Change of Heart - 50. Chapter 50
Thanks again to Nathan who did some legwork to make sure the details in this chapter made sense.
Early in the morning on Valentines Day, the house seemed to be overflowing with very hurried and excited strangers. Paul had thought it impossible that the place could look any more like a tropical paradise, he was admittedly wrong. Big Time! Colorful flowers adorned every flat surface and even more dramatic arrangements hung from any convenient support structure. The fragrance was distracting. Even the smell of breakfast bacon was all but smothered beneath the strong exotic floral scent. Paul recalled an Aunt who insisted on dousing herself with rose scented perfume. That cheap and heavy fragrance forever after tainted the smell of even real roses. This scent he could live with every day. It inspired memories of springtime honeysuckle, soft breezes, jasmine and yes, roses. Jeff pointed out that the house was not even the main focus of the floral extravaganza. This overabundance of floral arrangements was just an overflow from the ocean view ceremony site. There the elevated platform was covered in petals of varying shades of blue and white. The aisle, down which both couples would stroll to the diaz was strewn with even more blossoms of blue and white. The only contrasting color was the red ribbon that held bouquets together at the end of each row of seats and the grooms' bluebonnet boutonnieres.
Raymond and Daniel had joined the family for breakfast in the large dining room. Daniel equated the level of tension with having to march in some holiday parade where dignitaries were in the viewing stands while he and the other ‘suited monkeys’ performed their marching routine and their superiors threatened, cajoled, and ordered them not to ‘fuck it up’ in marching formation or afterwards when they would be allowed to interact with the onlookers.
Raymond said it felt like some graduation ceremony, only more important and definitely life-altering, in a very good way. His butterflies were at least as fluttery as his lover’s.
Jeff opined it was like presenting his opening remarks for a jury and a courtroom filled with reporters and cameras. Except, here he was less confident and all he had to remember was to say, “I Do”. As he said this, he smiled at his lover as if this statement was a heartfelt declaration. And it was.
Paul admitted he felt the same level of apprehension that he did when Maria made her debut and changed his life forever. He was certain this day would be no less ‘life-altering’. Suddenly he remembered an old song “The Look of Love” and how the girl was so emphatic about how her lover looked like he was in love with her. Paul felt he knew exactly what the lyric writer meant.
TR and David Jantzen laughingly offered condolences and reminded each man that this was a celebration of their commitment to each other. Their decision to share their lives had already been made and that moment of decision was really the watershed moment. Today was just a party to commemorate that decision. Joe, sitting at the head of the table added, “You guys just have to bear with it a few more hours. Let the ladies do their thing and then you can get to the good part of being married.”
At Grandpa Joe’s last remark, Maria’s gaze met DJ’s. She then turned her gaze to Joe and said, “Grandpa, is the ‘good part of being married’ about sex?”.
Joe without hesitation, replied, “Yes, Princess, sex is a very good part of being married. And an even better part is having someone who is always going to stick up for you, even when you’re wrong. The good parts of being married is like going to a playground with your bestest friend after being in the classroom for too long. You’re excited about the swings and the slides and want to play on everything and more importantly, you want to share that playtime with your bestest friend. The best part of being married is not the sex, it’s the sharing.” That explanation was greeted with exclamations of affirmation and a toast “to sharing”, with mimosas. Joe regretted that Mellie wasn’t here to hear his heartfelt definition of marriage. Maria decided that sex must be just as much fun as swings and slides… She dismissed that idea as, “inconceivable”.
Of all the family and guests at the table, Maria was the only female present. Mellie and Cora Mae had assigned the other females multiple tasks to ensure nothing was overlooked on their seemingly endless checklist. The event coordinator that had been hired was experienced enough to allow both “Mothers-in-Law” to get as involved as they chose and yet it was he and his staff who followed up and ensured no detail was overlooked.
The largest tent Paul had ever seen was set up to shelter the celebrants from the late afternoon sun. Even in tuxedos, the sea breeze kept the men comfortable. In spite of the tropical setting, everyone was dressed mostly in lightweight suits and ties and every lady was wearing her finest summer dress. Maria was dressed in a creation that made her look like a fairy princess in shades of blue. Paul realized that the ladies had done some serious coordination in their dresses. In fact, he had seen bridesmaids at other weddings that had been less coordinated in their dresses. Paul chuckled as he thought of his ‘fairy’ Princess and Grandma Mellie and Cora Mae as the groom’s fairy godmothers.
