The arrangements to include Jeff and Paul in the wedding were seamlessly integrated and really required only minimal adjustments. More flowers, a few more chairs, and… well, that was about it. The only reserved seating was for the family.
Mellie and Daniel’s Mother happily embraced the notion of a double wedding. Daniel’s Mom was thrilled that Jeff was sharing her son’s special day, just as he and her son had shared so many ‘special’ family days in their youth. She felt there was a certain continuity in their getting married at the same time. She had certainly chastised the boys and swatted both butts as though they were both her own. She wistfully recalled that Jeff’s Mom had treated Daniel exactly the same way. She affirmed to herself she would help Mellie make this wedding something Jeff’s Mother would have been proud of.
The organizers had been at the ranch on the big island for almost a week. Jeff and Paul decided to fly in on the weekend before the wedding in order to maximize their ‘alone’ time in the tropics. Raymond and Daniel would be arriving on the larger family jet with TR and David and other guests on Tuesday. Daniel couldn’t see taking a leisurely honeymoon in light of recent events and the upcoming election. He was concerned that voters might think he would be taking them for granted. They would stay until the following Sunday as would Jeff and Paul. Paul had arranged to take off the entire week. When you’re paying for your bosses to have a week-long vacation in Hawaii, in the middle of winter, getting time off was not a real issue. The Jantzens would also stay the rest of the week and fly back with the four newlyweds in the same larger jet.
TR, David, and DJ would be staying in a suite at the beach-side hotel. That four-star hotel just happened to border the ranch and coincidentally belonged to the Adams Family Trust. Booking rooms for the wedding guests had not been an issue. The entertainment encompassed everything from lazing in the tropical sun on the beach with their beverage of choice to fishing, swimming, with or without the Dolphins, tours of Pearl Harbor on Oahu, parasailing, zip lining over the canopy, helicoptering over volcanoes and of course the nightly Luau and hula demonstrations. It was just as Mellie and Caro Mae had envisioned. This wedding was already the talk of the town and would be for years to come. It was the highlight of everyone's year and to some, it was the trip of a lifetime. Back home, rumors about the wedding were already circulating like crazy. The most popular one was that Cora Mae had paid for the wedding out of some big lottery prize that she had been keeping secret. Once back home, Cora Mae would find herself being treated with obvious deference in shops and restaurants. She lapped it up and was only too happy to play hush-mouth as to the truth. She and Mellie would get more than a few good laughs as people fawned all over Cora Mae.
The flight went faster than Paul had expected. He had been told it was to be ‘a little over six hours from hometown to Hawaii’ but the time just seemed to fly by. It was certainly the longest flight he had ever experienced but he had Jeff and Maria to keep him occupied. He was, again, impressed by the quality and variety of fresh and prepared food, snacks, and beverages. Each entree was of four-star quality. The flight attendant admitted that the meals had been brought from two well-respected hotel restaurants that especially prepared and then froze meals for first class and private passengers. He confided that the crew’s usual in-flight fare was more along the lines of take-out burgers, chicken, and pizza. Paul only gave a moment's thought about how much it had cost to accommodate him and his family. He forced himself to acknowledge that this was now his life just as struggling in college and being a single father had once been his lot. He smiled as he realized how much better his life was now. There was a time when he felt that having someone in his life whom he could love and be loved by was just a pipe dream. Now, it seemed he had it all. He had to be the ‘Luckiest Man in the WorldMaria was just as enthralled as any first-time flyer could be. She was invited into the cockpit shortly after the plane reached its cruising altitude. Once her awe was subdued, Maria looked around thoughtfully and asked, “Why do they call it a cockpit”?
Fred flushed bright pink even though he was beginning to get used to her insightful observations and probing questions. Fred knew only too well that Maria’s favorite word was, ‘why’. The pilot and copilot both hesitated before responding. That pause allowed Fred to provide the answer, “In the early days of flying, chickens were sometimes transported by airplane. Everyone knew that roosters made a lot of crowing noises to boss the other chickens around so they let the rooster ride up front to keep all the chickens quiet on the trip. Roosters are also known as ‘cocks’ because of the ‘cockle doodle do’ noise they make… so the control area of the airplane is known as the cockpit.” Maria suspected there was more to the story just by looking at the relief on the flight crew’s faces but she let Mr. Fred’s answer stand for the time being. She decided that Mr. Fred had been watching too many cartoons where animals did human things.
