"Growin' up is a pain in the ass, bro." While César had gone to the office, and Brett stayed at home reviewing foundation financial reports, CJ and Ritchie had walked over to the university campus. "Life's changed a lot in the past year for me."
"I wish you were still in Miami. I miss you."
"And I miss you too. But to be honest, not Miami. I like Washington. I've made some good friends, and living with the dads is awesome."
"It's too cold here. And their house doesn't even have a pool!"
CJ snickered at how perturbed his little brother sounded. "Come on, I'll show you the pool I use." They walked along Thirty-Sixth Street, turned left at O Street, and were now standing at the main entrance to the campus. "The statue in the middle of the circle is of John Carroll, Georgetown's founder. The building behind it is Healy Hall. That's the original school and where they have the main offices. Next to it is Copley―it's mostly a dorm― and to the right of it is White-Gravenor. That one has offices and classrooms."
"What's that building?" asked Ritchie, pointing to his left. "It looks real different."
"Lauinger Library. It's modern but it kinda reminds you of the older ones because of the dark gray color of the cement, and the towers. Let's cut through the middle. I wanna stop at the bookstore."
"You look cold. Let's buy you a nice thick sweatshirt and a hat."
"I don't have a lot of money with me, CJ."
"Don't worry about it, bro," said CJ, throwing an arm around his brother's shoulders and pulling him close. "My treat. And you don't have to worry about money this weekend, okay? If you want to buy anything, tell me. I get an allowance and I don't spend almost any of it."
Browsing through the store's aisles, Ritchie picked out a dark blue sweatshirt with the university's bulldog mascot on it, while CJ grabbed a knit hat and a pair of mittens for his brother. "Thanks, CJ! I feel warmer already." Ritchie donned the new items while his brother handed his bank card to the young woman manning the cash register.
"You're welcome. Come on, let's walk over to Yates Field House. You can see where I work out almost every day. And the pool I use whenever I want to swim."
CJ's phone pinged as they neared Yates; he pulled it out of his pocket to read the incoming text message. "Oh wow! That's awesome!" he exclaimed, smiling and punching the air with his fist.
"What?" asked Ritchie, leaning over to take a look at the phone. Somebody had sent his brother a picture of a woman's hand with a diamond ring on it. The message simply read:
――SHE SAID YES!!!――
"It's from my friend Chatri. I guess he asked Helen to marry him and she said yes." CJ typed a reply, offering congratulations and promising to call later in the day. "That's great news."
"How old are these people?"
"They're both older than I am. Chatri's a medical student here at Georgetown. I met him at the gym last summer. We hit it off and became workout partners. Helen's a nurse. She works for Uncle Matt. Come on, I'll show you around in here and then let's head home. I wanna show the picture to Papa."
• • •
Brett was waiting for them when the boys returned home. They made a pit stop in the bathroom to pee, before the three headed back out. Making sure Ritchie was warm enough for another short walk, the three climbed down the Exorcist Stairs to M Street, and walked towards Wisconsin Avenue where they turned towards the canal. Crossing the foot bridge, they stopped at Patagonia, where Brett insisted Ritchie needed something warmer, and bought the boy a quilted vest similar to the one CJ wore all the time.
"Thank you, Captain," said Ritchie, as they walked out of the store. The boy was smiling, tugging on his new coat. "I can't believe you bought me something so nice."
"You're welcome, kiddo. I know you Miami guys aren't used to the cold. CJ bitches about it all the time."
"Hey! Don't pick on me," said CJ. The three crossed back over the canal and took the path next to it. "I'm slowly getting used to it."
"Yeah, well, your brother's here for a weekend. He won't have time to acclimate himself, and I don't want him being uncomfortable walking around."
"You guys do a lot of walking, don't you? It's nice to be so close to everything. Back home we get in the car to go everywhere."
Brett threw an arm around each of the boys. "That we do. Traffic in Washington is a pain and parking's even more so. It's the price we pay for living in the city. You should have seen your brother huffing and puffing the first few times he went jogging after he moved."
"That was because of the hills around the house, Papa. I wasn't used to running up and down. Miami's flat."
• • •
"CJ! CJ!" The two little kids scampered from their chairs, screaming and running to hug the teen moments after he'd walked into Rogo's. Emmanuel and Gabriella had been eating lunch, sitting with their father, who stood and smiled when he saw who the new arrivals were.
