Christmas Ships

by Bensiamin

Christmas Ships

© 2020 by Bensiamin. All rights reserved.

This is a work of gay fiction. While the locations are real, all characters and situations are imaginary. This story contains characters who earlier appeared in the Kaiser series. While it stands alone, the characters and story line will be more complete if you've read them first. Many thanks to my editor, Michael, who's eagle eye makes these stories a better experience for readers!

"Are you kids ready to go?"

Imelda grinned and nodded her head vigorously as she said, "Yes, daddy. Let's go!"

"You need your coat, don't you. It's cold out there and we'll be right by the river." He pushed his fingers through his still damp black hair as he turned to Imelda's twin brother. "How about you, Armando? Are you ready? Are you excited?"

The boy nodded more bashfully, but he was smiling, and he softly said, "Yes, daddy. We haven't seen the Christmas ships for a year."

"You're right, it's been a year. Now you two get your coats on and we'll get going." The man looked up at his husband, smiled knowingly and then added, "Thanks for getting them ready, selle. It gave me time to take a shower and change too."

Roger grinned back and blew him a kiss. Jerrod's heart flipped like it always did when those lips below the blue eyes and framed by that longish blonde hair blew a kiss his way. Then he turned back to the twins who were donning their coats. "We should be on time to meet Uncle David and Uncle Jackson. Did you both get a snack to tide you over until we have dinner?"

Imelda zipped up her coat with a fashionable flourish and said, "Yes. Dad fixed us some soup and crackers."

Armando finished zipping his coat and looked up at Jerrod and quietly added, "Dad said we're having dinner at the Hobbit House. That's great."

"It is great. We've been so busy for the last month that we haven't been there since Thanksgiving, but it's a great place to have a family dinner." He picked both eight-year-olds up and gave them a hug. "Uncle Jackson said they've missed cooking dinner for you both."

"But we see them every day," Imelda said.

"Well, almost every day, that's true. But that's just the days when your dads are working, and your uncles are helping take care of you along with your nanny. He's talking about a celebration tonight because we get to see the Christmas Ships and then go to their house for a dinner, which they cooked just for you two."

"A special dinner."

"That's what he said."

He set them both down and looked at Roger who opened the door, and said, "Let's get this crew on the road. We don't want to be late." Each man took a small hand, and they headed out the door and then down the sidewalk to the SUV that sat in the driveway. Roger made sure they were both buckled into the rear seat, and then climbed into the passenger seat as Jerrod slipped into the driver seat and started the ignition. He reached over and squeezed Roger's hand and said softly, "Sorry I was late. We had a patient complication at the hospital."

Roger lifted and kissed the back of his hand and said softly back, "No worry, liebling. I scheduled my last appointment at two o'clock was able to get out of the clinic by three thirty."

It took less than ten minutes from their house to coming to a stop in a parking spot at Oak Bottoms Park. A minute later, hand in hand with both children, Roger said, "I told them we'd meet at the main concession stand."

Jerrod nodded and all they headed down the sidewalk, and then turned north for a little ways on the walkway along the bank of the Willamette River. In a couple of minutes, they reached a park-like area that had a concession stand and a bank of porta-potties set back from the river. There was a growing throng of people positioned on the bank and sidewalk along the river.

"There they are," squealed Imelda with delight. She tried to run off, but Roger held her hand firmly, not willing to let her go in the growing crowd. David and Jackson saw them all approaching, and when they were twenty feet away Roger and Jerrod released their hands, and they ran with outstretched hands into the open arms of David and Jackson.

As the older men stood, each with a happy child in their arms, Jerrod and Roger walked up and pulled all of them into a warm group hug. They stepped apart, and Jerrod said softly to David over Armando's shoulder, "Looks like the knee's bothering you."

David's smile was a half wince and he said, "Yeah, it's winter and more humid and it hurts as the weather comes and goes." Then his smile broadened. "It's part of life, and no point in complaining. No ones handing out sympathy."

Jerrod gave him a look of mock surprise. "Not even your husband and lover?"

David's smile widened, and he said, "Well, sure, he does. But he's got his own pains even if he is only sixty-three. And, not to be forgotten, Jerrod, you'll be forty in a couple of years and then you will begin to discover that while sympathy is a pleasure to receive, it's nowhere near as effective at addressing the pain and inflammation as a good non-steroidal anti-inflammatory!"

Jerrod grinned. "Or a good shot of bourbon, as Jackson frequently tells me."

"I heard that, and it's all true," they heard from Jackson, who then went on, "Now, however, instead of corrupting these dear children with tales of better living through chemistry and alcohol, I suggest we find ourselves a viewing spot because by my calculations the next fleet of Christmas ships will be by here in less than ten minutes."

He held Imelda at arms length and said softly, "You do want to see the Christmas ships don't you, sweetheart?"

Imelda simply squealed, "Yes, yes, yes! Then daddy says you're cooking us a special dinner."

"That we are," they all heard Jackson say in response. "I've learned how to prepare Pork Adobo. That's a favorite dish in the Philippines. It probably won't be as good as your mom makes, but we'll take some pictures and send them to her. How's that?"

Imelda smiled in pleasure, and with that settled, they all walked hand in hand a little further north and then onto the bank to find an open spot. Roger pointed to an opening in the crowd, and led the way off the sidewalk. As he approached the open spot, he looked up at a tall man who glanced his way. The man was holding hands with another, and they had two teenagers with them. He motioned and said, "This spot is open. Make yourselves comfortable."

Roger nodded his thanks and turned back to those following him and said, "Here we are. Should be plenty of room." Then he turned back to the tall man, pausing momentarily before he said, "Excuse me, but don't I know you. Your face is familiar."

The man turned to face him and then said, "I know your face too. It's ironic. I'm in sales and I never forget a face, but I only remember about half the names of people I meet."

Roger smiled back at him and said, "I'm a psychologist and I'm supposed to remember everyone's name too. Not gonna happen!"

He saw the wheels turn in the tall man's mind and then heard him say, "I know who you are. You're one of the other psychologists I met at the open house when my brother, Jordan, and his partners opened their new clinic. By the way, I'm Wilt Frazier." He extended his hand.

Roger took it and said, "That's it. There were a lot of people there. So, you're not a psychologist?"

"Not a chance. I'm not smart enough for that. I'm just smart enough to sell stuff."

The younger man whose hand he was holding added, "Truth is that he's smart enough to run a medical equipment sales company. He's just always thought his brother was smarter than him instead of just different from him."

Wilt grinned and then said, "Let me introduce you to my boyfriend, Seth. And also with us are Seth's brother Adrian, and his boyfriend. Jeremy." Roger introduced his husband and then David, Jackson, and then Imelda and Armando."

Both children acted a little shy, and Seth said softly, and with a big smile, "Wow! You two are twins, aren't you?" They both nodded, and then Seth went on, "Do you know how lucky you are? You have two dads, and it looks like two uncles. How great is that?"

Imelda's expression warmed immediately, and Armando was softly smiling too. "We're really lucky. We have two dads and Uncle David and Uncle Jackson, and we get to see the Christmas Ships and then Uncle Jackson is cooking us a special dinner."

