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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

CDMX - 19. CDMX • XIX

César nearly collided with his son-in-law. “Ozzie!” The hug was awkward due to the backpack over Owen’s shoulder and the rolling suitcase he pulled. “What the heck’s keeping you guys out here?”

“Hey, César. Just talking.”

“Well, get in there already. Everyone’s waiting.” César patted Owen’s behind as he walked by.

“OZZIE!” The greeting from multiple individuals was cheerful and loud. Once the door closed, silence returned to the garage.

“Hey, Dad.” CJ dropped his luggage so he could properly embrace his father.

“Happy birthday, buddy.” Taking a step back, he held his son by the shoulders. “I’m so glad you guys finally made it.” He hugged CJ again. “Maybe it’s the fact we don’t see each other as much these days, but I’ve been thinking about you as a little kid often since we were in Mexico.” César held the third hug a bit longer and sighed. “I’m feeling old, you’re a grown man, and it’s sometimes difficult to accept.”

“Don’t get sappy on me, old man.” The tongue-in-cheek warning earned CJ a tap to the back of the head. He often told others how lucky he was to have Brett and César as parents. Their relationship was comfortable, at times heated, but the underlying respect was what mattered. That and love. “Last thing we need’s for both of us to start sobbing.” It felt good to chuckle with his dad.

“In case I haven’t told you lately, I’m proud of you. Brett and I are very, very proud of the man you’ve become.”

CJ’s cheeks felt a bit warmer. “Thanks, Dad.”

Apparently in no rush to rejoin the others, César leaned against the car and crossed his ankles. “So, Ritch walked in and the first words out of his mouth were ‘be careful, CJ’s pissed.’ What’s up?”

“Same shit different day. My boss annoyed me this morning. But I’m fine now.”

“How the hell did he manage that? You couldn’t have gone to the office before the airport. No time.”

“Email. I tentatively requested time off like we talked about when you visited. In case we get invited to the Oscars. He denied it this morning.” CJ smirked. “I’m pretty sure he sent the email out to coincide with me leaving on vacation, trying to ruin my time off. Fucker has it in for me.”

“Why don’t you go over his head and talk to Margaret?”

CJ thought it funny his father continuously referred to the ambassador by her first name. “Nah… I thought about it on the flight and decided I didn’t wanna do that. I said the same to Ozzie when he suggested it. He can go to L.A. and represent both of us.”

“And why don’t you want to ask her?” César’s cocked eyebrow showed he was not happy with his son’s decision.

CJ shrugged. He had gone over everything in his head while en route to Denver, so providing an explanation was simple. The reasoning behind it was a bit convoluted, though.

“Look, Dad, I hadn’t worked a day in my life until I joined the State Department—”

“Bullshit. You interned for a senator, volunteered at HRC and a few other places, you were part of a presidential campaign, and you’ve sat on a couple of boards of directors. All that’s work!”

“Ain’t the same, Dad.” Realizing he was not going into the house for a spell, CJ straddled Rosebud—Owen’s old motorcycle—backward. Conversations with his fathers were one of the things CJ missed being away from Washington. They had always been his sounding board. Phone and video calls just were not the same. “They weren’t paid positions, and I wasn’t treated like an employee. I’m sure the family having money was part of it. We’ve supported all those causes, and you guys even wrote Rubio a check when he ran for president. Last thing those people wanted was to piss off actual or potential donors.”

“We should have given him more! Maybe that way we could have avoided Agent Orange.” César chuckled at his joke. “Otherwise, I still call bullshit. If all that those people and organizations wanted was to appease us, they would have stuck you in a back room where you couldn’t do any damage. But they didn’t. They pushed you to the front and trusted you to represent them. And anyway, you still gained valuable experience in all those positions.”

“Oh, yeah, I sure as shit did. Of course. But that’s how I’m trying to view this situation. Northman dislikes me for whatever reason, and I keep reminding myself to suck it up and learn. Yeah, I’m still gonna get pissed now and then, but as Owen keeps reminding me, not everyone’s gonna be a fan. I need to learn how to deal with assholes without breaking noses.”

“What the hell’s going on here? Why are you two not inside?” Barging into the garage, Brett did not stop until reaching CJ’s side. “Happy birthday, Butthead.” The hug would have crushed bones on someone frailer than his son.

