Change of Heart - 41. Chapter 41
Long chapter. I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks to Nathan for his edit and his "Hippy-dipster"
By the time Raymond and Daniel arrived, Jeff and Paul already had drinks in hand and Maria was holding court in Jeff’s lap. She jumped down and immediately ran to Raymond. “Uncle Raymond!” Jeff laughed out loud when he saw Maria’s leap into Raymond’s arms. She unknowingly engaged unintended parts of Raymond’s anatomy. Jeff felt the sympathy pain any man feels when he sees another man take a hit to his balls. He also felt just a little guilty at his finding his brother’s pain a source of humor. It was almost like a Frat house initiation. Something a brother, only suffered through once in order to belong. Jeff was sure Raymond would feel it a small price to pay for Maria’s love and just as he had Raymond would know to protect himself from future groin engagements.
Fortunately, Raymond’s grimace was hidden from his Princess whose face was buried in his neck. Softly, she spoke, “Uncle Raymond, I didn’t mean to hurt you and Uncle Daniel. I didn’t know y’all’s wedding was posed to be secret. I only told DJ and he told his Daddies, but they already knew. I think.” Tightening her already tight grip around his neck, she continued, “I didn’t know to not talk about it except to fambly. It didn’t hurt you none, did it”? At this, she released her grip and leaned back to check for any sign that her Uncle Raymond had been physically injured. Her perusal of her Uncle’s expression revealed no signs of damage and Raymond’s reassuring smile allayed any lingering doubt her words might have brought him harm. Maria used both hands to scrunch up Uncle Raymond’s face and graced him with a loud and enthusiastic smack.
The room suddenly echoed with laughter. Maria’s garish kiss brought Daniel’s attention to just how the cupid’s bow upper lip filled out nicely and complimented and caressed Raymond’s lush lower lip. It irritated him to realize the only time he took the time to admire Raymond’s handsome features was when he was unable to express his admiration physically. It was either “look but don’t touch” as when they were in the company of others or else it was hot, naked and too many good things and sexy feelings to explore to even think about how his lover looked. Daniel shifted his focus to Maria and her confession, least his manroot become an obviously hardened stalk.
Something struck him as odd and began to play back the parts of her confession he had just heard. Looking to the couple sitting on the loveseat, he queried, “Jeff, Paul, is there something going on that we should hear about”?
Joe, who was sitting in a wingback chair next to Mellie’s, began, “Danny, Raymond, Maria overheard her Grandma talking yesterday about the wedding. She had some questions she didn’t feel comfortable asking us adults so she talked to her little friend DJ. He’s the son of those two vets that took over from old Doc Belser. Raymond, you know TR and David. Danny, I figure you probably ran into them in town, a time or two.” Both men nodded.
Joe suddenly realized that Raymond was still standing, holding Maria. “Why don’t you boys take a seat and I’ll get you a drink.” Joe insisted Mellie keep her seat while he took orders and poured the drinks. Daniel was pleased that there were hors d'oeuvres available. He helped himself before taking a seat. Joe continued, “Now, what was I sayin’? Oh yeah, TR and David, they’re both good men. Before Paul, here, showed up they took care of our animals. Guess, in a way, they’ll be doing it again. Anyway, DJ mentioned the wedding to one of his Daddies, who then brought it to Jeff and Paul’s attention. TR and David have already talked to DJ about playing hush mouth when it comes to the wedding. Paul and Jeff have talked to Maria and explained the importance of keeping it secret. All this transpired this afternoon. That’s why y’all are just now hearing about it. I think we got lucky considering no one really talked to the kids about the wedding or told them how important it was to keep it quiet and to only talk about it within the family.”
