Mark stopped walking, dropped to his knees, and looked at Belinda.He saw the fatigue in her eyes and knew that he had made a mistake by taking his children on this pilgrimage across Spain in the heat of summer.Belinda started crying and laid her head on Mark’s shoulder.
“It’s alright, darling. How about if we sit and rest?”
“Where are Robert and Daddy Dan?”
As soon as the question came, Mark felt Dan’s hand on his shoulder.
“What’s wrong, my darling girl?”
Belinda couldn’t talk she was so exhausted.
Robert crouched and pulled his younger sister into an embrace.He kissed her hair and told her that everything was going to be okay.Robert and Dan had been hiking ahead when they realized that Mark and Belinda had stopped.Robert started running back to them, and Dan struggled to keep up with the boy.Robert was sprinting by the time they reached Belinda.
Mark looked around and found a spot of shade under a tree.
“Come, let’s get in the shade.”
Mark picked up his daughter and took her to the shade.He made everyone take big gulps of water and said they would take a nap before continuing.Belinda curled up next to Mark while Robert laid down with Dan.Robert’s head was on Dan’s abdomen as he slept.Mark and Dan were holding hands.
They slept for an hour shaded from the mid-afternoon sun.There wasn’t a breath of air stirring.It was another hot day on the Camino de Santiago.Mark knew this hike had been his idea, and now he considered it a major mistake.The idea had started simply enough as a fun way to travel from Paris to Algiers.
The four travelers had arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport mid-morning after a flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.They knew they would have a two-week quarantine, which would give them time to rest from the hectic schedule they had prior to leaving Hillsborough.This would allow them to sort out Dan’s Paris home and how they would live in such a behemoth. Mark didn’t think he could ever consider this a home, given his more modest upbringing.This house was like a palace.Dan’s grandparents had lived a rather grand lifestyle, and the house had seen many luxurious gatherings throughout the years. Dan basically lived in a few rooms while he was in Paris; the rest of the house was closed with dust covers over all of the furniture.The children had a great time going room to room uncovering furniture with Belinda exclaiming what a grand life they would have living in Paris.She said she would need ball gowns for the many soirees they were sure to give.Her fantasy world was alive and kicking.She insisted that they eat in the large dining room each night using priceless silver, crystal, and china.Belinda also stipulated they dress for dinner.Mark was dumbfounded in trying to figure out how his young daughter instinctively knew about this style of living.Dan was enchanted with Belinda and followed her every dictate.Mark and Robert were less agreeable but didn’t argue.Dan thought that, once again, there was a chatelaine to oversee the house and entertaining.Albeit, she was seven years old.
Leaving North Carolina when they did had been totally unpredicted.Dan was the first to raise the issue when he told Mark and the children that he was concerned about the Covid19 virus.He told Mark there would be quarantines, problems traveling across borders, and they might get stuck in Hillsborough.Not that he minded, but he didn’t know if he would get to Paris or Algiers in the foreseeable future.Luckily, Mark had the Mill House and they could stay as long as they needed.Dan called Mark one day and said he was not coming home.
“I am staying in my apartment. I am glad I did not give up the lease.I am seeing very sick patients in the hospital, and I do not want to possibly infect you and the kids.”
Mark started to protest but knew that Dan was right.Mark was working with his staff on what to do with all of the student’s belongings in the university dorms. The students had been told not to return to campus after spring break.The campus had been closed to everyone except essential workers.Mark was considered an essential worker.
When the public schools closed, Joe and Thomas said they would watch the kids each day.Joe made sure that no one came on the property.All of Thomas’ clergy supply work ended immediately.Joe was concerned about people walking the river trail and put some temporary fencing between the trail and the Mill House.Joe and Thomas were also worried about Sean.After a call, where Sean assured them that he was at home and not going anywhere, they were more relieved.Sean said he had moved some of his art supplies from his studio to the house.He said he would order new supplies rather than risk going down to the studio if stay-at-home orders were released.
