David's Initiation: The Partnership 16

Draginacht@aol.com (AKA Jeff)

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Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.  The story contains graphic descriptions of sex between men. Anyone who is forbidden by law to read such material must stop now.  This story is being posted to the Nifty Archive solely for the enjoyment of its readers.

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Dear Fans, this is Jeff, your author speaking and I think it's time that I exercise my parental authority and retake control of this story. Not that the guys haven't been doing a terrific job on their own, but they tend to get too bogged down in a lot of day-to-day details. It's now time to move this story along.

Five years have passed since we last heard from the guys and much has happened.

Dave is now 31 years old and Tony is 29. Dave is still involved with Philos and the AANCF in Dallas, TX. Tony has a Bachelor's Degree in Business and Finance and his success in real estate provides an income considerably greater than Dave's - not counting the Roehl Trust.

Each January the eight men fly to Vale for skiing and male bonding. Dave and Tony continue to enjoy visiting their Dallas family of Alex and Steve Roehl, and Beth and Art Radford. Connie and Adam King have added two more daughters to their family and Adam has accepted a position as the CFO of a large investment firm in Los Angeles. Consequently, Dave and Tony aren't able to visit with the King family as often as they'd like but they stay in touch through E-mail.

You'll learn more about other members of Dave and Tony's immediate families as the story continues. Some of the situations that I will gloss over could serve as jumping off places for future stories involving other characters but we'll just have to wait and see. In this chapter I'll go back and chronologically bring you up to date so that you'll be able to keep their lives in perspective. We pick up our story just after July 4, when Dave and Tony observed their second anniversary.

***

In Chapter 15, Berk confessed to Dave that he once experienced a gay lifestyle. Dave speculated that perhaps now was the time for Berk to open up to prospects for love. Well, Berk followed Dave's advice and shared his history with Dan who reciprocated by sharing the gory details of his past. Dan and Berk dated as Dave suggested and finally got together - literally. After five months of dating, Dan moved in with Berk and they began to build the kind of loving, trusting relationship that Dave and Tony and Mike and Todd shared.

On June 5, Dave's mother hosted a 28th birthday party for her son and the whole family was there.

When summer arrived Kate and John weren't able to get away for some time in Vale but Sophia and Sean were. They sent the girls to stay with Mama Mancuso while Shannon stayed with Mark, Matt and JD. Dave and Tony were slightly relieved to get the summer off but they had to admit they missed having the boys stay with them.

The following Labor Day, the Mancuso family once again gathered at Sophia and Sean's to observe the holiday and celebrate Tony's 26th birthday. Again, all the boys stayed with Dave and Tony as did Peter and Ashley. One major change in the schedule was that Tony and Dave played host for one of the dinners and the whole Mancuso clan was excited and pleased at how Tony and Dave had established their lives together.

Everyone also admired the photo arrangement Tony had created of him and Dave to show how they developed through their lives. Tony had selected a variety of interesting frames for eye appeal then began with baby pictures on the bottom, skipped to when both were four years old, then six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen followed by high school graduation pictures. The last picture of each series was of each man in his dress military uniform. He thought that was a clever way to equalize their age difference. At the top of the arrangement was a picture of the two of them together, facing the camera, arms over each other's shoulders, with huge grins on their faces. It was a picture Sophia had taken and any idiot could see that they were the best of friends and in love.

The second Saturday of November found the Platoon sitting around Dave and Tony's table for one of their frequent gatherings. Berk was now a full-fledged member of the Platoon, having been given the "hot tub" initiation a few weeks earlier. Adding Berk also completed the military collection: Dave and Mike - Army, Tony - Marines, Dan - Navy, and Berk - Air Force. Todd was the token civilian to remind them of where they all started.

Tony had made lasagna and the others had chipped in with wine, bread, green bean casserole, and chocolate cake for desert. The food had been passed and the six men sat eating quietly - TOO quietly. Tony nudged Dave's hand and they made eye contact. Dave read Tony's questioning face to mean, "What's going on?" Dave shook his head slightly and smiled. A few moments later Dave broke the silence.

"All right guys, why so glum? Everybody swallow his tongue?" Five heads rose up and turned to look at Dave. Silence prevailed for a few more moments. Finally Mike opened his uninhibited mouth.

