The two weeks following the Thanksgiving trip to Miami were hectic for CJ. The school semester was close to an end, and schoolwork was even more of a priority than it usually was. Between academics, the dojo, and rugby practice, free time was rare. Nonetheless, the boy asked to be excused from afternoon classes on Friday the thirteenth. He wore a coat and tie to school that day, earning him multiple wolf whistles from his friends, followed by handshakes, hugs, and congratulatory comments when they were told why he was dressed up. When his dads―one in his Dress Blues, the other one in a beautiful charcoal suit―drove up to Walls to pick him up at lunch time, the three of them had to stand together so a few of the kid’s friends could snap pictures of them.
“Nervous, Papa?” asked CJ, leaning forward and gently shaking Brett’s shoulder. “Are you ready for this?”
“The answer’s yes to both questions.” Brett covered the boy’s hand resting on his shoulder with his own. “In the immortal words of Yogi Berra: it ain’t over 'til it’s over. But I’ve been ready for a long time. Now sit back and buckle up. We don’t need you flying through the windshield if we get into an accident.”
César chuckled, looking over from the driver’s seat at his husband and son. “Give the kid a break. It’s a big day for him too. And stop being so protective. You’re acting like a new father!”
“Yeah, Papa. Stop being so protective.” CJ reclined into the soft leather of the big Escalade and fastened his seat belt. “What are you gonna do when we get back home from Australia, I get my license, and start driving on my own.”
“That ain’t going to happen anytime soon. First you need to pass the written exam and get your learner’s permit. Then you have to practice a million hours before they give you the real one.”
CJ and César both broke into loud laughter. “A million hours, Papa?”
“Something like that,” replied a grinning Brett.
• • •
“Congratulations, mate.” JP’s hearty slap to the back almost made Brett stumble. “Welcome to your baby shower.”
“Baby, my ass. CJ’s only a couple inches shorter than me. One good thing about adopting a teenager, though: no stinky diapers to change.”
“But you miss out on the piss spraying, buddy.” Tom vigorously shook his friend’s hand. “The first few times I changed Bradley, I forgot to cover his gigantic penis. As soon as it hit the air, he started peeing.”
“Gigantic penis? Not if he took after his father.”
“Fuck you, Jarhead. It’s a well-known fact Irish men are better endowed than others.”
The banner hanging on the wall behind their tables read: IT’S A BOY. Each chair had baby-blue or white balloons tied to it, and there was a small wicker basket full of baby supplies in front of the spot Brett was steered towards. He took the bottle laying on top. Removing the cap, he brought the nipple close to his nose, and smiled.
“I don’t think this is meant for my new baby. Smells too much like an adult beverage.”
“Come on, Papa. Maybe you should let me have some of that. It’s cold outside and I’ve been freezing my ass off. Plus it might help me sleep better.”
“Stop being such a pussy, Bubba.” Doc reached into the pocket of his coat hanging on the back of his chair, pulled out an envelope and handed it to CJ. “It ain’t that cold.”
“It was in the twenties this morning, Uncle Matt. That’s plenty cold in my book. What’s this?”
“A copy of the letter your school principal sent me. Chipper will be starting at Walls in January. Mrs. Edwards tells me your recommendation was one of the main reasons for his acceptance.”
“Yay! I’m gonna love having him in DC. Can’t wait to tell Harley and Thiago.”
“Welcome to fatherhood, Doc.” Tom’s subdued smile spoke of how he missed his kids already. “It’s gonna be interesting having so many teen boys running around. Wish my kids could be here full time too.”
• • •
“Okay. That’s enough. Give it to me.” César extended his hand and gently tugged the piece of paper from Brett’s hand. “If you fall asleep with it, it’ll get wrinkled.”
“I just can’t believe it, babe.” Brett looked at his husband with the same loopy smile he’d had most of the day. “CJ’s really my son.”
“This is just a legal document, Jarhead. CJ’s been your son for longer than the past eight hours.”
