"Shit!" said Chipper.
"You got that right," concurred CJ, reaching up to turn on the dome light. "Guess somebody's getting shackled and drawn."
"What's going on?" asked César from the driver's seat, a hint of concern in his voice.
"Chipper, you tell `em. I'll reply to Brad and let him know we'll call when we get home."
"I guess CJ and I got the same message. Brad says his mom grounded Patrick and he's not allowed to come to Washington over spring break."
"Why'd she ground him?" asked Harley.
"I don't know. He doesn't―" Chipper's reply was interrupted by a new chirp coming from CJ's phone. "Was that from Brad?"
"He sent a K after I told him we'd call. Damn that sucks. I was looking forward to spending time with them, even if we were in school that week. Not that it matters much right now, but I wish our vacations were at the same time."
"Do you think Brad will come down by himself?" asked Thiago. "Or is he grounded too?"
"Doesn't sound like it," replied CJ. "He just said Paddy was."
"Paddy? Is that Patrick's nickname?" asked Harley. "I didn't know that."
"He doesn't like it. We found out about that in New York, so we never use it. His dad and his brother do. Just not in front of him anymore." Chipper had turned in his seat and was looking at Harley and CJ over the center console. "CJ, ask Brad if he's grounded too."
"Could this be because of the suspension from a couple of months back?" Thiago was also looking at his friends in the back, his previous question remained unanswered but he didn't seem to care.
"Maybe he had another run-in with his cousin." suggested Harley, his tone at the end almost sounding like a question.
"It could be his grandfather getting him in trouble," said CJ, fingers tapping away at his phone. "The man is nasty."
"What... The... Fuck..." Brett's words were loud and slightly slurred. "You guys are as bad as a bunch of girls."
"What the hell are you talking about, Jarhead?" César took his eyes of the road momentarily to stare at his husband.
"Them!" he replied, pointing over his shoulder with a thumb, bringing the chatter from the boys to a stop. "Bunch of gossips. They tell the guy they'll call, but then they can't wait to get their questions answered and start rattling off all sorts of wild ideas. Hmmm... I wonder if Tom knows?"
He reached for the phone he'd stuck in the cup holder while being helped into the SUV, but César stopped him by placing his hand over the marine's. "And what are you doing now?"
"I was gonna call Tom. He'll tell us what's going on."
"No you're not. You're being as bad as you claim the kids are. But you sound like an old gossipy queen instead of a girl. We'll find out what's going on soon enough. And the way things go around here, it'll probably be from CJ. You watch. He'll know everything before Tom hears the first word of it."
Muffled chuckles came from the back of the vehicle, and Brett moved his hand from the console, leaning back on the seat.
"Go to sleep, Papa. I know it's past your bedtime. We'll be home soon." CJ's suggestion earned him a one finger salute from his drunk father and high fives from his friends.
"Morning, Dad." CJ leaned over to give César a kiss, gave the man a soft pat on his back, and kept walking towards the refrigerator.
"Hey! I didn't hear you coming down." He was leaning over, his elbows on the counter, the Washington Post spread out in front of him. He looked up at his son, his hand reaching for the steaming mug beside the newspaper. "The other guys still asleep?"
`Yeah. That's why I'm being quiet. I'll wake them up when we're ready for breakfast. Gotta have some coffee first."
"So, what did ya find out?"
"About Patrick?" CJ poured himself a mug, took a sip, and shuffled over to sit next to his father. "He got grounded because he was suspended from school again. This is different than the other suspensions from the hockey team and school. Brad could come down to visit if he wanted to, but he says he'll stay in Boston. Patrick didn't want to talk to us. He wouldn't come out of his room when Brad went to get him."
"I'm guessing his mother dropped the hammer on him last night?"
"Yep. Brad told us he sent the text message as soon as it happened."
"Does Tom know?"
"No, they're calling him and letting him know today." CJ reached under the financial page his father was staring at, and slid the other sections of the Post towards his seat, looking for the sports pages. "And before you ask, we didn't say anything about the house next door."
