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The Conquered - Chapter 19: Family Dynamics

***** Tyrone *****

I bolted awake to the sound of a gunshot. I hated waking in a cold sweat. I hated the trembling worse. There was another backfire from the street, a bit further away. I sank back against the pillow and let my breathing return to normal. I hated that dream. I hadn't had it in years, but recently it'd snuck back in. The doctors said it was a repressed memory from childhood, but I'd never been shot as a child. I'd never had the sense of something burning its way into my chest and the cold fingers of death drawing my life away.

I still couldn't remember David's death. I'd been there, or so they told me. I'd watched as the drug dealer walked up, pulled out the gun, and shot my brother in the chest. I'd even identified him. My testimony, as a five-year-old kid on the stand, had put the bastard away. I couldn't remember it. A half-year of my life was missing. I barely remembered living in Chicago. The witness protection program moved us. New names, new lives. Dad got his church. I hated Georgia.

Rolling out of bed carefully, I left Lee snuffling into his pillow. The old, wind-up alarm clock pointed at six-thirty. What a hell of a time to get up, on Christmas, when I had a warm man in my bed. I wouldn't go back to sleep. I never could when the dream came. Pulling on my robe, I crept out of the bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen. The light was on, and Lee's grandfather was already making his morning tea. He was eighty-five years old and he still woke at five, ran his tailoring business, and was active in the community. I wondered if Lee would grow up like him.

"You are up early," Grandpa observed as I came into the kitchen.

"The noise outside woke me."

He nodded. "Yes. Cars can get a harsh cough in the winter."

I loved how he talked about machines like living things. "What would you recommend?"

He smiled. "Coughing is a problem with the lungs. They should clean their carburetors and check the spark plugs. Like the heart and lungs, a car must be able to breath and beat regularly."

That made sense. "You're a wise man."

He waved away my comment. "I am old. When you are as old as I am, you will know these things too."

I smiled. "If I'm lucky. My family isn't known for long life."

He shrugged. "You are my grandson's heart. You will have a long life."

Lee was so lucky. None of his family had issues with his sexuality. They were great. Not a one of them blinked at the fact I was a big, black man. "I hope so. I want to be with him when we're both old and grey."

Grandpa set the tea on the table. "The future is not here, and the past is gone. Live and love today. All else is illusion."

I shook my head as I smiled. "That'd really shake up a board room. We plan things years ahead."

He shrugged, making a non-committal noise. "I do not know what one does in a board room. I know only how one leads one's life."

Lee chuckled as he slid his arms around my neck and kissed the side of my head. "He's trying to convince you to live today, isn't he?"

"Truth is truth," Grandpa said, sipping his tea.

"I didn't mean to wake you," I said as Lee came around and squished in between the little table and the wall. Had he really grown up with his mother, two sisters, and his grand parents in this two-bedroom apartment?

"I rolled over and found a cold spot." He shrugged. "Morning, Grandpa."

"Good Morning, Lee."

"Merry Christmas."

Grandpa smiled. "You know I am Buddhist."

Lee laughed. "Merry Christmas anyway."

Grandpa inclined his head. "Blessings to you too."

This was going to be a very strange Christmas.

***** Sebastian *****

Sofa sleepers were the twentieth century's answer to medieval torture devices. Even though I slept curled against Don's side, sprawled half on his chest, I didn't sleep long or well. The night before had been too draining. At least the outcome had been positive. Okay, so perhaps I wasn't as confident as I thought I was. As the early morning light caught off the snow outside, I saw the sparkle off my ring as it rested in the nest of Don's furry chest. A smile spread across my face as I leaned in and kissed Don's nipple, to which he snuffled and squirmed a bit, but only shifted, pushing me off him as three panic-filled weeks caught up with him and he slept. My man was down for the count.

Of course, I was wide-awake. The smell of coffee and hot cinnamon wafted into the room. Sitting by the side of the bed, I stood, threw on some clothes, and tiptoed out of the room, heading downstairs. When I walked into the kitchen, I found Gladdis sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee. An old-fashioned spin dial timer sat ticking by her side.

"Good morning."

She sat up straighter and turned to me with a smile. "Merry Christmas, Sebastian. How'd you sleep?"

"Not bad." I moved further into the room and grabbed one of the mugs by the coffeepot. "Thanks for the warning."

Don's mom chuckled as I sat down opposite her. "Not a problem. I figured the warning would be helpful." She looked at me and grinned. "Cinnamon rolls will be ready in a few minutes. Think Don will be up for them?"

I smiled and shrugged. "He hasn't slept well recently, so I don't know how long he'll be out of it." Her sad eyes caught me right in the gut. "He worried, Gladdis. We all do when we have to tell our families. Especially after what happened to a couple of friends of ours recently."

"What happened?"

I sipped my coffee, grinning at how well it tasted. "Taylor has a father who doesn't approve of him, and Sean has a father who tried to take him to aversion therapy and counseling to get the devil out of him."

Her shocked eyes and the hand over her mouth let me know that she might be a religious woman, but wasn't a closed minded one. "How awful. What happened to him?"

