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Chapter 47 – Workshop Anyone?

 

“This looks pretty nice,” John commented.  “Who drew this?”

 

“Bill drew it up while we talked last night about what we wanted in the house,” dad answered.

 

“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve come up with while I look this over?”

 

Bill took over from there.  “Basically, John, what we decided on is almost like a duplex.  On each side of this large central area, we have two bedrooms, each with their own baths and one with a decent sized sitting area.  This central area will be a large great room, two complete kitchens, with a common dining area between the two kitchens.  In each kitchen area, we'd like a sink, stove, dishwasher, and refrigerator.  While we’ll probably eat most of our meals together, we realize there might be times where we won’t want the same thing and the separate kitchens will make that easy to deal with.  The double appliances will also help when it’s time to fix large meals for the whole family, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays.  The large dining area between the two kitchens should accommodate everybody at the same time without a problem.  Then, in front of the bedrooms are two-car garages for each of us, creating the U-shape and giving somewhat of shared courtyard in between the garages.  What do you think?”

 

“I think a lot of thought went into this and it looks like a workable plan to me.  You’ll each have your separate private spaces, but this large common area will make it easy to entertain the whole family.  I really like this, folks.”

 

“Excellent, John,” dad replied.  “How soon will it take you to get a price together for us?”

 

“The basic framing package, roof, siding and drywall won’t be too difficult to deal with.  Interior finishes, appliances, fixtures and such will all depend on what you choose.  Do you want the exterior to match this house?”

 

All four parents looked to me for the answer to that question and I responded with, “Hey, this is your house, not mine.  Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”

 

“Let’s make it match as close as you can, then, don’t you think?” dad answered.

 

“I agree,” Bill said.  “It may cost a little more, but I really like the appearance.”

 

“Okay,” John said, “Can I take this plan with me?”

 

“Sure, we figured that was just a starting point, John,” dad answered.

 

“Good, I’ll get this recreated in my computer and that will generate our material lists that I can send out to get bids from the lumber yards.”

 

“That sounds great,” mom commented.  “How soon do you think you can have something to us?”

 

“I might have some pricing for the framing, drywall and such by the end of the week, but it will most likely be early next week.  Maybe we can get together and go over some numbers the middle of the week.”

 

“Perfect,” Bill agreed.  “We’ll look forward to hearing from you.  Give us a call the day before you want to get together so we can make arrangements to be here.”

 

“Will do, folks.  Well, if that’s all for now, I better get back in there and make sure Troy and Ralph aren’t screwing anything up.  I’ll be in touch.”  With that, John stood, shook hands with everyone and disappeared around the corner.

 

“I think that went well,” I commented.

 

“It did,” Bill agreed.  “Now if the price isn’t too outrageous…”

 

“The four of you don’t have to worry about that, I’ll take care of it,” I commented.

 

“Son, you don’t need to do that,” mom complained.  “We talked all about this last night and we can handle it.”

 

“I’m sure you can, mom, but if all of you are dead set on doing this just so you can be closer, then I’m dead set on making it happen.  You four agree to your plan and finishes and I’ll take it from there.”

 

“Max, that’s a wonderful thing to do,” Estelle exclaimed.  “For me and Bill, I thank you for helping.”

 

“Well, I was going to fight you on that, Max,” Bill started, “but I’m not crossing that woman,” he added with a very serious tone of voice.

 

“I should hope not, not if you know what’s good for you,” Estelle responded, glaring at her husband.

 

“Son, we appreciate the kind offer, but we can’t accept it,” dad said.

 

“Dad, you’ve got a wedding to pay for, remember.  No way you can afford that and a house in the same year.  I’m doing it and that’s that.”

 

“Fine, I won’t fight you, but one way or another, we will pay you back.”

 

“No, you won’t, because if you do, then Bill and Estelle will want to, also, and I won’t accept it.”

 

“Oh, no, Max, we’re fine with it,” Estelle laughed.

 

“Fine!  You do whatever you want to do,” dad fumed.

 

“Thank you, I will,” I grinned back at the old man.

 

“Well, if we’re done with that, I think Estelle and I will hit the road for home.  We have things to deal with there before we come back up on Thursday for the party.  Max, thanks for letting use your house to meet with John.  Jim, Rose, thanks for letting us stay with you last night, it sure made things easier this morning.” 

 

As Bill and Estelle headed to grab their coats, Estelle stopped and asked, “Son, you’ve been awfully quiet about this, are you sure you’re okay with us moving here?”

 

“You know I am, mom, there just doesn’t seem to be much for me to add.  You four seem to doing just fine without my input.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it.  Not that I’d change my mind, now, mind you,” she giggled.

 

“That’s what I figured so why try to fight it?” Tom relented.

 

“By the way, when do you get your stitches removed?”

 

“Supposed to happen later this week.  I still need to make an appointment somewhere to get it done, though.”

 

“Why don’t you come with Andy and me Friday?  I’m sure someone there could take care of it for you.”

 

“Oh, c’mon, Max, that doc’s a pediatrician.  They’re not gonna’ remove my stiches.”

 

“I don’t know why not.  And if you’re a good boy, I bet they’ll even give you a sucker,” I laughed.  I received a quick slap to the back of my head for that crack, but I deserved it.  By this time, Bill and Estelle had their coats on and were ready to depart.  Everyone exchanged hugs and handshakes and off they went.

 

“Well, I guess your mother and I will be on our way also,” dad commented.  “No sense hanging around here.”

 

“Dad, I wanted to ask if you had a chance to talk to Helen last night like you intended.”

 

“I did, and, thankfully, she accepted my apology.  We talked a long time and agreed to pretend the last six months didn’t happen.  I’m already making plans to help her when it’s time to plant all those bulbs you two got her.  I think that will go a long way to showing her I’m sincere.”

 

“No doubt, it will.  Let us know when that happens, will you?  The boys want to help, also.”

 

“Never fear, son, I’m not digging all those holes by myself,” he grinned.

 

“Good.  I have one more question for both of you.”

 

“And what’s that, dear?” mom asked.

 

“Are you absolutely sure you want to move out here with Bill and Estelle and the rest of us, knowing we won’t be wearing clothes most of the time.”  They both started giggling uncontrollably.  “What, did I say something funny?” I asked, confused.

 

“Dear,” mom began, “I didn’t say anything, but the whole time I was at Bill and Estelle’s, we were nude.  I’ve never been more relaxed and carefree in my life.  And after your father’s little confession yesterday about his hunting trips, the four of us relaxed in comfort last night, also, while we talked about what we want in our new house.  We won’t have any problems living here.  In fact, we’re rather looking forward to it.”  You could have knocked Tom and me over with a feather after that admission.

 

“Well, okay, then.  Problem solved.  I’m glad you all came out and could talk to John this morning.  It sounds like you’ve got a running start on this thing.  Once it’s warmer, we’ll take that walk and find a good location for you.”

 

“Sounds good, Max,” dad replied.  “We’ll see you all Thursday for the party.”  We again shared hugs and handshakes and after they were out the door, Tom and I returned to our seats by the fireplace to relax for a bit.

 

“Well, that was an interesting development, don’t ya’ think?” Tom asked.

 

“It absolutely blows my mind.  I have a hard time believing the change in dad is for real, especially after the last six months of living in hell, thanks to him.  It’s like I never knew who the hell he was and he certainly didn’t care who I was.”

 

“Fortunately, it looks like that’s all behind both of you, now.”

 

“I sure as hell hope so.  I wouldn’t wish that life on my worst fuckin’ enemy.  Not even the Muellers.”

 

“You sure about that?”

 

“Ya’ know, now that I think about it, maybe they do deserve that kind of treatment.  See if they can take it as well they dish it out.”  I smiled at the thought.  We finally picked up our current books and continued reading.

 

About an hour later, John stuck his head around the corner and said, “Hey, Max, we’re gonna’ run over to the Subway to grab some lunch, you want anything.”

 

“I don’t, what about you, Tom?”

 

“Nope, I’m good, John, thanks for asking, though.”

 

“No problem, guys.  We’ll be back in about an hour and we’ll get started on the new flooring.  See ya’ in a bit.”  With that, he turned, collected Troy and Ralph and they left the house.

 

“Ya’ know what, now that he mentioned food, I’m am startin’ get a little hungry,” Tom commented as his stomach rumbled.  “What’s for lunch, boss?”

 

“Whatever you decide to fix.  I don’t want much, myself.  I’m thinkin’ about just a peanut butter and honey sandwich.”

 

“Yuck!” Tom exclaimed.  “How can you ruin good honey with peanut butter?”

