Do Over

Chapter 26


"Look, we must take Mr. Jones out of that public school and put him in a private school where we can properly secure him." John Pointdexter's voice was strident over the phone. It was a conference call on Sunday night, after preachers all across the nation had called for a holy war by Christians on the evils and perversions in American society. Brian and my names had been mentioned several times by a good portion of them as symbols of the 'perversions of our youth' by an evil cabal working to destroy America from within. Now I was on the phone with the President and some of his advisors as they were flying to Europe for the Arms Summit.

"I agree, John." The Secretary of State's voice was firm. "We cannot have national security endangered because of something like this."

"Not to mention the political damage." The President's Chief of Staff said with a worried voice. "Sure, we won with a large Democratic following thanks to the boys' presence, but the religious element almost didn't turn out to vote, and they're going to use this to regain the political prestige they lost at the election."

"David, do you have any good reasons on why you should stay at that public school?" The President asked me after the others had spoken.

"Sir, you can have me attend a private boarding school, and this issue is not going to go away." I said after a moment of thought. "First of all, I'm not going without Brian and if we go together, you know the problem that's going to cause."

"Son, if we order you to go alone, you will go alone." Pointdexter said and I frowned, glad they could not see the expression.

"With all due respect sir, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I countered. I was walking a fine line here, and had to be very careful with what I said. "I will do a lot, put up with a lot, but I will not be separated for extended periods of time from Brian. A few weeks, a month or two if it's necessary, but over two years of separation for four months at a time is not what I'm going to do, especially right now. Let's not go down that road if we don't have to, okay?"

"I agree. What else were you going to say?" Mr. Reagan said softly.

"Well, second, if you did have me split from Brian and go to a private school alone, you're going to lose political points. It will look like I'm running from controversy and they'll keep pushing their political agenda after having achieved a key victory." I said all in one breathe. "Further, it will show our friends across the ocean that you're worried about my safety and will make me continue to look important, whereas if you let me face whatever comes my way, with only regular protection, it will look like I'm being left to fight my own battles, which is somewhat similar to what you were wanting to project to them anyway. Isn't that why I'm not on that plane right now heading to the Summit?"

"That's a good point." The President said slowly. "David, we'll talk about this some more and let you know our decision. Have a good evening."

"Thank you, sir." I said and hung up.

Monday passed without any of the feared activity. There were no protests at the school, or anywhere else, but something was obviously up. I could see it in the speculative glances of students I knew attended church regularly or who were part of the campus bible club. Whatever it was, though, wasn't something that I, the Secret Service, or the police found out as the week progressed.

Master Chief Cole's afternoon physical training sessions soon proved to be harder than even I had expected. They were harder than boot camp as I remembered it, and for two hours each afternoon he worked the twenty-eight of us that showed up until we all thought we were going to puke. He even made it worse by purposely working those of us in better shape harder than he did the others.

I knew in the end it would be worth it, but damn it hurt those first few days!

End of semester finals were coming up, and those took more and more of our evening times. Trevor, Brandon, Brian, and I were all too tired for our usual meetings over at Brian's for weight training and so we'd just head home, study and do homework. I would join Brian at his place, work on the homework from the classes we shared, head back to the farm, do a few chores and then finish up my homework after dinner. Each evening we watched the news to see if there was anything major going on at the Summit in Europe, but all the reporters were saying negotiations were not going well.

I was of the opinion that the summit not going well was actually a good thing. Most people would disagree with that, but then they didn't have the knowledge we did. Not letting the Soviets shrink and consolidate their forces would force them to keep spending money they did not have on weapons that did not work the way they should and would hopefully never be used.

By Friday, it was clear nothing was going to happen at the summit as the Soviet's new leader stormed out, loudly proclaiming the Americans weren't interested in real peace. We were interested in peace though, the peace that we would get without a Soviet Union in existence and President Reagan knew what course to take to achieve that goal.

It wasn't until the week of semester finals that the course of preaching we'd been hearing on television and from churches across the nation became clear. I should have remembered Jerry Falwell's 'Moral Majority' of the late 80's but I'd totally forgotten about that. On December 9, 1984, a new organization by that name was announced, for youth across the nation to come together and resist the spread of Satan across the country.

On Monday the 10th, the NJROTC went to raise the flag as we did three days a week, and we found something that gave us a little pause.