Eventually, she and her escort Mr. Fred rejoined her Daddies. Immediately she began to lobby for flying lessons. She was less than pleased to learn she had to wait at least a few more years to begin. She looked at Sam and Dave to verify that what her Daddies had told her was true. She didn’t like the idea that “dickscimpanation” was directed toward her because of her age. Her Daddies took the opportunity to explain that ‘dis-crim-a-nation’ implied a voluntary element, meaning someone had to choose to deny someone or some group of people an equal opportunity. Whereas, age restrictions were meant to keep all people as safe as possible no matter what race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Maria stated flatly, “I’m pretty sure this ‘not flying’ thing is just like all the rest of the grown-up things I can’t do or learn about. It doesn’t make sense that somebody can fly before they can drive. Y’all say that I can start flying lessons as soon as I can reach the pedals and see outside the windows at the same time. Grandpa already told me I couldn’t get my license to drive a car until I was fourteen.” Maria screwed up her face even more and stated emphatically, “I’m pretty sure keeping a aeroplane in the air is a lot harder than just keeping a car on the road. And cars are way smaller than aer-o-planes.” Her facial expression slipped into her patented pleading puppy dog look, “Couldn’t I just start right away with a little plane”? The discussion was not resolved but was put into the ‘we’ll talk about this when we get back home file’. Thank god for the old ‘we’ll talk about this when… we get home… when you’re older… when you’re married… when you have children of your own… when I’m dead.’
Jeff was, of course, a well-seasoned traveler but found mundane things suddenly interesting when viewed for the first time through eyes of those he loved. The configuration allowed Maria to nap undisturbed by any activities in which those in the common area or even the more intimate activities in the closed-off master suite might engage.
Once they were on the tarmac and had been greeted with a fresh flower lei and the obligatory “Aloha”, Maria asked, “Daddy Jeff, is the sun different in Hawaya?”
Jeff was confused by the question, “No honey, everyone on earth shares the same sun. It’s the only one we have. Why did you think it was different”?
“It just feels warmer than the sun at home.”
Paul had been distracted by a nearby executive helicopter that was preparing for takeoff. He heard only that the sun was warmer than at home. He saved Jeff by telling their daughter that the sun ‘was warmer’ here and she was so smart to realize that so quickly. It was all because they had traveled to a place that got a lot more sunshine. Maria was informed and flattered and was completely satisfied with her Daddy’s answer. Jeff mouthed a silent, “Thanks” to his lover. Paul just smiled knowingly.
On the helicopter ride to the ranch, Jeff pointed out several movie sites, including several with giant reptilian skeletal pieces. The mention of ‘movies’ grabbed Maria’s attention and forestalled questions about piloting a helicopter vs an ‘air-o-plane’. Jeff offered, “After some Japanese cowboys expressed keen interest in seeing some of the backdrops for a Sci-Fi blockbuster that had been filmed here, ranch management struck upon the idea of guided tours to complement their horseback treks. Now, the movie tours and gift shop are viable sources of revenue.” He smirked as he added, “Everyone wants to see the bones of a dinosaur killed by a T-rex or to step into the footprints of the lizard that ate Manhattan.
“The movie production companies not only pay well for the use of our scenery but are required to remove any structure and return all landscapes to their original condition. It’s sometimes to the ranch’s advantage to keep buildings in place or to allow changes a film crew made to the landscape to remain.” Pointing to an escarpment he continued, “Some caves dug out during WWII were expanded to shoot a prisoner of war film and the ranch now uses it to house staff and families any time weather conditions require folks to seek shelter. A few weeks ago that false nuclear missile alert had employees showing up with families in tow looking to take shelter in the caves. The ranch management has responded by increasing the food and water stores to accommodate their employees’ families. They also are digging deeper into the escarpment. This has become even more of a critical issue in light of Puerto Rico’s latest hurricane disaster. We’ve set up solar panels and battery banks. Hawaii has historically been in a sweet spot as far as really rough weather was concerned. With global warming that may change and the ranch needs to be prepared. There’s always a chance of an erupting volcano.” At that, Maria’s eyes went saucer wide, “Daddy Jeff, are we gonna get burned by laba”?
