Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 5

Posted: 7 May 15

FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General

Thirty feet into the driveway, we came to a stop before a large, black wrought iron gate crossing the driveway, anchored by high stone walls on either side. Todd extracted a security remote of some kind from his briefcase, pressed a button, and the gate silently split in half and slowly opened inward. I suddenly didn't feel so good. I guess I had been so caught up in the drama and events with the bank and Larry's heart attack, I had never stopped to really think about visiting Amanda's house - and possibly my new home - for the first time. Now that it was happening, I was instantly nauseous and my palms were hot and sweaty. Why did it suddenly feel like there was no air in the car? I felt my face flush as I grabbed the seat in front of me with both hands and lowered my head, trying to breathe as Billy eased the car forward through the gate.

"Billy, stop!" I yelled, yanking my door open while the car was still rolling, barely making it over to the edge of the drive before throwing up my breakfast. I was doubled over, still retching, when I felt Sam's hand on my back. He said nothing, just stood behind me, keeping physical contact. He knew I needed his touch most of all to calm me down. Thankfully it worked, and I was feeling better in a few moments. I stood up gingerly.

"You okay, Jack?" asked Sam, gently, never breaking his touch.

"Yeah...I'll be fine. I think so anyway."

"What happened?"

"I don't know, Sam. I was talking with Todd, and then Billy said we were here, and...I don't know...suddenly everything got tight inside...I couldn't breathe...and then I knew I was gonna be sick."

Todd and Billy were now out of the car as well, looking at me. I was so embarrassed. I wanted to walk into the forest and just disappear. Todd handed me a paper napkin and a water bottle.

"Here, this'll help," he said. I nodded and rinsed my mouth out with some of the water, then swallowed a little to see if it would stay down. So far my stomach seemed to be holding. I poured a bit of water on the napkin and wiped my face with it. Billy handed me a couple pieces of peppermint gum, for which I was immensely grateful. Vomit is so gross.

The four of us stood there next to the car and took a moment to look around. I could not see the house yet. It was somewhere up the hill ahead. All around us was dense pine forest with rocks and shrubs lining the edges of the paved driveway. It appeared we were at the base of a small mountain. I looked up the driveway and realized I was seeing a view that Amanda, my birth mother, had looked upon countless times herself. I would never get to share any of this with her. She was gone.

Somewhere up there behind the tall pine trees was the place she had called home, the place where she came to be with Phillip and find refuge and peace after a long day working in the lab. The place where she lived out her last days in pain and the certainty of her impending death. The place where she had spent some of her last hours writing me the letter that had changed my life. The words - her words - which had given me a new hope and a new purpose. I started trembling again, and the tears came like a flood.

Sam pulled me into a tight hug as I incoherently sobbed into his chest. The thoughts and emotions came in waves - all of Amanda's losses in life, the physical and emotional pain she had suffered. My own loss in never getting to meet her or to know her. To hug her and hear her say, "I love you" or have the chance to say those words back to her. When I thought about the fact she would never get to meet Sam and know how much she was responsible for him being with me, the pain of regret took my breath away. Sam just held on tighter. My rock, my safe harbor in the storm of emotions overtaking me.

I don't know how long my inner struggle raged, but when there were no tears left, and my thoughts had settled down, I opened my eyes and looked at Sam's shirt. It was a mess, as was my face again. He lifted my chin with his hand and looked deep into my eyes. He had been crying, too, apparently.

"I'm so sorry, Jack. I can't imagine what you're going through right now. But I'm here for you, okay. Right here by your side...forever." I nodded and grabbed on to him again, desperate not to cry anymore. He wrapped me up in his big strong arms and we stood there in the warm sun listening to the birds singing and the bugs making their noises in the woods around us. And in the beauty and stillness of the moment, I whispered from my heart, "Thank you, Amanda. For everything."

I finally pulled myself together enough to step back away from Sam and turn to the others. "Sorry, guys. I...I didn't expect being here would affect me like this. just overwhelmed me."