I looked down at my cup. "His father beat Sean, and Sean ended up at our place. Our apartment is small, so Andrew and Taylor, good friends of ours, took him in."

"That's good of all of you."

"He's a great kid. We'd have loved to have him stay with us."

She smiled at me. "Sounds like you guys need a bigger place."

"We do. But, we aren't really looking just yet." I took another swallow of coffee, letting the caffeine float through my system. "We can afford a house even, but the apartment has special meaning to us. I don't think we're ready to give it up."

"Don't rush anything. When Carl and I got married, we stayed in aŚ"

"Gladdis, that smells heavenly." The shuffling steps echoed before Don's dad rounded the corner, a smile on his face. "Good morning, Sebastian."

"Good morning, sir. Merry Christmas."

He looked at me as he poured a cup of coffee. "What's with the sir? Carl or Dad will do just fine."

"I'll remember that."

When Don's father sat down at the table, he smiled at his wife then at me. "So Sebastian. Tell us a bit about yourself. You said your family is in Los Angeles?"

"Yes. My parents and my twin brother, Antonio."

Gladdis smiled. "Identical?"

"Spitting image."

"How exciting. Did you play practical jokes, switching places?"

I laughed. "Sure we did. All the time. We got away with it with everyone but my mother. We only tried that once." To emphasize, I rubbed my backside. "She's a killer with a wooden spoon."

Don's father looked at me. "And you're a personal investment counselor? What exactly is it?"

I chuckled. "It goes by many names, but basically, I work with people and invest their money, either in stocks, bonds, property, commodities, or whatever. I manage the accounts and help build towards retirement."

"So you do pretty well for yourself?"

I grinned and chuckled. "Asking if I can take care of your son?"

"No, not that. I've never had much call for it, so didn't know if it was a good business."

I nodded. "Actually, with how bad the economy has been lately, I'm doing better than ever. People who've run short are selling stuff, which causes a commission or those people who have extra, are squirreling it away, which gives me yet another commission. So I do alright."

Thankfully, the timer went off and I watched as Gladdis took out a big pan of cinnamon rolls and dumped them on a piece of tin foil. Then she scrapped the gooey mess off the bottom of the pan and spread it over the bottoms of the rolls. Nummy. I couldn't wait to have one. As if reading my mind, Gladdis looked over her shoulder. "Okay you two, don't all rush for them."

I looked over to Don's dad and patted his arm. I went and got two plates and a couple of cinnamon rolls then came back to the table. One bite and I almost melted into my chair. "Oh man. This is incredible."

"Thank you, Sebastian."

"No. Thank you. This is one heck of a way to wake up in the morning."

We ate in silence, all of us going back for seconds before Lisa came in, her expression as dower as any I'd seen, grabbed a cup of coffee, drank it down, refilled it, then sat down and put her head on the table. "She's not a morning person, Sebastian."

After about ten minutes, she raised her head and smiled at the group of us. "Morning."

As I grabbed my coffee mug, she reached out her hand and took hold of it. "What's this?"

The ring. Shit. I knew that Don and I had just exchanged them, but really didn't have an explanation for them. "Um... well..."

"I thought I told you to keep your hands off my man."

Don. Thank god. I turned to him and held up my hand with the ring, waggling my fingers. "Your sister wanted an explanation."

Don smiled warmly for a moment, and then schooled his expression to one of disinterest before he shrugged. "I simply asked Seb to spend the rest of his life with me, and he accepted."

***** Taylor *****

Aunt Claire showed us to the room we'd be sharing for the night. It would have been insane to drive back home tonight after the family dinner. "The cot is for Sean. Your Uncle Tim brought it over from the scout troop storage room at the church. They don't have another camping trip until January."

I frowned. "The last I heard, the Boy Scouts had redefined 'Morally Straight'. Won't we contaminate the cot?"

"Taylor Daniel!" Claire was already exasperated with me. "We all know that was a reactionary stance taken by idiots. Sexual orientation was never an issue when you were in the troop."

That much was true. Homosexuality was joked about, but what teenaged boys didn't joke about someone getting a woody in the community showers at camp. Fortunately, I'd never had that problem. "Tim knows, right?"

"Yes, Taylor. I can not speak for your father's side of the family, but this side has been informed." She pondered her words for a moment. "Well, your Aunts and Uncles know, as do Janet, Linda and Denise. Whether your other cousins have been informed is outside of my control."

I grinned. "I didn't think anything was outside of your control, Aunt C."

"Taylor Daniel," she warned, waving her finger at me, "so help me, if you give me any trouble today I will take a serving spoon to your head."

"Okay, Aunt C." I put up my hand in the scout sign. "I promise... Scouts Honor." I mumbled an addendum under my breath, "For what that's worth these days."

"What was that?"

I grinned. "Nothing."

She gave me the evil eye, but left it alone. "We will be in comfortable clothes for the morning session of gift opening and the afternoon assembly. Dinner is at six."

She left, and Andrew looked at me. "Afternoon Assembly?"

