Kaiser's Pavilion

by Bensiamin

Chapter 10

On Friday after class, the team met back at David and Jackson's house. The first point of discussion was that it wasn't as straight forward to get a lot of good items contributed at it had seemed to start with. Eric said, "it sure is easier for people to say 'no' than you'd think."

"Yeah, but no one said it'd be easy," Jerrod replied. Then they started working though what they had gotten donated in the first week. The list started with some basics, like the local paint store donated 10 gallons of house paint. The local hardware store contributed a high-end string trimmer. The Sellwood Grill, their favorite local restaurant, donated a gift certificate for dinner for four. A local nursery contributed design and installation of a rose garden. They agreed it was a good start. Eric caught Jerrod's eye and saw a smirk on his face.

"What's up?"

Jerrod tried to act nonchalant, but the smirk became a grin, and Eric said, "Something's up. Come on, give it up."

Jerrod looked at them all and said, "Well, we didn't get a trip to Hawaii from either one of those travel agencies. I guess it was too big an ask. But David and Jackson's good friends, Dieter and Robert, have that very cool beach house we've all been at… remember?"

Eric's eyes widened and Jerrod heard Nate say, "No shit?"

"Yep, no shit. They donated a weekend stay. It's no trip to Hawaii, but it's a pretty cool thing, don't you think?" Everyone nodded in agreement.

"What do you think that'll go for?" Eric asked.

"Who knows. I bet your mom paid a few hundred bucks for that house down the beach she rented last summer," Jerrod replied. "Remember what Alice said, that the most important thing is getting two or more people who want an item and get into a bidding war?"

"Yeah, we'll have see and hope for the best."

They all agreed that the next week had to be the big push for the remaining auction items because they were running out of time.

As everyone was leaving, Roger asked Nate if he'd been staying in touch with Stewart and Logan. Nate nodded and said, "Yeah, we talk a couple of times a week. They've started going to their LGB club, so they're slowly coming out. They're kind of timid, but they're finding out it's better to be on top of it and ahead of the problems. They said they like the people they've met in their school's LGB club, and no one's hassled them, so all good so far."

"That's good news. Thanks for being willing to be their friend. You're a good guy, you know!

Nate grinned. "Everyone needs more friends. They're good guys and we hang out once a week, so with my boyfriend in Pendleton, it's pretty cool."

Roger was staying the weekend and they walked to the Sellwood Grill for dinner, where they were able to thank the owner profusely for his contribution. Over dinner David looked at Roger and said, "I've got some basic material on tribalism and raising kids without religion pulled together for you so you're ready for the next round? If you're up for it, we can talk about it tomorrow over breakfast."

"Cool. I'm liking that idea."

Jerrod squeezed his hand and asked, "And why's that selle?"

"Because after Wednesday, the more I thought about it the more irritated I got. Like who are these guys to lay that rap on us in LGB club. I mean we're there to help students get comfortable with their sexuality or come out, or whatever. It's not some invitation for laying a religious guilt trip on people."

Jerrod smiled. "Go, Roger!" He looked over at David. "Can I sit in on your tribalism stuff tomorrow? It'll probably do me good too."

"Sure. The more the merrier. We all should know the foundations of what we believe and where they came from. None of them sprang into being from thin air."

Over breakfast David asked if he should start with a recap. Roger nodded and he said, "Okay, remember that humanism is a naturalistic philosophy, as opposed to a supernatural one, meaning it rejects gods, angels, immortal souls, and all supernatural phenomena. The universe is natural and can be studied by science." He looked at Roger and Jerrod who nodded in agreement.

"So, here's a major surprise. Unlike religions, humanism does not have a definite view on the meaning of life, rather humanists commonly say that people create rather than discover meaning. That gets us to the question of well-being and what constitutes living a good life. Well-being comes from the meaning of life that each person defines for him or herself, and that presumes a healthy level of self knowledge. Each person should decide for him or herself what constitutes a good life. In other words, its an expression of personal freedom and autonomy. Living a good life, or a life well lived is an extension of that, namely living in a manner that is consistent with what you believe. See, not what some religion or outside entity tells you is a meaningful life. Humanism entails personal responsibility."

