Growing Pains

by Dan

Chapter Twelve

December was... well, it was December. The guys had semester finals and their normal wrestling routine. There were several parties for everyone to attend. And Jason and the band were asked to perform for a community-wide party hosted by several of the Lutheran churches. The songs Mitchell had written with Scott's help turned out to be big hits. Scott had been right. They had made a big impact on Jason and Alex, and I think that impact showed in the emotion Jason put into them. Even the band seemed to participate in those emotions as the group performed as though they were one spirit, one body. It was truly a beautiful moment for all of us because we all understood what lay behind the lyrics and the emotions.

Tammy and Mitchell continued to see each other, with Tammy spending quite a bit of time at our house. The four of them even double dated to a movie once. Jason and Alex were respectful of Mitchell's discomfort at open signs of affection just as Mitchell and Tammy respected the younger boys' love for each other. That isn't to say that Alex and Jason didn't hold hands or give each other hugs when the older kids were around, but they refrained from kissing or nuzzling each other's necks.

School let out for Christmas break around the 20th which happened to be on a Thursday. The weather was unusually severe that year and ice storms were threatened for the weekend. Dallas rarely gets snow, but it sometimes gets freezing rain which makes the streets almost impassable. There is very little snow/ice removal equipment in the cities' street department inventories, so they spend most of their time on bridges and overpasses.

Tammy and Mitchell had planned to go to a party on Friday night after dinner, but the streets were already too dangerous. So all of us, Alex included of course, made ourselves comfortable in front of the television with a roaring fire in the fireplace. The kids were lying as couples on the floor under separate blankets as the weather came on.

When I heard that conditions were expected to worsen throughout the night, I suggested to Tammy that she should plan on spending the night. She could have the guest room and Alex could sleep on the couch. We called her folks and got their agreement to these arrangements. I'm sure they were relieved that no one was going to try driving her home.

Almost in unison, the kids all got up and went to get ready for bed. Mitchell gave Tammy a pair of his pajamas which she took into the guest room to put on. We always keep extra toothbrushes in each bathroom for unexpected guests, so she had no problems in that regard. The boys got into their pj's and brushed their teeth and then all four of them returned to the TV room and again covered themselves with their blankets.

Let me describe the scene that was before me. I sat in my favorite chair with Mitchell and Tammy closest to me. Mitchell was lying on his stomach resting his head on his arms. Tammy lay on her back with her head on Mitchell's back. On the other side of them, Jason and Alex were cuddled together looking into each other's eyes as though they were the only ones in the room.

Tammy had been serving as remote control operator and had turned the TV off when the kids went to change clothes. I was enjoying the feelings of happy fatherhood as I looked upon what I considered my brood, even though none of them were truly mine and two of them still belonged to other parents. My reverie was broken, however, as Tammy asked a question.

"Uncle Pop?"

"Yes, princess?"

"Can I ask you a question?"


"How did you get to be so comfortable with the fact that Jason and Alex love each other? I mean, you're a guy and a lot of guys I know just don't like gays. And even the ones who seem to tolerate them don't feel comfortable when they're around. Like my Dad, for example. He's almost homophobic. And Mitchell told me what Alex' Dad said about the two of them sleeping at his house. Geez, that had to hurt. But I was just watching you, and I can just guess what's going on behind me by the way you were smiling as you looked at Jason and Alex. How come you're so different?"

I told you Tammy was used to speaking her mind, didn't I? We were all used to it, so her question didn't hurt any feelings. But I watched as Mitchell turned over so that his girlfriend's head was now resting on his stomach, and the boyfriends turned to look at me to hear my response.

"Well, Tammy, I guess there are really several factors involved. Time, stories, discussions, and my relationship with God. You see, not too many years ago I was a lot like Alex' Dad is now, barely tolerant of same-sex relationships. As long as I wasn't confronted with one I was OK. But I didn't hesitate to speak out against them when provoked.

Then, I started reading stories on Nifty about gay couples. Quite honestly, I have no idea what first drew me to those stories, feeling the way I did about gays, but there it is. I found some that were true love stories, and I followed some of those to a message board where I was able to discuss things with gay men.

I began to learn about the love aspect of gay relationships and suddenly realized that I had always fixated on the sex act between two men. I guess this opened my eyes to look at some gay/lesbian couples that I know and I began to look at these people as people in love, rather than just people having sex. Eventually instead of using the scriptures and my own interpretation of what God's purpose must have been for creating man and woman, I began to look at where love truly comes from. And it's my understanding of how much God loves me that helped me see that since God is love, wherever love is, God must be also."

"But how can you understand God's love? I always have trouble even relating to it because it's so ... ethereal ... so hard to grasp. I mean, I know what the Bible says in John 3:16, but Jesus died so long ago, it's hard to relate to. His death and the love it's supposed to represent happened so long ago... I don't know, it's hard for me to explain."

