"Adrian, show me your home and where you went to school."
"This is the high school I attended. It isn't large; they had from 7th to 12th grades here. I liked school and did very well. I tutored some of the jocks, and they kept kids in check. One kid started on me at lunchtime. When he turned around, there were these two football players behind him. They made him apologize."
"Why were you being picked on? Did they know you were gay?"
"No, it was just that I was smart. You know kids always look for some difference to make a big deal out of it. That kid eventually attended one of my tutoring classes. We became friends. I only had friends inside the school, never associated with anyone outside of school."
"That must have been lonely for you."
"Not really. I had my books. I spent a lot of time in the town's library. Reading has always been my favorite past time until you came along. Now you're my favorite past time." That got me a kiss on the cheek.
Our town wasn't big, but we did spend a few hours driving around. I did show Paul my home, and then we parked the car and walked along Main Street. "I use to stop here and get an ice cream cone after leaving the library. Want an ice cream?"
"He nodded and held open the door. "Hey Adrian, what are you doing back in town?"
"Hi Larry, my mom is in the hospital, so I came back to see her. This is Paul. He's my boyfriend."
"So you're gay. There was a rumor around school that you were gay. None of us would say anything as long as you had your army backing you up."
"I never denied it. For me, it wasn't an issue. My intent was to win a scholarship, which meant I had no time dating boys or girls. So what's new with you?"
"I live with my boyfriend. We have a small apartment over his car shop."
I started to laugh, "That surprises me. I didn't know you were gay."
"There was no way I'd come out in school. You had your bodyguards. I had no one."
"I'm glad we stopped for ice cream. Do I know your partner?"
"Yep, you remember Bobby Hawkins."
"Yes, he was always fixing his car. That thing broke down more than it ran."
"That's him, he learned a lot on that car, and now he has a car repair shop. Doing quite well."
"That's great. I'll have the usual. What do you want, Paul?"
"I'll have the same as you."
"After paying for our ice cream, I said goodbye. We finished walking along Main Street, eating our ice cream. "Adrian, there's a dog. It looks like a stray. Oops, I dropped my ice cream."
"Oops? I think you did that on purpose."
"Well, the dog looked hungry."
We watched the dog finish off Paul's ice cream. "Here, I'll share mine with you."
He took it, tasted it, "I think this is sour," he dropped the ice cream as the dog ran over to finished it off.
He was smiling at me, "You did that on purpose."
"Yes, he was hungry, and maybe that'll allow him to get through the day." Paul was a softie, he couldn't see anyone get hurt, animal or human, and I loved him for that.
"Did your sister say what time to meet for dinner?"
"Yes, she said 5, before the crowd. If you want, we can head that way. We can walk, and that way, we'll probably show up on time."
The walk was pleasant. We jostled each other, like kids playing around, only for us, it was an opportunity to touch each other. I was hopelessly in love with Paul."
"As we approached the diner, I could see Emily and Jim walking toward the diner with another couple. As we got closer, we could see it was two guys.
When we entered the diner, Emily saw us and waved us over to a large corner table. "Adrian, I want you to meet Bill and Alex. Bill is Jim's cousin, and Alex is his boyfriend."
"Hey, this is Paul, and he's my boyfriend." So this is why Emily was so accepting. We sat across from them and started to chat.
"Emily, I saw Gene earlier. I thought he was coming."
"He is. He had some business he needed to attend. He'll be here shortly."
"I guess you guys have eaten here often?"
"Not really, Bill has since he spends a lot of time at Jim's house. I think this will be my third time. My parents aren't too keen on me having a boyfriend, so that makes it hard for me to get away."
"Do you work or go to school?"
"Bill works, I go to school. I'm attending a community college, and when I get my Associate Degree, Bill is going to go and get his degree."
"What are you studying?"
"Medical technician, I'm going to work with Jim."
I looked at Jim. He just smiled. "Bill, what are you planning on taking at college?"
"I'm going to get my degree in accounting. The way these guys talk about making all of this money, they'll need me to keep track of it."
"Hey guys, have you ordered yet?"
"No, we were waiting for you."
The waitress came over, looked at us, grinned, and left. "What was that all about?"
"She knows that we want chicken. Watch she'll be back with plates, a large bowl of coleslaw, and several napkins."
It wasn't long before she put a pitcher of ice tea on the table with glasses, napkins, and cutlery. I watched Paul as she went through her paces. Gene poured us all a glass of ice tea, and before he set the pitcher down, she brought a bowl of coleslaw and a large bowl of french fries. Picked up the ice tea pitcher and left. I just smiled at Paul. We still didn't have any plates."
"That was remedied when the tea pitcher came back. She had plates for all of us and an empty basket.