I laughed. "As toys got more complex, the adults made a pact to help each other assemble the things the kids got. That way no one parent looked like a fool trying to read poorly translated instructions written by some Japanese engineer."

Andrew smiled. "That's pretty smart."

I rolled my eyes. "Guess whose idea that was."


"Bingo." I looked at the camping cot and raised my eyebrows at Sean. "Think you can stand being stuck in a room with two old men?"

"I'm not going to need ear plugs and a blind fold am I?"

I looked at Andrew. "Since when did you tell him what we did on Sunday nights?"

Andrew shrugged, playing along. "You said to tell him about the birds and the birds. I thought everyone did it."

Sean was bright red as I looked back at him. "Don't worry, Sean. We'll be quiet."

Sean laughed. "As if."

I frowned. "What the hell does that mean?"

He blushed further. "You guys may try to be quiet, but moans carry pretty far."

God. Now I was blushing. "Well, you aren't getting another demo."

Sean looked away. "I'm sorry, really..."

"Hey." I tugged at his sleeve to get him to look at me. "It just wasn't cool for a student of mine to see me..." I thought about how to say it. "In such a compromising position." I smiled. "I keep forgetting that you're an adult and not one of my kids any more."

Sean smiled, but shifted uncomfortably. "I guess we should go down and be social?"

"Yeah, that's a good idea." I looked at Andrew. "Ready to be put on display?"

Andrew grinned. "I didn't bring a posing suit."

Rolling my eyes, I pushed him toward the door. "Clothing isn't optional, Andrew. Get out of here before I kick your ass."

"Promises, promises."

"Andrew!" He was going to be insufferably happy all day.

Sean tried not to laugh, but it really was funny. We got down stairs in time for the second wave of gift opening. It was a madhouse.

***** Don *****

Where was my heater? I felt about before opening my eyes. Seb was gone. I had a moment of panic before I saw our suitcases still next to the closet. Sunlight streamed into the room as I stretched and tried to get the uncomfortable pinch in my mid back to release. Tonight we might try the floor; at least it was flat. I pulled a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt out of my suitcase, got to the bathroom, and relieved myself. I got our presents for everyone, including a couple I'd stashed away for Seb, and went in search of the source of that fresh baked aroma that was wafting up the stairs.

I crept down the stairs and slipped into the living room, depositing the presents under the tree. I stopped before going into the kitchen. Seb and my family sat around the table, just like a family. Well, Lisa looked like something out of the Adam's Family, but she'd never been a morning person. I just stood back, in the dining room, and looked at the scene I never imagined. The man I loved, my partner, husband, lover, seated with my parents, in the house I grew up, talking as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. No uncomfortable stares. No painful silences.

The first injection of caffeine must have hit Lisa's system, because she perked up like a druggie after a fix. As Seb went for his mug, she caught his hand. "What's this?"

Seb hedged. We hadn't discussed what we'd tell anyone. This time, it was my turn to help him out. "I thought I told you to keep your hands off my man," I joked, flashing Lisa a happy smile.

Seb held up his hand and wiggled his fingers. "Your sister wanted an explanation."

I smiled, sliding my hand over his and interlacing our fingers. It took some effort, but I managed to act as if nothing had changed. "I simply asked Seb to spend the rest of his life with me, and he accepted."

"Donald!" Mom reached across the table and took our hands. She studied the white and yellow gold rings. The dragons were pretty intricate. The fuckers cost me a fortune, not only for the rings, but the artist hadn't come cheap. It was worth it. Seb and I had discussed getting mated dragons tattooed, but I wasn't so sure I wanted a tattoo. That's why I had the rings made. I was sure I wanted Seb as my mate for the rest of our lives. "They are beautiful. Carl, look at these." We had to lean fairly far as Mom dragged our hands over to my father.

"Gladdis, let the boys be. I don't have my glasses on, so I can't see them anyway." He smiled at me. Dad pulled his glasses out of his shirt pocket while I stepped around Seb. He took my hand and studied the ring. Dad was a detail hound. He didn't miss anything. "You planned ahead, didn't you Son."

I smiled. "Yeah, took the jeweler six weeks to make them. I've been carrying them around with me since October."

Seb smiled. "What'd you wait for?"

I shrugged. "I was going to do it Thanksgiving, but Buck asked Grace and then it didn't seem right to steal spotlight."

Seb laughed. "Leave it to Don to put logic to romance."

"No complaints out of you, Mister." I bent down and kissed him lightly. I'd never suck face in front of my parents, but if there was a better litmus test than two men kissing to see if someone was going to freak, I couldn't think of one. "I can still turn back into a frog."

Damn, I got Seb to blush. "Yeah, whatever."

Mom dabbed her eyes with a napkin. "Have you set a date?"

I blinked. "A what?"

"When are you having the wedding?"

"Uhm..." I stood up and moved to get myself some coffee. I definitely needed some fortitude for that one. "We hadn't really discussed it. We can't get married anyway, so what's the point?"

Mom frowned. "Donald. A union of love should be sanctified by God."

I planted my butt against the counter and took a swig of my coffee. "Yeah, well, God doesn't sanctify same sex unions, Mom."