"I know exactly what you mean, princess. I had the same trouble for years. Until I finally stopped trying to elevate myself to God's level and brought Him down to mine."

"How do you do that?"

"Well, when I want to get really close to God, I think of Him in terms of my Dad. I picture myself climbing into His lap, just as I used to climb into my Dad's. I think of Him wrapping His arms around me and rubbing his chin on my head, just like Dad used to do. And I think of Jesus the same way, only in terms of my older brother, Bob."

At this point, Jason spoke up.

"Why don't you read us that story you wrote, Dad? The one you read to Mitch and me right after you moved in with us."

"I guess I could, Jason, if you think it will help. But you know it made me cry when I read it to you guys."

"That's OK, Dad," Mitchell added. "It's a great story, Tammy. Tell her and Alex the background, Dad."

"Well, I was trying to come up with a way to relate to Christ's death on the cross, and this story just seemed to pop into my head. At first I didn't think too much of it, but after about four or five days in a row of this story coming back to me over and over, I decided to write it down. As I wrote it, I was thinking of two sets of boys, my brother and me, and Mitchell and Jason. I actually wrote it when Jason was eleven and Mitchell was 14."

I reached over and picked up the Bible from the end table and withdrew the story from the back. Mitchell and Jason knew what was coming, and I watched as they put their arms around their partner and drew them closer, anticipating the story. Then I began reading.

"Think of yourself and someone older than you, someone you look up to and admire. I picture myself and my older brother, but the story is written in the first person, as though I were Jason. The older person in the story, Mitchell, represents Jesus.

Mitchell and I are standing on a street corner at dusk. I have always admired Mitchell; he's someone I look up to. The sidewalks are almost deserted. What few people there are seem to be hurrying to get home. They don't really pay much attention to the two of us standing there waiting for the light to turn green so we can cross the street and finish our own trip home. Traffic isn't too heavy, so the few cars and trucks that go by are speeding through the intersection at a pretty good clip. Mitchell is holding onto my hand tightly, because I'm impatient to cross the street."

Jason sort of giggled at this, because he saw the truth in it.

"Come on, let's go," I say as I tug on his hand and step toward the curb. "The traffic isn't bad. We can make it."

"No," Mitchell says. "It isn't time yet. Wait for the light."

But I keep insisting. The light seems to be staying red for such a long time.

"I don't want to wait. I want to get home to watch TV. Come on, we can run fast. See, there's hardly any cars at all." And I continue to tug on Mitchell's hand as his grip tightens.

"Patience, Jason, there's plenty of time. Let's wait til it's safe," Mitchell answers.

But the light just doesn't change fast enough. So in my youthful way, I suddenly jerk my hand from his and step off the curb. I back into the street as I turn to face my brother, taunting, "I don't have to listen to you! You're not my Dad. I can do what I want! See?"

I notice Mitchell and Jason exchanging glances.

Just then a big eighteen wheeler, running without its lights on yet, seems to come out of nowhere. I don't even see it coming. But Mitchell does. Without a moment's hesitation, he jumps into the street and knocks me out of the path of the truck. Of course, as he does, he is struck himself and knocked clear across the intersection. Suddenly the streets are empty, no pedestrians, no vehicles, just me looking down on the broken and bleeding body of my brother.

I kneel down beside him. His leg is broken, obvious even to a person as young as me. It's bent in places it shouldn't be. His shirt is bloody, and the thought flashes through my mind that a rib must be broken and poking through the skin. But except for a little blood running down his cheek, my brother's face is unblemished.

I sit in the road and cradle his body in my lap. And as only an eleven year old can, I weep. I can see the pain on Mitchell's face, but although he's still alive, he struggles for every breath.

"Why?! Why did you do that?!" I scream. As I rock back and forth, all I can say, over and over again is, "I'm sorry! I am so sorry! Please don't die. I didn't mean for this to happen! I'm sorry!"

For hours it seems to go on like this, all alone on a deserted street, just me weeping and my brother struggling to breathe. Finally he speaks.

And what do you think he says? .... Does he say,

"I told you so! Why didn't you listen to me?" or ....

"God's going to get you for this!" or ....

"This is all your fault!"

No.... As I feel the life ebbing from his body, my brother looks up at me, a look of serenity on his face, a single tear escaping from the corner of his eye; and he whispers the three words I've have heard him say so many times I take them for granted ...

"I love you."

"Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins because He loves us, Tammy, just as Mitchell died in front of a truck to save Jason from his actions because he loves him. If He can love me that much, how can I not love Jason and Alex as well as you and Mitchell?"

