A quick stop at McDonald's and we were heading to my house. Max was doing something at the university, so we'd have the playroom to ourselves. When we got into the playroom, I walked straight through to my bedroom and took off my clothes. Viv followed me and and lay down on her back in the middle of the bed. I hesitated with my underpants, thinking that I might remove some of her clothes first, but then remembered her instruction. It was clear. Take my clothes off and then hers. OK, I'd follow that instruction to the letter. Off came my Jockeys, and I headed over to the foot of the bed and took off her shoes and socks. She had on jeans, and I opened them at the waist and pulled them off from her feet. Her panties went the same way. I could've started to physically arouse her then, but her directions had been to strip her and then do what I wanted with her. I noted that she'd carefully used the word with and not to, and I was pleased at the implications of that. Her sweatshirt presented a problem. To get it off I'd have to mess her hair. I thought of asking her how to get it off without messing her hair, but remembered her insistence that we not talk. So I pulled it over her head, and I did mess up her hair. She didn't seem to mind. Amazingly, she didn't have a bra on, so she was now naked. Her firm tits certainly didn't need a bra to look good in a sweatshirt.
What now? Well, I was supposed to "do whatever you like with me." So I did. I shoved my face into her cunt, drove my tongue into her vagina, and wiggled it around. My fingers found her clitoris, and then her anus. With Max as my most common partner, and the other COGs really close in age being Shel and Auggie, I was involved with boys a lot more than girls. So with Viv I was eager to play with the parts that boys didn't have. But I didn't want any orgasms too soon, so I moved to her tits, sucking them pretty hard.
Viv's moaning was clearly from pleasure, and I moved around the various parts of her body with tongue and fingers for quite a while. My dick was telling me that it wanted some of the action. I slid up toward her chest, straddling her body, so that my dick could reach her mouth. I pushed it toward her, and she eagerly sucked it in and continued to suck it until I withdrew to avoid ejaculation.
I lay beside her, pushed her on her side facing away from me and spooned up behind her. I know she could feel my hard dick on her ass. And she could certainly feel my hands on her tits. We lay there a while, and she said, "Nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen. This is your show. And it's supposed to give you pleasure. You can tell me what you want me to do, but you can't ask me."
I rolled her on her back, and started with her mouth, and used my tongue to explore all of the interesting part of her: tits, belly button, clit, anus, cunt. She came with my tongue inside her and my finger on her clit. I hugged her tight and then rolled on my back and said, "Do that to me."
She did, and I came in her mouth for the second time. She kissed me and we shared my cum, though I think she managed to feed me the bulk of it. I didn't mind. I was wonderfully happy. She fell on top of me and we lay there at least a half hour.
We got up, dressed in silence, and she said, "Let's really do work on that model. I'd like to finish it and show it off."
As we worked, she asked, "Which would you rather do, what we did this afternoon, or fuck me?"
"Some day I'd like to fuck you, but I'm not in a hurry. Today was wonderful. But I took you at your word and did what I wanted, not what I thought you wanted."
"Good. It was exactly what I would've asked for if I'd had enough experience to know what to ask for. You can do it again any time you want. Or you can do anything else you like. But, for now, I'm not going to lead, and don't ask me to. I mean it. Don't ask me anything. Always be the agressor; don't be shy; and don't ask. Ever."
"That isn't fair to you."
"It's fair to me if it's what I want. And I'm telling you it's what I want. Don't start sex because you think I want it; do it when you want it. Don't not start sex because you think I'm tired, worn out, have had enough, or whatever. If you feel like sex, then it's time for sex. If my attitude changes, I'll let you know. But don't ask. Don't ask!
"And one other thing. I don't care how often you have sex with Max or the other COGs, as long as you tell me what you're doing. Oh, yes, a second other thing. When you feel like it, include Max in our little games."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My first inclination was to ask her if she really meant all that. Then I realized that that was exactly what she was telling me not to do. I was to do what I pleased. Period. I would have to trust her to tell me when the rules changed or I'd gone too far or done something inappropriate.
She did get her pound of flesh. As dinnertime rolled around she said, "I want one of those wonderful petite filet mignons at the Dakota Steak House." She got it.
After dinner I drove us to The Hideout. I took Viv up to the apartment on the third floor, closed the door behind us, sat down on the couch and said, "OK, please take off all your clothes."
She did, seemingly with enthusiasm.
I said, "Now take off mine."
She did, this time with clear enthusiasm. She also managed to play with my "parts" as she did it.
I said, "Let's go into the bedroom. Lay on the bed. I want to see you masturbate." This was a deliberate test; just how far could I push her before she realized that she didn't really like this approach to sex?
Without any hesitation, she lay down on the bed, put her right middle finger in her cunt, and massaged her clit with the same finger from her left hand. It didn't take her long to have an obvious orgasm.
I said, "Now suck me."
I lay on the bed and got a really thrilling suck, leading to a climax, and her swallowing all of it.
I put my hands together in the traditional "time out" signal, and said, "Time out" at the same time. I continued, "Are you sure that that...."
"She cut me off. I don't want questions. If, and when, I'm not happy, I'll tell you. In the meantime, you know the rules. And you just broke one. You are forgiven, but let's, please, not have this conversation again."
You know what? I'm writing this more than a decade later, and the rules haven't changed. At least once a year I try to ask if the rules shouldn't change a little, and all I can get out of Viv is that I'm breaking rule number one: Don't ask. The sex is one-sided, more frequent than most women want, is entirely dictated by me, and doesn't cater to her needs or desires, because she simply won't tell me what her needs and desires are.
I've tried, "Do to me whatever you'd like," and that does lead to some surprises. But, "What would you like me to do to you?" is a question and it only produces a reminder of rule one.
After I came home that first night, I shared the entire experience with Max. He said, "It sound's like you have your private little fuck toy. All I can say is, 'Be kind, be nice, don't take advantage, but don't be shy. It's clear from your story that she doesn't want you to hesitate, or be overly concerned that she won't like doing what you like.'"
I had to admit he was right. I told him she was willing to have him involved, with the same rules. About a week later we were in the playroom when Max came in. I said, "Viv, help Max take his clothes off, then take yours off."
She quickly and easily complied. I asked Max, "What would you like Viv to do for you?"
Viv quickly said, "Rule one." It seemed that I was the only one who could be in charge. So I told Viv to massage Max all over, finish with a hand job, rub his cum all over him, and then take him to the shower and clean him up. She readily complied. When they were back I said, "Now do the same for me."
Again, she readily complied. In the shower she said to me, "Thank you, this was wonderful."
I asked, "Would you like an orgasm, since we both got one."