Jeff chuckled as he watched his daughter and his mate both in rapt attention in anticipation of his answer. “No Princess, we are in no danger. Volcanoes don’t have laba it’s ‘lava’. And we will be perfectly fine. In fact, in a day or so we’re going to fly in this helicopter to see two volcanoes that are way on the other side of the island.” Maria relaxed once her Daddy pulled up a google earth to show where the volcanoes were located in relationship to their ranch. Paul was surprised that his explanation included the term “our ranch”. Maria seemed to accept it as readily as if he had said “our dinner”.
Two SUVs were waiting to take them to the ranch house. Paul had been impressed with Jeff’s home… now ‘their home’ in Texas. Here, he was overwhelmed. The house looked like an ante-bellum southern plantation house complete with huge windows and high ceilings. It was set in a perpetual springtime flowering backdrop. Jeff told them it had been redone from time to time and had been severely damaged by a Japanese bomb on December 7th, 1941. Jeff was pretty sure that the size of the house had made the pilot think it might have been a strategic target. It was a massive whitewashed three-story structure with a bomb shelter built beneath the full basement. Apparently, the owner of the ranch was at home when the bomb hit. He spent the rest of the war stateside and had the bomb shelter completed before his return to the island. The house was large enough to accommodate the extended Adams family as well as Daniel’s folks and his Uncle Frank and Aunt Betty with lots of rooms left empty. Paul was impressed at the casual air the entire home seemed to exude. It was massive, airy, welcoming, and comfortable. He did smile to himself when he noted the ‘cowboy’ or ‘paniolo’ influence randomly displayed throughout the ‘home’.
The ranch portion of the enterprise was a calf-cattle operation wherein the cows birthed calves that would be shipped state-side to fatten up for slaughter or whatever their fate was to be. Cattle here also provided high-quality beef for local and some stateside specialty markets. There was also a nursery that provided tropical and exotic plants to locals and shipped to customers worldwide. Paul was especially impressed with the forest of palm trees. The flowers for their wedding ceremony were provided by their own nursery including Texas Bluebells.
One aspect that got Paul’s attention was the sheer number of movies that had used the ranch as a backdrop for filming tropical settings. Currently, negotiations were underway to host an entire TV series. The details were yet to be resolved but Paul was eager to hear all about it. The ranch house itself was off limits to any film crew as well as the guided tours that were conducted via horseback or air-conditioned buses. There was even an overnight horseback excursion that appealed to some of their wedding guests. Paul insisted that to come from Texas to Hawaii and ride horseback was to take a “busman’s holiday”. For a Texan to do a horseback and overnight campout on a tropical island was beyond the pale. Jeff had seen many cowboys take a girl he’d just met on those horseback treks to impress his lady-friend. If the cowboy got really lucky he might convince her to go on an overnight trail ride. He didn’t bother pointing this out to Paul, in part, because he totally agreed with his lover.
The first afternoon was spent on the beach in front of the hotel. Paul was beginning to enjoy having his every whim catered to. His frozen fruity concoction of choice, Pina’ Colada, was never allowed to melt. He hadn’t gone out for ‘drinks’ since college and somehow a coconut and pineapple concoction never seemed to fit with the menu being served. Here, it seemed the absolutely perfect accompaniment. Jeff must have agreed since he too consumed a fair bit of the tropical concoction.
Beachwear had been supplied by Mark Sanford. Paul insisted they all looked like some Sears catalog ad from the 1960s. While different colors were involved, each man was dressed in trunks almost like the latest James Bond, just not skin tight. Maria and Rosarita were in simple off-white one-piece suits. Paul did notice that every man in their crew had a broad white band across the middle of his trunks that were the same off-white. The group was not together as one but separated by couples with Sam and Dave and then Fred, and Rosarita ensconced separately so as to form a triangle that had Jeff and his family closest to the water’s edge.