"Our man lost," Mike grumbled. He was referring to the recent presidential election where he, Todd and the rest of the Platoon had campaigned hard for their candidate and contributed financially to his campaign. They all thought he had the best position on gay issues. "And ya know what sucks," and without waiting for a reply, Mike continued. "That damned amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage. Not only that, they banned same-sex unions and legal agreements. That really frosts my balls."

"Here! Let me see!" Todd, who was sitting to Mike's left, couldn't pass on that straight line. He immediate slipped his right hand between Mike's legs and grabbed a hand-full of nuts. Mike jumped and yelped at once. "Nope, hot as usual," Todd declared with a smile, to the enjoyment of the others at the table. They all had a good laugh, even Mike. That seemed to break the ice and the conversation began.

"Oh, Mike," Dave began. "It's not all that bad. Yeah, our man lost. But we're still here and I really don't think things will change that much. And there'll be another election in four years." As usual, Dave was looking to the future.

Todd: "Well, Dave was right."

Dan: "How so?"

Todd: "Remember the time we were sitting around this table talking about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declaring gay marriage to be constitutional? Dave predicted this would happen. As I recall, he said the public might rebel against judicial activism. Guess what? What was it, eleven states passed amendments banning gay marriage, or something like that?"

Dave: "Well, if it's any consolation, I'd rather be wrong. I don't know what we're gonna do now."

Berk: "Hey, don't lose faith so quickly, I read just yesterday that the GLBT Alliance is organizing a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the amendment."

Todd: "Really? On what grounds?"

Berk: "They got some lawyer who knows constitutional law and he says that the constitution specifically requires that an amendment deal with only one issue and this one dealt with several - banning gay marriage, banning same-sex civil unions, and denying same-sex couples the right to enter into legal agreements like wills and such."

Dan: "So what happens now?"

Berk: "From what I've read, all they need is money - what else!"

Dave: "How much do they need?"

Berk: "You know Cynthia Haspell, the president of the GLBT? Well, she was quoted as saying they need $10,000 to get started." The men responded in rapid succession:

Mike: "Count me in for $500."

Todd: "Me too."

Tony: "I'm good for five."

Dave: "Same here."

Dan: "I got $500 they can have."

Berk: "So if I throw in another $500 that'll give the Alliance a cool three grand to start with."

'And I'll call Cynthia and make sure she gets to $10,000,' Dave and Tony thought simultaneously as they looked each other in the eye.

"At least you guys have a plan," Todd said. "I gotta find out what they do in California." Everyone looked at him. Knowing he had their attention, Todd continued.

"California?" Berk asked.

"Yeah, hotel management offered me an assistant manager position in Manhattan Beach."

"Great!" "Super!" " How wonderful!" "When?" Those were the instantaneous responses from four of the men present.

"Well, not so fast," Todd cautioned. He took Mike's hand in his and continued. "It's not that easy. If I accept the offer, what about Mike? I'm not gonna leave him behind." Todd was totally sincere in his declaration. "And if he comes with me he'll have to basically start all over. I'm not sure that's fair."

"If he goes, so do I," Mike stated with conviction. "Besides, they've offered to fly us out for an interview and orientation. We won't commit until after then."

"Gee guys…" Dave exclaimed quietly as if he could see his Platoon breaking up. "That's a great opportunity, Todd." Dave was trying to place the best face on the situation and support whatever position his two friends chose. "Whatever you guys decide to do, you've got my support."

"Thanks, Dave," Todd replied. "I knew you'd feel that way. But I'm not sure I even want to go if I'm gonna wind up turning them down."

"Look, you two," Dave said as if lecturing his two friends. "You aught know exactly what you're turning down. I encourage you to go to California, look the deal over, than decide. If nothing else, you can treat it like a second honeymoon." Dave knew he'd struck a nerve when he saw Mike and Todd look at each other and smile as if to say 'Yeah!'

"And I can tell you all the hot places to go while you're there," Berk added with a grin.

With plenty to talk about, the conversation never slackened for the rest of the evening. Mike and Todd slept in their room and Dan and Berk slept in theirs. All was well with the Platoon.

Dave and Tony lay snuggled close after making love and Dave could tell that Tony was still awake.