“But now it’s official. At some point tonight, when we were at Rogo’s, it started to sink in. The adoption was final. I’m a father.”
Saturday, 14 December 2013
“Did you get to talk to your brother this morning?” Brett sat at the kitchen counter watching CJ prepare lunch.
“Yeah. I did. I’m a little worried about him, Papa.”
“Why what’s going on?”
“Well, at first he sounded confused. I told him about you adopting me. He said he didn’t want me to stop being his brother.”
“How did that come up?” asked César from the bottom of the stairs. “I thought you said you weren’t going to make a big deal about it.”
“I didn’t, Dad. He asked me about it.” CJ poured the defrosted lentil soup into a pot resting on the stove, before going back to assembling the sourdough bread, mozzarella, and tomato sandwiches. “His dad was hungover this morning, kept complaining about his head hurting. Ritchie said Colonel Dickhead has been getting drunk a lot lately. Anyway, his father mentioned at least I wouldn’t be a headache anymore, since I’d been adopted by the other fag.”
Brett looked at César with a confused expression. “How the hell did he know about it?”
“Lourdes was mailed copies of the documentation, and the date it would be finalized, to give her a chance to file an objection. What an asshole. I feel bad for your brother, but I’m so glad you’re not living with him anymore.” César stirred the soup a bit himself, before turning down the flame on the burner. “Let it simmer, and hold off on grilling those sandwiches. I’m gonna take a quick shower. Oh, and we’re hitting the gym tomorrow. Those thirty minutes on the treadmill left me sucking wind and reminded me I haven’t been working out enough.”
“So did you settle your brother down?” asked Brett once César had run back upstairs. “Is his reaction to me adopting you why you’re worried about him?”
“Yeah. I feel bad. I don’t want him to think I don’t love him. And I know Mom or his dad won’t say anything good if he asks them.”
“I think I know who can help you out there.”
“Your grandmother. Call Aba after lunch. Tell her what’s going on. Ask her to explain to Ritchie that you’ll always be his brother no matter what.”
Sunday, 15 December 2013
With the temperature creeping upwards a few degrees―the weather forecast called for a high around fifty―CJ decided to be brave, and wore shorts as he jogged towards the gym with his dads. Once inside the field house, he blew into his hands to warm them up, unzipped his hoodie, and stashed it inside the locker his fathers were using. Underneath the sweatshirt, he had worn a bright yellow, sleeveless, Harley-Davidson t-shirt bearing an impressionistic representation of the brand’s bar-and-shield logo, and a long sleeved thermal shirt as a first layer.
“Hey, dads. How come Uncles Dragon and King weren’t there last night?” They had warmed up together and were now in the free weights section of the gym.
Brett replaced the dumbbell he was doing curls with on the rack, and pulled up the hem of his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face. “Dragon called to say he wasn’t feeling well. He said King wanted to talk to us though. He’s planning on stopping by our place after lunch.”
“What’s going on with the two of them? I haven’t seen either one in ages. I mean, I know Uncle King was in London visiting his family for a while. But still…”
“I think you need to ask Rash for the details when he comes over. Not my place to tell all of what happened. But they had a fight while they were in Montreal, and things aren’t back to normal yet.”
“Did it have anything to do with sex and other guys?”
“Like I said, CJ. It’s not my place to tell. Ask Rashid, I’m sure he’ll answer any questions you have.”
• • •
“Hi, Uncle Rash.” CJ held the door open with one hand, fisting the other one to bump with the wiry ex-boxer’s. “Are you alone? Uncle Dragon still not feeling well?”
“Hey, CJ. Yeah, all alone. Devon’s okay. I’m sure you’ll see him before you leave next weekend.”
“Come on in, Rashid.” César waved from where he was sitting on the couch; Brett’s head rested on his lap while they watched the Redskins game against the Falcons. “I’d get up, but I’m afraid the marine would tackle me if I did.”
“Damn right. I’m too comfortable to move.” Brett wiggled in place, adjusting his position slightly. “Hey, Rash. Sit your ass down, bud.”