 

“Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, bubba.  Come on, I’ll fix one for ya’, and if you don’t like it, I’ll eat it and you can rummage around for something else.”  I led the way to the kitchen and pulled out the bread, peanut butter and honey.  With everything out, I proceeded to fix a sandwich for both of us, honey on one slice, peanut butter on the other and then flip the peanut butter slice on top of the honey slice.  “Now, the important thing when making these is to let them sit for about five minutes before you try to eat it.”

 

“Oh, please, you can’t be serious,” he replied sarcastically.

 

“Of course, I’m serious.  That gives the honey some time to soak into the bread.  If you don’t let that happen, then, as soon as you bite into it, honey starts running all over the place.  You make a mess, you clean it up.”  After the allotted time, I picked mine up and took a bite, relishing the sweetness of the honey and the crunch of the peanuts.  Tom looked at me like I’d lost my mind and shook his head in disbelief that I took my sandwiches so seriously. 

 

He finally tried a bit of his and after just a few chews, mumbled around the peanut butter, “Okay, I’m sold.”

 

“Have I steered you wrong yet?”

 

“No, but there’s a first time for everything and this might’ve been it.  You got lucky.”

 

“Nah, I just like simple food.  I’m a pretty simple guy.”

 

“Dream on, babe, you’re about as complicated a person as I’ve ever met, but I can live with that.”

 

“That’s a good thing since you are.”  We finished our lunch, cleaned up the minor mess we’d made and returned to our reading.  John, Troy and Ralph came back after a bit and continued their work in Tom’s office.  As usual, I was having a hard time concentrating on my book with the noise coming from down the hall, but I managed to stick with it until I heard the drive sensor go off.  “You expecting company, bubba?” I asked.

 

“Nope.”

 

I looked at the clock and suddenly realized it was probably the boys ringing from their shelter.  “Hell, where did the time go.  Guess one of us should go get them.”

 

“Safe trip, babe,” Tom laughed as he returned to his book. 

 

I grabbed my coat, got in the car and made the short trip to the end of the drive where I was met by the boys as they ran from the shelter and jumped in the car.  “Good day at school, boys, and did you learn anything new?”

 

“Yeah, it was great, dad,” Alex answered. 

 

“But we really didn’t learn anything new,” Joey added.

 

“I did,” T.J. interrupted, “I learned that Kenny’s an asshole.”

 

“T.J.!  That’s not a nice thing to say.”

 

“But it’s true, dad, he was picking on Andy at lunch and I had to straighten him out.”

 

“Is that true, Andy?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, he was bein’ a total jerk.  He was makin’ fun of my mom bein’ in jail, but T.J. fixed it.”

 

“I don’t know if like the sound of that.  What did you do, T.J.?”

 

“I just told him if he kept it up, I was gonna’ get my older brothers to beat the snot out of him.  He finally backed off and went away.”

 

“Look, I appreciate you sticking up for Andy, but you know that fighting isn’t the way we solve problems, don’t you?”

 

“Sure, but it scared the crap outta’ him ‘cause he don’t know who our brothers are.  For all he knows, they’re in high school,” he snickered.

 

As I pulled up in front of the house and we got out of the car, I reminded the boys, “If you’re having problems like that, talk to your teachers.  If they don’t resolve the issue, then tell me and I’ll take care of it.”  Our conversation continued as we walked into the house

 

“Yeah, okay, dad,” T.J. replied.

 

“Good, now, any homework tonight?”

 

“Nope,” Alex answered, “nobody was givin’ any since there’s no school tomorrow.”

 

“But Alex and I want to do more with the other math book,” Joey commented.

 

“That’s fine, but you two and T.J. need to think about what you’re going to say at the workshop tomorrow.  This is important and I don’t want you just winging it.”

 

“No sweat, dad, we got that all figured out,” Alex replied

 

“Great, you want to tell me about it?”

 

“Nope, you’ll hear it all tomorrow,” Joey answered, effectively ending any further probing on my part.  The boys disappeared down the hallway to drop their coats and backpacks before coming back into the living room where Joey asked, “Who do you have to know to get a snack around this dump?”

 

“Dump, huh?” I countered, “C’mere, you little stinker.”  Joey slowly came closer and as soon as I could reach him, I pulled him into my lap and started tickling his ribs, causing him to giggle, wiggle and squeal as he tried to get away.  “So, you think you live in a dump, do ya’?  If you’re not careful, you’re gonna’ end up sleeping outside.  How’s that grab ya’?”

 

“No!” he screamed between his giggles, “It’s cold out there.  I’m sorry, I take it back, we live in a great house.  Please, stop tickling, you’re gonna make me pee.”  If there was anything that would get me to stop my torture, that was it.  I’m up for just about anything, except getting peed on.

 

“Glad you’re seeing things my way, Joey.  Go hop up on your stools and we’ll be there in a minute to get your snacks.”  The boys ran to the kitchen and Tom and I followed to set them up with some cookies and milk.  Joey and Alex were already busy working in the math book and the other three were chatting amongst themselves, mostly about what Mike and Andy were going to do tomorrow with their Uncle Carl in charge.  I was just hoping they’d be good.  Since I had a captive audience, I said, “Mike, Andy, you’re going to be staying home with your Uncle Carl tomorrow while we’re at the school.”

 

“We know that, dad,” Mike replied.

 

“We expect you to be good boys while the rest of us are gone.”

 

“Bummer, dad, that kinda’ kills our plans,” Mike countered glumly.

 

“Yeah, we we’re gonna’ tie Uncle Carl up and then drink soda and eat candy all day,” Andy added with a mischievous grin.

 

Tom and I laughed at the visual that flitted though our brains.  “Um, please don’t do that.  I’d like Carl to want to come back some day.  Also, when Lee and Carl get here in the morning, they’re going to have another person from Lee’s office with them, so before we leave, I expect you to be wearing shorts.  After we’re gone, then you can wear whatever you want.  Or don’t want.  I’m sure Carl will be fine with whatever you decide.”

 

“Cool, dads, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

 

“We are, too.”  I turned my focus to the center stool and asked, “T.J., you ready for tomorrow?”

 

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.  Just a little scared, maybe.”

 

“You want to tell us what you plan to say?” Tom asked.

 

“Nope, like Joey said, you’ll hear it tomorrow.”

 

“You might want to practice it with us,” Tom said, “then you’ll feel more comfortable with it.”

 

“Nice try, pops, but it’s not gonna’ happen.  We got it all worked out though, don’t worry.”

 

Tom looked to me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘I tried’, and I nodded in acknowledgement of his effort.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and hear it tomorrow.  “So, what’s on the schedule for tonight?” I asked.

 

“More Star Trek, please,” T.J. commanded.

 

“Yeah, we’re all lovin’ it,” Mike added.

 

“Especially Wesley, he’s cute,” Alex said with a dreamy look in his eyes.

 

“Hey, what about me?” Joey asked.

 

“Don’t worry, bro’, he’s cute, but you’re still cuter,” Alex replied, giving his brother a hug and a kiss.

 

“Sounds good to us guys.  But after supper.  How ‘bout we go read some more Huckleberry Finn while Joey and Alex plug away at that silly math book?”

 

“Yeah, let’s go!” Andy yelled with enthusiasm.  Five of us headed to the living room, leaving Alex and Joey in the kitchen to continue their work, although, the more I think about it, math seems to be almost a game to them.  Tom and I sat in our regular chairs while Andy, Mike and T.J. opted to sit on the loveseat.  Tom returned to reading his book while I picked up Huckleberry Finn and picked up where Tom had left off.  I could tell by the how much attention the boys were paying to me that they were really enjoying the story.

 

About an hour later, John came in and asked, “Max, Tom, you got a minute?”

 

“Sure, John, we’ll be right there,” I answered as he headed down the hall.  We followed the leader and entered Tom’s new office space.

 

“We’re done for the day and gonna’ be headed out, but I wanted to see what you thought of the new floor,” John said, waving a hand to direct our eyes to the floor.

 

“Wow, John, this looks great.  It actually looks like the original flooring.”

 

“We got lucky there, guys.  Even though the company that made the original floor is still around, the finish color you had isn’t produced anymore.  But, with their help, I managed to find some old stock at a lumber yard up in Peoria and they were more than happy to get rid of it at a closeout price.  They even delivered it to the local yard so I could pick it up there.  Saved you a couple hundred bucks.”

 

“Amazing.  You did a great job, you’d never know there was a water leak under here.”

 

“All I need now is a desk and I could get to work,” Tom added.