Daniel reached out to Maria, sitting in Raymond’s lap. Taking her hands in his, he looked her in the eye and said with great solemnity and sincerity, “Princess, your Uncle Raymond has told me what a special little girl you are. I could see the love and the worry you have for him this evening. I want you to know it was for me that he agreed to keep our wedding a secret. It was only to be for a little while, but now some things have happened in the last couple of days that makes me think that keeping it secret is like saying I’m ashamed of the man I asked to marry me. You see, Princess, I love your Uncle Raymond just more than anything, ever. Just like your Grandma loves your Uncle Joe and the way your Daddies love each other. I've been doing some serious thinking and…”
At this, Daniel released Maria’s hands and raised his gaze to meet Raymond’s. When their eyes met, he swallowed hard and continued, “I was thinking… maybe, maybe I should run for Sheriff as an openly gay married man. Before, I never really considered coming out. Now, I have lots of reasons not to lie about who I am. If I wait, folks are gonna feel like I intentionally deceived them. And they’d be right. I’d rather lose honestly than to cheat and win.” He shifted his gaze from Raymond, to scan each face in the room. “I waited till we got here to mention this to Raymond ‘cause I figured he would try and talk me out of it. I was afraid I would chicken out and agree to keep my mouth shut and just take the easy way out. Part of my reason is that I met another gay man from here in town. We met while Ray and I were in a gay nightclub in Dallas. He recognized Raymond and me. He was nice and insisted that my secret was safe. With some convincing on Ray’s part, I pretty much believe him. At first, it scared me,... bad, then Raymond helped me see that it was probably gonna be alright. But... I got to thinking...what about the next time? It doesn’t have to be in a gay club. It could be just going out to dinner or a movie together some weekend in Dallas. We could be seen together publicly too often and get rumors started, or be seen holding hands without realizing it. It’s hard as hell… Oops, sorry Princess. But, it’s hard not to be able to embrace the one you love or not to even touch him in public. I can easily see myself getting caught up in the moment and wrapping him in my arms and maybe even kissing him on the mouth when I just can’t hold my feelings inside. And why shouldn’t I be able to do that? Frankly, I don’t see me successfully hiding my love for him from anyone with one eye and half sense. I’d sooner run as Raymond’s husband and lose than to deny what I really am and what I really feel about him. Besides, It’s not like I would be the first gay Sheriff this county has elected. Just look at the last bastard… Oops! Sorry, Maria, I guess I need to do a much better job of watching my language.”
Maria slid off Raymond’s lap and moved to stand between Daniel’s knees. “Uncle Daniel, when I say bad words, Daddy puts me in time out or won’t let me watch TV, sometimes, for days.” With this, she momentarily shifted her intense focus from Daniel to Paul. Paul bravely stared back, unimpressed by Maria’s accusing stare. Turning back to her Uncle, she said, “Sometimes, the bad words just slip out. It’s not like we use ‘em all the time. Sometimes, I think they just show up in our mouths cause we can say a lot with just one or two words. Sometimes, I think it would take forever to say what I’m thinkin’ and feelin’ and them one or two words says it all, right away. I thought about it during one of my timeouts and figured adults get to use them if they think kids are not around. So, it’s okay. Pretend I was eavesdropping just now and you didn’t know I was here. That way, maybe you won’t get in trouble with Uncle Joe.”
Daniel picked Maria up and sat her on his lap. He turned her so he could look her in the eye, “Maria, honey, I think that’s an excellent idea. Thank you for trying to protect me again and thank you for keeping my secret about the wedding.”
Maria scrunched her face up in serious contemplation then observed, “I don’t think the wedding is what will bother those people who would want to hurt you. I think your loving Uncle Raymond is a more ‘portant secret. Cause even if people get married to have sex, it’s the love that mean people won’t unnerstand. They’re just too mean to give love so they just hate instead. I think you should worry more about them people finding out you’re gay more than them finding out you’re married. But, just in case, I’m gonna keep both secrets so you can stay safe. I know Uncle Raymond loves you and would be awful sad if you got hurt. He loves you and pretty soon me and the rest of my family will love you too. That means there’d be lots of really sad people if you got hurt.” With that, she got down and moved back to her Daddy Jeff and asked if she could play in her room for a little while since she had eaten an early supper. Jeff surreptitiously checked with Paul and then said okay. Maria skipped blissfully off to her room. Every adult in the room was, at that moment, envious of her innocence and her adult-like wisdom.