Her answer was, "Rule one." I decided that if she wouldn't ask, she wouldn't get. So I let her go home without an orgasm–in fact nothing had happened to her, only to Max and me. As I kissed her goodnight she said, "As I masturbate tonight, I'm going to dream of a lovely day. Don't feel bad that I didn't have an orgasm. Today was perfect." With that she kissed me again, rubbed my crotch, and headed inside. This was a girl I clearly didn't understand, and I still don't. But I love her, and the sex is great, seemingly for both of us.
At this point, I'm going to have to let your imagination run wild regarding our sex life. You men reading this will have very different thoughts than women reading it. I suspect that many women will be very upset at Viv's approach to sex. It upset me at first, even as it gave me great pleasure. But Viv has been absolutely adamant, on those few occasions when I try to ask a question. It's rule one, period. She'll say, "I don't want to discuss it, I want to enjoy it. Now, you do understand rule one, don't you?"
I made one further attempt to get Viv's perspective on rule one. I asked Max to talk to her about it. So one evening when we were together in the playroom I offered to go to the kitchen and fix a snack. Max took the opportunity to ask Viv, "How can you enjoy rule one? You are almost his sex slave."
"Hey, I like that term. Yes! I'm Milt's sex slave. Max, you have to understand. I really like not knowing what's coming next. It's always a surprise. If, or when, Milt gets in a rut and wants the same thing all the time, then I'll have to make my wishes known. But he's such an exciting guy, I honestly believe that he'll take me from one high to another. For me it's always spontaneous. I know it isn't for him, because he has to think what to do. In that I feel sorry for him."
"Believe me, don't. He loves this arrangement, but he feels guilty about it."
"I'm sure that Milt put you up to these questions, and that's all right. But you tell him to keep his guilt for other things. When rule one ceases to be my fondest sexual wish, I'll tell him. We'll move in some other direction. But that would be a sign of his failure. And you can tell him that when he feels like it he can torment me, keep me from having a climax, tease me, whatever. He is to let his pleasure rule. He's such a horny guy that I know that his pleasure will also be my pleasure. Tell him all that. And tell him that for him and me to have this conversation would be a violation of rule one."
"You and Milt and I had sex together one evening. How about you and me?"
"I'm going to assume that question was just trying to understand ground rules and not a come on."
"That's right. I guess I could've worded it better."
"The rules are very simple. I do what Milt says, not what you say. I hope that very clearly answers the question."
Max repeated the conversation for me almost word for word. I told him, "That's pretty much what I expected. That's what she's been trying to communicate. I'm glad she was willing to put it in so many words. But just what was she telling you about sex with you."
"It's quite unusual. But there is a lot of unusual sex, and a lot of unusual sexual relationships, in the Gang. Why should you and Viv be any different? As for me, I think she means that if you were to say, 'Viv, I can't be home this evening until ten, but Max will be there. He'd love to have some kind of sex with you. Give it to him any way you'd like,' then she'd give it to me. God knows what she'd like. It might be a way for you to find out."
I hadn't thought of that, but we set up the situation just about as Max had suggested. We all had dinner together at our house with Merle and Tina. After dinner I told Viv that I had to drive out to The Business office, and while I was gone she should get whatever kind of sex she wanted out of Max, but to be sure to give him an orgasm.
About an hour later when I came back home and went to our rooms, I found them on Max's bed, both naked, and looking exhausted. Clothes were strewn all over the room. Max looked at me, grinned, winked, and said, "There isn't anything she doesn't like!"
Viv came over to me and seemed to be heading for my belt buckle. For a minute I thought she was going to break her rule and actually initiate sex between us. But she stopped short, looked up at me, and said, "Max and I had a great time. We both thank you."
Without thinking I asked, "Do you want to do it again sometime?"
She had at least told me that she didn't mind being involved with other people, at least people that I truly trusted–like Max. Looking around the room I confirmed that she liked pretty wild sex, but I already knew that. That pretty much ended my attempts to figure out Viv.
I need to make one thing perfectly clear. While Viv's idea of fun in sex was to be completely subordinate to me, that attitude never appeared anywhere else in our relationship. I considered her fully equal, and she clearly accepted and expected that. But in matters of sex, nothing happens unless I start it. I determine what will happen, where and when. I have to assume that whatever pleasures me pleasures Viv, though she does use smiles and the word, "Thanks," to let me know that she likes the relationship. I have to trust her promise that if, or when, this relationship is no longer right for her, she'll tell me. But she's never given the slightest hint of that.
Our next big hurdle simply cried out for me to violate rule one. It was time to think about intercourse, and that meant getting a prescription for the pill. I really wanted to ask her if she was ready for that, if she wanted to ask her parents about getting a doctor's appointment, and whether she'd like me to go with her when she talked to her parents. But I knew that as soon as the question came out I would get, "Rule one," as the answer. So one day fairly early in our senior year, I said to Viv, "I want to fuck you. You need to be on the pill, and that means seeing a doctor. And I don't think this should be done behind your parents' backs. I'll go with you when you talk to your parents."
It looked to me like Viv was about to say, "It's about time," but realized that would've violated her rule one. Instead, she said, "It takes a really special boy to want to be part of that conversation with a girl's parents. I can hardly believe it, Milt. You really are special, and I love you.... You know, Milt, it's time." She got down on her knee and said, "Milt, will you marry me?"
I told you there was complete gender equality; no gender stereotypes in our relationship. Clearly she didn't consider marriage to be a sexual issue, and she's right; it's not. I responded, "Oh, God, Viv, yes. And its so neat that you asked me, rather than wait for me to ask you. I've sort of assumed that's where all this is leading, but it's nice to have it confirmed. Do you want to talk about details?"
"Not yet. And I don't want to tell anyone for a little while. I don't want this to confuse the discussion with my parents about contraception. After that I think we should get all of our parents together, along with Max, and tell them as a group. We can all talk about the when, where, and how then. Until then, we can both be confident in the knowledge that this is a permanent romance."
"I love you, Viv."
"I love you, too, Milt."
A few days later I took Viv out for dinner and we went back to her house quite early. She'd told her parents, Arthur and Helen, that we wanted to talk with them in the evening, and they were ready for us. We all sat in their living room and Arthur said, "Well, Viv said that the two of you wanted a chance to talk with us. We're here. What can we do for you?" He was in a very friendly frame of mind, and it wasn't clear if he had any idea of what we wanted to talk about. Helen seemed about the same, but hadn't said much of anything.
I decided that it was up to me to speak. After all, it was my idea that it was time to go on the pill, my idea that she should tell her parents, and my idea that I should be present. I also remember the first, and only, previous conversation we'd had about sex with her parents, and that had gone pretty well. Well, I took the leap. "Mr. Fowler, it's time for Viv to be on birth control pills. We promised you that she wouldn't get pregnant, and we haven't spoken about it since. In this state she can get a prescription for the pill without her parents' knowing, but we, both of us agree, don't think that it should be behind your backs."