The ceremony was conducted in a traditional fashion. Maria led the procession down the aisle with a cushion bearing the rings. Names had been embroidered onto the pillow so each man grabbed the right ring for his husband. There were the usual questions and the usual responses, times two. No one wanted to recite prepared statements. It was enough that they could legally commit to each other before witnesses with a simple, “I Do.” Maria smiled the entire time. She absolutely beamed when her Daddies lifted her up and simultaneously kissed her cheeks immediately after sharing their first kiss as husbands.
The rings were custom-made gold coin bands that featured half-carat dark blue diamond solitaire stones. Joe had them made from antique $20 gold pieces that had been in the family since the first Adams had arrived in Texas in the 1870s. The diamonds were from a necklace that once belonged to Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia. Each ring was a handsome, eye-catching piece of jewelry. Raymond, just like Jeff, had a few rings that had been gifts from friends and family and of course, from graduations. His other ‘jewelry’ consisted of the usual collection, tie pins and tie clasps, cufflinks, and about a dozen expensive and not so expensive wristwatches. Two of those in his collection had belonged to his father. Both were self-winding and every subsequent addition was also an ‘automatic’.
He was not one to wear rings. His mother had insisted it was ‘unmanly for a man to adorn himself’. Although, his mother’s husband was quite fond of ‘bling’ and wore a variety of gold rings with precious stones, gold necklaces, and gold bracelets. Since a wristwatch was not included as ‘adornment’ Raymond wore one that had belonged to his father every day. He grinned to himself as he added, ‘and now a wedding ring’.
It struck him as odd that Jeff, Paul, Daniel and himself, all wore wristwatches as a matter of routine. But then, it was so much easier to simply glance down for the time instead of digging out or hunting down a cell phone. None of the four were enamored of social media and used their phones for calls, texting, and searching the internet. He, like the rest, used Facebook to keep in touch with acquaintances only because it was expected. He couldn’t remember the last time he had posted a picture or even updated his site. Maybe he should add ‘publicist’ to Jeremy’s growing list of responsibilities. He just as quickly discarded the notion. It would serve no real purpose and might provide the wrong people with some too personal information. He asked himself, ‘Am I being paranoid’? The answer was a resounding ‘No! Just aware’.
The reception was well underway when the newlyweds arrived. Of course, this was according to plan. The guys had insisted on not having a receiving line. Instead, they would greet their guests informally at the reception. Mellie and Cora Mae had decided that the newlyweds would make their first appearance at the reception in spotlights on the dance floor. They made unabashed threats to intimate aspects of their anatomies should they arrive before the ladies had texted them to do so.
At the emcee’s direction the music stopped, the lights went down, and the couples took their places well apart from the other. A spotlight found Raymond and Daniel. The emcee announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family may I present Mr. Raymond Cargill Adams and his husband Sheriff Daniel Lovan Adams.” A fulsome round of applause and cheers greeted the happy couple. As the applause died the spotlight faded and as it did another found Jeff and Paul and began to brighten. “Ladies and Gentlemen may I also have the distinct pleasure of presenting Mr. Jeffrey Grant Adams and his husband Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Paul Wilson Adams.” An equally enthusiastic round of applause greeted this couple as well. The spotlight slowly faded. “Ladies and gentlemen for their first dance the newlyweds have asked that we give the band a break and play an old standard they have collectively chosen.”
The emcee continued, “They also asked that their guests be advised that no choreographer has been engaged and that youtube will not be waiting with bated breath for some show-stopping fancy footwork. They insist you will see just your average cowboys struggling not to step on each other. Further, they ask that you all join them on the dance floor after the first chorus. This, I am told is an attempt to hide their collective ineptitude and to reduce the likelihood they might be laughed off the dance floor.
“Without further ado. Maestro, if you please.” As the first melancholy notes emanated from the speakers, every adult soon recognized the tune as Etta James’ “At Last”. When Jeff and Paul proposed it be their first dance as married couples, Daniel and Raymond were onboard right away. Both Raymond and Jeff had formal dance instruction and took the lead both in arranging the moves and in the actual dance. Now, as the mellow tones and plaintive declarations of having found true love, “At Last”, washed over the crowd, the moment took on a surreal quality. The tent grew dark as colored lights caressed the loving couples as each man got lost in the eyes of his life’s partner. Each man melded into his lover’s embrace as they glided effortlessly across the dance floor. Miss James sang as if the song had been conceived, written, and arranged just to accentuate the love that these men so obviously shared. The crowd was awed by the poetic beauty of the moment. While Mellie and Cora Mae and maybe a couple of other ladies had unabashedly shed tears during the actual ceremony, now, every woman in attendance was dabbing away as they watched romance in motion on the dance floor. The lovers exchanged whispered endearments and vows of love they would never reveal to others as the music waxed and waned.
