CJ and Danny took another look at the photos. They looked as if they had been taken at the farm they worked at in Florida. Obviously they had been taken after they had been working since they were both shirtless.
Before CJ and Danny could recover from their shock, Mr. Alvarez pulled another envelope from the desk.
“Mateo,” he said. “I have one for you as well--perhaps you would like to share it with Anthony.”
Not knowing what his brother had received, Mattie was curious about the ‘gift’. He took the envelope and he and Spin huddled together to it check out.
When they pulled the contents out, Mattie thought he would cry and Spin turned his usual embarrassing shade of red. Inside the envelope were pictures of the two making out like bandits, which had obviously been taken at the ranch.
“Now, boys,” Mr. Alvarez spoke. “Why don’t we all have a seat?” He swept his arm across the room indicating the chairs and sofa that were around the desk.
Mr. Alvarez sat at his desk, Mrs. Alvarez standing behind him with her hand on his shoulder. CJ, Danny, Mattie and Spin sat on the sofa facing the desk, while Zak, Dusty and Dylan took seats in the wingback chairs that were off to the side; they were each feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what exactly was going on.
CJ and Mattie were seated next to each other in the middle of the sofa, each flanked by his lover. They quickly exchanged a puzzled look and showed the other the contents of their envelope.
Mr. Alvarez looked very seriously at his sons. Everything that CJ and Mattie had planned had just flown out the window; in one moment their father had taken the upper hand. They both braced for the worst.
“Boys,” Mrs. Alvarez spoke first. “Please relax. Your father and I have some things to say to you and then we can proceed from there.”
“But, wha--, whe--, How?” Mattie couldn’t speak and CJ couldn’t get out a coherent sentence.
Seeing that the cat was out of the proverbial bag, Danny and Spin both slid close to their lovers to show their solidarity and support.
Mrs. Alvarez smiled at the showing of defiance and solidarity. A slim grin also crossed Mr. Alvarez’s unreadable face.
Mr. Alvarez pushed a button next to the phone on his desk. Immediately the door opened and two young men dressed in black slacks and white tuxedo shirts entered the room carrying trays.
“Before we begin, let’s all have a drink to celebrate Carlos’s birthday.”
Each of the boys was handed a fluted glass of champagne. One of the servers also handed a glass to Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez.
Mr. Alvarez stood. “Please stand for a moment boys,” he said as he raised his glass. “A father is lucky when his children grow up to become the fine men he has always dreamed they would be. With all my children I am a lucky man. But a father is truly blessed when his children grow to become more than he had expected and more than he is. With Carlos and Mateo, I am truly blessed. Please join me in toasting Carlos on his twenty-first birthday. My son, you have truly made me proud to be your father.”
Everyone sipped their champagne to toast CJ. Everyone, except Mattie and CJ who chugged the liquid like it was the last thing being offered. Each was so confused they could only hope that the other shoe would drop soon.
“Please be seated,” Mr. Alvarez said.
Three young women carrying trays laden with finger foods entered the room. They each placed a tray on the side tables around the room so the food was easily accessible for everyone.
Mr. Alvarez turned to address Zak, Dusty and Dylan. “I see my sons are a little flustered over my actions here today. Since they have not yet shared with you their gifts, I have something to show you as well.” He handed an envelope to one of the young women who had stayed behind. She handed the envelope to Zak who sat between Dusty and Dylan.
Zak hurriedly opened the envelope and removed the contents. Dusty’s and Zak’s eyes bulged. They were looking at pictures of themselves at the ranch. Some pictures simply showed them together, but a few of them showed them kissing and holding each other.
Both boys looked up. Poor Dylan felt as if he were completely in over his head.
As the boys all tried to start speaking at once, Mr. Alvarez raised his hands to signal for silence.