"I like that," Roger said, pausing. Then he went on. "I've been talking to my parents about all this stuff and showing them the notes you've been giving me, and you're right. They may not have studied humanistic philosophy or joined a humanist organization, but this is what they believe and what they instilled in me." He paused, looked around. "Instilled, get it? That's what dad said he tried to do. Instill these beliefs in me without coming off as some religious zealot like his grandfather."

David just smiled in agreement and then said, "I'm glad you're having these discussions with your parents, and even happier that they fully agree. So, to extend the concept of values that come from the meaning of life that each person defines for him or herself, and the question of a life well lived, it immediately gets practical. As in, how does one do it? Bertrand Russell had a lovely statement when he described the good life as one inspired by love and guided by knowledge".

"Whoa! That's totally cool," Roger exclaimed. "I really like that. It's so simple and so… so big and challenging at the same time. Now, where does tribalism fit in?"

"Well, talking about tribalism gets us back to the starting point of raising kids without religion. That was the rap the religious dudes were laying on you at LGB club, and that's because virtually no one in a religion understands that what's primarily at work is tribalism. They all believe in personal liberty or free will as a concept and think that each of them make their own decisions. By that I mean the person in front of you, and their parents, and all the family that came before them, and all the people in their extended community, each one of them think they make their own decisions about what they believe. But that's not how it works. Tribalism is a thing that came into being as part of the human race surviving. People that believe the same things stick together, and the ones that stick together survive better. On top of that, tribalism is a wonderful vehicle for determining people's belief systems for them. Are you with me?"

"Sounds like we're back to power and control," Roger said.

"Right on! The point simply being that all these religions are based on ancient dogma from the Bronze Age, and that dogma was created by men to control the masses. The deity they follow has its own rules and commandments, those can't be questioned, the religious leaders can't be questioned, and so the message is 'don't think, just do what we tell you.' Sound familiar?"

"Oh, yeah," Jerrod says. "Way too familiar, like blind faith."

"You don't mean the old rock band, do you? Just asking," Jackson commented with a grin.

"No way. That Blind Faith I can get in to, and thanks again for playing me the album. I guess, though, it puts the songs In The Presence of the Lord and Can't Find My Way Home in a new light, doesn't it?"

"Well, maybe. But remember those songs were written in the late 60's and early 70's," David said, "and it was the Woodstock generation and people were searching for alternatives to the traditional views. Anyway, we all agree blind faith is a non-starter but awareness of self, of other humans, of the environment and our planet, and the ability of each person to choose is the key starting point, right?"

Roger and Jerrod nodded, and David went on, "Okay, so tribalism is this survival mechanism that also serves another purpose of teaching people what the tribe wants them to know, what you want them to believe and assuring they continue in those beliefs. So, religious parents raise their kids up to believe what?"

"Believe what the parents believe," Jerrod said.

"But it's not always wrong," Roger added. "Look at my parents."

"True enough," David replied. "Although I'd argue your parents weren't doing tribalism because they wanted to raise you to be an independent person able to make your own decisions about what you believe and the kind of life you want to live. They weren't imposing their belief system on you. You told us your dad used the word instilled rather than imposed. For instance, they had no qualms about you not being religious or gay, did they?"

Roger shook his head. David went on, "And if your parents had been like the parents of the religious dudes at LGB club, how do you think that would have gone down?"

"Like a total nightmare. But now I wonder if their parents even know. I mean maybe they're just out at LGB club and living a lie at home?"

"Could be. So, when I talk about tribalism, it's closely tied to identity. Namely the ability to answer Campbell's key questions: Who Am I, Where Did I Come From, Where Am I Going. Needless to say, you can't move on to the second and third questions unless you can answer the first. Tribalism and religion start by telling you the answer to the first question… and then the second question… and then the third. So, at the end of it a person has absorbed a belief system and worldview that was forced on them, rather than one they chose through being fully informed and deciding for themself."

David paused and then looked at Jerrod and said, "Do you remember that Nietzsche quote I shared with you the first week you were out here for summer ski camp?"

"Not specifically," Jerrod replied, "but I remember it was really important about getting beyond tribalism."

"Indeed, it was." He looked at Roger and continued, the quote is 'The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.' Right on the money, huh?"

Roger paused to digest it and then said, "Pretty powerful. Kind of like the struggle to define your own identity, right? I get that from when you gave those talks at our LGB club last year in high school. How does that get to raising kids without religion?"