Viv spoke up. I was delighted, but we hadn't planned this at all. "Mom,, Dad, I'll speak for myself. We haven't done anything that would get me pregnant, but it's time for me to be on the pill. I need to make an appointment with a doctor. I've always gone to Dr. Petersen, my pediatrician, but I think it's probably time to see an OB-Gyn."
There was a long silence, while Arthur and Helen digested what they'd just heard. You could almost see the little wheels turning in their heads as they worked back from pill, to birth control, to the need for it, to intercourse, to fucking (the same thing but a more blunt terminology). Arthur spoke first, and in fact he was the spokesperson most of the conversation. "Young man, I would never in a thousand years have had the guts to say that to Helen's father at your age. You're truly a remarkable boy–no, man is the right term. I'm thinking back on your little speech: there wasn't a question in it anywhere. But you managed to state a fact, a pretty blunt fact, without being confrontational. I've been in a lot of business situations where I wish I'd had that skill."
"Daddy, haven't I always told you that Milt is exceptional."
"Yes, you have. And I've never disputed you. But I'm simply blown away by the situation I find myself in."
It was time for me to speak again, and I said, "Mr. Fowler...."
He interrupted me. "Somehow, Mr. Fowler, isn't what you should be calling me, in light of the announcement we just heard. Please call me Arthur."
"And certainly not, Sir."
"I'm really not comfortable with your first name; I'm a teenager, and you're my father's age." I decided to take a leap here, even though it might give away the secret the Viv and I shared. "I'd like to call you Dad, if that'd be all right with you. I know that Viv calls you Daddy, but I think I'd prefer Dad. I'm in love with Viv, and she is with me, and I'd think Dad may be the right word of address in our situation."
Another long silence. Then, "I think I'd like that."
Helen spoke up, "Only if you'll call me Mom."
"I'd love to, Mom."
Dad said, "I interrupted you. You started to say something."
"Dad, I think we shouldn't beat around the bush. Viv and I haven't had intercourse. We're ready to. And I should note that in my group of friends we don't depend solely on the pill; I'll always use a condom."
"Viv tells us that you speak of your close friends a lot. I think you have some kind of special name for them."
Mom spoke up, "What ever does COG mean?"
Viv said, "I can answer that. It means Child of the Gang."
"The Gang?" I capitalized that; obviously Helen wouldn't have known to.
I explained, "The Gang started as a group of teenage boys at a summer camp, who along with their counselor became lifelong friends and have all established themselves here in Grand Forks. Charlie, as in the Chancellor of the University, was the counselor. Tim, as in President Tim, was one of the campers. Hal Bruder was another. It's grown to include some of their close friends, including my parents, and some of their parents. The children, of whom I'm the youngest, call themselves COGs, Children of the Gang. As we reach eighteen we become full members, and only former COGs."
"And you and the other children, COGs, talk freely about sex? That's how you know about their contraception habits?"
"Yes. And we all talk equally freely with our parents. That's why I'm more comfortable talking with you than you expected me to be, and more comfortable than you were at my age."
"Daddy, what does that mean?"
"I'm not sure. I think it means that your generation is passing me by. I'll be thinking hard about all of this for the next some time." He continued, "There is a question rattling around in my head. Oh, yes. I'm going back to your statement that you and Vivian haven't had intercourse. Just what have you been doing?"
I jumped in quickly. "I wish that Charlie were here."
"He had a number of important conversations with the parents of the boys in the Gang. He shared a rule with them that they found very helpful and which I think applies here."
"Yes. In it's simplest form it is, 'Parents should not ask a question for which they're not ready for the answer'."
"That seems reasonable."
I said, "Let's explore it a little. Parents often think they're ready for the answer to a question, because they're sure of what the answer will be. For example, a father might ask his son, 'Do you use drugs?' and all he's really doing is asking the son to confirm the father's expectation that he doesn't use drugs. But what if the son does use drugs? Is he supposed to lie? Or create a crisis in the family by saying, 'Yes, I use drugs.' The question shouldn't have been asked unless the father could deal with any answer, and in that case it shouldn't have been asked unless the father and son had a relationship that would enable them to deal with an affirmative answer."
"I take it that you're warning me that I might find the answer to my question a little different than I expect."
"You're putting me on the spot. I was simply saying that it was a loaded question and could come with a loaded answer."
"I think I want to think about that a little. You seem to have thought a lot about sexual relationships. You told us before that we could count on your not getting Viv pregnant, and we trusted you–and Viv–on that. What other rules do you have?"
"The Gang has actually talked quite a bit, and has included us children in a lot of their conversations–though most of this was talked through before the children were born. There are three key rules: Talk first, respect people's comfort zones, and no adult-child sex."
"I guess I understand those, though I'd like to explore them with you a little. But there is a lot of uncovered territory there: extra-marital sex, pre-martial sex, homosexuality, commitment, lots of things."
"Commitment is an important idea. But it isn't strictly sexual. As two people, or larger groups, make commitments to each other, they need to be clear just what they're committing to. If extra-marital sex violates the marriage commitment as the individuals understand it, then it is inappropriate–immoral, if you like. As for the other things on your list; to me none of them are inherently wrong, though they may be outside of a person's comfort zone."
"Tell me about comfort zones."
"Some things you're comfortable with, some things you aren't. I think it's wrong to push someone beyond their comfort zone. That means you have to try to honestly understand their comfort zone, and respect it. And that doesn't just mean physically push. One doesn't ask or beg another to go beyond their comfort zone."
"And you follow that rule with Viv?"
"Of course. And I always will."
"I guess that if I were to ask you to tell me what you think her comfort zone is, that you would refer me back to the rule about questions."
"Yes, and I'd also tell you that I think it'd be beyond Viv's comfort zone to have to answer that question."
"You'll make a good lawyer someday."
"I guess that's a compliment."
"Ok, tell me about, 'Talk first'."
"It's simple. If you can't, and haven't, talked about it, you shouldn't be doing it."
Viv cut in, "There is a cruder version."
I said, "I think Viv is setting you up."
"I see it coming. If I ask about the cruder version, I get the question about whether I'm ready for the answer. If I answer, 'Yes,' then I've opened a fairly big door."
"I think you've read Viv's mind perfectly. And to me it says that she's getting very comfortable with a conversation with her parents that she wouldn't have dreamed of having as recently as yesterday."
"You could say the same thing about her parents. OK, I'm asking for it. Give us the cruder version."
"If you can't talk about it, you shouldn't be doing it. If you can't deal with words like fuck, cunt, dick, and clit, you shouldn't be doing or touching them."
"I think Helen and I had been married for a year or so before I ever used the word fuck in her presence."
"Daddy, you were warned."
"Don't get me wrong. I can deal with it, and I'm certainly not upset with Milt for doing exactly what I asked him to. So, Milt and Viv, you've had that kind of conversation with each other. And it preceded whatever you two have been doing, which you have warned me that I might not want to hear about."