"Somethin' on your mind, cowboy?" Dave asked. He often referred to Tony as `cowboy' ever since their first trip to the Roehl Ranch.

"Humm, just thinkin'."

"About?"

"Dan and Berk… I was trying to imagine just how Dan's able to take Berk's size. Like you're BIG but Berk, man, he's in a different league."

Dave turned over, pressed his naked body against his partner and planted a passionate and seductive kiss on his lips.

"Don't worry about Dan," Dave whispered when he released Tony from their kiss. "He's always been a size queen. Besides, I think there's more love there than sex. Anyway, you saying you want some of Berk?"

"Oh, hell no! I can't imagine getting ripped apart by something that big. You're absolutely perfect." Tony could feel Dave's erection pressing into his abdomen. "How about you show me just how perfect you are…"

***

Todd and Mike did make the trip to Manhattan Beach to be wined and dined by the hotel brass. They had a terrific time but in the end, Todd had to admit he didn't think he could handle the culture chock - he just didn't feel comfortable on the West Coast. He returned home to think about it but eventually respectfully declined the job offer. That meant that his advancement within the Westin chain was essentially over. He continued working there while searching for a new position closer to home. A few months later Todd learned of an assistant hotel manager's position at the oldest, most respected five-star hotel in the city. Todd applied, got the job, the advancement and the pay raise he wanted and Mike was able to stay with John's Subway business - their lives moved on.

Dave and Tony spent Thanksgiving at the Mancuso's and Christmas with the Bakers.

***

In February, Tony convinced Dave that they could use a long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale. (Dave was easily convinced.) The real estate business was slow, as was construction so the two men flew down for some special time together.

Kate and Sophia collaborated on a surprise party for Dave's twenty-ninth birthday. Georgia was ready and waiting when the two sisters arrived and helped them set up everything.  The afternoon of the party, the two women were taking a break and stood in the hallway admiring and talking about all the pictures the two men had hung on the wall.

"Kate, would you look at this and tell me what you see?" Sophia asked. She was studying the arrangement Tony had made of his and Dave's lives. "Notice their expressions? See how they change?"

Kate looked intently at the pictures trying to figure out what Sophia was talking about. After a few moments, "Yes," she gasped, "how could I not see that before! Just look at their smiles. From ages four to twelve we have two very happy boys. Then… at fourteen, see how their smiles change? They seem forced, not genuine."

"Exactly!" Sophia stated. "Now look at the two of them together at the top. Those are two really happy guys, just like in the early years."

"That's amazing, truly amazing. I never thought I'd see graphic evidence of the toll being gay could have on someone but there it is. You know, David was fourteen when he confided in me that he was gay. I couldn't see it then but… wow, there it is. I wish our society weren't so judgmental, so… so…"

"Oppressive?" Sophia responded.

"Something like that. But we can thank the heavens that these two found each other. I love them both so much."

"Me too," Sophia agreed as she and Kate stood side by side with their arms around each other.

John brought the boys and Dave's parents from home and parked the cars at Sophia's house so as to not spoil the surprise. Sean brought Shannon and the girls.

During the drive home from work, Dave began putting office matters behind him and started thinking about the birthday present Tony was probably going to give him in the bedroom. Those thoughts produced a smile on his face and a bulge in his pants. Needless to say, Dave was truly surprised, almost to the point of tears. Fortunately his erection had subsided before he walked into the kitchen.

***

On July 4, the Platoon helped Dave and Tony celebrate their third anniversary. In September, the entire Mancuso clan gathered at Mama and Papa's for Tony's twenty-seventh birthday. While there, Dave and Tony received an invitation to visit Tony's gay cousin Nicklas in Athens, Greece. It seems that word of Tony's relationship had made it across the Atlantic and his Greek family was eager to see him again.

So, with the family's encouragement, for Thanksgiving Dave and Tony flew off to Athens. They spent two days sightseeing, and then Nicklas and his partner drove them over to the West Coast of Greece, to the small seaside village where Tony's extended family originated. That visit turned into a small luncheon celebration to greet the American 'family.' The two men were made to feel right at home and Dave acquitted himself by speaking a few phrases of Greek that Tony had taught him. The four men returned to Athens that evening with Tony and Dave stuffed with Greek food, wine, and a little Ouzo.