"He is?" Seth loaded his statement with as much questioning sincerity as he could.

Imelda nodded vigorously and then said, "Yes. He's cooking Pork Adobo from the Philippines."

By now Adrian and Jeremy had turned their attention to the conversation, and Adrian asked, "Is that where you were born?"

Imelda nodded again and then Jerrod added, "We were fortunate to be able to adopt Imelda and Armando four years ago when they were four."

Imelda grinned triumphantly. "Daddy's a doctor and we met him in the Philippines, and he brought us here so Armando could have his surgery."

All eyes moved to Armando, who immediately turned his face into David's neck, avoiding everyone looking at him.

Jerrod said, "He's still a little embarrassed, but Imelda's right. The surgery went exceptionally well, and Armando is on his way in life."

Adrian had been following the conversation that developed from his question and he looked back and forth between Jerrod and Roger and said, "And you guys are married?"

"We are," Roger replied. "We've been together since high school and got married when it became legal in Oregon."

"That's very cool," Adrian responded enthusiastically. "Jeremy and me are just starting college at Oregon Institute of Technology, and got together last quarter and now we're boyfriends."

Roger looked back and forth between them, the intensity of their expressions being evident and replied, "That sounds terrific. Good luck to you both. I understand that there's a very good LGBTQ group on campus. Are you participating?"

Adrian grinned proudly and nodded. "We are. Wilt and Seth told us we should."

Seth bumped his younger brother's shoulder and said, "Adrian, you just met these people, so you shouldn't be grilling them with twenty questions."

Roger demurred and said it was fine and that being involved in LGB clubs had been really important to him and Jerrod when they were in college. They continued chatting, and Wilt was standing next to Jerrod, said, "Did you do the surgery?"

Jerrod shook his head. "No, I'm a pediatric specialist at Doernbecher. However, being on staff meant I was able to make sure he got the best surgical care."

Wilt nodded. "I'm impressed. It's obvious he had a cleft palate, but there's no gap and a very smooth upper lip and I'm betting by the time he's a teen the scar will be almost invisible."

"You know something about surgery, obviously."

"I sell orthopedic equipment and prosthetics, so I spend a lot of time in the OR watching surgeons. I know good technique when I see it."

"Got it. Armando's lucky. They were born to a single mother who had three other children and a poverty level income. He was able to get the initial cleft lip and palate repair as a charity cast at National Children's Hospital in the Philippines when he was less than a year old. The hospital's nonprofit foundation paid most of the cost, but the remainder almost bankrupted her. He still needed a much more complicated pharyngeal soft palate surgery to correct his speech defect, but the hospital didn't have the specialty and his family couldn't afford it."

Wilt's eyes had widened. "What happened then?"

"I'm on staff at Doernbecher and we have an exchange and training program with the children's hospital in the Philippines. So, for a few years I went there for a couple of weeks each year. Roger and I had started to look into adoption and then I learned about Armando's situation and that his mother was going to put him up for adoption to try and get him the surgery he needed."

"Good for you! I'm impressed," Wilt said.

Jerrod smiled knowingly. "Well, the surgery was one stipulation. But there was another. They're twins and both had to be adopted."

"Really? That must have doubled the challenge."

"It did, but their mother wanted a better life for both of them. We'd been married four years and I'd settled into my position at Doernbecher, and Roger had had time to establish his practice. So, when I found out, I called him and filled him in, and he was on a flight to Manila two days later. It took six months of legal work, but it all came together, and they've been ours for almost four years."

The conversation was interrupted by the noise of the crowd making it clear that the Christmas ships were approaching their vantage point. The hubbub of the crowd ceased, to slowly be replaced within a couple of minutes by oohs and aahs and the happy cries of children as the line of all types of vessels, festooned with lights in various styles and colors, approached their location on the bank.

This was a Portland tradition; one David and Jackson had started attending when they moved to the Sellwood neighborhood back in 1976. It had become part of Jerrod's tradition when he came to live with them to finish his senior year of high school. It then became part of Roger's tradition when he and Jerrod had become boyfriends that year in 1999. They had missed a year or two when Jerrod was in internship and residency, and when Roger was doing his clinical rotations for his doctorate in psychology. But they'd almost always gotten together for this event that seemed to formally mark the beginning of the Christmas season. That had been especially true after Jerrod and Roger bought their own house a few blocks from David and Jackson once they completed their training.

That was in 2012, and they'd married in 2014 when same-sex marriage was legalized in Oregon. Then, four years later when they'd been able to adopt Imelda and Armando, it became even more important as they built their own family traditions. Now, four years later, both children were eight years old and growing up on a foundation of love, family and tradition.

Both children squealed with delight as the fleet of ships approached and then began to sail by, lights gleaming and bells clanging or horns blowing. The fleet was spaced out and stretched over half a mile of river, gliding by at a stately pace. After about ten minutes, Jerrod noticed Adrian speak to Seth. Seth seemed quite specific in the instruction he was giving both boys. He'd only heard Adrian speak a couple of times, but was pretty certain that he was on the Autism Spectrum, though probably high functioning. He saw Adrian and Jeremy nod in agreement to Seth before they turned and walked away. He guessed they were going to the porta-potties, and he turned back to watch a large schooner-type vessel with a huge lighted Christmas tree mounted on top of its cabin sail by. He couldn't imagine how much work had been required to build the tree frame on top of the boat's cabin, and then string all the lighting on it and around then entire boat.

He glanced at David and Jackson who seemed perfectly delighted with Armando and Imelda sitting on their shoulders for a great view as the fleet sailed by. He could see Wilt embracing Seth on the other side of them. Feeling warm, happy and content, he put an arm around Roger's shoulder and pulled him tight.

Five minutes later the last of the fleet had passed them and the assembled spectators applauded loudly, strengthening their appreciation with hoots and hollers. As the noise died down, Jerrod saw Seth turn and face toward the concession stand, concern beginning to break over his face. He looked up and down the sidewalk and then began scanning the crowd on either side of their party.

Jerrod pulled Roger along with him to step up to Seth and Wilt and said, "Did they go to the porta-potties?"

"That's what they said, but it should only be a couple of minutes walk from here." He looked at Wilt with concern on his face. "Can we get going? They should have been back by now."

Jerrod said, "We can all get going. Let's head that way and we'll maybe meet them coming our way. There was probably a long line for all the porta-potties."

The group walked down the sidewalk back to the concession stand with no sign of Adrian and Jeremy. Seth was getting visibly concerned and Jerrod looked at David and Jackson. "Can you handle the kids while we go look for Adrian and Jeremy?"

The older men nodded, and Jerrod said to Seth, "You and Wilt go around the north side of the concession stand, and Roger and I will take the south side. That way we'll cover both ends and shouldn't miss them." He paused and then added, "they're both on the Autism Spectrum, right?"

Seth nodded and said, "Yes, but they're both high functioning, responsible and independent."

"Good to know. Let's go and make sure we cover both the front and back sides of the row of porta-potties, just to be safe."