Finally, an unexpected call forced Dan and Mark to make a decision.The hospital administrator in Paris called Dan and told him to come home.The pandemic was overwhelming the healthcare system and the hospital needed Dan’s skills.Dan told the administrator that as soon as he could make travel arrangements, he would be back.Dan called Mark at his office.
“I have to go to Paris.I will get you and the kids there later.”
“No, Dan.That doesn’t work.If you go, I go.If I go, the kids go.”
“Well, we aren’t married yet and we wanted to get married here.”
“Let’s get married.We have to go to the courthouse to get a license.That may be a problem but let me see what I can do.”
Getting a license did prove to be a problem, but Mark called Millie Tilley, who spoke to Judge Melville, and it was all arranged.Sometimes it helped to know people who could make systems work. In less than a week, Dan and Mark had made arrangements to get married.
The day of the wedding was a beautiful spring day in central North Carolina.Mark and the children left the Mill House and walked to the center of the field between the two houses.Dan, along with Joe and Thomas, came from the Yellow House to the middle of the field.The Dean of the Divinity School was standing there waiting.When the two men kissed, they heard loud huzzahs coming from every direction.They saw their friends circling the field.Everybody was wearing masks and standing six feet apart, but that still meant there were a couple of hundred people present.The Royal Court of Durham was present as well as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.Mark and Dan heard the choir singing.Mark’s co-workers were present.The only people missing were the staff from the hospital who could not get off work.Someone called for Mark and Dan to look up, and they saw a bi-plane flying overhead pulling a banner.Written on the banner was “Congratulations, Mark and Dan.”
Everyone drank champagne while standing around the field.There were many calls of congratulations as people departed.The Dean said he had never conducted a wedding such as he had that day.Deputy Dave Cartwright had brought Deputy Hank Langdon with him to ensure that proper protocols were being followed. Technically, Mark and Dan were violating the Governor’s orders, but none of the folks were “gathered” as such.They were just hanging out on the river trail, along the street, and in the woods.Dave knew that if anyone filed a complaint, his explanation would not stand up, and he would be reprimanded by the Sheriff, but he was willing to take the risk.Mark’s parents continued to try to cause problems for their son and luckily were nowhere near.Hank was glad to be invited and saw several men he thought were attractive.Deputy Cartwright just grinned and confirmed his suspicions about his law enforcement partner.
It was the first of May when all details were settled so they could leave.Mark apologized to Joe and Thomas for abandoning them.They were both teary and happy that Dan and Mark were married and leaving together with their children.Thomas knew they would leave at some point; the only question was when, and the answer was now.Mark and the kids had packed boxes to be shipped to Paris and Algiers.The Mill House was emptied of everything except for the furniture that Joe and Mark had built.
Dan had worked through diplomatic circles in Paris to get resident visas for Mark, Robert, and Belinda.His lawyer, Yonatan Ward-Jenner, had performed wonders.His grandparents had used the firm where Yonatan practiced family law.When Dan was going to travel to the United States, he met with Yonatan about being out of the country for two years and signed the Power of Attorney documents so that Yonatan could handle everyday family business on his behalf.Yonatan had told Dan about growing up about 75 miles north of Durham and assured him that he would love the area.Dan surprised Yonatan when he called seeking help to get his husband and children into France.Yonatan had lots of questions about Dan having a husband and even more about having children.Yonatan came through like gang-busters and then said they would all have dinner together when restrictions were lifted.
It was eerie being at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport as there were so few people around.Many flights were canceled, but they were able to get on an Air France flight.Sidney and Clay arrived at the terminal for the farewell.They stood to the side and waved while their friends went through security.Joe and Thomas stood crying and waving as their “sons and grandchildren” departed.Belinda didn’t want to let go of Thomas and Joe.It was only because Thomas and Joe promised to come to Paris for Christmas that Belinda was able to release them before turning to walk through security.Belinda had already extracted a promise from Sean to fly to Paris.Sidney said that he and Clay would come immediately after Christmas and stay through Old Christmas.