Silence had descended as the adults considered Maria’s words. Raymond took his partner’s glass for a refill. When he handed over the drink he remained standing. Taking a deep breath, he addressed his lover, “Daniel, we’ve talked about this already. I thought we agreed you would wait until a few months after the election before you would even consider coming out. I’m all for being who you are. But, even in the most liberal areas, your profession isn’t gay-friendly. More to the point, your job is an elected position. I hate to state the obvious here but, in Texas, you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected Sheriff as an openly gay man. Not only that, but the campaign will leave you vulnerable to attack and I don’t mean by just words. Most gunfights in the old west, right here in this county, were actually started and finished from ambush. Lord knows, there’ll be some gawdawful protests. Those crazy Baptists will likely pour into town to protest with their placards spouting hate and drawing media attention. What about Mom and Dad? Thank god at least CNN has quit covering them. You’ll be ridiculed, denigrated, spat upon and worse. People who don’t know you would most likely never consider voting for any gay politician let alone voting a gay Sheriff into office. If they don’t see you in person, they’ll just assume you’re the stereotypical effeminate gay man usually portrayed on TV and in the movies. And even those that do know you will be too embarrassed or just plain too afraid to even admit they would vote for you let alone encourage others to.
“Are you prepared to campaign long hours until you drop? To speak at every supermarket parking lot, and sewing circle in the county? Hell, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to address any men’s social gathering. Can you pretend to be pleasant and try to charm people who blatantly refuse to shake hands with you? Can you smile at people who openly sneer and snarl at you and then cuss you under their breath? Daniel, I love you. But, those people don’t and they are deluded. I don’t want to see you get hurt. I’m afraid. Not just for your safety, though god knows I’m worried about that too. Mostly, I’m worried about how you’ll feel when you work your ass off and your heart out and do everything in your power to win, only to learn that your experience, abilities, and desire to serve the people don’t count for shit. You can’t overcome generations of insidious, ingrained, bigotry, hatred, and fear. I’m scared of what that will do to you. It scares me to think what that kind of defeat just might do to you.”
At some point during Raymond’s address, Daniel rose, stiffened and began glaring at his mate. Joe stood and approached the couple. “Boys,” Both men looked at Joe as soon as he spoke. “Raymond, son, I think you just told Daniel how much you love him and how worried you are about the decision he just announced. I just don’t want you to let your fear and concern blind you to your man’s capabilities. Or blind you to what he thinks is right. Danny grew up here, but he’s been to war. He’s seen crimes committed by and had to arrest folks he used to call friends. He has intelligence and experience and if he wanted to run our security division you’d be proud to have him head it up, now wouldn’t you”? A slight pause then, “Ain’t that right”?
Daniel’s ire shifted to surprise as Joe let him know that they had actually discussed Daniel heading up their security division. That, he took as a sign of their love and respect. He began to relax and breathe easier.
“Raymond, you know damn good and well, doing the right thing is almost never easy. But, if you do what’s right, it’s easier to sleep at night and easier to live with yourself. And, if you're strong enough, you can say “to hell with anybody that disagrees.”
Turning to face the somewhat less agitated Daniel, Joe continued, “Daniel, you probably only heard the part where Raymond was dead set against a decision you made concerning your career. You’re probably thinking he doesn’t respect your decision-making abilities. That might get you to thinking he doesn’t respect you as a man. Nothing... could be further from the truth. I’m asking you to listen to his heart with your heart. He isn’t worried one whit about himself. He’s not thinking anything about respect. He loves you and the only thing on his mind is your safety and well being. Now, I want the two of you to sit down, have a snack, and finish your drinks while I have my say.”
Joe crossed his arms and waited. It didn’t take long for the two, looking much chagrined, to take their seats. Mellie took Joe’s cue and brought over a platter of hor 'd oeuvres and insisted that each man take some. “Eat up boys. You’re probably a bit touchy from hunger. I know Joe gets that way when I don't’ feed him on time.” Once she was assured her food was being consumed, she said, “Joe, I swanny, sometimes you come off sounding like some big old bully. Relax. These boys need to understand that the other is gonna get riled-up if he thinks his loved one is in danger. I still remember how mad you got when I insisted you not try bull riding at that amateur rodeo. What was that, twenty or twenty-five years ago. You stayed mad for a week before you came to your senses and apologized. I still have that ruby and sapphire bracelet. That was such a monstrosity. That was the last piece of jewelry you ever bought without getting some female help. I love it. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the passion we have shared. You can tell these boys are the same way. Except, I expect Raymond will go for getting Daniel a new truck or something a man would like. Of course, Daniel could be thinking along the lines of a piece of antique western memorabilia. Which reminds me. Raymond Cargill Adams, have you made any financial arrangements for Daniel to access any money”? The guilty look on Raymond’s face told its tale. A heavy sigh and Mellie continued, “You men. I swanny, if left to your own devices you would eat, sleep and rut and forget everything else. You get Daniel set up this week or you’ll answer to me. Is that clear, young man”? Raymond was suddenly 16 and being chastised again for not wanting to accept some token of the Adams family’s largess and love for the teenager they had so graciously taken in. Raymond, for his part, had the good sense to simply nod his head in agreement. It really was just like when he was a teenager. Raymond’s only acts of “teenage rebellion” were when he would refuse to accept money or expensive gifts.
