Just Hit 'Send' - The Happy Years

by Grasshopper

Ch. 15

Jordan heard JD say, "Are you my Grandpa?" He leaned his forehead against the cool wall just inside the kitchen door and thought, "Yeah, answer that one for me too, Dad."


Claire grabbed Bug up and whirled him around in the air. "How's my little Bug doing? Your grandma is here to spoil all of you rotten." She plopped down in Markie's rocker and disappeared from view with hugs from Bug and Nikki and JD.

Griffin shook David's hand and told him how good it was to see him again.

David walked awkwardly into the living room and stood by the sofa. Danny had given a lot of thought to how he should act. He knew how important this was to Jordy and he wasn't gonna hold onto all the old grudges. This man has single-handedly tried to destroy all that Danny held precious in his life, but he was Jordy's father.

He knew that, at this moment, Jordy was feeling about 15 years old again, waiting for his father's judgments. When would it ever stop? He would do everything he could to make this as peaceable as possible. Maybe Jordy could get past it this time. Maybe his father could let go of some very old, very wrong concepts. Danny knew that Mr. Lawrence loved his son. Would that be enough? He struggled to his feet, using one brace as a cane and held out his hand.

"Hello, Mr. Lawrence. It's good to have you in our home."

David took the hand offered and answered, "Um, yes. Beautiful time of the year," his eyes gazing out the window over Danny's shoulder.

Jordan watched from the kitchen doorway. He knew what Dan was doing. He watched the two most important men in his life, one trying to make Jordan's world happier and the other, stubborn as ever, avoiding. 'Typical', he thought. Pulling himself away from the wall, he headed for his mother, pulling her up into a huge hug.

"I'm so glad you're here," he sighed into her hair. "I miss you so much."

Claire pulled back and looked into her son's eyes. Resting her hands on his cheeks, she smiled and said softly, "I love to come here. This house is so full of love and hope." She kissed him softly and whispered, "Let it go, Jordan." She rubbed the small of his back like she had always done when he was little to let him know that she was aware of how tense he was holding himself.

He turned and faced his father. "Hey, Dad, glad you could make it this trip." He awkwardly held out his hand, and then decided, 'fuck that' and put his arms around his father's neck. He felt his father freeze and then he hugged Jordan back. Not a full out hug, but enough for now.

The kids were all trying to be good since Markie had fussed and told them no asking if Grandma brought them anything and then Claire pulled a big sling bag from the back of the SUV and said, "Grandma bought presents for her little angels."

"Wheee," JD shrieked. "Told you, Mommy. Told you Grandma always brings us something super duper!"

"Super duper! Super duper!" Nikki crowed, dancing on the tips of her toes.

Bug waved his arms around and spun in circles, his happy eyes dancing.

Claire had brought them all new swimsuits, DisneyWorld t-shirts, new swim fins and snorkels and the latest in sand castle building equipment. The shrieking continued until they were all outfitted and were pulling Grandma towards the screen door.

Markie touched Claire's arm. "Watch Bug, Claire. He's......"

"He's special. I know," Claire said, her voice soft and gentle. "I won't take my eyes off of them. They're all my babies too." She kissed Markie's cheek and shooed her charges out the door. "Grandma, Grandma, look at Fiddle," JD said urgently, tugging her hand. Claire looked over at the big black dog lying on the porch, her chin resting on her front paws. "Wow!" Claire smiled, "I didn't know you were expecting puppies." Fiddle was wider than she was tall and had the most contented smile in her big brown eyes.

"Yes, Fiddle is gonna be a mommy. Pops says the daddy is the big dog down the street. Daddy said that he needs to pay puppy support. What does that mean, Grandma?"

Claire laughed and shook her head. "He means that he hopes the daddy will come to visit his children carrying as large bag of Purina." Jordan!

*

"Want a soda, Dad?" Jordan asked, heading toward the kitchen. "Dan, Griff, what you want?"

"Will you bring me a diet DP, Jordy?" Danny laughed. "I'm getting used to them. Never thought I would."

"Coke for me, if you're going," Griff laughed.

"Just water," David replied.

Jordan brought the requested drinks back into the living room and handed them around. Starting for a chair across from Danny, he thought better of it and plopped down by Dan on the sofa. As they talked about the weather down in central Florida, the threat of hurricane season this year, the horses and other innocuous subjects, Jordan unconsciously leaned closer into Dan as he always did, resting his arm around his shoulders. He watched his father's eyes and realized what he had done and began to move away, but, again, and louder this time, he told himself 'fuck it' and didn't move a muscle. This was his life, his house and this was the time all this was going to get settled.

*

When Claire came to visit, she stayed at the house sharing Nikki's room, but with David here, they decided to go to a motel. The kids were unhappy, but Claire promised they be right back after they got settled. A big bonfire feast was scheduled for tonight and there was lots to be done.

JD found Dan reading the paper in the living room. "Papa D?"

"Yep?"

JD was taller now, extremely smart. JD was almost eight. JD furrowed his eyebrows. "I don't think Daddy's daddy likes me."

'Oh, shit,' Dan groaned. "I'm sure that's not true, JD. He just doesn't know you is all."

"But see, that's what I mean. I'm nearly eight and I don't even know him. I know Grandma loves me bunches, but him....I don't know him. Why not, Papa D?"

Dan started to say, 'You need to talk to your daddy about this,' but then, being Danny, he wanted to soften Jordy's anxiety. "Come sit with me for a minute, okay punkin?"

JD laughed, "Remember when I used to sit on your lap?"

"Now you'd squish me," Danny grinned, "But I kinda miss it."

JD thought for a second, "Me too, I guess. But I'm kinda big for that now, huh?"

