"Speaking of moving to DC and our neighbors..." Brett looked over at César for an instant, getting a slight nod and a quick wink from him. To CJ, it looked like they were communicating in the silent way they often did. He stopped where he was, cookies forgotten momentarily, certain his fathers were up to something. "How'd you guys like to buy Mary's place?"
"Next door? Yes!" shouted CJ, jumping up and down. "Do it, do it, do it. Oh man, that would be so awesome. Can you imagine having Bradley and Patrick next door whenever they visit?"
"Now that I think of it, maybe it's not such a great idea. I may have spoken too soon."
"Shut up, Papa. Of course it's a great idea. Wait, how come I didn't know they were selling their house?"
"Because you don't need to be told everything immediately." César glanced at CJ before turning his eyes to their two visiting friends. "Anyway, they told Brett over lunch on Friday. We talked about it and agreed. We'd love to have you guys living next to us."
"Can we afford it?" asked Tom, looking back and forth between JP and their hosts.
"I think so," answered Brett. "They mentioned a price range which sounded fair. We can worry about details later. What do you think? Are you guys interested?"
"Bloody right we are," replied JP enthusiastically. "When can Tom and I take a look at it?"
César stood, fished his phone out of his jeans' back pocket, and punched a couple of keys while walking towards the open garage door. He stared at the neighbors' house across the courtyard through the afternoon drizzle, a small smile on his lips. "Hopefully right now. After I mentioned you might be interested, I told them you guys were stopping by today."
"This is sick!" said CJ, taking his own phone out. "Wait until I tell Brad & Patrick we're gonna be neighbors."
"Don't even think it," warned JP, standing and walking over to the boy. "No spilling the beans to the guys. Yet." He placed a hand on CJ's arm, stopping him from using the device.
"How about we make sure we're interested first?" asked Tom. "No need to get them all riled up if it's not going to happen."
"Fine." CJ reluctantly put his phone away; he wanted to share the news with his Boston buddies badly. "But you're gonna love the place. It's a cool house. Even if it's a little foo-foo."
"There we go," said Brett, snickering. "The boy's ready to give decorating advice. And here I thought he had a defective gay gene. About time!"
• • •
"Good afternoon, César," said Mr. Douglas, stepping back from the doorway. "Please come in, gentlemen."
"Hello, Wilson. Thanks for letting us come over. These are the friends I mentioned earlier, Tom Kennedy and John Paul Smith. I'm not sure if you remember them—"
"Of course I do," replied the older man, extending his hand to shake. "I may be old, but senility's still being kept at bay. You're the Australian who works at the embassy"―he said, looking at JP before turning to Tom―"and you're the police officer who was shot last year. Nasty business that was. I'm glad to see you've recovered."
"Thank you, sir. I wasn't sure if you'd remember us." JP spoke while Tom, running his hand over the wood banister of the staircase, looked around the entry foyer. "I think last time we saw each other was two years ago, Christmas time. At the cocktail party next door."
"I believe you're correct, young man. Why don't you follow me to the kitchen? Mary's taking a cake out of the oven. If we're lucky, she'll serve us up a slice. Maybe a cup of coffee to go with it?"
Douglas Wilson led the way down a corridor to the left of the front door. César was certain the man had on the same clothes he'd worn to church earlier in the day: charcoal flannel slacks, a sharp crease running down the front and back of its legs. A brilliant white oxford shirt was complimented by the pale pink bowtie the man sported, but the suit jacket he'd most likely had in the morning had been replaced with a cardigan. A well-worn garment in various shades of gray.
"Something smells delicious, Mary." César inhaled deeply, enjoying the rich aromas of the coffeecake his neighbor had placed on a rack to cool. "You're spoiling Brett and CJ with all the food you keep bringing over."
"A little spoiling can be a good thing, dear. Come in, come in," she said, gesturing for the guests to take a seat around the butcher block table in the middle of the kitchen. "Now, who wants coffee?" she asked, her hands clasped in front of her. "Or would you prefer some tea?"
"A cup of tea would be lovely, Mary. César's right, it smells wonderful in here. Thank you for allowing Tom and I to come over at such short notice."
"Nonsense, young man. We'd been told you would likely stop by. We've been expecting you. Now, if my memory serves me right, your name's John Paul but you go by JP?"
"And you," she added, turning to Tom. "You're a fellow New Englander."
"That's right, ma'am. A hundred percent Boston Irish." There was a note of pride in Detective Kennedy's voice.
