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Cadet - 3. Cadet Fourth Class • II

I hope you enjoy this early/extra chapter.

Posted in honor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, celebrating their inauguration as President and Vice-President.

Sunshine piercing the overcast skies made Will reach for his sunglasses. Clouds had blanketed most of the route from Wyoming to Colorado. “What are you gonna do with it?”

In the passenger seat, Ritch bounced the fossil from hand to hand. “I think I’ll give it to my dads as a present. If I kept it in our room, someone’s bound to accuse me of having an unauthorized weapon.” Academy regulations limited the number of memorabilia items cadets could keep in the dorms. C4Cs were allowed two. Anything not specifically approved as an academic tool fell into the category.

“That was pretty cool Melissa gave it to you as a present. I have a T-rex tooth at home, but it hasn’t been prepared like that one. Mine’s still half encased in rock.”

“I still think it’s sick you and her spend summers hunting for dinosaur bones. I would love to do that sometime.”

“If we ever have a free week together during a summer, I’ll take you with me. The guys I worked for before would take us in a minute.”

Ritch had discovered his aunt and his roommate had both worked digs over the past few years. Prehistoric creatures had roamed the hills and mountains of Wyoming eons before, and their fossils remained. Melissa did it to supplement her income, Will to save money for college.

The cadets stopped for a final time before reaching Denver, and Ritch drove the rest of the way to Colorado Springs. Even though they had been up early and traveled all the way from Wyoming, the two opened books and sat to study as soon as they were back in their room.

 

Generally, two weekends per month were devoted to military training. The one after the Thanksgiving Holiday was less welcome than usual. Training ran from Friday afternoon through just after lunch on Saturday. Their room and uniforms were inspected, they practiced marching, took part in a parade, and attended a military briefing. Timing was inconvenient, since cadets’ nerves were already frazzled thanks to upcoming exams. Academic recognitions, such as making the Dean’s List, could earn them additional leave the following semester.

Those extra passes were a goal for them. Ritch planned to get away from campus a couple of times later in winter and early spring and had already invited Will to tag along. Badly wanting the perks, they spent more time at their desks studying than anything else. The three weeks leading to Christmas break seemed to drag at times and accelerate at others, leaving them exhausted when they at last headed home.

 

During most of BCT, basics wore Operational Camouflage Pattern for military training, and blue shorts and white T-shirts for exercising and intramural sports competition. Five months later, Fourth Class Cadets had yet to earn the right to wear civilian clothes, so they traveled in their service uniform.

“It’s on the house, sir.” The young barista nodded in the direction of a middle-aged man at the other end of the serving counter. “The manager asked me to let you know we all appreciate your service to our country.”

Surprised, Ritch smiled at the guy serving him and nodded at his supervisor. “Thank you so much. Hope you have a Merry Christmas.”

“You too, sir. Safe travels.” Being addressed as sir by someone obviously older was disconcerting. Ritch was happy he would enjoy a respite from military formalities while home.

The flight from Denver to Washington did not depart until nearly midnight, so Ritch had time to waste. He bought a paperback book at Hudson News, and backpack slung over a shoulder and overcoat draped over his forearm, headed towards the departure gate. Since he had plenty of civvies home in Washington, he traveled with little luggage. He had purchased a few Air Force Academy branded items as Christmas presents and had them shipped to D.C. Traveling as light as possible was something his fathers and brother had taught him.

With nothing else to do, Ritch settled in the waiting area to read. Whenever he tore his eyes away from the novel, he found people looking at him. One little boy stood on the aisle and saluted him. Ritch smiled and returned the gesture.

Brett had warned him people would look at him differently whenever he wore his uniform. He mentioned it could be a pain in the behind at times. So far, Ritch did not mind. He enjoyed the attention. Particularly when it earned him freebies, or when young women smiled at him. Getting laid was a priority once he was home. His hand was feeling overused from furtive sessions since June. Worse still, he always wanted more.

A blue coat with three silver-colored buttons, matching trousers, and either a service or a flight cap, all in a shade known as Air Force Blue, were the external components of the Service Dress uniform he wore. The light-blue shirt and herringbone-patterned blue necktie helped highlight his eyes. Ritch knew he looked good and thought he might just put it on a few times while on leave. It could increase his chances of scoring.

He had his coat and pants tailored to accentuate his athletic physique, and had the same done as a present for his roommate. Ritch quietly chuckled. Growing up surrounded by gay men had given him an appreciation for looking sharp, even while dressing down, and making it look effortless. He knew he was good looking and was not averse to benefitting from his appearance. The uniform made it even easier.