“Hi, guys. Sorry Devon and I decided to skip last night. We didn’t want to dampen the mood.”
“What do you mean?” asked CJ.
“I guess I need to bring you up to date, mate.” Rashid glanced at Brett and César for a moment before continuing. “Devon and I got into a pretty big fight in Montreal because of drugs and sex. Maybe I was wrong in going along with what we’d been doing, but I believed in moderation it was okay. My boyfriend, the bloody fool, overdid the drugs. Some things happened while we were having sex with other guys, which left me upset, and questioning how we’ve been carrying on for the past year or so.”
“Is that why you flew to England to see your family?” CJ had taken a seat next to Brett and snuggled up to him when the man had taken his legs off the couch. “Are the two of you still fighting?”
“Yes and no. I decided I needed some time to think about the relationship. Going to visit the family seemed like a good idea. It worked, and I was able to make some decisions.”
“So are you and Uncle Dragon okay now?”
“Not really.” Rashid paused, sighed, and shook his head. “We’re not arguing anymore. But that’s because while I was in London, I interviewed for a job there. They made me an offer, and this past week I accepted it.” The man looked at his hands, an expression of defeat on his face. “I’m leaving Washington and moving to London before the end of the year.”
Monday, 16 December 2013
“Hi, Uncle Tom. Come in.” CJ reached upwards, to help span the half-foot difference in height, when Detective Kennedy leaned down to give him a hug. “What are you doing here?”
“We invited him for dinner,” yelled Brett from the kitchen.
“Yup. John Paul’s busy at the embassy with some function, so I’m single for the next couple of hours.” The tall man removed his jacket, hung it on the coat rack by the door, and strolled towards the kitchen. Loosening his tie, he rolled up his shirt sleeves along the way. “I’m not about to pass an invitation for a home cooked meal. You know I’m not that good in the kitchen.”
“Neither is Papa, but I’m off the cooking roster this week. Gotta study for exams.”
“Get yourself a beer, Tom.” Brett pointed towards the refrigerator with the blade of the long knife in his hand. “And, you,” he said, smirking at CJ. “You keep criticizing my cooking, you’ll end up on bread and water rations.”
“Oh, wow, a gourmet meal!” CJ chuckled and sat back at the kitchen counter where he had an open book and a binder filled with class notes.
“Asshole,” grumbled his father. “César should be here soon. He texted ten minutes ago to tell me he was leaving the office. How are the kids, Tom?”
“They’re good. Spoke with them last night.” The cop’s face seemed to light up as soon as his children were mentioned. “Brad had a date with some new girl last Friday night. He’s in love again. Paddy just grumbled about how unfair it was they're not going to Australia.”
CJ looked up from his notes, grinning. “That may be my fault. I’ve been kidding them a lot about going surfing while they have to deal with snow.”
“I know. They told me. Thanks for making my life easier.” Tom’s sarcasm made CJ snicker until the cop swatted the back of the boy’s head. “I swore to them I’d spank you if you kept it up.”
“Geez! Police brutality right in my own house.”
“Paddy’s also jealous of you because of your school.” Tom’s expression became wistful. “He mentioned how lucky Chipper was to be moving down to go there. And how he wished he could do the same.”
“That would be so cool. I wish he and Brad could move to Washington.”
“You and me both, buddy. Hey, changing topics, knowing how anal César can get: are you guys already packed for the trip?”
“What’s to pack? Right, papa?” CJ looked at Tom and winked. “Sneakers, shorts, a pair of jeans and a handful of t-shirts.”
“Ignore the kid, Tom. We’re working on it. We have a garment bag all ready with one good set of clothing for each of us. For the rest, CJ may not be too far off the mark with his comment. Although we’re forcing him to take some polo shirts in case a T’s not enough.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is, Papa. They have stores down under, you know?”
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
CJ glanced away from the computer screen towards the entrance to his room. César stood at the doorway, as his son yawned and stretched his arms upwards. “What’s up, Dad?”
“Ready for a break? You’ve been at it for a long time.”