"So tell me, JP and Tom." Mary motioned once again for her guests to take a seat. She delicately wiped her hands with a corner of the navy-trimmed beige apron she wore over a simple, yet elegant, light blue dress. "How come two young men are interested in purchasing this large a house? It's the exact question Wilson and I asked ourselves when César and Brett moved in next door."
"Right. And we learned soon enough. We had to live through months of construction noise and dust, while they turned that place upside down. I hope you're not planning on doing the same to this place."
"Hush, Wilson. Why do you care what they would do? It's not like it could bother you. We're moving to Florida, you old fool." The reprove of her husband was issued in such a loving tone and manner it made them all smile. "And anyway, as I recall, you spent plenty of time looking over the shoulders of the workmen back then. You had to find out everything they did and why." She turned her attention to César, winking at him. "You kept him out of my hair for months! Thank you."
"I don't think there's much we'll be doing, based on what I've seen so far," said Tom, looking around. "Maybe repainting, if everything turns out to be in is as good condition as what I've seen so far."
"You still haven't answered my question, young man. I'm a nosey lady, satisfy my curiosity. Why would the two of you want to purchase such a large home?"
"We recently sold our place in Alexandria. We're looking to live in the District, and being next door to our best friends would be ideal regardless of the size of the house." JP sipped from the delicate cup in his hands. "My cousin's moving here at the end of summer. He'll be living with us while he attends law school in Virginia, so he'll get one of the bedrooms."
"And I have two sons who live in Boston but visit frequently," added Tom. "They'll get the other two I understand are upstairs. One's the same age as CJ, the other one two years younger. We'd like each boy to have his own room when they stay with us."
"I see. It's been nice to have young people around lately. CJ's friends are frequently next door and I enjoy watching them toss a ball around while I work on the flower beds. Or more recently, it's been fun to watch them engaging in a snowball fight while I putter in the kitchen. It'll be good for this old house to have new blood in it."
"Brett told me you plan on moving to Florida to be closer to your children. You know I'm from Miami originally and went to school in Gainesville, so I'm curious. What part of the state are you looking at?"
"Naples," replied Wilson, placing a stack of small dishes on the table. "We've purchased a townhouse in a gated community outside Marco Island."
"Our daughter and her family are in Tampa," added his wife, placing slices of her cake on the plates and passing them to the guests. "Our son's in Atlanta, so he won't be too far away."
"What timing are you looking at?" asked Tom.
Mary glanced at her husband momentarily and Wilson rewarded her with a smile and a wink. "Wilson insists he won't spend the summer in the heat of Florida, so we plan on being in Maine from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. We'll then be traveling to Florida directly."
"We'd like to sell the house as soon as possible." Mr. Douglas nodded, as if acknowledging his own comment. "But on the condition we can remain in it until we leave for Maine."
The simultaneous glances and small nods JP and Tom exchanged were noticed by César. He would do whatever he could to make his friends the new owners of the property. It would be good for him and Brett to have them close by. And CJ would enjoy having Bradley and Patrick around whenever the boys visited. Although he wasn't so sure how his son would react when he realized Owen would be right next door.
"César, be a dear and show your friends the house? Wilson and I will be happy to answer any questions any of you have afterwards."
• • •
"Great bones on that house, mate. But CJ was right on the décor. All those frilly lace curtains have to go." JP rolled his eyes, sat on the couch next to the boy, ruffled his hair, and sighed.
"So, did you buy it? Can I text the guys and tell them? It's gonna be so great having Bradley and Patrick next door."
"How about you don't say anything for a while, yet?" Tom had joined them on the couch after getting himself a beer from the refrigerator. "We shook on it, but there's a lot to be done before we can say we've bought it."
"Yes!" shouted CJ, throwing his arms around JP.
"Guess you're happy, mate? We have to arrange for an appraisal and an inspection. And since there's no real estate agent involved, we gotta find those ourselves."
"Can't you ask Dash for help?" asked CJ.
"I'm not sure it'd be fair to him," replied Tom. "He won't be getting a commission on this sale. Maybe we should find an attorney first, let him deal with the details."
"I think Dasan would be willing to help," said César. "He already made enough on the sale of the Alexandria property to keep him happy for the rest of the year. And as far as an attorney, how about a her instead of a him?"
"You have someone in mind?" asked JP.
"Yeah, I do. As long as you don't mind working with a lesbian." César's smirk elicited a giggle from CJ.
"I'm pretty sure it's not contagious." Tom's grin was accompanied by his blue eyes dancing around in their sockets. "Not like we're all gonna start chasing women anytime soon. Been there, done that, got two kids to prove it."
"Yuk! I think I'm allergic to pussy." CJ shook himself to get rid of the images running through his head.