I looked briefly at each couple, one straight, one gay, all four with tears in their eyes. I got up and started toward the kitchen, grabbing my handkerchief on the way. As I got to the doorway, I turned and looked back. It was the first time I had seen Jason and Alex kissing each other in front of anybody other than me. But it didn't appear that Mitchell and Tammy were paying any attention.

As I left the kitchen and turned at the foot of the stairs, I dimmed the lights in the TV room. The kids were snuggled down together and looked so precious I decided to leave them as they were. With all four of them in one room, I knew I had nothing to be concerned about, and I just didn't feel like disturbing them.

When I came down for breakfast the next morning, I saw that the kids were no longer on the floor. They had probably gotten cold or uncomfortable. Seeing Alex on the couch, I craned my neck at the foot of the stairs so I could see the door to the guest room. It was closed. I felt good that the kids had resisted the natural desire to finish the night in each other's arms and had honored the house rules.

By the time the kids were up, I had a large breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, cereal and toast just about ready. There was fruit on the table, but fortunately the guys didn't start with the fruit jokes again. We sat around the table with the kids in their pj's and me in my sweats and enjoyed each other's company. After breakfast the kids bundled up and went outside to slide on the icy streets. Jason dug out some sweats for Tammy to wear, and it turned out that they fit her pretty well. I think she rather enjoyed wearing them as a matter of fact, and Jason sure looked proud when she came downstairs and thanked him.

Actually the bad weather served a good purpose. It gave me at least one extra set of hands, if not two, to help trim the Christmas tree. When that was done, I hung the stockings on the mantle. I even found one for Tammy and one for Alex.

"What're you going to put in those, Uncle Pop?"

"Well, Alex, in my family, we always filled them with candy, fruit and nuts."

What happened next surprised and embarrassed us all. But it sure was funny. Without hesitation, Tammy grabbed Mitchell's crotch and yelled, "I got the nuts!"

I immediately grabbed Jason and Alex around their waists and hollered, "I got the fruits!"

Mitchell, his face as red as I've ever seen it, simply said, "I'm not even gonna go there! I'll go to the candy store later."

We all cracked up as Tammy fell on the floor laughing and pointing at Mitchell's face. I don't think any of us had ever seen him so embarrassed. Alex whispered something to Jason, and they began to laugh even harder.

"What was that Alex?"

"No, I can't say it."

"Sure you can, What did you say to Jason?"

"Not in front of Tammy, Uncle Pop!"

"After what she just did to Mitchell, I don't think you need to be bashful. Tell us."

"I just said, candy's dandy but sex won't rot your teeth."

It took several minutes for all of us to come down to earth and act like normal human beings.

Nancy and her family came over Christmas Eve to go to church and spend the night with us. Since they were in the guest room, Alex slept across the street at his house. But he was on our doorstep as soon as he saw the lights go on the next morning. His family always opens their presents after church on Christmas Eve so his folks can sleep in on Christmas morning.

When all the presents had been distributed and unwrapped and the older kids had doted on Amber to everyone's enjoyment, Alex asked if he could share his favorite present with the rest of us. It turned out to be a letter from his Dad.

Dearest Alex, I've been thinking a lot about what I said to you when you complained about the new rules at Jason's house. I know what I said hurt you deeply, and I am so sorry for that. I love you, son, more than life itself, and I never meant to hurt you that way. I love Jason, too, and am happy that you guys have each other. It's just that I have so much trouble getting used to you guys showing your affection for each other in front of me. I didn't really mean you couldn't spend the night together here at our house, and I certainly didn't mean to call Jason (and therefore you) a queer. I want you to know that you and Jason are always welcome at our house. Be patient with me, son. I'm just a man struggling to change. But I'm also your Dad, and I love you very much.

By the time he was finished reading the letter, we were all crying.

Throughout the distribution and opening of presents, Jason and Mitchell seemed to be on edge, nervous, anxious to get things done. As we cleaned up the wrapping paper and bows and got the living room more or less back in order, I noticed the boys whispering with Nancy in a conspiratorial way. Their grins and giggles sort of told me they had something up their sleeve, but I wasn't even close to imagining what it was.

I had just sat down in my chair with a fresh Pepsi when Jason and Mitchell came to stand in front of me. Jason was holding what appeared to be a shirt box, all nicely wrapped with ribbon and bow as Mitchell spoke for the two of them.

"There's one more present we almost forgot. This is something Jason and I have been working on for several weeks, and we hope you'll like it."

Jason handed me the box and I immediately realized it wasn't heavy enough to be a shirt. I suspected they had wrapped an ugly tie in a big box as a joke. As I began to unwrap it, the boys kept shifting from one foot to the other and looking at each other then at me. Tammy and Alex simply had looks of curiosity on their faces, but Nancy and John were wearing huge grins.