“Boys,” Mr. Alvarez began. “I don’t know how much Carlos and Mateo have shared with you, but I suspect most of you know more than I would have felt comfortable with them sharing. I will, however, endeavor to fill in the blanks. Mateo and Carlos are the chief beneficiaries of their late grandfather’s estate. Their brother, Pedro, and sister, Natalia, will inherit smaller portions, but the lion’s share goes to them. I’m not sure until Wednesday, if Carlos was even aware of how much money was involved. I would prefer to be discreet, but since I know how close you all are and suspect that there are no secrets here, I will tell you that Carlos just inherited upwards of fifty million dollars.”
Zak, Dusty and Dylan each sat bug-eyed. They knew that CJ and Mattie were rich, but they hadn’t guessed it was that significant. The other four boys simply sat there and waited for Mr. Alvarez to continue.
Mr. Alvarez observed the reactions. “As I thought”, he said, smiling at his sons and their significant others. “There are no secrets between you. I see both Anthony and Daniel were not surprised by the amount.” He looked at the three boys on the edge of the room. “I suspect that had there been more time, the information would have made it to you boys as well.”
Mr. Alvarez grinned at all the boys and continued, “Since there was so much at stake, it was important for Mrs. Alvarez and myself to do everything we could to protect our sons. To that end, both boys have been under observation by a security team for quite some time.”
The boys again erupted. This time Mattie and CJ both shot out of their seats ready to protest.
Mr. Alvarez stood up and again raised his hands. “Boys! Please!” He raised his voice to be heard over the protests. “Allow me to finish without interruption and then if you have any thing you wish to add, you may.” He motioned to the chairs. “Please sit; this will go easier if we are all calm and relaxed.”
Neither Mattie or CJ were sure about that. They had planned for things to go bad, but nothing they had imagined had prepared them for this.
“As I was saying,” Mr. Alvarez continued, “Carlos has been under surveillance since he left for school in Florida and Mateo has been under the same type of surveillance since we moved to this house. Previously it wasn’t necessary for him, because he simply did not venture out and we always knew where he was and who he was with.
“I know you boys may think we were invading your privacy, but please see it from our point of view. You were meeting new people and exploring new places, but you were also vulnerable to kidnapping, blackmail or a myriad of other problems. We were trying to protect you without ‘crimping your style’”. Mr. Alvarez smirked at his use of slang that he was not comfortable using.
“At first the surveillance on Carlos was fairly low key. My instructions to the men guarding him were that they were only to intercede or contact me if they felt he was in immediate danger. Other than that they simply sent me monthly reports letting me know that he was safe and reports on people who he spent time with.” He saw CJ’s and Danny’s objections in their eyes.” Before any of you start yelling again, please remember this was all done to protect those you yourselves consider friends. We did not investigate any further than necessary to ascertain that you and those around you were not a danger to Mateo and Carlos nor that you could be seen as a threat to them or their safety.
Along the way, we did learn certain things that I think both of my sons would have preferred to have kept private. Of course, we learned that in spite of instructions to him to earn a bachelor’s in business, Carlos forged ahead with his own plans to major in Equine Management. I’d like to say we were surprised, but, my son, we were not. We would actually have been more surprised and perhaps disappointed had you not done exactly what you did.”
CJ sank deeper into the couch. He didn’t think his father capable of shocking him in the manner that he continually did tonight.
“You see, boys, I have always wanted nothing more for my children than to be successful people. To me and my way of thinking, a business degree was the way to achieve this and for your brother and sister, I am correct. Pedro will use his business degree to become a successful lawyer and Natalia will use hers in the fashion industry. But I’ve always known that you two would follow in your grandfather’s footsteps. I was unsure of whether or not to support this. My way of thinking was always that what your grandfather did, while very successful, was not something that would be as successful these days and that you could achieve more and do better. But, your mother and I discussed it before you went off to school and decided that if you wanted it bad enough you would find a way to achieve it--but we would make you work for it. And you did exactly what we knew you would.”
CJ just shook his head and grinned for the first time that evening. “You played me,” he said softly. “Son of a bitch, you played me.”