Mark had all of the legal documents ready.He was so glad that he had acquired their passports earlier.Mark had his name changed on his passport to Mark Lillie-Harden after he and Dan married.Mark explained to the TSA agents why his last name was different than the children.He was familiar with the routine after applying for visas for the children and himself.Yonatan had prepared Dan for what they would deal with when entering France.Yonatan also made a cryptic comment about his husband, their children, living in Brussels, Paris, and New York, and what a pain it could be when going through customs.
The flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport was without incident.Dan wanted them to fly business class but Mark was adamant that they weren’t of that type of money, and instead, they flew coach.Mid-way across the Atlantic, Mark was regretting his decision.He couldn’t stretch his legs.Robert was leaning into his shoulder, snoring, and Belinda was propped up against Dan.Mark and Dan were sitting in the center seats and were holding hands.On occasion, they would lean in for a kiss.They awoke early and cleaned up in the restrooms of the plane before breakfast was served. Robert was cranky because he hadn’t slept very well.Belinda was insistent that she needed to freshen up before they landed.
After exiting the aircraft, they were in line waiting for the customs officers to check their documents.Dan could have gone into another line for European Union nationals and quickly maneuvered through customs but stayed with his family.He had lots of patience with the customs officer as he explained who each person was and his relationship to the family.The officer was gay and helped to expedite everything, but the situation was still fraught with regulations as Dan explained they would spend part of the year in Algiers and part in Paris.Dan was getting wound up and his words would not stop.Finally, the agent asked Dan to stop talking and stamped each visa for their extended time in France.He suggested there might be significant problems as they tried to enter Algeria because of Covid19.Dan thanked him for the information, and the family finally moved through the terminal until they reached the luggage carousels.Luckily, most things had been shipped, but there were a couple of small suitcases with emergency supplies to tide them over if needed.
They exited the terminal into the late spring heat of Paris.It was certainly cooler than Hillsborough but it felt like a different kind of heat.Mark thought they would take the train into the city and then the metro to the house.He had looked at maps before they departed so he would have a working knowledge of where they were going.Dan was having none of that and signaled a taxi.The views were all new as they moved through mid-day traffic in Paris.Even Mark found himself twisting and turning in his seat to look at the beautiful capital city.
The taxi pulled up in front of a massive building with a closed wooden gate.Dan paid the driver and they stood on the sidewalk.
“Which one is our house, Daddy Dan?”
“This one, Robert.”
“You mean the entire house?”
“Yes, the entire house.You and Belinda need to be careful so you don’t get lost.”
Belinda was looking wide-eyed and said she couldn’t wait to pick out her bedroom.When they went in, Belinda was agog at its beauty.She immediately started acting very regal.Dan chuckled and started addressing her as your majesty.She giggled and played along with the joke, yet somehow she said this felt like home.When they started opening bedroom doors, she would be the first one to enter the room.Dan thought he was smart and didn’t open his bedroom door; instead, he opened the door to his grandparent’s bedroom.Belinda walked through the room, turned to look at Dan, and said this was the room where the daddies would stay.There was no question.She made the same statement for Robert when she entered one of the rooms.He accepted what his sister said.Finally, she opened a door, and they could all hear her ooh and ahh.She had found her room.
Dan decided a nap was in order before they did anything else.The plane trip was tiring, but that was nothing compared to their final weeks in the United States.They were still exhausted from the final packing of things in Hillsborough, moving Linda’s family furniture into a storage warehouse, having meetings at the bank to ensure that Joe had Power of Attorney for Mark’s financial affairs, and finally, they had an appointment with Evan Glynfell, Esq. to make sure that all legal issues were buttoned up.Mark and Dan kept expecting some major roadblock to stop their progress, but that did not happen.They moved into the Yellow House with Joe and Thomas for the last week they were in Hillsborough.
