This is my third gay teen romance story. It is a story I had to write, but it isn't one you have to read. Like the other two, it is written for kids who aren't old enough to be reading this stuff. So if you are in that age bracket, skip over the limited amount of juicy stuff.

Much of chapter 1 is true, the rest of the story is fiction. Once again, I have drawn on my love for the songs on Billy Gilman's first CD. The vocalists always get the credit, so I want to publicly thank the songwriters for the words to I Think She Likes Me and I Wanna Get To Ya for the inspiration their songs provided. I wish I could include sound clips in this story so their words would have the same impact on you, the readers, as they did on me. I hope you'll read the words to the songs when you get to those parts of the story and try to picture the scenes that I will try to describe for you.

I would also like to thank Driver for his encouragement, his editing, his suggestions and his permission to use characters from Falling Off A Log.

This one's for you, AJ.

Growing Pains

by Dan

Chapter One

All my life I've heard people say things like the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away or God doesn't shut one door without opening another one. Well, my life has now taken a turn which confirms both of those statements. But for any of this to make sense, I'll have to provide some background material.

When I was 29 years old and had been married 8 years, my second daughter was stillborn in the seventh month of pregnancy. As I sat in the waiting room of the labor hall at 3:00 in the morning, three days after my wife's regularly scheduled prenatal checkup, the doctor came in, sat down in the chair beside me and said, "I don't know what I heard on Monday, but that child has been dead for three days."

Eighteen months later, the son I had expected to have from the time I was 10 years old was born three months early, weighing all of 1 pound 6 ounces. He was so wonderful and did so well. For three weeks. Then he died.

I'm now 55 years old. Two years ago my wife of 35 years died of cancer. Too many cigarettes. The first thing I did after she died was to clean house and recover the guest room and spare bedroom from the mess they were in. Those had been her sewing rooms. I had the house fumigated and professionally cleaned to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke. And I cleaned out all of the closets except my own. And I mean cleaned them out! Empty. Nada. Bare as a baby's butt.

Yes, the Lord had given me the son I always wanted, but He had also taken him away. He closed a door of my life when my wife died. But it only took him six months to open another one for me, just as he closed one on somebody else.

I now have two sons. Their names are Mitchell and Jason. This is our story.

My wife and I joined the church I now attend some sixteen years ago. Two years later a son was born to one of the young couples and three years later they had a second son. I watched Mitchell and Jason grow up. My daughter was their favorite babysitter. As they reached the ages of 7 and 4 I marveled at how much they looked like my brother and me. Mitchell had dark hair and facial features similar to David's (my brother) while Jason's hair was the same color as mine and his facial features were very similar to mine at his age. I dug out some old photos of my brother and me and showed them to the boys' folks. They even admitted to the resemblance.

I'm sure this was one of the reasons I fell in love with these kids. Just as I am sure that the emptiness left by my own son's death contributed to it. But my love went only as far as any normal adult for someone else's children. I rarely spoke to the boys more than to say hello. I wasn't that comfortable talking to youngsters their age.

The boys' dad was a policeman, their mom a high school teacher. Great folks, good parents, active in their children's lives and in their church. The boys were probably everybody's favorites because of their good looks, pleasant personalities and manners.

When Mitchell was in the ninth grade, I hired him to work one Saturday in my office, as a way of helping him pay for his trip to the church's biennial youth convention. This was the only time he and I ever had a serious discussion that lasted more than five minutes. But it gave me the opportunity to connect with him at church every Sunday after that.

And connecting with him gave me the courage to approach his younger brother in conversation. Jason seemed to like it that I was showing him some attention. He told me he had joined the school choir and I encouraged him in that activity. Being in the choir and a soloist myself, I knew he was aware of my love for music. Our contact began gradually, and it was always at church. Jason soon became my favorite because of his size and the way he would grin when our eyes made contact.

In our church, the youngsters assist at communion by taking up the small individual cups as they are used by the members. Any time Jason was serving in this capacity, I would watch him as he approached my position at the rail. Rarely did I see him make eye contact with anybody, nor did he smile at other people. But I always made it a point to make eye contact, and his face never failed to light up with the most pleasant grin. It always warmed the cockles of my heart to see that grin.