The four of them hurried off around the concession stand, and two minutes later met up after covering both sides. Seth and Wilt both wore an expression of real concern, and Seth said, "What the hell could have happened? They both said they had to take a piss and would come right back."

"Something might have happened that caught their attention," Roger said, "and they lost track of time and the fact that you might be worried. Short attention spans and getting distracted happens frequently with people having many different conditions."

"I know, but these two are really responsible. The commute to school and back by themselves every day." They all paused looking at the crowd slowly passing in front of the concession stand and heading to the parking at the street.

Suddenly Jerrod raised his arm and pointed north where off the paved sidewalk a gravel trail circled a large grassy area and then headed toward a stand of trees. "Look, is that them? With those other three men?"

It was hard to see clearly in the modest moonlight, but Wilt said, "Where would those guys be going?"

Jerrod looked at him and replied, "There's a homeless camp on the north end of the park. It's a problem all over Portland nowadays."

"I think it's them," Seth added, "three of those guys seem to be pushing the other two along."

The group of people had just begun to approach the woods and Jerrod turned to Roger and said, "You and Seth go up the trail behind them. Wilt and I will go across the grass and then cut through the woods on that trail we used to use with the dogs. Come on, let's go."

With that Roger started jogging after the group, Seth right behind him, and Jerrod waved at Wilt to follow him across the damp grass. It only took two minutes for Jerrod and Wilt to reach the rough trail through the woods. "They're walking and we're jogging, so if we're lucky we'll come out of the woods ahead of them, and then Roger and Seth will be behind them and there won't be any escape."

That's exactly what happened, as Jerrod and Wilt came out of the woods and onto the gravel trail, stopping they were thirty feet in front of the group of five. Jerrod could see that Roger and Seth were about the same distance behind them. It was now evident that three men were manhandling Adrian and Jeremy up the trail toward the homeless camp. They were so intent on moving the boys along that they hadn't yet seen Jerrod and Wilt on the trail ahead of them.

Jerrod waited until they were closer, allowing Roger and Seth to close the distance behind the group before he shouted out, "Stop right there. What are you doing?"

Wilt was standing right beside him with fists clenched, and added, "Where do you think you're going with those boys?"

The group shuffled to a stop, the three men suddenly looking up in surprise and confusion. They immediately looked around and behind them, only to hear Seth say, "We've got you covered on this side too. Get out of the way and let those boys go."

The men were wearing old clothes and didn't look that well off, but they looked around as if to assess whether they could make a break for it in the woods.

"You won't get far in the woods, and both sides come out where you'll get caught. So, step away from the boys right now," Jerrod said loudly. Then he added, "Roger, call 911 now."

Suddenly the men backed away, and Adrian and Jeremy looked around in confusion, trying to figure out what was happening. They looked both flustered and anxious, but then recognized Seth and ran back toward him. Jerrod, Wilt and Roger closed in around the three men, holding each one so they couldn't make a run for it as Roger gave their location to the police. A minute later he looked at Jerrod and said, "There's two cops on patrol by the concession stand. They've been dispatched and should be here in a couple of minutes."

Seth had his arms around the boy's shoulders, giving them some comfort, but Wilt's anger was boiling over. "You fuckers know this is kidnapping, don't you? What did you think you were doing? You're going to prison for this."

One of the men began to try and explain that they'd just asked for some money and the boys seemed to want to help so they invited them to come to their camp.

"That's bullshit," Wilt said. "Neither one of them would do that, and we saw you guys hustling them along the trail. They weren't going with you willingly."

"Meaning you were going go get them to your camp and rob them, take their coats and whatever else and just dump them. Is that it?"

"No, no… we weren't gonna hurt them. We just asked for some money for food and stuff, and they seemed like they wanted to help."

Wilt was now in the guy's face. "Yeah, right. No harm intended, right? I should pound you into the dirt, but I won't have to because the police are here." He nodded at the beams of light from the powerful flashlights that the two police officers were carrying as they jogged past Seth, Adrian and Jeremy and up to the group.

The first officer said, "The report we got was two teenagers being abducted, is that right?"

Jerrod nodded and said, "Yes, we saw these three hustling the boys away. It looked like they were heading toward the homeless camp on the north end of the park, so we split up and cornered them here. They say they meant no harm, were just asking for money, but they were clearly forcing the boys up the trail to their camp."

The officer looked at the three men and said, "I received an emergency call and see six witnesses, so you're all under arrest for abduction." The policemen handcuffed the three men and told them to sit down on the trail while they took statements from the witnesses.

Roger looked at Jerrod and said, "Call Jackson and let him know we'll be a little while." Then he stepped up to the first officer and said, "I'm a psychologist and you need to understand that both boys have autism. They're high functioning, but they are autistic, and you can see how flustered they are. This has the potential to be very traumatizing to them. That man whose standing together with them is the brother of one of them, and they came to the Christmas ships together. Is it possible that you can take preliminary statements, or whatever, from us adults so we can get these boys home? We'll give you all of our contact info and can answer whatever questions you have tomorrow. Two of us live not far away here in Sellwood. Anxiety is a really problem for people with autism, and it's really important for them to be able to decompress after what happened to them."

The officer smiled and said, 'Yeah, we can do that. You probably know we can't clear the homeless camp, but they've been causing their share of trouble in the neighborhood the last few weeks. This is a little worse than usual. We'll just get the basic information and your contact info, and someone will call all of you in the morning. We'll book these three on attempted abduction charges and they'll be in jail tonight."

Fifteen minutes later the six of them rejoined David and Jackson, who with the twins, were in Jackson's SUV staying warm. They watched the two police officers march the three homeless men toward the squad cars at the other end of the parking lot.

Seth began to thank Roger and Jerrod for their help, clearly acting as if they were about to leave, when Roger stopped him. He looked at David and Jackson and asked, "Your house is closest. Can we all go to there for a talk?"

Both said, "of course," and he turned back to Seth and Wilt. "We all need to go work through this while this it's fresh. Adrian and Jeremy need it for many reasons. David and Jackson live less than ten blocks away. So, please, follow us to their house. We'll talk through what happened, make sure that the boys know none of it was their fault and make sure they're in a positive frame of mind before all of you head home. Okay?"

Wilt and Seth looked at each other and seemed to understand Roger's point, but then Wilt said, "There's a problem. We've got our two dogs in my SUV."

David waved him off. "That's not a problem. We had dogs until a few years ago, so it'll be just fine. Bring them along."

Seth glanced at Wilt who nodded at him, "If you're sure about the dogs, it makes sense to me." Seth added, "Okay, we'll follow you." A few minutes later three vehicles commenced a short caravan toward the Hobbit House.

David and Jackson arrived first and carried Imelda and Armando inside, leaving the front door open so a warm and welcoming light poured out onto the front porch. Roger made a point of walking over to Wilt's SUV and inviting Adrian and Jeremy to the house. He steered them up the walk along with Seth and into the house. Jerrod helped Wilt get the two Staffordshire bull terriers leashed up and out of the rear. They seemed curious and friendly, and he pointed Wilt at a large rhododendron bush and said, "They probably need to go."

When both dogs had peed, Wilt turned them up the walk toward Jerrod who was standing on the front porch. He said, "What you and Roger are doing tonight is above and beyond the call of duty."