Lifting off the lid, I peeled back the tissue paper to find a letter with the letterhead of Judge Thomas Watkins, Dallas County Family Court. Judge Watkins was an active member of our church and sang tenor with me in the choir. Silence reigned as I began to read his letter.

Dear Dan,

In my capacity as Judge of Family Court, I am required to make decisions that affect the lives of both children and adults. Sometimes those decisions are very difficult and result in causing pain for some of the parties involved. Rarely am I called upon to do something that brings me an overwhelming sense of joy. A few weeks ago, Mitchell and Jason came to me during the Sunday School hour and asked for my help on an issue which was extremely important to them. We spoke that day and have spoken several times since. They convinced me of their sincerity about this matter and further convinced me to deal with the issue at hand in a rather unique manner.

You know me well enough to know that I view my responsibilities as Judge of Family Court very seriously. There are certain procedures that we follow here in Dallas County to maintain good order and consistent application of the laws of this state. However, the case which the boys presented to me called for several variances to those established procedures. After listening to their pleas and arguments, I decided to grant their request.

Stanley Bottoms (he was also a member of our church) has prepared the attached documents which I have already reviewed and found to be in good order. The only thing remaining to be accomplished is getting these documents signed and recorded.

The next sentence caused me some concern and I could feel my heartbeat increase as I read it.

Therefore, you are hereby ordered to appear before me at 8:30 on the morning of December 26 in the Dallas County Family Court, room 204, at which time you will be required to affirm the orders of this court by testimony and signature of the afore-mentioned documents.

Thomas E. Watkins

Lying in the box were three legal documents with the standard blue covers. I wept openly as I read the title of the first document -

Regarding the Adoption

of Mitchell Ashley Stevens and Jason Bradley Stevens

by Daniel Stanford Bedinger

And behind that one were two others. The first one read -

Petition for Change of Name

Mitchell Ashley Stevens


Mitchell Ashley Stevens Bedinger

The second one was for Jason.

I wish I could tell you that I leapt for joy, whooping and hollering and laughing, but I can't. It seems tears are my first expression of emotion in almost every circumstance, be it sorrow or joy, love or anger. So I cried, dammit.

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I looked over at Nancy who was beaming and nodding her head yes. She knew me. She knew what my tears meant. She'd seen them often enough as she was growing up.

I guess my tears and my silence were getting to Jake, though, because I soon heard his pleas.

"Please say yes, Dad. Please?" Jason had tears in his eyes also. Was he afraid I'd say anything else?

"Please, Dad?" was all Mitchell could say as before he started crying and both boys knelt down in front of me so that we could join in a three-way hug.

I still couldn't respond. As I said, I've cried lots of tears in my life, tears of pain and sorrow, love and joy. The tears of love and joy are by far the best.

When I finally regained my composure and washed the tears from my eyes and face, all of us sat around and talked about what the boys had done. They explained how they had cornered the judge and explained everything to him, how he had talked with their grandmother and with Pastor, and how the three of them had gotten Stanley to prepare the documents. Evidently the boys really had to work hard to convince Judge Watkins to approve this "adoption in reverse" as the boys were calling it.

Nancy was excited to have two new brothers and even admitted that although being an only child had been OK, she had always wished she had siblings. And now Amber would have some uncles. Alex was almost as excited as Jason and kept saying that he couldn't believe Jason had been able to keep the secret.

"We tell each other everything," he said. "I can't believe he was able to keep this from me. I didn't have a clue!"

Fortunately Nancy and John had the week after Christmas off, so they were able to join us at the courthouse the next morning. After the papers were signed and recorded, we all went out for a huge family breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants. By mid-afternoon the adults were all dozing in front of the fire while the kids were out visiting their friends and telling everyone what had happened. I finally had Amber to myself, and she was sleeping in my lap.

It was certainly one of the best Christmases of my life up to that point and would probably be the absolute best as far as the rest of my life was concerned.

Epilogue to Part One -

I want to apologize to those who might be disappointed at the lack of sex in this story. As I got further and further into it, I became so much a part of the boys' lives that just thinking of describing what they might be doing with each other felt like an invasion of their privacy.

I struggled with where to end this part of the story and ultimately decided that perhaps Christmas with the adoption of Mitchell and Jason wasn't such a bad place after all. There WILL BE a Part Two which will pick up where this one leaves off and follow Jason and Alex through their high school years. But right now I am eager to write Part Two of The Root Beer Boys which will deal with Brian and his search for a boyfriend.

As always, comments are welcome at and are usually answered. Since I have not begun Part Two, you may offer whatever suggestions you wish as long as they stay within the true essence of this story - love, not sex, between two adolescents. Of course, as the author I reserve the right to choose what to use.

© 2000 by Dan. All rights reserved.