 

Ritch longingly glanced left as he boarded the plane, and cursed military regulations. César had bought him a first class ticket, but Ritch had downgraded it, since flying anything but coach was frowned upon while in uniform.

“Welcome aboard, Cadet.” The captain stood at the plane’s entrance, greeting passengers, and saluted Ritch.

If the man recognized the uniform as belonging to a cadet, Ritch assumed he was a former Air Force pilot. “Thank you, sir.” While returning the greeting, Ritch turned his phone so the flight attendant could see his boarding pass.

Thankfully, Ritch’s seat was near the front, and the walk to his seat was short. The steward took his overcoat and jacket to hang, while Ritch fumbled in his pockets for his ear buds. Soon after takeoff, the flight attendant returned and leaned into the cadet. “The captain asked me to invite you to tour the cockpit once we land. Interested?”

“Fuck, yeah!” Ritch covered his mouth with both hands, but the flight attendant just laughed. “Sorry, sir.”

“Save the sir for the captain. I’m Paul.”

Ritch slept most of the flight, waking up shortly before landing at Dulles Airport. He had been right in his assumption about the captain being a former Air Force officer. Although short, the time spent in the cockpit was enjoyable and served to reinforce his ambition to fly jets.

 

Ritch peeled a hundred dollar bill from his money clip and handed it to the taxi driver. “Here you go, man. Keep the change.” It would have been cheaper to ride the train to Roslyn, across the Potomac from Georgetown, and catch an Uber from there, but he was too anxious to get home. The extra cost was worth it.

“Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas.”

Another person calling him sir made him groan. It was going to take time to get used to.

“Damn, that uniform looks good on you.”

Ritch twirled around, backpack in hand, to find his next-door neighbor and fellow Squad member, Bradley Kennedy, staring at him. He slammed the cab’s door closed and took the few steps needed to hug his friend. “What are you doing up this early, Red?”

“What’s it look like?” Brad swept a hand down his body to indicate the sweats he wore. The metal blades peeking from below his pants looked incongruous to Ritch. The former U.S. Army Ranger had lost his legs while deployed, when the vehicle he was driving hit an IED. He had spent the past eighteen months rehabbing and getting used to moving with prosthetics. “I was warming up for a run.”

“Hit me up this week, bro. If you run every morning, I’ll join you while I’m in town.”

“Too cold to stand around chatting, Ritchie. Somebody’s up at your place. I saw the lights go on downstairs.”

“Cool, stop by later. I slept on the plane, so I’ll be up. Oh, and remember, it’s Ritch.”

Walking down the driveway separating his home from Brad’s, Ritch headed for the rear of the house. He didn’t have keys with him, but there was one hidden under a plant next to the kitchen entrance.

Opening the door, he found his grandmother standing at the stove, watching over an expresso percolator. “Aba! What are you doing here?” He dropped his backpack on the floor and rushed to embrace and kiss the woman.

“Ritchie!” The tone and expression left no doubt the woman was thrilled to see her grandson. “You surprised me. We thought you would call when your plane landed.”

“Too early, Aba. I didn’t want to wake anyone up.” He removed his cap and overcoat and dropped them on the dining room table. “How are you?”

“I’m okay. I still don’t like the cold, so I don’t go outside that much. Since your brother’s going out of town in a couple of days, your dads invited me to stay here until they return. They thought it would be nice for me to be around when you arrived. And they don’t want me alone in the other house, so I’ll stay with you until they’re back from their trip.”

Aba lived in the Capitol Hill house his brother and his husband had bought; she helped take care of her great-granddaughter. CJ, Owen, and Liebe were traveling to Australia to visit Owen’s family and would return before the end of the year.

“Ahhh, the prodigal cadet returns. How the heck are you, Ritchie?” Walking down the stairs with his husband behind him, Brett was blindsided when a hand connected with the back of his head. “HEY!”

“It’s Ritch, Jarhead. Get it right.” César winked at his grinning son. “How was the flight, buddy?”

“Good, Dad. The pilot was ex-Air Force, and I got to spend a little time in the cockpit.”

“Is that where they keep the penises? In the cock pit?” Brett obviously knew better that to stand within striking distance of César; he quickly moved to Ritch’s side and hugged his son. “Welcome home.”

“Thanks, Papa. It’s good to be home.”

“Are you hungry?” César moved to the other side of the breakfast counter and pecked Aba on the cheek as she placed a mug of café con leche in front of her grandson. “I was thinking of spinach omelets, bacon, fruit, and bagels.”

“I can cook,” she offered.