Surrounding the flagpole were twenty students from the bible club and my old sparring partner, Dr. Mills. The pastor was leading them in prayer, both loudly and conspicuously praying for God to 'work his will and drive out the forces of evil from this school'. Master Chief Cole and I were leading the NJROTC cadets as always and I just looked at him to see if he had any ideas. Each of the kids, and the pastor, had black armbands on their left sleeve with two white letter Ms on top of each other in the middle of a white circle. I would have thought this time around they would have chosen a symbol less similar to the Nazi emblem than they had the first time around, but maybe the same person had designed them both times. While the twelve people on the flag detail this morning stood at attention, I leaned over to Master Chief Cole and pointed with my chin.

"News crews setting up at eight o'clock." I whispered, having just spotted the group.

"I see them, cadet." Master Chief Cole said slowly. "I'm just trying to keep my temper under control before I go talk to him."

"Maybe he'll stand aside while we raise the flag and then close up ranks after we leave." I said hopefully, not really believing it for a moment. This was the opening battle and they'd picked it well, unlike the previous times. I knew that for sure when Dr. Mills sent a smug smile our way while continuing his loud prayers. Peaceful protest was an honored American tradition and by putting his people here first, the preacher was forcing us to either not raise the flag here and now, or to use some type of force to move him, if he didn't move willingly. Everyone except him could legally stand here and pray, I knew that from both present and 'future' court rulings. Disrupting the normal operation of the school, though, was where they passed into the 'wrong' area of the law. Likewise, a reaction to them that did the same would also be legally wrong.

"I'm a teacher here, he's not." Cole said firmly, set his jaw and stepped towards Dr. Mills who started praying even louder as the Master Chief, wearing his khakis as he always did during drill, came to stand next to him. The sun was now hovering over the horizon and I didn't let the groan I felt escape me as the news crew got their camera rolling and the sound man approached close enough to pick up the conversation that was about to take place. Both men saw it and prepared themselves even further for what was to come. Master Chief Cole cleared his throat.

"Pardon me for interrupting sir, but it's time to raise our country's flag." Master Chief Cole's voice held a respect proper for a flag officer who was standing on the wrong place in the middle of a bridge at battle stations. "If you would kindly step aside, we'll get the flag up and you can resume your prayer service."

"I'm afraid I can not do that, son." Dr. Mills said in a voice that was full of his own pomposity. "We're here to do God's work and we'll keep those evil sinners from desecrating our country's flag with their touch!"

"I see, and who might you be?" Master Chief Cole asked.

"I am the Dr. Harold Mills, Pastor of First Baptist Church and these are the fine young men and woman of the Moral Majority." Dr. Mills replied, gathering as much dignity to him as he could with his paunch sticking out despite the suit jacket he wore.

"I see, Dr. Mills." Cole said with a slight smile. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Master Chief Marcus Cole, United States Navy Retired. I'm also a teacher and coach at this school. The fine young men behind me are members of the accredited Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps attached to this school. They have been duly sworn in to the positions they hold, and have been performing this duty for four months now. I assure you, sir, they have in no way disgraced or dishonored the United States flag or their duties."

"They disgrace it with their touch!" Dr. Mills thundered and I couldn't believe the... outrage of the man. Then I remembered that here, now such opinions were more common than I had been use to in the early 21st Century. By then the preachers had learned to tone done their rhetoric, to speak only in terms of 'loving the sinner but hating the sin'.

"Mr. Jones!" Master Chief called out and I stepped forward smartly. "What does the manual say about ways to disgrace the flag?"

"Master Chief, the flag is disgraced by dropping it on the ground, allowing it to be flown in a tattered or disheveled state, burning or otherwise defacing the flag, and flying it at night, unlit, or in any way not approved by the flag manual." I recited evenly and without hesitation.

"Where does it say anything about touching the flag as being a disgrace?" Master Chief Cole asked me directly.

"Master Chief, to my knowledge carrying or touching the United States flag by a United States citizen or anyone else for that matter, does not disgrace the flag." I answered, hiding the smile I was feeling.

"That's what I understand as well." Master Chief Cole said and turned back to Dr. Mills and smiled at him. "Dr. Mills, what Flag Manual are you quoting from when you say their touch defiles the flag?"

"I am quoting from the bible itself, a book far more important than your manual!" Dr. Mills asserted, and proceeded to hit all the traditional anti-gay texts including Leviticus and Romans. When he finished, he drew himself up and stood proudly. "We will not let these abominations pass!"

"Very well." Master Chief Cole said with a frown. "Jones, what's more important: The duty to be performed or the person performing the duty?"

