, even before you two broke up.”

Quinn nodded his head.   “That’s true, she did talk about it, quite a bit.   It was part of the reason we broke up.   She told me she wasn’t good enough for me, and that we couldn’t be a couple, anymore.   I argued with her about it.   She stopped returning my phone calls, and avoided me at school.”

Kyle said, “So, you didn’t cause her to take her life, Quinn.”

Quinn thought for a moment, then said, “I guess you’re right, but I really miss her.   We were together for nearly two years.”

Robert said, “That’s seems like forever.”

Kyle agreed.   “It is a long time, especially among our friends.   They are always getting together with someone, then breaking up.”

“It’s because we’re all drama peeps,” Robert said, smiling.   “We’re really into doing things in a big way, you know.”

Quinn rolled his eyes.   “Robert, you’re the one who is really into drama.”

Robert laughed, and pointed his finger at Quinn.   “Don’t be calling me dramatic, when you’re the one who just rolled his eyes at me!”

The three teens continued to trash talk each other, until there was a knock on Quinn’s door.   “Hey, guys, are you hungry?”

Quinn jumped up from his bed, and opened the door.   His Dad was standing there.  “Sure, Dad.”

“There’s pizza in the kitchen,” he said.

He smiled, as the three of them went past him, and down the stairs.   He noted the positive change in Quinn, and was grateful his two friends were staying with them, tonight.

He was surprised to find Kyle coming toward him on the stairs.   Kyle said, “Mr. Sullivan, I think Quinn’s past the worst of it.   He’s stopped blaming himself for what happened.   We’re all sad that Sammy is gone; but, at least, he’s acknowledged that there were other factors at play in her life, that led her to where she took her own life.”

Mr. Sullivan said, “Thank you, Kyle.   We’ll still keep a close eye on Quinn.   Will you keep up with him at school?”

“Yes, Robert and I will do that, and we’ll put the word out among our drama friends to watch him, as well.”

Mr. Sullivan clapped Kyle on the back.   “Thanks for everything.”

Kyle smiled, “No problem.   It’s what friends do for friends.”

They entered the kitchen, and Kyle joined his friends around the table.   “Thanks for the pizza.   Hey guys, leave some for me!”

Robert said, “It’s your fault that you didn’t get here sooner.”

Kyle grabbed two slices of pizza, and put them on a plate.   He grabbed a third one, and started stuffing it in his mouth.   Mr. Sullivan shook his head in wonder.   Only teenage boys could go down on pizza like they had been on a starvation diet for 40 days and 40 nights!

We had spent the day settling into a new job on the south side of Austin.   We had met the company’s project team, and things were working well.   Everyone seemed very friendly, and open to working with two gay guys.  

At the end of the day, Steve, the project manager, walked over to us.   “Would you guys be interested in hitting a couple of the gay bars in town?”

I said, “Can we take a rain check on that offer?   I’m not a drinker, but I do enjoy going to dance clubs.”

Steve said, “We’ll have to arrange to go out dancing next weekend, then.”

Todd said, “That sounds like a plan.   We still aren’t settled into our new place, yet.”

Steve said, “I understand, completely.   My boyfriend and I just moved into a place, not too far from here.   I’ll catch you guys on Monday, then.”

Steve left us, and we followed Lenny to the rental car.   Lenny said, “Let’s drive out to Lake Travis.   I know of a good restaurant there that I think you’ll enjoy.”

Todd smiled, and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

We climbed into the car, and Lenny drove us out to the lake.  During dinner, Todd did his best to distract me, but I was still really homesick for my husband and family.   Lenny and Todd carried the bulk of the conversation during the entire meal.

We had ordered dessert, when Lenny, seeing how sad I was, said, “I know how you feel.   I used to hate being away from home, when the children were small.   They’re both married, now, and have families of their own.”

I met Todd’s eyes, and smiled.  “I shouldn’t feel so homesick, because I’m here with my best friend.”

Lenny asked, “How long have you known each other?”

Todd laughed, and said, “Longer than we’re willing to admit.   We met during our sophomore year in college.   We were roommates during that year, before Glenn abandoned us.”

I protested, “I didn’t abandon you.   You were happily married, and still are.”

Lenny said, “I’m still amazed that both of you are married to men.   You’re both very well built, and any woman would be drooling over you.   Did either of you ever date a woman, before getting married to your husbands?”

Todd nodded his head. “Yes, I dated quite a few girls during high school.   I had sex with a few of them, but I didn’t really feel comfortable around them.   Then, I met Zach during our senior year.   We played hockey for rival high schools.   One night, after a particularly competitive game, Zach found me in the parking lot.   I thought he wanted to continue the fight we’d had earlier, on the ice; when he surprised me by asking me to go out with him.”

Lenny turned to me, and asked, “What about you.”

