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Chapter 37 – Lunch with the ‘Rents

 

“What!?  You’re shittin’ me.”

 

“Not at all, babe.  I wouldn’t dream of shittin’ you, Max, not on something like that.”

 

“I guess I better go say hi,” I said as I walked past Tom towards the front door.

 

“That’s what good sons do when their parents show up at their front door.  Especially when they’ve been invited,” he laughed to my back as he fell in trail behind me.  I hustled my ass to the door to find my dad standing with his hands stuffed in his pockets, frown flooding his face, and mom with her arms crossed across her chest, staring at dad in contempt.

 

“Mom, dad, I wasn’t sure you were coming today,” I said as I gave her a hug.  “You should have called.”

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her forcing me into the damn car,” dad replied.

 

“Jim, would you please stop being such an insufferable ass,” mom sniped.

 

“Look you two, if you don’t want to be here, then go.  I want you here, but only of your own free will.”

 

“Max, honey,” mom started, “I want to be here, it just him that’s bein’ a pain.  Someday, he’s gonna’ have to pull on his big boy boxers and learn to deal with life as it is and not how he thinks it should be.”

 

“Thanks, mom.  Look, I know you all kinda met already, but let’s make this real.  Mom, dad, this is my fiancé, Tom Wright.  Tom, this lovely lady is my mom, Rose, and the grumpy old fart with her is my dad, Jim.”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Tom said in greeting as he hugged my mom and shook my dad’s hand, after which, dad wiped his hand on his pants as if he was afraid of catching something.  “I want to thank you both for having such a wonderful son.  He’s saved me from a very lonely life and he’s saving five very special boys from very rough lives, also.  You’ve done a wonderful job to help build him into the loving and caring man he is today.”

 

“Thank you, Tom,” mom replied.  “It’s nice to meet you, too.  And thank you for those kind words, but we can’t take all the credit for Max being who he is.  He bears most of that responsibility himself.”

 

“Yeah, I ain’t takin’ no blame for what he is,” dad grumped.

 

“Dad, chill out or go home.  If you’re gonna’ do nothin’ but bitch all afternoon, take the car and leave, and I’ll bring mom home later.”

 

“Excellent idea, I’m outta’ here,” he replied as he turned towards the door.

 

“James Emory Sanders, you stop that crap right now!” mom scolded as she grabbed his arm and held him in his place.  “You told me this morning you’d come with me and be nice this afternoon.  I expect you to live up to that promise or you’ll regert it later.”

 

“Fine,” he fumed.  “I’ll stay and play nice, but that don’t mean I have to like it.”

 

“Thank you, you obstinate, old prick.  Honestly, some days I wonder why I’ve stayed with you this long.”

 

“Must be because you love my cheery disposition.”

 

“Don’t bet on it, buster.”

 

“Then how about my stellar skills in the bedroom?”

 

“Really, Jim?  Don’t you dare go there.  You’ll regret it, I promise.”

 

“Why don’t we go chat in the living room until Tom’s parents get here?” I asked, trying to change the course of the conversation before it sailed off the edge of the Earth.  Mom grabbed dad’s arm, dragged him into the living room and made him sit, then sat herself in the chair next to him.  Tom and I followed along behind, Tom covering his mouth with his hand and doing everything he could to keep from laughing out loud.

 

After taking our seats, mom asked, “So, Tom, how are you doing?  Are you feeling better?”

 

“I’m doing pretty well, I think.  The dizziness has stopped, the headache is mostly gone, along with the ringing in my left ear.  The worst part right now is the incessant itching and bein’ afraid to scratch it.  Max has been taking great care of me, though, hovering over me like an old mother hen.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you’re on the mend.  It must have been scary for you.”

 

“I was scared to hell and back.  I’ve been on the force for five years and this is the first time I’ve had to use my gun, and I’ve been lucky enough to not get hurt in any other way.  I was scared for Max and the boys, too.  I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to tell them I was hurt.  That would not have been a fun phone call to make.”

 

“How’d you find out, son?” mom asked.

 

“Tom’s boss, Dylan, drew the short straw and got the unfortunate task of making the call.  I was ready to head for the hospital as soon he told me what had happened, but Dylan reminded me I had seven boys here and couldn’t really go anywhere.  But once Carol got here, I took off and was scared to death all the way to the ER.  Then those idiots wouldn’t let me back in the treatment room with Tom and that just pissed me off even more.”

 

“Well, that’s just ridiculous.  What was their excuse for treating you like that?”

 

“They said that since we weren’t married, I wasn’t a ‘family member’ and couldn’t go in to be with him.  Dylan set them straight on that once he arrived.”

 

“Good for him.  Now, who’s this Carol person?”

 

“Carol is the wonderful woman at the child service agency that’s working with me on the boys’ adoption.  She stayed with the boys until Lee and Carl could make it out here to take over.”

 

“You could have called us, you know.  We would have come out to stay with the boys, or come to the ER to wait with you.”

 

“I’m sorry, mom, I didn’t think about calling anybody Saturday night, not even Tom’s parents.  The only reason I called Lee was I needed to get to the hospital and she’d at least met the boys before.  I wanted someone they knew at least a little bit to be here.  Especially with all that was going on.”

 

“I understand, son.  I know things have been uncomfortable between us for a while, but we intend to change that, don’t we Jim?”

 

“Don’t be draggin’ me into your little fantasy, woman.”

 

“Jim!  I told you to stop behaving like a five-year old.”

 

“Bah, whatever.”

 

“I’m sorry, you two,” mom started, looking back to Tom and me.  “His blind adherence to his religious upbringing has clouded his vision and he has a hard time accepting new things.”

 

“But mom, you have to admit, you weren’t really that open-minded yourself.  What’s happened that’s changed your mind?”

 

“Well, dear, you remember Helen and Libby from down the street?”

 

“Of course, I do, they always had cookies or some sweet treat for us kids in the neighborhood.  They were also the best house to hit on Halloween.  They always had a great candy selection, and lots of it.  And we could take whatever we wanted.  But, what about them?”

 

“Well, a couple weeks after you told us about who you are, Libby died of a heart attack.”

 

“Oh, my, I had no idea.  How’s Helen doing?”