"Hey, munchkins. How are you?" replied CJ, lifting them from the ground and grunting. "You guys are getting big."
"This is a nice surprise," said Adriano, extending his hand for Brett to shake. "You babysitting today?"
Ritchie stood next to Brett, looking around without saying anything. The marine placed his hands on the kid's shoulders and turned him towards Adriano. "You got it, dude. Hey, this is CJ's brother, Ritchie. He's visiting us this weekend. I thought we'd stop in for a bite to eat so he could see where his brother spends a lot of his time."
"Ohhh, Danno's gonna be pissed he missed you guys. Welcome to Rogo's, Ritchie."
"Thank you, sir."
"Come on, sit down. Kids"―he called out to his son and daughter―"leave CJ alone. Come back and finish your food."
"That looks good," said CJ, pointing at the grilled cheese sandwiches as the two tots resumed their seats. "Munchkins, this is my brother, Ritchie. Bro, these are Emmanuel and Gabriella. Their dad manages the restaurant."
"Hi, guys." Ritchie smiled at them, getting a couple of shy hellos in return.
"So, where's Danno?" asked Brett, steering Ritchie towards one of the chairs, and sitting himself next to the boy.
"He and Dragon went shopping. I'm not entirely sure what the hell they're up to. They've been rearranging furniture next door since last weekend. He said something about needing a new, larger bed before they left today."
"Spare me the details," said Brett, smirking. "I'm not sure I want to know what they're up to."
• • •
With only two full days in town, Ritchie selected the places he wanted to visit from the choices CJ had given him. Leaving Rogo's after lunch, they walked to M Street and caught the bus for the thirty-minute ride to the National Mall and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Most likely influenced by his father being in the Air Force, the boy was fascinated by all aspects of air travel.
During the time they spent wandering through the exhibits, Brett insisted on taking pictures of the brothers together and separately in front of the displays they found most appealing, but refused to be in any of the ones taken with Ritchie's phone himself. He quietly told CJ not to insist; he didn't want to provoke the boy's father's ire in any way.
In the late afternoon, César texted his husband, letting him know he was leaving the office and would swing by the museum to pick them up. An excited Ritchie wouldn't stand still while they waited outside the entrance. He held tightly to the bag he was holding with a few souvenirs he'd insisted on paying for himself. He'd bought a couple of scale models as presents for his father and a scarf for his mom. CJ, ignoring the boy's complaints, purchased a t-shirt for himself, and two different ones for his brother.
• • •
"I'm sorry I wasn't around today, Ritchie." César sipped his beer, while looking back and forth between the menu in his hands and the young boy. "This time of year work's crazy. Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, I did, sir. Thank you." They had returned home after the museum, and while Brett and César had gone upstairs to take a short nap, CJ and Ritchie had remained downstairs watching TV. After all four showered and changed clothes, they'd walked the half a dozen blocks to Martin's Tavern for dinner. "The museum was sick. And Adriano's kids were fun."
"Yeah, Dad. Once they got over their shyness, Emmi and Gabi wouldn't leave Ritchie alone. They wanted him to spend the rest of the afternoon with them."
"It's so cool they live above the restaurant," said Ritchie. "I'd be coming downstairs to eat stuff all the time if I lived there."
"They get to eat lunch in the restaurant all the time." Brett closed his menu, and after looking at the other guys, motioned for their server, who'd been discretely standing to the side. "But Adriano doesn't like them being downstairs in the evening. The crowds are larger and louder. And there's more drinking going on. So they're allowed to eat downstairs if there's a special event. Like when we had CJ's birthday party there."
On the way back to the townhouse, CJ insisted on stopping at Georgetown Cupcake for dessert. "You're going to love this place, bro. Best cupcakes in the world. Dad even brought one with him on the flight to Australia. Since I turned sixteen while on the plane, it was one of my birthday cakes."
"Do you guys only eat breakfast at home?" asked Ritchie. "I don't go out to restaurants this often back home."
"Not really, bro. But with Dad working crazy hours, we've been going out a lot more. But Sunday nights we try to have a home cooked meal, and friends come over all the time for dinner." CJ turned around to look at his dads who were walking a step or two behind the boys. "Who's cooking tomorrow?"
"That would be me," replied Brett, puffing his chest out as if proud to admit he could cook.
"Then we're having steak and potatoes," said CJ, smiling at his brother. "Papa's limited in what he cooks. We're still training him."