Mr. Alvarez laughed, “You could look at it that way, I suppose. I prefer to see it as giving you your head. Isn’t that the correct phrase from your horse work?”
The boys all laughed nervously. None of them were sure what direction this conversation was going in. So far, Mr. Alvarez was in complete control, which was not what any of them expected, but he did not seem angry, as Mattie and CJ had predicted; instead he seemed pleased with himself and his sons.
“So we watched from afar as Carlos pushed himself through college and obtained the degree that he wanted as well as working at the local farm where he met Daniel. The early reports on Daniel were very good. He was as good a student as Carlos, he was a champion rider and from everything we saw and heard he was a good and kind person. We were pleased when we saw that he and Carlos had become close friends and when they moved in to together, we were happy that Carlos had a close friend and roommate in Florida.
“Then we started getting new reports.” He looked sharply at both CJ and Danny. “At first the reports were rather vague. Of course, this made me curious, so I instructed the guards to send much more complete reports, so that I could get a better idea of what was going on. These men, who you two have never met, take protecting you very seriously; they came to care for your well-being and they thought by hiding your relationship they were protecting you from me as they would protect you from any danger.
“Finally, they had no choice but to send me the full reports. I must say I was shocked when I first read them and my first impulse was to fly to Florida and drag you home, Carlos.”
CJ nodded; here came what he had expected all along.
“But, I stopped myself. I shared the information with your mother and we spoke at length over this development.” Mr. Alvarez’s expression was unreadable. “I admit, I was not pleased at the idea of any of my sons being homosexual.” He looked at the other boys in the room. “I’m sure my sons have described me in colorful terms to you.” He grinned and most of the boys laughed nervously.
“I would agree that I have probably earned some of that. I have pushed all my children to be the best. I have pushed them to be like me, or in some cases, better than me. I have very old-fashioned views of the world when it comes to relationships. Before I was treated to pictures of my son and his, ahh, paramour,” he nodded to Danny; “before that moment, if you had told me one of my sons was gay I would have had you escorted from my house and soundly thrashed. But that belief was abstract--it was a ‘what if’. When I was confronted with the reality, I had to rethink my beliefs and my reactions.
“You boys owe much to your mother. She helped me a great deal. For her it was a non-event. Carlos and Mateo are her babies and they are allowed to love whomever they wish as long as that person loves them in return.” He looked sharply from Danny to Spin; both boys straightened up and returned the gaze, showing that they understood and they did indeed love their partners.
“Yes, my sons,” Mrs. Alvarez spoke. “I can’t say I understand how this happens, but I do believe that it is not a choice, but the way you are. I love each of you in your entirety and therefore must accept you and your loves the way you are.” She smiled at her sons.
“Yes,” Mr. Alvarez nodded. “Well, it wasn’t as easy for me as it was for your mother. My first impulse was to have Carlos removed from that school and Daniel’s life and brought back home to finish his studies. Of course, I believed that if he were away from Daniel’s influence he would revert back to the son he was supposed to be. Again, thank your mother that I did not give in to my kneejerk reaction. Instead I spoke to many friends and, I confess, some professionals. People who gave me their honest opinions. When I listened to them I came to realize that I was the one who needed to change. Yes, I could drag you back here and separate you from Daniel, but that would not change who you are and in the end it would also make you resent or even hate me. I knew I could not live with losing any of my children.
“We--your mother and I--decided that we would let you come to us to tell us about you and Daniel. When you didn’t, I came to realize that this was my fault. That you expected a certain response and you did not want to deal with that response.
“Then we moved here and Mateo met his new friends. Your mother and I were delighted that he was finally coming out of his shell and enjoying his time with such wonderful boys. Of course, once you started spending so much time at the ranch, we had the guards start following you and your friends as well.” Mattie and Spin cringed slightly.