"That's right. Exactly."
"But if I were to ask, you'd answer, with whatever level of gory detail you thought I wanted. Am I right?"
"Would you be comfortable with that, Viv?"
"I could deal with it, but I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be."
"OK, I'm just going to ask one question, because I need it answered for my peace of mind. And, mind you, I think I know the answer to this one. Are you two into oral sex?"
"Well, I got the answer I expected. That's another one of those things Helen and I are going to be thinking about over the next few days–or years."
Helen spoke up, "Viv, you said you wanted a doctor's appointment. Dr. Parker, my OB-Gyn, is getting old, and he's a man. Most women today seem to prefer women, and I know you should go to someone younger. I'll call Dr. Hart, our family doctor, and get a recommendation." She turned to me, "Milt, did you really say that you'd like to go along? I guess if you could handle this conversation, the doctor will be a breeze."
We all sat and looked at each other for a while. The heavy atmosphere seemed to say, "Thank God we all got through that."
Viv said, "OK, Daddy. Here's something more to think about. We didn't talk about where all this has been going on, but you can probably guess. Milt's Lego blocks are in his playroom, right outside his bedroom. I don't need to draw a picture, do I?"
"Of course not. But, tell me, just what have you built out of Lego blocks?"
Arthur wasn't ready for this answer, "We've built a huge, accurate, detailed reproduction of Red River High School, and beginning next week it's going to be on display in the entry foyer of the school. Milt and his dad are building a Plexiglass cover to protect it."
Helen said, "I'll speak for Arthur. We both assumed that Lego blocks were simply a cover story. I'm going to be eager to see that model."
I said, "You should know that, indeed, our sexual relationships have been in my bedroom, and my parents have been fully aware of what was going on. And they will be greatly relieved to know that this conversation has taken place, because they were uncomfortable with the idea that Viv hadn't talked to you to the extent that I talked to them. But they understood that the time had to be right."
Viv said, "OK, now for the real test. Are you going to be comfortable if Milt and I go up to my bedroom. We need to talk after all this, and we need privacy."
Arthur said, "Is there another, 'and' coming?"
Viv didn't get that, but I did. "No, Dad. What you're thinking depends on your comfort zone, and it's up to you to let us know."
"My comfort zone, and I think Helen's, has been so bashed around this evening that I really don't know where its edges are. But I do know this. It's stupid for it to be OK for you and Viv to do things at your house and not be able to do them at our house. Viv, you may take Milt up to your bedroom."
Viv started to open her mouth, but her father spoke before she could, "Don't ask. Milt can spend the night after you're on the pill and the doctor says you're safe. That was what you were going to ask, wasn't it?"
I said, "I think that's a very fair answer. Spending the night together puts a huge temptation in front of us, and we don't need it."
Viv said, "Reluctantly, I have to agree. Come on, Milt. Let me show you my room."
I don't know what I expected to see in a girl's room. Dolls? Lots of pink? Frilly sheets? Our expectations really are shaped by gender. It was neither a girl's room nor a boy's room. It had an attractive cover on the bed, that looked like it might've been bought in the gift shop of the Museum of Modern Art, and it fact was bought from an artsy catalog. A maple desk, with a computer on a stand next to it were completely businesslike. A bookshelf had serious books. The walls had interesting museum prints, except for one picture of a little dog that clearly was left over from childhood. Viv explained, "The picture came with a little stuffed dog what was my favorite toy till it finally just fell apart. I actually have the parts in a box in the closet; I can't part with it. I love the picture; I hope you can deal with it in our bedroom someday."
"Of course I can. He's cute."
"I always assumed it was a little girl dog, because she didn't have a penis. Boy dogs have penises."
"That makes just about every stuffed dog in the world a female."
"I guess so."
There was a toy shelf that had games, a couple of fancy dolls, a few Dinky Toy trucks (she promised that one day I'd hear the story of her Dinky Toy collection, which now resided in the attic), and a big box of Lego–it was no wonder that she'd taken delight in my pile of Lego blocks. On top of the shelf was a very nice Lego model of a church. She said, "That's the church I want to be married in. It actually exists, over in East Grand Forks. I've visited it, talked to the pastor. She's a very nice woman, and would be willing to marry us. Let's have the conversation with our parents soon."
We did. The next week. At my request my folks invited the Fowlers to dinner, and the seven of us (including Max, who knew what was coming) had a good meal. Viv had said she wanted to make the announcement, and gave me no further clue about what was to come. Just before dessert she said, "Milt and I have something to tell you all. You know we're in love. Well, we're committed to be married. We haven't decided when, but I did tell Max where–in that little church in East Grand Forks that I love, and which has the really neat pastor."
We got congratulations all around. Both sets of parents were prepared for it–it wasn't unexpected. I think that Arthur, Dad, spoke for all of them, "I know that we should have reservations about high school students getting engaged. But my conversations with Milt and Viv tell me that their maturity level is way beyond most college graduates. If they say they're ready, that they'll love each other till death do they part, I believe them. Merle, if you have a bottle of wine, I think a toast would be in order, even if these two are underage."
Wine and glasses were produced. Merle spoke first, "To Viv. Viv you are so very welcome in our family; we are truly honored. And, to Viv and Milt the next two members of The Gang; you're ready for us, and we're ready for you; we only have to wait until your eighteenth birthdays!"
Arthur stood and spoke, "I think I understand that business about the Gang, and I think that I should be proud that you're welcoming my daughter. Now, to Viv and Milt. May you have as wonderful a life as Helen and I have, but may you learn your parenting from Charlie. And, last, Milt, I want to remind you of your commitment to Helen and me. You will not fuck my daughter until she's cleared by her doctor."
Thank God Viv and I, as recipients of the toast, had our glasses on the table. Everyone else had theirs in the air, and every one, but Arthur's, spilled all over the table. A hand grenade going off under the table couldn't have created more of a stir. Even Max was startled. Viv almost fainted. I recovered some composure and said to my dad, "Dad, I think maybe Arthur and Helen may have a place in the Gang as well."
Tina was laughing so hard she could hardly speak, but she managed to say, "Viv, this is not the father you described to us."
Viv answered, "This is not the father I lived with all my life. But get Milt to tell you of our conversation the other night." She went over and kissed her father saying, "Daddy, I love you. You really got it the other night. Thank you."
Then Viv said, "OK, there is one more thing." She got out a ring box. I'd thought about an engagement ring, but wanted to talk with her, and I was waiting until after this evening. Clearly she hadn't waited. Had she bought her own engagement ring? She went on, "It's a tradition in America that the boys asks the girl to marry him, gives her an expensive ring, prays she'll give it back if the engagement is broken, and adds another expensive ring when they get married, final disposition of the rings left to the divorce court. Well, I like the idea of engagement rings, but as you all can guess I can't tolerate the sexism of the whole business. She opened the first box and took out two rings. They were plain silver bands. Inside of both was the date she'd proposed to me. Then, inside hers was, "Will you?" and inside of mine was, "Yes, I will." She said, "It wouldn't be fair to keep you all in suspense about the other box. She opened it and there were two exact copies of the silver rings, without the dates, but in gold. "We'll change the rings when we're married. But I'll treasure these silver rings forever. I love you, Milt."