"Keep it up, buster. You may end up with a burnt piece of meat for your meal."
• • •
The dark waters of the Tidal Basin reflected the brightly lit white structure which glowed in the dark sky. The Jefferson Memorial was the initial stop for a nighttime tour of Washington CJ had orchestrated for his brother. They'd driven past the White House and the Capitol, before parking in the lot tucked away under the ramp for the Fourteenth Street Bridge.
"Isn't that an awesome view?" asked CJ, stopping his brother so they could contemplate the white colonnade and dome of the building. "And wait until you see the statue of Jefferson, it's ginormous."
"You know," said César from behind the boys. "In the old days, before 9/11, you could drive around this monument and Lincoln's. They stopped allowing cars near it because of security."
"It's really cool looking." Ritchie had already mentioned several times how great he thought it was to see the places he'd read about or seen on TV. "Is it safe to be around the monuments?"
"As safe as it is anywhere in the city," replied Brett. "Or anywhere in the country. Or the world for that matter. But we can't live in fear of what some Muslim nut job might do. Their perversion of religious beliefs makes them think they have a duty to their silly god to hurt us. Our best option is to throw their stupid beliefs in their face by leading a normal life. And fucking them up whenever we get a chance."
"Be nice, Papa..."
"Yeah, Jarhead, be nice. Try not to think like a marine for a bit."
"Sorry, but that's impossible. Once a marine, always a marine. We should have nuked the fuckers back to the Stone Age when we had the chance."
Ritchie nodded in agreement. "My dad says the same thing."
Brett was cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, while César stood outside watching the brothers, nursing a cup of coffee. Ritchie had suggested building a snowman and CJ had been quick to drag his brother upstairs, get him bundled up against the cold, and raced back down and out the door. They were mounding snow on the side courtyard at the moment.
"It's gonna look like a wedding cake unless you round it out some more," called out César.
"Then come help us," replied CJ. "We're both rookies at this."
"You haven't built one before?" asked Ritchie.
"Nah. I've gone sledding last couple of times it's snowed. Montrose Park has some nice little hills. Right after it snows, the place's full of kids. We have some cafeteria trays and the hills―Fuck!"
The snow ball hitting the back of his head came as a surprise. He hadn't noticed Brett stepping outside, but he sure as hell knew who'd attacked him the moment he turned around and saw the marine trying to act innocent, looking up at the sky.
"You're so going to regret that, Papa!" CJ bent down to grab some of the loose snow he'd brushed off the sculpture he'd been working on. What ensued was a battle between the adults and the kids. César was drawn into it when Brett tried to hide behind him. Ritchie hit him square in the face, whooping it up as he did.
• • •
The snowball fight earlier degenerated into a wrestling match, Brett being ganged up on, all four rolling around in the yard. After drying off and changing clothes, the dads agreed to let CJ drive Defiant to the Gangplank Marina, where the PP was now docked. Following the sale of their house in Alexandria, Tom and JP had decided to move to the boat until they found a new place to live.
"I still don't understand why you moved here, instead of coming to stay with us," said Brett, accepting a steaming mug from Tom.
"Right. And what would you have done with your house guest this weekend, if we'd taken over the guest room?" JP looked over at Ritchie sitting on the couch next to his brother.
"He could have slept with me in my room," replied CJ, sipping the hot cocoa he'd been handed by the Aussie.
"Leave them alone, guys," said César. "They seem to be fine living aboard."
"Yeah, what he said." Tom joined the group, carrying a bottle of brandy, he passed it around so the men could spike their drink. CJ shook his head when it was offered to him.
"Thanks, Uncle Tom, but I'm driving."
"Well, at least he got that lesson down," said Brett. "Now all he needs to do is learn how to shift between first and second without the Jeep stalling."
"Screw you, Papa. It happened once."
Ritchie's expression was one of awe when his brother had given him a tour of the ship, recounting how he'd learned to sail it over the summer, and talked about all the fun he and his friends had the previous month spending a night on it when Tom's kids had visited. "I wouldn't have minded sharing a room with CJ. He told me how he and his other friends shared the cabins here when his cousins and Captain Kennedy's sons visited."
"Smart man!" said Tom. "And that's another thing. What would have happened when Brad and Paddy visited if we had taken you guys up on the offer?"