 

“She’s better now, but it still hurts her deeply.  I’ve spent a lot time with her the past several months, helping her deal with things and learning more about both women.  I had always assumed they were just roommates, sharing the house, but after about a week of sitting with her and talking about life, love and all that that entails, I slowly began to realize they were lesbians.”  Dad cringed as the word escaped mother’s lips, which earned him a slap on his thigh.  “Through our talks, I discovered they loved each other just like your father and I do, for better, for worse, for richer or poorer, all of it.  Knowing how’d I feel if this miserable old geezer suddenly left us, I gained an insight into their lives together and realized they really weren’t any different from Jim and me.  Libby was a wonderful woman, full of love and fun, always had a kind word for everybody.  I feel really bad for Helen, but I’m doing what I can.”

 

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

 

“Not really, son.  She’s just really down and I don’t know what anyone can do to help her.”

 

“They never really seemed to work or have much money.  Is she okay with her finances?”

 

“Oh, yes.  Helen had inherited a tidy sum from her father when he passed, and she and Libby have made some very good investments over the years, so she’s just fine in that regard.”

 

“Do you think she’d like a visit?  I’d be happy to stop by and spend some time with her.”

 

“Oh, that would be wonderful, Max.  She’d love some company, she’s so lonely without Libby being there.  And I’m sure she’d love to see you again and see how you’ve turned out.  She’s read all your books, you know.  She thinks it’s really something to have known a famous author long before he hit the big time.  It would be lovely if you could go during the weekend so you could take your sons and Tom with you.  You know they always loved you kids, but she and Libby could never have any of their own, of course.  Not in those days, anyway.”

 

“Consider it done, mom.”  I turned to my soon-to-be spouse and asked, “What do you think, big guy, you up for dropping in on a lonely older lady?”

 

“I’d love to, Max.  That’d be fun.  Lord knows I’ll be ready to do something different by the weekend.”

 

After I turned my attention back to my mom, I said, “Mom, I have to ask.  When the boys and I came by Sunday, you didn’t say anything about helping Helen and how you’ve seemed to have changed your mind about people like us.  Why didn’t you?”

 

“Because, regardless how I feel or what I might think or have changed in these past few months, I still have to live with your father.  Life is just easier to let him think he’s always right.  You know how he gets when things aren’t the way he thinks they should be.”

 

“Gotcha’, mom.  Say no more.  I’m glad you’re finally changing your attitude, it really means a lot to me.”

 

Ding!

 

“That can’t be Vinnie coming back already, that must be your mom and dad, Tom.”

 

“Who’s Vinnie,” dad asked.  “Sounds like a hoodlum name.”

 

“Vinnie’s moving some furniture for Tom and me, dad, and he’s not a hoodlum.”

 

“W-e-e-e-ll, he isn’t now, but a couple years ago, that’s whole other story,” Tom chuckled.

 

“Nice, Tom.  Way to help me out.”

 

“No sweat, babe.  Just tryin’ to do my part.”

 

“They sound just like the two of us, Jim,” mom laughed.

 

“Don’t you go comparin’ us to them.  You know this shit ain’t right.”

 

“Yes, master,” mom replied sarcastically as she rolled her eyes.

 

Tom and I headed to the door to meet his parents and Tom opened the door right after his mom rang the chimes, which made her jump in surprise.

 

“Whoops, sorry, ma, didn’t mean to scare ya.”

 

“I’m just glad we’re in the right place, son.  How’d you get to the door so fast.  You opened it right after I punched the button.  I expected to have a wait at least few moments.”

 

“There’s a sensor at the end drive that dings here in the house, so we always know someone’s comin’ before they actually get to the house.  Come on in,” he said as he waved a hand to beckon them inside.  Once they were inside and the door was closed, Tom took their coats and hung them in the closet. 

 

“Now, let me see your head, young man.  I need to make sure you’re okay,” his mom said in greeting.

 

“In a little bit mom, there are other things that are more important than my stupid head.  Mom, dad, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Max Sanders.  Max, this is my mom, Estelle, and my dad, Bill.”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” I greeted them, giving his mom a peck on the cheek and shaking his dad’s hand.  “Welcome to our home.  Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

 

“And what a lovely home it is, Max,” Estelle commented.  “I adore the open feeling you’ve created with all the glass.  And the location is absolutely perfect.”

 

“That’s exactly what I was looking for when I had it designed, open, almost like bringing the outside in.  And you’re absolutely right about the location.  I didn’t want to have to worry about any neighbors.  Shall we go to the living room so you can meet my mom and dad?”  I led the way to where my parents were sitting and made the introductions.  “Mom, dad, these fine folks are Tom’s parents, Bill and Estelle Wright.  Bill, Estelle, let me introduce my parents, Jim and Rose Sanders.”  All four met in the middle of the room, exchanged hugs and handshakes and then sat down.

 

“Why don’t you four get acquainted while Tom and I get to work in the kitchen so we can eat?”  I turned to Tom and said, “Let’s go, big guy.” 

 

Tom followed me as I turned to leave and whispered in my ear, “Did you hire a referee for the afternoon and not tell me?”

 

“They’ll be fine, Tom,” I whispered back.

 

When we reached the kitchen, I turned up the flame under the water for the spaghetti to get a full boil going and gave the sauce a quick stir.  Tom started working on getting the garlic bread in the oven and then putting together a salad.  While he did that, I pulled out the plates, bowls, silver and other things we would need to set the table.

 

 

“So, Estelle, where do you and Bill live?” Rose asked to start a conversation.

 

“Down close to Alton in a little hole-in-the-wall town named Grafton.”

 

“Oh, I just love Grafton, with all those little shops and things.  We’ve been there several times when we’ve stayed at the lodge at Pere Marquette State Park.  It’s a beautiful area, especially in the fall.”

 

“Well, the next time you come down, we’ll have to get together.”

 

“That sounds like fun Estelle, I’ll look forward to it.”

 

“Where do you and Jim live,” Bill asked.

 

“In Springfield, on the southeast side of town.”

 

“That’s nice,” Estelle said.  “You must get to see Max pretty often, then.  I do wish Tom lived closer to us so we could see more of him.”

 

“In all honesty, Estelle, we really haven’t seen each other as much as we used to.  It’s not been easy between us since he told he was gay.  I’m hoping we can improve that soon, though.”

 

“It wasn’t easy for us, either, after Tom came out, was it, Bill?”