“I’ll take care of it, Olga. Go sit with Ritch. You haven’t seen him in six months.” César nudged her out of the way, after she poured herself a small cup of espresso. Although everyone knew her as Aba, a nickname Ritch’s brother had given her as a toddler, her full name was Olga Santos. César was one of the few to use it consistently.

“Dads, where’d you put the box I sent?”

“In your room. You said it’s Christmas presents?”

“Mostly. But I also shipped new Air Force sweats for myself. All I brought was my backpack since I have plenty of clothes here. I’m gonna go change, and I’ll be right back.” Ritch picked up his bag, drained the mug in a long gulp, and headed towards the stairs. “Hey, do we have giftwrap?” Considering the number of presents underneath the Christmas tree centered on the street-front window, he hoped there was some left.

“Basement storage closet. Scissors, ribbons, tape, and tags are also in there.”

“Thanks.”

Breakfast talk was mostly about Ritch’s experiences; he expanded on subjects previously mentioned in emails and calls. Melissa Griffon, his newly discovered aunt, took up a big chunk of the conversation. “I want you guys to meet her, Dads.”

“We’d like that, bud.” César glanced at Brett and received a nod Ritch nearly missed. “Brett and I want to discuss something with you, Ritch. But we don’t want you to get upset. Okay? We haven’t done anything yet.”

Ritch perked up. It sounded as if the fathers had something up their sleeve but wanted him to agree to it. He realized they had learned their lesson. Most of the arguments between them and CJ had happened when they did something without consulting their son first. “Shoot.”

Brett smirked at the expression. “How militaristic.” He quickly got to the point. “We’d like your permission to do a little digging. You know the investigator we hired after your parents died was aware of her existence but couldn’t find her. We were thinking we might want him to have another look.”

“Why?” Ritch was unsure how he felt about digging into her background, but he trusted his fathers to have a valid reason to bring it up.

“A few million dollars in liquid assets.” César was being devious. Everyone was aware Ritch did not pay attention to finances.

“What’s that?”

“That, buddy, is the amount of cash and easily liquidated investments you own. I’m excluding your interest in real estate properties the family jointly holds.” César took a big breath before continuing. “Based on what you’ve said, particularly the fact she nearly fainted when she first saw you, we’re pretty sure she’s legit. But we want to make sure everything’s kosher.”

Ritch had not realized he could access so much money easily. “Do it. And I’m ready to sit down with you guys to try and learn what I own and how to track it. I’m planning on hanging around here a lot over vacation, so we can talk whenever you want.”

 

Multi-tasking was a skill most cadets developed in order to survive the challenges and demands the Academy confronted them with. Mid-morning, Ritch had muted the TV while still glancing at it with closed captioning turned on. Sitting on the floor wrapping presents, he talked to friends on the phone, making plans to gather over the holidays. His dog, Wingnut, laid on the ground with its head on his lap.

“Hey, Ritch. Welcome home.”

At the same time his master did, Wingnut turned towards the voice and gave a short bark; Patrick Kennedy, Brad’s younger brother, was someone the pooch knew.

“Dude! What the fuck? What’s with the hair?” Trapped between the couch, the coffee table, the dog, and wrapping supplies, Ritch raised a fist to bump in lieu of trying to get up.

“You like? All the guys I play hockey with did it.” Patrick, a junior at Boston University, had bleached his hair while keeping his beard its natural brown color. “You should have seen the look on the other team the first time we showed off in the rink. I think we won because they were confused.”

Ritch ran a hand over his head, although no longer just stubble, his hair remained shorter than he had worn it before. “Man, that would never fly at the Academy.”

After patting Wingnut on the head, Patrick sank into the orange beanbag to Ritch’s side. “My brother said he bumped into you when you got in. Figured I’d come over and say hello.”

“Cool… I’m looking forward to hanging out with The Squad over the next two weeks.” Patrick and Brad were both members of the group of friends garnered at School Without Walls High School by Ritch’s brother.

“I won’t be here that long. My dads, Brad, and I are spending Christmas in Boston with Mom.” Patrick was nearer in age to Ritch than their other friends, and the two became close as soon as Ritch moved to Washington. “Hey, I wanna hear about this new relative you found. All I’ve seen is that picture you posted on Insta with her.”

CJ and Owen came by to see him around lunchtime, and took him to eat at The Tombs. The collegiate pub popular with Georgetown University students was a half block away from the house. He spent the entire meal with his niece sitting on his lap while trying to get her to say his name. Unaccustomed to staying up late, Ritch enjoyed a nap before going out bowling with a group of high school friends that evening. The next day he spent at home, talked to a few of his parents’ friends, and watched football. Lazy days were a luxury. That night, the family’s Sunday tradition of Chinese takeout lived on. Afterwards, Brett drove everyone to Dolci Gelati in the Shaw neighborhood for ice cream.