"Donald!" Oops. I knew better than to have a negative comment about God. "God loves all his children. How can you say that?"

"Maybe the news hasn't reached Collinsville, but the courts in Washington and California have made it clear that the Government won't acknowledge them either. Oh, and don't forget the whole 'Marriage Protection Act' the Religious Right are screaming for."

Dad frowned. "Don't take that tone with your mother, Donald. You know we don't subscribe to that kind of reactionary nonsense."

I sighed. "Sorry." I looked at Mom. "I'd marry Seb if I could Mom, really. But I can't, so can't we just drop this? It's Christmas."

I could see the wheels turning, but Mom nodded. "Very well, Donald. For today."

Maybe I should have waited on the rings until we'd left. I grabbed one of the evil cinnamon rolls and chewed while I tried to change the subject. "Speaking of Christmas... I saw presents under the tree."

Mom laughed. "They never grow up."

Dad smiled. "Oh, I think they have. Neither of them snuck down last night and tried to peel open the wrapping to figure out what they got."

Lisa frowned. "How did you know we did that?"

Dad laughed, pulling fishing line and a paperclip out of his pocket. "I set up my own version of silent alarms."

I smiled, taking the line and looking at it. "You know, I never figured out where the fishing line came from. I always thought it was something used to hang decorations or ornaments."

Mom kissed Dad on the cheek as she stood up. "Your father may be a small town hardware store owner, Donald, but he is a brilliant man." She patted Lisa's shoulder. "Come on. Lets take our coffees and rolls into the living room. Unless he's changed, your brother won't wait too awfully long for present opening."

Lisa grinned. "He's just a big baby anyway."

"Shut up."

Lisa ignored me and took the plate of rolls with her while Mom took the coffee pot and serving tray. Seb stood up. "I've got to go up to the room. I'll be right down." He vanished, as Dad stood up. I pulled out his chair.

"Don't fuss, Donald."

I shrugged. "I pull chairs out for Seb. Why not my Dad? I've known you longer."

Dad frowned at me, scrutinizing my face. I think he saw I wasn't joking. "You pull out chairs for him, huh?"

I shrugged. "Remember all those rules Mom drove into my head about how to treat a girl, what gentlemen did, and the other crap?"

Dad chuckled. "I swear she was trying to make you into a southern gentleman. I told her there wasn't any point in having a southern gentleman in the Midwest."

"You always did it with Mom."

Dad waved my comment away. "I didn't think you paid attention."

I smiled. "Well, I did, and it stuck. Once I had someone to use them on, I couldn't stop myself." Dad walked around the table, and I picked up my coffee cup. "I don't treat Seb like a girl or anything... I guess I just like doing the shit."

Dad shook his head. "You will make a good husband, Donald." He stopped, thinking about it. "Will you be a husband without a wife, or is it partners?"

I shrugged. "Fraid there isn't a manners guide to etiquette when it comes to gay relationships Dad. I think we just have to make it up as we go."

"I think I like husband. Partner sounds too much like a business arrangement."

I laughed, wrapped my arms around Dad and gave him another hug. He used to hug me all the time as a kid. I missed it. "I love you Dad."

Dad hugged me back, and after a moment I felt him relax into it. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, Donald. You never should have had to face it all alone."

I closed my eyes and tried not to cry. I'd tried to forget how close a family we'd been. I'd pushed it aside, thinking I had to give it up to be who I was. "I should have had more faith in you, Dad. I'm sorry."

Neither of us managed to pull back without wiping our eyes. Dad laughed. "We're a pretty sorry pair aren't we?"

I smiled. "I'll make you a promise. I'll stop hiding if you'll stop keeping things like your health a secret."

Dad frowned. For a moment I thought he'd object, but after a moment, he nodded. "That's a deal I can make."

"Hey," Lisa yelled from the living room. "Get your butt in here, Don!"

"I think they're waiting on us."

Dad smiled. "We've waited years for a family Christmas, Donald. I'm not going to rush this one." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I don't know him yet, but I knew just by the way Sebastian looked at you last night that he loved you. I think you have a good man there, Donald."

He had no idea. All I could do was smile. "He's the best. He put up with a lot before I admitted I was in love. It took a couple really good friends kicking me in the head a few times before I got it on straight."

"Carl," Mom called, "we're waiting."

Dad shook his head. "The natives are restless. We had better get in there."

Before we could get through the door, Seb came in, rolling his eyes. "The women demand your presence in the drawing room."

I frowned, looking at Dad. "Since when did we get a drawing room?"

"Hell if I know. Your mother has been watching the home improvement shows for years now. I'm not sure what room is what any longer."

I shrugged.

Dad walked through the dining room. "I'm going to chance the living room. It's where the tree is."

Seb slid his arm around my waist as I put mine over his shoulders. "You guys okay?"

I smiled. "Yeah. We're great."

"I love you, you know."

Damn. I couldn't let that go unanswered. I turned Seb to me and slipped my other hand behind his head. "Merry Christmas, Seb." I kissed him until he melted against me. We kept kissing until I heard a rather impatient cough from the door.