 

“No, it wasn’t.  And it took us quite a while to resolve our love for our son and what our church says about homosexuals.”

 

“And, just how did you work your way through that,” Jim asked, disgust apparent in his voice.

 

“We finally decided that our son means more to us than the church does,” Bill answered calmly.  “Once we reached that conclusion, the rest has been fairly easy.  After all, Tom is our family, the church isn’t.”

 

“So, you just ignore what the Bible says about queers?” Jim spat back at Bill.

 

“I suppose you could put it that way, if you choose to do so.  I prefer to say that we’ve finally decided that love is love, Jim, and as long the people involved and effected by that love are in agreement, it’s not our place to judge, demean or ridicule them for it.”

 

“Besides,” Estelle added, “We don’t have to sleep with Tom and who he does sleep with is none of our concern or business.  If Tom is happy in his life and with his decision to marry Max and he intends to help raise their sons together in a home and a relationship that is based on love and acceptance for each other, then we’re going to be happy for all of them.”

 

“But how can you just set aside the word of God?” Jim pushed.

 

“You want an honest answer to that question, Jim, or do you want to just hear something that will make you feel better?”

 

“Damn right!  I want a straight answer to a straight question!” Jim demanded.

 

 

“Uh-oh”, I said, “Sounds like someone’s about to jump off a cliff in there.  Should I go regain control?”

 

“Nah, that sounded like your dad’s voice.  Don’t you worry, my mom and dad can take care of themselves,” Tom replied.  “Besides, it sounds like it’s about to get real interesting.”

 

“I hope you’re right.”

 

 

“Well, Jim, remember, you asked for this.  After Tom told us he was gay, our initial reaction was probably pretty close to your reaction when Max told you he was gay.  We’re of the same generation, after all, and I’m sure we were all raised with pretty much the same beliefs and attitudes.”  Bill received nods from the others with that statement.  “Estelle and I spent a long time thinking about how to deal with our feelings about it.  After a lot of research about the bible, religion in general and homosexuality and some very serious talks between the two of us, we finally reached an understanding with each other.”

 

“And what is your ‘understanding’?”

 

“We both now believe that while some parts of the bible are good and basically trying to guide people into doing the right thing, it’s real purpose was to control the masses that were being governed and led by the church.  By spoon-feeding the stories, myths and parables written in the bible to the population as the absolute truth and the word of god, it was easier to control them.  Without that control, the church would mean nothing.  The bible leaves very little room for free thought and there are so many different interpretations by different groups of what is written, that it really comes down to what you choose to believe.  We decided to believe in ourselves and our son’s ability to make his own decisions about who he is and the life he wants.  If Tom says he’s gay, then he is.  He could no more change that part of himself than you or I could change being straight.  It’s really that simple.”

 

“And you’re fine with him marrying another man?  The Bible says that’s wrong, you know.”

 

“I know it does, and it says a lot of other things about marriage that were maybe acceptable 2,000 years ago, but not acceptable today, doesn’t it?  If Tom and Max feel that being married is the right thing for them, who are we to judge that decision between two adults?  Their being married does not involve or effect any of us in any way.  The only thing marriage does for them is give them both legal rights the four of us enjoy only because we happened to have been born male and female.  Again, should they be denied those same rights simply because they are both men?  The easy answer to that question is, no, they shouldn’t.”

 

“But the Bible is the word of God, it needs to be followed or our civilization will fall,” Jim argued.

 

“No, Jim, the bible and all the other religious texts out there, as they’re written, are the words of men masquerading as the word of a god, all in an effort to control people.  And they’ve been very successful in doing so for hundreds of years.  Besides, do you know how many different religions exist in the world today?  Thousands upon thousands of them.  And you know the one thing they all claim?  That each one is the only real belief set the rest of the world should blindly follow and that all the others are wrong.  That is true of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, whatever, all of them believe they are the right one.  They can’t all possibly be the one, can they.  How could any one person decide which one is truly the one that is right. 

 

“And, one more thing to keep in mind with all of this is that even though every person on this earth has, I believe, the basic right to follow whatever belief set they choose for whatever reason they choose, they do not have the right to force others to believe as they do.  After going through all this in the five years since Tom opened up and let us know who he is, I now believe, and I think Estelle agrees with me on this, that the best any of us can do is to lead a good life and help our fellow man, be kind, loving, supportive and to never pass judgement on anyone for any reason.”  Estelle nodded her agreement with her husband.  Surprisingly, so did Rose.

 

“I still think you’re all wrong,” Jim responded.

 

“And that’s your absolute right to do so, just like it’s ours to believe you’re the one that’s wrong.”  Bill turned to Rose and said, “I notice that you nodded, like you agree with what I said.”

 

“I do, Bill.  I didn’t six months ago, but I do now.”

 

“If you don’t mind my asking, what made you change your mind, Rose,” Estelle asked.  Mom told Bill and Estelle the story about Helen and Libby and what she learned in the past few months helping Helen adjust to a new life after her loss.

 

“Well, first, we’re sorry for her loss, it’s always hard to lose a loved one,” Estelle replied, “But isn’t it amazing how things and people can change you, even when they don’t affect you directly.”

 

“It certainly is.  I know, without a doubt, hearing the stories Helen told me of her life with Libby made me rethink many of the things I grew up believing and still believed.  Once I had the epiphany that love is love, as you so eloquently said, I realized that I had been wrong all those years and I feel horrible about how we’ve treated our son.  I just wish Jim would have been more involved with helping Helen, maybe he’d be in a more receptive mood today.”

 

“Rose,” Bill interjected, “you aren’t responsible for what Bill thinks and there’s nothing you, or anyone else for that matter, could do to change that.  That’s entirely up to him.  If he’d like to join the rest of the civilized world in the 21st century, he’ll have to do that on his own.”

 

“I will not have you talking about me like I’m not here, damn it.  I’m entitled to my own thoughts and feelings.”

 

“You certainly are, but don’t expect us to join you in your hate-a-thon.  Estelle and I have moved past that and we don’t intend to return to that place in our lives.  We love our son too much to hold on to views whose time has long since passed.”

 

 

“Well, that was certainly interesting.  You were right, Tom, your mom and dad can certainly hold their own.”

 

“Told ya’ they could.  How’s the spaghetti doing?  Is it ready yet?”