"Yuk! I think you've got a potty mouth." Brett was back on his armchair, the small bell he'd grown so fond of on the side table.
"Whatever, Papa. Too bad Uncle Rash is gone. He could have helped."
"Maybe a little, CJ. But remember, Rashid worked in international law. Real estate wasn't his area of expertise." César stood with his hands clasped behind his back, looking out the front windows at traffic on Prospect Street.
"Speaking of absent friends, it'll be good to see Trip again. He sounded well when he called to ask how I was recovering from the crash."
"When's he coming back?" asked CJ.
"He's already back in Washington," replied César. "His plane from Texas landed this afternoon."
"Really? How come I didn't know this either?" The long face the boy displayed didn't garner him sympathy from the adults. "You guys are being mean. You don't tell me anything."
"We're not being mean, dude. Your dad just told you. It's all in the timing. Dragon should be over in a bit. He's spending the night here so Trip and Danno can have some alone time."
• • •
"So, tell me about this Owen guy." Dragon and CJ were sprawled on the couch watching ESPN, dressed in shorts and t-shirts―CJ's a black one with W.E. 305 worth saving Florida Everglades printed on it. "And I don't want to hear how hot he is. I can tell from the pictures."
"I don't know why everyone's making such a big deal out of him. We had a great time while I was in Australia. He's good looking, smart, and nice, but I'm not ready to get married."
"Who're you trying to convince, CJ? Me or you?"
The boy scrunched up his face in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I realize the guys been giving you a hard time, but who're you trying to convince you're 'not ready to get married' as you put it?"
"Nobody. I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I just wish I could have sex with someone and it not turn into a boyfriend thing right away."
"You're a bright kid, CJ. You've had a fast education on gay men and their relationships since you moved. Those two things combined have to make you realize we're not all the same. Your dads' monogamy isn't for everyone, gay or straight. It wouldn't have worked for me and Rash because of how I felt. And it didn't work for Doc and Chip because one of them had a wandering penis."
"I thought you and Uncle Rash were gonna be together forever." CJ's voice had dropped a note; there was sadness in his soft spoken comment.
"So did Rash. But I didn't. What he saw as fun on the way to the altar, I saw as a lifestyle. I like the variety. I'm not sure I'll ever settle down with just one man. Being part of a couple isn't mandatory in order to be happy, you know?"
"Then why all the crap over Owen? I mean, Dad's been okay. But Papa keeps making cracks."
"That's Brett's personality! You and he may not be related by genetics, but fuck if you're not both a pair of jokesters. They obviously liked this kid in Australia. You can tell by how they talk about him. And they're so caught up being happy in their fairy tale life, they instinctively want the same for you. That's where the boyfriend thing comes in. But neither's going to pressure you into anything you don't want. Fuck if I understand, but they seem to trust you."
"Yeah, well, they're not the only ones who keep talking about him. You just did."
"I did, but only `cause I thought he was hot. Knowing he'll be here soon, I wanted to feel out the competition."
"Asshole. And stop wiggling your eyebrows. Papa does that all the time."
"Look, buddy, you need to follow your instincts on this one. There's no requirement to have a significant other to be happy. No matter what people may say. And that means you ignore those who want to push the two of you together. But it also means you ignore anyone who tries to keep you apart for whatever reason. Including yourself."
On Friday, CJ alerted his afternoon teachers he'd be out on Monday. He had a note from the principal approving his plans to miss school so he could take his father to the doctor. At lunchtime he took a cab home, arriving in time to join the Wilsons and his father for roast beef sandwiches and homemade potato salad. He helped Brett upstairs when they'd finished, and after both had brushed their teeth, took the elevator down to the garage.
"Hey, Papa," said the boy, coming to a stop at the intersection of Prospect and Wisconsin Streets. "I checked my bank activity while on the way to school. Dad suggested I do it regularly to make sure all the transactions were mine. It showed a balance of almost thirty thousand dollars. What's up with that?"
"Part two of your financial education. Last year, when we opened the account, we told you it would be automatically replenished whenever you spent money. We're changing the set up."
"We're happy with the way you've handled money so far. César wants you to have a more active role managing it. Think of it as a financial awareness class."
"Why all that money? And what am I supposed to do with it?"
"When your dad and I were married, we became a couple in the eyes of the IRS. We can give you up to twenty-eight thousand a year without having to pay gift taxes on it. So each of us gave you half the amount allowed."
"So I'll have to pay taxes on anything else you guys give me or spend on me?"
"You'd never have to pay taxes on it. We would. The gift tax is related to the estate tax. But money we spend on you is not automatically considered a gift. Like what you spend on food or clothes. We'll most likely reimburse you for those expenses during the year. I'll let César explain how the shit works in more detail."