Jerrod just smiled. "Look, I'm a doc and he's a therapist like your brother. We take care of people all the time. For years, from high school through college, we had two Golden Retrievers and were part of the therapy dog team at Doernbecher. David and Jackson were part of it, and in fact, made it possible. So, what we're doing isn't very far outside the norm for this household. The only abnormal part is the abduction thing."

He waved Wilt through the door and directed him into the kitchen where everyone had gathered. Jackson was coming through the back door as they came in and said, "I pulled two of the dog beds from the garage." He looked at Wilt and added, "they haven't been used for a few years, but they're clean and comfortable." He paused, and then added, "Now, you need to introduce us all to these very cool dogs."

Wilt looked at Adrian and Jeremy sitting silently at the kitchen table, still looking anxious and uncomfortable. The whole room felt a little tense. It was apparent everyone was on tenterhooks after what had happened at the park, and from being in a new house with all these new people. He saw the first opportunity to break the ice and said, "Adrian, would you please introduce everyone to your dogs?"

Adrian was momentarily startled, then softly smiled and when Wilt waved him over, he got up and walked over to the dogs, kneeling between them. He stroked their heads and then looked at everyone in the room and said, "This is Donner, and this is Blitzen. They're named after two of Santa's reindeer."

The dogs were clearly curious about the new surroundings and people, and while excited, obediently stayed next to Adrian, not pulling on the leashes that Wilt held. They, like some of the humans, were still sorting out being in a new place and waiting for the next thing to happen. All eyes were on Adrian, and Seth said to him, "Why don't you tell Imelda and Armando what you got Donner and Blitzen last year for Christmas."

Adrian's face broke into a broad smile, and he looked at the two twins and said, "I got them clip on antlers, so they'd look like real reindeer."

"Ohh-whee," Imelda squealed. "Real reindeer." She looked at Roger and Jerrod and asked, "Daddy, can we pet the dogs?"

Seth looked at them and added, "They're great with kids and people in general."

Roger nodded and looked at Imelda and replied, "Why don't you and Armando slowly come over here and let Adrian introduce you to Donner and Blitzen? Be nice and slow and gentle, okay?"

She nodded and Jackson and David released both twins' hands and they slowly walked over to where the dogs were expectantly waiting. "Close your hands into a fist, and put it out slowly so they can smell you," Wilt said softly. They did, and within seconds the smelling gave way to licking the backs of both twins hands, tails actively wagging. Imelda immediately broke into a giggle and Adrian said, "They like you guys a lot. They did that to Jeremy the first time he met them." He looked up at his boyfriend, still sitting at the kitchen table and looking uncomfortable, and said, "Jeremy, come over here and help me introduce these guys." Jeremy slowly stood up and did as Adrian had asked. By the time he reached the clutch of kids and dogs he was smiling, and knelt down next to them. "They really like being scratched under their chins," he said. "They'll usually roll right over onto their back if you do that."

With a little encouragement, that's what Imelda and Armando did, and that's exactly what Donner and Blitzen did too! David pronounced, "Now that's a study in love and affection!"

Jerrod had been watching closely and said, "You're right, Wilt, they like people and seem very well trained."

"Why don't you let them off the leash," David added, "and I'll bet after they check us all out, they'll settle down on the dog beds if we give them a treat."

As soon as the twins stopped stroking beneath the dog's chins, they got up and pranced around the room to check everyone out, just as Jerrod had predicted.

"Have Jerrod and Roger had time to tell you about Kaiser and Chloe?" He looked inquiringly at Wilt and Seth who shook their heads. "Jerrod did tell me they previously had dogs and were part of the therapy dog team at Doernbecher."

"Indeed, they were. That started the summer before their senior year in high school, when Jerrod was living with us, and we found Kaiser." He paused and looked at Jerrod and Roger, who were now sitting side by side at the table. "Or," he went on, "did Kaiser find us? Either way, the same summer those two got together Kaiser came into our lives. Then a year or so later along came Chloe, so there were many years that this was a two-dog house."

He paused, reflecting on the time and events, and Jackson dug around in a cupboard and found a box of Milk Bones. "We keep these because our next-door neighbor has a dog." He gave one each to Adrian and Jeremy and said, "I think Donner and Blitzen earned themselves a treat, don't you?" Both boys grinned and called the dogs over, made them sit by the dog beds. They broke the treats in half, and each gave the dogs a treat. Adrian looked at Jerrod and Roger and asked, "Can Imelda and Armando give them the other halves?"

"That's fine," Jerrod said, but hold their hands so they do it slowly. This is the first time they've done it." Adrian and Jeremy did just that, and Donner and Blitzen delicately took a treat from each small hand. The twins were spellbound, and Imelda looked at Jerrod and Roger and said in a pleading voice, "Daddy, can we get a dog?"

Jerrod said under his breath, "I've been waiting for this," and then looked at the two children. "I know you both want a dog, but we've got to wait until it's the right time. That's when David turned back to his guests and continued. "Okay, let me say this. It's now six thirty and I don't know what you planned for the rest of the evening, but we've agreed that we all need to talk about what happened back at the park. First, though, there's the question of dinner. Tonight, Jackson and I, actually it was mainly Jackson, cooked a special dinner for Imelda and Armando, a Filipino dish."

The twins had turned their attention to David, and he went on, "So, sweethearts, like usual, we made lots of food so there would be leftovers. What do you two think? Should we invite Adrian and Jeremy, and Wilt and Seth to eat dinner with us? Are you willing to share your leftovers with our new friends?"

Imelda and Armando looked at each other seriously and then nodded their heads, and Imelda added, "What do we feed the dogs?"

David laughed out loud and replied, "Well, we don't have any dog food, but I think we can figure something out." He looked at Jackson who replied. "We have hamburger we'll cook up and mix with some rice. It'll be healthier than most canned dog food."

David looked back at Wilt and Seth with a smile and said, "There we have it. Consider yourselves formally invited for dinner. Like I said, we have plenty of food, and I'm told we have the longest dining room table in Sellwood, so there will be plenty of room and this won't put us out at all."

Wilt and Seth glanced at each other and then at Adrian and Jeremy, who smiled approvingly. Seth glanced back at Wilt with a growing smile and said, "I think we all agree that would be wonderful. Thank you. You don't know how great what you're doing is for us, especially tonight."

The twins cheered gleefully and turned back to playing with Donner and Blitzen, along with Adrian and Jeremy. Then Seth added, "Jeremy, do you think you need to call your parents?"

Jeremy looked up from the dogs and said, "No, I'm staying overnight with Adrian and you guys. I can tell them what happened tomorrow."

"Okay, I'm just checking," Seth said. "Sounds like we have a plan."

Wilt asked David what he could do to help with dinner. "Almost all of it is under control, so I think the more important thing is that you and Seth, along with the boys and Jerrod and Roger get something to drink and go into the living room and have your talk. The twins can keep the dogs company right here in the kitchen, and Jackson and I will keep our eyes on all four of them."