“Yeah. I’m done studying anyway. I was checking out things to do in Australia. Too bad we’re not going up to the Great Barrier Reef. I’d love to go scuba diving there.”
“Maybe next trip. Come on down to the kitchen? Papa and I want to go over a couple of things with you.”
“Okay. What’s going on?” CJ picked up his phone from the desk, slipped it into his pocket, and followed his father downstairs, taking the steps two at a time.
“Couple of things like I said. We’re working on our year end charitable contributions and want some input from you.”
“Yes. Really.” Brett sat at the kitchen counter swirling a snifter with an amber colored liquid in it, a bottle of Louis Royer Force 53 stood next to the laptop open in front of him. “We’ve told you before you’re part of the team.”
“What are you drinking? Can I have a little?”
“Sure. It’s Cognac. Get a glass from the bar.”
“Great, you’re gonna get our son drunk. He has a test in school tomorrow, you know?” complained César.
CJ rolled his eyes hearing his dad’s comment. “Like a few sips of the stuff are going to stop me from getting an A in Social Studies. Get real, Dad.”
“Don’t get cocky, boy.” Brett poured a finger of the liquor for CJ and watched as he instinctively brought the crystal snifter close to his face and inhaled the aroma.
“Smells like vanilla and cigars.” CJ took a sip, closed his eyes and smiled. “That’s good. It’s really warm going down.”
“Great! Just what we needed. Now he’s gonna start on the hard stuff,” grumbled César, shaking his head, reaching for his own drink. “Speaking of going down, your cousin Randy and Tyler are coming to Washington to spend New Year’s Eve. They’re staying at the house.”
“Fuck! Too bad I’m gonna miss them. What does their being here have to do with going down?”
“They’re going to work on some ideas for re-doing the basement while they’re here. When we bought the house and remodeled, it was just the two of us. We went for the big open spaces everywhere.” César sipped his drink, barely wetting his lips before picking up his reading glasses. “With you living here, and having friends stay over all the time, it might be better to have two or three smaller bedrooms for guests. If we can ever convince Abuelo and Abuela to come spend time with us, it would mean Harley & Thiago would lose their room.”
“Good of you to bring up Thiago, babe. CJ, we need his home address, his parents’ names, and the name of his brother who killed himself.”
“Ummm. I don’t know his parents' first names. I always call them Mr. & Mrs. B. I know his brother’s. And his address is in my phone. You want me to text him and ask him for the names? How come you need this stuff?”
“Yes, please. We’d like to make a contribution to the Trevor Project in memory of his brother. Papa and I like your friend a lot. We thought it would be a nice gesture, and it’s a great organization.”
Friday, 20 December 2013
“So all As except for the B in biology?” asked César as he maneuvered the large vehicle into a spot a few doors down from Rogo’s.
“Yeah, Dad. I’m pretty sure of it. Sorry about missing that one.”
Brett slammed the door of the car shut and grabbed CJ by the shoulders when the boy had done the same. “Not sure what the fuck you’re apologizing for, dude. Sounds to me like a great report card will be waiting when we get home next year.”
“Next year!” CJ chuckled. “That sounds funny.”
“Yep. It definitely does,” said César, looking back over his shoulder. He was a few steps ahead of them, reaching to pull the door open. “And tonight is our last time at Rogo’s until next year.”
“CJ!” Danno’s voice boomed as soon as the boy walked through the door, making several patrons turn to see who the man was calling out to.
“Hi, Uncle Danno. You’re in a good mood.”
“Hell yeah. It’s Friday, the weather’s been nice, business is booming, and Adriano’s working tonight. I get to goof off and hang out with my favorite nephew.”
“How many nephews have you got now, Wolf?” asked Brett giving the man a bro hug.
“Lost count. They keep multiplying like Catholic rabbits. You guys, Adriano, Tom, and now Doc with Chipper. I’m the only one without kids at home. This place is bound to resemble a soda fountain soon.” The man’s loud laughter once again made customers glance his way. “Hey, come next door to my place for a few minutes. There’s a new car I want you to see.”