"Master Chief, the duty is always more important." I answered easily and he nodded.

"Hand over the flag." He ordered and I stepped forward to hand it to him. He took it and turned smartly around to Dr. Mills and thrust it out between them. "Dr. Mills, the flag must be raised. Since you object to us doing it, we'll let you do it and render honors as you do so."

"I won't." Dr. Mills said. "You send those boys away and I'll do it, but not while they are here. They have no right to be here!"

"So, first you say you won't let them raise it because you believe they will defile the flag, then you change your mind and add that they have no right to be here." Master Chief Cole said calmly. "Sir, you keep changing your target and that's not right. Now, I have ignored that you have no legal right to be here, that you are conducting an illegal protest by your presence here, and I've attempted to find a reasonable resolution without getting the authorities involved. I don't know how much more reasonable any person could be."

"Get rid of those kids!" Dr. Mills roared in answer. "They are a perversion in Christ! They must be cleansed of their evil!"

"I see." Master Chief Cole said with a flinty gaze. "You know, I've served this country for twenty years, risked my life many times so that you can stand here and practice your religion in freedom. I never expected you to take those freedoms I've spilled my own blood for and try to use them to treat kids like the Soviet Union would treat them."

"How dare you!" Dr. Mills roared in a refrain I was familiar with. "I am no communist!"

"I didn't say you were, just that you act a lot like them, trying to force others to believe the way you believe." Master Chief Cole said with a shrug. "For them, they try to force communism on everyone in the world, for you it's your brand of religion. No matter, the military is use to people spitting on us and calling us bad names. It hasn't stopped us from doing our duty before and it won't stop us now. Squad, at-ease."

" God, we pray for your power to work in this man seduced by the evil wiles of these servants of Satan..." Dr. Mills ended up resorting to his prayers as those of us in the NJROTC went to the 'at-ease' position. We stood there, looking ahead easily, trying to hide our smiles as Master Chief Cole looked past and through the preacher while the man ranted and raved in his prayers. At about ten minutes until the bell rang, it became very clear that the preacher was not going to back down. We'd been standing there for over an hour now and Master Chief Cole stirred after looking at his watch. He let out a loud sigh that caught Dr. Mills's attention. A crowd had formed around the lawn as people had seen the two groups effectively facing off, and Mr. Borsch had come out to talk with Master Chief Cole twice. By now there were almost a thousand students watching, as well as the news crews and several parents.

"It seems you've managed to disrupt the extra-curricular activities of these young men, Dr. Mills." Master Chief Cole said slowly, but loud enough for most of those watching to hear. "I can't believe a community leader would advocate the disruption of lessons in honor, duty, and loyalty these young men were supposed to have, but nevertheless that is what you've achieved. Unfortunately, I can't let you disrupt their regular education as well. Squad, you're dismissed. Put the equipment away and get to your classes. Good luck on your tests today."

"Dismissed." I ordered in echo of him and we broke up. Several of us, including me, wanted to stay and see what happened next, but I managed to push everyone towards the PE building where the gear lockers were. I knew that later in the day we'd hear from plenty of people what happened next.

"Now, Dr. Mills, the boys are gone, and these students you are keeping around you are going to be late for class, why don't you let them go inside?" Master Chief Cole said in a calm tone.

"I will not let you raise that flag!" Dr. Mills said and Master Chief Cole laughed.

"What possible objection could you have for me to raise a flag I've served for twenty years?" Cole asked as Mr. Borsch neared where they stood.

"You're consorting and supporting those perverts!" Dr. Mills said loudly and Cole laughed even more, but kept it to a soft chuckle that was somewhat menacing.

"Dr. Mills, those boys are the furthest thing I've ever known from perverts, and when a Navy Master Chief says that, it means something." Cole said with a gleam in his eye that spoke volumes of just how pissed he was. "Now, stand aside and let our country's flag be raised.

"Kids, sing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' now." Dr. Mills ordered his students who began to sing it, albeit a bit poorly. They kept on doing that right until the first bell rang, and then the second. That's when Mr. Borsch stepped into the fray. He could have had Dr. Mills removed from the first moment this happened, but he knew that was what the man wanted to get on camera.

"All you kids are to report to my office for your tardy slips." Mr. Borsch said loudly over the singing and they all looked at him with hard gazes, and Dr. Mills stepped forward.