He came over and sat next to Danny on the sofa. "Does Daddy love his daddy like I love you and Daddy and Pops?"

"Yes," Danny could answer that one easily, "Your daddy loves his father very much. They just had some tough times when Daddy was growing up?"

JD frowned, "He was mean to Daddy?" His face clouded over.

"Not the way you're thinking. He wasn't mean like that and he loved your daddy with hugs and kisses just like we love you." Danny wasn't sure that was true, but it felt good when he said it.

JD thought that over in his almost eight year old mind. "But I wouldn't want to go two days without seeing my daddies. Daddy goes an awful long time without seeing his daddy. Did they have a fight?"

Dan saw Jordan standing in the doorway between the house and their apartment. He raised his eyebrow and Jordan nodded, giving permission for him to tell it the way he wanted.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Dan said gently, "You know how we've talked about the difference between our family and other kids' families?"

"You mean, cause I have three dads and one mom?"

"Yes, and two of your dads love each other?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Well, some people, a lot of people really, don't think that's right. You've heard stuff people have said to your daddy and me when we're out at the store and places sometimes, right?"

"Yeah! Bad mean names!" JD growled. "I wanna knock them into the dirt."

"But you know that's not gonna fix anything, right?"

"I know, you always tell me that," JD sighed, "But I just don't get why people have to be that way." His eyes popped wide. "Is Daddy's daddy like that? Does he say bad things?"

Dan thought of all the mean horrible things David Lawrence had said and done to drive a wedge between Danny and his son. He knew Jordan was listening and he knew he had never told Jordan any of the stuff his father had said all those years ago. He never had and he never would. It would be the final straw.

"No," he answered JD's indignant eyes. "He just believes that two men or two women can't love each other. He believes that God says that."

"God says that? What God does he love, Papa D? Is there more than one God?"

Danny smiled. "There are different names for God and different ways to know him, but I know there isn't one that hates people."

"Wait," JD frowned deeper, "You mean Daddy's daddy thinks God hates some people? That God hates you and..............? Anger roiled in JD's eyes.

"Yes, I'm afraid he does."

"But, Papa D, you tell me that God made everybody in his...in his......"

"...in his image, yes, that's what I said," Danny smiled.

"So that doesn't make any sense. I think God loves everybody. I think people do bad stuff and God probably cries, but then they do good stuff and he's really really proud."

"I think you're right."

JD sat real still, his wheels turning as only JD's wheel can turn. "So...if I am right....then he is wrong and I don't think I like him much; not if he made Daddy cry."

Jordan walked on into the room and sat down with JD between Dan and himself. "I guess I better jump in here."

"Daddy," JD said schooching over to hug Jordan tightly, "I am sorry that your daddy made you cry. I don't think he understands about God, do you?"

Dan looked over JD's head into Jordan's eyes. 'From the mouths of children', his bright blue eyes smiled.

"I could tell him about God, Daddy. Maybe he just heard it all wrong."

Jordan laughed wistfully, "I wish you could, little one. I wish you could."


The wood was all banked up for the bonfire, the kids were all swimming with Griff and Claire, while Markie and Dan were fussing around in the kitchen making potato salad, lima beans, and watching to make sure the frying chicken didn't scorch. Dan had made his famous peach cobbler for dessert.

"We need Claire in here to make her sweet tea," Markie laughed. "

"I've got the recipe written down in my book," Dan volunteered. "Hold on a sec." He propped himself on the edge of the counter and reached into the cabinet above the stove where the cookbooks were kept. "Here we go."

Claire's Savannah Sweet Tea
1 gallon cool water
3 family size tea bags, tied together
2 cups sugar

Put the tea bags and 1 gallon of water in a big pot and bring to a boil. After 3 minutes, remove the pot from the heat. Add the sugar, and stir til it dissolves.
Cover the pot and let the sugared tea steep for 20 minutes, then pour it into a large pitcher or a clean milk jug. Add enough cold water to replace water evaporated during boiling.
Let it cool and put in refrigerator until served with lemon.

"I bet even if we follow her recipe exactly, it won't taste as good as hers," Markie sighed. "Let's just wait til she can make it cause I need some of that perfect sweet tea."

Jordan poked his head in the doorway, "Mama made any sweet tea yet?" For you guys that are wondering, it's pronounced sw-ate tay).

Dan had to laugh as Jordan walked out the back screen door and called, "Mama, come make me some sweet tea, pleeeeease." He sounded just like JD.

*

Easy and Val would be along in awhile and Gabriel had to finish a paper for class before he could show up.

Jordan saw his father walking along the water's edge fifty yards or so down the beach. He hesitated, hating that he felt so awkward around his own father. It shouldn't be this way.

Deciding it was time for all this to stop, he strode quickly down the sand and caught up with his dad.

They walked along in silence, each struggling for the words that would set this all right. So many years, so much hurt.

"I came because I..........." David started.
"I wish it didn't have to be................" Jordan murmured.

"Jordan, I never meant to hurt you."

Jordan sighed. "Well, you did."

"I know and for that, I'm truly sorry."

"I can accept that, but you know we have things that need to be settled once and for all. There's a wall between us that I didn't build. God didn't build it either, Dad. You did."

"I know that. I just know what the bible teaches me. I know what God's word says. I can't turn my back on God."

"So you turn your back on the only son you have left?"

"I haven't turned my back. I just wish you would think about.........."

"Don't! We've been down this road and it just gets ugly. What you want, I'll never do. What you believe, I'll never believe. I'm happy here, Dad. I love Dan and he loves me. We have a good life and a big happy family. I will never believe that it isn't meant to be and isn't blessed by MY God." He shook his head, trying to clear away the anger, the frustration.