"So, again, what should I do with all that cash?"
"Spend it! Maybe save some of it? You're a minor, so we'll have to be involved, but we want you to invest some of it. We'll sign off on your decisions unless they're absolutely silly."
"Invest, like in the stock market?"
"Maybe. We'll go over some possibilities together, and then we'll make an appointment with our broker. He can offer advice and tell you how your trust fund is managed."
"I have a trust fund?"
• • •
"Oh, man." Danno, shook his head and scrunched up his face. "It looks nasty. I've never broken a bone in my life, but that looks like it would hurt like a bitch." He and Trip had come bearing dinner from Rogo's. They were looking at Brett's uncovered ankle, examining the surgery scars on both sides.
"It did at first. After a day or so, I started taking the painkillers the way the doctor prescribed them, instead of waiting until the pain became bad. It prevented the discomfort from growing beyond a dull ache."
"But they kept you sleepy all the time, Papa." CJ sat on the new recliner they'd bought for Brett right before he'd returned home from the hospital. A dog-eared paperback edition of Last of the Mohicans rested on his lap. He'd discovered many of the novels he had to read for school in the shelves at home. He thought it was neat to be using the same books one of his dads―or both―had read at some point.
"True, but not anymore. You heard the doctor tell me I only needed to take them if I'm in agony now. Hopefully I'll stop them completely soon enough."
"I'm sure having those metal staples holding the skin together is part of the reason for the pain," said Trip, taking a sip from his Dr. Pepper. "When are they taking them out?"
"Next Monday. They said it was healing fine, very little scabbing, and the incision should be almost closed by then."
César, sitting next to his husband on the couch, leaned forward and gently ran a finger over the angry scar before replacing the bandage. "My poor baby ain't perfect anymore. Don't worry, Jarhead. I'm keeping you no matter what," he said, lifting his head and placing a soft kiss on Brett's lips. "You look well, Trip. How does it feel to be back?"
"Weird." The man had spent three months in Arizona and Texas; based on how tan he was, most of it outdoors. After leaving the rehab facility, he'd traveled to Austin wanting to spend time with his ailing grandfather. By then the old man was in his final days. Trip remained for the funeral and then caught a plane back to Washington. "Once I dried out, all I could think of was coming home. I realized my place was here in DC, with Danno. Texas' where I'm from, but it's not my home any longer."
"Funny," said César, looking around the room. "I heard almost the exact same words from CJ about Miami recently. And from JP concerning Australia while we were traveling. And from Brett when talking of a possible move to California."
"I feel the same way about Hawaii, although I do miss the waves." Danno stopped talking, closed his eyes, and appeared to be lost in thought. "I think it's because our attachment isn't so much to the places themselves, as it is to the people who surround us. It happens when we leave behind our birth families, and create our own version with spouses, children, and friends. We carve out our own piece of heaven, no matter the geography."
"Happy birthday, buddy!" CJ placed a cupcake with a single candle on it in front of Thiago before taking a seat next to his friend.
"How old are you, Thiago?" asked José-María from across the table.
"He's seventeen," replied Autumn, handing the birthday boy an envelope. "This is from Danek and me."
"Thanks, guys. I thought we'd all agreed there wouldn't be birthday presents for any of us?" Thiago took the envelope, opened it, and a card fell out of it to the table.
"We figured everyone can use an iTunes gift card," replied Danek. "Since Autumn and I are graduating, we'll miss your big one next year."
"I guess our lunch crowd will be smaller next semester." CJ looked at Chipper and Harley, who were the other two sophomores in the regular crowd. The seven friends gathered almost daily, with other students sitting with them from time to time.
"I'm sure we'll add more people to the crowd once the old people leave. Just remember, I'll be a senior next year." Thiago puffed out his chest and buffed his nails on his shirt before blowing on them. "You guys will need to show the proper respect."
"Fuck you, bruh!" Harley covered his mouth and looked sheepishly at Autumn. "Sorry."
"Like I haven't heard it all before," replied the girl, tossing her hair back and rolling her eyes. "Hell, Thiago's favorite comment all day has been he's gonna be up to his eyeballs in tits tomorrow night."
Harley and Thiago left school with CJ and Chipper, all of them riding the bus to Georgetown together. At the stop on M Street the boys separated; Chipper and Harley headed to Doc's condo, while Thiago followed CJ to his place. They would all meet again later, after Jiu-Jitsu practice was over. Brett and César had offered to take them to dinner anywhere the birthday boy wanted, and the kids were then spending the night at their house. They hadn't had a sleepover in a while and with Brett solidly on the road to recovery, the marine had encouraged his son to invite his friends over.