“I met a really nice girl, who tried to rescue me from being gay.   She slipped into my bedroom one night, and we had a great time; but it didn’t change the fact that I prefer guys.”

Todd looked at me in surprise.   “I never knew you had been with a woman?   I thought you had always been with Rick.”

I said, “During high school, I had many friends that were girls, but I never dated any of them.   My first boyfriend was Ian.   He was an exchange student from Norway.   When we graduated, he went back home, and that is the last I ever heard of him.   After graduation, I went to Georgia to spend the summer with my grandparents.   That’s when my cousin, Keith, introduced me to his fiancée, Kerry, and her family.   They didn’t believe I was really gay, so they hatched a plot to convince me that I was really straight.   Kerry’s sister, Ruth Ann, set out to convert me to the joys of hetero sex.   She slipped into my room one night, and I succumbed to her charms!”

“So, why didn’t you stay with her, since you liked having sex with her so much?” Lenny asked.

“She was good in bed, but then Keith introduced me to his roommate, Rick.   He swept me off my feet almost from the moment we first met,” I said, smiling at the memory.   “Believe me, one night with Rick was more than enough to cure me of any desire to be with a woman.”

Todd nodded his head in agreement.   “Glenn’s right about that.   Rick is totally awesome.”

Lenny looked at us, and said, “I just don’t get how being with a guy can be ‘totally awesome,’ as you put it.”

Todd said, “How do you feel about being with your wife?”

Lenny smiled, and replied, “Totally awesome, but that doesn’t help me understand why you would want to be married to a guy.”

“Yes, it does, Lenny,” Todd said.   “We feel the same way about our husbands, as you do about your wife.   We are completely, and madly, in love with them.   Just like straight couples, we like a little romance, and lots of great sex!”

“I’m so addicted to my husband, I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms,” I said, trying to keep my emotions under control.   I couldn’t believe how emotional I had become over being away from my family.

Lenny said, “Okay, I get it.   I miss being with my wife, too.   I guess it’s not so strange to miss your loved ones, after all.”

We finished our dessert, and paid our bill.   Lenny drove us back to our apartment.  When we were settled in for the night, Todd said, “I’m sorry that I’ve taken you away from Rick and the children.   I can see how homesick you are.   I thought that being alone with you would convince you that we could relax your rules and enjoy an intimate relationship.   But, after seeing how much you miss Rick, I can see there is no chance of that ever happening.”   He held up his hand, when I started to speak.   “Please hear me out.   I know what you have told me all these years, and I guess I never really believed how in love you are with Rick, until now.   I’m glad that you’ve held your ground, and I will try to emulate your devotion to your husband.”

I smiled at Todd.   “You’re my best friend, Todd.   I really love how close we are, and that you’re willing to let us have a close relationship, without having sex with each other.  I’ve always been able to talk to you, and share my inner-most thoughts and feelings.   Next to Rick, you are the only person who knows everything about me.”

Todd smiled, “I thought I knew you, then you tell me you slept with a woman.”

“Well, almost everything,” I conceded.

Todd said, “Are you ready to call Rick?”

“Yes, let’s call them.”

We spent the next hour talking with Rick and our twins.   It saddened us to hear about Kyle’s friend, Sammy.   We signed off, and took care of our needs, before climbing into bed.   Todd pulled me into his arms, and kissed me.   “Good night, Glenn.”

“Good night, Todd,” I said, caressing his bare chest.   “I love you.”

The following Saturday, Rick got everyone up early.   Everyone was in the kitchen, eating breakfast, when Zach pulled Rick into his arms.   He kissed him, and asked, “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Rick said, “I’ll be okay.   Besides, Kyle will be there to rescue me, if I need help.

Zach glanced over at the teenager, and asked, “Can I count on you to take care of your Dad?”

Kyle grinned, and replied, “I promise to make sure that his walker is nearby, or his cane; so he doesn’t end up falling down, and hurting himself.   We wouldn’t want him to have to stay in the nursing home with his mother!”

Rick laughed.   “Just make sure you help get me to the bathroom on time, I wouldn’t want to make you clean up the mess, otherwise.”

Ashley said, “Yuck!   Dad, we’re eating breakfast!”

Rick smiled at his daughter.   “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin your breakfast.”

She laughed, “It’s okay.   I know Kyle likes giving you a hard time.”

Zach looked over at his boys, and asked, “Are you guys ready to stay with Grandpa and Grandma Campbell?”

Cammy said, “Yes, we’re ready.   The General said he would teach us how to shoot a rifle this time.”

“Just remember to follow his directions.   I don’t want either of you to get hurt,” Zach said, giving them a meaningful look.

Skye said, “We promise to behave.”

“That’s not what I said,” Zach said.   “I asked you to follow the General’s directions.”

Skye said, “We promise.”   He looked at his twin, and asked, “Don’t we?”

Cammy grinned, conspiratorially, “Yes, Dad, we promise.”