Lisa rolled her eyes. "Don't you guys get enough of that on your own time? We're waiting in here."

"Okay, okay." I reached out and mussed her hair, causing Lisa to swat at my hand indignantly. "Get back in there, brat."

"Jar-head," she grumbled, with a grin on her face, as she turned back into the living room, calling out, "Don't worry, they're just sucking face. I'm sure they'll be done in a little while!"

Was she too old to kill? I pondered the question several times while we opened presents. No, it would be bad to kill my sister on Christmas Day. The only thing that saved her was that she had to drive our parents to the Christmas Service.

"Are you sure you won't come, Donald?" Mother never missed a church service.

"I'd rather show Seb the town, Mom." Okay, so I also hadn't been in church for years. "We'll go tomorrow. I know you'll insist on the Sunday service."

"Very well, Donald. You're meeting us at the church at noon?" She wrapped her scarf tight as Dad opened the door.

"Yes, Mom. Go on, you're going to be late." I kissed her cheek and she left with Dad.

I smiled at Seb. "Ready to face a Wisconsin Christmas morning?"

He grimaced. "It looks really pretty from the window."

I laughed. "Come on, tough guy. Take your husband for a walk down Main Street."

He smiled. "You're getting good with the sweet talking."

"All that Prince Charming training I got when I was young." I pulled the coats out of the closet. "I'm sure you'll survive."

"I can survive anything with you." And he said I was a sweet talker?

We started out the door, after bundling Seb up nice and snug. It was a beautiful day for a walk with someone I loved.

Seb shivered as he talked into his cell phone while we walked. "Yes, Mama, it was fine. Really." He grinned at me. "If anything I'd call it anticlimactic." That was the understatement of the century. Seb nodded, which really didn't add to the conversation, but it was cute. "Sure, Mama. Here." He handed me the phone.

"What?" I looked at him like he'd offered me arsenic.

"She wants to wish you a Merry Christmas you dork."

I smiled. Angelina was a great mother-in-law. I took the phone. "Hi beautiful, Feliz Navidad."

"You are trying to sweet talk me, but that only works on my son," Angelina chuckled. "Feliz Navidad, mi Donito." How she ever came up with "her little Don" I'd never understand. I was a good hand taller than everyone in Seb's family. "Sebastian will tell me nothing. How are you?"

I smiled. She was such a mother hen. "I'm fine, Angelina, really. I got myself all worked up over nothing. My parents already knew. They were just waiting for me to tell him."

"And the rest of your family? Sebastian said you plan to be open with all of them."

I sighed, pulling Seb a bit closer to me as we walked. "If Mom and Dad thought there would be some major problem, they'd have told us by now. I'm sure it'll be a shock to 'someone'. I really don't think I was that obvious growing up."

I could hear her huff over the phone. "You are a big, strong man. What people thought isn't important. How they treat you now is all that matters."

I smiled. "Thanks, Angelina."

I could imagine Angelina's pout as she talked into the phone. "When are you going to call me Mama like I've asked you?"

I chuckled. "I haven't even gotten used to thinking of Seb as my husband, Angelina. Give me a little time and a few more visits."

"Oh, Antonio wants to say hello to his brother."

"Okay. Give everyone my love, Angelina."

"I will if you call me, Mama."

I chewed on it for a moment. "Mama."

"Que bueno mi Donito. Antonio esta aqui." She made a couple kissy sounds, and then Antonio got on the phone.

"Hey, bro."

I laughed. "Wrong gay man, give me a second." I held out the phone. "Your better half."

Seb frowned at me, before taking the phone, and covered the mouth piece. "You think you're getting any tonight?"

"I won't be getting any until Sunday; who are you kidding? The way that bed squeaks?" I rolled my eyes. "Talk to Butthead, Beavis."

"He just called you a butthead," Seb said as he put the phone to his ear. "Yeah, he's a shit isn't he?" He grinned, listening to Tony. "Yeah, yeah. Thanks for the warning. We saved family presents for opening here with Don's parents. I really enjoyed the thoughtfulness of the gift."

I chuckled. Tony's present had been quite a conversation stopper. It wasn't every day your husband opened a present in front of your parents containing double extra large magnums, two types of lube, matching his and his cock rings, and the "Idiot's Guide to Gay Sex." I didn't know they did an idiots guide for that. I thought Lisa would bust a gut she laughed so hard.

"Yeah, it's cold as hell here." Seb winked at me. "Yep. Hick town, four-wheelers, tractors in the front yards, real countrified." We wandered passed the closed shops, looking at the Christmas displays, while Seb talked with his brother.

My phone rang. "Hello?"

"How did it go?" Lee's voice was clear, but restrained on the other side of the line.

"Hey, Lee-man." Seb and I separated so we could talk without distracting each other. "It went fine. I was a wreck, nearly puked, but my parents were cool. My sister's still a brat, cute, but a brat."

"I'm glad everything's okay. I didn't want to call too early, but we've been up since before seven."

"Well, turn off the worry switch, Lee. Everything's cool."

"So, did you ask him?"