CJ cracked up. “Thanks, Beavis.” He returned the kiss planted on his cheek. “Dad and I were just talking.”

“What about?”

“Our son refuses to go over his supervisor’s head. The guy turned down his leave request to attend the Oscars.” César scooted sideways so Brett could lean next to him against the car. “He’s been babbling about wanting to learn how to deal with assholes without getting physical.”

Brett nodded. “You should talk to your brother. Ritch has a pretty good idea of what that’s like. In the military, you rarely have the opportunity to pick where you go, or who you report to. I had to deal with my share of douchey superiors.”

“But he’s not in the military, Jarhead.”

“Doesn’t matter, Dad. I can see how it’d be similar. Anyway, Papa, I found out he denied my request for travel time to L.A. this morning, so I steamed during the whole flight. Probably why I didn’t bite Ritch’s head off when he told me about Defiant. I could only deal with one calamity at a time.”

César looked embarrassed. “Sorry we didn’t mention it when we were in Mexico, but Ritch made us promise not to. He stressed he wanted to be the one to share the news. In person.”

“It’s fine. I’ll miss the Jeep and there went the chance of my first car being Liebe’s first too. But Heinrich’s cool, a lot sleeker, and more comfortable than Defiant ever was.”

“Tell you what.” Brett offered CJ a hand to get him off the motorcycle. “Everyone’s waiting for you. Let’s go inside, we’ll do a little day drinking to celebrate your birthday, and you’ll feel better. We can revisit the subject of your asshole boss later.” With a hand against the small of CJ’s back, Brett propelled the younger man towards the door. “Good talk.”

As soon as they opened the door, CJ did feel better. The entire family broke into a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Since Liebe had so many caretakers willing to look after her, CJ and Owen decided exceeding their normal rum ration would not be an issue; they could drink as much as they wanted without worrying about being unable to care for their daughter. After raiding the platters of cold cuts, bread, and salads, they joined Ritch outside to eat lunch. Although the temperature hovered around freezing, gas heaters helped make the chilly day comfortable.

“Bro, you should have come in the house when I did.” Ritch raised his beer towards his brother and brother-in-law. “Cheers, guys. Happy birthday, CJ.”

“Thanks! Salud!”

“Cheer’s mate. It’s good to see you looking so well.” The three had last been together over the summer. “So why did you say CJ should have walked in with you?”

“You should have too. The moment Liebe saw Aba, she screamed her name and ran-waddled-stumbled towards her.”

“How’d your grandmother react?” Olga Santos, Ritch and CJ’s maternal grandmother had looked after Liebe for the first year of her life.

“Duh! What do you think? She started blubbering. She should have moved to Mexico with you guys.”

CJ shook his head. “Nope. As much as we wanted her to at first, her refusal made sense after a while. She’s better off in Miami instead of having to acclimate herself to another new culture. And trust me, Ritch, it’s different down there. The social strata are clearly defined. Miami’s her safe space, bro. She survived living in D.C. because she had us, you, and the dads around. In Mexico, she would have been alone except for us, Liebe, and maybe Lincoln. And I wouldn’t have been around as much as when I was in school. You know, work?”

“I hope you get to meet our nanny at some point, Ritch. CJ and I hit the jackpot when we hired her.”

That evening, the grandmothers collaborated on a twenty-fourth birthday dinner for CJ. Although extra leaves were added to the table, it could not accommodate the entire family, so CJ’s cousins and their spouses ate steps away at the kitchen island. Everyone insisted the birthday boy sit at the head, and CJ demanded his grandmothers flank him.

The live-edge tablecreated by the same craftsman who made the one at Brett and César’s Georgetown townhouse—groaned under the food’s weight. Festooned with white paper streamers and bright red china, the colors were repeated in the balloons hanging from the antler chandelier above it. Liebe jumped a little whenever anyone popped one but, instead of being scared, laughed along with everyone else.

“It’s delicious, Aba.” CJ pushed slightly away from the table, leaned to his left, and kissed his grandmother’s cheek. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

He repeated the process with his other grandmother. “Thank you, Abuela.”