It never dawned on me that the boys were paying as much attention to me as I was to them. But there were two incidents that I heard about which communicated to me that there was at least some level of affection being returned. One was a statement Mitchell made to someone at a congregational meeting. We had gathered to discuss bringing our part time youth director to full time status. All of the kids, regardless of age, absolutely adored Mike. Anyway, after many people had commented on their support for the matter at hand, one of the older members raised the issue of how we were going to pay for it. The girl sitting next to Mitchell turned to him and whispered her concern.

"We're in big trouble now."

At that point, I stood up to address the question from my position as church treasurer (a volunteer position). As soon as I stood up, Mitchell whispered to that same girl.

"We're gonna be OK. Dan will take care of it."

I don't think I said anything significant, but the vote was in favor of the change in status.

The other instance occurred when my wife commented to the boys' mom that I just loved her kids to death. The lady's response made me cry when my wife told me about it.

"Well, tell him the feeling is certainly mutual."

I never expected to learn just how mutual it was, but the Lord gives and He takes away.

Six months after my wife died, when the boys were 14 and 11, their parents were killed in the crash of a small commuter plane. Their only living relative was their maternal grandmother who was in her eighties.

Two days after the accident, and the day before the funeral, I received a call from our pastor asking if I could come to his office. Being self employed, it is easy for me to respond to such calls, so I went in to visit him that afternoon.

"Dan, I have something of extreme importance to discuss. Now before I even start, I want you to promise me you'll pray about this before giving me an answer. What I'm about to share with you is powerful, heady stuff, and you'll need time to consider your answer."

I thought he was going to ask me to run for president of the church council, something I had always said I wouldn't do. I didn't connect this meeting with the recent deaths.

"I met with Mrs. McDuffy last night to help plan the funeral for Tom and Nancy. But her greatest concern was for the boys. I wouldn't have expected this of Tom and Nancy, but it seems they hadn't updated their wills since the boys were born. At that time they named her as the boys' guardian if both of them were to die in a common accident. Unfortunately she is no longer able to take care of the boys."

I looked at him with a blank expression on my face. I could sense that he was getting ready to ask if the church could cough up some significant money to help the boys, and I usually try to hide my feelings when the subject of money arises. As church treasurer for thirteen years, I had seen our savings slowly dwindle as giving hadn't kept pace with spending for desired programs. To say I was shocked at his next comment would be a humongous understatement.

"Mrs. McDuffy asked if you could take the boys in and become their guardian. She knows how you feel about them from watching you in church and from comments Nancy has made to her. She knows you're alone now that Susan has passed away, and she doesn't have a problem with that."

Now everybody at church knows that I am an emotional person. I cry during certain hymns, I've cried giving temple talks about money, I've cried while offering prayers for the congregation. I even cried during a solo and couldn't finish the refrain. So Pastor wasn't surprised that he had to wait for my tears to subside before hearing my response.

"I don't have to pray about it, pastor. You know I'll take them, and feel honored that God has blessed me with the opportunity. But how do the boys feel about it? Surely there must be another family they feel closer to, one with kids their age?"

"The boys asked their grandmother to talk to me. It was their idea. YOU are their choice."

As God had allowed the door to shut on the lives of Tom and Nancy, he had opened one for me. How could I be so blessed while others were deprived of life? I was overwhelmed. I had always thought my feelings for the boys were just those of platonic affection, like everybody else. But the minute I heard that I was their choice, I knew in my heart that it went far beyond mere affection. My heart opened up and I saw my feelings for what they were, the love of a father who had thought his only opportunity to have a son had died years before. I did love Mitchell and Jason, with all my heart. I could only hope that they could learn to love me as their grief for their parents slowly subsided.

When my tears were finally dried up and my emotions under control, I answered pastor the only way I could.

"I'm going to need some help in dealing with the transition. How do I approach them? When? How much time do I give them to get over the immediate grief? A week? Two weeks? A month?"

"They want you to sit with them at the funeral tomorrow."

Now I'm active in my church. You obviously know that already. But I have been known to surprise people from time to time. Fortunately pastor knows me well enough not to be shocked at my response.


Little did I know what was in store for me.

Needless to say, my mind and emotions were trying to go in several directions at once for the rest of the day and that evening. The viewing, or wake as some call it, was that night at the funeral home. Having called and talked with the funeral director, I knew that a car would be sent to pick up the boys and their grandmother. So I just met them at the funeral home.

We hugged briefly, for the first time in our lives I might add. But I explained that I thought they and their grandmother should be the greeters for the evening. After all, no one but them and the pastor knew anything about our possible relationship. I simply stood off to the side of the room to be there for them. And quite frequently, Jason did come over to stand beside me.