I grinned. "No."

"No? Why the hell not?"

I took Seb's hand and squeezed it. He looked at me for a moment as I answered Lee. "I decided to do an Andrew. I didn't give him the option to say no." I brought Seb's gloved hand up and kissed it. "I just slid it on and made it clear I planned to keep him."

"Tony," Seb said, pulling his hand out of mine and reaching for my phone, "talk to the shit." He snatched my phone and shoved his into my hand before putting my phone to his ear. "You knew about this huh?"

I laughed and put Seb's phone to my ear. "Hey, Butthead."

"What was that about?" Tony sounded confused. I didn't blame him.

"Nothing much. Your brother is just acting like a queer." Seb flicked me the bird while Tony laughed in my ear. "You know how gay boys get when you give them jewelry."

"Jewelry?" Tony covered the phone and I heard him call out something in Spanish. In a few seconds, I heard a click on the line.

"What is Antonio yelling about?" Angelina was breathless.

I shrugged; not that she could see it. "Nothing. Your son agreed to be mine forever last night." Angelina nearly ruptured my eardrum as she started rattling off Spanish faster than a machine gun.

"Damn it. I can't keep up with this," Seb growled at me, snatching his phone back and tossing me mine. "Hello, Mama?" I could still hear her excited voice.

I put my phone to my ear. "Hey, Lee."

"Sounds like you've got your hands full," Lee laughed

I grinned. "Damn latin queens. Jewelry messes them all up."

Seb was off and running in Spanish with his mother, father, and brother if I was following it right. He flicked me the bird, again, and I recognized a few words like yellow, and white, and gold, and beautiful. He may have been shooting daggers at me with his eyes, but he was smiling like a kid in a candy store.

"I'll let you handle family matters then, bud. See you next week."

"Bye, Lee." I hung up, and watched Seb talk animatedly into the phone.

He'd given up any semblance of walking and just stood there, gesturing with one hand, occasionally giving me dirty, unconvincing looks. Finally, the Spanish storm subsided, and the conversation came to a close. "Si. Adios Mama." Seb hung up, slid his phone into his pocket, and glared at me. "Mama says that she will strangle us with her rosary if we aren't there by the second week of January. She wants to see the rings."

I smiled. "We could take a picture and send it."


I took his hand before he could object, and pulled him into walking again. "Did I get you in trouble?"

"You have no idea," he grumbled. "I should have called her last night, but I was too tired."

I chuckled. "Not like there's going to be a wedding or anything."

Seb shrugged. "I know, but it's still a big deal... at least to me."

I pulled him to a stop and stepped in, staring in his eyes. "It's a big deal for me too."

Seb sighed, leaning in and letting me hold him. "I wish we could get married."

"Yeah," I whispered as I kissed his hair. "So do I." I looked at my watch. "We've got just enough time to meet Mom and Dad at the church."

"I guess it was a good thing we skipped the service. I'd hate to have the cells go off in church."

I nodded. "Yeah. I'm sure I'd forget to turn mine off."

We walked the rest of the way up Main Street and turned onto Orchard Road. The church bell rang as we got to the corner. "What timing," Seb joked as we crossed the street to the church.

I recognized several people who went passed to their cars. A few took a moment to look at me twice. They recognized me enough to realize they knew me, even if they weren't sure who I was. Lisa came down the steps while Mom and Dad talked to Pastor Evans. She took my arm. "I've been ordered to get your ass up the steps."

I rolled my eyes, but let her drag me along. "No one told you to do that, Lisa."

"Okay, so they said: bring Donald up here. Like there's a difference."

"Context is important, Lisa."

"Uh huh."

We got up to the doors, with Seb trailing a step behind. Mom smiled. "Pastor Evans, you remember Donald."

"Of course," he said, smiling at me as he extended his hand. "I did baptize him."

I smiled. "Hello Pastor Evans. How's Mrs. Evans?"

He sighed. "Tired, but recovering." His smile returned quickly. "The Lord has been generous and she is home for Christmas."

Mom pulled Seb up beside us. "Pastor, this is Sebastian."

Pastor Evans smiled, extending his hand. "May I be the first to welcome you to our community."

Seb shook his hand. "Thank you."

"Donald," Mom said, smiling. "I know I promised to drop the subject, but I really think you should get married in a church."


Pastor Evans smiled, putting his hand on my shoulder. "I understand your reluctance, Donald. This is a very important choice to make."

I glared at my mother for a moment before looking Pastor Evans in the eyes. "Thank you, but I know I can't get married."

Pastor Evans looked at me, his smile fading. "In heaven's name why?"

I took Seb's hand. Mom had forced the issue, so there was no place to be but out of the closet in a small town. "Seb and I can't get married."

"What the state sanctions is not my concern. I take my orders from a higher power. If you wish to have your vows sanctified and witnessed, I would be honored to do so. You were baptized in this church, and God does not turn away his children."

I blinked. What the hell was I going to say to that? "Uhm... wouldn't that cause a problem?" I looked from Seb, to Pastor Evans and back.