After the children had eaten their breakfast, Rick asked, “Are we ready to go visit Grandma Lernier?”

The JJ and Josh chorused, “Yes, we’re ready.”  

Ashley and David helped the twins get their coats on.   Kyle ran upstairs to grab his camera.   He returned, and helped shepherd the twins out the door.   Everyone was in their places.   Kyle sat in his favorite place - in the front seat with his Dad.   He watched Rick’s every move, because he planned to take his driver’s test next month, and he wanted to be ready to sit in the driver’s seat.   Despite the classroom training he had received, he was getting anxious about beginning to drive a real car.

“Aren’t you nervous about seeing your mom?” Kyle asked.

“Yes, I am, son.   It’s been over 11 years, since I saw her last,” Rick said.

“Do you really think she’s changed?” Kyle asked.   “I mean, she is the one who encouraged your uncle and your cousin to try to kill you.”

Rick said, “I don’t know what to believe.   She sounds sincere, and my sister keeps telling me that she’s turned over a new leaf.”

Kyle said, “Why should you believe Aunt Julie?   She is just as prejudiced against gays as your mother.   She won’t even meet up with you on neutral territory.”

Rick didn’t answer, as Chaz came over to the van.   He rolled down the window and said, “We’ll be back tomorrow night.”

Chaz said, “Jeff told us you’d be back late.   Jeff called to say everything is ready at his end.”

Jeff had taken a security team down to Smithfield, North Carolina, the day before, to check out the Britthaven nursing home, and to meet with the county sheriff.   Rick smiled, and said, “Thanks, Chaz.”

Chaz nodded at the Ford Explorer parked just outside the gate.   “Cole and Jamie will be following you down, so don’t try to lose them.   Jeff’s orders.”

Rick laughed.   “Jeff knows me too well.   Alright, I’ll keep my speed down.”

He rolled up the window, and proceeded through the gate.   Chaz waited until the van had turned onto the street to close the gate.   He radioed Cole.   “Are you following Rick?”

Cole responded, “Yes, we’re right behind them.”

Chaz said, “Good.   I don’t want to lose a great employer.”

Cole said, “Me neither.”

Rick glanced at Kyle, and decided to answer Kyle’s question.   “You’re right about Aunt Julie.   She is just as prejudiced against gays as my mother.   In fact, in some ways, her prejudice is more insidious than my mother’s.   At least, my mother is very open about her views.   Julie, on the other hand, puts up a façade that hides her real thoughts.   She has said she is okay with me being married to Glenn; but she still spreads lies about gays, and promotes discrimination, based on sexual orientation.   She, and others like her, are our worst enemies, because they pretend to accept us; but take every opportunity to make sure we aren’t treated equally under the law.”

Kyle said, “It’s kind of like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.   They hide their true feelings, until they have you in a position where they can stab you in the back.   Why are people like that?”

Rick said, “There are many reasons, Kyle.   Most of them have to do with the fact that people don’t want to be seen as being prejudiced.   They want to appear to be politically correct.  Other’s hide behind their religious beliefs, and use their religion as an excuse to hide their evil nature.”

Kyle said, “So, why are you going to visit Grandma, if you don’t believe she has changed her views about gays?”

Rick said, “I’ve always hoped that, someday, my mother would accept me for who I am.   I still love my parents, Kyle, even though they disowned me; and it hurt me deeply, when I heard that my Dad died before we had a chance to be reconciled.   I don’t want to risk losing my mother, before we have a chance to rebuild the relationship she destroyed.   I believe in giving people second chances, even when they don’t deserve one.”

Kyle said, “Dad, you’re the most kind-hearted person I know.   I wouldn’t think twice about abandoning my parents, if they did to me what yours have done to you.”

Rick said, “Would you really give up on me and Daddy so quickly?”

Kyle didn’t answer right away.  He looked out the window, as he thought about his Dad’s question.  When he did, his voice was thick with tears.   “I guess I wouldn’t give up on you and Daddy.   However, I know that you would never treat me the way your parents treated you.”

“I thought you weren’t really serious about abandoning us, and I don’t think you would abandon your parents, if they were still living.   You have a gentle heart, Kyle.   You showed that when you spent last weekend with Quinn.”

Kyle said, “I’m still worried about Quinn, Dad.   He still blames himself for Sammy’s death.”

“Sammy is responsible for her own actions, including taking her own life.   As for looking out for the well-being of our loved ones, there may be some who would say that those who loved her didn’t see the signs, and take the appropriate steps to get Sammy the help she needed to cope, with the stresses in her life,” Rick said.

Kyle nodded his head in agreement.   “That’s exactly what Quinn keeps saying; that he should have seen that she needed help.”

“Didn’t you say they broke up a week before she died?” Rick asked.