"I can't believe you picked a breastaurant of all places," said CJ, holding the door open for the rest of the group.
"It's his birthday and we told him he could choose anywhere he wanted to," replied César.
"And this place will be fun," added Brett. He maneuvered carefully on his crutches, trying to make sure nobody bumped into his injured leg. "Now that I'm off the stupid pills I can drink again. Plus, they'll embarrass the heck out of him when we tell the girls it's his birthday."
"Sorry, CJ," said Thiago, throwing an arm around his friend's shoulders. "But your dads are so cool, I knew they wouldn't mind. My mom would never go to a place like this, and my dad would complain of the long drive to Frederick."
When told where Thiago wanted to go for dinner to celebrate his birthday, CJ looked up the place on his phone. The Tilted Kilt in Frederick, Maryland, just north of DC, was part of a national chain of sports bars with a good atmosphere, mediocre food, and half naked women. Borrowing the concept from Hooters, the servers wore almost microscopic kilts―in a red tartan―and white shirts tied beneath their breasts, trimmed in the same crimson pattern.
"It can't be such a bad joint, they have Dos Equis Amber on tap," said César as the group followed a scantily clad young woman carrying a stack of menus.
"Just remember you've got a cripple with you, bubba," commented Doc. "You're the designated driver. And don't count on me. I plan on getting sloppy tonight. Dash already agreed to drive the Vette back home."
"You're gonna let somebody else take your car?" asked CJ, staring in disbelief. "But you've always insisted on being the driver."
"Yeah, well, shit happens. It won't be the first time anyway."
"We already knew that, Doc," said Brett. "Your first time was so long ago, dinosaurs still roamed the Earth."
The laughter subsided as the men took their seats and placed their drinks order with the young woman standing by the table. CJ noticed the appreciative glance the server gave the group and inwardly chuckled. He wondered how long it would be before she realized most of the men were gay. "Remind me to get a shirt before we leave," he said, pointing his thumb towards the display on the wall by the hostess stand.
"With every shirt you buy, you get one of our calendars for free," the cheerful server told him.
"Ummm, I don't think a calendar with half-naked women would look good in my bedroom."
"Oh, come on. We're not naked. We're wearing clothes. If your mom won't let you put it up in your room, maybe your dad will help convince her it would be okay in the garage." She looked surprised when all the men started laughing again after her comment.
"There's no mom. Those two are my fathers," replied CJ, pointing across the table. "And I'm as gay as they are."
"I'll take the calendar," said Thiago, a toothy grin on his face.
"I'll be right back with your drinks," added the woman, looking startled.
"Damn, CJ," said Dash. "You're really not fooling around about being out of the closet, are you?"
"Nope. If I had any doubts before, Papa's accident convinced me life's too short. He could have died. Why worry what others think? I am what I am, and fuck anyone who can't deal with it."
• • •
"How ya doin', Jarhead?" asked César, reaching across the center console to gently run a hand over his husband's close-cropped, straw-colored hair. "Feeling okay?"
The marine had mentioned he felt liberated to be able to drink alcohol again, and had done a good job making up for his recently enforced abstinence. "I'm feeling no pain, babe. Hell, I feel so good I'm ready to run up and down those stairs next to our place."
"I'd pay to see that!" exclaimed CJ from the rear bench seat he shared with Harley. Thiago and Chipper occupied the middle row and tried to muffle their giggles.
"I don't think it would be such a hot idea, Cap. I don't want you getting injured again. It hasn't been fun." Harley's soft spoken words made CJ stare at his friend who wasn't known for such tender, caring comments.
"You're next on my adoption list, Harley. Thanks for caring," replied the inebriated man. "Maybe I'll wait to climb the stairs until tomorrow."
"That's prolly a good idea, Cap," said Thiago, chuckling. "Hey, guys, I have a question. The stuff Dasan was talking about tonight, you know, helping out Detective Kennedy and Mr. Smith with the purchase of the house even if he wasn't their agent?"
"Yeah, what about it?" asked César.
"I thought he was their realtor. Wasn't he the one who sold their place in Virginia?"
"Yes, he was. But―" CJ's response was interrupted by the simultaneous chirping of his and Chipper's phones.
"Shit!" said Chipper.
"You got that right," added CJ, reaching up to turn on the dome light. "Guess somebody's getting shackled and drawn."
Copyright © CJ Abello 2016
Edited by Mann Ramblings
You may contact me at: email@example.com.
And just like your messages keep me going, your contributions help Nifty stick around. Please help support this wonderful site.