Pastor Evans shrugged. "This issue was addressed back when the Episcopal Church upheld Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Our congregation debated the issue quite heatedly. It finally came down to a majority who believed that God did not make mistakes and that anyone who had him in his heart was a child of God. As such, we have added to doctrine that no one, regardless of race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation will be turned away from our doors."

I couldn't believe it. "You mean you'd marry us?"

Pastor Evans. "It will probably cause more than a little talk, but it was decided that any union of souls was a blessing from God." He smiled. "I'm certain there would be more than a little debate, but if you want to be married," he looked at both of us, "God will see it done."

Seb and I stared at each other before I answered. "Uhm... could we get back to you?"

He nodded. "God bless you, Donald, and you, Sebastian. May he watch over you, and protect you."

We helped Mom and Dad down the frozen steps while Lisa brought up the car. I sat in the back, thinking about what happened. I was still a bit shell shocked as we got into the house. I went into the kitchen, got a cup of coffee, and sat down to think. Seb came up behind me and began rubbing my neck. Things were changing too fast. I couldn't keep up.

"You okay, babe?"

I nodded. "Yeah. My thoughts are buzzing about like a nest full of hornets."

Mom came into the kitchen. "Donald..."

I smiled at her. "I'm not mad, Mom. I'm just a bit overwhelmed."

She smiled, sitting down across the corner of the table from me, and took my hand. "I can only imagine how frightening this must be for you. There is so much hate and fear in the world. We would never let anyone hurt you, or Sebastian."

I smiled through my tears. "I know Mom."

She grinned. "I think you would look so handsome in a tuxedo."

I laughed. "Mom!"

She shrugged. "If I have to wait for Lisa, I'll be old and gray. She's never dated anyone who was marriage material." She smiled at Seb. "You got it right the first time."

I reached up and squeezed Seb's hand. "Yeah, I was pretty lucky he seduced me." Seb smacked me on top of the head. With his left hand. Damn, that ring hurt. "Ow!"

He sat down beside me. "Serves you right, for lying to your mother." He looked at her. "I only asked him out to dinner."

I looked at Mom, innocently. "Listen to that accent and tell me that wasn't a seduction?"

Mom laughed. "Why do I get the feeling that Sebastian is telling the truth, and you took advantage of his sweet, generous nature?"

I grinned. What I'd done was take advantage of his sweet ass and generous endowment. I wasn't about to tell my mother about my sex life. "I suppose that's a fair assessment."

Seb grumbled, "He was worse than a dog in heat."

I frowned. "I didn't hear you complaining."

"Who's complaining?"

"You are."

"No I'm not. I'm being descriptive." He grinned.

I did not need my mother to know I'd fucked my future husband, against his dresser, before we'd even ordered food. "Well leave some mystery, okay?"


Mom shook her head. "You two are adorable." Standing, she walked for the door. "Your father and I will get changed into comfortable clothes and then we can go to your aunt's house."

"Okay, Mom."

She left, and I barely got a sip of my coffee before I heard a boisterous laugh from the living room. Lisa came in, flipping through "the infamous book". "This is too funny. I've got to meet your brother."

Seb dropped his face into his hands. "I can't believe he bought that."

She laughed harder as she set the book down in front of us. "He got you two good. Look inside."

"I'm afraid to," I replied, pulling the book over to me. I opened the book and stared at the title page. It read, "The Idiot's Guide to Power Tools." I blinked, read it again, and then flipped the pages. "That deceptive piece of shit."

Seb leaned in, following along as I flipped from band saws to drills to laser levels. He started chuckling. "Bastard."

"I'm going to kill him."

Seb chuckled. "That might be a challenge. He used to be as good as me."

"I can still take your ass to the mat, bud."

Seb laughed. "True, but your take down techniques wouldn't work on Tony."

I grinned, trying not to blush. "You're so full of it."

"Well, not recently..."

Lisa laughed. "If Tony is anything like Sebastian, I'm in love already."

Seb winked. "Latin men are the best."

"Oh yeah," Lisa replied.

I rolled my eyes. "God help me."

***** Andrew *****

I had the utmost respect for Claire. Her house was the epitome of organized chaos with unruly children, many adults, different lifestyles, and enough food to feed half of India without breaking a sweat. Martha Stewart has nothing on her. Because Taylor was wound up tight enough to break glass, I decided to treat everything like I was trying to sign a new client: open, friendly, with enough humor to put people at ease. That it obviously rankled Taylor was a fringe benefit. The man needed to loosen up. This was his family, not the firing squad.

The gift giving was nice, warm and friendly, with lots of smiles, childish whoops of joy, even from the adults. Sean and I received token gifts, the kinds that were appropriate for anyone, given by generous people who really didn't have a clue what to give strangers. Sean got a nice office organizer for legal pads so he could take notes at college. I got a digital watch with a built in chronometer. I'd seen one at the mall when I got my nipple piercing and Taylor must have told Claire. The thought was sweet and kind and I gave her a huge hug, lifting her off the ground, after all, she was shorter than Taylor, and planted a huge smacking kiss on her cheek.