"Don't worry about it, Jack," said Todd. "You and Sam told me to get over it last night at the hospital and you were right. This has to be tough, man. This was her house...her home. The place where she lived...and died. Doesn't get any more real than this."

I was shocked. "You know? About Amanda...and the house?"

"Yeah. Larry told me. He said if you ever decided to see this place, you might have a difficult time at first, and to keep an eye on you. And you told me yourself about throwing up when he first showed you the numbers, so I'm not surprised you got sick when all the emotions and reality of it hit you today. It was bound to happen. I'm just glad the car wasn't movin' any faster or we'd have been draggin' your sorry ass to the same hospital as Larry. We've had enough of hospitals for a while, don't ya think?"

I smiled at him. "Yes...we have. More than enough. All I was thinking was I didn't want to mess up Billy's nice car."

"Really thoughtful of you, Cute Stuff. Thanks," said Billy, giving me his huge smile.

"Sam, I think you might want to change your shirt. You, too, Jack. Looks like you've got vomit on it. You guys are handsome and all, but I'm not sure that's your best look for the occasion," said Todd, stepping into his personal assistant role with a smart ass grin. Billy opened the trunk and lifted out our bags, from which Sam and I pulled out clean shirts to put on. Billy put the smelly, dirty ones in a plastic trash bag and put it and the luggage back in the trunk.

Sam smiled at me and pulled me into his arms. "You still up to seein' the house today, Jack? We can come back some other time if we need to."

"I think I'm fine now. Just...stay close, ok?" I said. He nodded and the two of us slid into the back seat together while Todd took the seat up front.

"Okay then. Let's see if we can get all the way up the hill this time, shall we, boys?" said Todd. Sam slapped him lightly on the back of the head and Billy burst out laughing. It broke the tension, and we all laughed as Todd rubbed his head and mumbled, "I'm tellin' ya, Billy. A real pain in the ass, these two."

The driveway was long and winding, but not too steep. I used the two minute drive to concentrate on breathing normally and staying calm. Sam never let go of my hand, and kept stealing glances my way to make sure I was okay. I leaned my head on his shoulder and sighed deeply.

"I love you, Sam." I whispered.

"I love you back, Jack," he replied, squeezing my hand yet again.

I'm guessing we drove half way up the mountain before the driveway flattened out onto a plateau of sorts, cleared of enough trees to make a space for a large, stone-faced dwelling. As Billy pulled to a stop in front of the house, Todd turned to face Sam and me in the backseat.

"Jack, I was thinking. Why don't you and Sam stay here, meet the Smyths, and tour the house. Billy can take me back to the office, and you guys can take your time checking things out and deciding if you want to live here or not. I need to get started on my long list of things to do now, and you don't need to be distracted by Billy and me hanging around. Besides, I want to check on Larry again at the hospital."

I turned to Sam to see what he thought, secretly hoping he'd just make the decision. He looked at me with his sapphire blue eyes, stared at me for a few seconds, and then nodded once.

"Sounds good, Todd," he said. "Billy, why don't you leave our bags here with us. If we decide not to stay, we'll call you later to come get us."

"Whatever you need, Sam," said Billy. We all stepped out of the car and Billy pulled our luggage from the trunk. I saw Sam put the bag with our dirty shirts in one of his suitcases.

"Jack...Maggie and Charles are expecting you guys, and I'm sure they'll take good care of you. But if you need anything, just call or text me, okay?" said Todd.

"Thanks, Todd," I said, finally finding my voice again. "Say hi to Larry for me."

"Will do."

"Billy," I said. "Thank you for everything." He walked over to me and pulled me into his massive arms for a quick hug. Stepping back, he gave me a huge, mega-watt smile, the kind which always brought a smile to my own face.

"Stay strong, Jack," he said, grinning from ear to ear. Then he leaned in to me and whispered in my ear, "When it gets scary, just focus on Sam. He's a good man and he loves you. Jerome does the same for me." He stepped back and I smiled at him, nodding. I was surprised a man of Billy's stature would ever get scared - about anything.