The next morning, Dave and Tony hopped a plane for Rome. They spent one day seeing a few important sights (and vowing that they had to return when they had more time) before departing the next day by train for Florence and the Italian branch of the Mancuso clan. The two men were received with open arms and given a genuine family welcome. Tony managed to take Dave to see the statue of Michelangelo's "David," something that Tony knew Dave had to see before leaving Tuscany.

Rather than return to Rome, the partners boarded an overnight train for Paris. They were having a wonderful time. If they saw anything in Paris, they had to see the Louver and the Musee d'Orsay. Dave just had to see the large collection of Impressionist art. They took the bullet train for an overnight trip to Amsterdam. The first day they visited the Rijksmuseum and The Anne Frank House. They spent the night in at the Grand Amsterdam Hotel, which is practically in the middle of one of the main gay districts. The next day they visited the Vincent van Gogh Museum before returning to Paris. Tony had wanted to take a tour of the Heineken Brewery but they just didn't have time.

Two exhausted and excited lovers finally returned home on a non-stop flight from Paris. There was one thing they both agreed on and that was that they needed to return to Paris soon. It's impossible to do justice to the Louver or the Musee d'Orsay in the limited amount of time they had. They had taken what seemed like hundreds of digital photos, which they quickly downloaded to their computer. Tony E-mailed a few of the pictures to his family because he wanted them to see their Greek and Italian family and friends. Later, when the Mancuso clan gathered for Tony's next birthday they would all crowd around the computer and look at the pictures - at least those that weren't deleted because they were awful.

One Saturday morning in late December, Dave and Tony were cuddling in bed after quick trips to the bathroom. As usual, they weren't going running this Saturday - running had become a weekday event.

"Whatta ya got planned for today," Dave asked.

"Oh, I need to put out a bunch of 'For Sale" signs, wanna give me a hand?"

"Oh, I'll give you a hand, alright," Dave quietly exclaimed as he wrapped his fingers around Tony's flaccid member causing it to immediately fill with blood.

"Ahh!" Tony jumped with pleasant surprise. Normally he would have realized he was giving his partner a straight line and been ready. But this time he was caught off guard. "Oh yeah, I can use a hand." Tony pulled Dave into a hot, passionate kiss. Dave began to giggle which caused Tony to begin laughing. Dave pulled away from the kiss, threw back the covers and dove for Tony's tool. Within seconds Tony was gasping at Dave's ministrations to his tool. And not wanting to be left out, Tony pushed Dave over and returned the favor.

The two men always took their lovemaking seriously and afforded it plenty of time. But this was 'play time' and they were having fun nibbling, caressing, licking and sucking each other. It didn't take long in the sixty-nine position for them to achieve satisfying climaxes. And after sharing their mixed offerings in a kiss, something they loved to do, they resumed cuddling.

"Now, you were saying, you have to put out some signs?" Dave asked with a smile and a kiss, returning to Tony's original statement that touched off the fun and games.

"Yeah," Tony thought better of repeating his line about needing a hand. "Would you believe we have nineteen houses to sell?!"

"Nineteen!" Dave exclaimed with surprise. "Why so many?"

"Let's hit the shower and have breakfast and I'll fill you in along the way." Dave agreed.

Tony explained that his real estate firm had received a contract to sell nineteen houses that belonged to a 94-year-old man who'd just died. The story was that the man helped his father run a local grocery store in the neighborhood where they lived. As he became more successful he began buying houses in the old neighborhood and renting them out. Over time the man became quite wealthy but continued to own and rent the houses. Now that he was gone, his children, two sons and two daughters, couldn't agree on how to settle the estate but they did agree to sell the houses and split the money.

Tony parked his Grand Cherokee in front of the first house and they got out. As Tony struggled to shove the 'For Sale' sign into the small front lawn, Dave stood hands on hips, surveying the attractive one-story, three-bedroom bungalow-type home.  He looked around to the other houses next door and across the street. They were really nice houses, if a little old. They were probably built in the 1920's before the stock market crash of '29.

"Is it occupied," Dave asked.

"Not this one; most of the others are and we're gonna have to work through canceling some rental agreements. But they've all been notified that I'll be making a visit this morning so there shouldn't be any surprises. Ya wanna see inside?"

"Love to." Dave was eager to have a look.