It was moments after the closing strains had faded before the two couples relaxed their embrace and became aware of the absolute silence that had settled under the darkened tent. They stood alone on the dance floor, illuminated by a rainbow of colored lights. No other couples had deigned to join them. Paul would recall, and the video would show, that it started with a single anonymous person clapping, then two but soon the entire crowd was applauding and cheering uproariously, punctuated by whistles and a few raucous catcalls. The video went viral.
It was Joe who took the MC’s mic and shouted, “Play it again! This time for everybody.” He then took his lovely wife and deftly swept her into his arms, recalling, as did every couple on the now crowded dance floor, the romance they had once felt sure would always be “Unforgettable”.
While Raymond and Daniel, Jeff and Paul wanted just time to internalize what they had shared on that dance floor, the guests insisted they dance. First, it was the women who gushed about how romantic the evening had become. Then came the men, some forced by their wives to dance with other men for the first time since junior high dances made same-sex dance partners a must to avoid embarrassment in front of one’s entire school. Even Uncle Joe took his turn with each of his four nephews. Miss Julie, who had refused to stay at the ranch house and opted for the hotel instead, made sure that she danced with each of the grooms and whispered encouraging words of long and happily married lives to each man. Each man was somehow comforted and reassured by her words, no matter how much a skeptic he might otherwise profess to be. Raymond let her know she had been right, Raymond Cargill Adams Jr. had shown his pecker in a sonogram. He had shared the news with just his family that day and wanted Miss Julie to be included in this most joyous news.
It was two days before the flight back to the mainland. The wedding and the reception were both pleasant memories. The videos and still photos were exceptionally well produced. The sharing of the wedding cake was shot a number of times to focus on each couple taking turns feeding his husband. Luckily the macadamia nut/espresso frosting was delicious enough so that even after several bites each man took a large slice for himself. In fact, while Daniel and Raymond encouraged Cora Mae to collect the recipe, Paul and Jeff were doing the same with “Uncle” Fred.
With their return to Texas fast approaching, Jeff made sure that all the typical “tropical vacation ticket” items had been punched. That included volcanoes, sailing, windsurfing, Pearl Harbor (adults only), beaches, luaus, pineapple cut ripe from the “tourist” field that tasted as sweet as sunshine and fresh coconut plucked from atop a palm tree by a sarong-clad young man. They also experienced hula lessons, Poi and Spam prepared in “imaginative” ways. On the mainland or on a tropical island, to Paul, Spam tasted like he still couldn’t afford “real” meat. Maria didn’t comment on the Spam but she insisted Poi looked and tasted just like the paste she used in school. She was convinced that this “lousy imitation of smashed potatoes” got its name because someone just didn’t know how to spell “phooey”. Either that or “Yuck” in Hawaiian was already taken.” No one argued with her or even questioned her own ability to spell ‘phooey’. Both her Daddies thought her reasoning was sound.
Now, Jeff, Paul, and Maria, along with TR, David, and DJ Jantzen were being allowed to watch a second unit director and his crew film some background shots for a Rom-Com that was partially set on a tropical island. The major stars were not required for these scenes, in fact, most of the movie was shot on a soundstage in Hollywood. Maria and DJ had been coached to be very quiet and to save any comments or questions until the director said, “Cut!”
The shot being filmed was at the edge of a pineapple field. The tourists, having seen the pineapples in their natural state, would be getting back on their tour bus. It was a short shot with no dialogue involved. When the director was told the owners were on the set, he asked if they would like to be “extras” in the movie. Jeff explained the term to Maria and DJ. She immediately got excited at the idea of their classmates seeing DJ and her up on the big screen. The “extras” were told were to stand and in what sequence they were to board the bus. In the family, TR and David would lead followed by DJ then Maria who would be followed by Paul and lastly, Jeff. The director wanted to get different camera angles and wanted the people to be more eager to board the bus in one take and less eager in another. After getting set up for the fourth take, a frustrated DJ muttered under his breath, “This stuff makes learning to hula look like a good time.” Maria looked the director in the eye, folded her arms across her chest, and stated emphatically, “Frankly, DJ, I’d rather watch for falling coconuts.”
No one was sure if the director thought of any other unique shots. Thankfully, Jeff made their excuses and the group made a hasty retreat to the ranch house where they lounged around the pool and discussed their brush with stardom.