 

“You’ll have to talk to Bob about that.  It was my understanding he was working on the shelves and desks for the boys’ room first.”

 

“Oh, I’m not in a big hurry to get back to work, but this looks great.  The new color on the walls looks good, too.  It’s still bright, but not quite as blinding as the stark white that was in here before.  I can deal with this.”

 

“That’s good since you picked it out,” John laughed.

 

“How about the twins’ room?  You done in there, also?” I asked.

 

“Until Bob has the new furniture ready to deliver.  I talked to him this morning and he said he and his guys had started work on it over the weekend and he hoped to have everything completed and ready to bring out Friday afternoon.  Ralph and I plan to be here to help him get everything in and installed properly.”

 

“We may have a problem with that, John.  One of the boys has a doctor’s appointment Friday afternoon and we’ll be gone.”

 

“Well, we don’t really need your help, you know.  And I know you like your security out here, Max, but if you’d be willing to give me a key and an alarm code, we could still get in and get them fixed up.  Up to you.”

 

I looked at Tom for his opinion and he asked, “Why not?”

 

“Yeah, okay.  I’ll set up the system with a one-time use code.  That’ll let you get in that day and then delete itself automatically.  What code do you want me use?”

 

“One-four-seven-two, that’s the last four digits of my phone number.  I’ll be able to remember that.”

 

“Done, let me get you a spare key and I’ll be right back.”  I hustled to the kitchen and returned shortly with the key, which I handed to John.  “Here you go, John.  We should be back home before you’re done, but if we’re not, just leave the key on the kitchen counter and lock the door when you leave.  The alarm will automatically set itself.”

 

“Sounds good, guys.  We’ll get out of your way and see you Friday.”

 

“Thanks, guys, everything’s looking great.”  John and his guys took off through the garage while Tom and I returned to the living room, only to find T.J., Mike and Andy rapidly removing their clothes.

 

“I thought they’d never leave,” T.J. lamented as the three of them headed for their room, stumbling over the shorts they were trying to remove as they walked.

 

“It works better if you sit down before you do that, ya’ know,” I called to their backs as they disappeared down the hallway.

 

“Yeah, we know, but we couldn’t wait any longer,” Mike hollered back.

 

“Why don’t you go get comfy?” I asked Tom.  “I’ll let Joey and Alex know it’s time for supper and I’ll be right behind you.”  We split up and when I got to the kitchen, I found the twins still working on the math book.  “Okay, you two, time to take a break.  Put your books up and get comfy, then we’ll get ready for supper.”

 

“That’s okay, dad, we were about to quit for the night, anyway,” Alex responded.

 

“Yeah, we just finished chapter 26, so it was time,” Joey added.

 

I turned and walked towards the bedroom, shaking my head in disbelief, again.  I really need to get in touch with Paul and see what he can tell me about IQ tests for those two.  I really want to know what I’m dealing with.  Tom was just coming out of the bathroom when I entered the bedroom and I wrapped him up in a hug and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek.

 

“What was that for?” he asked.

 

“Because I felt like it.  Is that okay?”

 

“You know it is, babe,” he answered and then returned the favor.  “So, what’s for din-din tonight?”

 

“Not a freakin’ clue, big guy.  You got any bright ideas?”

 

“Lasagna with garlic bread sounds good, but that should have been in the oven an hour ago.”

 

“How about spaghetti?” I asked as I continued to get undressed.  “It’s kinda’ like lasagna.  And there’s plenty of sauce in the freezer that won’t take long to thaw and heat up.”

 

“Well, it’s not lasagna, but beggars can’t be choosers, can they?”

 

“Not in this house,” I joked as I laid my clothes on the chair and just enjoyed the feeling of being free from the restraint of clothes.  “Let’s go get busy, those five eating machines are probably about out of gas.”  As we returned to the kitchen, we found the fantastic five lined up on their stools and you could see hunger written across all their faces.

 

“What’s for supper, dads?” Alex asked.

 

“We’re thinking spaghetti and garlic bread,” Tom answered.  “Sound okay to you guys?”

 

“Yum!” exclaimed Joey, “Sounds great.  C’mon, guys, let’s get the table set.”  The boys hopped off their stools and started taking care of that while Tom and I pulled out pans for the sauce and pasta and got things going on our side.  With the table set, the boys climbed back on their stools and watched the two of us work, not that there’s a lot work in making spaghetti, just a lot of watching water boil and the occasional stir of the sauce as it thawed.  Joey and Alex had gotten out glasses for everyone, but held off filling them with our drinks until the food was almost ready.  When they saw two minutes left on the timer for the pasta and bread, they took everyone’s drink order, filled the glasses and set them on the table.

 

Everything else was soon ready to go.  T.J. carried the basket of garlic bread and set it on the table while I loaded each plate with a nice helping of noodles.  Tom followed behind me, adding sauce to each plate until the owner called out, “Whoa.”  The first few minutes of the meal were pretty quiet as everybody was stuffing their face.  The only noise was the occasional slurp of someone sucking up a stray noodle.

 

When I finally took a short pause to catch my breath, I ask, “So, Joey, how does it feel to rejoin the ranks of the comfort crew?”

 

After swallowing his current mouthful, he answered, “Great, I hated having to wear clothes.  I know it was only four days, but it felt like forever and I felt really weird being the only one wearing something.”

 

“Did you learn anything from the experience?”

 

“Dang right I did!  No matter how much I want to do it, don’t ever lick Alex’s cute ass in the kitchen.”  The whole table burst out with laughter.  When we’d all calmed down and regained our senses, Joey added, “But, I also learned that before we do something, we need to think about it and what might happen after we do it.”

 

“That’s what I was hoping you’d learn, Joey, the consequences of your actions and how they may affect others.  Although, your first answer was correct, also,” I chuckled.  Changing subjects, I asked, “Are you three sure you’re ready for tomorrow?”

 

They looked at each other briefly before Alex answered, “Yeah, dad, we’re ready.  As ready as we’ll ever be, anyway.”

 

“It’s gonna’ be a little scary telling all those people we’re gay,” T.J. added, “but it’s who we are, why try to hide it?”

 

“I just hope they don’t blab it all over town,” Joey concluded.

 

“That’s always a possibility, and if you’re worried about that happening, you can always stay here with Carl, Mike and Andy.  I don’t want you to feel forced into doing something you’re not ready for.”

 

“Nah, we’re ready, dad,” Alex replied.  “Like T.J. said, it’s who we are.”

 

“As long as you’re sure.”

 

“You guys still don’t want to tell us what you’re going to talk about?” Tom asked.

 

“Nope!” they answered together.

 

“Okay, we’ll quit asking.  Just remember we tried to help.”

 

“No problem, dads, but, really, we got this.  Trust us, will ya’?” Joey asked.

 

“We do, son, just like you trust us,” I responded.

 

We finished the meal in relative silence and once we were all stuffed, the cleanup crew got busy picking up the dishes, rinsing them off in the sink and loading the dishwasher.  Tom and I, of course, took care of the cooking and baking pans.  Once the cleanup was completed, it was time to start making a new mess as we prepared popcorn and drinks for a snack as we watched a couple more episodes of Star Trek.  I’d always liked the show, mostly because of the positive spin of unity and equality it placed on humanity in the future.  If only we could feel that unity and equality now. 

 

I also had to agree with Alex’s assessment as to the cuteness of Wil Wheaton, who played the character of Wesley Crusher in the show.  I’d always kinda’ liked Wil, especially in Rob Reiner’s movie Stand by Me, but never really understood why until the recent rediscovery of my attraction to boys.  While waiting for the popcorn, I thought about some of the movies and TV shows I liked and it suddenly dawned on me why my preference for certain shows like Ender’s Game with Asa Butterfield or Zathura with Josh Hutcherson ran the way they did.  Again, my subconscious had been influencing me in a way I never understood before.  It was like someone had flipped a switch and the old five-watt light bulb in my head suddenly came on.

 

With our munchies ready to go, everybody grabbed their bowls of popcorn and drinks and we headed to the theater to settle in for our shows.  The boys were quiet as always when watching Star Trek.  Whether it was their deep interest as to what the future might hold or their attraction to young Wil/Wesley, I couldn’t quite determine.  Whatever the reason for their interest, I was happy they were enjoying something new.  When the second episode ended, it was time to get the boys into bed.  As they passed through the kitchen, they each rinsed their bowls and glasses and added them to the dishwasher then headed on to their bedrooms to brush teeth and get into bed.  Tom and I took a few minutes to finish loading and then started the dishwasher before following in the fantastic five’s footsteps.