"I love you, Viv. And I'll treasure all four of these rings forever."
Max said, "The ice cream is melting."
Merle said, "Shut up, Max. We aren't having ice cream."
I have forgotten what we did have.
As fall turned to winter, Viv and I talked with each other, with our parents, and with several members of the Gang. I think Tom and Nancy were the most helpful. They described their time at the University of Chicago, both as engaged students and as married students. They'd been happy as engaged students, but found that they really didn't have a lot in common with the single undergraduates who spent a lot of their time in the chase for sex and romance. When they got married they found that they were spending time with other married couples and were a lot happier. Their strong advice was to get married before we went to college. Most of the rest of the people we talked to were eager to give us the pros and cons, but no really strong advice. Nobody seemed to want to push us. They left it up to us, and Viv settled the matter be simply saying, "OK, Milt, we've thought about this too long. I know you're willing to go either way, so I'm going to tell you that I want to be married right after graduation next June."
My response? To myself I thought, "Gee, I'm glad that decision's made." To Viv I said, "That's wonderful. Let's set a date." Then I said, out loud, "Gee, I'm glad that decision's made."
We kissed and decided that we'd each tell our parents in the morning.
The Rev. Barbara Saxon, of the Community Church of East Grand Forks, was wonderful. She insisted on a number of marriage counseling sessions before she would marry us; in fact, she insisted that they be completed before we could issue any invitations–she did recognize the need to set the date early and start contracting with caterer, florist, etc.
She was as willing to talk as anybody in the Gang, and we shared a lot with her. She insisted that sex had to be part of the conversation, and when I described Viv's rule one, she almost fell over laughing. She looked at Viv and asked, "Has he got that right?"
"And you're happy with that?"
"Completely. It was, and is, solely my idea. He has resisted it."
"I'll be a monkey's uncle. Or aunt, I guess."
We talked about other rules, including, Talk First, and Comfort Zone. Barbara asked, "How does he know your comfort zone in light of rule one."
"I've simply told him that he's inside the zone, and if he's comfortable, I am. He is absolutely not to worry about my comfort zone."
Barbara turned to me, "And you can deal with that?"
"It took a while, but, yes, I can, and I do."
"I'm not sure I could. Well, that indicates a trust level on both of your parts that far exceeds what most young people are willing to extend to their spouses. I don't think you needed me poking around in your inner sanctum."
I said, "Quite the contrary. It's been most helpful to us to have to put into words things that we have often felt more than enunciated. In particular, I have never had such a clear statement from Viv about her comfort zone and rule one. Thank you."
"I will be so glad to marry you two. I have a feeling the wedding may be a little off the wall. At least I know the ring ceremony will be."
I guess the thing that most endeared me to Rev. Saxon was the bulletin board outside her office. On one side was the usual mishmash of church announcements. On the other side were photographs of new members of the church and recently married couples. There were about fifteen couples pictured, twelve of them man-woman, two man-man, and one woman-woman. Barbara saw us looking and said, "Minnesota law won't let me marry same-sex couples. But the church recognizes them. All of those couples called their ceremony a Holy Union, but regardless I end the ceremony the same way I'll end yours: I now pronounce you married in the sight of God. I have to leave off the "by the authority vested in me by the State of Minnesota" for the gay kids, but that's something I can't change. But I did change 'Husband and wife' to 'Married in the sight of God' so that the wording would be the same for everyone."
I hugged her and said, "Bless you for that. It'll be very affirming to tell that story to my many gay friends."
Despite what you may be thinking, the wedding was somewhat traditional. We did shake things up in one way–you might've guessed knowing what you know about Viv and gender issues. We each had four attendants. Two men and two women for each of us. They walked down the aisle in pairs, and the first pair went to the right, the second to the left, and so forth. We were sufficiently traditional that the maid of honor was female and the best man was male. After the attendants were all in, the minister standing in front, we walked down the aisle arm in arm. There was none of this, "Who gives this woman?" stuff; Viv would've given up the wedding before she let that in. Our families and friends–that would be everyone present–were asked to pledge their love and support, and all did, quite enthusiastically. There were some readings, several musical pieces, one of which allowed Toppy to prove the impossible: it is possible to have a perfectly lovely tuba solo, appropriate for a church wedding. I'd always thought of Toppy as the drum major and he often played the trumpet for the Gang on various occasions; I didn't really know his main instrument was the tuba until Murray told me that he'd love to play at the wedding. I was a little hesitant about a tuba solo, but I needn't have been; I think it may have been the highlight of the wedding. Toppy is damn good; I never realized just how good. He should be playing with the Canadian Brass. Actually, I've learned since that he had an offer to play with a similar brass quintet, but declined because all the travel would've taken him away from Grand Forks, the Gang, the Circle, and Murray (listed in reverse order of importance).
Then came the question of where the happy couple (Viv and me) were going to live while we went to UND for four years. Both sets of parents told us that they would be glad to have us live with them, and we had the choice of a married housing apartment at UND. Max and I had, of course, already decided that we were going to live at home, and that was what Max was doing, quite happily. My being married did change things, but we weren't sure just how.
We talked it over and came to what we thought of as a quite reasonable solution, even though nobody else did. We decided that we'd live with both sets of parents, that is, in both of our houses. I moved clothes and things into Viv's room at her house, and she made room by moving things into my room. We did have to plan ahead, but we enjoyed time with both sets of parents. Both had simply said that if we moved in, we could continue to eat meals with the family. We were quite willing to help with the cooking and clean up, as well as other housework, but we figured that by dividing our time we would impact each household the least. It also gave us a simple way to be away from the playroom when Max wanted some privacy. We knew not all girls were as open minded as Viv had proven to be.
It worked for four years with very few problems. Although a lack of communication (everyone blamed everyone else) on several occasions caused either no meals or four meals to be prepared for us. Luckily, that happened only a few times, and everybody was able to laugh.
In the middle of those four years Max graduated, having still not found a girl (or boy, but he was really looking for a girl) he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He was working full time with Jennie and Bud in the computer business that Jennie and Bud had started. He seemed happy and content, except for occasionally expressing a wish for a serious girlfriend. One day in the spring of 2007, Viv's and my senior college year, Max said at the dinner table, "It's time to be thinking about next year's living arrangements, and perhaps beginning to think about permanent living arrangements.
"Viv said, I sort of thought that shortly after graduation, when Milt starts running The Business full time, that we'd go house hunting."