The next day the second unit director (2ud) was at their door, literally hat in hand. It seems that the director had seen the “little girl with the attitude” and liked what she saw. Since she was also the screenwriter it was no real challenge to write a segment wherein the observant little girl with an attitude delivers a scorching address decrying the heroes milquetoast attitude while his more handsome and more mature billionaire competition is winning the female leads most desirable hand with apparent ease. Our hero has yet to declare anything beyond friendship for his heart’s desire.
Jeff wanted to dismiss the offer out of hand. Paul felt they should at least read the script. Just saying, “read the script” made both men laugh at the absurdity it all. They read it and called Maria to join them. Once they explained there was to be more filming and she would be reciting dialogue she turned to the 2ud, “Will I get money?”. The man assured her she would be paid for her efforts and more should the lead director decide to use her scene in the actual movie. Maria turned to her Daddies and said, “I’d like to do this. Being an extra would have been neat but actually saying something in a movie would be a hunerd times better.”
Paul read the lines to Maria to see if she could memorize and recite her lines. It was resolved very quickly that remembering her lines would not be an issue. The 2ud asked that she wear the same clothes as yesterday. Luckily the hamper had yet to be emptied. The group then returned to the location to find the bus and the extras already waiting for them. Paul was surprised and disappointed to learn that the scene would be filmed using a double. The star was a real hottie that started his career as an overweight dunderhead. Jeff teased his husband about having to settle. Paul assured his husband that he would prove tonight that Jeff was nobody’s consolation prize. The double was about the same height and build and his hair was the same color as the male lead’s but that was where the comparison ended.
The scene called for the lead and Maria to watch as the female lead was driven away from the tour bus by the older, rich guy. Maria was to look up into the face of our hero and say, “You know Mister, I saw you two feeding each other pieces of pineapple. You both looked like you were in love but then you let her go off with some guy in a fancy car without saying nothing. Grandma Mellie says anyone with one eye and half sense can recognize true love when they see it. Seems like you need to stand up for yourself and tell her how you feel. If you DON’T say anything you’re gonna lose her anyway. So what’ve you got to lose?”.
“Cut!” the 2ud shouted. Maria had obviously ad-libbed about her “Grandma Mellie”. The man seemed not to have noticed. “Perfect. I think we got just what we needed in one take.”
On the way back home Jeff and Paul shared doubts that the footage would adorn anything but the cutting room floor if it made it that far. Maria was pleased with the whole movie making experience but insisted she would never be an “extra” again. “Stars get all the attention. Why would anyone settle for being an extra?”.
By the time the larger jet rolled out for takeoff, Paul was eager to get back to work. He was sure it would be easy for him to remain on the island and maybe set up a practice here, pretty much like his life back home. It just seemed, to him, like life here would be viewed as being lazy instead of laid back. Even if he worked the same number of hours and kept to his usual routine. Life here would still feel like he was being lazy. Damn his upbringing!
Back at home, the news was at least not bad. The City Council had approved the permit for the Carnival after the ranch had committed to an exclusive five-year feed contract with Ervie Barstow and two more commercial properties had been purchased under the auspices of Jack Darling. Of course, with Georgia out of the picture, the permit was all but guaranteed to be approved but both Jeff and Paul felt obliged to follow through on Bart Breedlove's suggestions. It just made sense to have council members on your side.
The eve of the election had almost everybody a little on edge. Gram and Sarah were both confident Daniel and Joe would win by wide enough margins to preclude any possible challenge. Of course, Gram’s smug attitude just served to aggravate Daniel’s already elevated anxiety. The Republicans would shout about “an underhanded win by default” but they refused to acknowledge the fact that their chosen candidate was the underhanded one nor would they elaborate on specific plans to challenge the “obviously rigged election”. One spokesman stated that “Electing a gay man to enforce the law is like hiring a pedophile to run an orphanage. You’re just asking for trouble.” When asked to comment on the City of Del Rio electing an openly gay veteran as Mayor, the three most senior County Republicans who had called the election night press conference hurriedly walked out without comment.
The results were not a landslide but it was better than the margin even Gram had predicted. Daniel was exuberant and declared in his acceptance speech that he now “felt he had a mandate from the citizens of the county to provide equal, honest, and transparent law enforcement. To again establish credible and professional law enforcement that served all the people, equally.” The local Chief of Police refused to comment on the outcome of the election.
Joe had insisted that Daniel speak first at their joint press conference. I feel a certain amount of pride in our newly elected Sheriff seeing as how he is my nephew by marriage. I’ve known Daniel since he was a little boy. Personal integrity can be a matter of choice. Anyone can decide at any time to take on the mantel. But, with Daniel, it wasn’t like that. His folks taught him from an early age to do what’s right because it is the right thing to do. Not because of some reward in the great beyond. Daniel does the right thing because it is not his way to do otherwise. Some old folks called that kind of philosophy the “cowboy way”. My Daddy, like Daniel’s Daddy just knew it as the way any human being ought to behave.