 

We stopped in the terrific trio’s room first to find Mike and Andy in bed, but no T.J.

 

“Where’s T.J.,” Tom asked.

 

“He’s still in the bathroom,” Mike answered.  “Somethin’ ‘bout his guts rollin’.”

 

I knocked lightly on the door and asked, “You okay in there, buddy?”

 

“I don’t know, dad,” he mumbled.

 

“Can I come in?”

 

“Sure.”

 

I opened the door and found T.J. sitting on the edge of the tub, holding his stomach and rocking back and forth in misery.  I sat next to him, wrapped an arm around his shoulder and asked, “What’s up?”

 

“I don’t know, but my stomach’s rollin’ like I’m gonna’ puke or somethin’.”

 

“Well, you’re in the right place if that happens.  You think maybe you’re just nervous about tomorrow?”

 

“Pro’lly.  I hope that’s all it is and not something I ate.”

 

“If it was something you’d eaten, T.J., we’d all be having the same problem.  So far, it’s just you feeling lousy, so I’m going to go with nerves.  You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, ya’ know.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but when I said I was gonna’ be there, I meant it.  I ain’t lettin’ Alex and Joey do this by themselves.  It’d screw the whole thing up.”

 

“I’m sure they’d understand and be just fine if you didn’t go.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but I’d feel like a real turd if I stayed home.  And I don’t want my brothers pissed at me for wimpin’ out on ‘em.”

 

“I don’t think they could ever be mad at you, for anything.”

 

“And I’m not gonna’ find out tomorrow either, not after all the work we’ve put into this.”

 

“Wait, what work?  I haven’t seen you three working on anything special the past couple weeks.” 

 

“That’s the point, dad, it’s a surprise.”

 

“Well, okay, then, why don’t you crawl in bed.  I think once you get to sleep, your stomach will be fine.”

 

“Yeah, okay.”  He grabbed my hand as I led the way out of the bathroom and after reaching the bed, he climbed in with Mike and Andy.  He crawled across and curled up behind Mike who was already holding onto Andy.  After pulling up the covers, Tom and I gave kisses and traded ‘I love you’ with all three, then turned out the light, closed the door and headed to the twins’ room.  The twins were curled up together in the middle of the bed and waiting for the covers.  We obliged them, then leaned in to plant kisses on foreheads and swap ‘I love you’ with them. 

 

Before we left, I asked, “You two sure you’re ready for tomorrow?”

 

“Yeah, dads, we’re ready, we got it all worked out with T.J,” Alex answered.

 

“Can you do what you want without him?” I asked.

 

“Why, he change his mind ‘bout goin’?” Joey asked.

 

“Not yet, but he’s having some issues with his stomach and he may not be up to going in the morning.  I think he’s just really nervous, but we’ll have to see how he feels in the morning.”

 

“It’d be better if he went,” Alex started.

 

“But we can do it without him if we need to,” Joey finished the thought.

 

“That’s good to hear, boys,” Tom commented, “We’ll just have to wait see.”

 

“Sleep well, guys,” I said as we turned out the light, closed the door and headed to the living room to talk about tomorrow for a while.  After getting comfortable by the fireplace, I looked to Tom and said, “Ya’ know, we keep asking Alex, Joey and T.J. if they’re ready for tomorrow and I’m not even sure I am.  What about you?”

 

“Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me!?  I don’t have any idea what the hell am I gonna’ say?”

 

“I know I’m going to say something about my own fight with depression and also about dad’s inability to deal with life as it is, but that’s all I really got.”

 

“That’s more than I got, babe.”

 

“What if you tell about your mom and dad’s struggle adjusting to having a gay son.  I know none of you reached the point of suicide, but it had to be rough for all of you.”

 

“It was hell on earth for a while, no doubt about it.  I’m just glad we finally have things smoothed over and we don’t have to deal with all that bullshit anymore.  I guess I could use that tomorrow.  Better than sittin’ there like a bump on a log, anyway.”

 

“Any idea what Dylan’s going to have?”

 

“Nope, not a clue.  You got any idea what Lee and Shawn are bringing?”

 

“Like you, I’m clueless.”

 

“Fine pair we are, Max,” he laughed.  “I feel like I’m back in high school, cramming the night before a big final and I don’t have my book or my notes.  I sense failure is imminent.”

 

“I’m sure we’ll be just fine, big guy.  We’re just a small part of this thing.”

 

“I hope so.  Well, I’m gettin’ tired, you ready for bed?”

 

“I am, and though we don’t have to be moving real early in the morning, I feel like it’s gonna be a long damn day.  Let’s get some sleep and don’t forget, reset your alarm for a little later than normal.  No need to be up at six.”

 

We headed to the bedroom, and after visiting the bathroom, climbed into bed and snuggled up together for a peaceful night’s sleep.  Tom’s alarm went off at 7:30 this morning to get us started on our day.  We decided to let the boys sleep just a bit longer and took a shower so we’d look alive when we got to the school.  After getting dressed, I headed to the kitchen to start fixing a breakfast of eggs and sausage while Tom headed to the boys’ rooms to roust them from their slumber.  A few minutes after Tom joined me in fixing our meal, five surly and grumbling boys finally decided to grace us with their presence.

 

“Good morning!” I called cheerfully as they mounted their stools at the counter.

 

“Mm-m-ph, whatever, dad,” groused Joey.

 

“You’re way too happy, old man,” Alex agreed.

 

“How do you feel this morning, T.J.?” Tom asked.  “Stomach feeling okay?”

 

“Not, bad, pops.  At least I don’t feel like I’m gonna’ puke this morning.”

 

“That’s good to hear, T.J., I knew you’d be okay,” I responded.  “How about you, Mike and Andy, you lookin’ forward to spending the day with your Uncle Carl.”

 

“You bet, dad,” Mike answered with a wide grin while nodding his head wildly.  “We’re gonna’ have a blast.”

 

“Yeah,” Andy continued with the same evil grin, “we got the ropes all ready to go and the stepladder to reach the candy in the pantry.”

 

“Now, we just need to figure out what chair we’re gonna’ tie him to,” Mike added conspiratorially.

 

“Boys, we talked about this already, didn’t we?  No ropes, remember.”

 

“Yeah, we know, dad,” Andy replied.

 

“We’re just yankin’ your chain,” Mike added with a hearty laugh.

 

“Glad to hear it.  Why don’t you five get busy setting the table?  The food will be ready shortly.”  The boys hopped off their stools and quickly got the table set and by the time they were ready, the eggs and sausage were done and it was time to eat.  Breakfast this morning was rather quiet as we were each lost in our own thoughts of what the day held for us.  I don’t know about the others, but I wanted this day to be over already.  I know I agreed to be involved in this with Steve, but I was having more than my fair share of second thoughts the closer it came to becoming a reality.  Unfortunately, it was too late to back out now.

 

When the food was gone, we worked together to clean the table, load the dishwasher and clean up the sausage and egg pans.  Once that chore was completed, we settled in the living room to relax for a few while we waited for Lee, Carl and Shawn to arrive.  It was a short wait as the drive sensor announced their arrival just about ten minutes later at a quarter to nine.  Looks like we were going to be at the school on time, damn the luck.  Mike and Andy ran to the door and had it open long before their car pulled up in front of the door.  They were apparently anxious to get started on their day with Carl.

 

Tom and I followed along and met everyone as they came through the door.  “Morning, Lee, Carl, Shawn,” I said in greeting.  “Carl, I hope you had a high energy breakfast as I think these two are gonna’ give you a run for your money today.”

 

“No worries, Max, I brought some rope to tie ‘em up if I need to.”  The boys cracked up in laughter.

 

“Funny you should say that, Carl, since they’ve been planning to do the same to you.  I’ll let you all fight that out.  How are you this morning, Lee?”

 

“Just dandy, bro, you ready to go?”

 

“No,” I answered simply.

 

“Well, you better get ready, we gotta’ get a move on.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”  I turned to Shawn, shook his hand and said, “Morning to you, too, Shawn.  Been a while since we’ve seen each other, how ya’ doin’?”

 

“I’m great, Max.  Seems to me there are some new faces around here.”

 

“Oh, yeah, let me introduce you to the family.  The big guy here is my fiancé, Tom, the two monsters attacking Carl are Mike and Andy, and the three strolling over to join us,” I continued, pointing it their direction, “are Alex, Joey, and T.J.  Those three are going with us this morning.”  All the boys gave Shawn a hug and he returned the greeting.