 

“Thanks for picking me up.” Fadi Singh climbed into the back of the Escalade and slammed the door closed. “Hi, Aba.”

As usual, César and Brett had walked to the office, and Ritch had borrowed the Cadillac for the afternoon. With his grandmother in the passenger seat, they collected Ritch’s best friend from his days at Sidwell Friends School.

“Hola, Fadi. How are you? Did you do well in school?” Olga had known the kid for years and was probably surprised at his look. His first semester at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Fadi had grown several inches and sported a chin full of scraggly facial hair. His friends had harassed him about it at the bowling alley. He remained rail thin.

“I hope so, Aba. We’ll see when the grades come in.”

“Probably nothing below an A.” Ritch was expecting his own first semester’s grades anxiously. He had worked his ass off and hoped it had paid off.

Ritch had last been to Everhope, his brother’s home, in June before leaving for Colorado. CJ and Owen had not moved in by then. He eagerly volunteered to drive his grandmother to the Capitol Hill area when she mentioned needing to get something she had forgotten; he wanted to inspect the result of the remodeling efforts. Fadi came along for lack of anything better to do and because he was having dinner with Ritch and his family that evening.

They found a spot on Eleventh Street, parked, and walked the half block to the house. Aba keyed in the code on the front door and disarmed the alarm. “I can give you my code if you want, or you can ask your brother for your own.” CJ was at work, and Owen and Liebe were also gone.

“I’ll wait, Aba. I’ll bring you back in a couple of days to check the Christmas tree’s water, but otherwise I don’t need to get in here until they’re back. I’m gonna show Fadi around, okay? We’ll start upstairs.”

Fadi had been poking around in the living room to the right of the entrance but turned to glance at the staircase when Ritch mentioned going up. “The one time you brought me here this place barely had walls. They did a good job.”

“Dude, it was all our family doing the work, so I’m sure they paid extra attention to detail. Did you know the place’s wired everywhere?”

“How?”

Reaching the house’s top floor, Ritch went to the first door off the landing. “This will one day be an office, but for now it’s a nursery.”

“Cute artwork.” Fadi pointed at a bright painting of a Tic-Tac-Toe board, white Xs and Os superimposed on squares, each a different color. “So how’s the place wired?”

“The dads bought that painting for my niece when she was born. The munchkin already has an art collection.” Ritch ran a hand over the crib’s frame before focusing on a black cylinder on one of the built-in shelves. “Check this out: Alexa, play Luke Bryan, ‘One Margarita.’” A moment later, the room filled with music from the ceiling speakers.

“Country music?” Fadi’s surprised expression made Ritch grin.

“Dude, my roommate’s a cowboy from Wyoming. I’ve been listening to this stuff for a few months now. And you have to admit this one’s catchy. So, I think you can ask Alexa to do a lot of things from anywhere in the house. Lights, TVs, drapes, and shit like that.”

“Any idea where the computer controlling all this is?”

“None. I can call CJ and find out. Why do you ask?”

Fadi seemed lost in thought for a moment. “Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t want to mess in it without your brother being around. I’ll talk to him when they get back from Australia. I’ve been working on something in my free time that he and Owen might be interested in.”

“You have free time? How? I sure as shit don’t.”

 

“Hot damn!” The brawny bartender’s exclamation was loud enough to attract most patrons’ attention. The man lifted the counter’s side section and rushed to hug Ritch. “You look great, buddy. Welcome back.”

Abuela’s, a Cuban restaurant popular with Millennials and Gen Zers, not only for the meals but also for their cocktails and tapas, was not crowded. Ritch knew the Monday crowd would be smaller than Friday’s happy hour. He had seen customers overflow onto the outdoor plaza, even when it was cold. On weekend nights, wait time for a table could be significant. Since his brother was part-owner, the family was usually seated as soon as they wanted to.

Ritch returned the hug. “What up, Tank?” Tanix Janda, Tank to those close to him, was a friend, a fellow Squad member, and managed the establishment’s bar.

“Same shit, different day. Hi, Aba.” Tank pecked Olga on the cheek before returning to his spot behind the bar. He nodded at César, Brett, and Fadi. “Dos Equis Amber? Sapphire Martini? Something different?”

“Not sure I like what it implies when a bartender knows our cocktails of choice, Jarhead.” César and Brett were regulars. “I’ll take the beer.”

“Make it two, dude. I can’t reconcile gin and Cuban food in my head.” Brett was usually more of a hard liquor man.

“You too, Ritch?”