“Yes, they did.   She is the one who broke it off.   She wouldn’t return Quinn’s phone calls, text messages, or talk to him at school.   It was like he didn’t exist.   We tried to convince her to at least speak to him, but she wouldn’t do it,” Kyle said.   “She said she didn’t want to have a broken home, like her parents, because they were going through a divorce, and were using the children to hurt each other.   Why do adults think it’s okay to turn their children against the other parent when they get divorced?”

“I don’t understand it, either, Kyle.   It doesn’t create a healthy environment for the children, and breeds hate and contempt for the parents.   It’s like the resentment I feel toward my mother, for instilling hatred and intolerance in us, as children.   Aunt Julie is exhibiting the behaviors she saw every day in our home, when we were growing up.”

“I’m glad that you and Daddy show everyone love and respect.   We know that you love each other, and that you love each of us,” Kyle said.

Ashley said, “Michaela said that she wished her parents showed as much love for each other, as you and Daddy.”

Rick glanced in the rearview mirror at his daughter.   His surprise showed in his voice.   “Is that what she really said?”

Ashley said, “Seriously, Dad, she really thinks you and Daddy are nice people.”

“But she hasn’t seen us together.   I’ve only met Michaela twice, and I think Daddy has only seen her once,” Rick objected.

Ashley said, “I’ve told her everything about you and Daddy.   Last weekend, we made up a list of things we would look for in a husband, and I told her about how wonderful you are to Daddy.   I want to find someone like you to be my husband, because of how you treat Daddy.”

Kyle added, “And Daddy knows how to treat you.   When Catharine and Justin came over last weekend, they both commented on how much you two love each other.”

Rick smiled, and asked, “What else did Catharine say?”

Kyle blushed, but responded without hesitation, “She said you’re both really handsome.”

Rick asked, “And Justin?”

Kyle said, “He thinks it’s way cool to have two Dads.   He wishes that he had gay Dads.   His parents don’t understand how he could be gay.   He thinks it would be so much better if you and Daddy were his parents.”   He looked over at his Dad.   “What did you think of them?”

“I think Catharine and Justin are good kids,” Rick said.

Kyle said, “That’s not what I meant.”

Rick laughed.   “What do you want me to say?   That it’s okay to date someone from her church?”

Kyle looked sheepishly at his Dad.   “Well, I guess that’s what I wanted to know.   I know how you and Daddy feel about her church.   I don’t want to offend you by bringing her around.”

He glanced at Kyle, and replied, “Well, she behaved very well, while she was in our home.   I didn’t hear any anti-gay statements, or references to gays being sinners, etc.”

Kyle admitted, “I warned her not to say anything negative about gays, while she was in our home.   I told her she wouldn’t be welcome in our home, if she did.”

Rick said, “That was probably a good thing.”

Purev said, “I like Justin.”

Kyle said, “So we noticed.”

David said, “Purev has a problem, now.   He’s got two guys he likes.”

Rick asked, “I understand that things worked out between you and Gabriel.”

Purev blushed, as he thought about spending the night with Gabriel.   “Yes, we really like each other.   Gabriel asked me to be his boyfriend.”

“So, what about Justin?” Rick asked.

“I like him, too; but Gabriel and I are already boyfriends,” Purev said.

David said, “But you haven’t told Justin that you already have a boyfriend.”

“I’m not ready to tell him, yet; because I’m not sure things will work out with Gabriel,” Purev said.

Rick said, “Don’t string him along, Purev.   You should tell him you’re with Gabriel, but that you still want to be friends.”

David said, “That’s what I told him, but he won’t listen to me.”

Purev said, “I’ll think about it.”

They continued to chat about their friends, and the events going on at their respective schools.   Nearly four hours and 266 miles (428 km.) later, they pulled into the parking lot of the nursing home.   They piled out of the car, and met Jeff and Cole at the front door of the elder care facility.

Jeff said, “Everything’s in order here, Rick.   I don’t think we’ll have any trouble.”

Rick said, “Good.   I want this visit to be as uneventful as possible.   I plan to spend about 30 minutes here.   I’ll send the twins out with the older children in about 15 minutes, if they get restless.   We might be out, sooner, if things don’t go well.”

Jeff asked, “Do you want me to come in with you?”

Rick said, “Yes, I would appreciate that.”

Jeff smiled, “Given what you’ve been through with your family, I thought you might need some moral support.”

Rick nodded his agreement.   “I only wish that Glenn were here.”

Jeff said, “You chose to come here without him, Rick.   You know that he isn’t happy about what you’re doing.”

Rick said, “I know,” not meeting Jeff’s gaze.   He sighed, and said, “Let’s get this over.”

They walked into the building, and were greeted by an administrator.   “I’m Gladys Hartwell.   How may I help you?”

“I’m Rick Lernier,” he said.

“I thought that might be the case.   Mrs. Lernier is very excited that you’ve come to visit her.   Please follow me.”