Tony quickly found the key to the lock-box, which contained the key for the front door. When they walked inside, Dave was struck by how architecturally appealing the interior was. All the doorways were arches and the ceilings were high. The rooms were small but that was expected. The kitchens and bathrooms were woefully out of date and desperately called out to be updated. The walls probably had layer upon layer of paper covering them and the woodwork certainly shared equal layers of paint. Tony watched with interest as Dave walked through the house. He could almost see and hear his partner's brain working.

"You ready?" Tony asked when it looked like Dave had seen all he cared to see.

"Yeah… this is a real cute house." Dave seemed genuinely interested.

As they were climbing into the Jeep, Dave asked a question.

"Hon, I'd like to see all the houses? Is that okay?"

"Sure, Babe." Tony knew his partner well enough to suspect some grand plan was being hatched. He picked up a piece of paper with a list of nineteen houses on it. They drove up and down the streets stopping at and looking at each house. There was a surprising pattern to the houses - they were all clustered around one main intersection. And that intersection wasn't without some character of its own. On one corner was a grocery store, more than likely the same one that helped launch the old man's career. Another corner housed a small Chinese restaurant that appeared to be doing quite well and a sandwich shop. On a third corner was a pizza delivery shop and a small pharmacy. On the fourth corner was a very interesting structure - a church, an old, abandoned church.

They didn't spend much time inside each house because Dave was making some quick assessments. When they were finished, Dave asked him to return to the first little house. Tony parked at the curb and watched as Dave got out of the Jeep, walked over to the sign and pulled it out of the ground. Dave opened the back door, placed the sign inside the vehicle and climbed back into the passenger seat.

"What's that all about, if you don't mind my asking?" Tony didn't seem angry, just confused.

"How much will you be asking for that house," Dave asked.

Tony picked up his list and located the address. "$53,190," he replied.

"That's probably the average for the group, right?"

"Yeah, so?" Tony was totally curious about where Dave was going with his argument.

"You have 19 houses to sell - that's just a little over a million dollars."

"Right… how did you do that so fast?"

"Don't know... my mind just works that way. So, what if we offer to buy all 19 houses for $800.000. You think the old man's squabbling kids would take the money and run?"

"Wait a minute," Tony demanded. "We? $800,000? Ya lost me, Babe."

"Okay," Dave began; realizing his partner deserved a complete explanation. "Remember a few weeks ago when Mike and Todd were saying how small their apartment was beginning to feel?"

"Yeah…"

"And that they'd looked into buying a house but that they couldn't qualify for a mortgage loan because it required too much money down?"

"Yeah, because the banks wouldn't recognize them as a couple." Tony was beginning to see where Dave might be going.

"Right. Sooo…" Dave continued, "We know quite a few gay and lesbian couples in the same situation, don't we?" Tony nodded. "If we can buy all these houses at a good price, fix them up and make them available to our friends we'll be making a positive contribution to the gay community. We can use money from Paul's trust to set up a special mortgage fund that's tied directly to these nineteen houses and available only to gay and lesbian couples."

"But some of these houses need a lot of repairs," Tony countered.

"Thought of that already. Remember Len and Logan?"

"The couple that does home renovations?"

"That's them. They hire gay crews. I'll bet we can contract them to do the renovations and at the same time help the gay employment figures. We should be able to sequence the houses so that one becomes vacant about the time Len and Logan finish the previous house. Ya know they're gonna have to hire more men because I'm sure those houses need to be completely rewired. And at the same time they can add cable, phone and Internet hookups."

Dave had been looking out the windows of the Jeep, taking another view of the houses in the neighborhood and when he turned to look at his partner, Tony was turned sideways in his seat, his mouth gaping open staring at Dave.

"What?!" Dave asked.

"I… I'm shocked. I've never known you, Mr. Predictable, Mr. Planner, doing anything so impulsive, spontaneous. You're never impulsive!"

"Ohh?" Dave smiled as he reached out and placed his left hand on Tony's right thigh. "I don't remember hearing any complaints about my being impulsive and spontaneous this morning," he chortled.

Tony grinned. "I stand corrected - but twice in one day?"

"Look, so today's my impulse day. I should be entitled to one impulse-day a year, shouldn't I?"

Tony's response was to lean over, place his right hand behind Dave's head and draw them into a kiss.