Although underage, Abuela’s was one spot Ritch could often score a beer or a glass of wine. “No, man. Can’t drink in public again until I’m legal. Could get me in trouble at the Academy, since I swore not to. How about a Coke? And whatever Fadi wants.”

“Well, well, well… If it isn’t my partner’s family without my partner. César, Brett, Olga, it’s good to see all of you again.” The man in the black and white checkered pants and chef coat extended his hand in Ritch’s direction. “Welcome back, Ritchie.”

“Thank you, Mr. Diaz. Please call me Ritch. It’s good to be home.”

Alvaro Diaz was the restaurant’s majority owner and chef. Abuela’s served a combination of homestyle food and, as a reviewer for the Washington Post noted soon after opening, “elevated dishes firmly grounded in traditional Latin Caribbean cooking.”

After being introduced to Fadi, Diaz returned his attention to Ritch. “I’m usually off on Mondays, but a couple of people in the kitchen are down with the flu, and I insisted they stay home until recovered. No need to spread germs around. Listen, if there’s anything you want that’s not on the menu, let me know. If we have the makings, I’ll whip it up for you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Diaz.” Aside from the good eating, Ritch liked the place because of perquisites such as that one. How many chefs offered to cook what you craved? Benefits of ownership, even if it was his brother with the investment.

“Make sure you save room for dessert. Using your grandmother’s recipe”—he pointed at his bartender—“he’s been baking flan, and it’s out of this world. If it wasn’t because he’s so good slinging drinks and keeping customers happy, I’d consider training Tanix to be a pastry chef.”

The next day around noon, Ritch walked the fifteen minutes from the Georgetown townhouse to Third Line Development on Wisconsin Avenue. His fathers were closing down the office until the next year and were hosting a luncheon for all employees.

“Ritch!” Taisha Abelló, Rod’s wife, wrapped her arms around him the moment he walked in. “About time you came by. I haven’t seen you since we got gassed.”

“Ugh! Don’t remind me about that.” Headshakes accompanied his grunt. “I brought up taking part in a BLM protest during one of the BCT seminars, and people were still talking about it when the semester ended. I was either a hero or a heel depending on who brought it up.”

“What’s BCT?”

“Basic Cadet Training. That was the six weeks during the summer before classes started.” He stopped and stared into her eyes. “The most fun I never want to have again.”

“I want to hear all about it when Rod and I get back.” The couple was flying out that evening to spend Christmas with the Chicago branch of the family. “What are you doing here anyway? You were never one to get up early. I assumed you’d just be rolling out of bed around now.”

Ritch grunted again. “Not no more. I’m up by five at the latest every morning. And the dads are taking me shopping for my Christmas present after lunch.”

“What are you getting?” She slipped her arm through his and guided Ritch to the food spread on the conference room table.

“Cowboy boots!” Ritch’s face lit up in anticipation. “My roommate’s a cowboy, and he took me horseback riding over Thanksgiving. I loved it and want to do it again, and it’ll be easier wearing boots instead of sneakers.”

“Where are you guys going?”

“Down the street to the Frye store. Mr. A suggested going to Neiman’s, since they carry Lucchese boots, but I want a pair of comfortable ones I won’t worry about ruining by getting them muddy. The ones he showed me on his phone were ostrich and almost eighteen hundred dollars.”

 

With most of the family and the next-door neighbors traveling, Christmas was a quiet affair. When CJ, Owen, and Liebe returned from Australia on Monday, Ritch picked them up at the airport. Due to the time, and Liebe being fussy, they did not get to visit for long. They made up for it the next day.

“Mr. Abelló, Captain Davenport, welcome back to Forbes Grille.” The private dining club’s maitre’d shook hands with both men, before turning his attention to Ritch. “Master Peterson, I was just asking your brother about you. He mentioned you’d be here today. I lost track of the years and didn’t realize you were of legal age now.” The man had been at his post for longer than Ritch had been alive. A head full of silver hair and a twinkle in his blue eyes made everyone think he was younger than he was. After hosting the CBC Foundation’s annual meeting for quite a few years, he knew Ritch would be joining the board of directors that day. “If you gentlemen will follow me, the rest of your party’s waiting in the private dining room.”

The table inside the small room was set for six with an additional chair on which Liebe’s carrier rested. Ritch’s niece smiled at the world while playing with a small plush bird. Once he was closer, Ritch recognized it as an emu and assumed it was something they had picked up in Australia. Instead of immediately reaching to pick her up, Ritch stopped in front of the woman he recognized as an attorney his parents used now and then. “Hello, Ms. Stout. I’m Ritch Peterson.”