“Olga and I like cooking together. Even more for you guys. I bet you don’t get good Cuban food in Mexico.” Rosario and Sebastián Abelló lived in Miami, but after selling their home a few years before and moving to a condominium, they spent a lot of time traveling. Avid cruisers, they would be flying to Hawaii after Christmas for a New Year’s trip through the islands.

“There’s a couple of places, but nothing as good as this.” Owen had gone for seconds before anyone else had finished their first helping.

At the end of the meal, CJ was once again serenaded with “Happy Birthday.” César had ordered individual cheesecakes for dessert, and CJ was handed two of them in separate plates. One had a candle shaped like a two, the other one a four. Liebe ate most of one.

Campeón, you coming outside for a cigar?” Sebastián rarely called CJ anything but champ.

“In a few minutes, Abuelo. It’s way past Liebe’s bedtime, and she’s getting cranky. Let me put her to bed and I’ll come out.”

“Go! Go with your grandfather.” Rosario held her arms out for Liebe. “Olga and I will take care of her.”

 

“What time will you guys be back?” César handed Liebe to Owen so he could secure her in the child seat.

“Not sure, but it won’t be late. Liebe’s gonna need a nap if we don’t want her acting up at dinner tonight.” Satisfied his daughter was safely strapped in, Owen slid in next to her. Taisha had already taken the other side.

“Who’s driving?”

“Rod. He won the coin toss.” CJ grinned, shrugged, and opened the front passenger door. “I already drove it yesterday so…”

“Where is he?”

“My silly husband came out here and realized he’d forgotten his phone.” Taisha tsked. “The man would leave his head behind if it wasn’t attached.”

Rodney Abelló, César’s nephew, had moved to Washington soon after college graduation to work for his uncle and Brett. He met Taisha when she interviewed for a position with Third Line Development, LLC, even before he had started his employment. Later, he admitted to an immediate infatuation with the woman. The attraction was mutual. Being married and working together was apparently not a problem for them; they had previously credited Brett and César with being role models for how to successfully navigate the situation.

The door to the house crashed open and a greyish blur zoomed in the car’s direction. “Bye, unk.” Rod slammed the door closed before César could reply, looked at his passengers, and grinned. “Sorry, guys. Not sure what the heck I was thinking.”

“You weren’t thinking, cuz.” CJ crossed his arms and faced the driver’s seat. “It’s to be expected. I mean, you’re getting old.”

Rod glanced at Liebe in the back seat and waved at her. “You can imagine what my response would be if she wasn’t in the car. Where to?”

“Lionhead’s Village. Already pulled it up on my phone. Let me connect to Heinrich, and we can follow the GPS. I haven’t driven a lot the times I’ve been here, and I don’t wanna get lost.”

Taisha leaned forward and tapped CJ’s shoulder. “What are we shopping for?”

“Insulation for Liebe. She’s outgrown her stuff from last year. Bib, parka, hat, mittens, boots, and whatever else. We want her to spend time in the snow.”

“Don’t forget we need noise-canceling headphones.” Owen had looked for them while unpacking and realized they had left them either on the plane or at the airport.

Properly attired, Liebe insisted on walking once they were done shopping. Although the heated sidewalks in the village prevented snow accumulation and ice formation, the slight drizzle left the walkways and roads wet, and at times slippery.

The first time she fell on her backside she laughed. The second time she pouted. CJ was ready when she did it again. He scooped her up before she could start crying and swung her back and forth while holding her by her arms. The girl squealed in delight, forgot about her sore behind, and accepted being carried from that point forward.

It was a good thing Rod had made reservations. On the day before Christmas, the casual restaurant was jammed. They still had to wait and did so at the bar. “Can I get you a cocktail while you wait for your table?” The young woman smiled at Liebe while talking to the adults.

“Any specials?” Rod did not bother looking behind the woman otherwise he would have seen the drink of the day scribbled on the board behind her. She pointed at it.

“Duh! Cuz, you’re getting slower by the minute. What’s a Christmas martini?”

“We use liquid nitrogen to freeze peppermint chocolate into lollipops. It gets dropped into a chilled glass with vodka, and you twirl it around until it melts.”

Owen and Taisha nodded and asked for one at the same time. CJ and Rod echoed their order. CJ’s curiosity was killing him. “Okay, I can’t wait any longer.” He stared at his cousin and his wife. “Last night, when you asked to have lunch with just us two, Owen stopped me from asking why.”