"My dear Principle, these kids are doing God's work and I have here permission slips from their parents, excusing them from being late to class." Dr. Mills said handing over a bunch of papers. Mr. Borsch quickly looked through them. By the first bell, teachers had been moving through the crowd of students and herding them inside, so now only the students around the flag pole, Mr. Cole, Mr. Borsch, Dr. Mills, the news crew, and about twenty parents remained (and two Secret Service agents dressed somewhat inconspicuously).

"Well, these boys and girls aren't sick, they're here on school property, and there's no legal reason why they can't be in class right now." Mr. Borsch said. "Since it's now obvious their parents have not written adequate explanations for their absence or tardiness, I'm afraid I have to enter these into all their files and require that all further absences or tardiness is verified by a doctor or other proper authority. As for today, you kids are already late for your first period. How many of you have tests?"

Three raised their hands.

"You will not receive permission for make-up, nor will you receive extra time." Mr. Borsch said sternly. "If you get to my office now, you might have most of the period remaining to do whatever you can. Should you chose to stay here, you will receive no points on the test and you will likely lose an entire grade average for the class."

"You can't do that, Borsch." Dr. Mills said firmly. "You have excuses from their parents and they're here doing important work."

"Important to you, Dr. Mills, not important to this school." Dr. Borsch said. "If you hadn't staged this just to get a camera picture of you being led off campus in handcuffs, I'd have had you arrested for disrupting an educational institution an hour ago. As it is, I can see these kids myself, I can see what they are doing, and what they are doing is not covered in our district policies as acceptable reasons for missing their finals. You may be their spiritual leader, sir, but I am their educational leader and as much as you would object to me telling you how to run your church, I object to you interfering with the normal operation of my school. This is not an event approved by the school, nor is it connected with any of our clubs, and these children are currently being led into juvenile delinquency by you, sir."

"They are all members of the campus bible club." Dr. Mills, said, seizing on that as a legitimate reason.

"Then, I hope they aren't here in their role as members of that club." Mr. Borsch said. "If they were, the club would have to be suspended for violating the rules of all campus organizations, namely interfering with normal school operations. Students, listen to me, I think participating in civil protests is a good thing for young people like you to learn, but you also need to learn that it doesn't excuse you from the rules of this school. I know several of you have multiple tardies already, and this one will be no exception. That means two of you are going to have to face a one-day suspension when you come back next semester, and I don't want to see that happen for more of you. Go into the office, get your tardy slips and get to class."

"But Dr. Mills said you wouldn't dare punish us on camera!" One of the girls complained loudly.

"Shut up Missy." One of the boys next to her said harshly and she glared at him.

"This is stupid!" She yelled back at him. "The only reason most of us are here is because our parents made us! I'm not going to get suspended for this stuff!"

She tore off her armband and stormed off, heading inside. About half of the students in the circle also headed off, although much more quietly. Dr. Mills glared at Mr. Borsch who continued to watch the remaining students with a neutral expression. He let out a sigh when they didn't move and stood to look out at the parents watching what was going on.

"I'll be inside waiting for you students." Mr. Borsch said after letting out a long sigh. He walked back in, and the remaining students reluctantly followed him one by one. Dr. Mills was left standing there to face Master Chief Cole alone, and walked off in a huff. Cole was joined quickly by Chris and Jeanie from the Secret Service detail and they helped him raise the flag, albeit a bit late.

As they walked into the school together, Dr. Mills was ranting at the camera and reporter about the injustice of the school punishing students for exercising their right to protest the evils infesting the school. Mr. Borsch came out after he'd left and made his own statement applauding both sides of the issue, and pointing out that if the students with Dr. Mills had left before the bell had rung, they would have gotten in no trouble.

"Peaceful protests are a right in this country, and I'm proud to see our next generation exercising their rights, on both sides of any issue." Mr. Borsch said in a comment that made every broadcast covering the event. "My only concern is that they do not interfere with the normal operations of this school, and as long as they do not, the school will let them go on without interference. Missing classes or disrupting classes will not be tolerated though, and that goes for everyone involved."

It made the number two story that night on the national broadcasts (although CBS had it as the third story after a story on a bank robbery gone bad in Michigan). There were plenty of pundits debating both sides of the issue, and they gave as good as they got. Brian and I carefully shied away from the press, seeking not to upset too many people in Washington. The rest of the NJROTC didn't shy away from the cameras though, and their vociferous defense of Brian, Sean, Brandon, and me was quite gratifying to watch, although I think they went overboard a bit on some of the descriptions of Dr. Mills they tended to give.