After Mellie was convinced she had made her last point and that Raymond would comply, she continued, “You two, both, need to understand that this decision is really nothing to get excited about. We all agree it’s the right thing to do. Me and Daniel’s Mother will just have to convince the ladies of this county to convince the menfolk to vote for our Danny, er, Daniel. Lord knows Caro Mae is just like her son, she’s got loads of charm. And if charm don’t work she can jaw anyone into submission. I’m telling no secret when I say that girl can talk a fence post into uprooting itself. We can and will win this election for both our candidates. And that is to be the end of that.”
Raymond couldn’t help but dramatically roll his eyes. “Daniel, if you haven’t already learned over the years, you’ll soon catch on to the way these two tag team to teach a life lesson. In my younger days, I would’ve sworn they had rehearsed their parts. Turns out, they’re just very much in tune with each other.”
Daniel watched as Raymond looked to Jeff for affirmation. Jeff sagely nodded, then added, “What really bothered me was they would usually talk in the third person like they were talking about you and your actual presence was superfluous. For me, the only good part was that once they talked to me, I knew I would never hear about it from Mom and Dad.”
Raymond reached out for Daniel’s hand and without hesitation, Daniel clasped his in return. “Lawman, I’m sorry. I should have started off by asking if you would listen to my concerns inspired by your decision. I shouldn’t have tried to paint a future I’m not even sure will come to be. I should’ve told you right off the bat that I promise to always support any career decision or choice you make. I swear I’ll always respect your decisions, as long as those decisions include me being part of your life.”
Daniel squeezed his lover’s hand and tried not to show his emotions. “Ray, Raymond, I’ll always want to share my life with you. I only intend to ever marry once, and you’re it.”
Pleased with the outcome, Joe clapped his hands together and half shouted. "Before you two get too sappy or too horney, how bout we get some grub? My belly button is getting tickled by my backbone.” Mellie chastised her husband’s crude observation by silently, but firmly, smacking his arm. She actually agreed with Joe, so she made no comment regarding the, again, happy couple. Instead, she said, “That’ll be the day when you’re actually starving. We’ve known each other since childhood and the insulation you’ve added over the years hasn’t been all muscle, sweetheart.”
Joe chuckled as he took Mellie’s hand and headed to the dining room. “Well, I guess I have to go on a diet then. We can’t have the next Sheriff campaigning with a too fat Mayoral candidate. But, my diet can wait until after tonight, I heard we’re having fried chicken. You don’t allow that to be served very often anymore.”
“Well, I do what I can to keep you looking good. If I left it up to you, you’d live on fried chicken, beef, beans and bacon. Watching you eat, folks would think you’re fresh from some old-timey “grease pot” cattle operation.” Their banter seemed to have punctuated an end to the more serious conversation that had been taking place, just moments before. As a group, they followed Joe and Mellie into the dining room.
As dinner progressed, Joe was making a show out of enjoying his fried chicken and Mellie acted as the perfect foil and “straight” man. Paul observed, not for the first time, Joe and Mellie really were a happy couple.