"Dad, I know you think I left God behind when I "chose" this life. I know you totally accept your beliefs. But, and listen to me, Dad, listen. This is what I believe." Jordan stopped to take a breath and gather his thoughts. He started slowly, but then they just poured out.

"All the great books, the Bible, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, the Torah; all the books that men say are from God., books that teach hope and love and the correct path to living a clean spiritual life. Every religion claims that their book came straight from God, just by way of different human hand. What I don't like is that the leaders of each of the different beliefs set up rules and laws and if you aren't part of that faith, if you don't believe what they believe, follow their rules, you're wrong."

"That is God's way," David sighed.

"But, don't you see? How do you know that's God's way? Who are these people to interpret God's words? Who are YOU to tell me what God thinks? We all see things differently and why do we have to hate people who don't interpret words the same way we do? Why do you have to hate your own son because he doesn't fit into your orderly, spiritual life?"

This was going nowhere and hurting them both.

David stopped walking and spoke with a bowed head, "Your mother condones, accepts, even rejoices in your life. Isn't that enough for you?"

Jordan looked out over the deep waters of the Atlantic, his mind full of old images: his father shaming fifteen year old Danny, demanding that the Trainors leave his house; refusing over and over to even listen to what Jordan felt in his heart. The empty chair at their dinner table all those years waiting for the golden child to come home, knowing Josh never would, making Jordan feel responsible and worthless for so long.

It was Danny who had pulled Jordan out of the depression and guilt. It was Danny who had stood by Jordan for fifteen years now, right or wrong, when Jordan had wanted to give up. It was Dan he owed his allegiance to, not this man who had biologically created him.

He suddenly knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was where he belonged. There had always been a mist over his eyes, a tight grip on his heart saying that he must be wrong, he must be bad. He'd been raised in the preaching of God's word, but he knew finally that it was the wrong word. It wasn't the word of any God he wanted to love.

With a sad heart, but finally, finally, knowing it was right and just, Jordan Lawrence grew up. He looked at his father, the man who had taught him to ride his first horse, his first bike, shoot his first gun, catch his first fish. The man who had loved him until things weren't suitable, weren't correct. Jordan didn't need that kind of semi-love. He needed the kind of unconditional love that Danny gave him every moment of every day. The love he got from his totally functional family. He finally could open his eyes and see that love may come in funny packages but when it's right, it's perfect.

"Dad," he said softly, suddenly feeling sorrow for the loneliness David Lawrence had brought upon himself. He realized that he, Jordan, was the true man standing here. His father, in that moment shrank in his eyes. He didn't feel any anger, any pain. He felt only a sorrow as if he had lost something dear. "Let's go back and have dinner. I'd like you to get to know JD and Nikki and little Bug if you like. They're really great kids and they always have room for lots of people in their lives."

Jordan didn't care anymore whether his father thought of the kids as his; Jordan knew he never would. It was plenty that his Mama loved the kids and they had a Grandma to spoil them rotten. They had their grandmama and grandaddy Trainor, Danny's parents. They had Nana Langley, Griff's mom. JD and Nikki and Bug had more than enough people to love them. They didn't need judgment calls or half-assed praise. No one did. Jordan sure didn't.

He knew it would always be like this; his father visiting perhaps, probably not. They would never go to his childhood home because his father would never invite Dan as Jordan's partner.

Some things have to be. So this would be. Jordan grew up in that walk along the beach. He stopped fretting over his father's reaction to anything. Jordan didn't need his father's approval and, if it was not to be then he didn't even want it. You can't get blood out of a rock, Danny's mom always said, so stop trying. He decided to let the chips fall where they might.

The supper was great, as usual, and they all sat around the fire, eyes glazing over from the good food and the mesmerizing flames. Gabriel was telling them about his classes at UNC and Bug was running around chasing poor waddling Fiddle.

JD went over and sat down on the sand by David's chair. He just sat and stared up into the man's face.

"Yes?" David finally asked.

"You don't look a lot like my daddy," JD said, frowning and thinking hard.

"Jordan takes after his mother."

"I guess I take after Mommy and Daddy then."

David started to argue and then he looked, really looked at the child at his knees. He did look just like Jordan had at the age. He did look like Jordan and Markie, with that white-blond hair and those huge green eyes. Was he Jordan's child? Jordan had never argued when David had accused him of creating a child outside of marriage. Jordan had never denied it. He had just taken the baby and they had left.

David wanted to be part of a big happy family, but he couldn't. There were too many sins piled up. He could perhaps forgive one, but there were so many; homosexuality, fornication, illegitimate children, lying, forsaking God's teaching. David knew that one day he'd be facing his maker and he would have to answer for what he had done. He had to make sure that he hadn't condoned sin. He wanted to love his son. He wanted to feel the happiness that was flowing around this fire. He couldn't. He had to stand firm in his beliefs. { loud grasshopper sigh }

"My daddy loves you," JD insisted. David didn't answer.

"He loves God too."

David lowered his eyes, "Not enough," he muttered.

"My daddy loves you," JD repeated, his eyes narrowed, "I do not think I do." The silence was deafening.

Then he added sadly, "God loves you."

David looked up, surprised, "I know that."

"He loves me too. Really, he loves everybody. I don't think God has hate in him, Mister."

Jordan heard JD call his father Mister instead of Grandpa and sighed for what never would be. He knew absolutely that his father would not open his mouth at this moment and correct that sweet loving boy by saying: 'I'm your grandpa, JD.' Jordan just let the 'Mister' hang in the air, knowing everyone had heard JD's words. So be it.

Claire took Jordan's hand and pulled him up from the swing. "I want to borrow my son for a few minutes, Dan."