"Have I told you lately how much I love you?" Tony asked happily when their kiss ended.

"Why, I think it was just this morning!" Dave said in a rather silly voice. They both laughed. "And we'd better be more careful; the neighborhood's not been converted yet."

"Wait!" Tony exclaimed. If I sell the houses at a reduced price, won't that cut into my commission?" His mind had suddenly returned to the practical aspects of the real estate business.

"Not to worry, my Greek/Italian stud," Dave grinned. He already had that figured out. "You get your commission on the first sale and then again when we sell the houses the second time. Should work out better, don't ya think?"

"You're amazing," Tony said with a broad grin as he drove to the next house to pick up the 'For Sale' sign. Then they drove directly to Tony's office to work up the offer.

Later that evening, the two men had dinner at Dan and Berk's place, along with Mike and Todd, who brought Berry. Dave and Tony took the opportunity to bounce their plan off of the other platoon members and got a highly positive response. Both couples expressed excitement at the possibility of owning their own home. After dinner several of their other friends arrived for a friendly get-together. Word quickly circulated about Dave and Tony's plan and everyone seemed very interested. They all found the idea of establishing a 'gay' neighborhood rather exciting.

Later that evening, with Dave spooned back against him, Tony held his partner tightly in his arms and kissed the back of his neck. "I'm really proud of you, Babe. Just look at what we're about to do for our friends. And to think…" Tony paused. Some past memory was knocking on the door of his consciousness. "WAIT a minute!" he exclaimed as he leaned over so he could look into Dave's face. "You've been working on this for a while, haven't you! I remember when we came home from Dan and Todd's Halloween party - you talked about wanting to do more."

Dave giggled. He wondered if his partner would remember. In the brief conversation that followed before they went to sleep, Dave admitted that he'd been thinking of something like their new plan and had to jump at the chance when all of the pieces seemed to fall into place. Tony chided Dave lovingly that he couldn't give him full credit for being impulsive but it was a great move anyway.

***

Dave's plan worked even better than he'd hoped. Len and Logan jumped at Dave and Tony's proposal and began work immediately. The first house scheduled for completion was the first one Dave had seen. Mike and Todd fell in love with it and couldn't wait to get moved in. The availability of mortgages exclusively for gays and lesbians spread quickly by word-of-mouth through the gay community. And when it became known that the loans were being offered at the prime rate, it wasn't long before every house had prospective buyers.

There is an old axiom about the law of unintended consequences. They can be good or they can be bad. The unintended consequence in this case turned out to be good, very good.

At the next Philos Board of Director's meeting, Father Tim Fields found Tony and asked about the project he and Dave were working on. And without waiting for Tony to complete his description, Father Tim expressed a strong interest in the little church and asked if it was part of the deal. Tony had to confess that he didn't know much about the property but that he'd find out and get back to the minister. The following Wednesday, Tony was able to obtain keys to the church and took Father Tim on a tour. They found the interior in pretty bad shape. Over the years, vagrants and drug dealers had managed to get inside and abuse much of the furnishings. The front doors opened to a central aisle that led to the Alter. The main hall, or nave, held twelve pews on either side of the center aisle, each capable of seating roughly 8-10 people. Father Tim made a quick estimate that roughly 200-240 people could be seated. And he also judged that the hall would appear almost full with as few as 80 worshipers. Almost half of the pews were damaged and would need repairs. The wood railing at the front of the Alter was broken in several places and some of the wood had apparently been used for firewood. Most of the windows were broken except for a large stained-glass window behind the Alter, it was beautiful and undamaged.

Father Tim was noticeably excited. He saw great possibilities, regardless of the damage. He became even more excited when he learned that the adjacent house was the original parsonage and was also available. Tony explained that the church had once been a Baptist Church but it was abandoned when the neighborhood 'personality' changed from 'owners' to 'renters' who had little to no interest in religion. Now the Baptist organization was more interested in building massive churches in the suburbs that could accommodate six to eight thousand members.

Father Tim, unknown to most of his congregation, was interested in downsizing. The attendance at his old church near the campus where Dave, Tony, and the rest of the platoon attended for years had grown too large for Father Tim's preferences, due in large part to his own talent. Furthermore, the number of gay and lesbian couples was now a significant percentage of the membership, a direct result of the Platoon's influence. Father Tim saw this as an excellent opportunity to downsize and immediately began working to see if the church owners would be interested in any offer. To his good fortune he was able to acquire both the church and the old parsonage for a fraction of what it was worth. Dave had a lot to do with the financial support.