Every time Mark tried to talk with Thomas and Joe, he became so emotional he couldn’t get the words out.He could only hug them and nod his head.They hugged him back and told him they loved him and were proud of him for being brave as he stepped into this new phase of his life.It was the emotional roller-coaster that was the worst.They worried about every what-if.They agonized that the children’s passports and visas wouldn’t be accepted.They feared that Mark’s parents would find out and try to get a restraining order to prevent him from taking his kids out of the country.They were worried that the borders would close before they could get to Paris.So many worries, and now they were behind the grand doors of their Parisian home and safe from the world.
After awakening later that day, Mark unpacked the boxes that had been shipped from Hillsborough.There had few personal items because Dan said they could purchase everything once they were in Paris.The kids had outgrown their summer clothes from the previous year, and Dan and Belinda would giggle and talk about shopping for summer outfits in the Paris stores.Mark and Robert would roll their eyes and said they were glad they went to the Patagonia Store in Carrboro to purchase hiking equipment and clothes and had them shipped to Paris.The boxes mainly held their Patagonia clothes, camping equipment, and some personal mementos.Mark and Dan had decided they would hike the Camino de Santiago when they left Paris to head to Algiers: The Way of St. James.Belinda, Robert, and Dan all needed hiking boots for the 800 km journey.Luckily, Dan’s feet fit into Linda’s boots.Before Dan would accept the boots, he asked Belinda and Robert if he could have them.At first, Mark didn’t see the need, but he watched Robert’s estimation of his new step-father rise immensely and knew that Dan understood the dynamics of melding into their family.Belinda said they needed pink laces for her boots, so Dan and Belinda had gone shopping at the Patagonia Store.They both came home with pink laces.Mark rolled his eyes.Robert had snickered.
After two weeks of staying at the grand house, Mark said it was time to start walking the Camino.Belinda wanted to stay in Paris after she and Dan had snuck out and shopped in a department store near their home. She was exhilarated from the shopping experience.Dan and Belinda spoke French to each other, and no one knew they had just entered the country.Dan had the baker, butcher, and greengrocer deliver food directly to the house, which reduced their time in the community.Dan didn’t communicate with his colleagues at the hospital and so wasn’t called in on an emergency basis. He wasn’t ready to start work yet.
There were mixed emotions as they packed for six weeks on the trail, but all agreed that arriving at their home in Algiers would be a nice reward.They took the train to Ronceville and purchased their “Camino Passports,” which would be stamped every day along the route.They would have the passports validated once they reached Compostela and would receive a scallop shell and a certificate for having completed the route.The first couple of days were the hardest as they crossed the Pyrenees.Luckily, they were all hikers and were able to climb the steep trails.They saw others struggling.Once they crossed over, they would be on a relatively flat trail for the rest of the trip.
There was only one problem.It was HOT.They stayed away from others to avoid wearing masks, which made breathing easier in the torrid climate.They had them at the ready if needed.More than once, Mark said they should have flown into Algiers, but this had sounded like so much fun at the conceptual level.The reality was something else.It was an especially hot summer in Europe, and here they were today with Belinda suffering again because of the heat.
“Are we ready to walk?”
“Not yet, daddy.Daddy Dan needs to check Belinda to make sure she is ready.”
Mark looked at his son and was amazed at his turn around regarding Dan. Robert now considered whatever Dan said as sacrosanct.
When they had awoken from their naps, Dan had prepared drinks for all of them with electrolyte powder.Dan was especially concerned about the kids.The hike was challenging for adults and worse on children.It was summertime and the temperatures led to rapid fluid evaporation and dehydration.Sure enough, Belinda had waited too long before she told her daddy she was having trouble.She wanted to keep up with the guys and thought she could tough it out.
Dan took his time examining Belinda, knowing that every minute he took would be less time under the scorching sun.He looked her in the eyes and was satisfied that she was fine, but in his fashion, he asked, “Belinda, are you okay to walk?It is alright if you are not, we will wait.”Belinda thought for a few moments and then said she felt fine.
“I will walk with Belinda.”Robert was her protector once again.They both put on their hats and stood.
“We need to do one more thing before we walk.Everyone needs to pee.”
Belinda blushed from head to toe.