• • •
Brett had offered to give Ritchie a tour of the Pentagon, but the boy had instead wanted to visit the National Zoo. Their time with Tom and JP had been short. During winter the park closed around sunset, and the best time to view the giant pandas was advertised as being before two in the afternoon. CJ navigated the Washington streets carefully, Defiant didn't stall at all during the ride, and he was smiling when he handed his membership card to the attendant at the parking lot.
"Is it free to park here?" asked Ritchie.
"It is for members," replied César, stepping out of the Jeep and folding the front seat over so the boy and Brett could jump out.
"So, like you come here all the time? Isn't it expensive?"
"This is the second time I've been here since I moved," replied CJ. "And it's free to go in. The zoo is part of the Smithsonian, and there's no admission charge here or at any of their museums."
"Ritchie, the entire Smithsonian system belongs to the people of the United States. The government provides some money for them to operate, but a lot of us make donations to cover about a third of their expenses. When CJ moved to Washington to live with us, we made sure he was a member of both the Smithsonian as a whole, and the zoo in particular."
"Do you get anything for giving them money? I mean, if it's free to get in, why bother?"
CJ threw an arm around his brother and steered him towards the entrance. "Sure they do. But I think the dads give money to different organizations because they believe in them and what they represent. They can afford it, and it's the right thing to do. Anyway, depending on how much money people give, they get invited to special events and get discounts. You'll see some of it when we have lunch. And when we stop at the gift shop―I've been wanting a stuffed panda―I'll get you one too."
"Ohhh, our little boy wants a plush toy to sleep with," said Brett in a mocking tone, as he moved out of range of his son's arms and legs.
"Shut it, Jarhead." César tried to slap the back of his husband's head, but the man had goose-stepped ahead of them, laughing.
"Papa can be such a dick," said CJ, making his brother giggle.
• • •
As CJ had predicted, Brett rolled the gas grill out of the garage when they returned home. The New York strip steaks, shredded hash browns, and beefsteak tomatoes had been devoured with no leftovers whatsoever. Doc and Chipper had joined them for dinner, and the kids had taken care of cleaning up, while the adults relaxed in front of a roaring fire.
"So your sister's in New York, your mom's in Argentina, and your dad's in Florida? Don't you miss them? I hated it when CJ moved away." Ritchie and the teens had moved to CJ's room to play a video game after loading up the dishwasher, setting the timer to start it in the middle of the night, and wiping down the counters. Brett was a messy cook.
"I do, but I didn't want to move to another country, or to Florida. Plus, Uncle Matt's been great to me since I came to live with him. And CJ's made me feel at home. You should meet his other friends. They're a great bunch of guys, and they've welcomed me into their group at school."
"Maybe my parents will let me come visit again and I'll get to meet them. But I don't think I'd be comfortable talking to the grown-ups the way you guys do. If I called my dad an asshole, the way CJ does with Mr. Abelló and Captain Davenport, I'd be grounded for life!"
"Knowing your dad, you prolly would," said CJ. "But Chipper and I are both sixteen, it makes a difference. Plus, it's all guys around here, and that lets us get away with a lot."
"Ritchie, I think a lot of it is because your brother and I get treated as friends by the adults most of the time. His dads and Doc set rules and then trust us to follow them. If we screw up, we hear about it. But until we do..."
"Hey, dads, I finally talked to Chatri last night." CJ was in the kitchen, fixing breakfast sandwiches for his fathers and his brother, while Ritchie watched his every move.
"Yeah? Have they set a date?" asked César.
"Nah, not yet. They want to get married here in DC. Since both their families are in Washington State they need to check with them. But it'll be after he graduates from medical school in May."
"That's so cool your friend's going to be a doctor." Ritchie handed his brother a plate so he could slide one of the bagel, turkey sausage, and egg sandwiches on it. "Why do they want to marry here instead of back home?"
"He said he and Helen plan on making their home here. They want to start their married life where they're going to live. Anyway, he starts his residency at George Washington University Hospital in June and doesn't want to deal with long distance arrangements and all the traveling."
"That's awesome! I'm glad he was accepted at GW." Brett took a sip from his coffee and handed CJ his plate. "It'll be good to have another doctor around us. In case Doc drops dead or something."
"Sometimes I wonder why I stay with you, Jarhead. You can be such a dick. Wait until I tell Doc what you said. So, did Chatri say anything else about it? Like where they're getting married?"