"Sure, Mrs. L," Danny smiled. He dearly loved Claire and never could understand how she stayed with that bigoted fool. She was a saint.

They walked up the beach until the light from the fire was dimmed. "Jordan, I know you're coming to conclusions and setting your mind right this trip. It's why I insisted that your father come with me."

"I wondered why he came."

"I told him he needed to face up to his decisions. I felt it was time for you to let go."

"You're so wise, Mama. Why do you put up with it all? I know you can't believe in the same God he does."

"No, I don't. I love you and Dan together. I know in my heart that you two belong together. But Jordan, I've loved him a long time. He's confused and will be troubled with this the rest of his life. I don't want him alone. I know what I believe and it's enough for me. God totally loves you both and all the wonderful people in your family. Trust me on that."

"You have God's ear?" Jordan laughed.

"Oh certainly, She and I talk every day," Claire grinned. "I just wish she'd do something about the price of gas and those dang hurricanes."

Jordan grinned for the first time tonight with all his old charm and humor. "I love you, Mama."

Claire rested the palm of her hand on his cheek, I love you too, Mijo."

*

After that, there was nowhere else for the conversation to go. Claire and David said their goodbyes and would leave real early the next morning.

"Grandma, come back soon. Stay longer. I will throw Nikki out and you can have her whole room," JD called. Nikki smacked JD on the head with a book.

No one had called David anything other than Mr. Lawrence or Mister, so they just all waved goodbye from the porch. Jordan walked to the car with them and hugged his mama tight. "Thank you," he whispered.

He turned to his father and held out his arms. He was free of the anger. He could deal with the sorrow. "Thank you for coming, Dad." And knowing that he wouldn't, Jordan said, "Come again real soon."

David looked as if he wanted to say something, but he hugged Jordan, then turned and slid behind the wheel.

Jordan felt Dan come to stand beside him as they waved goodbye and Jordan called out, "I love you."


"You know how I feel right now?'

Danny smiled, "Not unless you tell me."

"I feel like when I was trying to fix that alarm clock, you know, the one we got JD at DisneyWorld; the Minkey Mouse, the one with the big ears."

Dan laughed, remembering how cute they had all thought it was when JD kept saying Minkey instead of Mickey...the first gazillion times. "Yeah, I remember."

"Remember how I took it all apart.....,"

"Against my better judgment," Dan snorted, "You aren't too good with your hands."

Jordan started to pull his hands away, "Well, not fixing things anyway," Danny protested, grabbing them back.

"I worked on that thing, gutted it and then started putting it back together and I had parts left over, little springs and stuff just lying there on the table. The clock worked – It was like then WTF were these little pieces for? I dumped them in the junk drawer and I didn't question it too much. I feel like that."

"Like you have parts missing? Wait – Let me check."

Jordan laughed and pushed at Dan's chest, "Pay attention!"

"I am."

"I mean to what I'm saying."

"I am. It's all about little parts and WTF and junk drawers, right?" he snuggled closer and nibbled on the side of Jordan's neck right below his ear. "Hey, I think I found a missing part."

"You're not gonna let me tell this seriously, are you?"

"Not if it makes you unhappy. That was enough tonight. You love him. You've offered in every way you know how to be family. When I was younger, I let my mind answer all my worries. Now I let my heart. My heart says to help you let it go. There are some things in this life you can't fix. I'm afraid he's one of them."

"I love you, Dan."

"Believe me, I know that. Plus, excuse me, but why else are you in my bed? Oh, I remember now – I was looking for missing parts. Hey, I think I found a screw."

*

"I'm always amazed," Nic smiled, "At how they manage to roll with every punch. I'm very proud of Jordan."

"It's because they found it," Sam said softly.

"It?"

"The trust and faith that God seems to hand the pure of heart. We found it too."

"Why can't all those other people see it? What makes them so blind?"

Sam sighed, "If I knew the answer to that, I'd fix it."

"If you could tell all those people down there, with their hate and venom, one thing we've learned, what would it be?"

"I think," Sam frowned, "I think I'd tell them that the key to it all is inside themselves, not on a page in a book, not from someone else's mouth. I'd tell them to walk along the beach or deep into the forest, stand on a mountaintop or just climb into the branches of a spreading oak, anywhere where they can see the world through clear eyes; to hear the rain or feel the wind. It's all so much bigger than the petty things man has decided are important. To judge a man by anything other than what's in his heart is wrong."

Sam felt the air around him change, as if a charge of electricity shot into his body. "Oops," he said, with a sheepish grin on his face, "Sorry, Big Guy, I know what you said about them figuring it out for themselves, but dang, you sure put a lot of stock in the world."

*

It was odd, but Jordan didn't fret like he usually did. It was done and there was no way to change any of it. He felt like a weight had been lifted simply because he had tried everything he knew and his words hadn't gotten through. In a way, his father was much worse off than Bug. Little Bug was happy and accepting and loved everyone that came within his line of vision. Bug couldn't listen but managed to understand, while his father just wouldn't. Big difference. Maybe that was the lesson. He would always wish that his father could watch the kids grow up, but it just wasn't in the cards.

"Let's have a BBQ," Easy threw the idea out one Thursday evening as they were all sitting around on the back porch. "It's been awhile."

"Yeah, at least two weeks," Griff laughed. "You hungry?"

"Always, let's have a Seafood Extravaganza, shrimp, lobster, clams, fish ... Everything on the Barbie, mates."

"Fish," JD exclaimed, "I can go catch some fish."

"Enough for all of us?" Danny asked.

"Hmmm, well, that would be," he started ticking names off on his fingers, "Mommie, Daddy, Papa D, Pops, Unca Easy, Aunt Val," he looked around, "Buggy, Me and a worm for Nikki." He dodged the shoe she heaved at him. "That's a lot of fishes," he decided.