• • •
“SURPRISE!” The loud greeting reverberated through the cavernous warehouse housing Danno’s living space and his collection of American muscle cars. The two dozen or so guests quickly surrounded the startled, grinning boy. CJ was kissed, hugged, and patted on the head or back by each of them. He kept shaking his head in disbelief, his gaze eventually settling on Thiago.
“You, jerk! I can’t believe you. I just saw you an hour ago at practice. What was all that wishing me a good trip and stuff?”
“Good acting on my part?” The fellow martial arts practitioner replied, extending his fist to bump after taking a bow.
“And Harley! How the heck where you able to keep this quiet? Or were you kept in the dark too?”
“Nah, bruh. I knew about it. Cap threatened to cut my dick off if I said anything! Ooops.” Harley looked at the women standing near him and quickly apologized. “Sorry, Ms. Edwards. Sorry, Autumn. Sorry, Helen.”
CJ turned around to look at his fathers and Danno while shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought we were having a quiet night since we fly out tomorrow?”
“Dude, our flight doesn’t leave until five tomorrow night,” replied a smiling Brett, mussing up CJ’s hair.
“This is a big one, buddy,” added César. “We couldn’t ignore your sweet sixteen. We’ll go out for dinner on the actual day of your birthday.”
“You lied to me, Uncle Danno. You said you had a new car in here you wanted to show me. Stinker!”
“But I do have a new one to show you. Finish saying hello to your guests. Grab something to eat and drink. We’ll get to the car later.”
• • •
“Hi, Uncle Matt. You ready for Chipper to get here?”
“As ready as I’m gonna be. Kinda funny how I spent last New Year’s Eve with the father, and this time around I get to welcome in twenty fourteen with the son.” The bitter-sweet expression on the man’s face was hard for CJ to decipher. “Hey, you remember Dasan?” Doc smiled at the man standing by his side holding a beer.
“Yeah. Sure. You’re Dr. Prescott’s friend. We met at AIDS Walk.”
“Hey, CJ. Happy birthday, guy.” Dasan switched the bottle to his left hand, dried the right one on his jeans, and extended it for the boy to shake. “Do me a favor and call me Dash. It’s the name my friends use.”
“Cool. How’d you get the nickname?”
“My middle name’s Ash so… Anyway, sorry for crashing your party. I had to get the listing agreement signed by Tom and JP, and they suggested I meet them here to do it.”
CJ appeared momentarily confused. “A listing agreement? Is that like for selling their place?”
“Yep. That’s it. We’ve met a couple of times over there so I could see it. And to discuss price and stuff like that. They called last night and asked me to prepare the contract. With them out of town for the next two weeks, it’ll be easy to show the house. Even if this isn’t the best time of year to enter the market.”
“Oh wow. I wonder if Brad and Patrick know their dads are selling the house yet?”
Dasan’s hearty laughter surprised CJ. “I think they found out this afternoon. I stopped by Doc’s earlier today so I could see his place. I’m helping him move furniture around in Chip’s room tomorrow. Chipper texted Matt with the news while I was there, right after Bradley told him. I understand you boys have a little network running up and down the east coast. I’m looking forward to meeting the other members of your posse.”
“What a dick! He sends Chipper a message with the news but doesn’t tell me? I’m gonna beat his ass up next time I see him.”
It was Doc who laughed out loud this time. “He was under orders not to, CJ. Tom didn’t want to risk you finding out about your party. He suggested Bradley and Patrick not get in touch with you until sometime tonight. I asked the same thing from Chipper.”
“They all knew about the party? Fuckers!”
• • •
“Unca, CJ! Unca CJ!”
The shrill of two children calling to him, made CJ turn in time to be run into by Gabriella and Emmanuel. The smiling teen squatted in front of them, and was quickly enveloped by their tiny arms.
“Happy birthday, Unca CJ,” said the little girl before plastering her lips to his cheek and giving him a loud kiss.