As casual conversation floated around him, Paul took an appraising look at Danny, er, Daniel. His dealings with the man as a Deputy and then as the appointed Sheriff had Paul feeling a sense of tremendous respect and gratitude for the man. The fact that he had been Jeff’s best friend growing up and still meant a lot to his lover, helped grease the skids when it came to building a closer relationship. He decided that had he met Daniel in any other circumstances they would have become friends. As Paul scanned the handsome facial features and the man’s massive build, he admitted they might have even become more than friends. Paul also admitted to himself that he had, on occasion, given Raymond a more than a casual appraisal. And even though he knew Raymond was gay, Paul had felt, at their first and subsequent meetings, that he had no room for a man in his life. He smiled as he thought, “Oh, how wrong I was.” Jeff, by just showing up had eclipsed all the men he had ever known and quickly obliterated any resistance and lit up Paul’s heart. His love for Jeff was from the moment they met, is, and promises forever to be blinding in its brilliance. With Jeff by his side, anything was possible and no hardship could prove too much of a challenge. Jeff was… Jeff, was, undeniably, the love of his life, like the song said, Jeff was “perfect in his imperfections”. He only realized his focus had shifted to his fiancee when their eyes met and Jeff smiled that smile that lit up his whole face and promised Paul there was mischief to come. Paul looked forward to some “mischievous” alone time. Soon. He looked down at his almost still full plate and wished dessert could be served, right now.
Paul eventually relaxed as the conversation drifted around the room. Eventually, the wedding gained everyone’s attention. Mellie made it clear that all was well in hand. She and Joe, Daniel’s Mom and Dad, along with Daniel’s “Uncle” Fred and wife Betty were flying out the Saturday before Valentines Day, which would be on Wednesday. She and Daniel’s Mom had already selected the caterer, the menu, and the cake. Family and close friends were to be flown over in the larger jet, while other friends and necessary staff would be on a chartered flight.
Accommodations, aside from family, were to be at a local hotel. Mellie had hired a guide to arrange for short hops to the other islands, for visiting beaches, volcanoes and the mountains. Some trips would require the services of a small plane or a helicopter. All expenses would be covered by the family. She wanted these folks to remember their most enjoyable and memorable visit to Hawaii was when they attend Daniel and Raymond Adams’ wedding. That comment about name changes raised eyebrows around the table.
Raymond and Daniel shared some silent communication after which Daniel simply smiled, nodded once, and said, “I’ve always felt close to the Adams’. First, as Jeff’s friend, then his folks and Uncle Joe and Aunt, er, I mean, Grandma Mellie. Mom used to say I’d live with the Adams’ if she’d let me. She was right back then and she’s right now. Although the motivation and the specific Adams family member with whom I wanted to live has changed over the years.” That sent a chuckle around the table. “It just makes sense. Given Raymond’s recent name change and what with the baby coming. It’ll make my parenthood less likely to be challenged and it will make growing up easier for our kid. I just can’t see saddling him with a hyphenated last name or be robbing him of the power of the Adams surname.” Looking directly at his Uncle Joe, Daniel added, “I guess you knew more than you were letting on when you told me and Paul we’d become Adams’.” Looking at Paul, he asked, “How about it, Paul? You still up for it?”
Paul looked first to Jeff and then spoke. “It’s pretty much the right choice all round. I have no real desire to remain connected in any way to the remaining Wilson’s. Jeff and I have spoken about it and since you brought up children, the same reasons apply. Besides, Maria would be confused and a bit peeved at the idea of not sharing her brother’s last name.”
Mellie released the breath she had been holding. Then added, “That’s a relief, Cora Mae and I were both sure you’d make that choice when it came down to it. I discounted the hyphen as being too hippy-dipster.” The whole table burst out in laughter at the notion that staid Miss Mellie even knew what a “hipster” was. Once everyone calmed down Mellie continued to enlighten Raymond and Daniel concerning things they hadn’t known about their own upcoming wedding. “Things they didn’t know” actually meant they knew absolutely nothing except it was in Hawaii, on Valentines Day. As the events to entertain the guests were enumerated and described, Mellie lamented she hadn’t invited Daniel’s Mom to tonight’s dinner as she had been totally involved in the planning. Daniel was relieved to learn only a few seats were to be reserved, otherwise, it was open seating. He could envision his side of the seating area would be all but vacant. But, then again if offered a free weeks stay in Hawaii, in February complete strangers would beg to set on his side of the aisle. Mellie’s mention of groom broke Daniel’s reverie. In spite of the tropical setting, both grooms would wear traditional black formal tuxes. Whether they changed before or after the reception was up to them. Mellie continued to enlighten the almost totally uninformed happy couple. “The boutonnieres will be Bluebonnets and don‘t ask how we got those this time of year. Cumberbunds for both grooms will be in a matching shade of blue, custom made by Cora Mae. The reception menu is to be a traditional luau but with only a sampling of poi which, I think, has the flavor and consistency of wallpaper paste. and well….”