My Aunt Bev even managed to sneak a call to me. I could hear Grandma and Dad yelling in the background, probably about the stuff on television, but Bev gave me a very quiet 'way to go' praise and said she was recording everything on her new VCR. Pretty much confined to her bed when she wasn't going on trips or something, she spent a lot of time watching television and she was wickedly good at having the VCR ready for the latest news spot.

Tuesday morning, the three news crews, Dr. Mills, his students, and about four hundred students were disappointed when the NJROTC didn't show up to attempt raising the flag.

We only did it three days a week, as part of our drill, and as Master Chief Cole had emphasized, we weren't going to change that to just provide a spectacle. Dr. Mills declared victory that morning when the flag was raised by the school custodians who did it when the NJROTC didn't. That evening all the news shows made some mention of the way the Christian group had won.

Wednesday morning, there were no Christian students around the flagpole, and no Dr. Mills. There was a single news crew who had driven by just as we were marching across the front lawn. They stopped, nearly causing an accident and pulled back around to get their cameras set up. Luckily, they managed to get the camera on us just as we were starting to hoist the flag up. The male reporter came up to us and stuck his microphone in Chief Cole's face.

"Sir, why are you here this morning but not yesterday?" The reporter asked and Chief Cole laughed.

"We raise it three days a week, on our drill mornings, not every day of the week." Cole answered with a broad smile. "If anyone had been paying attention the last few months of school, they'd have known that. Now, if you excuse me, we're still trying to catch up on our lessons."

With that we returned to the P.E. building, put away the gear and practiced parade ground marching for the rest of the hour. We finished on time and went into the locker rooms to changed out of our uniform. We were heading out to our first class when Andrea Wearing, the current leader of the bible club, stormed up to me.

"How dare you!" She fumed loudly, her face suffused with red. "You've made us all look like fools! We're going to get you for this!"

"Be careful how you say that." Brian warned her. "If we think you meant physical violence, we'd have to report you to the police."

"Don't patronize me!" She shouted at Brian before turning back to me. "You tricked us!"

"We did nothing of the sort, Andrea." I answered her calmly as the first bell rang. "We did just what we've done every morning since school started. It's you guys who didn't do your homework on this."

"Well, you're not going to win, faggot." She nearly screamed and stalked off in the direction of her class while Brian and I headed towards ours. It was finals week, and all the classes were divided up into double-periods for tests or study periods. We had our US History final to take, and I was pretty sure I got an 'A' grade as usual.

That evening at home we got to watch Mr. Borsch explain to three networks that the NJROTC has raised the flag three days a week, not five, and we weren't playing any games, just doing what we were supposed to do. He also noted that with tests ending on Thursday, and no school on Friday, we wouldn't be raising the flag again until the next term started after the New Year holiday. Since Dr. Mills was ranting about having been tricked and misled into not being there this morning, the statements of Master Chief Cole and Mr. Borsch followed every statement by Dr. Mills to the contrary. The man had made himself a laughing stock without any help from me.

After school let out for the holidays, I focused on getting Brian his gift. We'd both gotten our driving permits back in October, although he needed far more practice than I did. We'd finished our school Driver Training course and were all set to get our licenses. My idea for his gift was a car. I had fifty-three thousand and change in the bank account from my consulting fees for the government. That gave me twenty-six five to use for whatever I wanted since I'd been very firm that half the money I made belonged to Brian totally to do with as he pleased and the other half was mine. When we both started working after college, the plan was that each of us would put half of our earnings into a 'joint' account to be used for all of our 'joint' expenses and the other half was to be our personal play money.

What we could afford as far as a house, or vacations, or any of that stuff would be determined by our joint account. If I put six grand in there, and he put nine, we had fifteen to spend, etc. A lot of couples when they get together try to argue percentages of each other's income, or split the bills, or stuff like that. We'd decided since we were a couple, half our income would be for us as a couple, the other half as individuals. Then we could live in whatever lifestyle that 'joint' account would permit. It was also what his father and mother had done, and when he'd suggested it, I hadn't argued except to say that while we were in school, he wouldn't argue about splitting my income with me.

It was hard as hell to ditch him long enough to go car shopping with an adult. Mr. Rush had finally lied to him after three days and the weekend before Christmas he took me with him to Livermore. My security pass I'd first gotten at the White House was more than enough to get me into the facility and I met several of the people he worked with who had no idea why I'd be allowed in there, but shrugged their shoulders and accepted that I had a pass. We stayed there for an hour to make his lie 'acceptable' to him, and then we went car shopping.