"Good. I'm not sure when Tom will want to tell them. He and JP are coming over for dinner tomorrow night. I also invited Rachel, the attorney I mentioned the other day, so they can meet her."
"I am. Why?"
"I'll make dessert. I saw a recipe the other day I want to try."
"You want to experiment on our guests?"
"Sure. I think they'll survive. I haven't screwed up anything really badly in a long time."
"What are you―"
"Good morning," greeted Thiago, making César stop mid-sentence and turn towards the stairs.
"Morning, buddy," said the man. "Coffee's on, want some?"
"I'd love a cup, sir."
"How about a mug instead?" asked CJ. "Dude, sit down, I'll get it for you. Milk, right?"
"Yeah, just a little. Damn, wish I could spend the day with you guys. This going to work stuff's really a pain sometimes."
"What time do you have to go in?" asked César, looking at the dark-skinned kid.
Thiago stood a couple of inches taller than CJ, with a leaner body usually disguised under baggy clothes. "I told him we could give him a ride after breakfast, Dad. If he doesn't have to deal with buses, he can hang out longer."
"Sure. Not a problem. Do you need to go home first, Thiago?"
"No, sir. I keep my uniform shirt at the store, so I can just go straight to Walgreens."
"Do you like working there?" asked César.
"Yeah, especially when I spend time in the pharmacy. They let me―"
"I'm definitely shoving that thing up his ass," interrupted César, making CJ laugh. Brett was ringing his bell once again.
"I'll get him," said CJ, still chuckling while he moved towards the stairs.
César sighed and shook his head. "Sorry for interrupting, Thiago. My husband's grown a bit too fond of ringing that stupid thing. As soon as they tell him he can put weight on his foot, I'm making it disappear. You were saying about working in the pharmacy?"
CJ missed hearing the rest of the conversation as he bound upstairs. "TIME TO GET UP!" he shouted as he momentarily stopped on the second floor. He was trying to get Chipper and Harley moving, but was so loud the entire house had to have heard him. Taking hold of the banister, he propelled himself upwards again, heading towards his dads' room on the top floor.
• • •
"Ford made the Ranchero between 1957 and 1959," explained Danno, walking around the car he was showing off. "This is a '69. Unlike a pickup truck, the Ranchero was adapted from a two-door station wagon, a car truck mixture. They used different platforms over the years and in 1969 it was the old Torino."
"This is beautiful," commented Harley, obviously not paying attention to the dull paint, scratches, and rust bubbles clearly visible. "Does it have the V-8 engine?"
"Very good, Harley. I knew you were a gear head, but I'm still impressed." Danno led them towards the doorway connecting Rogo's with the large warehouse next to it which housed the man's growing car collection, and his and Trip's living space. "Have you done much wrenching on anything other than motorcycles?"
"A little. I've always spent summers at my grandparents' place in Wisconsin. They live on a small farm, and Grandpa always let me help him when he was working on engines. The Harleys, his pickup, or any of the tractors."
"Is this the car you guys went to look at in Richmond the day after my birthday party?" asked CJ, heading towards the front corner table where his dads were sitting with Trip.
"It's the same model but a different car. That one had too many miles on it for the price they were asking."
"What happens now with this one?" asked Chipper, who'd not been around long enough to know what the big man's process was when he acquired a new old vehicle. "Do you have a good mechanic?"
"Me," replied Danno, slapping his puffed out chest. "We'll do almost all the mechanical work right here. Once it's back up to snuff, I'll send it out for painting and upholstery. This one doesn't have any dents. So we'll sand those rust spots down and use a fiberglass resin to fill in any spots. Then it'll go out to be finished."
"Who's we?" asked Harley. "Does Trip work with you on the cars?"
Danno's loud laughter made patrons in the restaurant turn to look at him. "Nah. Take a look at his nails. You won't find any grease under them. I'm going to hire someone to help me with this one. I thought I'd have more free time with Adriano being in charge of Rogo's, but it ain't happening. You interested in a part-time job, Harley?"