“Yes, the first report included the pictures that I gave to Dustin and Zachary. Of course, since I had grown to accept Carlos’s sexuality, it was a bit easier to see what two of your friends were up to. Then I received the updates on you and Anthony. Again it was a tough pill for me to swallow, but again your mother has helped me to see the light, so to speak.”
CJ cleared I his throat and everyone turned to look at him. “So, you’re saying that you accept Mattie and I and the fact that we are gay and the fact that our friends are gay?”
Mr. Alvarez nodded. “Yes, Carlos, that is exactly what I am saying. I am an old man. I did not find your mother until I was older than most men who choose to marry. I have a choice. I can spend my remaining years separated and alienated from my sons or I can embrace them and love them for as long as we have.”
“Father, I have to say I’m more than a little shocked,” CJ said. “You’ve always been very vocal in your dislike of homosexuals.”
“Yes, Carlos, I have. Someday when you have children, you will understand why I have changed on this. My children are my legacy. For years, I believed for me to be successful as a parent, my children had to be just like me. That is wrong; for me to be a successful parent, my children must be better than me. I am still struggling with what you and Mateo are. I am scared that you will suffer at the hands of others who do not understand the way you are. But you will not suffer at my hands or by my actions.”
Mattie jumped off the couch and ran to where his father sat. He leaned over and hugged his father tight where he sat. He then went to his mother and hugged her too.
“Thank you, Father. Mother,” cried Mattie. “I was so afraid you would turn against CJ and throw him out. I was ready to go with him if that happened.”
Mr. Alvarez took one of Mattie’s hands in his and Mrs. Alvarez did the same thing.
Mr. Alvarez turned back to the boys. He surveyed his sons and their friends with sadness in his eyes.
“I’m afraid you are going to be leaving with Carlos and Daniel, Mateo,” he said with a heavy sadness in his voice.
“What?” Mattie asked. “Why?”
Mr. Alvarez rose from the desk and walked to a couch that was next to the one that Spin, Danny and CJ sat at. He sat down and had Mattie sit next to him and Mrs. Alvarez on the other side of Mattie. He motioned for CJ to join them and CJ sat down on the other side of his father.
“My sons, there is another reason that I have changed my way of looking at things. When one is faced with his mortality, one must examine his life. During my last physical, my doctor noticed some problems on a test and upon further test discovered that I have colon cancer.” Mattie gasped and hugged his father.
“It is operable and I have an excellent chance at survival. But, since it will be a long recovery, your mother and I have opted to return to Spain for me to have my treatments. We both grew up there and the medical facilities are excellent. Your brother and sister rarely come home and have their own lives and Carlos--CJ--you are starting your life with Daniel. I hear you are buying the Triple J ranch.”
CJ looked at his father, the surprise registering in his eyes. “How?”
“Carlos, this is a small town and I am a wealthy businessman; it is hard to keep anything a secret when those two things are combined. But, you are going to be very successful, I know this. Initially, your mother and I thought we would bring Mateo with us. But he is thriving here, so we cannot break his heart or those of his friends.” He grinned at Spin. “So, we would like him to remain here with you and Daniel. Is that ok?”
CJ was trying to hold his emotions in check. “Father, of course it’s ok. I’ve wanted Mattie with me all along. I’m not happy for the reasons, but I’d rather have him with me with your blessing.”
“That you have, my son.”
CJ leaned forward on the couch and hugged his father and his brother tight.
The other boys watched the Alvarez’s show of emotion awkwardly for a few moments.
At that moment, everyone heard the loud doorbell chime.
CJ and Mattie released their father and sat back on the couch. Mr. Alvarez stood and offered Mrs. Alvarez a hand to rise as well.
“Gentlemen, tonight there are to be no sad faces,” Mr. Alvarez instructed. “We are here to celebrate my son’s coming of age, his college graduation, his new business endeavor and our first meeting with his betrothed. This is a night of merriment and joy. Please; eat, drink, and enjoy our home. You are all family now. When the party concludes, rooms have been prepared for you to stay tonight, so you needn’t worry about driving in any kind of impaired state.” He grinned at all the boys. “Now, I just need one more moment with Carlos, so the rest of you, please accompany Mrs. Alvarez to greet our guests.”