I found what I wanted at a small used car lot far from the showy new car lots. I looked it over, knowing it needed some work, but for the price they wanted, the work could be done cheaply. The only problem was... it would take at least three or four weeks to get everything done, and knowing Brian he would want to do a lot of the work himself.

I wasn't very mechanically inclined, and after being together for more than three years, I knew Brian wasn't either. But give a sixteen year old, or near sixteen year old, boy a car that needs some work, and he's going to want to do it himself. It was Thomas Castillo, who'd been following us around who gave me a solution. He ambled up to where I stood looking at the car with Mr. Rush and smiled fondly.

"I always wanted one of these." He stated fondly, rubbing the burnt green paint of the 1964 Mustang. He walked around the car and looked at it, looked at the inside and then under the hood with a practiced manner that told me a lot. "I finally got one about two years ago. I sent it to a garage for the bodywork and interior work and took care of most of the engine work myself. Why don't you get that salesman back over here so we can see what she sounds like?"

The salesman who Mr. Rush had chased off earlier came back with a wide smile as he talked with Castillo about things I didn't really understand beyond that they had to do with the engine. They started it up, and Castillo flashed his Secret Service badge to help convince the salesman to let him take it for a spin with me in the car and without the salesman along.

"You want this for Brian, right?" Castillo asked me as we roared out of the parking lot.

"Yeah." I said with a smile, enjoying the way the engine sounded.

"Well, the body's not in too bad of a shape." Castillo said as he took us around the block with what seemed like reckless abandon but was really just good driving. "Brakes aren't too bad, but they probably should be bled and the pads replaced. The engine's pretty sound, but we can fix it up. You'll probably spend another five grand getting the body back into shape, new bumpers and a new paint job. With the eight grand he's asking, I'd try to get him down to seven and then you'll be just fine on price. What kind of paint job were you thinking of?"

"Glossy black with orange flames." I said with a smile and he laughed.

"You might want to get new windows while you're at it. There's a good shop in Modesto I found. I can chat with them and if you can put in a few hundred extra, they'll get your body work, interior and windows all done before Christmas. Then, you boys can take it out for a spin and we'll have the rest done by his birthday."

"You'll help with the engine stuff?" I asked with a little surprise.

"Sure, it doesn't break the rules, really and it'll be fun." Castillo said with a grin as we pulled back into the lot. He got out, went over the salesman and announced "Six grand."

They settled on seven thousand, two-hundred fifty. I had to run to the local branch of our bank, pull out the money as a cashier's check. The salesman expected either one of them to hand over the money, but he took it from me without any trouble at all. Castillo's first order was to take it to a local mechanic just to make sure everything he'd checked was indeed working. That took an hour and then we had to drive to Modesto.

Yes, I drove with Castillo in the passenger seat.

"What do you want done on the interior?" Castillo asked me as we drove back home. I looked around at the cloth that was beginning to fade and decided I wanted to go all out.

"Black leather." I said with a smile and he just nodded. In Modesto, with Mr. Rush and the other agent following us, we pulled into the shop he'd directed me to, and we started haggling with these guys. It seemed Castillo spent a lot of time there when he wasn't on duty and things weren't as expensive as they could have been, but neither were they cheap.

When it was all done, the work they would be doing would amount to another six grand. The bodywork, paint, and windows they could get done before Christmas. The interior I wanted, bucket seats up front and bench in the back, all in black leather, new interior material for the roof and sides, speaker system, and state of the art radio with tape player (no CD players yet), and a hookup for a mobile phone (which was just really starting to come into use) would all take the weeks between Christmas and Brian's birthday to get done. We'd have to start school without his car, but by the time he was sixteen and could drive it legally, everything would be done. While the car was waiting, I had second thoughts about working on it ourselves and Castillo mentioned that if I was willing to pay another few grand, we could get a better engine and totally spruce up the interior. There would be a two and a half week period where the car would just be sitting after Christmas while we waited for materials to arrive, and he could have another garage that did engine work really make the insides purr. Of course, he mentioned he'd work with them on his off time to make sure it was done right.

More like he'd get to play with it while it was in their shop.