She led them down a hallway, and turned into Mrs. Lernier room.   Rick stood in the doorway in shock.   There was only one person on the room, so it had to be his mother.   His mother had gained an enormous amount of weight.  Instead of the tall, slender auburn-haired woman, who radiated confidence and poise, he had known growing up; there sat before him, a gray-haired, overweight, old woman, whose face held such a pinched and sour expression, that it reminded him of the rotten apples he used to rake up off of the ground in the fruit orchard, behind their home.   Time had not been kind to his mother.   She had aged much beyond her chronological age.   It was plain to him that her physical condition reflected her mental and emotional state.   Julie had warned him that his mother had changed a lot, since the last time he had seen her.

Ms. Hartwell walked over to Mrs. Lernier’s wheelchair.   “Mrs. Lernier, your son is here to visit with you.”

She looked up, and met Rick’s gaze.   He forced a smile to his lips, and said, “Hello, Mother.”

She didn’t smile, but she gave him an appraising look.   “You look like your father did at your age.   You have always favored him.”

He ignored her statement, and moved into the room.  

Ms. Hartwell said, “I’ll leave you to visit.”   She moved past Rick, and left the room.

“I’ve brought my children to meet you.”   He signaled for them to come forward, as he introduced them.   “This is David, Ashley, JJ and Josh.”   When Purev stepped forward, Rick said, “This is Purev, my foster son.”

She looked the children over, her eyes lingering on the twins.   “JJ, you look just like your father.   I remember him when he was your age.   He was a little mischief-maker.   He always liked to tease his big sister.”   A small smile crossed her face at the memory.   It quickly disappeared, to be replaced by a scowl, as she looked at Josh.   “You must look like your mother.”

Josh returned her gaze, and stated, proudly, “I look like my Daddy.”

She looked up at Rick for confirmation.   Rick smiled, and said, “It’s true.   Josh looks like Glenn.   Glenn’s sister, Nancy, is the twins’ mother; so, technically, Glenn is the twins’ uncle.”

Josh said, “Daddy is both my Daddy and my uncle.   JJ and I are the only ones who have such a special Daddy.”

JJ said, “We miss Daddy.   He’s working and couldn’t come with us; but he’ll be home for our birthday!”

Rick said, “Glenn is working on a project in Austin, Texas.”  

He saw the look Jeff shot him, and remembered that he had promised Glenn to limit how much personal information he shared with his mother.   He and Glenn had argued about this visit, last night.   Glenn was still very much opposed to re-establishing a relationship with his mother.   The situation was the first time he and Glenn hadn’t been able to resolve their differences.

He knew that his decision to bring the children would only make matters worse between them.   He hoped that, by the time Glenn came home from Texas, things would be calmed down, somewhat.

His attention was drawn back to his mother.   “How old are you going to be?”

JJ said, “We’re going to be five years old.   Dad says that we’ll get to go to kindergarten next year, because he’ll be working, then.”

Rick winced.   He hadn’t thought about what the twins might let slip, in their innocence.   Josh said, “Dad is staying home with us, while Daddy is away at work.   Dad says he’ll have a job by the time school starts.”

His mother looked up at Rick.   “I never dreamed that my son would become a househusband.   I always envisioned that you would be the head of your family, and the primary breadwinner; not the homemaker, staying home with the children and keeping house.”   Her words carried her disappointment and distain, straight to his heart.

JJ said, “Dad is our teacher.   We’re being home schooled with our cousins, Cammy and Skye.   We’re building Lego robots, and learning how to be engineers.”

“I’m glad you’re putting your college education to good use,” she said, sarcastically.

Rick fought to control his anger.   He said, in a deceptively mild tone, “I enjoy teaching the boys.”  He glanced over at the teens, who stood near the window, looking uncomfortable.   “Why don’t you take the twins back outside?   We won’t be long.”

Ashley said, “JJ and Josh, come with us.”   She shepherded them out of the room.

With the children out of the room, Rick said, “I didn’t come here to be scolded and berated by you, mother.   If you want to visit with us, you’ll need to keep your criticisms to yourself.”

She looked contrite, but said, “I didn’t realize I was being critical.”

Rick said, “I wish I could believe that.   Good bye, mother.   We won’t be back, until you can be civil to us.”

He turned to leave, but she reached out a hand, and said, “Rick, please don’t go.   I promise to hold my tongue.   Please, give me a second chance.”

Her imploring look, and the tears on her cheeks, convinced him she was being sincere.   He walked over, and sat down in one of the chairs in the room.   Jeff, who had been silently observing, stepped forward.   “Let me introduce myself.   “I’m Jeff Dunn.”

Rick said, “I’m sorry, Jeff.   I should have introduced you.   Jeff is my chief of security.”

She looked at Jeff in surprise.   “Do you always have a bodyguard?”

“Yes,” Rick said, but didn’t elaborate; instead, he turned the conversation to the subject of her health.   “How much longer will you need to be here?”