“Why, Daddy Dan?”
“Because, if you can’t pee, then you can’t walk.It will mean that you are still dehydrated.”
Robert grabbed Belinda’s hand, and they walked behind a tree.They were giggling.Dan could hear water hitting the ground.Mark smiled at his husband and then leaned over to kiss him.
“Do you want to see me pee?”
“Not now, horseman.You are on your own.”
Mark grinned and knew that later that night, they would have some private time together for a change.Dan had booked rooms in a bodega for some daddy time.Most nights, they slept in hostels where there was little to no privacy.Staying in hostels was difficult for Belinda, but she assured her dads that she would be okay.Robert held up a blanket while she showered so no-one could see her body.It was a quick shower every day. It was also very affordable, and they got a hot meal along with the bed.
Robert came from behind the tree, zipped up, and said that everything was fine.Belinda was behind him, smiling.
Off they went again.This time, Robert and Belinda were ahead of Mark and Dan.They were on week three of the journey.Robert and Belinda had assured their dads they wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago before crossing over the Isthmus at Gibraltar and then following the shores of the Mediterranean Sea across North Africa using some undetermined conveyance.It was a spiritual walk, the same as pilgrims had taken for hundreds of years.Mark and Dan had both been concerned about the children walking in the summertime across Spain, but both Robert and Belinda had insisted they wanted to do the walk.Belinda said she wanted to go to the Cathedral in Compostela.She had her pectoral cross to wear when they went to the Cathedral.
Dan saw Robert reach out for Belinda’s hand, and he did the same with Mark.People looked at them and smiled at the foursome.Dan was practically black from being in the sun and Mark was dark brown.He and Dan had taken off their shirts so they could have even tans.When they were in the shower each night, they would compare their tan lines.Mark considered them highly erotic.Robert had browned up nicely and had done the same as his fathers and gone shirtless on many mornings.He would always put on his shirt and hat for the afternoon walks to avoid the fierceness of the sun.Belinda never removed her shirt and wore a straw hat with a wide brim.She said a lady needed to protect her skin because she didn’t want to be a wrinkled prune when she got older.With her light complexion, she also wore lots of sunscreen.Dan had packed a first-aid kit he carried every day of the walk.In it were the electrolyte powder, the sunscreen, and the usual band-aids, ointments, and pills.They had stopped more than once for Dan to doctor some pilgrim along the way.
Once, they had come upon an elderly couple where a woman was trying to help her husband.The man had a heart attack, and regardless of the amount of CPR that Dan and Mark provided, they could not revive the man.Robert had taken charge of the on-lookers and sent someone running to a village where there might be a telephone to call rescue personnel.They stayed with Erin and her dead husband until the police arrived.Belinda asked Erin if she could say a blessing for her husband.The woman was surprised but then was moved that this young child said a blessing that brought them all to tears.Belinda said they would stay with Erin until they knew she was okay.They spent the night in a local village, and the next day Erin said she was going to be okay and was going to continue hiking after arranging to have her husband’s body cremated.She planned to carry the ashes and have them blessed in Compostela.She said that her husband had late-stage cancer and wanted to be a pilgrim before dying.
“My dear Padric had his dying wish.This is a holy moment, and I am so thankful that I was there when he passed.Did you see the angels hovering overhead?They were beautiful and singing, and I was at peace.”
Dan, Robert, and Mark turned to look at Belinda.They knew she had made that happen. She returned the look and smiled.After two days, the foursome left the village and continued walking.Erin stayed in the village until she got the ashes, and then she started back on the trail.
Now, they were at a bodega where they would sleep in a decent bed.Mark had decided that they would spend an extra day for rest and relaxation.They were behind schedule already, but they weren’t facing an immovable deadline.He had built in an extra ten days when mapping the pilgrimage.They were all glad for a break from the heat and humidity.Mark had asked for them to have separate rooms so that he and Dan could have time alone to make love.They took advantage of the privacy.It was nice to stretch out and hold his husband while they slept.It was even better when they would awaken in the morning and make love before gathering the children for breakfast.