"Fish," Jordan corrected.

"I'm not sure I can catch eight fishes, Daddy."

"Fish."

JD's face fell. How could he catch that many fishes?

Markie started laughing, "He isn't telling you to fish, JD."

"Huh?"

Jordan looked confused, then, "Oh, no, JD, I meant fish is the plural of fish. Like one fish – eight fish."

"How can one fish be eight fish?"

Nikki started bouncing around chanting, "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish....." She made fish faces and Bug puckered his lips and they swam around the room.

Jordan went into teacher mode. "The plural of some words are different from regular ones, like one deer, two deer."

"Why? Can't the people count?"

"It's just rules."

"My teacher laughs when we say stuff like meese, but Daddy, if four gooses is geese, then why aren't two houses heese and five mouses meese?"

JD just stared at Jordan, his eyes wide open, as if he was waiting for some perfect answer.

"Yeah, Jordy, we're all waiting," Danny giggled.

"I...Do...Not...Know," Jordan answered, trying to look dignified. "Just because it's the rule."

"Good one, Jord," Griff snorted. "When in doubt, resort to the "Just because" theory. Hey, short stuff, let's go out and see how many fishes we can catch for the Seafood Extravaganza."

*

Easy saw Gabriel walk by his office door at the center and called his name. "Hey, Gabriel, you got plans for Saturday?"

"Yeah, sorta," Gabriel said, leaning against the doorjam.

"Same plans you've been having these last two or three weeks?"

"Yeah, sorta."

"Want to show up at the beach house for a Seafood Extravaganza? Everyone's been missing you."

"I don't know," he said evasively.

"Anything you wanna talk about?"

"Nah, it's all cool, Easy. I'll try to be there."

A bit rattled, Easy sat quietly after Gabriel left, going back over the conversation. If anything happened to that boy.......

*

"We need to start making our summer plans," Dan said, as he and Jordan got the grill going. "Let's do some really fun junk."

"I want to hear your idea of fun junk," Jordan groaned. "No health spa or cooking classes. Never again."

Danny laughed, "I've said I was sorry over a bazillion times. You were an angel to go with me."

"I was, wasn't I? Well, not this summer. This summer, I'm not agreeing to any dumb stuff."

"Dumb stuff? Learning to bake the perfect quiche is so not dumb stuff."

"You cook it. I eat it. End of that story, Emiril."

Danny pouted for a half-second, but then started working on his alternate plans.

"First, we promised to take Gabriel out to Tucson to look for an apartment and to let him get familiar with the University of Arizona campus there for the fall."

"Tell me again why he HAS to transfer way out there?"

"He wants to hike and backpack." They laughed, remembering how much fun they had in college that had nothing to do with classes.

"And the scholarship has a "hiking" qualification in it?"

"Nah, he's just kept his grade point average up and he can claim that scholarship they're offering. You know all he's talked about for the last year is getting a job out there."

"It's hotter than hell and it's so far away."

"So was Portland," Danny said softly. Jordan gave him the look, and then leaned in and kissed him. "He'll come back if it's what he's supposed to do."

"Okay, there's that. What else do you have planned already?"

"Well, we need to book the cottage for our two weeks with JD. I need to call Mr. Freedlich and make sure we can get our same cabin. JD would kill us if we don't have his dock so he can see across the lake. Maybe this summer there'll be someone for JD to play with."

"And? I know you have some kind of extraordinary plan to torture me."

"I want us to go somewhere....just the two of us. I love our whole family, but we never get to be alone for five minutes."

Jordan stopped poking the coals and pulled Dan into his arms. "You've got it."

"Just like that? No stating my case? No explaining all the whys?"

"Are you kidding? I can't think of anything I'd rather do than spend some time with just you..............nose to nose,"

Danny grinned, "And toes to toes."

"You got a thought?"

"Yep, you know I never run from conflict or hide, but I want to go somewhere that we can hold hands and be together without people doing their freak thing. I think we deserve it."

"We do, Darlin'. You totally do. Where is this place?"

Danny took a deep breath, "I want to keep it a surprise."

Jordan shook his head, laughter choking him. "Well, if we're gonna do it, let's do it right. You make the arrangements and you've got yourself a date, but Dan....."

"Yes, Jordy?"

"No Gay Cruise or Be the Best Homosexual You Can be Meditation Seminar, clear?"

"Clear, Jordy."

*

JD was chasing Nikki around the sand with a chopped off shrimp head. "Mommmiiieeeeeeee, make him stop!" she squealed.

"Nikki, look at the little bitty eyes and the big feelers. Want to eat it?" he laughed.

"Mommmmiiieeee!"

Bug bounced up and down, clapping his hands, his eyes dancing. Griff handed him a peeled shrimp and he gobbled it down.

The screen door slammed. Dan punched Jordan's arm and whispered, "Jordy!" Jordan glanced toward the porch and then did a double take,

"Jesus."

"No," Danny groaned, "That's totally not Jesus."

"Then, what IS it?"

Gabriel stood uncertainly on the top step. The person he had brought standing one step down, the light from the open doorway and the yellow buglight from the porch casting odd shadows on the even odder boy standing there.

Where Gabriel was dressed simply in khaki cargo shorts, a plain white t-shirt and Adidas water sandals, his hair cut in his usual no-nonsense short style, his friend was a Halloween carnival gone wrong all by himself. White face makeup, with kabuki black eyes, purple spiked hair sharp enough to maim, a bright green stud in his nose, some sort of long black robe drooping over dirty bare toes. The robe flapped open to reveal a screaming violent green t-shirt with the words Buck Fuddy printed across the front. It was, at this moment, a mystery if there were pants under the flapping robe. There was only a flash of bright red something.