To her credit, before too much longer Mellie politely ended the conversation with an emphatic, declarative sentence that required no rejoinder. She had seen both Raymond’s and Daniel’s eyes glaze over with that faraway look most men got when they were only pretending to listen. She comforted herself by anticipating a long telephone convo’ with Cora Mae. Their once strong friendship had, over the years, just slipped away. Now, it had been rekindled through Raymond and Daniel’s reunion and strengthened even more through coordination and planning they shared over the upcoming nuptials. Mellie was overjoyed that she and Cora Mae were once again BFF’s. Even over the phone, they would each have a more appreciative audience in further discussing details of the wedding. Men just never understand the importance of these things. If it weren’t for women, men would likely never attend weddings, not even their own. Without women, men would likely never bathe either. Mellie smiled a Mona Lisa smile while considering the important role she played within her family.
If any or all of the younger four men at the table had heard her thoughts framed in what she considered to be “modern jargon” They would have rolled on the floor, laughing their asses off.
Paul. realizing that Grandma Mellie was no longer addressing wedding plans, screwed up his face into a skeptical scowl and asked, “Uncle Joe, just how did you know we would be willing to change our names? I don’t believe in psychics, but you got me wondering.”
Joe laughed heartily at the unanimously questioning looks on the faces of the junior members of his family. Gotta love it when Daddy knows something that gets all four of the kids' undivided attention. The time given over to laughter did nothing to quell their curiosity.
Gathering himself, he finally managed a response, “It’s something Miss Julie told me months before I threatened you two at Christmas. I’d forgotten all about it until you two pissed me off. Fact is, I’d forgotten about it again until y’all just now brought it up. God, I love knowing I have finally put the kibosh on that stupid “Addams Family” theme song. That sh… er, stupid song irritated the hell out of me. I used to like to watch reruns of that show. Until some jerk who was a senior when I was a freshman decided to start calling me Lurch. Truth be told, I was bigger than most but nowhere big enough to deserve that nickname. I actually thought Lurch was closer to normal than any of the rest that family. I’d already pegged that particular senior as somebody to avoid. He was a real bully, always picking on guys that were smaller or less macho than he and his football playing friends. Anyway, this guy called me Lurch once too often and shoved me out of his way. I broke his nose. I got sent home for three days. Everybody knew the guy had been taunting me and he had it coming. I think I got suspended because the guy whose nose I broke was on the football team. He was out for the rest of the season. Daddy just shrugged and told me he’d have probably done the same thing and promptly put me to working all day for the next three days instead of just after school and on weekends. But, on the upside, no one ever called me Lurch again.” Danny and Paul shared a guilty glance. With that look, they told each other that they felt bad about having brought up bad memories for Uncle Joe. There would be no more fingersnap, fingersnap.
As dessert was being served, Paul realized something else had been gnawing at the back of his mind. It coalesced from a mishmash of thoughts and notions that settled into a cogent thought. Before Jeff, he had dreamed of being wealthy. But, his first reactions were anything but those of a man whose dreams had suddenly come true. He had sort of made peace with himself and had pretty much accepted the great wealth he now had at his disposal. It had been a monumental struggle, not in duration, but in intensity. Paul reluctantly admitted the battle was not completely won. Had it not been for their shared love, Paul would have walked away from the money. Of that he was sure. Well, almost sure. That was what was gnawing at him. Daniel hadn’t expressed or displayed, to Paul’s knowledge, the slightest reaction to having suddenly become one of the very rich. Even as Mellie had directed Raymond to get Daniel financially taken care of, the man had not shown even the slightest reaction nor made any comment. Mellie could have been discussing the weather and Daniel couldn’t have appeared less affected. He was more than willing to listen and support Daniel in his struggle. His sense of kinship required that he help his new relative if he could. Paul wondered if Daniel was in some kind of denial. Had Daniel simply chosen not to deal with the issue of money? Paul silently chided himself, denial was a state that he found himself frequently slipping into and out of. He decided to, in a roundabout way, test the waters of Daniel’s adjustment to his sudden flood of wealth.