"Remember what your parents did? Think for a minute in opposite terms. In both cases there's this identity structure and in the middle is you." He looked over at Jackson and added, "Remember the identity charts?"

"Do I ever!"

"So, the identity chart is just a tool to help a person get in touch with who they are and define their identity," David added. "Most people aren't empowered to do even that because their identity has been handed to them. And even when it happens, the fact is that you, the person, are in the center of other things that you can conceptualize like the rings on an onion. The first ring outside the core is your immediate family. Beyond that is your extended family and friends. Then the next one out is your community. After that comes your region or country, and beyond that the world. Here's the thing though, all of the central ones, you, your family, your extended family and friends and community are part of the tribe. Let me show you."

Here David pulled out an illustration and said, "Here's a relational model. The starting point is You in the center and it's no surprise that You are surrounded by the things that shape your identity. Those are the same things that people have to relate to throughout life."

A relational Model of Life for Humanists

"See how the first three rings beyond You are all the same color? That's because they all exist within the tribe. Your Tribe is an entity that encompasses the others. Essentially, they all work together to give you your identity, to reinforce it, and to make sure you never change it."

"That's pretty heavy," Roger said. "I never thought of it that way."

"Well, the tribe doesn't have to operate that way, and tribalism in the humanist space wouldn't be imposing, but rather enabling development. So, the first important point," David replied, "is that all the rings have to be considered when a person is making choices or deciding what to do. People raised like you who were empowered to make their own decisions, to be autonomous, are in a completely different position than those like the three of us that grew up in a religious tribe and had much or all of our identity handed to us."

"That's exactly why," Jackson said, jumping into the conversation for the first time, "when David told me our religion, and now I know that meant the tribe I was living in, considered me a depraved sinner, I said 'Fuck That!' I don't believe that and I'm out of here." He looked at his life-long lover. "Right?"

"Exactly so. And that put fire under me to have to come to terms with the same thing. And that's what happened to Jerrod his first summer out here." He looked at Roger and said, "I know you understood he was wrestling with a whole bunch of stuff about being gay, having been outed and coming to grips with all of that, but where that led, like it does for most people, was a reassessment of his belief system and worldview." He looked at Jerrod.

Jerrod squeezed Roger's hand and said, "It's true. I couldn't have described it quite that way, but David walked me through a lot of that stuff and it's a package deal."

Roger leaned over and kissed Jerrod's cheek. "Sorry, I guess I didn't really realize how much stuff you were having to deal with then and sort out."

"Don't feel sorry about any of that," Jerrod said. He nodded at Jackson and David and added, "These guys were key to me sorting out my shit about that stuff, and being gay, and working that all out with my family, but it was you and Kaiser who made me realize I was okay and could be loved… and love back." Jerrod's eyes showed the emotion welling up, so Roger hugged him, and David went on.

"Just a couple more things, and let me say these to you with a new understanding that this is almost certainly the trap from which those religious dudes in your LGB club are coming from. They haven't sorted any of this out for themselves. They are deeply embedded in their tribe and the cultural and religious teachings that come along with it. So, in a way, you can't blame them."

"Yeah, I can see that."

"So, first, understanding this onion ring model helps to clarify how important it is to be empowered to be your own person and make your own decisions. Then, what comes with that is the realization that all those rings have to be considered when making choices or taking action. No isolated and self-centered thinking or decision making. What we're after is a thriving society of free and empowered people, and that requires consciously considering the radiating effects of our choices and actions. Are you with me?"

Roger was vigorously nodding his head.

"When that happens," David went on, "parents don't have to sell their kids on religious beliefs, like scaring them about going to hell, or holding enticing promises of going to heaven in front of them. They need only be taught to know themselves and value themselves, and then be considerate and responsible to family and friends, and by extension to humanity and all life on earth. Just like you were."

"Geez, David. Now you're embarrassing me. It's not like I'm some hero or something. I've got my shit to deal with too."

"Oh, yeah? Well, welcome to the human race," David replied with a deep chortle.

The next week was the week before finals, so it was hard for the team to focus on getting the last of the auction items contributed, but they worked at it.