Jerrod and Roger took care of getting everyone their beverage of choice and pointed the way to the living room. As Jerrod left the kitchen, he looked back to see Jackson pouring two glasses of wine for the cooks, and saw David give him a huge wink.

When they'd settled in the living room, Adrian and Jeremy sitting next to each other on the couch and holding hands, Roger didn't wait around for small talk. He looked at them and said, "What happened to you this evening could have turned out very badly, but it didn't. It's the kind of event that could leave you both hurt and afraid if you let it. But my impression, after knowing you for a few hours, is that you are both caring and intelligent and resilient young men, and you'll learn from what happened today instead of letting it hurt you."

He paused to let his words sink in, and then added, "What do you think about that? How do you feel about what happened to you?"

Adrian and Jeremy looked at each other but neither said anything. Seth leaned forward and said, "I think it's important that you do what Roger asked, tell us how you feel. How you felt."

Adrian looked at him and then to Wilt and finally to Roger and said, "It was scary. I was scared." He looked at Jeremy who nodded in agreement. "They asked us if we would help them… and we started talking to them. You know, like what do you need, what kind of help, why do you need help?"

"In other words," Roger said, "You heard them ask for help and you both wanted to know why they needed help and how you might help? Something like that?"

Adrian looked at Jeremy, who said, "Yeah. It's not like they started out hitting us up for money, like those guys you see at the street corners with signs begging for money."

"So, their approach was to ask for help. Is it fair to say that your response was to try and understand why they needed help and what kind of help? And maybe somehow, you'd be able to help? Kind of like that?"

"Well, yeah," Adrian said. "We're supposed to help people that need it, right?"

"That's exactly right, Adrian," Roger replied. "That's exactly what we're supposed to do as human beings who care about one another." He paused, then added, "What's hard, though, is sorting out what people's motivations really are. It's easy for some people to say one thing and mean something else, don't you think?"

Both boys were quiet for a minute, then Adrian said, "You mean they might have been asking for help instead of money, but what they really wanted was our money?"

"That's exactly right. It's hard to read what some people really mean." Roger paused again, and looked to Seth and Wilt who both had soft smiles on their faces that he took as encouragement about the approach he was taking.

"So, here's what I want to say to both of you boys, and then I'll ask Will and Seth to add anything they want. I think you're both upstanding and caring young men. It's because of those characteristics that you wanted to understand the need and help if you could. The problem is that lots of people don't operate that way. They know what they need or want and they're willing to take it, by force if necessary. Sometimes it's really hard to tell which is which. It seems to me that those guys at the park started out sounding pretty nice, and then turned hard when they started hustling you both toward the homeless camp. Is that the way you feel about it?"

Both boys nodded in agreement. "Yeah," Adrian said, "we were talking and then one of them said something like if we wanted to help, we should come to their campground."

"But then we said we had to get back to you guys," Jeremy added, "and that's when they wouldn't let us go and told us we said we'd help them, and started pushing us away from the people and up the trail."

"We kept trying to say no, we had to get back to you guys," Adrian added, his eyes dampening as he relived the event," but they kept telling us no, that we said we'd help them and now we had to." He turned to Jeremy. "Isn't that, right?"

"Yeah," he replied. "They made us feel like we'd lied to them or something and then they wouldn't let us go back to you guys."

"That's good to know," Roger said. "So, like I said before, it's hard to tell what other people's motivations are. What they're really after, and you both just got a very real lesson about it. But, let me ask you, do both of you know what skepticism is?"

"You mean not trusting," Adrian asked?

Roger grinned at them. "Not so much that, more like not accepting everything the way it looks, not taking things at face value. Being able to doubt until you know you can trust. Do you see the difference?"

Adrian and Jeremy both nodded. Roger continued, "Did you see what everyone did in the kitchen a little while ago when Wilt came in with Donner and Blitzen?"

Adrian's forehead wrinkled. "No, what?"

Roger smiled at him "Well, they're your dogs so you thought it was all perfectly normal. We're all dog people, you know that now. But two new dogs that we'd never met came into our house. We've only known you for a few hours and were just meeting the dogs. Can you guys tell me what happened?"

"Well, you were all sitting around the kitchen table," Adrian said.

"That's right. What else?"

Jeremy smiled. "Wilt had Donner and Blitzen on leashes."

"That's exactly right. Why was that?"

"Because we had to be skeptical until we built trust," Adrian asked. "Was that it?"

"That was exactly it. It was pretty easy, though, because we already knew you and Jeremy and Wilt and Seth, and it was pretty certain that since you're all good guys that your dogs would be too. That's very different from three homeless guys that walk up to you at the park, though, don't you think?"

Both boys were quiet and then Adrian nodded his head and said, "So what we did was dumb?"

"No, dumb is not the right word. You weren't cautious or skeptical enough. You're good guys and Seth and Wilt are good guys. But you can't assume everyone out there in the world is a good guy too. Those three guys took advantage of you, and we were all lucky that we were able to stop it before anything bad happened. You'll have to talk to the police tomorrow, and then you both can talk about it with Seth and Wilt, but the important thing now is to understand that you two did nothing wrong. You responded with caring, but the men that asked for help were trying to take advantage of you. So, that's the message. You two did nothing wrong and shouldn't think that you did. You just need to be more careful in the future. Does that make sense?"

Adrian and Jeremy looked at each other and Roger saw Adrian squeeze Jeremy's hand. Adrian looked back at Roger and said, "So, we've got to learn how to be skeptical?"

Roger laughed. "Yeah, I'd say so. But don't go so far that you don't trust anyone. That would be going overboard!"

He looked around at Seth, Wilt and Jerrod and said, "Do you gents want to add anything?"

They both shook their heads, but then Seth said, "I think the most important thing you learned is that even when you're trying to help someone, you've got to be cautious. That's especially true in new situations with new people. It's kind of like that old saying, 'trust but verify.' I think that's the most important lesson."

He looked at Wilt for confirmation, and his partner added, "I think Seth's right. I'd just repeat what Roger told you. Neither one of you did anything wrong. You can feel bad about what happened, but you can't blame yourselves."

Adrian and Jeremy nodded, and Roger added, "That pretty well sums it up." He looked at Jerrod who said, "I agree completely." Then he looked at everyone and asked, "Can you smell that? I think it's time for dinner."

Jerrod led their guests into the dining room, pointing out the bathroom just down the hall. When they'd all gathered in the kitchen, it was to learn that dinner was about to be served, but the view was enthralling. Two grandparents were cooking dinner, while the eight-year-old twins were still sitting next to and petting the now sleeping dogs.

David looked up from the stove and said, "See, I told you so. Give them some food and attention and they'll go right to sleep." Jerrod took the twins down to wash their hands while everyone else stepped up to help David and Jackson carry food to the table. Roger pulled out a bottle of red and white wine, making sure the twins and the boys had what they wanted to drink.

When they sat down, Wilt said, "I cook a fair amount, but I don't know this dish. Can you fill us in?" Jackson grinned and said, 'It's a salad with a creamy dressing, and pork adobo served with rice and a side of spinach sautéed in sesame oil." He looked over at Jerrod. "

"The first time I had pork adobo was on my first trip to the Philippines. It's a Filipino staple, and the main flavors are garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. Since Imelda and Armando are from the Philippines, we want to keep alive their traditions and culture to the extent we can." He looked at the twins and continued, "That's why this is a special dinner that Uncle Jackson and Uncle David made for them."