Maria built a sand castle that she decorated with seashells. She begged her Daddy Jeff to video her with their creation and send it to DJ who she announced was ‘stuck in school’. Jeff took it upon himself to stress the importance of school and how this wedding was a once in a lifetime family event and that was the only reason she was missing class. He also reminded her that her Daddies had some school work for her so she would not be behind when she rejoined her classmates. Maria informed Daddy Jeff that she was already well ahead of her classmates but would not mind reviewing the stuff she had already learned. Jeff was taken aback by his daughters display of such self-assurance and apparent maturity. He didn’t know what to say so he just scooped her up in his arms and ran into the surf and pretended to cast her into the sea. Maria’s squeals of delight only encouraged her Daddy. When the two settled down, Jeff found he was almost chest deep. He started walking back to shore when Maria insisted she swim back. Jeff was shocked as he watched his little girl competently swim away. When she saw she was impressing her Daddy, she demonstrated several basic swimming strokes. He was also impressed that she listened to his hints to improve her form and speed. It occurred to him that his daughter might be blessed with some physical abilities that absolutely had to be encouraged and allowed to develop. An image of a grownup Maria accepting a gold medal flashed through his mind. He shook it off and committed himself to simply encourage her in whatever endeavor SHE might choose.
As the two made their way back to the collection of beach furniture, umbrella, and side tables, Jeff noticed a group of three people, two men and a woman, approaching Paul and their setup. Paul rubbed down Maria with a towel as Jeff dried himself. Instead of continuing down the beach the trio turned purposefully to greet them. The european cut of their swimwear made it obvious they carried no weapons unless the bulges on all three hid more than that with which nature had obviously blessed them. Even as they approached they were shadowed by Sam, Dave, and Fred. The innocuous shoulder bags the guards carried looked like any beach tote that might hold sunscreen, sandwiches, sunglasses or towels. Jeff knew full well that those bags held some serious armament. Each of the three had a hand inside his bag as though about to casually extract an item. He wasn’t worried about the strangers or anyone else.
Jeff sized up the approaching strangers. All three were hispanic but with definite features that suggested european extraction and perhaps a common familial relationship. The shorter and apparently younger of the two men spoke, “Mr. Adams, Doctor Wilson.” Turning to Maria he smiled broadly, “Ah Princess Maria, I have been looking forward to meeting you most of all. You are just as beautiful and charming as I was led to believe, it is a true pleasure.” He bowed with a regal flourish that tickled Maria’s fancy.
The familiarity was off-putting to both Jeff and Paul. Maria was disappointed that the man hadn’t kissed her hand. Sam, Dave, and Fred surrounded the three strangers. The spokesman addressed Jeff, “It is rude of me not to have already introduced myself, I am Diego Cardoso Da Silva. This is my brother Juan and my Sister Consuela. I think you all are familiar with my name in connection with an unpleasant happenstance in your village. I only know about this because my Russian friends warned me that questions were being asked. It is my understanding that all these questions were answered truthfully. And yet, no one came looking for me to ask even a single question of me, my family, or my fellow villagers. There was no hint of suspicion. There was no noticeable ‘disturbance in the force’.” Juan snickered and shook his head as his younger brother’s normally staid persona allowed his inner geekiness to shine through.
Paul spoke up, “Why are you here if you aren’t ‘under suspicion’?”