On Wednesday after class, Matt dropped Roger off at David and Jackson's because he knew they'd want to know what happened at LGB club. It was the first question David asked when he walked in, and Roger said, "You know, it was totally not what I was expecting. They were really quiet. I don't know if that's because they were dealing with what I laid on them last week including the Bible verses or what. But I decided it would be unkind to go after them if they were kind of on their heels. Is that okay?"

"Of course, it's okay. It means you're sensitive to where people are and what they're going through and not out to win battles or trophies."

"That's what I was hoping you'd say," Roger responded. "I didn't want to seem weak or like I was letting them off the hook, but it just didn't seem right to go after them."

"To have done so would have been inhumane, and so it was a very ethical choice, and consistent with your values and beliefs. They may be processing, they may be stressed out, you may have rattled their cage. And you never know what'll happen next quarter if the subject comes up again. You'll know your position that much better than they do, and will be totally ready to debate it with them while still caring about them as human beings." He paused, smiling at Roger, and then added, "I think Gandhi would be very proud of you."

Roger blushed. "Geez, David. I said the other day I wasn't a hero."

"That's true, but you are living out your beliefs and values, something many people don't do because they're more interested in winning. You need to share this with your dad tonight, so he understands just how his approach of instilling his values in you worked out. Worked out for the good, I mean."

Roger got to share the events again with Jerrod while his boyfriend drove him home. Then the discussions turned to the auction items and the work to be done. "We've got to have them all lined up by when we meet on Friday," Jerrod said. "Next week will be a nightmare otherwise, with finals."

"Agreed, but everyone's working on their list," Roger replied. "I bet it'll be good news when we meet on Friday."

And that turned out to be the case! The Board member with whom Alice was a good friend was part owner in a winery and donated a case of very good quality Oregon Pinot Noir. Alice herself donated a double bed sized quilt she had stitched. Eric, with help from his mom, the girl's high school coach and former ski racer, had been working Dicks Sporting Goods and got a donated set of new skis and boots. Kim's dad had a friend who worked for a mobile phone company, and they donated a high-end Nokia phone. To cap it all off, Warren turned out to be a VP of marketing at that shoe company, and donated a pair of autographed Air Jordans. That got a round of oohs and aah's out of everyone.

Jerrod looked around at his friends on the team and said, "Wow! What a list. That's great work and we've got our ten auction items!" He looked around at everyone and got no answers… till he saw the smirk on Nate's face.

"Nate, give it up."

"Well," he began slowly and slyly, "you all remember I have a boyfriend in Pendleton, right? I've kept him up to speed on what we're doing and he's totally into it. In fact, he's coming down here for Spring Break to help us with the event. You get that? He lives on a ranch and it's spring break and he convinced his parents he needs to be here with us. That's totally over the top."

"Well, yeah, Nate," Kim said with a smirk back, "but don't you think that's mainly 'cause he's really been missing sleeping with you?"

Nate wasn't phased at all and replied, 'Well, yeah, there is that. We're both missing it… and each other. But here's the thing. I told him about the auction and trying to get cool and unusual stuff and he went back to the manager of the rodeo, the Pendleton Round Up, where we worked last summer. Remember?"

Everyone nodded in acknowledgment, and then Nate went on, "And he told them about this event to raise money for the dog pavilion and how we needed cool items for the auction, and he reminded them about how Kaiser had been the dog hero when that big bull and the girl with cerebral palsy had their little run in at the rodeo." He looked around with pride on this face. "And so, the manager contributed a Pendleton Round Up Belt Buckle, like the ones they gave us, and that's worth $250. So, do you want an eleventh auction item?"

"Wow! That is so cool," Jerrod said. "I can't wait to see him. Is he driving the Scout down again?"

Nate nodded and added, "He'll bring the belt buckle down with him. Pretty great boyfriend, huh?"

Everyone agreed and Roger said, "Well, we've got the auction covered now since Alice is getting us her auctioneer friend. Now we need to start planning what the event looks like. Jerrod and I are working with the therapy dog program manager at the hospital about the dog rodeo, and that's coming together." He looked at Matt. "How do we do the basketball part?"

"Well, we've got a short list of former patients who play and are willing to do it, from you guys talking to them about the petitions. I'm leaving the details up to Jessica 'cause she's the coach, but it looks like a short half-court basketball game and then a foul shot competition for the players afterwards. She's worried that a full court game would be too much for some of the players, and wants it to be safe and fun for everyone."