"That is very cool. Thanks again for inviting us." Wilt looked around the table with a huge smile, as the platters were passed around. The conversation was wide ranging, covering how all the couples had met, their education and employment, and then Seth commenting on Jerrod and Roger keeping the twins in touch with their culture.

"It's not just that, though that's important. We are still in touch with their mother, and they write her regularly and send photos and write Christmas cards too." He looked at them and asked, "When did you send your Christmas cards this year?"

"Right after Thanksgiving, to make sure it'd get there," Imelda said. "But we haven't gotten one back."

"Well, there's two more days till Christmas, so there's still time. It's a long trip across the Pacific Ocean."

Adrian volunteered how good the food was, and then said, "Can I ask a question? It's about the house."

David smiled and said, "Lots of our friends call it the Hobbit House because it's designed as a cottage and had the curved over roof line, but ask any question you'd like."

"What's the little statue of Santa Claus on the mantle in the living room?"

"Ahh, that! You're asking a very good question. It's actually a statue of Samichlaus. There are many different traditions about Saint Nicholas, who was the person that Santa Claus is based on. In Switzerland he's know as Samichlaus, in the Netherlands he's known as Sinterklaas. We came to known Samichlaus because Roger's parent's are Swiss." He then described the figurine; the symbolism of the donkey and the sack of gifts being carried. "Roger, did I leave anything out?"

Roger shook his head "No, but I'd just add that Samichlaus has always been important to my mom, and our figurine was always on our mantle when I was growing up, from December 5, which is the Feast of St. Nicholas, through the end of Christmas. I just thought it was another one of those family traditions. That was till the first Christmas that Jerrod and I were together, and I'd been having months of worsening symptoms, and no one could figure out what it was until, finally, on Christmas Eve we got a diagnosis that it was a form of epilepsy. David made the point to the whole family that it was no coincidence, that the diagnosis was a gift, and we should appreciate the gift we all received from Samichlaus."

The twins were paying close attention, and Adrian said, "Really? You have epilepsy?"

Roger smiled at him and replied, "I had epilepsy. I had a form that is transient, and most people grow out of by their twenties. It was difficult to diagnose, so it was an emotional roller coaster for all of us." Then he reached over and took Jerrod's hand. "It was hard for everyone, but that was when I knew Jerrod would be a great doctor because he kept asking all the doctors questions about the symptoms and how to get the correct diagnosis, and wouldn't stop till we had the right one."

Jerrod leaned over and kissed Roger on the cheek. "I was just doing what had to be done." He looked around the table hoping it wouldn't turn into a big deal, but Armando spoke up and said, "You were a doctor hero for Daddy, like you were for me, right?"

"I guess you could say that, but like I said, I was just doing what needed to be done. In your case, however, it was obvious that there was a wonderful little person who just needed his surgery so he could smile and laugh and be happy."

Armando grinned and then blushed as he covered the scar on his upper lip with his hand. Adrian had been watching the interchange since he'd asked the question and said, "Armando, you don't need to do that. You don't need to be embarrassed. Your dad's right. You're a wonderful person, and so happy, and when you smile it's really cool. Your scar will go away, and anyway, it shows how brave you are."

Armando's eyes widened, like hearing it from someone other than his family or his doctors meant it was true in a new and different way. He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows at Adrian, thanking him for the compliment.

Jackson stood up and said, "I could use some help clearing the table, and then we've got a cake for dessert."

"And then we've got to get on our way," Wilt added. "We've imposed on your evening enough already."

Half an hour later everyone was at the front of the house as Imelda and Armando said goodbye to Donner and Blitzen and watched them loaded into the back of the SUV. Then Wilt, Seth, Adrian and Jeremy said their goodbyes, and Wilt said they'd call tomorrow to compare notes after they talked to the police. They watched the SUV pull away from the curb and head down the street. As they all turned back into the house, Roger said, "It's almost bedtime for you two. We should be going home soon."

"But it's Christmas vacation. There's no school. Can't we stay?"

Jackson looked at him with a grin and raised eyebrows, and then said, "It's only nine o'clock. How about a little longer and we'll have a nightcap in the living room. I think we could do with some decompression too."

Roger looked at both of them and added, "Okay, we'll stay another hour, but you have to be ready to go when time is up. Okay?"

"Okay," Imelda said. Then she looked at her brother. "We have a question."

"Yes, sweetheart, what's that?"

"When can we get a dog?"

Roger shot Jerrod a quick glance and then said, "You know we all love dogs, and we've had two wonderful dogs. We just have to figure out what the best time is. Okay?"

Jerrod had stepped up next to him and whispered, "Nice job, selle. But don't think they're going to forget you just promised them a dog."

David pulled out the box of Legos as Jackson got everyone a nightcap. When they'd settled down the major question was whether the twins would erect buildings with the Legos or try to create monsters. Buildings won out because apparently the most fun was in knocking them down after they'd been built, and the process could start all over again.

When it was evident the twins were well occupied, Jerrod squeezed Roger's hand and said, "I want you to know that little therapy session you did for Adrian and Jeremy tonight was totally amazing. I think it'll be awhile before they realize how important it was that you reframed everything that happened to them in such a positive way and stressed it wasn't their fault."

Roger smiled and flushed. "Well, like you said earlier about yourself, I was just doing what needed to be done. The worst thing I could think of was them leaving and carrying all that anxiety and concern with them, and then internalizing it in a negative way. That would have been bad."

"Very true, but I'm complementing you on the sensitive therapy you did." He looked at David and Jackson. "Did you hear any of it?"

"Just a bit now and then. Remember, we were cooking dinner and watching the dogs and those two. However, Wilt said a few things to me while we were cleaning up after dinner. It sounded pretty impressive."

Roger smiled, a little embarrassed, and then pointed at David and Jackson. "I learned by sitting at the feet of masters. I may have a natural inclination for doing this work, but it was the two of you who didn't just show me how to do it, but demonstrated just how impactful it is when done the right way."

"Well, like David, I only heard a little bit of it, but will take Jerrod's word about the job you did. I just want to say that the fact you did it was amazing. It would have been easy to let them all go home and sort it out for themselves. That said, how about a little humor or comic relief to end the evening?"

Jackson looked around to make sure the twins were deeply occupied and was receiving smiles from David, Jerrod and Roger so he went on in a hushed tone. "I was reading today that there appears to be a massive misconception about the reindeer that pull Santa's sleigh… including Rudolf."

A level of confusion appeared on the faces of Jackson's audience.

"So, here's the deal," Jackson continued in a conspiratorial tone, "and it matters because we had two of the namesakes in our house tonight, Donner and Blitzen. So, the looming furor is about whether the reindeer are male or female. And that is because both male and female reindeer have antlers, but male reindeer lose their antlers after they rut in the fall. So, there is a group of scientists arguing that Rudolf and Donner and Blitzen and the rest, are actually female because they still have antlers at the end of the year." He grinned conspiratorially, taking great delight in dropping a bomb in the room. "What'a ya think about that?"