She said, “The doctors say that it will take another four weeks or so, before I can return home.   They take me to physical therapy twice a day, to help me learn how to walk, again.”   She pointed to a walker that stood near her bed.   “I have to use that thing, to keep me from falling.”   She said it with such ferocity, that Rick flinched.   “I hate being in here, Rick.   They treat you like a child; and take their sweet time, answering when you page them.   The food is rotten, and the hired help is lazy and rude.”

“Maybe they’re that way to give you the proper motivation to get better, so you can leave here,” Rick said.

She snorted her derision.   “Don’t even joke about it!”

Rick smiled.   “I was being serious.”

She fixed him with a baleful stare.   “You have a sick sense of humor.”

He laughed.   “Mom, you need to get yourself better, so you can go home.   I would think everything you’ve complained about, would be enough motivation to make you leave this place; even if you had to do it, crawling on your hands and knees.”

She chuckled.   “I guess you’re right about that.   I’ve missed you, Rick.   You always made me laugh.   Will you call me every day?   I need you to make me laugh, again.   I get so lonely in here.   Nobody visits me.   George and his family aren’t speaking to me, anymore.   Have you heard anything from Peyton?   George says they haven’t heard from Peyton for a long time.”

Rick, ignoring the question about Peyton, answered her first question.   “Yes, I’ll call you every day, as long as you’re civil.   If you start in on me, or my family, I won’t call you again.”

She nodded her head.   “I promise to try.   It’s hard for me to change, after so many years of wishing you had married a woman.”

“No, Mom, the issue isn’t that, and you know it.   You sent Dad, Uncle George and Peyton to do your dirty work.   You convinced them to attempt murder, in the name of your religion.   That is the real problem; and your religious beliefs are still at issue between us.   Julie finally admitted that you’re the one who caused Dad to serve time in jail.   She had blamed me for that, all these years; until I pointed out, that it was your religious extremism that was the root cause of all the suffering and misery that has come to our family.   You still won’t accept the fact that I’m very happily married, and have a very loving family.   My family doesn’t fit your definition of a vile, evil sinner, who will spend eternity in hell.   We’re not wasting away our lives, trying to relieve ourselves of guilt, caused by our inhumanity to man.   Glenn and I have spent our lives, reaching out to others who are less fortunate.   We’ve put into practice the religious teachings of a God who loves His children, and wants them to be happy; instead of trying to put to death those who don’t believe as we do.   We’re not on a religious crusade to rid the world of all evil.   We’re not imposing our beliefs on other people, and we don’t have a GAY agenda.   We want to raise our family in peace, without being harassed, or being treated as second class citizens by our government.”

Jeff put his hand on Rick’s arm.   “Rick, it’s okay.   I think your mother got the point.”

Mrs. Lernier was crying.   “I’m sorry, Rick.   I wish I could go back and do things differently.”

Rick asked, “Do you mean like making sure that Dad and Uncle George actually succeeded in their dirty work?”

“No, I wish I had been able to see that it was more important to love you, than to reject you,” she responded.   “I’ve lost so much because of my lack of charity toward you.   I haven’t been living the gospel, as Jesus taught in the New Testament.   I was blinded by the teachings of our pastor.”

“So, you’re telling me you’re a reformed Christian?” Rick asked.

She looked over to meet his gaze.   “No, I can’t claim to be reformed.   I’ve come to realize that I’m a bitter, old woman, that no one wants to be around.   Julie hardly speaks to me, and has told me I can’t visit her.   She says she can’t handle the negativity and pessimism I bring with me.  She accused me of trying to destroy her life, just as I’ve destroyed mine.”

“Well, at least, she’s being honest with you,” Rick said.

“Almost too honest, son,” his mother said.   Her tears had stopped, and she managed to smile.   “You’ve also been brutally honest.   I needed to hear you say those things.   I’m deeply sorry for the pain and suffering you and Glenn have gone through.   I hope that someday, both of you will be able to forgive this foolish, old woman.”

Rick said, “I think that, with time, we may get to that point; unfortunately, Glenn has seen how deeply you hurt me.   It’s going to be a long time, before he’ll be able to forgive you for what you’ve done.”

“What can I do to make amends?” she asked, earnestly.

Rick didn’t respond for a while.   He finally said, “I don’t know, Mom.   I really don’t know.”

She said, “I’m willing to do what I can, to make things right between us.”

Rick said, “I’ll let Glenn know that.”

“May I see my grandchildren again?” she asked.

“Only if you promise to be on your best behavior,” Rick said.  

She nodded her head.   “I won’t make any sarcastic comments.”

Jeff pulled his cell out of his pocket, and dialed Cole.   “Cole, please send the children back inside.”   He ended the call, and returned his phone to his pocket.

A few minutes later, the children returned.   The twins walked over to their grandmother.   JJ looked up into her face.   “Are you okay, Grandma?”