“We were surrounded by people, Ceej. If they wanted everyone to hear what they wanted to talk about, they would have done so. I figured it was a private matter.”

Rod grinned and nodded. “For sure you married up when it comes to smarts, cuz.”

“Screw you, Rodney.”

“Don’t you two start. It’s bad enough knowing Randy and CJ will be at it the entire weekend.” Taisha fought an ongoing battle to ensure the relationship between her husband and his cousin did not mirror the one between CJ and Randall Abelló, Rod’s identical twin. The two reverted to behaving like teenagers whenever together.

“Anyway, Taisha and I wanted to speak with you two before we told the rest of the crowd.” He paused for a moment and inhaled. “We’ve decided we want to expand our family. We want to have a baby.”

“That’s awesome!” CJ high-fived his cousin. “A playmate for Liebe!” He turned his attention to Taisha. “You preggers yet?”

She laughed. “Getting personal, ain’t you?”

CJ rolled his eyes. “Come on, T. This is us you’re talking to.”

“Yeah, nothing’s off the table when it comes to conversations with this family.” She shook her head. “Not yet. I went off birth control at the beginning of the month so whenever it happens, it happens.”

“CJ and I are ready for another one. Maybe the two kids will be born around the same time.”

“Do you have a surrogate yet?”

“We haven’t met her in person, but we do. We’ll probably be in D.C. sometime in spring, and we plan on meeting her then. If we are all happy, we’ll sign the contract.”

Taisha looked pleased. “It would be fun to have kids the same age. Even more so, if they get to grow up next to each other.” Her enigmatic expression confused CJ.

“Okay, back to the other reason for this lunch. Trying for a baby’s part one, and we’d like you to keep that detail to yourselves. We won’t tell the fam until we’re already expecting.” Rod drew another large breath. “Part two’s we want to move before the kid’s born.”

“You’re leaving Washington?” CJ hoped he had heard wrong. Although he and Owen were currently in Mexico, they would be returning to the District of Columbia at some point. Rod and Taisha were more than relatives, they were an integral part of their inner circle.

“No, no… We’re moving within the city.” Taisha momentarily hesitated. “We found a house we like, larger than our townhouse, and we put an offer on it. It was accepted, and we’re waiting for inspection results.”

“You scared me, T.” CJ turned to look at the woman. “We want you in D.C. when we return from Mexico.”

“You may not be as happy when you hear where the house’s at.” Rod glanced at his cousin before returning his attention to his cocktail. “It’s in your hood.”

“Really? That’s brilliant, mate. We already have Phil and Riley a few blocks away. I say the more the merrier.” Owen was visibly excited about the prospect. “Where abouts? How close to us?”

“One thirty-three Eleventh Street.” The momentary silence was deafening.

“WHAT? You’re shitting me! Across the alley from us?” Everhope, CJ and Owen’s home, was at one thirty-one. In a street full of attached homes, it stood out for having the alley on one side and a large courtyard on the other. “Dude, that’s awesome!” CJ high-fived his cousin again.

“I’m confused.” Owen looked it. “Why wouldn’t we be happy?”

Taisha shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. We were worried you guys would be upset about having us that close.”

“You crazy? If it was up to CJ, we’d buy every house enclosing the alleys”one ran along the side, connecting Tenth and Eleventh street, and a perpendicular one provided access to the garages behind the houses“and then sell or rent them to friends. He did say he wanted an enclave when we bought Everhope.”

CJ’s exuberance had not diminished. “It’s starting, Oz. It’s starting. I’m glad it’s the two of you first and that it’s that house. The owner’s a douche. Right, Oz?”

“He hasn’t been my favorite neighbor. Last year, when we put a Biden-Harris lawn sign in front of the house, he berated me about not supporting the president’s reelection, claiming we were traitors to our social class. The next day, he had a bunch of MAGA shit all over his place.”

“I know he moved to Washington when Littlehands appointed him to something or other at the Labor Department. Guess he’s not been able to find another job after the election.” CJ downed the rest of his cocktail and stood. “They just called Abelló; let’s go eat. Oh, one other thing about that house. We now get to use the pool whenever we want!”

 

Although Liebe did nap in the afternoon, she was moody when they headed out to dinner.