"Morning, Dad," said CJ, walking towards the coffeemaker. "Watchu doin'?"
César was once again at the breakfast counter, the mug in front of him sending steamy tendrils into the air. "Hey! Good morning. I'm working on your tax return. I don't want to have any of the staff at EY finding out more than necessary concerning our family finances, so I've always done mine and Brett's."
"Why do I need a tax return? I don't think I've ever done one before. And don't you and Papa fill one out together since you're married?" CJ stood next to his dad, glancing at the laptop screen and the small stacks of papers spread around it.
"Park your ass," said César, patting the stool next to his. "You asked me about the large deposit we made to your bank account earlier this week. We haven't had a chance to discuss it and now might be a good time."
"Easy one first. Brett and I have always prepared separate returns. Even if we had been married before, federal law wouldn't have recognized it, and we wouldn't have been able to file jointly. When the Supreme Court ruled last year, that was the big deal behind their decision. The federal government was required to treat same-sex couples the same as different-sex ones. This will be the first time we do a joint tax return."
"Got it. And mine?"
"What's going on with you is a bit more complicated. I've set money aside for you for a long time. It was in separate accounts, but still under my name. See, I didn't want your mother and step-father to know there was a chunk of cash sitting around. I had no reason to suspect they would have done something, but I didn't want them to realize Brett and I could afford to put so much away for you."
"But they still know you guys are rich. I heard comments about it."
"True. But unless they did some serious digging, they have no idea how wealthy Brett is. Anyway, once they relinquished parental rights, I started to shift things around and transferred all those accounts to a trust fund under your name." César paused a moment, looked at CJ and smirked. "I wonder if Colonel Dickhead has realized he doesn't get to claim you as a dependent any longer. His tax refund may be smaller this year than he expects. Hell, he may have to cough up some cash on April fifteenth."
"You guys haven't told him?"
"Hey, not my job." César raised his hands in a sign of surrender and smirked. "If the idiot's not smart enough to figure it out..."
"Okay, so, back to that amount Papa mentioned was the annual limit for not paying gift taxes. I got the same last year too?"
"That and more. No need to bore you with the details, you'll start seeing the statements from now on. The problem's now all the income on the investments gets reported under your name and social security number, so you have to pay taxes on it."
"Is that why Papa said I should spend the money in my bank account?"
"That what he said?" César glanced up from the computer screen and shook his head. "He can be such an ass. That money's not for spending. We're still going to pay for all your expenses, no matter how much you have in your account."
"Papa said you wanted me to invest some of it."
"I want you to invest all of it! I had the bank place it in your account to start this conversation, but we'll be moving it to a brokerage account soon. You should be involved in the process though, so we'll do it whenever you're up to speed."
"So, I have to learn how the stock market works?"
"Maybe not so much learn as understand. We do a lousy job of teaching finances and economics to our children. They grow up ignorant of how to handle money. Maybe that's one reason so many people get in trouble with credit cards."
"I don't have one of those. I read the bank regulations. I can't get in any kind of trouble. Even if my account has overdraft protection, there's still a limit on how much I can spend with my debit card."
"Hold that thought. Back to the financial education. If you've heard the term `death tax' used, and you know the truth, you'll realize there's no such thing. One reason estate taxes were instituted was as a way of preventing the creation of a wealthy aristocratic class. The colonists had enough of them and after independence, they wanted to avoid the mistakes of the past."
"This isn't going to be one quick conversation, is it?" asked CJ, standing up. "I think I need to finish waking up before we talk any more. You want a coffee refill?"
"Yeah," replied César, sliding his mug over. "And no, this isn't going to be quick. What I want to do is walk you through your return and show you what you're paying taxes on and where the income came from. We can worry about the details of the investments once you have a good grasp on what you own." As CJ poured coffee for both of them, his father reached for an envelope which had been previously opened and slid it towards CJ.