She looked into his eyes, and said, “I am, now that you’re here.”

JJ smiled, and asked, “May I give you a hug?”

She smiled, and said, “Sure.”

He scrambled up on her lap, and wrapped his arms around her neck.   He gave her a kiss on the cheek.   “Your cheek is wet, Grandma.   Have you been crying?”

She nodded her head.   “I’m okay, JJ.   I’m happy to see all of you.”

Josh patted her arm to get her attention.   “Do I get to give you a hug, too?”

She nodded her head.   “Yes.”

Josh traded places with his twin.   He kissed her cheek.   “We have three grandmas now.   There’s Grandma Campbell, Grandma Nielsen and you.”

She looked over at Rick, and asked, “Who is Grandma Campbell.”

“She is a very dear friend,” Rick said.

She said, “I’m glad you have three grandmas.”

Josh climbed down from her lap, and walked over to Rick.   “Dad, I’m hungry.”

“We’ll get you something to eat, after we’re done visiting with Grandma,” Rick said.

Ashley said, “Josh is always hungry.”

She asked the teens about their hobbies, and their classes at school.   When they had visited for a while longer, Rick said, “I think it’s time we got going, Mom.”

She nodded her head.  “Thank you for bringing the children.   They are so beautiful.”

Rick said, “I’m glad we came.”

The children gave their grandma a hug and a kiss.   Rick was last.   He knelt down beside her wheelchair, and held her in a warm embrace.   “I’ve missed you, Mom.”
“I’ve missed you, too, son.   I love you,” she said.

“I love you,” Rick said, as the tears coursed down his face.

“I hope we can meet again, soon,” she said.

“We’ll come back to see you, tomorrow,” he promised.  He stood up, and followed his children out of the room.  

Jeff said, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”

She met his gaze.   “Thank you for keeping them safe.”

“That’s my job, ma’am,” he responded.

He caught up with Rick, outside.   “So, we have a change of plans?”

Rick nodded his head, and said, “Yes, I’d like to come back tomorrow, before we head back to Alexandria.”

Jeff said, “I would suggest we head to Raleigh for the night.   We can return here by 10 AM, then be back home before dinnertime.”

“Sounds like a plan.   Let’s find a restaurant.   I’m starving,” Rick said.

Later that evening, Rick called me from his hotel room.   I still didn’t understand why Rick hadn’t stayed with Uncle Stan and Aunt Sharon, but, chose to travel into Raleigh to stay overnight.   It really bothered me that Rick was avoiding spending time with my family.   Everything about this situation didn’t feel right to me.

 I answered the phone, “Hey, Babe!   How are you doing?”

Rick said, “I’m doing great.   Things went much better than I expected.”   He narrated the entire day’s events.   When he finished, he asked, “Do you think you could forgive her?”

I said, “I don’t know, Babe.   Let’s just say that I’d like to reserve judgment.   I think I’ll get to a point where I could forgive her for what she’s done, but I’ll never be able to forget it.”

“So, you’re not angry with me for ignoring your wishes,” he asked, tentatively.

I didn’t respond immediately.   I was still pretty hurt, after our conversation last night.   “No, I’m not angry, just disappointed and very hurt.   I thought that we had agreed that we would make these kinds of decisions, together.   You unilaterally made the decision to take our children to see your mother, disregarding my objections.   Things turned out okay, in the end; but that doesn’t change the fact that my opinion didn’t mean anything to you.   You did what you wanted to do, and that was that.   How do I know you won’t do the same thing again?   It really has undermined the faith and trust I had in you, Rick.”

Rick started to interrupt, but I said, “No, Rick, let me finish.   I love you very much, and I married you, because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.   That hasn’t changed.   But you have to look at it from my perspective, Rick.   You knowingly made a command decision, as if I were a subordinate officer, or something; rather than your spouse.   I understand your desire to reconnect with your family; but, until we knew where things stood, I asked you to leave the children out of harm’s way.   Instead, you took them with you.   Yes, I know you had the security detail with you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you flat out ignored my request.”

Rick knew what he had done had put him on thin ice with his husband.   “Glenn, I’m sorry…”

I cut him off, “Rick Lernier, do NOT patronize me.   You did as you wanted to do.”

Rick said, “Please hear me out, Glenn.”

I said, “Okay, I’m listening.”

“Is Todd there with you?” Rick asked.

“No, he’s in the other room watching a football game,” I said.   “Why?”

“I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t listening to our discussion,” Rick said.

“I don’t know why that should matter.   It doesn’t change the facts,” I said.

“You’re right.   Glenn, I’m sorry for upsetting you.   I was wrong to ignore your desire to keep our children safe.   I did what I thought would be our best chance at breaking the ice with my mother.   I was right about that fact,” Rick said.