"He said they'd like to have the ceremony on campus, at Dahlgren Chapel."
"The little church you showed me?" asked Ritchie.
"Yeah, it's a beautiful building. They don't plan on having a lot of people, so the size isn't a problem. Oh, one more thing: he asked me to be his best man."
• • •
With the roads clear of snow, Brett agreed to allow CJ to drive Defiant to the airport. They didn't want to drop his brother off in front of the departure gates. He steered the Jeep towards the short-term parking lot, and after turning off the engine, CJ logged the drive into the notepad he kept in the glove compartment. He smiled, noticing the miles and time were accumulating, even if he still wasn't close to the minimum hours required. He thought he'd get there soon enough.
"I hope I didn't forget anything," said Ritchie, dragging the suitcase behind him.
"If you did, we'll send it to you. I want you to know César and I enjoyed having you visit. I'm sure your brother will agree with us, you're welcome back anytime you want."
"Thank you, Captain Davenport. I had a great time. Thank you for having me."
"Okay, one little problem. How about you stop calling me Captain Davenport? Too formal. One of CJ's friends calls me Cap, you can do the same if you don't want to call me Brett."
"I guess that would be okay, sir."
"Or you can call him Papa, like I do."
"Just don't call me late for dinner!"
"Oh, shit. Did I tell you the dads love to tell corny jokes? I keep asking them to stop but they ignore me."
Ritchie giggled, walking in between both men, shifting his gaze between them. "That's okay, I think Cap's good. I'm going to miss you guys. I hope you come see me soon."
"I'll miss you too, bro. I'm not sure what's going on the rest of the semester, but I promise I'll try to come down to Miami. But for sure I'll be there sometime this summer."
• • •
"How did it go?" asked César, folding the clothes he'd taken out of the dryer.
"About the way you predicted. I tried to keep it light, but they both started crying when they hugged, right before Ritchie walked through security."
"I figured. CJ misses his brother, but has a lot of distractions. Being older, he has more independence to do things which keep him busy. Ritchie still depends on his parents a lot."
"Nothing we can do about it, except agree to visits whenever possible. I'll repeat what I said the other day: I like the kid. I hope Lourdes and Dickhead don't screw up his life too much."
"What's wrong with you?" asked César. CJ padded into the kitchen, moving stiffly and slower than usual. The kid was wearing thick socks, sweatpants, and an old Miami Dolphins blue t-shirt.
"Thiago beat the crap out of me during practice. I got in a couple of licks, but the sensei wasn't happy with my performance tonight."
"Nah, just a little tender all over."
"Does that mean you're skipping the gym with us tomorrow morning?"
"We'll see how I feel when I wake up. I took a couple of Advils. They should kick in soon. I have a question for you about school."
"Well, you know Thiago is in the George Washington University Program at school. During the last two years in school, he gets to take classes which count towards a college degree. When he graduates next year, he'll end up with an associate's degree as well as the high school diploma."
"Yeah, I read about it in one of the WALLS' newsletters. It's a great way for some kids to afford college, since those classes are free."
"Right. So, I was talking to him about it tonight. I need to decide if I want to sign up for it sometime soon."
"What's your rush?" Brett took the stool next to his son. The marine had been upstairs showering and was now dressed like CJ. They were staying in this Friday.
"What do you mean, Papa?"
"It sounds like a great program from what I read, but why are you in such a rush to finish your education? You're plenty grown up already. Sometimes you're more mature than I am."
"You can say that again," said César, slipping a tray with bruschetta into the oven.
"Hush!" replied Brett. "CJ, you don't have to worry about paying for college. We're lucky we can afford it, without having concerns about loans or anything else. Enjoy your time as a teenager. Spend four years at a university, there's more to the experience than going to class."
"Papa's right, buddy. Too many kids concentrate strictly on book knowledge. That can only take you so far in life."
CJ was downstairs working on homework when his fathers walked into the house within minutes of each other. Although he had a large desk and comfortable chair in his room, he often spread his school stuff on the dining room table's large surface. He claimed he liked being close to his dads when they were preparing a meal, or having a drink after work.
"Hey, buddy," said César, leaning down to give his son a kiss. "What you working on?"
"Book report on `Ender's Game'. Book's a hell of a lot better than the movie was."
"Yeah, that happens a lot. It's hard to cram everything an author writes into a two hour film."