 

“Oh, shit, I got so engrossed in our eavesdropping, I forgot all about it.  I hope it’s not overcooked.”  I checked it really quick and was happy to find it was perfect.  “Nope, were good.  Let’s get the table set and eat.”  Working together, we had everything ready to go in just a couple of minutes.  “Why don’t you get the ‘rents while I open a bottle of wine?”

 

“Be right back, babe.”  Tom headed to the living room while I retrieved a nice bottle of wine to go with our pasta and we all met back in the dining room. 

 

Just as we were sitting down, Tom and me at the ends of the table, the ladies on one side and the men on the other, I heard the door to the garage open and a moment later Vinnie stuck his head around the corner to say, “Hi, y’all.  Yo, Maxie, we’re back to work on the other room but you can just ignore us.  Enjoy your lunch.”

 

“Were you able to back up to the garage door or were cars in your way?”

 

“There was a car there, but don’t worry ‘bout it, we’ll work around it.  Promise we won’t hit it with nothin’.  Talk to you later, Maxie.”  With that parting shot, he turned around and headed back to move more junk.

 

“Maxie?” mom snickered.

 

“Yeah, that was the mover, Vinnie, and his crew is Frankie, Paulie, Benny, Willy and Junior.  He seems to think I’m Maxie and probably thinks Tom is supposed to be Tommy.”

 

“Oh, no you don’t, Max.  You are not lumping me in with the rest of his family,” Tom laughed.

 

“Why Junior?” Bill asked.

 

“Well, Junior is Frankie’s son.  Vinnie said it would cause too much confusion to call ‘em both Frankie all day long.”

 

“Got it,” he snorted.

 

“Tom,” Estelle started, “Have you and Max set a date for your wedding, yet?”

 

“Not yet, ma.  We have a couple of busy weeks ahead of us and probably won’t have much time to think about it until after the twins’ birthday the 13th and their party on the 15th.”

 

“Oh, that’s right.  We’re planning to be here for that, also.  We don’t want to miss our new grandsons’ first birthday with their new family, do we, Bill?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it for anything.  When are the other boys’ birthdays?”

 

“That’s a damn good question, Bill,” I laughed.  “I’ll have to look and let you know.  I remember T.J.’s is in April and Mike’s is May sometime, but I don’t remember the days.  Will you be coming up Thursday night for the little family only get together that night or on Saturday when the boys will have their friends from school over?”

 

“We’ll probably come up Thursday for the smaller party.  We wouldn’t want to horn in on their time with their friends.” 

 

“I’ll be here Thursday night, also,” mom said.  “I don’t want to be in the way on Saturday, either.”

 

“That’s great, mom, what about you dad?”

 

“Don’t hold your breath, boy,” Jim answered.  I just shook my head.

 

“Tom, it just hit me, we need to find out when Andy’s birthday is, don’t we?”

 

“We sure do, any reason to have a party, I’m in.  Um, speaking of birthday’s, Max, when’s yours?” he asked with a goofy grin splitting his mug.  Three out of four parents laughed at the question.

 

“October 12, when’s yours?” I asked, returning the same goofy grin.

 

“June 18.  There’s two more parties we have to plan for.”

 

“Now, wait just a doggone minute, son,” my mom started, “You two are getting married and didn’t know when the other’s birthday was?”

 

“I guess not, mom,” I chuckled.  “We’ve been so busy getting everyone settled in that we just hadn’t got that far yet.  We would have, eventually, I’m sure.  We have the rest of our lives to learn all the little things about each other.”

 

“That’s right, Mrs. Sanders,” Tom added.  “I fully intend to make the most of our life together.  Why worry about little things like birthdays?”

 

“Please, Tom, call me Rose.  Mrs. Sanders sounds so formal, and I’m just not a formal person.”

 

“If it pleases you, I’ll be happy to do so.”

 

“So, Tom, what are Vinnie and his guys doing for you?” Bill asked.

 

“They’re moving furniture and other stuff out of a bedroom and storage room for us.  Max is having the bedroom redone a bit for Joey and Alex and the storage room is going to become my office for my new investigation business.”

 

“Tom, we’re having a bedroom and storage room redone, it’s not just me anymore.  You’re involved in these things, too.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m still adjusting to that.  Sorry, babe.”  My dad almost choked on his bite of garlic bread upon hearing that.

 

“Get over it, dad,” I said.

 

“Will we get to meet the boys today?” Estelle asked.

 

“I don’t see why not, as long as you plan to be here about a quarter to four when they get home from school,” I answered.

 

“That’s great, we’ll still be here, won’t we, Bill?”

 

“I’d hoped to leave a little earlier so we could eat supper at home, but what the heck, we got nothin’ but time, do we?  It’s not like we have to go to work in the morning, is it?”

 

“That’s the spirit, dear.  Seize the moment.  Thank you for being flexible.  I’d like to at least meet the boys and get to know them a little bit before we need to buy birthday presents.  It just wouldn’t do to get something for them and then have them not like it.”

 

The rest of the meal passed fairly quietly except for praise from Bill and Estelle for my pasta sauce, which I gracefully accepted.  When we were finally done eating, Tom and I got up to start clearing the table.

 

“What can we do to help, boys?” Estelle asked.

 

“We got it, ma, why don’t you all go sit in the living room.  We’ll, be there in a few.”

 

“No, I insist we help.  Come on, Bill, get off your behind and give us a hand.”  With Bill, Estelle, and my mom helping, we made very short work of the cleanup.  Dad, however, moved back to a chair in the living room to sulk, which was fine with me.  At least he wasn’t in the way and I didn’t have to see his sourpuss face.

 

“Now that we’re done with that, son, I’d like to see the rest of this beautiful house,” Estelle said.

 

“Why don’t you give the tour this time, Tom, I’ve done it myself all these years and you need some practice.  I’ll be in the living room with mom and dad.”

 

Mom and I headed to join dad while Tom took his parents on the grand tour. 

 

Just as we sat down, Vinnie poked his head around the corner from the hallway and hollered, “Yo, Maxie!”

 

“Right here, Vinnie, what’s up?”

 

“Whoops, sorry, guess I didn’t have to yell, did I?  Hey, we got the room emptied out so we’re gonna’ head back and get the truck unloaded.”

 

“That’s great, Vinnie.  You get everything in one load?”

 

“Sure did.  You want all this stuff stacked next to the other load we took out earlier?”