By the time we were done, in an era where most people paid around fifteen thousand for a really nice car, I spent nineteen-thousand, two hundred and eighty three dollars on Brian's car. In my opinion, it was worth every penny as he walked out of the doorway of his house on Christmas morning and I asked him to drive me over to the Rush Farm. The car was painted, and I think I had to point out to him all the work on the inside that needed to be done. His dad climbed into the back seat and we drove off to the Rush farm, where I had my own surprise waiting for me.

In my original life, I'd learned to drive in my mom's RX-7 that she owned now in this lifetime. That's probably why I'd always loved small, fast cars and hated big cars or trucks. I must have mentioned that to Brian a few times because he'd come up with a good Christmas present, a pitch black Camarro sat in the driveway, and Brian handed me the keys. It's a good thing I didn't overspend on his car, because my new car, with less than a hundred miles on it, took the entire half of his side of the account. Leather bucket seats, great sound system, all the neatest gadgets on the dash board, and I was in heaven, wondering when we'd be able to sneak away from Castillo and his agents in order to race our cars.

I had a good guess we'd be having a lot of future arguments about whose car to take to wherever we were going. Well, it'd be no big deal until his birthday when his car was finished, but then Castillo had to remind me he wouldn't be letting me drive without an adult in my car until I did have my license, which was only a few days before Brian's birthday.

Trevor, who didn't turn sixteen until February was downright pissed as he went back and forth between the two cars. I'd even bought him and Brandon gag gifts of key chains with no keys on them to rub it in a bit. Maybe it wasn't exactly nice, but Brandon didn't turn sixteen until May, and so the two of them would be pestering us for rides. I'd been pestered by friends who wanted rides to places the first time around, and I knew it would be that way again.

Brandon showed up about an hour after we'd arrived and was instantly all over both cars, rushing back and forth like they were for him. Tyatya called us all inside for Christmas lunch and I wondered what the hell was keeping Mom. She had taken Jenny to Nanny's and Grandma's last night. Even though I wasn't particularly invited to either house, I'd sent Christmas gifts to all the relatives. All of them had been small items, but still were gifts from me.

We'd waited another ten minutes after we'd all assembled in the dining room before digging in. Mom was one of those people who usually ran late, so she'd probably just woken late and had trouble getting Jenny out of the apartment. It was about ten minutes into the meal when the phone rang. Dyadya got up, answered the phone, and when his face went pale I suddenly remembered something.

It had been this Christmas in the original time when my sister had gotten the flu, mom had given her aspirin, and Jenny had nearly died from Reye's Syndrome. While Dyadya mumbled something into the phone, I started breathing hard and Brian put a hand on my shoulder trying to calm me down. I felt so stupid, why hadn't I told my mother not to give Jenny aspirin if she had a temperature?

"Davey, that was the hospital." Dyadya said and I groaned aloud.

"Jenny is sick and I know what the problem is." I said while rising to my feet. He just shook his head, looking even sadder and I sat down hard.

"Your mother...she was in an accident on her way here. She's in the emergency room." Dyadya said softly and I felt myself breathing even harder. There wasn't supposed to be an accident! But the timeline had been changed...could I really know what should and shouldn't happen anymore? But I should have...

"Davey!" My name followed by a light smack that stung my cheek pulled me out of the tunnel of despair that was drowning me. My eyes focused on a face in front of me, and Dyadya's tanned, wrinkled visage filled my vision. "Calm yourself, we must go down to the hospital. We will be with you, do you understand?"

"Yes sir." I mumbled softly, rising to my feet as he helped me with a gentleness that was reassuring. Brian took over, wrapping his arm around my shoulders in that long-familiar gesture and that gave me more strength, brought me back to myself. I could handle this, I wasn't just a teenage boy, I was a teenage boy with the life experiences of an adult, and I could handle this.

Inside, a little voice was screaming to remind me of the mind-numbing despair I had felt the first time my mother had died. I'd come home from visiting Dad when we'd thought he'd die after a quintuple bypass. He'd pulled through, and I'd driven back to Arizona where I was living with Mom. She'd been a little sick before I left to see Dad. She'd been coughing and I'd wanted to take her to the hospital, but she said no. That night we'd talked about Dad, what he'd done to Jenny in that time line, and how hurt Mom had been afterwards. Dad had begged me to tell her that he was sorry for all he'd done, not just to Jenny, but to Mom and to me, and I'd cried with my mom that night as she'd let nearly twelve years of pain and anguish go. She'd gone to bed, and the next morning I'd found her non-responsive.