"They skipped all the stuff about Ender being kidded for being a third child. I like the fact the author uses kids to tell an adult story."
"I think it's a pretty common thing. Twain did it with Tom and Huck."
"'Sup, dude?" asked Brett when he repeated his husband's move and kissed CJ on top of his head. "Hey, I was listening to NPR on the way home and heard your friend's not running for office again."
"Congressman Dingell? Yeah, Autumn told me at lunch. She also reminded me I'm supposed to call his office and make an appointment to see him. She said he mentioned me when her family got together over the weekend."
"Do you know what he wants?" César had opened a bottle of wine, poured two and a half glasses and placed the half-filled one in front of CJ. "Take a break. Come sit with us. It's nice to be home early for a change, and get to spend time with my two favorite men."
"Thanks, Dad. And no, I have no idea what he wants. I figured I'd call his office tomorrow. Today was probably crazy after the announcement."
"Shit!" CJ fiddled with his phone, peripherally aware of the appreciative glances he and his fathers got from some of the men and women around them. The three were standing in line, waiting their turn to retrieve their overcoats from the coat check at the Kennedy Center. Dressed in suits, César sporting a Florida Gators bowtie in blue and orange, they were the epitome of dapper.
"What happened?" asked Brett. He'd been flipping through the Playbill for the evening's performance of Beethoven's First and Second Symphonies.
"Patrick got suspended for a week. Brad says he got into a fight when another kid said he was probably a fudge packer just like his dad."
César miserably failed to disguise his chuckle, by covering his mouth and coughing. "Oh boy, Tom's gonna go through the roof."
"That kind of stuff pisses me off," said CJ, pulling his gloves out of the inside pocket of the coat the attendant had handed him. He was getting used to the colder weather, but it had been in the teens in the morning, and the temperature had not climbed above the freezing mark the entire day. "I would have gotten into a fight too if anyone at school said something like that about you guys."
"Down, killer," said Brett, adjusting his son's scarf. "I don't think you'll have that problem. You already have a reputation as a bruiser at WALLS."
"When the leadership of the House decided to eliminate the page program almost three years ago, they did so without consulting the members," complained Representative Dingell. CJ was sitting across the man in his office; he'd made an appointment for late in the afternoon, after school let out. The Michigan Democrat, the longest-serving member of the House, recounted how he'd been a page himself in the late 1930s and early 1940s. "It removed a wonderful opportunity for a lot of youngsters to participate in their government, where they could actually learn how the country runs."
"Then why did they do it, Congressman?" asked CJ, still awed at having a private meeting with such a legendary man.
"Money and sex. Scandals are par for the course in this place if you ask me. Fortunately, the Senate has retained its own program. I'd like you to consider participating. I told you before you needed to spend some time working with members on the other side of the aisle. Your experience in Marco's office was limited. This could be a great opportunity for you."
"I'm not familiar with how it works."
"It's a non-partisan position, but you end up working with whatever side the Senator who nominates you belongs. I've already mentioned your name to Senator Nelson. I'm certain Senator Rubio would lend his support."
"Would it be during the summer?"
"It could, or it could be in the fall or spring. You have to be at least sixteen and a junior in high school. If you were interested in one of the summer sessions, being an incoming junior is acceptable."
"When would I have to decide?"
"There's no need for you to make up your mind right now. I'm going to send you home with information on the program. Read it, discuss it with your fathers, and then let me know. If you're interested, I'll set the wheels in motion."
• • •
"What do you think about CJ working in the Senate as a page?" asked Brett. He and César had listened to their son explain the program over dinner.
"Sounds like a great opportunity to me. And with that Republican congressman from Florida long gone, there shouldn't be any sexting involved." César alluding to disgraced Representative Mark Foley made Brett chuckle and shake his head. "But I have the feeling you ask because you have an opinion."
"You know, César, sometimes I hate you know me so well. I'd be up for it during the summer. But the same way I told him the other day he shouldn't rush about finishing school, I don't want him to fall behind his group by working for a semester."
"Jarhead, you're so predictable most of the time. Then you go and surprise me by thinking clearly, and saying something I don't expect. I'm with you on this one, babe."
"Plus, I'd like him to do some traveling this coming summer. We've done a bit since he came to live with us, but maybe a road trip or two would be fun?"
"Put it to him that way. He'll listen. And he may not want to do the same thing two years in a row. But in the end, it's going to be his choice. Remember, we show him the way, but we let him make the decisions on his own."