The first to get a solid breath, Easy jumped up and held out his hand. "Hi," he said, offering his hand to the stranger, "I'm Easy."

"That a fact? Good thing to know," he said, slapping Easy's hand instead of shaking it.

Gabriel introduced his friend. "This is um........Nazgul. I met him at the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament a few weeks ago."

"Where? The what?" Markie said, her face a mirror of everyone else's.

"They have tournaments for that now?" Val asked.

"Sure, the winner gets five thousand dollars."

JD was really quiet, peering out from behind the swing, his eyes round. Bug toddled over and pulled on the new boy's robe. The stranger squatted down and looked Bug in the eyes. "Hey, little Dude. You don't talk, huh?"

Markie started to go rescue Bug, but Griff stopped her. Gabriel was right there.

"I got a sister who can't see. She was in a car wreck a few years back. She's fifteen." He stooped and lifted Bug and held him in the crook of his arm. Bug stared at the hair and reached out to touch it with his finger. He grinned and settled comfortably into Nazgul's arm.

"You guys hungry?" Dan asked. "Gabriel, get your friend a plate of food. Come sit over here uh...Nazgul, and tell us about the tournament."

In the course of watching their visitor eat three heaping plates of seafood, they learned many things. Nazgul was the reigning RPS champion of Wrightsville Beach. He was the lead singer in his band, the Ringwraiths. He worked a day job at the arcade in the mall and he had this odd habit of humming under his breath.

"So, do you go to school, Nazgul?" Jordan asked.

"Yeah, I go to the junior college." He reached for one more hunk of lobster. "This is great food, guys."

"You should see him when he's playing," Gabriel said. "No one can beat him. Show JD how to play, Naz."

They all watched as Nazgul showed JD rock (fist), paper (flat hand), scissors (two fingers out). "Now little Dude, rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beats paper. Got it?" They practiced a few rounds, and then JD got it. "Daddy, Papa D, watch." Jordan and Dan saw JD's small hands fly as he pounded his fist twice in the palm of his other hand and then formed the rock, the paper, or the scissors.

"Naz is very, very good, right Gabrel?" JD frowned. "I can't beat him."

"That's why he's a champ. You gotta practice." Griff groaned, knowing what that meant for all of them.

Jordan stared at the two boys. Gabriel was sitting on the arm of the big Adirondack chair, Nazgul comfortably in it with JD, Nikki and Bug all trying to sit in his lap. They couldn't be any more different looking. Where had Gabriel found him? Where did he live? Who was he? If Jordan knew one thing, it was that children could sniff out a fake at twenty paces and they were totally happy with this kid. He found himself going on JD's instinct.

"We gotta exit, Gab," Nazgul said, standing up and handing Bug to Markie. "I've gotta work. Thanks for the food."

Gabriel smiled anxiously around at his family, knowing he was gonna get avalanched with questions as soon as they got him alone. "Thanks, guys. I'm gonna go listen to the Ringwraiths. I'll see you later."

The sound of a motorcycle revved the night air. "I didn't hear that when they came," Markie said worriedly.

"I don't think we were expecting to."

They all just sat and stared at each other, eyes wide and silly grins on their faces. "I am so NOT gonna say anything that sounds remotely like my parents," Danny laughed.

"Well, just where did Gabriel find him...I want to know?" Griff laughed. "Did you see Bug bouncing his big purple spikes? You could put your eye out on those."

"Did he have pants on? I was afraid to look," Markie snorted.

"Well, at least we know where Gabriel has been these last few weeks. I hope ummm, what was his name? Oh yes, Nagzul is....well, I just hope Gabriel is careful with...........," Val blushed. "You know what I mean."

"I hate to give away Nazgul's secret, but he smelled of Safeguard soap and some kind of body lotion," Jordan smiled.

"Ahhh, so much for the unwashed look."

"And what kind of name is that? Naz....."

Danny put up one finger. "I can answer that. Our new friend is a fan of Lord of the Rings. Nazgul is the name of the nine kings that became slaves to Sauron. The same goes for the band. The Nazgul, the Ringwraiths."

"I thought I'd heard that before," Griff nodded, "At least he doesn't call himself Smeagol or something."

"I liked Naz," JD broke in. "He's nice."

"Yeah," Easy answered, "He is nice. Leave it to Gabriel to find a nice kid under all that disguise named Nazgul who's the champion Rock Paper Scissors champ."

"Wonder what his real name is?" Markie sighed, "Kids!"

"I hope he keeps that weird robe thing out from under his cycle tires," Jordan muttered.

*

"Nice people, Gab," Naz shouted back through the wind as they rode toward the armory.

"Yeah, they are," he smiled.

"Most people hate me on sight," Naz said.

"It's not you they hate. It's just how you look different."

"Well, your family's cool."

Gabriel laughed, "Yeah....yeah, they are."

As they rode along, Gabriel holding tight to Naz's chest, he thought about his family. They were cool. He could always count on them to stand behind him. He'd been freaked to bring Naz over, but after the first shock wore off, they'd all been terrific, making Naz feel at home. Gabriel knew there weren't too many homes like that, but then, everyone in his family had been kicked to the curb at least once.

"You were good with the kids."

"I love kids. They're pure of heart, Gab."

As Gabriel watched Naz sing his songs, he felt good, about himself and life in general. He wanted to stay here with his family forever where he felt safe, but he knew he had to break away for awhile.