She adjusted her eyeglasses before frowning. “First, I’m not so old senility has set in. I know who you are, Ritch. Second, it’s Rachel.”

“What are you guys drinking?” Brett pointed at the wine glasses in front of the three individuals at the table.

“Sonoma Pinot Gris.” Of course, it would be Owen replying. After all, his brother-in-law owned a piece of the winery he grew up in. “Crisp and light-bodied with a titillating citrus aroma.”

“Spare me the oenophile comments, Ozzie. Just pour.” Brett sat and passed his wine glass to his son-in-law. Owen Zachary Liston’s nickname came from his first and middle initials.

“Nice to see you too, Papa.” CJ’s sarcasm earned him a middle finger from the Marine.

“Asshole!”

“Language! Not in front of Liebe.” The simultaneous response from CJ and Owen made Ritch chuckle. Six months away from home, and it felt as if he had never left.

“Has she eaten?” Still standing, César approached his granddaughter and squatted next to her. “Hi, Liebe.” The girl raised her arms to be picked up.

Owen nodded. “Yeah, CJ fed her right before we left the house. She might drop off for a nap soon.”

“Actually, let’s speed it up, so we can talk without her getting cranky.” CJ retrieved a pacifier from his shirt pocket, licked it before dipping it into his wine, and stuck it in his daughter’s mouth. “New trick we picked up in Australia.”

“Not fair she gets to have wine and I don’t.” Ritch would save the snarky comment about CJ slobbering over the pacifier for when it was only family around.

“If you don’t want to drink in public, come back to the house with us. We’ll open up a bottle. Or three.” CJ was aware his brother was following his example from years before and avoiding alcohol where someone could see him or take a picture. “Actually, dads. Come over for dinner. Aba was already cooking when we left the house. She’s making black bean soup, so we can run some through the blender and turn it into a puree for Liebe.”

César motioned for the server, standing quietly inside the door, to approach them. “We can probably order now, Mary. But we’re going to need another bottle of wine, and whatever Ritch here wants.”

“A Coke, please.”

While they waited, Rachel retrieved a sheaf of papers from her briefcase and handed them to Ritch along with a pen. “We may as well get this out of the way. Ritch, go ahead and sign where the Post-it arrows are.” She momentarily glanced at Liebe. “I guess this is the last time I do this until she’s old enough to join the board.”

Reading over legal documents was something Ritch had been drilled on by his fathers, but he did not feel like going through all the documents at the moment. “What am I signing?”

“Your acceptance of a position on the board of directors of the foundation. Also, the application to include you in the directors and officers liability insurance. That covers you in case you’re sued as a result of your actions as a trustee. And, assuming you’ll do the same as your fathers and brothers, a waiver of any remuneration for your services.”

Ritch smirked. “So, I join, I could get sued, and I agree to do it all for free?”

“Got it in one, flyboy.” Brett reached for the bottle of wine and topped off his glass. “Just follow the nice lady’s instructions and sign.”

“You’re a pain, Cap.” He may have complained, but he followed instructions and signed.

“Okay, now that that’s out of the way”—César tapped at his phone and handed it to Ritch—“as far as I can tell, those are the charitable contributions you’ve made this year. Did I miss anything when I scanned through your bank and credit card statements?”

“I don’t think so, Mr. A.”

“Good, I’ll cut checks to match them this afternoon.”

Once they had ordered dessert, César spoke again. “Ritch, because of tax regulations, we’re supposed to give away all our annual income. We had a good year, and there’s money left in the account right now. Brett and I decided to split it five ways, so each one of us gets to make one large, additional contribution. Brett and I are both giving our share to the Red Cross’ West Coast Wildfires relief effort. Any group you want to help out? Each one of you gets to spend about twenty-five grand.”

“My aunt’s animal shelter. They can definitely use the money.”

“I’ll send the check out tomorrow and email her to let her know it’s coming. CJ? Ozzie?”

“We’ll echo you, Mr. A. The Australian Red Cross Wildfire Relief Fund.” Owen had been ready since César had told him and CJ about the availability of excess funds. “We saw some of the effects, and it was heart breaking.” Early in 2020, Australia was ravaged by conflagrations that damaged the landscape and killed millions of animals.

“Add my share to Ozzie’s, Dad. Heart breaking’s a good description. Dead koalas may have captured the world’s attention, but there’s been a lot of suffering down there. Anything we can do’s gonna be a big help.”

Ritch was prouder than ever to be part of the family. He had been aware of their generosity for a while, but from this moment forward, he would be part of the decisions. The admonition he had heard often was that actions, more than words, defined a person. The charitable foundation was one vehicle his fathers and brothers used to try to make the world a better place.