Max replied, "Nothing is set in stone. Here's what I'm suggesting: I think we ought to get the five of us together, along with your parents, Viv, and Bud and Jennie. Let's have a wide-open conversation about the future."
I asked, "I think I know why Arthur and Helen are invited, since we live with them part of the time, but why Bud and Jennie."
"I live with them some, you know."
"I know you sleep with them irregularly, but I wouldn't call it living with them."
"They're business partners as well. I think conversations about the future ought to include them, at least at first."
We agreed, and Max said he'd set it up. It would be a dinner and evening at our house, i. e. Merle and Tina's house.
That night Viv said to me, "If my parents are going to be part of this conversation, we need to warn them about the sexual goings on involving Max. I'm pretty sure that they know we're involved with Max, but I don't think they know how much, and I think they'd be surprised to learn that Max is also involved with Bud and Jennie."
"And I'm not sure that you realize that Bud and Jennie sometimes spend the night here with Merle and Tina."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"Viv, when you and I joined the Gang last year, it was made perfectly clear that sex within the Gang was acceptable, and even encouraged. It's also completely intergenerational. Bud and Jennie haven't been the only nighttime visitors to Merle and Tina."
"I know. They haven't tried to keep it a secret. And I assume when they aren't at home at night they're off with someone in the Gang. But Bud and Jennie surprised me. And that will certainly surprise my folks. And, yes, I agree that they had better be forewarned before this big meeting; it wouldn't be good at all to surprise them in that group."
I'll have to say that Arthur and Helen surprised us with how easily they seemed to accept our "background briefing" before the big meeting. I think the thing they understood the least was why they were included. Helen said, "I've just assumed that when you graduate you'd get a place of your own and we'd be home with an empty nest. That's the way the world works. We're pleased to be included in your discussions, but I really don't understand how we fit into this meeting."
I said, "I don't know what Max has in mind. I know him very well, and he shares almost everything with me, but clearly he has things on his mind that either he hasn't shared, or hasn't worked out for himself and needs help thinking through. Just go to dinner next Monday with an open mind. And don't be surprised by anything you hear. The Gang's a pretty off-the-wall group and Max is about as off-the-wall as you can get."
At dinner, Max opened the conversation with a confession. "OK, folks, I need to admit that I've had some conversations with Mom and Dad about the direction of this conversation tonight. And now my folks are going to begin."
Mom (Tina) said, "Arthur, Helen, I want to share a simple thought and then ask you to react. We're facing empty nests. Your daughter is about ready to leave home, along with Milt. We have to believe that Max isn't far behind. Merle and I have been thinking about that, and we aren't sure we like it. We have a really good relationship with both of our boys, and with Viv, and the thought of living here alone doesn't make us happy about the future–even though we understand that's the way of the world. Have you thought about living in an empty nest?"
Arthur spoke first. "Yes, we have. We had some reservations about Milt moving into our house, even part time. But it's worked out wonderfully. Viv and Milt live their own lives, and don't interfere with us. At the same time we seem to enjoy each other's company, we enjoy dinners together, and even more amazing they have both been a great help with the household chores and maintenance."
Helen continued, "I think he's trying to say that we aren't looking forward to an empty nest. But that's life, the way of the world."
Max said, "The way of the world isn't necessarily the way of the Gang. I want us all to keep an open mind here."
Bud spoke up, "OK, Max, as we contemplate the future, there are two big questions. The first is whether you're going to fall in love and when. The second is what kind of a next generation are Viv and Milt planning for?"
Max said, "And you and Jennie, too."
"I don't see how Bud and I are involved in the question of living arrangements for you all."
Max said, "We're business partners as well as bed partners from time to time. The five of us have been bed partners often enough." That was, I was pretty sure, new information for Viv's parents, but they didn't seem startled. "You're living in that little apartment upstairs from the office; surely your long-term living arrangements aren't settled."
"We like the apartment and we like the commute–down one flight of stairs. We spend a lot of our evenings at the powerful computers in the office."
"Nuts, you've got to have more of a life than that."
Jennie asked, "Max, where is this going? Have you got some grand idea in your mind?"
Bud asked, "Are you thinking of some kind of a grand commune, maybe like the Circle, or The Lighthouse Keepers, or even the Marauders?"
We had to pause in the conversation to make sure that Arthur and Helen had heard the stories of the Circle, Lighthouse Keepers, and Marauders; they had in general terms, but we filled in some details. Max went out of his way to explain the three-way in the Circle and what looked like it might be a five-way amongst the Marauders–at least none of those five had thus far seemed the least inclined to find a partner outside of the Marauders. I think by this time Arthur and Helen were beyond shocking, they simply took in all of the new information, perhaps to process it later.
Max said, "OK, let me go back to Bud's original question. Yes, a grand commune is one of the possibilities I'd like to put on the table."
"Where would you create such a commune?"
Tina said, "That's an interesting question. Let me put a non-negotiable on the table. Merle and I aren't moving from where we are. Merle loves his studio and I love my study. On the other hand, having Max, Milt, and Viv here for these years has been a true blessing. I think we'd be open to continuing that, and expanding it. Certainly, this house could be enlarged by a considerable amount."
Merle put in, "I like where this is heading. And I will confirm that nothing is going to remove me from the house and my studio."
Max said, "If I moved out, our suite of three rooms would be nice for Milt and Viv."
"And just where would you go?"
"I think I should find a girl first."
Bud said, "Well, maybe you could take our apartment and we could get a bigger place."
Max added, "Or the three of us could get a bigger place."
Arthur asked, "Just why are we here? I don't see us in this picture."
Merle asked, "Why not? You admit you aren't looking forward to an empty nest. We could build a Fowler wing onto this house. Then you'd stay near Viv and Milt."
Tina finished the thought, "Along with whoever else ends up living here."
I said, "There was a question at the beginning about children and a potential romance for Max. I'll say that Viv and I are looking forward to children; we'd like to have two. Bud and Jennie, how about you?"
They responded together, "We're already trying."
Max said, "Then that little apartment will never do. And, as for me, I'm looking, but I'm having a great time with my brother and my partners."
I said, "I was afraid of that. Max, are you seriously looking?"
"I'm dating, but I'm not finding. You don't know how lucky you are to have found a girl that fits into this crowd, and comes with parents that seem to fit in as well. Viv, you and your parents are really special people."
Helen said, "Or are completely out of our minds. We're still considering that possibility."
Tina said, "OK, we've put a lot on the table. We all need to think about this, talk to our spouses about this, talk in small groups, and we'll come back together a week from tonight. Since this house is going to house at least two of the people here, I think we should meet again here, so, Helen, I'm cutting off the invitation you are about to extend to join you for dinner next week. We'll all accept that invitation in the near future."