Mr. Alvarez and CJ stood by the desk waiting for everyone else to file out. Danny shot a look of concern at CJ, but CJ just shrugged his shoulders and smiled at Danny.
When everyone had left the room, Mr. Alvarez shut the door and walked back to his desk.
He sat down behind the desk and CJ stood in front of it.
“I have a question, Father.” CJ said.
“Did you know where Danny was this whole time?”
Mr. Alvarez shook his head. “No. Please understand that the reports were only to pertain to your security and Mateo’s. The only information we received about the other boys were background checks. I honestly did not even know that Daniel had left until months after the fact. The monthly reports just indicated that your routine was the same and you were safe. But, come now, you could have found him anytime you wanted.”
“I probably could have, but I needed him to come back to me. If I had chased him down it wouldn’t have been the same.
“I understand. I was curious, given the resources you have why you didn’t simply search for Daniel, but no I do understand. I want you to know, I am happy that you have found each other again. You seem to be making each other happy.”
“Thank you, Father, we are,” CJ said. “So what did you need to see me in private for?”
“There was one more set of pictures that I wanted you to see,” Mr. Alvarez said as he pulled a final envelope from the drawer. He placed the envelope on the desk and stood up. “I’ll leave you to examine them--these are the only copies,” he said pointedly as he walked out of the room.
CJ reached over and grabbed the envelope; he tore it open and yanked out the pictures. He paled when he looked at the pictures. There was a torn slip of paper clipped to the pictures. He read it and slipped it into his pocket. He took the envelope and the pictures over to the fireplace. He grabbed a match from the dish on the mantel and struck it. He set the pictures and the envelope alight and dropped them into the fireplace. He watched as the pictures burned.
When it was all just a pile of smoldering ashes, CJ adjusted his tie and walked out of the room to join the party.
The party was fun for all the boys. They finally got to meet Mattie and CJ’s brother, Pete, and sister, Natalia.
It was easy to see that CJ and Mattie had lucked out by getting their mother’s looks. Mrs. Alvarez was tall and thin, almost regal in stature; she had the same almond-shaped hazel eyes and jet-black hair as CJ and Mattie. She was an incredibly attractive woman.
Pete and Natalia unfortunately inherited their father’s looks. Mr. Alvarez was about 5’10” tall. He was very stocky in build and what little hair he had left had long ago turned gray.
Pete was his father’s younger twin. Same height and build, stern face and beady green eyes. Pete’s hair had not started to recede--it was indeed in full retreat.
Natalia was also short and was very stout. She dressed like a girl several inches taller and many pounds lighter. Natalia was every inch the bitch that her brothers described her as. The only one of her brothers’ friends that she did not completely ignore or treat with utter disdain was Dylan who she seemed to treat as a potential conquest.
Every time the boys turned around, Natalia would have poor Dylan pinned against the wall or some piece of furniture. She would be embarrassingly close and Dylan would have a look of sheer panic on his face. CJ had to pull Natalia away several times to remind her that Dylan was only fourteen years old. Natalia did not seem to care; in spite of her size and very ordinary looks she had no problem keeping her bed filled in New York. As far as she was concerned, money talked in a way that looks did not.
Finally, Danny and Zak, the two who felt the most responsible for Dylan, rounded the other boys up and created a human barricade around poor Dylan.
Natalia finally gave up and turned her attentions to the sixteen-year-old son of one of her father’s business associates.
The boys also met Mattie and CJ’s Uncle Juan, their mother’s brother, who proved himself to be every bit the smarmy asshole that Mattie and CJ said he was.
Juan De Marco was Mrs. Alvarez’s older brother by many years. He was very tall and thin with a sharp nose and thin pencil mustache that made him look like a cartoon villain. He sneered at almost everyone. Even when trying to be pleasant to his sister and nephews you could feel the contempt just oozing from every one of his pores.