"What's this?" asked the boy, picking it up.
"That's your new American Express card. Brett and I realized the limitations of only having a debit card, when your bank balance isn't very large on a day to day basis. We ordered it when we agreed to let you travel to New York on your own. It might make life easier."
CJ blew into the envelope's open end, pulled out the piece of paper inside, and stared at the card stuck to the tri-fold with his name printed on it. "Hey, I thought American Express cards were green or gold. How come this one's black?"
• • •
CJ was peeling and coring apples for the dessert, while his dads, Tom, and JP sat in the living area having a cocktail. Dinner wasn't for another hour or so, but César had everything ready to go, so he'd relinquished his place in the kitchen. The boy wanted to get the crisp in the oven so he could join the conversation, but was paying attention to what was being said across the large open area. He had a bottle of dark rum―one of the ingredients―on the counter, and after splashing a generous amount over the cut fruit in the bowl, took a surreptitious sip for himself.
"So you didn't find out until yesterday?" asked Brett. "Thanks to CJ, we heard about it on Friday night."
"Hey! Don't blame me," shouted the boy, wiping the small dribble running down his chin with the back of his hand. "Brad texted me. How was I supposed to know they hadn't told Uncle Tom yet?"
"I call bullshit," said César. "Playing innocent doesn't work for you, buddy. I'm sure there wasn't a doubt in your mind you and Chipper were the first ones to find out."
"Chipper knew about it on Friday too?" asked JP.
"Harley and Thiago did too," replied Brett. "We were all riding together in the Caddy."
"But they didn't get a text. Only Chipper and I did. And how the heck do you remember anything, Papa? You were drunk."
César turned lightly, looking at his son over the back of the couch. "How about you concentrate on what you're doing, finish it up, and stop shouting? When you get done you can come join us if you're so interested in what we're talking about." With a grin on his face, the man turned back to face Tom. "So what are you going to do?"
"I'm taking a couple of days off and flying to Boston. I spoke to the kids' mother yesterday after Patrick called me. Hilary thought it would be a good idea for me to head up there. She said I can spend as much time as I want visiting with the boys over their vacation."
"That's nice of her," commented Brett. "Are you planning on getting in touch with any family members while you're up there?"
"Hell, no! All I need is my father getting involved in this shit." Tom ran his hands over his almost non-existent hair, a worried expression on his face. "What's got me even more scared is she said she wants to talk to me alone while I'm in Boston. I need another beer. Anyone else?"
"I'll get it for you, Uncle Tom. I'm done here anyway. Anybody else want something?"
"You're done when you clean everything up," said César. "In the meantime, bring over the open bottle of wine that's in the refrigerator. JP and I can use a refill. And bring Papa a beer too."
• • •
"CJ, you have to share the recipe for this. It's fantastic." Rachel Stout, César's real estate attorney friend, had an easy smile she was quick to share. Somewhere in her early to mid-thirties, she had short hair and wore minimal makeup―typical lesbian, CJ thought. She'd donned thick-framed black glasses at one point, to read something JP handed her; they failed to hide her sparkling eyes. The boy thought she was pretty, but she was a female and failed to elicit any sort of sexual interest in him.
"Sure. It's real easy to make. I'll print it out before you leave. Pears, apples, sugar, cinnamon and rum is all you need. Oh, and butter, a little flour, and rolled oats for the crust."
"Hope mine turns out this good. I'm not all that in the kitchen. So, guys," she said, looking at Tom and JP. "I'll prepare an engagement letter tomorrow morning, and send it to you for signature. I'll start the paperwork on the title search and check up on the appraiser and inspector names the realtor gave you. That was pretty nice of him, considering he's not representing the sale."
"Well, he did handle the property we just sold," said JP. "And he's become a friend. He's sort of dating one of our close buddies."
"Damn gay mafia. I'm surprised you're allowing a girl in your midst."
"We gotta have a token," said Brett, causing everyone to chuckle.
"Forgive my husband. I often wonder if he and our sixteen-year-old son switched brains. CJ's so much more mature."