The next day, they spent time wandering around the village.Robert found a pair of gauchos he liked, so Dan arranged the purchase and shipping to their home in Algiers.Robert gleamed when he looked at his new dad.They spent the day exploring the village and resting.They took a long afternoon siesta.
That night they followed the local custom and sat down for a late supper.The open-air restaurant was filled with people.Belinda looked up and saw Erin standing alone and looking absolutely lost.Belinda jumped up from the table, made her way through the waiters, and found Erin trying to convince the Maître D to provide her a table for one.Belinda grabbed Erin’s hand, told the Maître D that her grandmother had arrived, and she would be eating with them.The man smiled at the young child;he was a gay man who had admired the handsome couple with their children when they arrived.He sent staff scurrying to find another chair and place setting for the senora.The men stood when Erin approached the table.They were very solicitous of her needs and made sure her meal was served with theirs.When Belinda said she was sleepy, Robert said the two of them would go back to the Inn and for their dads to stay as long as they wanted.Mark was astounded by his children’s independence, while Dan accepted it as the norm.The restaurant was across the square from the Inn.Mark stood and watched his children as they crossed the square and walked up the stone steps.He sat down and released his pent-up breath.Dan patted him on the thigh and said he was the most perfect dad in the world. Mark then leaned over and kissed Dan and told him that he was the most perfect husband in the world.Erin sat wide-eyed.
“Am I to assume that you are homosexuals?”
“Yes, Erin, that is correct?”
“And those are your children?”
“Well, they are Mark’s biological children, but we are married and so now they are our children.”
“You know that it is wrong?”
“No, we believe it is right.”
Erin was about to get up when she realized she hadn’t paid the bill for dinner.She kept signaling the waiter, who was studiously ignoring her.Mark was upset that she had challenged them while Dan was happy that she had spoken her mind.
“Erin, we are no different than other people.We were married by the church and feel that God called us to be together.”
Erin took a big gulp of the wine left in her glass.
“How can you say that?”
“How can we not believe what we know to be true?’
Erin continued to try to get the attention of the waiter.
Dan quietly spoke to her and she listened.Finally, there was a shudder, and she said that her husband had insisted that homosexuals were evil and had run their daughter away from home when she declared her love for another woman.
“Do you miss your daughter?”
“Mother Mary of God, I miss her daily.Padric would not let her anywhere near the house.I loved that man, but he was in charge and said what we were going to do.I wanted to see my daughter so badly that one day I met her in the next village and we had lunch.It wouldn’t have done for her to come back to our village and for us to be seen together.I told her that one day we would be able to see each other again.”
“Maybe that time is now.Did you let her know that her father had died?”
“I did.I did.I sent a telegram and she sent one back.I cried when I read it.It only had two words: Good Riddance.Padric was a good man.He was.He took care of me and Patti until she fell in with Lorna.”
“Perhaps when you get back to Ireland, you can get together.”
“Perhaps.Perhaps.Patti and Lorna have moved to Dublin.They don’t need some old woman hanging about.”
They all three laughed.
“I need to pay me tab so I can get some sleep. I want to start walking again in the morning.”
“Ahh, we paid your tab.Is that why you were flapping your arms?I paid the waiter and told him to ignore you.”Dan was laughing.
“You’re the devil, you are.Handsome devils, the two of you. Should you fancy walking with an old woman tomorrow?”
They agreed on a time and place to meet in the morning.
The next day of hiking was grueling.Mark thought it didn’t take the body and brain long to forget the rigors of walking more than 20 miles a day.And now they had Erin with them.In the morning, she was chatty, but by lunchtime, she was whining about how exhausted she was.When they stopped mid-afternoon for a nap, everyone was worn out.Mark had calculated how many days they had left on the Camino.It was difficult enough keeping the children’s enthusiasm up but now he had an elderly woman who was recently widowed.
Unsurprisingly, it was Robert and Belinda who took care of Erin.
Welcome back to the stories of the characters from Divine Intervention.