"That makes sense," Jerrod said, "and that'll help with set up because we can have the dog rodeo part in one half of the court and the basketball in the other. It looks like we'll split the dogs into Advanced and Beginner and have some basic command tests for the Beginners and a simple course for the Advanced dogs to run."

"Is that going to be interesting for the audience? Sounds pretty basic to me," Eric commented.

"That's what I said, and our program manager said the entertainment is in what goes wrong. Like when a Beginner dog gets tired and says, 'Screw you,' and lays down instead of sitting. You know, like Chloe does sometimes."

Eric laughed. "Yeah, I can see that." Jerrod continued, "And when the Advanced dogs go off course and stuff. Could be fun."

They agreed not to meet until the next Friday when finals were over, and then get to work on event planning.

Matt added, "Jessica and her mom are working up a general info flyer that they'll send to the newspaper and TV stations, and we've got to get Warren and Jackson to contact all the other parents, so they attended and bring their kids."

Jerrod smiled knowingly. "I happen to know that he and Warren have already been talking about it, and they've got the parents that did the petitions with them contacting all the other parents about attending, how much fun it'll be, what a good cause, and to bring money for the auction."

Kim grinned and said, "Very cool. I like that approach."

Jerrod was staying with Roger for the weekend, but before they headed out, Jackson walked into their bedroom where Jerrod was throwing some clothes into a duffle bag. "I've got news!"

Both boys looked up surprised, and Jerrod said, "Yeah?"

"Yeah, JC is coming down for Spring Break. He wants to be here for the fund-raising event and to spend some time with all of us. And, even better, he's got his house in Seattle on the market and wants to look at houses here. He plans to move down here by July 4th."

"That is so cool," Jerrod exclaimed as he stepped over to grab Jackson and pull him into a huge hug. "Are you excited?"

"Oh, yeah! Excited and very happy. If he's here by the 4th of July, that'll give us most of the summer together."

They were all good students and took finals seriously, so that meant that during finals week they were focused on studying and excelling at their exams, Jackson called the Director of Administration and arranged another meeting. Warren met him at the hospital, and they went in together. This time the Director was much more accommodating but still a little wary.

"And to what do I owe the honor, gentlemen?"

Jackson smiled at him and replied, "I'm sure after receiving the petitions you understand the seriousness of the situation and the commitment these young people have to rectifying the oversight. Our purpose was to give you this," and here he handed over a copy of the flyer announcing the event.

It was titled, Raise Money For The Therapy Dogs and the subtitle in fancy font said, "If you love Doernbecher Children's Hospital and the Therapy Dog Program, join us for a fun evening to benefit the program." Then it went on to describe the need to replace the pavilion, the event with the Therapy Dog Rodeo and the Exhibition Basketball Game, and the auction to conclude the evening.

The Director read it slowly and then looked up at Warren and Jackson and said, "I'm impressed. This is quite an undertaking."

"It is, indeed," Warren said, "and illustrates what Jackson just said about the need and the commitment of these young people who handle the dogs and the patients who have benefited from the program." He paused, waiting for a response.

"And what you seek from me is?"

"In a word, support in the form of involvement. This flyer has gone out to The Oregonian newspaper and a few local community papers as well as the editors that handle human interest pieces at our four TV stations, and a few community radio stations. You can be assured there will be one of two reporters, and I'd guess at least one TV camera crew given the great visuals that a dog rodeo and an exhibition basketball game made up of former patients is likely to deliver."

"You make very good points. Go on."

Warren nodded at Jackson, who continued. "We're suggesting that it will work better overall and look better for the hospital if you're involved and are part of it, even if at a distance. We're looking for a win/win here. What we don't want is the appearance that this is happening in spite of opposition from the hospital."

"There's no opposition, of that I can assure you."

"Well, then. That's a significant advancement from the last time we met," Jackson said. "So, where do we go from here?"

"Let me take this to our Public Relations people and see what they say. I can't commit that the hospital will endorse the undertaking to participate or sponsor it, but your point about not appearing to be in opposition is well taken."