"Jerk," replied Brett. "But now that you're in, Rachel, we'll have some more work for you. We're doing a major remodeling job in the basement this summer, and would like you to take a look at the contract before we sign it. Plus, we're looking at a piece of property we might be interested in buying and developing. We'll need help with it too if we decide to proceed."
"What piece of property?" asked CJ. "This is another one of those things you guys are holding back from me, ain't it?"
"Is that another of your dads' shirts?" asked Harley, pointing at the t-shirt CJ wore underneath his open sweatshirt―a black Daytona Harley-Davidson one with a flame-winged skull and Biketoberfest 2011 on it.
"Yeah," replied the boy, spreading his hoodie and looking down at the graphic on the shirt. "Not sure which one of them it belongs to. They keep all of theirs together in the same section of the closet. I just go up there now and then and steal a couple each time."
"As soon as you and I are old enough―and you get your own Harley―we're gonna have to go to Daytona. Either in March for Bike Week or in the fall for Biketoberfest. I can't wait until I can bring mine from Wisconsin. I'm hoping my dad will let me after this summer. Can you imagine how much fun we'll have at the rallies when we go to them? Hey, are you doing Rolling Thunder again this year? I was thinking―"
Harley was off on one of his soliloquies again and CJ had to smile. "Sorry to cut out on you bud. I gotta get home so I can take Papa to his doctor appointment. I'll Kik ya tonight."
For the second week in a row, CJ had sought and received permission to miss his two afternoon classes. He'd left WALLS, headed home, and after eating lunch with Brett, had driven his father to the doctor's office. The physician removed the staples holding the skin together after the marine's surgery, and had given his clearance for putting pressure on the injured ankle. Brett was allowed to walk, albeit with the help of crutches. He could dispense with the bandages since the incisions were almost entirely healed, but was required to continue wearing the soft cast protecting the repaired fracture.
"I'm in a good mood," said a smiling Brett, carefully climbing into Defiant's front seat. "Damn, it feels good to sorta walk again. Let's go out for ice cream."
CJ laughed as he ran over to the driver's side and opened the door. "Dad's right. You're such a kid, Papa. But I'm up for some ice cream. Where do you wanna go?"
"Oh, I don't know... How about somewhere far away? In Maryland or Virginia. I don't have a lot to do right now, let's get you an hour or two of driving practice."
"Really? Oh man, that's awesome! I'll even pay for the ice cream!"
"Smartass! Start the engine already. We can use the time to talk about something César and I would like your help with."
"It has to do with the family foundation."
"History first. My great-grandfather started the Davenport Family Foundation in the forties as the family wealth ballooned. My grandfather took over the reins in the sixties, along with his sister. When she died, one of her daughters stepped into her shoes on the board, but grandpa was the driving force behind it."
"So you have cousins? I thought you'd told me you had no family left."
"There's a couple of them. Back to the foundation. Grandpa's favorite line used to be `What have you done today to make the world a better place?'" Brett closed his eyes momentarily and sighed. "I miss that man. Anyway, his niece resigned from the board and her kids weren't interested in spending time on something which didn't make them money. She was replaced by a family friend until I took over and eventually brought your father on board along with a new attorney who handled legal affairs and took a seat on the board."
"Her kids were never interested?"
"Not until last year. And that's when César and I decided to remake the board, and move all operations here to Washington. One of them started making noise about it being a Davenport family thing and why was I adding Abelló to the foundation's name. We had him checked out, discovered some things about his finances, and got scared. I had a bad feeling about this guy."
"Bad credit. Back taxes. A couple of instances of alleged embezzlement. He never went to jail, but I was concerned he would try to syphon off money for his own purposes. So we decided to remake the board and get more actively involved."
"Okay. That makes sense. You hire new people for the board and make sure this guy can't get involved."
"We don't hire board members, kiddo. They're volunteers. We pay for any expenses they may have, but they don't get paid. We may have to revisit the issue at some point since the new board will be more involved. In the past we just discussed the organization we were thinking of supporting and then wrote a check."