The boys all avoided Uncle Juan after they had been introduced. It was not very difficult as the man showed no interest in being around anyone at the party.
The party continued until the early hours of Saturday morning. Many people stopped by to offer CJ congratulations on his birthday and his graduation. Mattie and CJ spent the night mingling and introducing their friends to many of their parents’ friends and business associates.
The boys tried to be responsible considering the number of open bars at the party. By the time the last guest had left and it was only the Alvarez family, the boys and Uncle Juan, Dylan was the only one of the boys who was stone sober. The rest ranged from mildly buzzed (Zak) to almost blitzed into unconsciousness (Spin) and everything in between.
Mattie led a parade up the stairs to the bedrooms. He dropped Zak and Dusty off at the guest room at the end of the first hall and then took Spin and Dylan to his room. He knew that Spin was too far gone to even attempt anything sexual, so he felt safe in bringing Dylan in with them for an impromptu slumber party.
Mattie had Dylan help him strip Spin to his underwear and deposit him in the bed. Mattie and Dylan then both stripped. Mattie crawled into the bed and spooned up against Spin. Dylan slipped under the covers after Mattie and hugged the side of the bed.
“Dylan,” Mattie whispered. “You don’t have to stay all the way over there. You’re our friend; nothing’s going to happen but we can snuggle.”
Dylan hesitated for a moment and then slowly slipped closer to Mattie. Mattie pulled Spin and himself back so that Dylan was spooned against Mattie’s back. Dylan tentatively reached around Mattie. Mattie grabbed Dylan’s arms and wrapped them tightly around his chest.
Spin was already passed out and Mattie and Dylan quickly followed.
CJ and Danny stayed downstairs to have a final drink with CJ’s parents.
“Mr. Alvarez, Mrs. Alvarez,” Danny said. “Thank you for your hospitality. It’s been an amazing evening. I just want you to know that I will help CJ do everything we can to see that Mattie stays happy and healthy until you return.”
Mrs. Alvarez walked over and embraced Danny. “Thank you, Daniel. I think my son made a wonderful choice when he chose you. I’ve watched you and Carlos tonight; I see the way you look at each other. The love between you is so strong. Never take that for granted. Always stay true to each other.”
“We will,” Danny responded. “I love CJ more than anything and I love Mattie like he was my own brother.”
Danny and CJ excused themselves to go up to bed and CJ’s parents did the same.
Sometime later, three members of the family met in the downstairs study.
Juan sat at the desk while Natalia and Pete stood around it.
“Well, your parents are off to Spain and Mateo is staying with Carlos and his lover,” Juan announced. “I had hoped that your father would join us in this endeavor, but apparently between my sister whispering in his ear and his diagnosis, he has turned over a new leaf.”
“Great. Where does that leave us?” whined Natalia. “We only agreed to this because we were screwed by grandfather. You made things worse by selling the estancia.”
Pete nodded. “I had a chance to talk to CJ earlier. He has a lawyer and they are going to audit the trust. When they find that the sale of the estancia was undervalued and you pocketed almost half for yourself, they are coming after you.”
“Then they won’t find out,” Juan spat. “We couldn’t stop Carlos from getting his hands on his trust and that money has slipped away, but I am still the trustee of Mateo’s portion for five more years. As far as his accountants and lawyers go, I have some of the most creative accountants available. The books they will be sent are perfect. It will take a while for them to track every transaction and business move that they cover. That gives us some time to figure out a way to break the trust.”
“And if we can’t break it?” Natalia asked. “What happens then?”
“Well, there is a clause in the trust that says if Mateo dies prior to reaching maturity then the trust would be split between his surviving siblings.”
“But, you wouldn’t,” Pete paled.
“My dear nephew, surely you know that the horses that your brothers are so fond of can be very dangerous.”