Warren caught his eye and said, "As you know from my business card, I've done some marketing in my time. I also understand what it's like to have to deal with a program that was initiated outside your organization. However, this is what it is, and we are where we are, and I suggest that minimally you arrange for some of your public relations people to be there so they can be introduced. That way it looks like the hospital is inside and a part of it, instead of outside and perhaps opposed to it."

The Director smiled. "I already told you we're not in opposition, but you make a good point about at least appearing to be involved. The analogy being inside the tent instead of outside, correct?"

Jackson and Warren nodded, and the Director went on. "I will do that. I will meet with our public relations people and suggest exactly that. I want to be clear, though, that it is not an endorsement nor any kind of a sponsorship, and also not a commitment or guarantee that doing so means we are altering our construction project plan. It will be for the purpose, as you pointed out, that there is not public appearance of the two parties being at odds. In other words, avoiding anything that could negatively impact the understanding of the world-class care we provide or the concern we have for our patients."

"You mean your patients and the dog therapy program that directly benefits them," Jackson asked with as friendly a smile as he could muster.

"Yes, Jackson, well put. That's exactly what I mean. The event is Friday evening of next week, so I will be in touch with both of you by the middle of the week to let you know how the hospital is prepared to proceed. Is that agreeable?"

Warren and Jackson nodded and shortly left. They waited until they were out of the building and were in the parking lot before Jackson said, "Well, that was fun!"

"Yeah," Warren replied, "mission accomplished. That guy is good at what he does, but he's crab walking our way whether he likes it or not. He's already figured out there's a potential public relations black eye in play here if they screw this up."

Jackson laughed. "I was explaining to our team of young people that we're doing a form of solution selling, the kind when the customer doesn't understand their problem or maybe even believe they've got one. But you're right, they're figuring out that they need to be on the side of the angels when the dust settles on this deal."

Finals over, the required recovery happened over the weekend, and Monday of spring break was to be the first scheduled event planning meeting. On Saturday evening Jerrod got a call from Michael who told him that he had a problem.

"Yeah, what's that? You're not telling me you're not coming down to Portland, are you?"

"No, man. Nothing that dramatic. But I've got a problem with the Scout. A wheel bearing is going out and I haven't had time to fix it and dad won't let me drive it. So, I'm taking the train tomorrow and getting in at the usual time."

"Okay, that's easy to take care of." He paused and then added, "Have you told Nate yet?"

"No. I'm going to call him next."

Jerrod was grinning to himself. "Want to make the most of it?"

"What does that mean?"

"Easy, we'll pick you up at Union Station like usual. Have your normal call with him tonight, but don't tell him about the wheel bearing. Then, what if you call Nate late morning and tell him you've got some mechanical problem you have to fix, like nothing serious, but you'll be a little late, you know. Then he'll be sweating bullets by five o'clock when you haven't shown up and he hasn't heard from you, and then suddenly the Cherokee shows up in front of his house and you pop out!"

"You're a cruel bastard, aren't you?" Michael asked, as he laughed out loud.

"No, not cruel, but willing to make the most of a situation. Imagine how much happier Nate will be to see you after an afternoon of sweating bullets. He's so missing you. It'll be a total hoot. Are you up for it?"

"Sure. You're right, he'll get all anxious and panicky, and then it'll be a total mind melt when I show up."

"He'll probably haul you straight into his bedroom, strip you both naked and make you fuck him right then."

Michael laughed again. "I hadn't thought of that, but I guess it's a possibility. One I like the sound of. Anyway, thanks in advance for picking me up. Nate told you about the belt buckle?"

"He did, and you're not only a cool dude, but definitely one of the team, even if you're the long-distance member."

"Far out. I've felt bad I couldn't be more involved, but this is my bit."

"It's great. Don't doubt that part. Roger and I will see you at the train station tomorrow. We'll be out front with the dogs."

"Sounds like a plan. Over and out!"

The Cherokee pulled to the curb in front of Union Station and after putting it in park, Jerrod thumbed his phone and called Nate. "Oh, hi, Jerrod. I was hoping it was Michael. He's really late. He called me hours ago and said he had some mechanical problem he had to take care of." He paused, then went on. "Have you heard from him? Do you think he got it fixed? Could he have not fixed it right and broken down on the way? I mean, it's an old Scout and who knows what could happen?"