On Christmas Eve, the troupe rode first a gondola then a Snow Cat to the Game Creek Club; they took over a large portion of the restaurant. Perched on the side of the mountain, the tractor was one way of reaching the lavishly appointed structure; skis, boards, and snowshoes were the alternatives.

“Could the altitude be bothering her?” Lynne Abelló sat next to CJ trying to comfort the whimpering toddler.

“I don’t think so, Lynne.” Owen was the one to address her concern. “It’s about the same as Mexico City’s. I’m hoping it’s just generic crankiness, and she’ll be fine tomorrow. She’s had an ear infection before and acted this way then, so it could be the same.”

A bump on the way made her wail and cry full-on. CJ cradled her a little closer and bounced her a bit, but the girl wouldn’t stop crying; she swatted away the plush toy Owen tried to hand her. Her volume rose until CJ decided to peel her away from his chest and sit her on his lap facing him.

“What’s wrong, Liebe?” The girl blubbered. “Words, Liebe. You have to use words, so I can understand you. If you keep crying, I can’t help you.” Loud sobs replaced the high-pitch wailing, she slowly calmed down. “What’s bothering you?”

“Hungry…”

“We’ll fix that in a few minutes, okay? As soon as we get to the restaurant we’ll order you something. You ready to stop crying?”

She nodded and at last accepted the stuffed animal her other father held out to her.

Rico, CJ’s uncle, elbowed him to get his attention. “I can’t believe that worked! You always talk to her like that?”

CJ nodded. “Yep. We try to talk to her as an adult whenever we can. The pediatrician mentioned it might be the reason she has a good vocabulary and can form more complex sentences than most kids her age.”

At the restaurant, Owen ordered the bacon mac and cheese bites appetizer as a meal for her as soon as they were seated. She was done eating by the time the mains arrived. Although her fathers had weaned her of pacifiers a while back, they occasionally gave her one at bedtime. Once she was finished with her food, Owen dipped one in his wine glass and stuck it in her mouth. A little while later, she was dozing in the high chair.

 

“What you reading?” Owen slid onto the couch next to CJ and wormed his way under the blanket.

Embers.”

“Really? About time you got around to it. How far in are you?”

“Gimmie a break, Oz. I barely read for pleasure anymore. Anyway, chapter five. Brandon just saw live ’roos drinking at a billabong. Pretty cool to see the family name in a novel.”

For nearly a year, wildfires ravaged Australia beginning in mid-2019. Firefighters from multiple countries, including a young Californian, helped battle the conflagrations. Some ended up in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, housed and fed by wineries, including the one owned by Owen’s family.

“That’s nothing. Wait until the end when he returns for a visit as a tourist.”

Owen’s brother, Spencer, had recounted how the American volunteer had introduced himself, explained he was an amateur author, and asked permission to use the winery and the Liston name in a supernatural story he planned to write about the fires.

“Is that when he tells Spencer he used my old blog as a guide for places to visit?”

“Yep. Kinda weird to see you, me, and Spence as characters in a gay werewolf story.”

“Lycan, Oz. I’ve heard werewolf’s not PC these days.”

“You? You’re lecturing me about being PC?” Owen appeared amused. “Give it up, Ceej. This is fiction we’re talking about.”

CJ shrugged. “Hey, I’m trying to go with the flow. Covering my behind in case they’re real. You know something? I was wondering if it’s legal for him to use our names like that.”

“Pretty sure it is. Spencer gave his consent and for better or worse, you’re kind of a public figure, and I’m too by association. As long as he doesn’t have us say or do anything we wouldn’t normally say or do, he’s fine.”

“We should try to meet the author next time we’re in California. Get his contact info from Spencer.” CJ leaned into his husband and pecked his cheek. “Now, get the fuck away and leave me alone, so I can read. I want to finish the book before we return to Mexico.”

Owen chuckled and stood. “Fine. You want to be alone, I’ll leave. But you’re not getting any tonight.”

Embers, and its protagonist, Brandon Holstrom, are the intellectual property of WolfM and used with his permission. The story can be found here:

Copyright © 2021 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you to my support team, you improved the story. Any remaining errors are my responsibility. And thank you to all readers for supporting me. I hope to hear from you.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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I miss interacting with readers. And since CDMX won't be published for a while, how about a look at part of chapter one?  
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