While I was on the phone to 911, her heart had stopped and I'd dropped the phone to begin CPR. The paramedics had arrived, used the defibrillator and her heart had started up again. Twice more on the ambulance ride to the hospital her heart stopped, and another time at the hospital. She lay in a coma in the Phoenix hospital for four more days. I called Nanny and she flew out, and called Jenny and paid for her and her baby boy to fly out.

Then, I'd gone back to work the way a guy is supposed to do, focusing on my work and praying for her to get better. That Friday morning, I'd gone into work and Jenny had shown up a half-hour later to tell me mom had died. I had vague memories of letting out a wail at the top of my lungs, a vain attempt to shake the heavens and call my mother's spirit back to her body.

Jenny had folded me into a hug against her. I returned the hug with a grip so tight that I left bruises on her, and everyone in the building from one floor up to the floor below came running to find out what had made that awful noise. Years later, one of my co-workers whispered to me she still had nightmares about that scream. The next few days were a blur, as we made arrangements to send Mom's body back to California for burial.

We didn't have enough money to fly Nanny, Jenny, Jenny's boy, and me all back to California so I drove and picked up Jenny and her son in San Francisco. Along the way I got drunk off my ass and bought a nice big bag of coke. The airline had wanted five hundred for my flight, and I'd been given a pass on the flight for Jenny, so I had kept my three hundred and spent it on alcohol, drugs, and gas.

I had hazy memories of mom's funeral. Flashes, really, of Nanny's fingers gripping my arm so tightly that her fingernails left deep gouges in me, more flashes were of me looking in mom's coffin, and wishing with all my might, praying to a God I doubted existed, but wanted him to exist so he could breath life back into her, and here I was now, given a chance at a second life with her, and what had I done?

I'd chosen to live with the parents of friends because I had a boyfriend and I knew damn well she would take years and years to accept that. I'd thrown a childish tantrum when my parents had typically reacted to hearing their kid was gay, and I'd thrown my knowledge and contacts around to push her out of my life... to the sidelines, and now what had happened? How the hell could I have done this when I knew how important she was, how fucking important and now...

"DAVEY!" Brian's shout rang in my ear and I blinked. We were at the hospital, and it was time to go into the emergency room. I let him help me out of the car, not even noticing whose it was, really, and followed his gentle pull inside. Dyadya went to the admitting nurse and told her that we'd been told Mrs. Jones and her daughter had been brought in. Their conversation drifted out of my awareness as I remembered that first graveside service and how I'd broken down into a puddle of tears as Aunt Christine had sung Amazing Grace in that soft, throaty voice of hers. How the preacher at the funeral had fondly remembered listening to his son tell him about a new Sunday School teacher who the boy had really liked... my mother. It had let me see my mother through the eyes of another person, of what she had been to those people who'd seen her as the Pastor's wife.

"This is her son, David." Dyadya's voice called me back the present and I looked up to see a doctor looking at me with the most gentle of expressions.

"No,nononononononononononono." I mumbled, the words rolling into one. There was no need for him to say anything, his look as I said the single word over and over again told him I knew.

"I really am sorry." The doctor said softly to Dyadya. "Both of them were just too badly hurt and there was nothing we could do. Were they his only family?"

Jenny was dead too.

"GOD DAMIT! NO! THIS CANNOT HAPPEN!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, scaring the doctor and everyone in the emergency room. I wasn't thinking, only feeling pain, only reacting to the death I'd caused. "IT'S ALL MY FAULT! IF I HADN'T COME BACK THEY'D LIVE LONGER! I'VE GOT TO..."

Dyadya's open handed smack wasn't hard, but it stopped me from shouting and his eyes blazed, not in anger, but in sympathy and in warning.

[DAVID DAVIDOVICH, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!] He said harshly in Russian, probably so most of those nearby who might hear would not know what he said. [YOU VIOLATE THIS COUNTRY'S SECURITY WITH WHAT YOU SAY. Calm yourself and behave as the man I know you to be.]

"Davey, it's going to be alright." Brian said soothingly, putting his arm back around me, but in that moment, anger flared. It wasn't Brian's fault I'd let him distract me from caring for my family like I should have, but right then I didn't want anything to do with him. I ignored his hurt look as I pulled away from him and went out the sliding door. I stared at the nearly empty parking lot, then stared up at the gray overcast day, and shouted one word at the heavens.



As with all my stories, E provides immeasurable input, grammar checking, and all those other lovely editing thingies that make the story so much better!

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