 

“That’d be fine Vinnie, thanks.”

 

“I’ll make sure your storage is locked up tight when we’re done and we’ll meet you at Tom’s apartment Friday morning about 9:00 to get that loaded up.  Good for you?”

 

“That’s perfect, Vinnie, but don’t you want paid now for today.”

 

“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it, Maxie.  I know where ya’ live if I need to send my collection agency,” he chuckled.  “Y’all have a good afternoon.  Sorry for interruptin’.”

 

“Thanks, Vinnie, see you Friday morning, then.”

 

“Lunch was delicious, dear,” mom said after Vinnie departed.  “I absolutely love the sauce you make.”

 

“Thanks, mom.  That means you did a good job when I was growing up as everything I know about cooking came from you.  So, what do you think of Tom?”

 

“He seems to be a dear fellow.  I think you two will be happy together for a long time to come.”

 

“I know we will.  When we met, it was Karma smiling on us.  Well, that and a little bit of help from Carol.”

 

“What did she have to do with you two meeting?” mom asked.  “I thought she was just helping you with the adoptions.”  I told her the story of Tom coming to help at the Mueller’s and what happened afterward, skipping, of course, any mention of nudity.  “I see I need to meet this Carol person so I can thank her for connecting you and Tom, and for helping you with your adoption of the boys.”

 

“You’ll get the chance to do that because she’ll be here for the party next Thursday night.  She doesn’t want to miss Joey and Alex’s birthday, but can’t be here Saturday.”

 

“That’s perfect, son.  I’ll have to get her a small gift, also.  I hope that would be acceptable.”

 

“You’ll probably just embarrass her, but if you want to do it, I won’t stop you.  What about you, dad?  You’re being awfully quiet over there.  Are you coming to the party with mom or are you going to make her come by herself?”

 

“Unlikely, boy.  I have no intention of supporting this unholy union or you havin’ those boys in this house with you and that other pervert.  It’s wrong and I won’t stand for it.”

 

“Why are being such a pain in the ass, dad?  This is my life and my decision, not yours.  You have absolutely no say in what I do anymore.”

 

“Yeah, we’ll see about that.  When the lawyer I’ve hired gets done with you, you won’t have a pot to piss in.”

 

“Jim, what the hell are you talking about!?” mom asked.

 

“Just what I said, damn it.  I’ve hired a lawyer to rescue those boys from these sickos and this house of perverted horrors.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing from him soon enough.”

 

“You know what, dad, I’m sick of your shit and your attitude!  You need to get the hell out of my house!”

 

“Gladly, I wanted to that and hour and a half ago and was told I couldn’t leave.  Come on, Rose, we’re outta’ here.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere with you, you crotchety old bastard,” mom retorted before turning back to me, “I’m sorry dear, I had no idea he was doing this.”

 

“I know you didn’t, mom.  You may not be really happy with who I am or the decisions I’m making in my life, but I know you would never go so far as to hire a lawyer to try and stop it.  It’s all him.  And he’s leaving, now, isn’t he?”

 

“Damn right I am, you fuckin’ faggot.”

 

“Fine, don’t let the door hit ya’ where your good lord split ya’ on your way out.”

 

“You worried about my ass, are ya’?  Figures, only a queer would say somethin’ like that.”  After that parting shot, he stormed across the living room and out the door, slamming it behind him.  As soon as the door was closed, mom burst into tears. 

 

Not ten seconds later, Tom and his parents came through the living room on their way back from the theater.  “Uh, Max, why is your mom crying and where’s your dad?” Tom asked with a hint of fear in his voice.

 

“He just left.  And with luck, we won’t be seeing him again.”

 

“What the hell happened?” Bill wanted to know.

 

“Sit down and I’ll tell ya’.”  Tom, Bill and Estelle took their chairs and I started explaining, “You’re not gonna’ believe this, Tom, but my pigheaded old man has hired a lawyer to rescue the boys from us, his word, not mine.  Like we can’t be trusted around children since we’re gay.”

 

“Oh, my god!” exclaimed Estelle.  She quickly switched chairs so she could sit by my mom and comfort her.

 

“Yeah, great way to cap off a nice lunch, isn’t it?  I think I’m gonna’ be sick,” I moaned as I hung my head between my knees.

 

“Max, we can deal with this.  Can’t we?” Tom asked.

 

“I need to call James.”

 

“Who is James,” Estelle asked.

 

“My attorney, has been for 12 years.  I’ll let him take care of this.  I’ll be back, folks.”

 

I left the living room to call James in privacy.  When his receptionist answered the phone, I told her who I was, that I had an emergency and needed to talk to James as soon as possible.  Five seconds later, James was on the line with me.

 

“What’s the emergency, Max?”

 

“Believe it or not, James, it’s my dad.  Time for you to earn your outrageous fees.”

 

“What’s he done?”

 

“He says he’s hired an attorney for the purpose of removing the boys from my home.  He can’t do that, can he?”

 

“I can’t imagine how he thinks he could possibly succeed.  Not unless he has irrefutable proof of child abuse or molestation.  He doesn’t, does he?”

 

“James, how the hell could you ask that question.  You know me better than that.”

 

“I know I do, Max, but I have to ask to know how to proceed.  Do you know why he’s doing this?”

 

“Damn right I do.  He’s miserable old prick with a serious religion problem who thinks that just because I’m gay, I must be a child molester.  He doesn’t think I have any business being around children of any kind.”

 

“Well, if that’s his plan of attack, we should be able to squash it like a bug.  He would have to have proof of something illegal happening to have any hope of winning a case like this.”

 

“Good, I was hoping you’d say that.  My fiancé and I don’t need this crap.  I need this killed, post-haste.”

 

“Wait, did you say fiancé?  When did that happen?”

 

“Last Saturday morning, just before he went off and got himself shot.”

 

“What the hell are talking about, Max?”

 

“It’s a long story, James, and I’m not up to it at the moment.  Just tell me you got a handle on this.”

 

“Don’t worry, Max, I got you covered.  I’ll find out who your dad’s hired to do this and take care of it.”

 

“Thank you, James.  Send me your bill when it’s all over.”

 

“You know I will.  I know you’re not in the mood for it right now, but try to have a good afternoon.”

 

“Yeah, right, fat chance of that.  Thanks for your help.”  We hung up and I stalked back to the living room.