Paul looked at the basket. I mouthed the word 'bones' to him. His smile told me he understood. We helped ourselves to the coleslaw and french fries. It didn't take long for the dishes to be empty. The next time our waitress came, she had a large platter of fried chicken. That platter no sooner hit the table when forks started to move. Most of them liked the white meat. I prefer the dark meat, it's tastier. So I had two chicken legs and one thigh on my plate. Paul did manage to get one piece of chicken breast, but I think he got all of the wings.
The food was just as good as I remembered it. "Adrian, we need to take some of this home." I just smiled. I knew he'd give a piece to Dave and see if he could make it."
"I never knew dinner could be so enjoyable. When I had dinner athome, I wasn't encouraged to say anything. If I did say something, I was ignored. Here, I felt like I belonged.
Bill and Alex fit right in. For the first time, I felt like I was part of a family. Paul looked at me and winked. I knew he knew how I felt.
We passed on dessert, Paul offered to pay, but we ended up tossing money onto the table. Gene did a quick count, threw another 5, and said it was good. "Paul and I walked from our car, so we have to walk back and get it." Bill and Alex volunteered to walk with us.
"Adrian, may I see you a moment?"
"Paul, why don't you go ahead and get the car, I'll catch up to you."
"Adrian, the reason I was late is that I talked with Dad. He's going to restore your allowance and make up the back payments as well."
"Gene thanks, but I don't want anything to do with them."
"You won't. What Dad didn't tell you is that Grandfather set up a trust for you. The bank is the trustee, and they have been holding the money when Dad told them you didn't need it. I spoke to Dad and then went to see Mr. Cummings at the bank. So you'll be getting a monthly check."
"Did Grandfather set up a trust for all of us?"
"No, just for you, Emily told me what mom said. Grandfather must have suspected something. I guess he felt that sometime down the road, you would need this."
"Did you know this all the time?"
"No, I guess I never really paid attention to you growing up. The only thing in my head was football. I'm sorry that I didn't act as an older brother should. I'm sorry."
"It's ok, Gene. I think one of the reasons I tried so hard in school was because of you. I was proud of you and proud to be your brother. We shouldn't focus on the past. The important thing now is that you're in my life, along with Emily. I'm really glad I came."
I think for the first time, my brother hugged me. I hugged him right back. "Will I see you before I leave?"
"When are you leaving?"
"We are leaving in the morning, registration tomorrow for the new semester."
"OK, if I don't see you, promise to stay in touch."
"I will, and you also."
I looked into the heavens and thanked God for Paul. He has been my good luck charm as well as my lover. I didn't have all of my family back, but I did have my brother and sister back.
Walking in the car's direction and not focusing on the road, I jumped when I heard a horn next to me. Looking at the car, I saw Paul laughing. "You scared the hell out of me."
"You shouldn't have been walking with your eyes shut."
"He just leaned over and kissed me. "Do you know the way to Jim's"
"Bill, do you want to drive since you know the way"
So we changed seats, Paul and I in the back, Bill and Alex in the front.
I looked at Paul, and he had the devil in his eyes. "Don't do what you're thinking. Be a good boy, and I'll have a treat for you when we get home."
Alex must have heard he started to laugh. When he looked back, I pretend I didn't say anything. I like them, they were young like us, and we needed friends. I loved Paul very much, but you also need friends in your life. It just further enriches your relationship."
"As we drove, we began to talk about how we all met. Bill and Alex had met in high school but kept their relationship secret. I told them how Paul and I met, my version. Then Paul corrected me with his version. I was relaxed and was having fun. I realized as long as Paul was with me, I would be happy.
Jim had a two-story house that was on a cul-de-sac. It was a very nice home. The bedrooms were on the second floor while the kitchen, dining room, and living room were on the first floor and Jim's office.
I followed Bill to the second floor. "You can use this room. Jim's at the end, and my room is in the middle."
"You have a room here?"
"Yes, Jim allows me to stay here as long as I keep the place clean."
"Did you have problems with your folks?"
"Yea, you might say that. My mom is ok, but my stepdad doesn't like me."
"Your lucky you have a place to stay. Jim sounds like a nice guy."
I put our bags in the room and followed Bill downstairs to the living room.
"Do you guys want something to drink? We have beer, soda, and lemonade."
"I'll have a glass of lemonade, thanks." I looked at Paul. He held up two fingers. "Make that two lemonades, please."
"For the rest of the evening, we sat around and chatted. Paul and I enjoyed the company of Bill and Alex. I knew by the time we would leave, we had two friends.
The next morning, we were up and dressed at 7. Jim was already up and had started the coffee. "Do you guys want any breakfast?"
"No, thanks, Jim. The coffee is enough. We want to stop at the diner for breakfast and see if we can take some fried chicken home. We work in a cafe, and I want the owner to taste it, so he'll know what fried chicken is supposed to taste like."
"What time do Bill and Alex normally wake up?""
"Like right now."