"Andrew Michael, put me down this minute!" Okay, so it probably wasn't the best thing to do, but it's how I thank all the women in my life. And hey! How did she learn my middle name? I lowered my gaze to Taylor who visibly shrank into the couch cushions.

"Sorry, Auntie C, can't help it. You give me exactly what I want for Christmas and lay out a spread like this? You're an amazing woman."

The woman is incapable of blushing, but I was going to do my damndest to make it happen. Taylor took my hand as soon as the gift giving was over and we moved on to the buffet lunch. We filled up our plates. I surreptitiously watched Sean interact with a couple of the younger adults and older kids. He seemed to be enjoying himself, as much as any stranger in a new situation can. Taylor and I sat down in a fairly secluded area of the living room and munched on some goodies.

"That wasn't so bad, Taylor."

Taylor shrugged while he swallowed his bite. "Mom and Dad aren't here yet."

I pushed on his arm. "Come on, except for the odd look from your cousin and the envious glare from your other aunt, no one seemed to care."

Taylor's sigh was a mixture of relief, sadness, and concern. "I know. My family's great. I'm just worried about this evening."

"Don't. It will all turn out."

"I know. Technically, I know that." He put his hand over his heart. "I don't doubt their love here." Then he raised his hand to his head. "But I'm afraid here."

I wrapped my arms around him, holding him close. Just then, Aunt Claire showed up. "You two look so cozy, and I hate to interrupt..."

I pulled away and gave her my best grin. Nothing. Damn it. "It's okay. What's going on?"

"Next door, the swing set construction crew... well... there's a problem."

"Not to worry. If I can assemble an entire gym, I think I can help with a swing set."

"Thank you, Andrew."

I took Taylor's hand. "Come on, let's go rescue the novices."

Now before Christmas Day, I thought I was an adequate worker. I put half the gym together. I mowed the yard every week, I could fix small appliances, and even do most routine things on my truck. That swing set got the best of all of us; the fucking piece of shit. We spent two hours trying to fit the thing together, only to find out that the instructions were mislabeled and that part 38 was really part 87. Once we got that fiasco figured out, we had it up and in place in five minutes.

Of course, once we were done with the swing set, it was off across the street to all those wonderful little gifts that come with the simple, sweet, and very misleading "some assembly required." And did I get to be on Lego detail? No! Sean got to play with the Lego, damn it. The most entertaining thing to do on Christmas, and Sean got it. Damn it. Instead, I got the dollhouse from hell. But I did get it together. Okay, so it took me from 1:15 until it was time to go back to Claire's and get ready for dinner, but still, I did it. Heaven forbid I ever have to do this again. No daughters for me thank you.

It was rather sweet when the dollhouse's recipient curled in my lap while I read the instructions. Katie, with her sweet smelling hair and even sweeter disposition sat in my lap and talked with me while I put her dollhouse together. Okay, so perhaps it wasn't a horrible afternoon. Actually, it was rather nice; mellow and kind. When we get home, I need to remember to tell Taylor, show him even, how much this day has meant to me.

Once dressed in my navy blue suit with pale blue shirt and burgundy tie, I took Taylor's hands in mine, pulling him towards me. "Relax."

"I'm so nervous." Tell me something I didn't know. But I wouldn't have said it. Instead I pulled him to me and kissed him, taking long, slow, drugging tastes of him until his tension melted and he clung my shoulders. When he was loose and limber in my arms, I pulled back and kissed his forehead.

"Come on, bacon. Let's go downstairs. We can do this. We've proven we can get through anything."

"With you, I can do this."

"I know you can."

When Sean popped his head back in the room, looking frustrated, Taylor and I moved apart and let Sean come all the way in. "What's the matter, Sean?"

"How do you tie a stupid tie?"

Taylor laughed as he walked up to Sean and undid the bad knot he had attempted then competently tied his tie and tucked it into his jacket. "You look great, Sean."

I leaned down to Sean and whispered in his ear. "Who do you think tied mine?"

Sean laughed and then we headed downstairs. Everyone from earlier was there along with a few extra editions that I was introduced to, but would probably never remember their names. The children were ushered into the den where they had their own table set up and the adults communed around the large dining room table. Then the doorbell rang. Taylor's mom and dad. Each gong of the bell seemed to grow more ominous with each knell. I breathed in deeply, gearing myself for the ordeal to come.

I took Taylor's hand and led him into the living room, where we could have a semi-private meeting. I recognized Katherine immediately. "Merry Christmas, Katherine."

She moved away from the taller man standing beside her, Taylor's father, and came up to us, hugging Taylor and kissing my cheek. "Merry Christmas, both of you. Andrew, I'd like you to meet my husband, Martin."

I stuck out my hand. "Pleased to meet you."

At that moment, I knew what dog shit on the bottom of a shoe felt like. I slowly lowered my hand as Katherine grabbed her husband's arm and pulled him aside, speaking quickly and animatedly at him. I leaned down and whispered in Taylor's ear, "Thank God, Sean's in the dining room." Quoting from one of the many movies I saw on Turner Classics while I was in my insomnia nightmare phase, I whispered again, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."