He considered the differences that he could see between himself and Daniel. They both had a family before the wealth. They both had chosen professions in which they had expended significant effort to become part of and to further advance within. Paul had always wanted to be a Vet. He wondered if Daniel had always wanted to be a cop? He had actively pursued his profession at great effort and expense. So had Daniel. But, Paul noted, he didn’t have to deal with lowlifes every day and frequently put his life at risk for a paycheck. He wanted to know if Daniel really understood, that now, he didn’t have to risk his life to make a living. If Daniel accepted his new-found wealth would he voluntarily continue to risk his life or would he accept the offer to head up AFS?
Before he thought any further, he began, “You know Daniel, Jeff and I just today had a discussion about careers. To me, it’s strange that our guys have so much money and yet, they never act like it. I don’t know about you but, when I was in high school and working a part-time job and later working and going to college, I often dreamed about having enough money that I wouldn’t have to ever work again. Now you and I are eager and insistent upon continuing our careers that won’t even pay for the fancy electric cars these two drive. But, we know our careers are important to us now. Maybe, now, more than ever. Like some anchor holding us into a frame of reference that we took for granted before. It was necessary not only as a source of our livelihood but also as a measure of where and how we fit into society. But, now instead of an anchor to me, it’s more like a lifeline. It helps a lot to know that I can, for a time, ignore the money and just focus on my job. My profession only relies on my ability to treat animals and maintain a certain level of customer satisfaction. If I didn’t have my job, I’d be a little bit lost. Sometimes, maybe a lot lost. But then, my career isn’t like yours. It isn’t dangerous. I mean, I've gotten injured but only to the extent that I was sore the next day. But, those were a result of carelessness on my part of some dumb animals, not intentionally caused by people intending to do me harm. I don’t normally get shot at. I don’t have to worry if the people I call on, in a life and death situation, are homophobic. And I certainly don’t have to face re-election every four years just to keep your job. I realize also that military service and police work demand a very strong sense of selfless dedication. I just wonder if you can say what being Sheriff means to you other than a career path you’ve followed for more than a couple of years and, at least in part, because you needed a job?”.
Jeff observed his lover carefully. He tried to glean some sense of where this was coming from and more importantly where it was going. And what, if anything, would he learn about Paul’s real feelings about his own career in light of his sudden wealth. This seemed to be a graduate level course in the school of how to get to know your husband’s best friend. That is, if it didn’t seriously offend said friend. Jeff didn’t see that happening with Paul or Daniel.
Daniel cleared his throat. “Well, I think my fascination with Law Enforcement can be traced back to my childhood. When I was about six or seven. I had a beagle puppy. Rags used to follow me everywhere. He was a smart dog. My Dad helped me train rags to fetch. One day me and a friend were at an empty lot tossing a stick for Rags to fetch. Aaron Crowder came along. Like Uncle Joe’s high school nemesis, Aaron was an older bully. He took the stick from Jimmy and waved it to excite Rags. But, instead of throwing it into the empty lot he threw it into the street. Rags blindly ran to fetch it and was hit by a pickup truck. The truck was driven by a policeman who was still in uniform. He stopped and after learning what had happened he threatened Aaron and cussed him out. He gently wrapped Rags in a blanket and laid him in the back of his pickup and drove me and Jimmy home. He was so big and kind. He helped my Dad bury Rags and even came by the next day to see how I was doing. He even offered to get me another dog. I can’t say that he made me want to be a policeman. But, when I decided to leave the Corps and considered law enforcement, that memory came back to me so vividly I could smell the policeman’s old spice. Destiny? Coincidence? I don’t know, but it makes a great story for why I went into law enforcement. I can’t even remember what he really looked like or even his name, but it’s all true.” Almost to himself, he mumbled, “I should ask Mom and Dad his name.”
Daniel shook his head to clear his mind. He continued, “Paul, I think I know what you’re asking. I understand that my chosen profession is one most people would go out of their way to avoid. In reality, it’s almost always a boring routine. I’ve known guys who quit because they found the job to be too monotonous. I think they expected the constant excitement of “Cops” or at least the low key drama of “Law and Order”. Personally, I found “Reno 911” to be as close to reality as either of those two and a hell of a lot more fun.” Daniel quickly glanced around relieved that Maria had gone to her room.