Since CJ and Owen planned to hang out at the Georgetown townhouse most of the following day, Ritch decided to spend the night at his brother’s place, and ride over with them on Wednesday. He was even allowed to drive their Tesla when they headed over in the afternoon. In the car with them were Ethan Feldman and Chipper Pereira; their fellow Squad members had arrived in Washington that morning.

Ethan, an attorney practicing in Manhattan, had graduated from George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School with Owen. He had arrived by train from New York City to spend a couple of days with the group.

Chipper had spent Christmas in Tampa with his father and flown into Reagan National Airport. He had attended School Without Walls High School with CJ and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. Although Ritch had not been able to watch the show, Chipper had been the runner up in the most recent season of The Voice, a musical competition.

“Are you gonna wear those boots all the time now?” Chipper asked from the passenger seat.

“Nah… I wore them to lunch yesterday and never came back home.” Ritch had already suffered through the jokes about saddle soreness and walking funny. He did not reveal it had happened exactly that way. “Did you bring the thumb drive with you?”

Chipper patted his coat’s pocket. “Right here, bud.”

Since Christmas Day had been low key, and with CJ and Owen throwing a New Year’s Eve party the next day, Brett and César had decided to have people over. They invited close friends, a few neighbors, and their sons’ buddies to stop by at any point in the day. Chipper had brought clips from all his performances in the competition, and Ritch was looking forward to binge watching them.

At least five years younger than the other Squad members, Ritch was treated as the group’s mascot when he first moved to Washington. Over the years, he was seamlessly folded into the group, and eventually came to enjoy spending time with the older guys as much as with friends his age. He thought maybe that was part of the reason he was not intimidated by older cadets the way many of his fellow doolies were.

A few high school acquaintances would stop by in the afternoon, and he wanted to make sure one of them had a little private time with CJ, Owen, and Ethan. “Hey, ambulance chaser, you remember my friend, Fadi?”

Ethan chuckled. “Ambulance chaser? Twerp! Yeah, kinda… skinny, short Indian guy?”

“Yeah, but he’s not as short these days. He’s grown a few inches. Anyway, he’ll be at the dads’ place today, and I want him to talk to you.”

“How come?”

“He’s been working on a little something I think could make him serious money. He needs someone to help him secure a copyright for his software.”

“Sure thing, bud. I’ll talk to him.”

 

“I want to watch the Orange Bowl game tonight.” Chipper drained the remainder of his mimosa and set the glass in the sink.

The previous day’s afternoon had been a lazy one, lounging around the fathers’ basement, and the last day of 2020 was shaping up to be the same. Ethan and Chipper had spent the night at CJ and Owen’s, and Ritch had borrowed Brett’s motorcycle and ridden over after having breakfast with his parents.

“Who’s playing this year?” He had been to all Air Force Academy Falcons’ home games but paid little attention to collegiate football otherwise. There were not enough hours in the day.

“Duke and Georgia. The Blue Devils did great in the ACC this past year, but Georgia’s probably going to trounce them.”

Much to their surprise, Duke won and the game’s most valuable player was Phil Martinez, a guy from Miami.

The day’s highlight, even more than welcoming a new year, was the conversation César and Brett had with their sons and guests when the fathers stopped by Everhope around lunch time. Brett had grown up in Los Angeles, sold the house he had lived in with his parents a few years before, and now had the opportunity to reclaim it. The purchaser had encountered financial difficulties, and they wanted their sons’ input.

CJ, Owen, and Ritch encouraged them to go for it. Ritch was particularly eager for them to do so. Being in Colorado, flying to California during spring break or other holidays would be convenient. Particularly if he was able to spend his time at a Malibu beach house.

Copyright © 2021 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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My thanks to Mann Ramblings, Parker Owens, and WolfM for their assistance. The story is better that it would have been without their assistance.

Story Discussion Topic

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!    

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Chapter Comments



If you're curious about what happened with the California beach house, you can find details here:

 

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1 hour ago, Kitt said:

Bout time you definitively tell us the results from an entire story worth of competition!

Great, as usual!

LMAO

Although the overlapping plot lines are a pain to keep track of, I'm love tying so many different stories together. I may have a few more of those in coming chapters. :)

 

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Ritch better get used to that sir stuff! This story brings back alot of my memories. Ive been going to the same pharmacy since i was 4. Been in there over a hundred times, one day after school i was still in uniform went in with my father and the pharmacist whos known me since i was little asked "Can i help you sir" and im just like im with him. 

Loved seeing the family again and its nice to see Ritch have such an adult attitude bout investigating his aunt.