 

Shawn shook hands with Tom and said, “Good to meet you, Tom.  Glad Max finally found someone to help take care of his sorry ass.”

 

“Nice to meet you, too, Shawn.  I’m glad we both found each other, too.”

 

“Nice looking family you’ve built here, Max.  I’m happy for you.”

 

“Thanks, Shawn.  I didn’t think having a family would ever happen, but now that it has, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.”

 

“You’re not gonna’ be happy for long if we’re late getting to the school,” Lee interrupted, looking at her watch and tapping her foot impatiently.

 

“Is she always like this, Shawn?”

 

“No, not really,” he answered.  “Usually, she’s a lot worse,” he laughed, ducking the punch Lee aimed for his shoulder.

 

“Get your coats, boys, and let’s get rolling.”  I turned to Lee and asked, “You two want to ride with us since you’ve got to come back here to get Carl on your way home?”

 

“We might as well,” Lee replied.

 

As everyone else headed to the garage, I knelt in front of Mike and Andy and said, “Remember, you be good boys for Uncle Carl.  I don’t want to get home this afternoon and find out you’ve been nothing but trouble.”

 

“Aw, dad, we’ll be good,” Mike whined.

 

“Yeah, dad, we promise, no ropes,” Andy giggled.

 

“Good,” I answered, giving them both hugs.  I stood, shook hands with Carl, and added, “Carl, I can’t thank you enough for staying with these two today.  Help yourself to anything in the fridge or the pantry.  If you can’t find something, the boys will be glad to help you.”

 

“No worries, Max, we’ll be just fine.  I’ve got the easy job today.  Good luck.”

 

“Thanks, we’ll need it.  I’ll have my phone on vibrate if you need us for anything.”

 

“Would you get out of here, already?  I got this.” 

 

With that comment, I turned and headed to the garage.  The boys had all climbed into the back seat while Lee and Shawn were in the middle and Tom was, of course, up front with me.  With great trepidation for the day ahead, I slowly backed out of the garage and took off for the school.

 

 

“Geez, I thought they’d never leave,” Mike said as he started peeling off his clothes.

 

“Me either,” Andy agreed as he did the same.

 

“I’m with you guys,” Carl said as he started getting undressed, also.  “But we didn’t want to freak Shawn out, did we?”

 

“No, I guess not,” Mike agreed.

 

“So, boys, what do you have planned for today?” Carl asked.

 

“Can we go swimming, Uncle Carl?” Andy asked.

 

“Yeah, we haven’t been in the pool since T.J. got hurt last week.”

 

“Sure, why not?  Drop your clothes in your room and grab towels for the three of us.  I’ll get the key for the shelter and meet you at the door.”

 

“Yippee!” the boys yelled together and high-tailed it to their bedroom and then to the laundry room to grab some fresh towels.  They met Carl at the glass doors to the outside and then ran ahead of him to the shelter.  As soon as the shelter door was unlocked, they threw their towels on the table, ran for the pool and jumped in, splashing water almost to the glass ceiling.  Carl was a bit more relaxed on his entry to the pool, opting to use the steps in the corner.  The end result was the same, though, as he was instantly mauled by two wild boys as soon as he off the steps.

 

 

We arrived at the school and found a space close to the door in the almost empty lot.  I wasn’t feeling any better about our involvement with this, but it was too late to turn back now.  I grabbed Tom’s hand as we slowly made our way across the parking lot.  I noticed Alex, Joey and T.J. were walking with their arms around each other’s shoulders.  When we inevitably reached the door, Shawn pulled it open and then stood by, holding the door open for the rest of us to pass through before he did.

 

“Where to, dad?” Alex asked.

 

“Mr. Furman asked us to meet him at the office and he’d lead the way to the library from there,” I answered.

 

The boys led the way through the eerily silent halls to the office.  As we entered the office, we interrupted Gloria and Steve’s conversation.

 

Steve was the first to react to our arrival by walking over, extending a hand and greeting me with, “Good morning, Max.  Tell me, who did you bring with you?”

 

“Morning, Steve, you already know Alex, Joey and T.J.  This is my fiancé, Tom, my sister, Lee Nichols and one of her people, Shawn Black.  Everybody, this is Steve Furman, president of the school board and today’s ringleader.”

 

Steve shook hands with everyone and said, “A pleasure to meet everyone.  I know the subject of today’s workshop may not be what you normally deal with, but I think it’s very important and I’m glad you’re all willing to help us out with it.”

 

“We’re happy to help, Steve,” Lee replied.

 

“Now if Dylan would just get here, we could get started.”  At that moment, the office door opened again and in walked Dylan, offering a wave of the hand as a greeting to everyone.  “Well, speak of the devil.  Looks like everyone is here now, let’s get this thing going.  Gloria, turn on the answering machine and get to the library, everyone else should already be there.”  Steve led the way through the halls to the library.  As we entered the room crowded with teachers, bus drivers and other staff, I could hear several people asking questions like ‘Who the heck are they?’ and ‘What are those students doing here?’

 

“Quiet down, everyone,” Steve demanded.  “We’ll get to your questions in just a moment.”  Steve had the chairs in the library arranged so all the people who’d just met in the office would be facing the school’s employees.  After we’d taken our seats and things had quieted down, he turned to his staff and began.

 

“Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for being here, though you really don’t have much choice, do you?  I know you were expecting this last workshop day of the year to be used to discuss what we can do to improve the standard of education in our district.  However, as important at that topic is, I have changed our plans for today after discovering something I feel is much more important.  I’m hoping at the end of the day, you will agree with me.  A couple of the questions I heard asked as we entered just now are who are these people and why are they here?

 

“Let me answer the first of those two questions by introducing you to our guests for the day.  Starting on this end, we have Sergeant Dylan Brock of the Sangamon County Sherriff’s department.  Sergeant Brock has fifteen years of service in the department and since I’ve worked with him before on other things, I thought it would be a good idea to have him here to include a law enforcement perspective on today’s subject.”

 

One of the staff members raised a hand and asked, “Excuse me, Mr. Furman, what, exactly, are we doing today?”

 

“All in good time, Eileen, just a little patience, please,” Steve responded with just a hint of authority in his voice.  “Now, if I can continue without further interruption?  Thank you.  Next, we have Lee Nichols, the Assistant Director of an organization in Springfield named the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or ICASA for short.  Sitting next to Mrs. Nichols is the Communications Director at ICASA, Shawn Black.  For those of you who don’t know, ICASA’s main function is to provide funding and support to rape crisis centers all across the state.  This is a much-needed service and while today’s topic may not fall in their regular scope of operation, they are well-voiced in the matter at hand and I welcome their input today.

 

“Next on today’s guest list are Max Sanders, his fiancé, Tom Wright, and three of their five soon-to-be adopted sons, Joey and Alex Allison, and T.J. Bruce.”  I noticed several of the people gazing awkwardly at us and shaking their heads.  “Joey, Alex, and T.J. are all students here and you may recognize them.  Mr. Sanders, some of you will probably know, is an author with four best-sellers to his name.  Mr. Wright recently resigned his position as a Sangamon County Deputy in the Sherriff’s department to begin a new career as a private investigator, working with the agency assisting in their upcoming adoptions.  Mr. Sanders and his family are responsible for our change in subject matter today.

 

“Can we please give our guests a nice welcome?” 

 

A light round of applause filtered through the assemblage and once quiet was restored, Eileen stood, placed her hands on her hips and asked testily, “You still haven’t told us why we’re here, Mr. Furman.  I’d like to know what’s more important than improving our standards and methods.”

 

“Eileen, if you would sit back down and behave like an adult at an important meeting, I’d be happy to tell you,” he replied, the anger evident in his voice.  Steve waited impatiently, tapping his foot on the floor, as we waited for a red-faced Eileen to re-take her seat.  After being seated, again, Steve continued, “The subject of today’s workshop is the acceptance of gay youth in our district and the epidemic of suicide by young people happening all across this country, most notably, among youth who identify as gay.  We’ve been lucky in this district, so far, and I want to keep it that way.”

 

“Oh, big effin’ deal, let the little flamers kill themselves,” came a gruff voice from the back row.

 

Steve’s reaction to the incendiary comment was immediate.  “Was that you Horace!?” he asked, barely controlling the rage that had risen inside him.

 

“Damn right, it was.  Those perverts don’t deserve to live.”

 

“I figured as much.  Get your sorry ass up here right now.”  We all waited while the man worked his way through the crowd to stand in front of Steve.  “Give me your keys to the building right now, Horace.  As of this moment, you are no longer employed by this district.  I hope you enjoy your newly found free time.  We’ll mail your last paycheck to the address in your personnel file.  Perhaps you can find Ms. Carr and join her while you both search for new jobs.  And don’t waste your time filing for unemployment because it will be denied.” 