Approximately two months later and with massive volunteer help, Father Tim was able to hold his first sermon in his new church. And to his surprise, over fifty people showed up to help him celebrate. But the greatest surprise occurred when Father Tim moved into the parsonage. He shocked the members of his church by introducing his partner of seven years, Jarred Ray. That caused quite a stir among those who had known Tim for any length of time. He and Jarred had managed to successfully conceal their secret but now felt it was no longer necessary.

***

Mike and Todd, having settled any questions about whether they planned to stay where they were, decided to pursue "Foster Parent" certification. They completed all the forms and attended classes on what it meant to be foster parents.

In June, the Platoon helped Dave celebrate his thirtieth birthday and the following Monday, Mike and Todd were alerted to the possibility that they might soon be receiving a foster child. Two days later they were introduced to a twelve-year-old boy, Barry, to accept into their home. Mike and Todd were told that Barry had been physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by several of his mother's boyfriends until an alert neighbor reported the situation to DCS. Barry was small for his age, had an angelic face devoid of a smile, black hair, fair skin, and dark brown eyes.

Mike and Todd's hearts immediately went out to the little man. They were to care for him, provide a stable home environment, make sure he attended school regularly and see that he made all of his therapy sessions. It didn't take long for the two men to realize just how much being foster parents was going to change their lives. Every time they thought about doing things they used to do they had to think of Barry. They couldn't just pick up and run over to see Dave and Tony any time they wanted.

They were also horrified the first time they saw the scars all over Barry's body – obvious evidence of the physical abuse he had suffered. The two men also had a rude awakening when Barry asked why they didn't like him. Mike and Todd tried to explain that they liked him very much but Barry didn't seem to believe them. After a long discussion, the two men discovered that Barry equated being liked to having sex. And because they hadn't used him for sex, he interpreted that to mean that they didn't like him. Mike took Barry into his arms and explained that they loved him but that he didn't have to give his body to be loved. It was the first of many long conversations the three would have that would go a long way toward Barry's healing process.

Mike and Tony proved to be excellent, loving foster parents. They weren't able to spend as much time at Dave and Tony's as they used to but for special occasions they would get a sitter so that the Platoon could be together for an evening. However, their sleepovers came to an end because they had to get home. From time to time Dave and Tony invited Mike and Todd to bring Barry for an afternoon in the pool and that turned out to be a great opportunity for more bonding.

At the end of June, Kate and John exercised their option to again enjoy the condo in Vail, leaving the boys with their uncles. And as usual, Shannon, who's 11, joined the now close-knit group. Mark and Matt are now 11 and JD is 9. On Friday Tony stayed home with the boys morning because Georgia had another obligation. The boys were in the library playing games on Dave's computer and Tony was in the kitchen preparing a snack. He loaded all the goodies and drinks on a tray and took the shortcut through the dining room to the library. As he approached the door to the library, Tony heard what sounded like an argument so he stopped to listen.

Mark: "Are not!"

Shannon: "Are too!"

Mark: "Are not!

Shannon: "Are too!

Mark: "Okay, prove it!"

Shannon: "Last Tuesday, Mom an' me came by to see Uncle Tony. I was here in the library and him and Mom were in the kitchen. I seen Uncle Dave drive up the driveway so I finished what I was doin' and went to the kitchen just in time to see 'em kissin'.

"You did!?" three boy voices exclaimed in shock.

Shannon: "Well, it wern't no movie kiss or nothin', it was more like the kind Dad gives Mom when he comes home from flyin', just a peck on their lips an' they make this smackin' sound."

JD: "Yeah, our Mom and Dad do that too, but that don't prove nothin'."

Shannon: "Well, what about when we go to Vail? They sleep together, don't they?"

Mark: "Yeah, but that's nothin', we sleep together sometimes too. An' besides, they have separate bedrooms in this house."

Matt: "But they still sleep together." The others seemed startled by his revelation and all turned and stared at him.

Mark: "You been walkin' around in the middle of the night again?"