Diego dipped his head to acknowledge the validity of Paul’s question. “In my profession, there are not many occasions or reasons to feel gratitude or indebtedness. And yet, these are my feelings in regard to your decisions as to my fate. There may have been other factors of which I am not aware and frankly that is not important. What is important is that your family had to make choices and those choices allowed me and my village to avoid unwanted and most likely unpleasant scrutiny. This is a unique situation within my own professional experience. I am here to say, ‘Thank you’ to your family on behalf of mine. We are indebted to the Adams family and I am here to convey our willing support if ever you should find a need. Know that you will have an ally in a world in which few, outside one’s family, can be truly trusted.” Diego presented a dark gray business card that was gold embossed. On it was written, “Da Silva Enterprises”, with a phone number underneath. “If ever you or your family stand in need, simply call that number. Be prepared to be rerouted at least twice and you will be speaking to an immediate member of our family who will arrange whatever assistance is required. I must insist that this number be shared only with members of your family.”
Without waiting for acknowledgment or a response, Diego, again, dipped his head in deference to Paul and Jeff and again bowed to Maria and turned to leave. His brother and sister, who had remained silent nodded also. The trio made their way toward the hotel’s beach entrance. Sam mumbled something that only his sunglasses heard and then informed Jeff and Paul, “We didn’t intercept him because we did not consider him a threat. He is being followed as we speak. Sorry, Jeff, we f… we messed up. All I can say is, we had him covered long before he made his approach. We knew who he was before he spoke to you.”
Paul was staggered. Not because of fear or alarm but by the notion that they were being protected in ways in which he could not have imagined. It occurred to him that security was an invaluable asset. The irony was that the fact that they could afford it also somehow made it necessary.
Jeff reassured Sam of his family’s complete faith in their collective and individual efforts to protect them. Jeff stated that aside from living a Howard Hughes kind of cocooned existence their security was the best available by any standards. It wasn’t long after that encounter that the group packed up and headed for the ranch.
Joe, Ilya, and Tink were waiting when the group arrived. Rosarita took Maria to ‘do dress up’ and have some ‘girl talk’. The group settled into the massive office reserved for the owner’s use. Raymond and Daniel could be seen on a large screen via a secure video link. The two were settled in Raymond’s home office having morning coffee and pastries. The two men in Texas were already up to speed concerning the beach encounter.
Ilya began, “I am sorry for the confrontation. It should never have happened. I underestimated his reach. There was nothing to indicate he had Russian connections that held his interests as their own. The Derzhatel Obschaka with loose lips is about to hear from our people in a way that will make him think again before discussing our affairs. His Pakhan has been informed and understands. It must be done in order to maintain respect within the Bratva. For this assassin to approach our Printsessa and her fathers without being challenged is inexcusable. There are lessons to be learned within our organization as well. Sam, Dave, and Fred will meet me in the gimnastika at 10 pm.” The sweeping gaze he gave the three men was wilting and clearly conveyed that they were going to be ‘taken out to the woodshed’.
Ilya looked down at his fingernails and continued, “We have tracked this ubiytsa to a private jet that belongs to a Mexican Cartel that is now over the Pacific heading to Puerto Vallarta. We will maintain alert status until we have him in his dacha again. It is unfortunate that he learned our security is so lax as to allow strangers to approach family members but it is also good in that no harm was done and we will be better prepared in the future. In a way, this man has done us a favor in pointing out a weakness. It is now security policy to allow no strangers to approach without a challenge by the presiding security agent.”
Paul spoke up, “Ilya, this man seemed very at ease and I believe he brought his family with him to reassure us that he intended no harm. Was this some kind of warning in disguise”?
Ilya smiled at Paul as if a prize student had asked the right question at the right time and showed that he was using what he had learned. “You are right Paul, the man wanted to bring family to meet family to show no ill intent. It is not today’s actions that concern me so much as what others may have learned. We must never be perceived as an easy target. We have respect, uvazheniye, it is unaffiliated kidnappers who know no such courtesies, they are always looking for an easy tsel’, er, target.” Paul and Jeff shared a concerned look as each man considered just how close Da Silva had been to Maria.
A few time zones away… Raymond leaned in and whispered, “You can always tell how upset Ilya is by how much Russian he uses. Right now he is ready to slit someone’s throat and piss down his windpipe.” Daniel simply nodded in acknowledgment.