 

Steve held out his hand and waited for Horace to hand over his keys.  Once they were removed from his keyring and in Steve’s hand, Steve dropped them into his pocket and said, “Now, get the hell out of this school and don’t you ever darken its halls again.  If you refuse to leave, I will have Sergeant Brock remove you.”  Dylan stood, extended himself to his full height of six foot, four inches and glared menacingly at Horace.  Horace seemed to get the message, turned on his heel and beat feet out of the library.  We soon heard the slam of another door echo through the halls as he left the building.  I noticed the twins’ teacher, Mr. Thomas, give a little pump of his fist in celebration of Horace’s inglorious exit from the building.

 

Steve turned to us and said, “I apologize for that little display, boys, but you won’t have to deal with him ever again.”

 

“That’s all right Mr. Furman,” Joey started.

 

“Yeah, we never liked him anyway,” Alex added.

 

A light chuckle filtered through the group and once quiet was restored, Steve asked, “Well, folks, it looks like we now need a new custodian along with a new principal.  Does anybody else here have the same opinions as Horace?” Steve paused a moment before continuing.  “I tell all of you right now, I will not allow any employee of this district to think that way and remain an employee.”  He looked directly at Eileen and added, “If you’d like to leave this workshop, and your job, simply because you don’t agree with the subject, now is your opportunity.  If you believe as Horace does, give me your keys and get out.”  Nobody said a word for several minutes as Steve looked every employee in the eye and allowed the rage he’d felt dissipate before continuing.

 

“Good, now that we have that nonsense settled, let’s move on.  I’m going to start today’s workshop with a story, of which, none of you are aware.  This is a personal story and while have I permission to share it, I would be very thankful if it doesn’t leave this room, please.  My sister, Candice, is a lesbian.”  A hush fell over the room and many of the school’s staff raised their eyebrows in surprise.  “However, when she was younger and still struggling with her sexuality, she married a fine young man she thought was the answer to her prayers.  And, for a short time, he was.  Just a few months after the wedding, she’d become pregnant and it seemed her desire for a, quote, normal, unquote, life had been achieved.

 

“My niece was born right on time and Candice was over the moon with happiness.  She doted on her daughter during her maternity leave and actually contemplated becoming a stay-at-home mother for a while.  However, economics being what they are, at the end of her leave, she placed her daughter in a well-respected daycare and returned to work.  She settled back into her job, but couldn’t wait to pick up her daughter every night on the way home.  A couple of months after she’d returned to work, her employer hired a new employee and she was assigned to Candice for training.  My sister and the new employee, let’s call her Terry, got along quite well during the training and they enjoyed the time they spent together.

 

“A couple of weeks into the training, Candice began to feel things for her trainee she’d not felt in a long time.  The two shared a certain closeness and familiarity she’d not felt before.  It wasn’t until they went out to share a dinner one evening about a month later that Candice realized she had fallen in love with Terry.  She struggled to come to terms with these new feelings, but she was very torn since she was married and had a very young daughter.  She couldn’t understand how she could be married to a man and, yet, have feelings for Terry.  She loved her husband, but was beginning to believe she loved Terry even more.  Candice dealt with the situation as best she could and really tried to convince herself that the attraction to Terry was just some passing fancy that would diminish in time.

 

“She didn’t count on Terry announcing late one afternoon that she’d fallen in love with Candice and then suggest the two of them spend some time together to see if there was a future for the two of them and Candice’s daughter.  Candice, being the good wife and mother she was trying to be, put Terry off, claiming that since she was married and shared a daughter with her husband, there was no possibility of anything happening between the two of them.  That worked for about two weeks, with Candice becoming more withdrawn and closed-off.  Candice finally decided to give in to her feelings towards Terry and arranged a weekend trip for the two of them, under the guise of a business-related trip.  Her husband would stay home with their daughter.

 

“While Candice and Terry spent the weekend at a very nice resort, Candice, finally, realized who she was; that she was, indeed, homosexual.  She hated the thoughts and feelings that she’d been dealing with for months, but there was no escaping the truth.  When she returned home from her trip, she and her husband had a very long talk.  He was obviously upset and angry with Candice.  He felt he’d been lied to and, while that was never her intention, it is essentially the truth.  Once she was able to get her husband to understand her own internal struggle, he very slowly became more understanding of their new situation.  They both knew what had to happen, but neither was willing to be the first to make the suggestion.

 

“That’s when I got pulled into the middle of it all.  Having no knowledge of what had transpired in the preceding months, they told me what was going on in their lives and wanted to know how I thought they should proceed.  I was completely blindsided.  I went to their house not knowing a thing, only to discover my sister was gay and their supposedly happy marriage was coming to a rapid end.  Needless to say, I was stunned beyond belief.  I gave them the only suggestion I thought was reasonable under the circumstances; it was time for them to go their separate ways as amicably and equitably as possible, keeping in mind the needs of their daughter and how this would affect her life in the future.

 

“They eventually got a divorce and Candice and Terry ended up moving in together.  Candice was, again, the happy-go-lucky and outgoing individual I’d always known.  Things were great for a while.  Candice and Terry were creating a new life together, and even my ex-brother-in-law seemed at peace with the way things were going.  He and Candice shared joint custody of their daughter.  She’d spend a week with Candice and a week with her dad.  I never heard a word from anyone about any issues they were having, thought it turns out there obviously were.

 

“Several months later, in what we all assume was a fit of jealous rage, the ex-husband appeared at Candice and Terry’s front door.  When Terry opened the door, he shot her in the face and then turned the gun on himself.  Both lay in the doorway, one on top of the other, dead.  Just like that!” he added, snapping his fingers.  “As luck would have it, Candice and her daughter had run to the grocery that evening and weren’t at home when it happened.  A neighbor who heard the shots called the police and they arrived within five minutes of the shooting.  Of course, it was too late to help either Terry or the ex.

 

“I can’t even begin to imagine the thoughts that passed through my sister’s mind when she returned home that night, finding police cars and ambulances surrounding her home.  Then, as if that weren’t enough already, to get out of her car, only to find two people for whom she cared deeply, gone.  Candice broke down and I was called to the scene to help take care of her and my niece.  I bundled the two of them into my car, went through the garage to pack a few things for them, then took them to my home.  She stayed with my wife and me for the next two weeks as we all went through the motions of trying to carry on with a normal life, whatever the hell that was.  We struggled to deal with two funerals and two different families, and then struggled even more with the aftermath.

 

“When Candice finally decided she was ready to move on with her life, she tried to return to the home she’d shared with Terry.  Imagine her surprise when she opened the door to find her former home completely empty and devoid of any evidence of her and her daughter having ever lived there.  All the furniture, pictures, clothes, her daughter’s things, gone.  After contacting Terry’s family, she discovered they were the ones who had emptied the place.  When asked about her daughter’s belongings, she was told everything had been taken to the landfill because none of them wanted it.  They never considered Candice to be a part of the family due to the nature of the relationship she had with Terry and they wanted nothing to do with her or her daughter.  She was now faced with the impossible task of starting over from square one. 

 

“Both returned to my home, Candice heartbroken and distraught over even greater loss.  She was at her wit’s end and didn’t have a clue about how to begin starting over.  I didn’t know until several years after the fact that she had seriously considered the idea of killing herself and leaving her daughter to be raised by my wife and me.  I don’t know what made her change her mind as she never told me, but the important thing is, she did.  It took her the better part of the next year to put her life back together, find a new home and replace all the things Terry’s family had blindly disposed of.  Now, ten plus years after that horrible night, she has a new partner in life, and their daughter is now twelve years old and growing like a weed.

 

“However, despite all that progress, we are now faced with problems, again.  My niece is being bullied relentlessly by other students in her school simply because she has two moms.  Despite numerous complaints, the school district is not doing anything to resolve the issue because they apparently don’t agree with Candice’s lifestyle and couldn’t care less about the long-term effects on my niece’s life.  As a result of their inaction, Candice, her partner and her daughter will be moving to New Berlin after school is out so she can attend school here this fall.  I will do everything in my power to ensure that when she is a student here that she will not be subjected to the same treatment she is now receiving.  I’m just hoping that she can make it through the next two-and-a-half months without doing something horrible.