“I think you’re trying to see if my career is just a paycheck I stumbled into for lack of something better to work at. And if Raymond’s wealth will entice me to quit Sheriffin’. The short answer to your question of will I willingly give up my chosen career in light of Raymond’s money is no. The long answer gets into issues and motivations that frankly, I don’t feel the need nor the desire to explore with anyone. It’s like why I joined the Marines, it was just something I wanted and felt I needed to do. I don’t need to analyze my every decision. Sometimes, I rely on my instincts. If I have done what I feel is right then I don’t have a problem sleeping at night. Then too, if I feel like something I’m about to do is wrong, I think about it some more before I decide what, if any, action to take. And don’t ask me to define right and wrong it’s like the truth, it’s often conditional and circumstantial. I think the best answer is this. I was comfortable with my decision to go into law enforcement. I fully understood the risks and benefits associated with police work and public service. I was comfortable with all that. I had no qualms about becoming a cop. When I went to work for the Sheriff’s Department, I knew almost right away that I wanted to be the Sheriff. First and foremost, I didn’t like the asshole who held the position. I felt I could do so much better and I am still convinced I was right. I watched and learned and worked extra hard to be ready when my time came. When Uncle Joe offered to back me in a run for Sheriff, I was ready. It just took some time to wrap my mind around the fact that my time had come so much sooner than I had expected. The status and prestige of holding this office are not lost on me. I can see how Johnson let it go to his head. It’s a powerful position. If you use that power to coerce, blackmail and to garner bribes it can be quite powerful and lucrative as well. What more could an egomaniacal sociopath want?
“I have always been driven to compete and motivated to excel. I studied the criminal code and every manual I could find. I qualified with every firearm and worked to familiarize myself with every tactical procedure and the associated equipment. Johnson, one time, early on, asked me if I was being, and I quote, ‘some kind of eager beaver faggot overachiever?’. At first, I thought he had somehow found out I was gay. Turns out he talked to most all his people like that.
“I knew the management skills needed would not be a challenge. It’s a wonder that man was able to stay on for any length of time. His crew pretty much hated him from the start. He pitted his deputies against each other, the deputies as a whole against the support personnel and the whole department against the city police and every other law enforcement agency. I guess he sowed discord to more readily hide his illegal activities. If everyone was worried about everyone else stabbing them in the back, they weren’t too likely to compare notes and notice irregularities. I actually think knowing as much about him as I do now just makes me want to be something Johnson never could have been... a good County Sheriff.
“And that, Paul, is how I feel about law enforcement in general and more specifically, about being County Sheriff.”
Paul was a little overwhelmed by what he had just heard. He wasn't sure how to respond but he knew damn good and well if people listened Daniel would win big time.
After a moment of contemplation, Mellie spoke, “I think that was very enlightening. Thank you, Daniel, for letting us all get to know you better. We already knew you were a good man and that you would make a fine Sheriff. What you’ve shared tonight just makes us love you and respect you that much more.'
Joe taking a hint from Mellie's supportive statement added, "The next thing I reckon we all need to figure out is how to get this fair community to elect this old reprobate as its Mayor and this county to elect its first openly gay Sheriff
After the boys left with Jeff carrying sleeping Princess, Mellie stopped Joe while still in the entrance hallway. "Joe, sweetheart, I remember well you breaking that Crowder boy's nose. But, you did that to stop him from beating on a much younger boy. And Joe, nobody, ever, called you names, let alone, Lurch. So why the made-up story'?
Joe slipped on a shit eatin' grin and said, "Mellie, those boys never, starting with Daniel many years ago have aggravated the hell out of me with that song. Danny's story tonight about his puppy was heart-wrenching. It got me to thinking about bullies and it just came together as a way to just mmm slightly modify what happened. Did you see the look on Danny and Paul's faces? I will never have to listen to that crap ever again. Hallelujah! With that, he grabbed his wife and kissed her soundly. Then said, "You know I was bad for lying. But, we could go upstairs and get nekkid and be bad together." Mellie giggled at her husband's silliness, kissed him deeply, and then let him escort her upstairs to be just a little bad together.
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