"So, who're you guys going to appoint then?"
"So far Martha Edwards and Prescott Harding have been offered seats. We want one more. Preferably a woman. You'd get a seat but you have to be eighteen to do it. Get ready for it in two years."
"And what do you want me to do now?"
"You have to realize your dad and I are thinking way ahead. To when one day you take over. We'd like you to convince Thiago and Chipper to sit on an advisory board."
"Sure, I'll talk to them. But why?"
"Our grants will be directed primarily towards organizations supporting the gay and military communities. Plus education. We want to continue our annual gifts to Florida and Berkley. But we'd like the next generation to recommend other possible beneficiaries."
"You know I'm going to push for anything that helps fight bullying. Chipper and Thiago will follow along with me."
"Don't worry, Ben Cohen's organization will continue to receive donations for the foreseeable future. What we'd like to hear is what else you and your friends find compelling enough you'd be interested in supporting. We can discuss how much each one gets after we agree on the beneficiaries."
"I'll talk to them tomorrow and see if they're interested. Remember, Chipper and I will be in New York most of next week. If you want to talk to us together it's gotta be in the next couple of days."
"Nah, it can wait. We'll have them come over after you guys return."
"Is he spending the night? asked CJ, as he and Chipper waited for their bus outside WALLS.
"I don't know. Doc said he would leave money on the kitchen counter for me so I could order pizza. All I know is he's taking Dash out for a nice dinner to celebrate his thirty-third birthday."
"Fuck that! I already texted Papa to let him know you were coming home with me and staying for dinner."
"That's right, he's home. I keep forgetting he'll be out of work for a while. Hey, maybe we can talk about what he wants with this foundation thing you mentioned. There's the bus."
The twenty minute ride from the Foggy Bottom area to Georgetown was spent mostly in silence, both boys busy on their phones. As their stop on M Street approached, they rose and stood by the door, ready to jump off. Once on the sidewalk, they headed towards the corner of Wisconsin Avenue, where they waited for the light to cross in front of the PNC Bank branch there.
"It's so weird to think my dad used to work here."
"Yeah, the bank was the first place the dads took me to when I moved up here last year. And then we met Doc for lunch. Funny how shit happened between them so soon afterwards."
"Must have been weird for you."
"It was! I mean, I'd met them both before but I had no idea what was going on with their relationship. All I knew was Dad and Papa were like an old married couple. They'd been together for ages, and I'd never heard them argue. I figured all their friends were the same way. Turned out your father and Doc were broken up right after, and by the end of the year so were Dragon and King."
"Think about it, CJ. It's not that strange. I know about fifty percent of marriages in the US end up in divorce, so two break-ups out of four couples is average."
"I know, I know. I talked about this with Dragon the other day. But I was young and naďve back then. I thought all the uncles would be together forever and ever."
"Dude, your dads ain't normal. Think about it. They've been together since the night they met. And based on how I see them act towards each other, I'm pretty sure neither one has ever cheated on the other one. Even Uncle Tom's been divorced. And you, lucky fuck, you walked right into their perfect life and settled right in."
"Yeah, but it hasn't been perfect. You know I've had a couple of disagreements with them. Including the big blow up after my trip to Chicago."
"Right. And like you didn't win that one? Cap blows up because you got laid. And then he has no problem with you and Owen fucking all over Australia. Sounds phat to me."
"Screw you, asshole. We didn't fuck all over Australia."
"Yeah, my bad. You only fucked in Sydney, I know. But I bet by the time you're old men, the two of you will have fucked all over that country and a few more."
"What are you talking about?" CJ stopped walking and stared at Chipper in disbelief.
"I'm talking about the fact you and Owen will end up together. I seen the way you smile whenever we talk about him and you don't think anyone's paying attention. It's gonna happen. Even if it's a long time comin'."
CJ Abello 2016
Edited by Mann Ramblings
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