 

“Suicide is not just a problem for people who are gay, it’s a problem for their families also and I’m very concerned about my niece and her mental health.  Candice’s ex-husband and his actions are proof of that.  I’m doing everything I can from a distance to support my sister and her family, but it’s difficult not being there in person and being able to give them a hug when they need it the most.  They know they have a better life waiting for them and they are hopeful for the future.  Helping my sister recover from her losses was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it was also one of the most rewarding.  If called on, I would do it all over without one bit of hesitation.

 

“I will now repeat what I started with; I will not accept that type of treatment for any student or staff member in this school.  If you are unable to treat people as human beings regardless of their race, religious beliefs, sexuality or any other basis, then I recommend you find yourself a new employer.  We, as a group, need to work together to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for all the people in this building.  Our students are our life-blood.  A bullied student is more likely to harbor feelings of resentment, hate and depression and that combination of feelings often leads to suicide.  We need to be especially aware of those among us who may be bullied for who they are and react in a positive manner when bullying is witnessed or reported.  We have policies in place on how to handle bullies and they will be enforced.

 

“That’s all I have to say at the moment.  Any questions before Sergeant Brock takes over?”  With no apparent questions, Steve turned to Dylan, said, “Your turn, sir,” then took the empty chair at the end of the line.

 

Dylan stood and began, “Good morning.  I have worked with some of you before on our safe-driving clinics and I appreciate the support you given me over the years for that.  It’s good to be back here today, although for an entirely different reason.  In my opinion, suicide is never the answer to a problem, no matter how desperate that problem may seem.  I can understand that hurt and depression can cause a person to take their own life, but in my experience as a cop, it always leaves more questions than answers for the victim’s families and friends.  Of course, a person hell-bent on killing themselves isn’t thinking about the people they are leaving behind, their only concern is ending their pain and whatever is causing it.

 

“In my time in the sheriff’s department, I have dealt with and investigated about twenty-five suicides.  Of those, eight or nine have been children or young adults, ages twelve to eighteen.  The majority of those have been the direct result of the victim being bullied for some reason.  The few individuals that actually left notes giving their reasons, bullying was most definitely a leading cause for the suicide.  In the other cases, where no note is left, we investigate and try to determine why such a young person would feel the need to end their life.  In all but one case, the others were also determined to be a result of verbal and mental abuse forced on the victim by his or her family and/or friends.  There is only one case in which we never found a direct link to anything and that one remains a mystery and haunts me to this day.

 

“Now, of the other cases where we know bullying was a contributing factor in the suicide, in two cases, we know the victim was being abused because they were perceived to be gay.  Whether they actually were or not is immaterial, just the fact they were believed to be was enough for their abusers to inflict their abuse.  The biggest grounds for gay youth to be abused in this manner is based on the religious beliefs of the parents or friends.  How any parent can abuse their own child, for any reason, is incomprehensible.  I know it happens because I see it on a regular basis, but I will never understand it.

 

“I have seen families torn apart by a child’s suicide.  Parents blaming the other one for being the reason the victim killed themselves.  Inevitably, these families will end up divorcing over the whole thing and go their separate ways simply because they can’t deal with the grief of having lost a child.  And on top of that grief, they are, sometimes, also carrying the guilt that they may have somehow caused it.  I truly feel for those families.  I’ve even seen parents who have committed suicide because of the combination of grief and guilt.  Whatever pain the child was in pales in comparison to the pain of the parents and other family left behind.

 

“One thing you will never hear me do is blame the victim of a suicide for their own death.  To do so would be an insult to their memory.  People don’t reach that low of a point in their lives on their own, they inevitably have help of some type along the way.  That’s why I investigate a suicide with every tool at my disposal, to see if I can find an explanation or reason, then see what I can do to prevent another such event.  In my cases involving youth, I’ve talked to the person or persons we’ve discovered to be the source of the abuse to try and impress on them that their behavior was a factor.  I then follow that up with arranging counseling for them.  I do that because they now fully understand what they’ve done and I always worry that I may soon have another victim and I don’t want that.  In the cases where the abuser’s parents couldn’t afford the counseling, I make sure it gets paid for, one way or another.

 

“The last thing I want to say to you today is you never know who around you may be gay.  In light of that, you should always be careful what you say when around other people, keep your slurs and your hate to yourself.  We don’t want to hear it and we get offended when we do.  Thanks for your time today,” he ended and turned to take his seat.

 

Eileen stood and asked, “Um, excuse me, Sergeant Brock.”

 

“Yes, ma’am, how can I help you?” Dylan asked as he turned around to face the audience again.

 

“When you just said ‘we’, were you including yourself in that?”

 

“Ah, you caught that, did you?  No moss growing on that rock, Steve,” he grinned.  “Yes, ma’am, I was including myself.”

 

“But why? You’re not gay.”

 

“And just why do you think I’m not?  Because I’m a cop?  Or because I work out?  Or is it because I’m black?  Exactly why do you think I’m not gay?”

 

“Well, you just don’t fit the type, I guess.”

 

“And just what ‘type’ is that?  Do you actually think you can determine who’s gay or not simply by looking at them?”

 

“Well, you know what I mean.”

 

“No, ma’am, I honestly don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

 

“Oh, the limp wrist, the lisp thing, acting in an effeminate way.”

 

“Ma’am, all those things you just mentioned are nothing but the absolute worst stereotypes that we’ve been saddled with for years.  I obviously exhibit none of those characteristics, but it doesn’t make me any less gay.  That’s exactly what I was saying when I said you never know who around you may be gay.  The only way to know for sure is to ask, but I would recommend you know the person very well before you ask that question.”

 

“I’m sorry, Sergeant Brock, I just assumed…”

 

“Of course, you did, and we all know what happens when you assume something.”  A very red-faced Eileen sat back down amidst a round of quiet chuckles and Dylan asked, “Any other questions?”

 

“I have one,” Ken said as he stood.  “If we feel we have a student at risk, what should we do?”

 

“That’s a damn good question and I’m glad you asked it.  I’m sure Lee and Shawn will have some better information for you on that, but here’s what I’d recommend.  First, reach out to the student, talk to them, let them know you care about them as a person and they’re not just another student.  Second, notify the school counselor so he or she can get involved.”

 

“Um, we don’t have a counselor on staff,” Ken commented.

 

“Well, that’s just unbelievable.”  Dylan turned to Steve and asked, “Is that true, Mr. Furman?”

 

“At this moment, it is.  We had to cut that staff position some years back due to budget cuts from the state, but I’m working on rectifying that situation.”

 

“Good, do it quickly.  You should never have a school without a counselor on hand.”  Dylan turned back to the crowd and continued, “Well, since you don’t have one on-site, I guess you’ll have to skip the counselor step for now, anyway.  Next, you need to contact the parents or guardians of the student and let them know of your concerns.  In this day and age, with both parents working, or single parents working more than one job, and with all the electronic entertainment available to amuse kids, the parents may be completely unaware of what’s going on in their child’s life.  They need to know as soon as humanly possible so they can get involved.  Even after you’ve contacted the parents, stay involved in the situation and make sure the child is receiving the help they need.”

 

“Thank you, sergeant, I appreciate the information,” Ken responded before retaking his seat.

 

“You’re very welcome.  If there’re no more questions for me, I believe I’ll let Mrs. Nichols and Mr. Black take over.”  Dylan returned to his chair and Lee and Shawn took his place.

 

“Good morning to you all.  I want to thank Mr. Furman for including us in today’s workshop.  My name is Lee Nichols and I am the Assistant Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, also known as ICASA.  The gentleman with me today is our Communications Director Shawn Black.  Since the main focus of Shawn’s job is providing concise and effective communications with our rape crisis centers, he’s going to be doing most of the talking for us.  However, before I turn this over to him, I’d like to tell you how today’s subject has affected my family.

 

‘Holy crap’ I thought, what the hell is she doing?  I hung my head in disbelief and to hide any possible reaction as Lee continued.

 

“My brother is gay.  I’ve known and accepted that fact long before he did, but we never discussed it until he was ready to do so.  I also know of his battle with depression and just how close he was to ending his life, though I’m sure he believes I’m completely unaware of his struggles.  There are some things he may be able to hide from me, but that’s not one of them.  I have supported my brother and the decisions he’s made throughout his life and I will continue to do so.  You see, who he is and how he lives his life are none of my business, unless he asks for my help.  If and when he does ask, I’m there for him.  All I want for him is to be happy with who he is and happy with his life.  I believe he has found that.