He receive a uniform response that included disbelief and scandal. He grinned, "Well, it makes the case for Samichlaus using a donkey. They don't have the antler problem." Jackson started giggling, leaning back in his chair.

"So, Jackson, where is this going? For some reason I'm not buying the story," Jerrod said.

"Well," Jackson continued, "we're talking about biology, right? And you're a doctor. Who's to know the subject better. If male reindeer drop their antlers in the fall and the deer pulling Santa's sleigh still have antlers in the winter, then they have to be female. Wouldn't you agree?"

Jerrod gave him the side eye and looked at Roger who only shrugged his shoulders. Jerrod then said, "Like I said, this seems pretty strange, and besides where the humor in it. We were having a humorous moment to lighten the evening."

"God, Jerrod, you're becoming less and less fun as you get older. This is a humorous moment; you just have to be willing to go along for the ride." He paused, then said, 'ride… you get it, don't you? Like sleigh ride."

Jerrod grinned and rolled his eyes and replied, "Alright, go on. This I've got to hear."

The conspiratorial grin was back on Jackson's face. "So, we all understand it doesn't seem right that the reindeer pulling the sleigh are female, right? That takes a lot of strength. They'd have to be male. Most female reindeer wouldn't be up to the task, even if they do have antlers. So, how is this little dilemma resolved?"

"Why did I know this would end up as a puzzle," David asked rhetorically. Jackson smiled at him demurely, then looked inquiringly at Jerrod and Roger. Roger shrugged his shoulders again, and Jerrod said, "I give."

Jackson couldn't help himself and started laughing. "It's because they're eunuchs. Castrated male reindeer don't lose their antlers because they don't rut!"

The laughter rang out for twenty seconds and the twins looked over to see what the noise was about, then turned back to their Legos. "This is not for real, is it?" Jerrod looked like he thought Jackson was making it up.

"Well, it was an article I read about two different groups of scientists arguing about how Santa's reindeer would have antlers in December. So, if male reindeer lose their antlers after they rut, then it makes sense, doesn't it?"

"Well, I have to say," Roger added, finally saying something, "it raises an interesting question and is food for thought. But I think we should not be sharing that research with those two for a few years yet. Besides, can you imagine how the right-wing conservative media would react in outrage to the possibility that the reindeer were eunuchs? We'd be hearing about genital mutilation and the need to imprison veterinarians who dared to alter these symbols of Christmas."

"Good point about keeping it from the twins," David said, "but maybe if the right-wing media had this to go to work on, they'd lighten up on LGBTQ people and marriage equality."

"I agree completely," Roger responded. "Now, all that said, on a lighter note, would you like to hear about a therapy session that I had today?"He could see the interest flash in everyone's eyes. "No personal details, just what the session was about."

"Well, yeah," Jackson said. "Why are you taking so long. Some more comic relief after this evening's events would be great."

"Okay. So, as you know, quite a few of my clients are gay, and a lot of them are middle age or older, and many of them are wrestling with the regret of growing up in a different time with a restrictive family, the negative culture… all that stuff. That means a lot of them have serious doubts about their self worth and self image. That's the case with this client and today's therapy session. He's a successful businessman, but has serious self esteem and image problems, and one part of that has to do with the size of his penis." He glanced over to see if the twins were listening, but they were busy erecting yet another Lego tower.

"Geez," Jackson said, "not that. It's still an 'issue' for people."

David laughed. "Listen lover boy, just because you're well endowed doesn't mean everyone else is."

Jackson glared at him, and Roger went on, "So, we talked about it, that far too much emphasis is placed on size, particularly on large or extra-large size, that most people fall in a normal range, all of that."

"And," Jerrod asked?

"And he wasn't buying it. Like somewhere along the line, he'd probably been embarrassed as a kid by some loudmouth telling him that he had a small penis, and he's still carrying that emotional baggage with him as an adult."

"So, what did you do?"

"Well, first I told him about a 2015 British study of over 15,000 men that demonstrated that the average penis length is 5.16 inches, and another British study that showed men are far more hung up about penis size than women are."

"And?" It was David asking this time.

"And, like most guys with self-image issues, he mainly ignored the numbers. And, before you ask, I didn't ask him how long his cock is or ask him to pull it out so I could measure it."

That brought a round of chuckles, and after a sip of wine, Roger went on. "What I thought would be most helpful for him, actually was another study, and this is where the humor comes in. Are you ready?"

The twins were still erecting buildings, and the three men nodded, so Roger went on, "There was a very good 2014 study at a sex lab at UCLA about which I'd remembered the core data but had forgotten some of the interesting elements of the research. So, I pulled it out to show him, and this was a study with women, but it is essentially transferable to men, I think. Anyway, for the study the researchers created thirty-three different 3D-printed models of penises in a variety of shapes and sizes."

Roger paused for effect, and the grins broke out on all three faces. "Go on," Jackson said with a devious expression on his face, "this sounds pretty wild."

"Well, yeah, it is, because the results in terms of what matters in love making and how that relates to penis size is actually pretty significant." Roger paused for effect.

"Are you going to tell us about the 33 different penis models?" Jackson grinned again. "You don't have to do all these pauses. Just tell us."

"I thought you didn't have any hangups about penis size," Jerrod quipped.

"I don't, but I am curious about the different shapes and sizes part. Can you imagine being in a room with thirty-three different penises?"

"Actually, thirty-three models, but back to the study," Roger continued. "It aimed to see if there was any difference between what the subjects chose for a one-night stand or for a long-term relationship. Here's where it gets interesting. For a one-night stand the subjects chose a larger girth, but for a long-term relationship the penis they chose was the same length as for a one-night stand."

There was momentary quiet, and then Jerrod asked, "So where's the humor in that. People choose differently under different circumstances."

"Oh, sorry," Roger said, his face the picture of innocence, "I haven't gotten to the humorous part yet."

"You fucker! Get on with the story," Jackson wheezed.

Roger grinned and then said, "Okay, sorry for stringing you along. All of these things, though, are important parts of the study. Here's the hook. When the subjects were asked to choose the shape and size penis that they preferred for either of the two types of relationships, they were asked to select their 'dick of choice,' which the researchers then referred to in the study as the subject's DOC."

Jackson sputtered some of the wine he'd been in the process of sipping. "What! They actually called it dick of choice?"

"Yes," Roger said with a smirk. "That became a research term. Dick of choice or DOC. I thought you'd find it interesting, if not humorous."

"Kinky researchers," Jackson said, "that's all I can say."

"So, what was the final result of the research," David asked?

"Basically, it came down to two things. First, that size only matters in a relative way, and that's compared to body size. Men who are taller with bigger bodies are expected to have correspondingly larger penises, and the same for smaller men. The second, and most important thing is one we all already know, and that's that the key to great sex has nothing to do with size, but everything to do with attitude."

David nodded sagely and said, "That makes perfect sense to me. The challenge, like with your client, will be getting them to accept the simple reality of it all, especially after a life full of events that make them feel small."