I don't know anyone who doesn't get somewhat emotional when a family member dies, and these boys were no exception. Often times they were more embarrassed by the attention or the comments well-wishers made. But as with all of us, certain people triggered their tears. At these times, the boys would come to me for comfort and protection, a refuge they could hide behind until their tears had dried up.

As easily as I weep, I was amazed that I didn't cry when they did. It seemed that their tears dried up my own. When I was by myself, I cried for them. But when they turned to me, my own tears disappeared. Weird.

By the time the viewing drew to a close, Jason had been standing beside me for about 30 minutes, my arm around his shoulder, his arm around my waist, his thumb hooked into a belt loop. As their grandmother was ushering the last visitor to the door, Mitchell came up to me and hugged me. As I drew him close, he practically collapsed against me, his face falling onto my shoulder, sobbing in great heaving sobs of pain and grief. The strain of having to act like a man all evening had really worn him down.

As I hugged him and stroked the back of his head in comfort, Jason moved around and hugged his brother from behind. We were in that position when their grandmother re-entered the room. Her eyes met mine, and I saw her cry for the first time that night. That's all it took. I finally was able to let go and cry with my boys. Well, sort of mine... almost... kinda...

At the funeral service the next day, Mrs. McDuffy entered the pew first followed by Jason, then me, then Mitchell. It's surprising how many things you can think about during the 45 minutes or so that a service like that lasts. I found myself thinking about such things as sleeping arrangements. I had a double bed in the guest room but hadn't bought a bed for the other room yet. Would they want to move their bedroom furniture to my house or get new stuff?

Would they mind sharing a bathroom? I only had one besides the master bath in my bedroom. Were they accustomed to having one by themselves?

I hadn't worn a swimming suit at my pool at home for more than two years. I didn't need one with the kind of privacy fence I had. Was I going to be willing to change that? Or would I expect them to accept it? Would they join me without suits or insist on wearing them? For God's sake! What difference does it make! What are you thinking of that stuff for at a time like this?

What foods did they like, what school would they attend, would Jason continue wrestling, how would all of this affect their grades and their relationships with friends?

At one point, I found myself getting somewhat apprehensive about the role I had accepted. It had been 10 years since my daughter had entered college and effectively moved out of the house. I hadn't raised a kid in a long time. And I hadn't raised a son before at all. Now I was going to have two of them. Did they really love me? Could they learn to love me? What would they call me? How long would it take for them to get over losing their mom and dad?

Even as I sat there pondering all these weighty and selfish questions, Jason was moving closer and closer to me. If he had been a couple of years younger, or a puppy, he would probably have been in my lap. He finally got my attention by grabbing my hand and pulling my arm around his shoulders. He was crying. And why not? The pastor was talking about his mom and dad and the kind of parents they had been.

I turned toward him and enveloped him in my arms, his face buried against my chest, his tears quickly soaking my tie and shirt. My own tears were barely held in check by an effort of self-control that surprised me. After a few minutes, his sobs began to subside and I reached into my back pocket for my handkerchief. As I handed it to him to blow his nose and wipe his eyes, I felt Mitchell collapse against me on the other side.

I turned Jason over to his grandmother and turned in Mitchell's direction, raising my arm and placing it around his shoulders. As I did that, this 14 year old who had tried so hard to be brave and put on a stoic appearance of self assurance and strength fell into my arms. He didn't hug me. He just sat there with his hands in his lap and wept. This time when I wrapped him in my arms, I was facing the congregation. I could see many of them looking at us, most of them with tears in their eyes. Tom and Nancy had been so young, so full of life, so loved by everyone in the church. They would be sorely missed by a lot of people.

I wish I could say that I was able to handle all this emotion without showing any of my own. But that would be a lie. For some reason, Mitchell's grief triggered my own. Perhaps it was just too much on top of Jason's. Maybe it was the fact that he was the older of the two and had tried so hard to hide it that made his grief hit me so hard. But whatever the reason, the dam broke and I added my own tears to his, hiding my face from the peering eyes of the congregation by burying it against the side of his head.

Once again I found myself asking, how can God give me so much at the expense of someone else? You see, my tears had two elements, grief for the boys and joy for myself. God had finally provided me with not one but two sons. I prayed that I would be adequate to the task He had given me. be continued

© 2000 by Dan. All rights reserved.

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