Although the temperature was supposed to climb into the sixties on Saturday, the four inches of snow which fell on Monday was still very much around. Roads and sidewalks had been cleared, but CJ had cautiously stepped around icy patches as he and his dads walked the half mile from their home to Doc's place. He'd already slipped enough times to make him certain his ass would be black and blue for the rest of his life.
"This is pretty good stuff," said CJ, accepting a refill from his Dad. "Only half a glass?"
"Don't push it, bud. You know the rules." César passed the bottle across the table to their host. "You already had a full one with the first four slices you ate."
"But it's a small pizza. The slices are tiny."
"Then you should have taken smaller sips." Brett downed his half-full glass and took the bottle from Doc. "I can't believe I'm a California boy and all the vino I've been drinking recently has been from Australia or Argentina. Although CJ's right, this is pretty darn good."
"It's from one of the wineries my Mom's company distributes," said Chipper. "She has them send us a case with a different type every month."
"Wanna move in with us?" asked Brett, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Nah. Thanks, Cap, but I'm happy here."
"What's with this 'Cap' thing? I thought it was just Harley who called me that. Although I did tell Ritchie about it..."
"It's kinda cool, Papa. It's like one of my dads is Captain America."
"So, CJ, what are your plans for spring break?" asked Doc, reaching for another slice.
The boy glanced back and forth between his fathers, getting a shrug from both. "Nothing that I know of. And I guess the dads haven't planned anything."
"I'm swamped at work," said César. "You could fly to Miami if you want to visit your grandparents and your brother."
"Ritchie's vacation is the week after mine. I wouldn't get to spend much time with him. And I love Abuelo and Abuela, but I'd be stuck in the house a lot. It's not like you can walk everywhere like we do here in DC."
"Well, I'm taking Chipper up to New York for five days." Doc winked at his dads, making CJ realize this was a set up. "We plan on sightseeing some, doing a little shopping, and we get to see his sister. Wanna come with?"
"Hi, everyone. Hi, CJ."
"'Sup, José-María." CJ lifted his backpack from the chair next to his, placing it on the floor between his legs so the Venezuelan guy could sit. "Did you have a nice weekend?"
"Yes, it was good. But nothing special. And you?"
"About the same. But I did get to spend some time practicing my driving with my Dad yesterday. I can't wait until I'm done and I can start do it on my own."
"That will be good. I wanted to ask you something. Have you made plans for our spring break?"
"We just did on Friday. Uncle Matt's taking me and CJ to the City for a few days," replied Chipper from across the table. "I haven't seen my sister since I moved down in December!"
"Oh, so the two of you're going to be in New York?"
"Not the entire week," replied CJ. "We're going up Sunday and coming back Thursday. Uncle Matt has some meeting at the hospital on Friday. What about you?"
"I'm going to New York too."
"Really? That's great. What are you doing there? Maybe we can all get together."
"That could be fun. I can show you guys around. Maybe we can stop by my old school and you can meet some of my friends." Chipper's comment had CJ nodding, while taking a sip from his drink.
"I'm going up Saturday. My cousin from Venezuela is going to be there for some meetings at the United Nations. He invited me to come visit him. I was going to ask if you wanted to come with us to a breakfast on Sunday morning."
"Maybe we can do it Monday?" asked CJ. "I don't think we'll be there early enough on Sunday."
"Can you go up a day early? You could stay with us in his hotel. You'd get to meet the Secretary General on Sunday morning."
"Really? The Secretary General of the United Nations?" CJ's interest was evident. "Is it a big function?"
"I don't think so," replied José-María. "It's just people from the South American countries."
"Ummm, I would have to ask the dads..." CJ looked at Chipper, a questioning look on his face.
"Go for it, man. I have no interest in that kind of stuff, so I'll pass." Chipper shrugged his shoulders. He'd mentioned his disdain for anything political before. "And it's not like you don't have a place to stay."
• • •
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" exclaimed Brett, shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm supposed to be the over protective one." He and César were in bed, discussing CJ asking their permission to go to New York City a day ahead of Doc and Chipper.
"And you do a great job of it. I'm just not sure."
"Look, we let him go alone with Owen, and we knew they were going to fuck."
"That's not it. Get your mind off sex for a minute. We already know that's not happening with José-María. CJ's made it clear he's not interested. This is New York, not Sydney."