 

“What’d he say, Max?” Tom asked as I rejoined the rest of the family.

 

“He said it shouldn’t be a problem unless dad has ‘irrefutable proof’ of something illegal going on.”

 

“So, no problem, then,” Tom replied.

 

“Who knows, Tom.  For all I know, the old man hired some freakin’ photographer to sneak through the woods and he has pictures of us swimming or something.”

 

“Uh, Max, ix-nay on the imming-sway,” Tom whispered.

 

“Tom, you do realize we know how to speak ig-pay atin-lay, right?” Bill asked.

 

“Sorry, dad.  Don’t know what I was thinking.”

 

“So, what’s the problem, he might have pictures of you swimming with the boys?  What’s the big deal?  They shouldn’t be swimming alone, anyway.”

 

“It’s not just that we’d be swimming, dad, there’s more to it than that.”

 

“What are you talking about, son?”

 

“Should I tell ‘em, Max, or you goin’ to?”

 

“You go ahead, I feel like my head’s going to explode right now.”

 

“Mom, dad, Rose, we’re nudists.”  My mom gasped in surprise, but Bill and Estelle acted like they’d heard nothing unusual.  “Max has been for years and the boys love it, too.  They’d go just about anywhere without clothes, if they could get away with it.  And though I’ve only been around here a short time, also, I’ve gotten used to it, too.”

 

“So what, who cares?” Estelle asked.  “You two think you’re the only people in this world who don’t wear clothes in your home or go skinny-dipping?  I got news for you, you aren’t, are they Bill?”

 

“Um, no, I guess not,” he mumbled.

 

“Wait, what are you saying?  You and dad?  Really?”

 

“Yes, son, really.” Rose replied.  “Oh, don’t be so damn surprised.  You know how secluded our property is, it’s a lot like this place.  Well, after we got married and before you were born, we didn’t wear clothes at home, either.  We continued for a couple years after you were born but when you started to get into everything, we decided it was time to cover up.  I mean, you would grab at damn near anything you could get your hands on and after you hurt your dad that one time…  Well, we decided common sense should prevail.  But, once you moved out on your own and it was just the two of us again, we kinda reverted to our old habits.”

 

“Oh, god, I had no idea.  Did I really do that, dad?”

 

“You sure did, and it hurt like hell, let me tell you.  And I wasn’t about to give you the opportunity to do it again, either.  Oh, no, that’s a lesson you only have to learn once.  Hell, just thinkin’ ‘bout it now and the pain comes back,” Bill added as he crossed his in legs and rocked in mock pain.  We all snickered quietly at his display of discomfort, even my mom.

 

“I’m sorry, dad.  I don’t remember that.”

 

“I don’t expect you would, Tom, you were just over two when it happened.  That’s okay, though, because I remember it well enough for the both of us,” to which we all laughed, again, including Bill.

 

“So, Max, we’re gonna be all right, right?” Tom begged.

 

“We should be.  I can’t imagine what he’s thinking to pull something like this.  He must really hate me.”

 

“Max, honey, don’t be like that,” my mom said.  “He’s having a real hard time with all this.  His parents and church, both, drilled into his brain, from a very early age, their version of what’s right and what’s wrong.  It’s not really his fault.”

 

“Sure, it is mom.  You’ve changed what you believe pretty darn fast.  He could do the same if he’d only open his mind up to some common sense.  Besides, I’m his son damn it!”

 

“Dear, that’s much easier said than done.”

 

“It is, Max,” Bill offered.  “You can trust me on that.  Estelle and I were both been raised in the church, same as your father, and it took us a long time to come to grips with things and retrain our minds to accept things for how they are and not how we thought they should be.”

 

“That may be, Bill, but you didn’t hire a lawyer and go after your son for being who he is, did you?”

 

“Well, no, we didn’t, but then Tom wasn’t trying to adopt four young boys and getting married in what sounds like just a few months after telling us he was gay, either.  Had he done all that so soon after coming out, we might have done the exact same thing your dad’s doing.  I’m not saying he’s right, just I understand where he’s coming from.”

 

“Yeah, okay,” I said.  “But, someone’s got to talk him off the ledge, though.  I don’t want the possibility of his insanity screwing up the adoptions.”

 

“Don’t you look at me when you say that, son.  I’ve been working on him ever since I figured out Helen and Libby were gay.  With no success, I might add.  He’d always thought very highly of them, but as soon as I told him they were lesbians, he came unglued, kept yellin’ about sicko perverts living in the neighborhood.  Couldn’t get over the fact we used to let you and your sister trick or treat at their house, or ever have anything to do with them.  Especially your sister.  You should have heard some vile things he dreamed up about Lee, Helen and Libby.  Absolutely disgusting.”

 

“I guess I’ll wait and see if James has any grand inspirations the next couple of days.  Not much else we can do at this moment, I think.”

 

“So, how ‘bout those Cardinals?” Tom asked in a lame attempt to change subjects which drew another laugh from everyone.

 

“I don’t have any idea, Tom,” I answered, “I couldn’t care less about baseball, or any other sport, really.  I’m gay, you know?”

 

“Oh, my, say it ain’t so?” he gasped mockingly, covering his mouth with his hand.

 

“Oh, it’s so, just ask my old man, he’ll tell you all about it.”

 

“Max, please stop that,” mom begged.  “This is hard enough already.  I always knew your father was a pigheaded pain-in-the-ass, but I never dreamed he ever do something like this.”

 

“I know, mom, it’s not your fault and it’s not even your problem, it’s his.  I’ll try to back off, but I’m just so pissed off right now I can’t see straight.”

 

“Max,” Estelle interrupted, “May I say something?”

 

“Please do.”

 

“Despite what your father says and does right now, you need to know that deep down, he does love you.  You are still his son, and regardless of anything else that happens, that fact will never change.  I know it’s hard to believe at this moment, but, it’s true.  Someday, in the not-too-distant future, hopefully, he’ll realize he was wrong about all this and say he’s sorry for how he’s acted.”

 

“I hope your right, Estelle, I really do.  I guess we’ll just have to take it a day at a time until that minor miracle occurs.”

 

“Mom, dad,” Tom interrupted, “You want to finish the tour now?”  He winked to let them know he really just wanted to get them out of the room.

 

“Sure, son, let’s go,” Bill winked in response.