Joe stepped back and pulled Daniel, who was standing on the stage alongside him, into a hug. He then turned back to the camera’s and the well-wishers, “As Mayor, my first act will be to loosen some restrictions that have given certain businessmen a chokehold on this City. These regulations have served the major business owners and impeded others from setting up shops that might have provided jobs and much-needed revenue for our City. Bids were blatantly chosen based on who submitted them rather than the cost savings they might represent. That is coming to a screeching halt.
“Already, new tech industries are relocating to existing facilities and we are seeing growth in both population and building occupancy in rental units and existing home sales. This City is on the cusp of significant growth. It is my goal to encourage such development and to seek out industries that might benefit from our location and our available workforces. We intend to seek out those businesses that provide or encourage, through funding, higher education for their employees. We will be establishing a clinic with limited care facilities and beds for our people. The city parks and recreation will be refurbished through available grants that have already approved funding. Some of this is from new sources, some were simply never explored due to lack of motivation. Speaking of motivation, those folks who do their job well will keep their job. Those who were appointed out of favoritism or nepotism and are just here for the paycheck will soon be seeking other opportunities. It is said that a new broom sweeps clean. Let it be known that we are not a broom we are a cyclonic vacuum cleaner and we will get rid of the dirt and detritus left over from previous administrations. Let this be notice to all current City employees. If you choose not to readily serve the people of this City, you will not be financially sustained by those same people. Get with the program or get out.” The cheers forced reporters to cover their microphones. Most of the media were there because of the “gay Sheriff” story. More than one hung around to get the story behind Joe Adams “the cyclone sweeper”. Joe was not amused at the moniker.
On the weekend following the election, a cookout for the Adams family was underway at Joe and Mellie’s. Although “Maria’s” pool was finished and filled, it would be a week or more before it was approved for casual use. Both the other Adams households were thinking of following suit and having pools installed. Joe told of an older brother who had drowned as a toddler in a neighbors swimming pool years before Jeff’s father, his older brother, was even born. Swimming pools were never discussed as even a remote possibility. Joe and David learned to swim in cattle troughs with their friends, unbeknownst to their Mother. Their father was proud that both his boys were good swimmers. He played with them in hotel pools while their Mother refused to ever see them in water deeper than a bathtub.
The major topic was the Carnival. News had spread and folks, both gay and straight, from all over the country were signing up for the group nuptials as part of the Sunday evening closing ceremonies. There were already just shy of sixty couples that registered for the ceremony and follow-on reception. Yes, the Mayor had agreed to conduct the opening and closing ceremonies. Joe agreed but declared he would abdicate his obligation if any gay man flashed his junk at those officiating from the stand. “I don’t want any of you boys to think I don’t love you like my own sons. But, some of the stereotypical “gay” behaviors just make my skin crawl. I don't’ know if I’ll ever understand a transgender man wanting to cut off his, uh, manhood.” He shivered noticeably and continued, “I guess it just takes some getting used to and some tolerance and a desire to be inclusive even when it’s uncomfortable. Each of you is a fine example of what I always thought a real man should be. I guess I fall into the trap of thinking masculine men are superior human beings. I hate to think that I have subconsciously held almost the same kind of bigoted perspective as the Nazi’s did about the Aryan race. I like to think I am a better man than that. I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.” Paul recognized the line from “Invictus”.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,”
Raymond and Jeff joined in…
“I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
Joe smiled beneficently at each of the group in turn. “I am also grateful for the fact that I am fortunate enough to be a part of this particular branch of the Adams Family.”
Paul looked at Daniel and together they, “Snap, Snap. Snap, Snap. They’re creepy and they're kooky, mysterious an…”
Joe’s countenance shifted from the gentle loving expression he had displayed just an instant before into an enraged, furious, red-faced mask of determined mayhem. His chest swelled as his posture mirrored the threat in his voice. He snarled through gritted teeth in an almost inaudible growl, “Who told you?”
As an NCO in the Air Force and as a junior officer in the Navy, I was taught and adopted the notion that one should "praise in public, but condemn in private". If I have something bad or less than praiseworthy to say, I usually use the private message. I have used that to respond to some comments on this story and certainly when commenting on other stories posted on this site. Some readers have given me the same courtesy, DaddydaveK quickly comes to mind. I like to think we all can say what we feel is important and say it in such a way as to make it a learning experience for all involved.
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