Viv and I talked a lot that week. After a lot of soul searching we decided that the group living we'd seen in The Roundhouse and The Lighthouse seemed to work well and appealed to us. The idea of having three generations (assumed the arrival of children) under one roof, with two sets of grandparents, three sets of parents, and unlimited kids, sounded exciting. As for Max, Viv proved to be quite insightful when she said, "I think Max is having entirely too much fun to want to find a wife. The question is simply, 'When is he going to admit it?'"
We had extensive conversations with Mom and Dad Fowler. First, they wanted more explicit details of the sexual goings on within the Gang. Up until then it had been generalities. They came back with lots of questions, and then they shooed us out of the house to my house, so they could think for a while. The next evening we joined them for dinner and were told that they'd been thinking a lot about the no-holds-barred sexual rules and had decided that while they weren't sure they were ready to participate, they weren't ready to condemn. In Helen's words, "The people involved are such wonderful, successful people we can't condemn them. And the rules they play by make sense. But they do push the envelope."
Their next question was, "If we joined this commune that Max is talking about, and he is certainly suggesting that we might be a part of it, would our not participating in some of the sexual aspects of it bother people?"
That was for me to answer, and I assured them that in the Gang opting out of sex was always acceptable. In fact, Merle and Tina had taken that position for a number of years, but had had the foolishness of their ways pressed upon them by mother nature. That was, of course, an invitation to get a question that could only be answered by talking about Max's and my fatherhood. By the twenty-first century surrogate parenthood was widely accepted, but the idea that Charlie was my biological father took a while to absorb.
We all assembled for dinner a week later. Merle had been checking in with enough people that he was pretty sure that the idea of a grand commune was going to go forward. So, he invited us up to his studio. There he'd assembled a model of our house. As it was, the wing that housed Max's room, my room, and our playroom came to the side rear, making the house an ell. Into the center of the ell Merle dropped a rectangular unit marked Great Room. He lifted the roof off and showed couches, chairs, tables, a huge kitchen in the corner, separated from the room by an angular counter. If built, the room would be huge. He then connected three rectangles to the back of the house, all connecting onto the great room. Each had a short side to the house with the long side extending back. Except for the connection to the great room, each was a separate building, with about eight feet of green grass separating it from the next rectangle. They were marked, "Arthur and Helen Fowler Wing", "Bud and Jennie Bruder Wing", and "Milt and Viv Reed Wing." Then he added a sign over our playroom wing that said, "Max and ____ Reed Wing." He said, "If we actually build this place it'll be up to each couple to design their own wings; they should have basements so you have lots of space and storage, and kitchens so you don't have to join the main group for every meal. That's why I haven't lifted the roofs on the wings, the insides are empty. And they can extend back as far as you like. We have lots of land here and since we aren't in the city, we have no zoning restrictions on the size of the house or the number of occupants."
Arthur asked, "If we decided to build this, it would take a fortune. Where on earth would the money come from?"
Max jumped right in, "The Gang has been extraordinarily fortunate. Money isn't an issue. We need to decide whether we want to build this. Then Dad, Milt, and I will make it work. I'm serious, that's not to be an issue."
Arthur responded, "Well, it is certainly an issue for me. I couldn't move in here without contributing my share, and I haven't got the money to contribute my share."
Viv turned to her father and said, "Daddy, I think we've spent too much time talking to you about sex in the Gang; we left out financial issues. Quite simply, there aren't any, and letting finances stand in the way of doing something that we all agree is the right thing to do is as unforgivable as pushing a sexual partner beyond his comfort zone, or having sex with a child."
Arthur said, "I'm going to have to talk about this later, but I won't rain on this parade with financial issues tonight, since nobody here seems to think money is ever an issue. You people really don't live in the real world."
I said, "Now you have it exactly right. As I said, we are extraordinarily lucky."
Bud looked at the model and said, "I think you're leaving two things out. If we go back about 75 feet behind the rectangular wings, we can build two commercial buildings, and we can face them onto the lane to the rear of the property, which could be developed into a regular street. One could house Grand Dakota Autographs and one could house Bruder Web Designs."
I said, "And I picture an underground tunnel connecting from our basements to the two buildings so that we can walk to work in the winter without freezing our butts off or getting blown away."
Bud said, "I love the whole thing. I'm ready to move in. Is there anyone here that isn't?"
Silence. Bud continued, "What'll this cost, and were does the cash come from?"
Merle said, "With the two commercial buildings there will be about 20,000 square feet, and another 20,000 square feet of basement. At $115 per square foot, and half that for basements, we're talking about roughly three and a half million dollars. Tina and I have lived fairly frugally, simply because what we like best is painting and writing and we do that at home at very low cost. And my paintings and her novels have sold well. Last, Max and Milt have pretty much paid their own way with The Business. Bottom line, we've saved a bundle and invested well. We can put the first million and a half into these buildings, and we can borrow the rest."
Arthur said, "No bank will give you a mortgage on this kind of house. It's obvious that you could never get your money out of anything this strange."
Tina said, "There is one bank that will. The Bank of Fred. I'll just go visit Fred and Marty, take off my clothes and say, 'The price of admission is two million dollars.' Fred will say something like, 'Wow, that's cheap,' and start taking off his clothes."
That was more than Arthur could take and he said, "My God, that's outrageous."
Tina realized that she'd gone too far. She said, "Wait, Arthur, I'm kidding. Fred will put up the money just because we ask him. Get Milt to tell you about Fred. But the quid pro quo aspect of the deal was me being funny. Though Merle and I have had some interesting romps with Fred and Marty."
The conversation went on and on, but the bottom line was that we decided that we really would like to live in a grand commune. It also involved Max agreeing that it was highly unlikely that he'd ever find a mate. He asked, "Nobody's going to push me out of their bed, are they?"
There was silence. He said, "How about you and Arthur, Helen?"
She said, "Arthur and I are going to have to think about our comfort zone. As the border of the zone lies now you're on one side and we're on the other. Who know's how the line might, or might not, shift."
Max said, "Good answer. You have the essence of the Gang nailed. However, I'll bet the rest of you is as pretty as your face, and I hope you don't hide your light under a bushel."
Long story short, as this is really getting long. We called in Carl to improve on our design and work out the details. He did his thorough job of interviewing all of us, particularly in regard to the three rectangles and the two businesses. Two weeks later we got complete plans. There had been no substantial changes, but all kinds of details–from the height of light switches, to the size of the indoor pool in the basement under the great room! (That was only going to cost an extra $95,000, but Carl had been told not to worry about money.)
We invited Carl and Carol, and Fred and Marty, to join the rest of us for another dinner, and showed the design to Fred, along with Carl's cost estimate of 3.56 million dollars. Fred's response was simple, "Well, it's obvious that you have me here for a reason. How big a check do you need?"
Merle said, "Two million. Between Tina's next novel and my painting in the next year or so we can pay that off."