Shannon: "You sleep-walk?"

Mark: "Nah, sometimes he can't sleep so he wanders around the house." Turning back to his brother, "So, you seen them sleepin' together?"

Matt: "Yeah, they were in Uncle David's bed, all curled up like Mother an' Dad sleep." This statement was followed by several moments of silence.

Shannon: "See, I told you they were gay."

Mark: "So, what of it?"

Shannon: "You know what gays do?"

Mark: "Yeah, so?"

JD: "What do gays do?"

Mark: "Never mind, you're too young to know about such things." Mark tried to sound as mature as an 11-year-old can sound.

JD: "Am not!"

Matt: "Well, we're not gonna talk about it." Matt supported his twin.

JD: "Okay, but I don't care if they are gay, I love 'em just the same."

Matt: "So do I."

Mark: "Me too." Three sets of eyes turned to look at Shannon.

Shannon: "Well I do too. It don't make no difference to me. So, who's turn is it to play?"

Tony turned and began walking toward the kitchen, tears filing his eyes. He placed the tray of goodies on the table and sat down in a chair.

"Lord, give me strength," he pleaded as he lowered his face into his up-turned hands. 'We knew this day would come, I'm just not ready for it. What do I do? I'm not prepared to deal with this now - I'll wait for Dave to come home. But if the boys bring it up again… no, I'll just tell them we have to wait for Dave to get home. I'll try to catch Dave before he gets into the house… no, I'll call him while the boys are swimming. My Davie won't like this kind of surprise.'

Rather than carry the snacks to where the boys were, he set them out on the table, walked into the dining room and called out that the snacks were ready in the kitchen. The boys came running in, sat down and gobbled up the snacks in no time.

A short time later, when the boys were in the pool, Tony called Dave and explained what he'd heard. Dave's reaction was the same as Tony's. Dave said he was about finished up and would be home soon. The boys were still in the pool when Dave walked into the kitchen - Tony was waiting for him with his usual kiss.

Dave quickly changed into his Speedos and joined Tony by the pool. Both men were on edge waiting for some further reaction from the boys but none was forthcoming. As the boys played, Dave and Tony plotted. Dave suggested that they say nothing for the moment. But at the first opportunity they'd tell Sophia and Kate and ask them how they wanted to handle the subject. However, if the boys began asking questions, Dave and Tony would follow the rule they had always followed concerning the boys - they'd be honest.

The next morning, Saturday, Tony had to show a house. But he also stopped to tell Sophia what had happened. When Kate and John returned from Vail, Dave managed to get his sister off to the side and told her the story. Both sets of parents discussed the matter and decided to look for an opportune moment to raise the 'gay' question, at which time the parents would be as honest and clear with their answers as they could possibly be.

As it turned out, the issue of their uncles being gay was no big deal. Shannon asked his parents and got a very straight (that's not a pun) answer. His reaction was something like, 'Oh,' and that was the end of it. JD was the inquisitor among the three Close boys. John and Kate did an excellent job of explaining, in simple terms, what it meant to be gay. JD surprised everyone by confirming his father's explanation because he'd gone to the city library looked it up.

That might have been the end of the matter except in September the State Supreme Court fast-tracked the lawsuit on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After hearing arguments and considering all the factors, the Supremes ruled. And in a bizarre twist of judicial activism they surprised everyone. They could have thrown out the entire amendment but the didn't. First they upheld the ban on gay marriage. That cheered the hearts of all those who were concerned about preserving an institution whose foundations were crumbling. Next, they declared that same-sex civil unions were constitutional and could not be banned. As such, the state administration was obligated to begin accepting applications immediately. Third, the ban on same-sex individuals entering into contracts, including wills, was unconstitutional. Needless to say, there was great celebration within gay and lesbian communities statewide.

Kate and Sophia wasted no time. They approached their brothers and implored them to have a civil union - it would serve as a great example for the boys. Dave and Tony were easily persuaded but decided to wait until next summer, July 1st. That would place the anniversary close to their traditional July 4th celebration. The sisters took over all the planning. Dave and Tony insisted that the ladies agree to a small, private civil ceremony (read wedding), in keeping with the personalities of both men. Father Tim would preside, his first such ceremony in his new church, and the reception would be held in the church basement.

*******

(To be continued.)