“Daddy let us stay up late so we could help him bring in your cake.” Emmanuel stepped back and put his hand up for a high five.
“It’s carrot cake. My favorite.” Gabriella hung on to the teen as he stood.
“Daddy said we could have some before going to sleep.” The little boy stared up at CJ holding on to his left hand.
The party guests had formed a loose circle around the birthday boy while he was being smothered by the children. When CJ looked away from the boy and girl, he found Adriano standing in front of a rolling cart on which rested a white cake, decorated with orange carrots and green leaves.
“Happy birthday, buddy,” said the man reaching over to snatch his daughter from CJ. “How about you guys let him breathe so we can sing Happy Birthday?”
“Thanks, Adriano. You munchkins gonna help me blow out the candles?”
“Yay!” was the immediate response.
• • •
“Are you having a good time, bud?” CJ, his mouth full of birthday cake, nodded vigorously in response to César’s question, trying to swallow as fast as he could.
“Yeah, Dad. This is great. Thanks.” The boy looked to Brett, standing on the other side of him. “Thanks, Papa.”
“You’re welcome, son.” The marine’s words were somewhat muffled, he was wiping a hand over his moist eyes. “We have a second surprise for you. Hit it, Danno!”
The cars usually on display in the warehouse had been moved to the rear of the space, parked closely together in the dark. A set of curtains strung on metal tubing frames hid them from view. Instead of the usual sharp lights, only soft beams illuminated the area where the party was taking place. At Brett’s shout, the interior of the building became flooded in brightness.
“Happy birthday, CJ,” said both fathers in unison, as one of them placed a metal ring with keys on it in his hand.
Parked in front of Danno’s car collection, there was a gleaming Jeep Wrangler with a giant red bow tied to the hood.
• • •
Harley and Thiago were spending the night in Georgetown. César had made the arrangements with their parents during the week, and both had brought a backpack with a change of clothes.
“Buckle up, boys.” Brett climbed into the SUV at the same time his husband did. Their eyes locked for an instant, both smiled, and the marine reached over to gently touch César’s hand. “That was fun. We’ll come pick the Jeep up tomorrow after breakfast. Okay?”
“Sure, Papa. It’s not like I can drive it for a while yet. But as soon as we get back from Australia…”
“Bruh, that was fricking insane.” Harley sat in the last row of the car, his voice carried his usual enthusiasm about life in general. “What a cool party. I’m gonna miss having you around next couple of weeks, though. And I can’t wait until we can take the wheels out.”
“Yeah, homie. You better think about us while you’re away.” Thiago looked across the center console at his friend. ”Did you have a good time tonight?”
“You guys kidding? Of course I did! How couldn’t I? An unexpected birthday party and a Jeep Wrangler. Surprise, surprise.”
I need to once again express my gratitude to Mann for his outstanding job editing Summer and Autumn. He has generously given his time, shared his knowledge, and taught me what he’s learned in the process of readying his own work for publication. His sense of humor kept me laughing as I read editorial comments, and his no-nonsense approach ensured my ego was kept in check. If something I wrote was crap he told me so without any pussyfooting around.
Kitt became part of the team with Autumn. As always, it was a pleasure to work with her. Sometimes I heard complaints Mann and I didn’t leave her much to do, but she was still thorough in her reading and helped catch things which had slipped through the cracks.
Buckett signed on officially after the end of Summer, but like Kitt, he’s been with me from the beginning. As the gang travels to Oz, I look forward to having my Aussie mate along for the ride.
Proof of the quality of their work can be seen by checking the number of times I’ve had to edit a chapter after it’s published. I’m always thankful when a reader points out errors, I encourage them to do so in reviews, discussion thread comments, or private messages if they prefer. The fact I’ve received those just a few times, is high praise for the team backing me up.
I’m extremely happy to let you all know the three of them have agree to spend Winter with Cesar, Brett, CJ, and the rest of the gang!
My last time asking for a review this year. I hope you feel inclined to leave one for this chapter. If not for me, do it for CJ! :D
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others.
I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened.
We’re now open for business!