Fred said, "Great. But you don't pay me. I'm making this a gift, and you pay it back with gifts to the UND endowment fund in half-million dollar chunks. Who's going to own this place?"
Merle continued, "Well, counting the present value of the house and the 1.5 million I'm going to put in, I'll end up owning 55% of it. The ownership of the rest I think should be divided between Max, Milt, Junior and their partners."
Arthur said, "I don't believe this. In about fifteen minutes you have worked out the details for financing a four and a half million dollar white elephant of a house, given my daughter and her husband a 15% share in the ownership, offered me a luxurious place to live at no cost, and nobody in this room but Helen and me seem to think it's the least bit strange. I don't get it."
Fred said, "Well, let me explain a little. I was a widower, living alone here in Grand Forks, amassing a small forture in the sporting goods business, and not having the slightest idea what to do with the money, except give it to the university or some other charity that wasn't particularly interested in me. Along comes this kid. Name of Tim. Tim what? Just Tim. The university needs a gymnastics program. Wouldn't I like to make the lead gift? Nobody can make you feel more important than Tim can. I bit. Gave him what he asked for. He came back, again and again,for all kinds of things. Each time he got me more personally involved. My life became exciting. I had things to do other than selling sporting goods. Charlie came into my life. Then his mother. I married her. I lost her and discovered Marty. And I'm now loved and honored by a whole collection of absolutely wonderful people. And my gift back to them is access to the pile of money that I've made and don't know what to do with. Well, I do know what to do with it now: make people happy. And the people I make happy are the people that have made me happy. And don't for a minute think that they've been kind to me because of my money. They aren't that kind of people. And I'm kind to them in every way I can be. But that money is there for the asking. In fact, I've put a lot of it in trusts that mean that nobody even needs to ask me, but they always do. In any case, here's my check for $2,000,000. And, no, I don't keep that much floating around in my checking account. Carl warned me of the price tag on this thing."
After that, nobody was going to tell Fred that we wouldn't take his money. To the extent that we were able, we all chipped in to make the four half-million dollar contributions to the UND endowment fund right on schedule. The first went to the Endowment for Faculty and Staff Salary Enhancement, the second went to the President Tim Scholarship Fund, the third to support women's sports, and the fourth was unrestricted–all funds dear to the hearts and history of the Gang.
With cash in hand, a design quickly finished, and an eager group of future residents, Carl got the construction going on our house very quickly. We decided that it had to have a name, and the nine of us that would be living there got together to think about a name. Helen and Arthur insisted that we meet over dinner at their house. In Helen's words, "All previous meetings have been at your house, with the excuse that we needed to be on-site to make decisions. Well, there's no need to be on-site to talk about a name.
Over a delicious roast beef dinner, we all tossed names into the conversation. For the first part of the meal all we could agree on was that it would follow the theme of previous houses of the Gang, and so had to be "The Something," with the The always capitalized. Max said, "Well, we have The Hideout, The Roundhouse, The Lighthouse, and The Wheelhouse, what kind of house are we going to live in."
Helen responded, "From what I gather about the Gang, it'll be a house of ill repute."
Bud said, "That's it. The Whorehouse."
Jennie said, "I don't think so." Arthur and Helen looked relieved.
We talked about clubhouse, playhouse, penthouse, madhouse, storehouse, workhouse, townhouse, guesthouse, countinghouse, and doghouse. None fit as well as the existing "houses" of the Gang. We talked a while about forgetting the idea of house, reflecting that The Hideout didn't fit the pattern. But we liked the idea of fitting the pattern, and so we went looking for more words that ended in house. Bud found what he thought was an exhaustive list on the web. That added flophouse and bawdyhouse, both of which were quickly rejected. While there were more than 80 words on the list, no others seemed to fit. So we started eliminating. We finally got down to the first two that had been mentioned, clubhouse and playhouse. I said, "Well, we have a playroom that probably needs to be renamed, so how about keeping the play and calling it The Playhouse.
Even before the construction started, it was The Playhouse. It was built before the winter set in, and Bud, Jennie, Arthur, and Helen moved in. Arthur and Helen decided not to sell their existing house, and instead rented it. We wondered, out loud, if that showed a lack of commitment on their part. Their response was quite honest: "Milt and Viv have made a lifelong commitment, so have Bud and Jennie. So have Helen and I–to each other. The commitment to the group is, quite honestly, more tentative. Certainly we wouldn't be moving in if we didn't think it would work. But who really knows? We have to think of it as an experiment. We have three families, the Reeds, the Fowlers, and the Bruders, and expect to soon have three generations. Nowhere in the Gang is there precedent for that. Let's admit that these arrangements might have to change."
After a little discussion we all had to admit that there was good logic there, and not a lack of commitment to make the grand experiment work.
Well, work it did. Once we figured out the importance of good communication–especially about who would be where for meals, everything went quite smoothly.
Bud and Jennie were the first to introduce a third generation, with the arrival of, well, there was a lot of discussion about that. Bud, whose given name was Thomas, wanted to pass on the names of three people: Hal (Harold), Jerry (Jennie's father, Gerald), and Tom (both for Bud and the original Tom). They realized they couldn't put Harold and Gerald together, so the tried separating them with Thomas: Harold Thomas Gerald Bruder or Gerald Thomas Harold Bruder. We all told him that anything like that sounded terrible. I added, "We don't need two Toms, two Jerrys, two Hals, or two Buds in the Gang. Go somewhere new."
So, Hal and Sue's second grandson, Jerry and Judy's first grandson, and Bud and Jennie's first child and son, was named Franklin Thomas Bruder. His name honored two of the original Gang, both of whom meant a lot to the Bruder family, and he would always be called Frank, to distinguish him from the other Franklin. Tom and Franklin were delighted, as were all of the grandparents and, indeed, the entire Gang. He arrived on March 3, 2004, in the back seat of Bud's car as he drove madly toward the hospital. Viv and Helen served as emergency midwives, and by the time Bud drove up to the hospital ER, the only thing left for the doctor to do was cut the umbilical cord. Some time in the future Frank will have to try to reconcile the stories of his birth with a birth certificate that claims he was born at United Hospital!
Our twin girls arrived about a year later, on March 23, 2005. Their birth certificates unambiguously designate United Hospital as the place of birth, with Viv the mother and me, Milt, the very proud father. We named them Marilyn and Carolyn, and both were called by their given names–at least until now. As they get older we suspect that they, especially Carolyn, may choose a shortened version; that would be OK with us. They're now age seven, and are certainly carrying on the traditions of the Gang by being precocious, athletic, charming, mature, and exceptionally beautiful. Nobody in the Gang would deny any of that, just ask!
Oh, yes, life in The Playhouse has been a delight. And our girls think it's "really cool" to live in The Playhouse. So do Frank, Merle, Tina, Arthur, Helen, Bud, Jennie, Max, Viv, and me.
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