 

After they headed down the hall to the boys’ bedrooms, Tom’s new office and the garage, I sat next to mom and took her hands in mine.  “I’m sorry for all this mom.  I knew dad wouldn’t be happy with any of this and I forced it down your throats.  I shouldn’t have done that, but I am who I am and I need to live my life and be happy with it.”

 

“Thank you, son.  I appreciate that, but this is still your father’s problem and he has to figure out how to deal with it in his own way.  He’ll either learn to accept things as they are or he won’t.  It’s really that simple.”

 

“Do you think he’d be willing to see a family counselor with me to see if we can work through this.”

 

“I don’t know, dear.  He thinks the only counselor he needs is his pastor at our church and just look at where that’s gotten us.  Me and you are in deep doo-doo, boy.”

 

“I know, mom, and I’m sorry you’re in the middle.”

 

“Don’t you worry about me, young man, I can take care of myself just fine.  I’ve dealt with your father for 40+ years and will continue to do so.”

 

I wrapped my arms around my mom in a big hug and whispered in her ear, ““Thanks, mom, for everything you’ve done for me and continue to do.  I know where I got my heart from.”

 

“And don’t you ever forget it,” she replied, smacking me on the shoulder, which made us both laugh.

 

Tom and his parents came back into the living as he was concluding their tour of the house and walked them to the glass wall leading to the pool so they could see it also.  “And over in the trees somewhere out there is a storage building I hadn’t seen until this morning.  That’s where Vinnie and the guys moved the stuff from the empty bedroom and my new office.  And somewhere past that, in a corner out there I have yet to see, is a small family graveyard Max inherited when he bought the property.”

 

“Really?” Bill asked.  “I’d like to see that sometime.  Those old cemeteries like that are usually pretty cool.”

 

“You two are welcome here anytime,” I responded.  “You might want to wait until April or May so it’s warmer and drier than it is right now before we make that trek, though.”

 

“Is it easy to get to or will we need a machete to cut our way through the jungle?” Bill asked while laughing.

 

“Nope, it’s easy to get to, now anyway.  I found it by accident one day when I was clearing one of my walking trails through the trees.  The people I bought this property from didn’t even know it was there and it was in horrendous condition from many years of neglect when I found it.  I did a lot of clean up to it, put in a new wrought iron fence and repaired the headstones, so it looks pretty good now.  My lawn guys keep it pretty well maintained, also.”

 

“I’ll look forward to seeing it someday, Max.”

 

I looked to the clock on the wall and realized it was about time for the boys to get home from school so I excused myself to make the trip to the end of the drive and pick them up.  Since dad had gone home already, I was able to get the Flex out of the garage and arrived at the end of the drive before the bus arrived to disgorge the passengers that belonged here.  As soon as the bus stopped and the door opened, the boys ran to the car, climbed in and buckled in.

 

“Good day at school, boys?” I asked as I turned the car around.

 

“Awesome day, dad, and before you can ask, no homework for anyone tonight,” Alex answered.

 

“Well, I’ll have to talk to your teachers about that,” I snickered.  “What’s a day without homework?”

 

“Great!” they all yelled.

 

“Okay, okay, calm down,” I said as I headed down the drive.

 

“Hey, who’s car is that, dad?” Joey asked when I rounded the corner of the trees and they could see the house.

 

“You’ll find out soon enough,” I answered as I pulled back in the garage and closed the door.  As we headed to the door to the house, I added, “Drop your bags in your rooms and you can change clothes if you’d like, but remember, you need to at least have shorts on when you come into the living room.”

 

“Yeah, dad, we know,” Mike said, “time for ‘other people’ rules, right?”

 

“Exactly.  Thanks, boys.”  As I continued down the hallway alone, I realized Tom’s parents probably wouldn’t have a problem with the boys being nude, but I wasn’t sure how my mom would react, so, better safe than sorry.

 

“Where are the boys?” Estelle asked.  “We heard ‘em come in.”

 

“The people in the cemetery out there heard ‘em come in, Estelle,” Bill laughed.

 

“They’re dropping their backpacks in their rooms and probably changing into shorts.  They’ll be out in a just a few.”  The words had barely escaped my lips when five rowdy lads in shorts and t-shirts rounded the corner into the living room at full tilt.  “Whoa up there, pardners, y’all are inside now.”

 

“Hi, mama,” T.J. called out as he walked over and gave my mom a hug.  “We didn’t know you were coming out today.”

 

“Where’s papa?” Joey asked.

 

“Hi boys, it’s great to see you all, again.  Sorry papa’s not here, but he wasn’t feeling well and went home a little while ago.”

 

“Well, how’re you gonna’ get home, mama?” Mike asked.

 

“Your dad will take me home, dear, won’t you, son?”

 

“Of course, I will.” 

 

Andy tugged on my sleeve and asked the obvious question while pointing towards Bill and Estelle, “So, who’re they?”

 

“Boys, say hi to Tom’s mom and dad.”  All five turned together and zipped over to give hugs to Bill and Estelle.

 

“You gonna’ be our grandma and grampa?” T.J. quietly asked.

 

“It sure looks that way,” Bill answered as the hugs broke up.

 

“Why don’t you tell us your names?” Estelle asked.  All five answered at the same time and Estelle held up a hand and asked, “Can we do that, again, one at a time, please, starting with you two?” pointing a finger towards the twins.

 

“I’m Joey and this is my twin brother, Alex.”

 

“Yeah, and we’ll be nine next week,” Alex added.

 

“So, we heard.  Never woulda’ guessed you were twins, though.  You two don’t look at all alike,” Estelle chuckled.  The twins looked at each other, rolling their eyes, like ‘who’s she kiddin’, right?’.

 

“Hi there, I’m T.J. and I’m seven.”

 

“And when’s your birthday, T.J.?  Your dads couldn’t remember when we asked earlier.”

 

T.J. shot Tom and me a dirty look and then turned back to Estelle, “April 23rd.  Can’t believe they forgot it, already.”

 

“And who might you be, young man?” Bill asked.

 

“Hi, my name’s Mike, I’m 6 and since they pro’lly forgot mine, too, my birthday’s May 5.”  He turned to us and stuck his tongue out, as if to prove his point, to which we enjoyed a good laugh.

 

“And, one more to go.  What’s your name, sweetie?” Estelle asked.