"Okay, what if we make a phone call and take out an insurance policy?"
"What do you have in mind, Jarhead?"
"Guys, I know it's my turn to attend the WALLS Home School Association meeting this month," said Brett, looking at César. "But you're gonna have to take my place."
"How come?" asked CJ, before his dad could get a word out.
"I have to spend a couple of days at Quantico. Gotta run a training seminar for newly minted lieutenants. Part of the process for me getting another promotion one of these days."
"Are you driving down by yourself?" César took another piece of fried chicken from the container he'd picked up on his way home before offering it to Brett.
"Nah, I'm taking a chopper down Wednesday morning. But I'll be back on Friday."
CJ looked up from his dinner, smiling at his father. "You realize you'll be welcoming spring down there? Wednesday's the end of winter."
"I hope you're ready to play tourist over the next few weeks," said CJ, poking Chipper's chest with a finger. "You and I have some new stuff to discover."
"What do you mean?" He swatted his friend's finger away. "Don't even think I'm following you around on another one of your historical or political tours. The way you rattled on and on about the Supreme Court had me all excited. Then I almost fell asleep listening to a couple of stiff-necked lawyers babbling in front of a bunch of old people."
"Dude, tomorrow's the first day of spring. The cherry trees will be in bloom soon. I know you've never seen that before. Neither have I." The fantastic time he'd enjoyed showing his younger brother around town had reignited CJ's excitement about living in Washington.
"I've seen pictures."
"Not the same. I'd seen pictures of all the leaves changing color in Central Park," replied the boy, standing as the bus slowed down. They'd arrived at the stop for school. "But seeing it in person last fall, when we were in New York, was in-fucking-credible."
"Fine. I'll go check the trees with you."
"Negative. We'll do even more. Papa promised you could go with us when I take Defiant out for practice. This past weekend he pointed out a bunch of places where they plant tulips every year. He swore he and Dad make it a point of driving around whenever they're in bloom. We're doing the same."
• • •
CJ's attention had not been entirely on what his Algebra teacher had been explaining. It was one of his easiest subjects and his mind often drifted after he'd grasped whatever concept was being explained. He'd definitely been more interested in trying to figure out where he could convince Brett to let him drive on Saturday. Maybe they could go to Baltimore; he'd loved riding the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. He was jolted out of his reverie when the teacher called his name. An administrative assistant had walked into the classroom moments before and handed the instructor a note.
"Mr. Abelló, please come up here," said the teacher, hesitating a bit. "Bring your books."
CJ, already standing by his desk, turned around and reached for his backpack resting on the floor. He closed the book he'd been working with and placed it inside the bag, hoisting it on his shoulder.
"Uuuhhh, someone's in trouble. Again." The comment by one of the students made all the others in the room laugh. CJ being called into the main office was not rare. His involvement in the anti-bullying program run by Ben Cohen the previous fall had started it, and his popularity and other activities had made him into a frequent visitor. He was grinning, as he walked towards the front of the room.
"Mrs. Edwards would like to see you. You won't be coming back to class today, but don't worry about homework, we'll deal with it later." A small smile crossed the teacher's lips. CJ again noticed a hint of hesitancy.
"What's going on?" he asked, following the messenger out of the classroom.
"Let's wait until the principal can talk to you. Okay?"
"Sure," he replied. He had no idea what was going on, and was a bit surprised at the assistant's somber expression. They walked in silence until reaching their destination; CJ was becoming a bit apprehensive at the lack of conversation, when he was spoken to again. "Go on in, she's waiting for you."
CJ opened the door and stepped into the private office. "Good morning, Mrs. Edwards," he said, standing in front of the woman's desk. "Happy end of winter." His smile died on his face when he realized his comment failed to elicit a happy response.
"CJ, I just had a call from my husband. He's sent a car over to pick you up." The woman stood, walked towards him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, son. There's been a horrible accident. The helicopter your father was traveling in crashed as it was taking off from the Pentagon. Come on, I'll step outside with you. We'll wait together."
My thanks to my editor, Mann Ramblings who helped turn my wild thoughts into a coherent tale. To the early readers who helped polish the story, and to all the followers all over the world who've e-mailed with thoughts on the CJ series. Your continued encouragement helps get me through those times I don't feel much like writing. You may contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And just like your messages keep me going, your contributions help Nifty stick around. Please help support this wonderful site.