Raymond observed his lover closely during the entire briefing. He had long ago internalized the “not quite legal” aspects of being wealthy and dealing with international companies and shady businessmen as well as corrupt bureaucrats. In Raymond’s experience, the term ‘corrupt bureaucrat’ was a redundancy. As a novice international traveler, he had learned quickly that the laws which he had grown up with, understood, and respected did not extend beyond our national borders. Especially those concerning individual rights and freedoms. He had learned quickly and the overnight incarceration had served as a life lesson. It was years later that he learned his stay was shortened by the Adam’s family’s direct financial intervention.
As for his own ‘standards of conduct’, he trusted his instincts as to what would and would not allow him to sleep at night. Violence was never a solution, it was a weapon. Raymond understood that his level of personal integrity and honesty had earned him a favorable reputation in the business world. It had amused him to discover that some men thought his “good guy” reputation made him ‘an easy mark’ and equated that with weakness. What they failed to realize was that just as truth was circumstantial so Raymond’s ‘good guy’ limits were also circumstantial, he could, when needs dictated, be vicious, callous, and unforgiving. It was to his adversaries detriment that they assumed this ‘good guy’ was uninformed, unsuspecting, and unprepared. He once overheard a former antagonist advise a colleague, “Don’t think because he has scruples he can be pushed around. That ‘nice’ guy will cut your balls off and feed them to you one at a time A’ la tartare.” Raymond saw no reason to correct the man’s perspective.
Raymond also understood that which is praiseworthy today could be immoral and even illegal tomorrow and vice versa. It was not difficult to understand that one faction’s hero was another faction’s villain. Da Silva was a good example, his village folk were extremely loyal and protective of their ‘Patron’ who brought them medical care, education, and job opportunities and yet, the man was responsible for numerous unsolved murders around the world.
Raymond was worried that Daniel’s perspective might be a more restrictive and constrained by the ‘rule of law’ and his personal integrity. He was worried that Daniel would insist on respecting legalities. Especially since everyone understood that whatever Ilya had planned for the Russian Mafia “bookkeeper” was bound to be in violation of some if not many American as well as international laws. Daniel had been very receptive when it came to not revealing Da Silva’s role in Jones’ murder. Would he draw the line at standing by while someone was “chastised” for interfering in ‘family business’? Did his lover understand that the word for ‘gym’ that Ilya used meant activity more than a place? Raymond knew from experience that Ilya was going to teach some physical lessons in a game of three on one that would leave some severe aches and pains as well as bruising and bleeding. If there were no broken bones the trio should consider themselves lucky. Ilya would remind them of their mistakes as he administered severe corporal punishment. Raymond watched his soul mate carefully.
Once the meeting was adjourned Raymond returned the big screen to the usual image of a painting of a bunch of cowboys breaking wild horses. He confronted his mate with the brutal facts. “Daniel, that Russian mafia ‘bookkeeper’ is about to get a visit that will involve physical assault. It will happen in spite of the man having bodyguards and home security. Adams Family Security agents will visit this informant in the sanctity of his home or office and physically beat him and remind him to respect our privacy.” Raymond twisted his coffee mug, then added, “Sam, Dave, and Fred will likewise get some of Ilya’s physical ‘remedial instruction’, although not as severe. That I know from having worked with the man for almost ten years.”
Daniel chuckled and said, “Look, Raymond, I know we aren’t dealing with some barroom brawl here that can be settled with a night in jail and restitution. Then again, I think it’s pretty much just like that except on an international scale. I understood fully that that guy in Russia or wherever he is was going to get the crap beat out of him. That’s not so much to correct his behavior as it is to discourage a repeat by his cohorts. When it comes down to it, this is just like law enforcement except that we are the society that constitutes the law and enforces it. This is perhaps more sophisticated than some tribal warlords I’ve dealt with but the premise is the same. The Family’s existence in this world of international business and finance requires the use of tactics and responses that that might be frowned upon or outright condemned in the press and the courts of what we call ‘western society’ and yet they are a matter of necessity if an organization is to survive and prosper in international markets. A close parallel can likely be found in prison politics or even playground activities. In those situations, without adequate supervision, the rules tend to slide toward more basic survival instincts. It’s all about playing nice with others and the consequences of inappropriate behaviors. They’re times when I want nothing more than to mete out justice that I feel is served up too little, too late. Short of preemptive assassinations I doubt there is much that will shock me about my new family. If I decide to challenge an action or decision the family chooses to support, I won’t hesitate to speak out at the right time and within the family forum.” Raymond was greatly relieved by Daniel’s insights and support. He stood and pulled his lover into his arms for a passionate kiss that led to both men leaving for work a bit later than the meeting had required.