He had spent the last year taking every opportunity to hike and backpack along the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains. He loved the solitude and peace he found in the mountains. He had studied everything on-line he could about the University of Arizona after he watched a Discovery Channel show about the Chiricahua Mountains. He read up on the legends of Superstition Mountain, not far from Tucson. Heck, the campus itself wasn't far from the Saguaro national park.

Then, he braved a long discussion with Easy. They finally agreed that he might as well go for the things he wanted in life. They had researched all the UofA scholarships offered and applied. No one except Gabriel had been surprised when he was accepted. With help from his adopted dads, he was going to live his dream.

Gabriel wanted to find himself, his direction. He had all the strength they had given him and he wanted to test it out....wanted to try his wings. He knew that no matter where he went, or how long he was gone, he would always have his family and they would love him unconditionally.

Naz was what Gabriel liked to think of as his like of now; not his love of a lifetime, but just his like of now. They had great fun, the sex was phenomenal, and would part friends. He felt really good that he could take Naz to the beach house. It had worried him some. He saw Naz wave at him from the stage and he grinned, waving back, remembering when they had first met at a party.

Gabriel had been watching a RPS match going on for beers, and this one really weird looking guy looked like he was gonna take home the entire keg. Someone pushed Gabriel up to the table, telling him to take a turn. He looked into the prettiest eyes he'd seen in a long time, all violet with gold flecks, then stood with his hand palm out and waited for the signal.

"Ro"...the first fist slap
"Sham" ... second
"Bo" and he decided to go with rock, just cause.

He looked into startled eyes as the other boy had played scissors.

Gabriel took the sloshing beer mug and toasted the loser.

"Damn, man. No one beats me, but I couldn't read your eyes," the guy laughed.

"Mystery man, that's me," Gabriel grinned.

They left the party together, and had been laughing and happily (safely) fooling around for the past few weeks. Gabriel had four months until he left for Colorado and he was happy. Life was good.


They found Fiddlesticks under the back porch, nestled up with three tiny perfect puppies, one solid black, one black with white paws and one smaller puppy, coal black with a white spot on one ear..

JD had been frantic when they couldn't find Fiddle. She liked to wander away down the beach and sometimes would be gone for hours, but she always slept on the floor beside JD at night. She had been gone for two days and even the grownups were worried.

"Mommy? Fiddle had babies?"

"It appears so."

"We did not know it was time or we would have taken her to the hospital, right, Mommy?"

"Nope, we sure did not know," Markie frowned, "But dogs don't need to go to the hospital, JD. They do fine on their own."

"But, Mommy, she was all alone." JD crawled under the porch and reached out to touch the puppies. Fiddle, the sweetest of all dogs, growled a low warning. JD jerked his hand back. "Mommy, Fiddle growled." His eyes filled with tears.

"Come here, sweetie. She was just letting you know she isn't ready for you to touch her babies. She loves you same as always."

"Did you growl when people wanted to touch me?"

Markie laughed, "No, I was just happy you had been born, but see, Fiddle can't talk to tell you she's not ready yet."

The new puppies became the center of the house for a few days. As Fiddle proudly carried them out, one by one, and set them in the laundry basket Markie lined with old towels, she relaxed and Jordan showed the children how to carefully hold the new little critters.

"We can keep them all?"

"I don't think we can handle four dogs," Griff said gently, "But we'll find really good homes for them."

"And I can go visit them?"

"You bet and besides, it'll be awhile til they go anywhere cause Fiddle has to care for them now."

It was decided that Easy and Val would take the solid black puppy. "Seems appropriate," Easy snarked. They named him ShooFly Pie, which immediately shortened itself to Shoo. The poor dog stayed in a constant state of confusion as he was called, "Shoo!" and then told to 'Shoo'.

Mary Kessler, across the street, asked for the little black puppy with the white paws. JD and Nikki helped her name it. They discussed Footsie, Boots, Sweetie, Cutie Pie and finally settled on their favorite, Mittens.

In the end, the family kept the runty one, the one with a white spot on her ear. JD convinced the family that Fiddle would be terribly lonely with all her children gone and now that Fiddle was a mom, she would be busy a lot.

"What? Cooking?" Griff asked.

"Well," JD replied, that tricksy glint in his eye, "Yes, I'm thinking she will be cleaning and cooking and going shopping like Mommy."

"And you need this little pup because.....?"

"Um, because I need a dog. I am a boy and a boy needs a dog."

"You have Fiddle." Griff had already decided that they would keep the little puppy because Bug loved her, but he was always fascinated by the whirring in JD's mind.

Silence for a minute, then, "Well, Fiddle is old now."

Griff couldn't resist, seeing Markie out of the corner of his eye, walking into the room. "Oh, then what you're saying is that mommies are old and can't play anymore?"

JD latched onto that thought as the possible answer, "Hmm, yes. I think so."

"Excuse me, Joshua Daniel."

"Oh, Mommy, I.....you are not old, Mommy." He squinched up his face and hung his head. "Sorry, Mommy."

The puppy stayed. Fiddle was JD's dog the same as always, and as the first days went by, the puppy began to trail around behind Bug. Even JD could see that the two were best friends.

"Little Buggie? What will we call our new puppy?" JD asked his little brother.

Bug frowned, knowing JD was asking him a question. JD looked at Bug, then pointed at himself and signed "JD". Then he pointed at Bug and signed "Bug". Last, he pointed at the puppy and raised his shoulders. Bug thought for a minute and then grinned, and raced to their room, coming back with a battered old book. He showed JD the cover.

"Oh, look Mommy, Buggie wants to name the puppy like the thingie in our book cause of the white spot I bet."

Markie took the book in her hands, "Oh, okay.....Put Me In the Zoo. This is the big friendly monster that's covered in spots."

"Yes, and he can change the colors all the time."