 

“When he finally came out to our parents last fall, it was a very rough time for our family.  I knew he was hurt by our parent’s reaction to the news, severely depressed and close to suicide, but I was there for him when he needed me.  We talked a lot at the time, more than we’d done the previous five years, probably, and I think I was finally able to get him to see things in a positive light.  While he is ultimately responsible for deciding he’d rather live than die, I like to think that in some small way, I was a part of that decision.  I honestly don’t know what I would have done had he continued on the path he was following and carried through on his plans.

 

“Despite our parent’s religious beliefs, our mother was the first to realize that her son was still the same person he’d always been and finally decided to treat him like a civilized human being instead of an animal.  I think that was a big factor in my brother deciding he wanted to continue living, the simple fact that our mother had started to change her attitude and showed she still cared about him. 

 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t quite as lucky with our father.  He continued to be hateful to his son until just this last weekend when he decided he just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  Last Friday night, he swallowed a handful of prescription sleeping pills.  Fortunately, he was found by a neighbor before it was too late and we still have our father with us.  Amazingly, he has not only changed his attitude, he has also accepted that my brother is in the process of adopting four or five boys and he has volunteered to pay for his upcoming wedding.

 

“So, we had one almost attempt and one actual attempt at suicide in my family with the last six months.  My mother and I would have been devastated had either one actually succeeded.  Fortunately, it appears we’re past that chapter of our lives and ready to start writing new ones.  The only other thing I’d like to say before allowing Shawn to take over is this, suicide among gay people and their families is not just a problem for young people, it can affect anybody of any age.  We are focusing on the issues affecting children today because that’s who you spend every day with and they are at the highest risk because of their vulnerability.  Thanks for listening and I’ll let Shawn take it from here.”  Lee stepped back and Shawn stepped forward.

 

“Good morning, again, everyone.  I’ll try not to bore you completely today, but I do have some important information and resources to share with you.

 

“First, you’re probably wondering what Lee and I are doing here since we support rape crisis centers.  You’re thinking we don’t have anything to do with suicide, am I right?”  Many of the school’s staff nodded their heads in agreement.  “Well, unfortunately, many victims of rape deal with severe depression and guilt after their ordeal, believing they are somehow responsible for what happened to them.  Sometimes, those emotions overflow and they turn to ending their lives to escape the pain.  Rape is not a crime of passion as some would like you to believe, but it is a crime of violence and power on the part of the rapist.  The victim is never responsible for what has happened to them.

 

“Second, you’re also thinking that gay people don’t rape or get raped.”  More nods of agreement.  “Well, you would be incorrect.  Anybody can be sexually assaulted by anybody else.  I’ve seen research where straight men have sexually assaulted gay men, trying to prove to the victim that being gay is wrong, even though they’re performing a gay sex act.  The rapists in these cases are apparently too stupid to see the flaw in their twisted logic.  I’ve seen where straight men have raped gay women to try and show them what they are missing by being gay, trying to show them they really want to be straight.  Again, the logic they employ boggles the mind.  I have also seen these examples turned around with women as the assaulters, against both men and women.  And, of course, you also have gay on gay sexual assaults happening.  Nobody is exempt.

 

“Third, a gay person who has already been contemplating suicide, for whatever reason, is at an even greater risk of following through with an attempt after an assault.  The shame of being an assault victim, added to what they were already dealing with, can be overwhelming.  They are certain that the only way to stop their pain and anguish is to stop living.  As Sergeant Brock said, the victim should never be considered at fault.

 

“One of you asked Sergeant Brock what you should do if you feel you know a student at risk.  The sergeant’s recommendations were right on the money as far as they went.  However, there are other resources available, of which, you should all be aware.  The first, of course, is 9-1-1.  If you know of anyone that you feel is immediate danger of inflicting harm to themselves, stop what you’re doing and make the call.  Don’t hesitate.  Explain the situation to the emergency operator and help in the form of law enforcement and an ambulance will be dispatched.  While you wait for help to arrive, talk to your student, try and make a connection, let them know they are important to you. 

 

“There is also a gay help and counseling group available for anyone by way of e-mail.  The e-mail address is gayhelpline26@gmail.com.  Their main purpose is to help stop gay boys and girls of any age from committing suicide.  They will also talk with the individual and help deal with coming out to their family and friends.  Most youth are going to be more willing to discuss their problems with someone using this method than they would talking face-to-face with someone. 

 

“Another resource available via internet is called Ears for You.  Again, this is an e-mail-based help organization and their address is earsforyourhelp@gmail.com.  The people at Ears for You are there to listen to anyone who contacts them for any reason.  They also have face-to-face help available if that’s desired and are working on setting up a toll-free number to make it easier to contact them.

 

“Both services are free of charge.  Also, since most kids aren’t comfortable with talking to their parents about what they are feeling, they probably will not want to use a computer at home for this purpose since there’s a chance their parents could find it.  I would recommend setting up a computer in a discreet location here in the school that students can use for this.  There are many other help lines and counseling organizations available that specialize in dealing with gay youth, helping them come to understand who they are, that being gay is as natural as being straight.  I have some brochures on some of these organizations and I will leave them with Mr. Furman so they will be available to all of you on request.

 

“If any of you ever want more information on services that are available, don’t hesitate to call me.  I have access to sources of assistance that you wouldn’t even dream are available.  If you would like to become actively involved in helping end this problem, call me for help with that also.  I’ll be glad to put you in touch with counseling organizations and suicide prevention hotlines that are always looking for people to talk to others and answer phones.  I think that’s it for us, unless anyone has a question.”  With no response from the staff, Lee and Shawn took their seats.  It looked like it was my turn now, but I still wasn’t ready to do this.

 

Before I could stand up, Ken stood and said, “If it’s okay with you, Mr. Furman, I’d like to say something.”

 

“Are you sure, Ken?” Steve asked seriously.

 

“Yeah, it’s time.”  Ken took just a moment to weave his way through his co-workers until he was standing in front them, shaking like a leaf.  “Hi, everybody,” he started as he gave a little wave and received a few back.  “I’ve only been working in this district for a little over a year and a half and I love my job and the people I work with.  I’m not really supposed to talk about this and I hope Mr. Furman will forgive me for doing so, but I’ve got to get something off my chest.  A couple of weeks ago, I was fired.”  A collective gasp of surprise emanated from the staff. 

 

“During a meeting with Mr. Sanders, his sons’ teachers and Ms. Carr, I was asked a question and I answered it honestly.  I let it be known that I’m gay and Ms. Carr did not appreciate my honesty.  She then went to great lengths to see that I was let go by lying to the board about something she supposedly saw happen in my classroom.  What I haven’t told anybody until this moment is that I seriously considered killing myself that night.  I figured if I couldn’t do the job I’d trained for and loved, what was the point of living.

 

“Fortunately, I was too much of chicken to go through with it.  I didn’t know who I could reach out to for help and was lost for a day while I stewed in my misery.  With the help of Mr. Sanders, Joey and Alex, and Mr. Furman and his daughter, I was reinstated and Ms. Carr was let go for her actions.  This hate that many straight people have for gays has got to stop or we’re going to start seeing even more young people dying all over this country.  Sure, we’re a little different from you, but deep down, we all want the same thing, to live a happy and fulfilling life and to be able to openly love who our hearts tell us to. 

 

“That’s all I wanted to say.  Thanks.”  As he returned to his seat, many of the people he passed shook his hand or patted his back in a show of support.

 

Steve stood, embarrassment evident on his face, and said, “Ken, you know how sorry I am for what was done to you.  All I can do is promise you that something like that will never happen in this district again.  If you’d like to talk about this more with me, my door is always open.”  After a short pause, he continued, “Well, I guess that brings us to our next guest, Mr. Sanders.  Max, the floor is yours.”

 

I warily stood up and took a few steps forward.  My stomach was rolling and I felt like I was going to pass out, but since I volunteered for this, I didn’t think that was a viable option.  After steeling myself for a moment, I finally began.

 

“Hi, my name is Maxwill Sanders and I’m gay.”

 

 

For those who are interested, the organizations and help lines mentioned in this chapter are real.  I was informed of the two e-mail help groups by one of your fellow readers and I gladly used them in the story with his permission.  ICASA is also a very real organization and they do very important work in the state of Illinois.  The following blurb comes directly from their website:

       The Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) is a not-for-profit corporation of 29 community-based sexual assault crisis centers working together to end sexual violence. Each center provides 24-hour crisis intervention services, counseling and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and their significant others. Each center presents prevention education programs in Illinois schools and communities. 

I’m not sure exactly how long ICASA has been in existence, but somewhere between 25 and 30 years.  I’m proud to say that my sister is the assistant director of this organization and has been there almost from its inception.

 

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