"Good morning, guys. We're glad to catch you before we leave. We're going to stop at the diner for breakfast and get some fried chicken to take back with us. You're welcome to join us. The only thing we won't be coming back this way."
"That's fine, we'll follow you in Alex's car."
"Jim can you join us."
"Sorry, guys, I have to be at the hospital in 20 minutes. Have a safe trip home, and stay in contact."
We hugged Jim and headed for our car. "Do you remember the way to the diner, or do you want me to drive."
"You drive, and then I'll drive after breakfast."
I drove to the diner, Alex followed us. We got a booth. They were busy, so we had to wait a little while. The waitress set down 4 cups and filled them with coffee. "I guess we'll have coffee."
"We took one look at the menu and ordered the Omelet with extra cheese and ham. It came with home fries and toast. When she brought the dishes, there was no question it would hold us till we got home.
She came back, picked up the empty plates, poured more coffee. "Anything else?"
"Jill, ask Bernie if these guys could take some fried chicken back with them to college."
We chatted as we waited, she came back with a box, it had four pieces of uncooked chicken. "Bernie said to make sure your oil is 375 degrees before you fry this."
"Tell Bernie, thanks." I paid our check and left a good tip.
"You gave her a good tip."
"We work in a cafe, and you would be surprised at the tips we get. We're lucky if we get 10 percent. Generally, it's the change."
"Look, guys, we have to get going. Registration today, and if we want to get the class and instructor we want, we have to be early. It's good to have met you, and I'm sure we'll see you at Thanksgiving. Stay in touch."
Paul started the car, and we waved as we drove off. Three hours later, we pulled into our apartment. "You drove fast."
"Not that fast. When we went down, we had to check the map, but coming back, we already knew the route. Put the chicken in the fridge, garb our papers, and let's go and register."
I ran up the stairs, put the chicken in the fridge, grab our papers from the table, and was back in the car within a few minutes. "Not bad."
Registration was at the main auditorium. Lines were everywhere. In front of every desk was a sign indicating what courses could be registered there. Paul and I had looked over the course list before and knew which courses we wanted and which professors we wanted. We split up and headed to the appropriate tables. It looked like a madhouse, but it was very efficient. I got all of the curses I wanted now. I had to look for Paul. I saw him in one line, "How are you doing?"
"Almost done, I just want to take this course, and then we can have lunch."
"I'll wait for you at the bursar's desk."
Fifteen minutes later, I saw Paul heading my way. "Why are you laughing?"
"There was a kid in line with me enrolling in the same course. He asked for Prof. Edwards's class, and a friend told him no, he was too strict, take Prof. Stricken class instead. So he changed. I told him I had Prof. Stricken during the summer, and he was tough. The kid looked for his friend, and he was gone."
"That wasn't nice."
"No, but I signed up for the same course, so I'll introduce him to the library."
"Let's pay and then go to the cafe."
Paying was the easiest. She took one look at my ID, typed something into the computer, and gave me a receipt. Did the same thing with Paul's.
"Stop at the apartment, and I'll get the chicken. You can turn in the car, and I'll meet you at the cafe."
I took our papers, put them on the table, picked up the chicken, and headed to the cafe. I was just telling Dave how to cook the chicken when Paul walked in.
We watched Dave pick up the chicken. He smelled it and then went to fry it. "Dave, 375."
He checked the oil temperature, and it was 325. He reset the thermostat and waited till the oil was hot, dropped in the chicken. Paul and I went and cleared the tables and started the dishwasher. I watch Dave removed the chicken. It was a golden brown just like the diner.
He looked at us, "You guys want a taste?"
"We each took a piece leaving 2 for Dave. I watched as he took his first bite. He was hooked.
"Paul, was it the temperature or the spices they used to make that chicken so good?"
"I don't know, but we'll find out. If I'm not mistaken, all Dave's chicken will be fried at 375. So we shall see."
Paul was right. All the chicken we served for the dinner crowd was that golden brown. "Paul, we need to get a piece of that chicken to see what it tastes like."
At the end of the night, tables all bussed, dishes in the sanitizer, kitchen clean, "Guys, try this chicken."
Dave had two pieces of chicken for us to taste. I took a bite, looked at Paul. "Dave, the crispness is the same, but something is missing. I think they must use a spice or herb. It isn't the same."
"Here, try this."
"I looked at Paul, and we smiled, "Yes, this is it. What the difference?"
"Buttermilk. I had some buttermilk leftover from my biscuits this morning, so I tried it."
"You better plan on making a lot of this. Wait till our customers find out you have the best-fried chicken in town.
"Look," Dave opened the cooler, and he had four pans of chicken soaking in buttermilk. "Think that is enough?"
"Not sure, but we'll see tonight."
"How's your mother?"
"She's not doing well. She was in critical care, and it doesn't look good. My sister is a nurse, and she'll keep me up to date."