 

“Hi, nice to meet ya’.  I’m Andy, I’m 6, too, and my birthday’s august 4th.  But I don’t know if I’ll still be living here then.”  I signaled to Tom to remember that date.

 

“Oh, why not?” Bill asked.

 

“I’m only here now ‘cause my mom’s in jail and her boyfriend’s in the hospital.  I know I get to stay until the end of school, don’t know what’s gonna’ happen after that, but I hope I get to stay here forever and ever.”

 

“I’m sorry you’re having a rough time, Andy.  Are you liking it here?” Estelle asked.

 

“You bet, we have lots of fun.  And dad and pops are great.  We get to swim almost every day and watch movies and me and the others play some really fun games.”  I was hoping he wouldn’t go any further about the ‘games’.

 

“Dad and pops?” Bill asked.

 

“Yeah, Uncle Max and Uncle Tom.  The others call ‘em dad and pops and they said I could, too.”

 

“Pops, that’s a good name for you, Tom,” Bill laughed.  “That sure beats the heck out of some of the other options, doesn’t it?”

 

“Darn right it does.  You don’t even hear what some of the other choices were.”

 

“I have to ask,” Bill started, looking at the boys, “what’s up with your hair?  You all sure look a lot like our son’s head.”

 

“They’re supposed to,” Alex answered, turning his head to give them a better view.

 

“Yeah, we got it done after he got hurt Saturday,” Joey added.

 

“We even got stiches, just like him,” T.J. chimed in.

 

“I can see that.  And, just what possessed you to do that?”

 

“Well, we love pops and wanted him to know we’re all in this together,” Mike answered.

 

“I did it ‘cause it was me he was savin’ when he got hurt,” Andy whimpered.

 

“Those are excellent reasons, boys.  And you all look great.”

 

“Yeah, we do,” Mike proudly replied, “and now our friends Mark and Billy are really gonna’ push their moms to get their hair cut the same way.”

 

“They thought it was cool before, but with the stiches drawn on, they want it bad, now,” Andy said.

 

We spent the next hour visiting, with the boys, of course, being the main topic of conversation, when my mom said she should probably get home so she could fix supper for her and dad.  I was thinking she should just let him starve and maybe my problems with him would fix themselves, but I kept my mouth shut.  As we stood so I could drive her home, Bill and Estelle stood to say goodbye and the boys all gave my mom hugs.

 

“Are you and papa gonna’ come out for our birthday party next Thursday?” Joey asked.

 

“I’ll be here, but I don’t know about papa.  We’ll have to see if he’s feeling better.”

 

“I hope he can make it, I’d like to see him again,” Alex added.

 

“I’d like that too, honey,” mom answered while patting him on the head.  She then turned to me and asked, “Shall we go?  You know how your father is if his food’s not on the table when he thinks it should be.”

 

“That I do, mom.”  I turned to Bill and Estelle and said, “I’m so glad you came up today.  It was wonderful to meet the parents of this great guy and I’m glad that you’ll soon be part of the family.”

 

“It was good to meet you, too, Max.  I’m glad Tom has found such a wonderful and loving person to share his life with,” Bill replied.

 

“Will you still be here when I get back?”

 

“Probably.  We’re in no particular hurry to get back home, now.”

 

“If you’ll hang around, I’ll pick up some food in town and we can have supper together when I get back.  Sound okay to you?”

 

“That sounds great, Max.  We’d love to spend some more time with our new grandsons.”

 

“It’s a deal, then.  I’ll be back in about an hour.  Is chicken okay for everyone?”  The boys raised the roof with an enthusiastic cheer of acceptance.  “Okay, chicken it is.  I’ll be back soon, folks.”

 

Mom and I headed to the garage and on to Springfield.  It was a quiet ride as she thought about having to deal with dad and I spent the time worrying about leaving her there with him.  When we got to the house, I walked her to the front porch.

 

Before she went in, I said, “Mom, thanks for coming out today and staying.  It really meant a lot to me.”

 

“I had a good time, son.  It’s nice to get out of the house every now and then, even if I have to do it by myself.  And Tom is a lovely young man and I’m glad I got to meet him before you got married.  Bill and Estelle seem to be good people, too.  I was serious about visiting them the next time we go to Pere Marquette.”

 

“That’s great, mom.  I’m sure they’d enjoy that.  Maybe they could help dad with his problems, too.”

 

“Well, I don’t know about that.  The only person who can fix that mess in his head is himself.”

 

“I know.  Thanks, again for staying this afternoon, though.  Well, I better get going.  I need to pick up some chicken and go feed an army.  You’re welcome to come out any time.”  I leaned over, kissed mom on the cheek and whispered, “Love you, mom.”

 

“We love you, too, son, in our own ways.”

 

With that, I turned and headed down the sidewalk to the car.  Before climbing in the car, I stopped to give mom a quick wave goodbye, which she retuned sadly before closing the door to the house.  As I drove off, a darkness settled in the pit of my stomach thinking about leaving her with dad, but I didn’t know what else to do at the moment.  My next stop was the closest KFC to pick up supper for nine people.  With a couple buckets of chicken, lots of mashed potatoes and gravy, a couple containers of coleslaw and two boxes of biscuits, I headed for home.

 

I parked in the garage and closed the door, then loaded myself up with bags and buckets of food and headed inside.  After opening the door to the house, I noticed it seemed awfully quiet for three adults and five boys, so I assumed everyone was in the theater watching a movie or TV.  I dropped my armload of foodstuffs in the kitchen and headed on to the theater to let everyone know supper had arrived.  I was surprised to find it empty and dark when I opened the door.  Where the devil could everyone have gone?  I turned around and headed back towards the kitchen and started calling out names.

 

“Tom! Joey! Alex!  Anybody here!?” I yelled in confusion.  After receiving no response, I headed back towards the boys’ rooms and the garage and as I crossed the living room, I finally noticed the lights were on in the pool shelter.  Ah-ha, those little scamps had talked Tom into a swim before supper, so I headed on out to round up the stray family members and lead them to the feed trough.  I assumed the boys would be in the pool and Tom and his parents would be sitting at the table talking since they hadn’t seen each other in a while.

 

Of course, everyone knows what you’re doing when you assume anything, it makes an ass of you and me.  And boy, did I ever feel like an ass when I opened the door to the pool shelter.

 

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