Jerrod finished his glass of wine and said, "That was a very interesting and humorous, but you know what selle? It's been a long day and we need to get these kids home and to bed." He looked at David and Jackson and added, "Thanks for your help at the park this evening. If you hadn't been there to take care of the twins it might have ended very differently. And then for topping it off by asking everyone to stay for dinner."

Both older men demurred, and then David said, "So, am I correct that the plan is we're having Christmas dinner here?"

"Sure is," Roger responded. "Mom is looking forward to cooking whatever dish you assigned her, and we'll bring the green beans with almonds."

"It's too bad your parents can't be with us," David said to Jerrod.

"I know, but they wanted to go on that Mediterranean cruise and spend Christmas in Venice. Still, they'll be here next month for a week."

He looked over at the twins and said, "It's time for you two to pack up the Legos so we can go home." Roger went over and helped them load the pieces into the box.

It was less than a five-minute drive across Sellwood to Jerrod and Roger's house, and once back in a familiar environment it didn't take long for the events and length of the day to catch up to the twins. Twenty minutes later they were washed up and being tucked into bed. As they walked down the hall after turning out the lights in the twin's bedrooms, Jerrod asked, "One more nightcap? We don't work tomorrow."

"I might be talked into it, liebling. What are you offering?"

"Well, there's some very nice Courvoisier brandy or we have that bottle of Mandarin Napoleon brandy we were given by the Gibson's. They said it has a totally delightful and exotic flavor."

"Was that exotic or erotic,' Roger asked with a devious smile as he turned to pull his husband into a passionate kiss.

"Whew!" Jerrod had to come up for air, and then said, "I'm pretty sure they told us it was exotic, but after that I have to say I'm going with erotic. I say we try the Mandarin and confirm it's erotic. What'ya say?"

"I say I totally love you, so yes. I'll turn on the gas fireplace for some atmosphere. How's that?"

"I'll be with you in a couple of minutes."

Roger turned on the gas and pushed the button for the igniter and the flames came up. He turned off all but a light on an end table and settled down on the sofa in front of the fireplace. When he heard the soft sound of footsteps on the carpet, he looked up to see Jerrod approaching with two large brandy snifters and a wide smile.

"My lover in front of the fireplace. What a sight."

"I could say the same about you approaching with intoxicants in your hand."

Jerrod laughed softly. "You could indeed. The only thing better would be if we were both naked, don't you think?"

"Yeah, that's true. But no need to rush. I'm pretty sure we'll be naked quite soon after we finish these." He held up the snifter Jerrod had handed him. "Cheers, and I love you."

"Likewise." Jerrod settled down next to him, pulling Roger close. "What a day, huh?"

"Sure was, as in 'who'd have thought.' But as Shakespeare said, 'all's well that ends well,' and we're lucky it all ended well."

They settled into the silence fostered by their love and enlivened by the warm light and heat coming from the fireplace.They sipped from their snifters, appreciating the aroma of mandarin and exotic spices, leaning against each other and reveling in each other's proximity.

"When are we going to get a dog?"

"What do you mean," Roger asked?

"Well, I pretty much read it as you told the twins we just had to decide when, so as far as they're concerned you promised them a dog."

"Well, you know…"

"Yeah, I do. I think we're pretty much there now. Our lives are pretty much under control and reasonably regular. Don't you think we could handle a dog?"

"If the dog was as stable and dependable as Kaiser or Chloe, then yes," Roger replied.

"That'll be the hard part." Jerrod paused, and then added, "but there's no way I would deny Imelda and Armando the important experiences and emotions that those two dogs brought into to our lives."

"I agree completely." Now it was Roger's turn to pause, and then he held up his brandy snifter and said, "Here's to the two best dogs ever and all the wonderful things they taught us and brought into our lives."

"Into our lives, like they did into the lives of Michael and Nate and Matt and Jessica, and Sean and all the patients at the hospital?"

"That too. We're all the better not just for the dogs, but for all those people as well."

Jerrod finished his drink and Roger followed suit, and they both put their snifters on the coffee table. Roger leaned back against his husband, pulling him closer, wrapping an arm around Jerrod's shoulder and pulling him into a passionate kiss. The kiss tasted of Jerrod, that particular flavor heightened with a touch of muskiness, and now further enhanced by the flavor of mandarin and spices.

Roger felt Jerrod respond instinctively, and he felt his shirt being lifted out of his pants and then warm hands run up his back and over his shoulders. He leaned his weight onto Jerrod, forcing him back so that he could push him down against the back of the sofa. His hand pulled Jerrod's shirt free and ran across his stomach, pausing to toy with his treasure trail and then slide further up to tweak his nipples.

Jerrod groaned and Roger kept kissing him as he felt his breath quicken. He brought his hand back down to Jerrod's stomach, resting it there while his fingers softly danced on the silky skin.

"You know you were my hero tonight, don't you?"

"What'a ya mean," Jerrod said softly?

"I mean that whole thing in the park with Adrian and Jeremy. You knew just what to do. You snapped right into action. You told us all what to do. You saw what was happening and made all the right calls about what to do, and we were able to stop it before it got bad, and we got the perpetrators arrested."

"Selle, like I told everyone earlier, I was just doing what needed to be done."

"You say that all the time about all kinds of things. I'm just making sure you understand that I see and appreciate that you're competent in many areas of life. You totally rocked tonight."

"Like I said, I did what needed to be done."

"Okay, I'm not going to argue with you about your choice of words or unwillingness to accept a compliment."

"What? I can accept compliments. I just don't think you should make more of… what are you doing?"

Roger giggled. "I'm opening your fly. It's something you should be familiar with by now. It begins with popping the button above the zipper… like this… and then I slide the zipper down like this… and lay back the top of your jeans like this… and guess what? I can now easily slide my hand into your briefs… like this."

"I know how the mechanics work, selle, and I like it. Can I have another kiss now. You know, less talking, more kissing?"

"I think we can arrange that," Roger said as he slid his hand further into Jerrod's briefs, over his pubes and down the length of his shaft. With his other arm he pulled Jerrod close for another kiss, his tongue reaching deep into Jerrod's mouth, dueling with his tongue and making him gasp for breath.

Jerrod groaned as his cock hardened under Roger's hand. "That feels so good."

Roger reached further, wrapping his hand around the now hardened cock, starting to stroke within the limited confines of Jerrod's briefs.

"Geez, selle. If you keep this up, I'm going to cum in my shorts."

"Oh, no you won't. I'll make sure of that. It's almost Christmas and we've got a few days off and we're going to take our time and enjoy our time together and one part of that is that tonight you're not going to cum in your shorts. You're going to cum inside me."

"Say that again and I may cum in my shorts," Jerrod wheezed.

Roger chuckled, and then said in sexiest voice he could muster, "You know, of course, that when I was telling you all earlier about the penis size studies, it wasn't all humor."


"No. Now I want to make sure you understand that this," and here he squeezed Jerrod's now rigid cock, and then spread the leaking precum around the head with his middle finger, "this is my dick of choice. It always has been, and it always will be."

"Selle, please…" was all Jerrod was able to gasp out.

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