Maria had settled in as if she had lived there forever. Mr. Fred had stepped away from his normal kitchen duties but had retained his role as chief ‘not a babysitter’. He and Rosarita took Maria along on most of their tourist jaunts and to the beach. Wherever Maria went security was unobtrusively close by. Da Silva’s visit had increased everyone’s paranoia to some degree. Everyone except Maria.
Jeff and Paul had just escaped Aunt Mellie and Cora Mae who insisted the “new” about to be newlyweds to be were kept up on the latest triumph and tragedy affecting the upcoming celebration. The men, on the other hand quickly became bored with the minutia the ladies insisted on sharing. All four men had willingly contributed individually and collectively to the available menus and cake choices. Other than that, they had agreed to anything presented and only expressed an opposing opinion when the ladies tested their attention by suggesting some outrageous color or items or agenda. The one thing they had agreed upon and firmly insisted on was Paul’s idea of a ‘first dance’ music number.
It was several days after the ‘beach encounter’ that Maria came in from a horseback ride with her Grandpa Joe. She found her Daddies lounging by the pool. Greeting her Daddies with a hug and a kiss Paul suggested she get a shower to wash off the horse smell and then join them for a snack. In just a couple of minutes, the Princess was back in her swimsuit. Before Paul could challenge her she ran to the pool and dove into the deep end. Her Daddies joined her and proceeded to play her new favorite pool game, ‘tossing Maria’. Jeff and Paul would stand in chest deep water and take turns tossing a squealing, laughing, delighted, little girl into the water only to have her swim back and demand, “Throw me again, Daddy!” Even though she had to swim back and her Daddies took turns tossing her, it was the big strong men that begged for relief. Jeff realized it had been a matter of expediency but he was inwardly pleased that Maria had called him "Daddy" and not "Daddy Jeff."
Maria joined her Daddies on the lounges and got a serious look on her face as she spoke without preamble, “I want DJ and his Daddies to stay here at our house instead of at the hotel. We have lots of empty rooms. I would like to have DJ close by and y’all need to get to know his Daddies since we’re going to be best friends for a long time. Jeff looked at Paul and they both nodded. Maria continued, “Good. I also think I should call Mr. Fred, Uncle Fred from now on. I don’t think he would mind and it would be easier for my friends to accept it if he was kind of like family instead of a man nanny. Besides, he is family.” She paused as suddenly as she had begun and waited still searching their eyes, demanding another immediate response.
Jeff looked at Paul. Paul looked at Jeff. Both men nodded. Jeff answered, “Well Princess, we think that would be fine as long as Fred is okay with it. You should talk to him before you call him ‘Uncle Fred’. He may not like that idea.”
Maria beamed. “I’m pretty sure he’ll agree. He doesn’t like it much either when I call him Mr. Fred. He says it reminds him of some domesticated house servant in some turd whirl country.” Paul was caught mid swallow as the last of Maria’s comment registered. He sprayed Pina’ Colada all over his daughter. Jeff, laughing all the while, wiped Maria with a towel and patted his lover on the back. While Paul was busy choking, Jeff explained that Fred had meant some ‘third world country’. Maria didn’t ask what 'third world' even meant. She simply said, “Oh, then he wasn’t talking about places that didn’t have flush toilets.” Jeff’s laughter died suddenly. He looked pleadingly at his lover. Paul pretended to still be choking.
A heads up. The end will not be like the beginning. Christmas took forever to arrive. The "Gay Us Carnival in Texas" will be here soon and that is where we will leave our heroes. Thanks again to Nathan who plowed through most all my drivel to help make it more readable.