“So, am I to assume that your decision-making process has now shifted to put a higher value on what your mother wants, rather than on what I want?” I asked, pointedly.

Rick protested, “No, Glenn, it hasn’t.”

“Then, please help me understand where I stand with you?   I’m a little confused,” I said.

Rick gritted his teeth in frustration.   He knew he was in deep water, and wasn’t getting any nearer shore with this conversation.   “Glenn, I love you, and only you.   You’ve stood by me, and I’ve been there for you.   Nothing has changed, sweetheart.   I’m still madly in love with you, and you’re still the center of my universe.   Please don’t do this to me.   I know I made a mistake with you, and I’m trying to figure out how I can fix it.”

I said, “I think that we need to have some pretty deep discussions to work through this, Babe.   What has happened, can’t be allowed to happen, again.   I can’t live with the uncertainty of not knowing when you’ll decide to kick me to the curb, because you think something, or someone, else will help you achieve a greater good in your life.”

Rick said, “It’s not like that, Glenn.”

“Isn’t it?   I asked you to hold off introducing the children to your mother, until after you had your first meeting with her, and could determine where she was at.   I asked you to wait, until I could be there with you, and we would take the children, together, to see her.   We could’ve gone down to see her next weekend, for the twin’s birthday; but you weren’t willing to wait,” I said.

“I was afraid that you wouldn’t go,” Rick said.   He knew, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, that he had just made another huge mistake.   He was mentally kicking himself, as he heard Glenn’s words.

“I know.   You didn’t trust me to keep my word,” I said.   “I got that point, loud and clear.   That’s what really is at the heart of the issue that lies between us, Rick.   That’s what has hurt me the most, Babe.   Your lack of trust really speaks volumes about where we are, as a couple.   I’m sorry, Rick; but I can’t keep talking to you right now.   The more I think about what has happened, the worse I feel.   Good night, Rick.”

He sat, staring at his cell phone, wondering what had just happened.   Glenn had never hung up on him before.   He knew he had just made a bad situation way worse, with his hapless comment.   He called his mother-in-law, hoping she would know what he should do to fix things.

When she answered, he explained everything that gone happened.   He asked, “What should I do?”

Eva said, “Son, I think you need to give Glenn some space.   He needs to work through things, on his own.   You might wish to write a nice long e-mail to him.   That way, you can express yourself without making things worse.   Remember to read what you’ve written, with an eye toward how Glenn will perceive it.   I can’t say how he’ll react, but you need to do something that will bring this situation to a positive end.”

“I know, Mom,” Rick said.

She said, “At the very worst, he’ll leave you; but, I think he’ll stay with you.   However, that being said, you have set your relationship on a rocky course, that may end in a shipwreck, Rick.   I’m afraid Glenn is right about your lack of trust.   It’s put a very big hole in your relationship.”

Rick said, “Thanks for talking to me, Mom.”

She said, “I’m sorry that I don’t have any easy answers for you, son.   My prayers are with you.   I know you two will work through this, and will become much stronger, as a result.”

“I hope so,” Rick said.

“Good night,” she said.

“Good night,” he responded, and broke the connection.

He lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling.   Why had he been so impatient?   He knew how Glenn felt, and he chose to move ahead with his plans, anyway.   He berated himself for being so stupid and insensitive!

I walked into the front room, and sat down next to Todd.   Todd said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, Todd.   It’s something Rick and I need to work through.   It’s just going to be hell for a while.”

“So, you’re not going to leave him?” Todd asked.

“No, I won’t leave him.   I love him too much to leave him, but I won’t be walked on.   That’s why it’s going to be hell, because we need to work out where we stand on this trust issue.   I won’t tolerate being put second to his mother in our relationship.   Either we’re married to each other, or we’re not.   If his mother means more to him than I do; then, we will be going our separate ways.”

Todd looked at me, and said, “I’m glad you’re not angry at me.”

I laughed, and said, “I’m sure Rick is wishing he hadn’t pissed me off.”

Todd grinned.   “I hope I can get you calmed down enough, by next Friday, so you can be decent to him.”

I said, “I think I’ll be ready to talk to him about it by that time.   I usually get angry, and let all the emotion out.   Then, I can be calm, cool and collected.”

Todd said, “Well, let’s hope that trend continues.”

We turned our attention to the game, and I let my anger go, knowing that being angry wouldn’t do me any good.   I also knew that I needed to build up my mental and emotional reserves, to be able to work through the trust issues, when Rick and I were finally able to spend some time alone.

Prev To be continued . . .

A Note from Russ:

Music for this chapter –

La Oreja de Van Gogh – Cuando Dices Adios

James Blunt and Pablo Alboran – Bonfire Heart-

Pablo Alboran – Solamente Tu -

Pablo Alboran – Donde Esta el Amor -

John Legend – All of Me -

The Piano Guys – Let It Go -

Lake Travis -

Oasis on Lake Travis -