"I just called to see if he had arrived and to say hi. Look, relax, what could really go wrong, right? Hang tight and I'm sure you'll hear from him before long. The mechanical problems probably just got a little more complicated than expected."

Nate unhappily agreed and Jerrod hung up and then grinned at Roger. "Totally worried. The expression on his face when we pull up out front will be priceless."

And the expression was priceless. The Cherokee had barely been shifted into park when Nate came flying out the front door and down the sidewalk to the street. His expression was one of total anxiety, and clearly not comprehending why it was the Cherokee parked at the curb and not the Scout. Then when Michael opened the rear door on the driver side and stood up in the street looking over the roof of the Cherokee and waved at his boyfriend, Nate lost it.

By this time, Matt and their mom was close behind him. "Of my god, oh my god. You're here. What happened? I was losing it."

He'd run around the back of the Cherokee and was saying, "I was so worried when you didn't call…" then he was in Michael's arms, hugging him feverishly. In a minute when he'd calmed down, he said, "What happened? Did you break down on the way? I was worried you'd be stuck on the side of the freeway?"

"Oh, no, Nate. No breakdown. I took the train, and my main men here picked me up and brought me to visit my boyfriend."

"Wha… what?" Suddenly parts of the story were not adding up in Nate's mind. "How did… you did what… but you said…" It all came out a jumble and then Nate saw the expression on Jerrod's face as he got out of the driver's seat and turned to face them. He just couldn't keep the grin off his face.

Nate wanted to ask what was so funny, and as that thought flashed through his mind, he started answering his own question and realized something didn't add up. When he figured out why it apparently was so funny to Jerrod, he realized he'd been had.

"You fuckers! You set me up, didn't you? You did this surprise thing to me again!" Nate shot Jerrod the evil eye as he pushed Michael back by the shoulders and looked him in the face. "You took the train, didn't you? There was no problem with the Scout. You set me up, didn't you?"

By now Matt and their mom had joined the conversation and Roger was standing next to them on the passenger side of the Cherokee, watching with some humor the conversation taking place on the driver's side.

"Actually, the Scout has a bad wheel bearing and dad wouldn't let me drive it."

"Really? Well, that's good… I mean that's safe. Good call by your dad." He paused and his forehead wrinkled. "But when did you find that out? Today? That doesn't make sense!"

Jerrod stepped forward and threw his arms around both of them and said, "He found out yesterday and called me about a ride from the train station right before he was going to call you."

"Yeah, and?"

"Well," Jerrod said with a sly smile, "I suggested he not tell you all the details and we'd pick him up and deliver him to you and see just how much you love him." Jerrod paused and then added, "It certainly appears you've passed the test for ardent love."

"I don't need a test, I mean, I've been having a heart attack all afternoon!" He tried to get angry, but he heard Roger and Matt and their mom giggling on the other side of the Cherokee. He kept staring at Jerrod and said, "You've heard about turn around is fair play, right?"

"Oh yeah, but this is pretty much fair play. We're now all pretty certain you're totally committed, like you love him to death, right?"

Michael was kissing the side on Nate's face, and he was having a hard time ignoring the sensations. He gave Jerrod one more glare and said softly, "Yeah, pretty much. Now I've got to figure out if I can forgive you. You and my boyfriend."

"Well, we know he loves you too. And leave Roger out of it. This was my idea, not his." He looked over the roof of the Cherokee and said, "Looks like Nate's pretty happy to have his boyfriend come down for a visit."

"Geez, I guess," Matt said. "He like needed tranquilizers all afternoon."

"It's so cute to watch them like this, though," their mom added. "Don't you think so, Matt? They're so cute and happy together. Just like you and Jessica."

"Mom! Leave us out of it."

Jerrod grabbed Michael's bag out of the rear seat and said, "Here, Nate, don't you think you should show your boyfriend some hospitality instead of making him stand out here in the street?"

Nate flashed him a smile and said quietly, "I can think of some hospitality I'd like to show him right now, but it ain't happening for a while."

"Well, at least let him say goodbye to Kaiser and Chloe. Then you guys have a good night and sleep in tomorrow morning, and we'll all get together in the afternoon for the planning meeting."

Even Roger was laughing as they pulled away from the curb. "Classic, totally classic!"

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