 

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4 hours ago, Canuk said:

Do US citizens find the contradiction between of an age to be allowed to join the military and drive a car, but not have a glass of wine just plain weird?

There was a time briefly that age of drinking and age of majority were the same...then came along the moralists who decided the age of drinking should be returned to 21 and it has never changed.  Yes...we do recognize it, but guess there's not enough push to get it changed.

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That first visit home in uniform does have a lot of emotions, pride, excitement - and strangely enough - eagerness to return to the new 'normal'.  Great chapter - I truly enjoyed reading about the holidays.  The only thing missing, in my opinion, is the lack of precautions noted with the raging COVID mess...but glad to see so many of the characters that make up this 'family'.

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46 minutes ago, Wesley8890 said:

Ritch better get used to that sir stuff! This story brings back alot of my memories. Ive been going to the same pharmacy since i was 4. Been in there over a hundred times, one day after school i was still in uniform went in with my father and the pharmacist whos known me since i was little asked "Can i help you sir" and im just like im with him. 

Loved seeing the family again and its nice to see Ritch have such an adult attitude bout investigating his aunt.

 

That first time had to be a shock for both you and Ritch. He'll get used to it. Along the way, we can count on his family to keep him grounded and not allow rank and honorifics to go to his head.

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28 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

There was a time briefly that age of drinking and age of majority were the same...then came along the moralists who decided the age of drinking should be returned to 21 and it has never changed.  Yes...we do recognize it, but guess there's not enough push to get it changed.

President CJ will take care of that little problem. He better considering his daughter's already hooked on good wine!

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25 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

That first visit home in uniform does have a lot of emotions, pride, excitement - and strangely enough - eagerness to return to the new 'normal'.  Great chapter - I truly enjoyed reading about the holidays.  The only thing missing, in my opinion, is the lack of precautions noted with the raging COVID mess...but glad to see so many of the characters that make up this 'family'.

There's no pandemic in this universe.

Ritch's been away from home for 7 months and his mindset's not 100% military yet. I figure the contrast between regimented life and the more permissive environment around family will take a little time to reach proper balance.

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Okay so I have to admit I had tears when I got to the little boy in the airport saluting Ritch ... damn, just writing about it here brought tears.

I enjoyed watching strings from other stories being tied into this one. That's one of the most significant differences from the early CJ stories. Those exist in a sort of vacuum but the spinoffs occur simultaneously with overlapping timelines. The sudden flick of a switch reminding us that Chipper was doing the "Voice" while Ritch was busy adjusting to life at the Academy in Colorado. Also, that he hadn't seen his brother's completed home. There are a lot of divergent lives being lived.

Excellent chapter.

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7 minutes ago, JACC said:

Your writing is always a treat to me, the reason you post this chapter earlier fills me with hope after the last trick by the now former POTUS. I think I recognized CJ among the people looking discouraged at the Capitol rioters... 

Again a wonderful chapter, thank you, Carlos, all the best for the new President  and his Vicepresident!

JA

The TV's been on since I woke up, and I suspect it will remain on for the rest of the day. I'm signing off in a few to listen to the actual swearing in. This chapter takes place between the elctoral college voting and the coup attempt, so Biden's officially elected. There'll be a comment about January 6 in the next chapter.

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1 minute ago, Carlos Hazday said:

I saw John F. Kennedy Jr. when I wrote about the little kid saluting Ritch.

Ohhh, you've made me cry again ...

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Great chapter, even took a longer lunch break to finish reading it a few hours ago. 
 

love the little details about the other story’s 

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54 minutes ago, dughlas said:

Ohhh, you've made me cry again ...

I'm so glad you can figure out what I was talking about. It's good to have contemporaries reading. :P

 

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45 minutes ago, tabaqui said:

Great chapter, even took a longer lunch break to finish reading it a few hours ago. 
 

love the little details about the other story’s 

We don't want you to get in trouble by taking longer lunch breaks. Maybe I should post shorter chapters from now on. And speaking of from now on, those bits from other stories play a huge part in the next chapter. Ritch opens his mouth in a seminar and sets in motion--never mind. You can read it in two days. LOL

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Always a good day when you post a new chapter. The fact it's on inauguration day, makes it that much better. A wonderful chapter and I want to thank the family foundation for its joint donations to both the American and Australian Red Cross for fire relief. :)

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Great chapter.  Ritch has always been one of my favorites. I’m really grateful that you chose to give him a storyline.  He’s such a fun guy, and I smile every time I see wingnut mentioned.  I love that name!

Im obviously not excited about today, but I love our country and I’m thankful for the peaceful transition of power.  I wish it hadn’t happened, but oh well lol. 

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