"Hmmm, let's see," Danny thought about names, "There's Spot and Dot and Polka Dot and.................."

"I like Dot," JD smiled, "Buggie? How about Dot?"

Bug grinned, nodding his head. He didn't know what word JD had chosen but he trusted his big brother, JD put his mouth right up to Bug's ear and said loudly, "Dot."

Bug smiled even bigger and said, "Daaaaa - T."

"Mommy! Daddy! Papa D!..................Bug said a word," JD shrieked.

Griff came in from the back porch to his family hugging, tears streaming down his wife's face.

It seemed that a little black puppy with a single white spot had broken through little Bug's circle of silence. Now there'd be no stopping him and his big brother would always take credit for saying 'Dot' just exactly the right loud way so that Bug could 'hear'.

"The implants have been letting him hear sounds and feel vibrations," Markie said when the excitement died down, "But I guess he just wasn't ready to try."

Needless to say, Dot became a much loved member of the family in the beach house.


The spring was beautiful, the air clear and everyone healthy. Dan made the arrangements for two weeks in July at the lake. Old Mr. Freedlich sounded the same as ever with his "What kin I do ya for?" over the phone. He said there would need to be some minor repairs on that particular cabin and Joe Phillips, the local repairman, was mighty busy. Dan thought about renting a different cabin, but he knew how much JD loved that one.

"That's okay. If you'll line him up, maybe he'll have the repairs done before July."

"Ayup, his son helps him now, so he might be able to."

Okay....Check.......Lake cabin rented.

Dan made the reservations for Jordan, Gabriel and him to fly to Arizona in June. They'd fly out, look over the campus, check in with the admissions office, find Gabriel a cheap but safe apartment, and then rent a car and drive up into the wilderness areas. He found a gay-friendly bed&breakfast and made a reservation for three nights.

Okay....Check.......Arizona trip set.

Dan called and made the reservations for the Mystery Rendezvous for the first week in August. He had fretted over just the right place to take Jordan and this seemed so right. It was just inside Jordan's comfort zone, and yet, it was new and different, and best of all, they could be themselves.

He always had been aware of the differences in them, the kinda softer side he had, the cooking, the cleaning, the nurturing. Dan was the one who always picked out their clothes, new furniture, towels and stuff. Left to it, Jordy just ordered on-line and he looked like a walking advertisement for J Crew. Now, there was nothing wrong with that, except that Jordy only bought white, navy blue, gray or khaki. When he had on anything more colorful, more stylish, it came from Danny. Right then, Dan decided to pickup some 'vacation' clothes for them both. He knew Jordy would roll his eyes, but he'd wear them. Danny was thinking maybe that new shade of coral.....it would make Jordy's beautiful emerald eyes just pop.

Okay.....Check......Mystery Trip Reservations set.....Just have to buy Jordy some 'fun' clothes.


One late Saturday afternoon, early in June, a week before the Arizona trip, Gabriel showed up on the beach with a really cute goy in tow. The grownups were sitting around on beach towels watching the kids play in the surf.

"Hey guys."

"Hey, Gabriel, Hey, Hi," everyone answered, waiting expectantly.

He grinned and pulled his companion down onto the end of Jordan's towel, "Meet Melvin."

"Well, hey Melvin," Danny smiled, "You went to school with Gabriel?"

Jordan tipped his head to one side, looking at the cute boy, curly brown hair cut to flop happily down into his flashing violet eyes. Dressed, like Gabriel, in cargoes and a t-shirt, they made a cute couple. "Haven't we met somewhere? You look really familiar. At my school maybe?"

Gabriel started laughing, "Guys, this is Nazgul."

Shock, followed closely by laughter brought JD and the kids running. "What is funny?" He looked casually over at the newcomer and said, "Hey, Naz. I've been practicing my RPS."

This brought on more laughter. "You know who I am?" Naz/Melvin grinned.

JD gave one of his "well, duh" looks. "Sure. You just have on different stuff."

"Well, what brought on this extreme makeover?" Markie asked.

"Oh, I've gotta work for my dad this summer at the shop and he kinda likes me to look, as he puts it, "normal"."

"What shop is that?"

"The shoe shop down on Lorham Street, Kolstein's. You know it?"

"My lord," Markie laughed, "That's where I take all our shoes to be reheeled. Wow!"

Jordan watched as Gabriel held loosely to Naz...scratch that.....to Melvin's hand. With all the mystique gone, Melvin (Nazgul) Kolstein was just like any other boy, getting ready for the summer and minding his dad. It struck Jordan how easy it was to judge people by how they looked, either their clothes or their size or their color or who they were holding hands with.

He felt a bit of guilt for doing the very thing himself when Gabriel had brought Nazgul home that night. He had thought to himself, 'No, Gabriel, find someone more like you.' It was just that thought that was bringing the United States down. "Someone like you.....Don't even try to understand anyone who isn't like you".

As he listened to the joking and the plans for yet another barbeque, he was so grateful for the close family he was blessed with; Dan, Markie&Griff, the three marvelous munchkins, Ez&Val, and his Mama. God bless her for always letting him know he was good...a good boy who hadn't done anything wrong. He didn't need to be anybody's golden child, just Jordan...just a small town boy who told another boy he loved him and found a life that was golden all by itself.

Dan's arm slid around his waist and his head fell gently on Jordan's shoulder. "Look at these kids, Jordy. What will they grow up to be? What great kids! And Gabriel......he is so ready to take it all on."

"They'll grow up strong and secure in who they are. I hope the world is doing a little better by the time JD and Nikki and Bug step out into it. All we can hope is that we're doing the best we can to help them get there. Gabriel? He's gonna be just fine."

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