Sam and I stood there watching the car loop around the circle drive and disappear into the trees and down the hillside. He walked up behind me and put his arms around me, holding me with a stabilizing force I still didn't quite understand but desperately needed. I reached up and grabbed onto his arms, leaning backwards into him, and closed my eyes. He sighed, content to hold me and take away all my fears. If only I could stay in his arms forever.

"Well...should we go knock on the door and see if anyone's home?" asked Sam.

"Sure. But before we do...I need to tell you something," I replied.


I turned around to face him, staying in his arms, and looked into his beautiful blue eyes shining in the sun. "First...I love you. Second...thank you for being here with me, and being by my side. I couldn't do any of this without you, Sam. You're my rock. Money could never buy what you give me. And third...if either one of us, for any reason, does not want to live here, then we don't. Agreed?"

"Sure, but..."

"No 'buts'!" I said. "I want us to live together and start our family someplace where we are both comfortable. If this isn't it, so be it. Besides...for me, whenever you put your arms around me...I'm already home."

Sam looked at me with an expression of wonder. "How do you do it, Jack?"

"Do what?"

"Make me I matter. Like you really do need me."

"Because I do need you, Sam. You are the only person in my life who has ever made me feel safe and secure and...well...loved I guess. Really loved. Like I matter, too."

"I do love you, Jack. More than I ever knew was possible."

"Forever, Sam."

"Forever." He took his hand and lifting my chin, gently kissed me. There was such tenderness in his kiss, and something more. I suppose some would call it love, but even "love" didn't quite convey the depth and meaning transpiring between us. My heart was his, and his heart was mine. And nothing else mattered at all.

Sam stared into my eyes with his usual intensity, and I let him into my soul, comfortable now with his ways. I watched the light dancing in the blue of his eyes and smiled, knowing this man wanted me...he truly loved me...and would make his life all about me. I so hoped I could do the same for him. I was beginning to understand what Amanda had said about love - love with your whole self, holding nothing back. Love fully, or not at all. I intended to love Sam with everything I had.

"So, big guy. Whadda ya say we check out this little ol' shack in the woods and see if we want to stay a while?" I said, grinning up at him.

Sam laughed. "Shack? It's a fucking mansion. a ski-lodgey kind of way." I smiled, breaking free from his embrace and looking around.

"It is beautiful, isn't it?" I said. Sam nodded, as he too, slowly took in the landscaping and design of the house.

"It's so not what I thought it would be. I don't know what I thought, really, but...I reminds me of a fairy tale. Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or something. You know...the secret house in the woods." said Sam.

I could see what he meant. The facade of the house was mostly grey stones of many shapes and sizes, broken up by several gables framed in thick, dark wooden beams. There was a timeless beauty to it, possessing a rugged permanence, like it had been there for hundreds of years and would remain for hundreds more. It was definitely not the suburban colonial house I had imagined myself.

All around the house and across the grounds were flowers. Flowers of all shapes and sizes and colors, beautifully arranged in a landscape of plant beds and rolling berms covered in mulch, peppered with large rocks and small trees here and there. These arboreal creations went right up to the edge of the forest surrounding the property. Even the circle drive fronting the house enclosed more of the same. Someone had spent a great deal of time - and money - to create such a beautiful landscape.

As Sam and I took in all the scenery surrounding us, neither one of us noticed the front door open and a man and woman step out on to the deep, covered front porch which stretched the length of the house and disappeared around the one side toward the back.

"You boys like what you see?" said a man's voice. We both jumped, startled by the greeting.

"Oh! Uh...hi," said Sam, letting go of me as we turned to face our hosts. The man was older, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s, with short, jet black hair and light brown skin, clearly weathered by long days in the outdoor elements. He was ruggedly handsome, his huge arms bulging in the dark blue t-shirt he was wearing.

"You must be Jack and Sam," said the petite, dark haired woman standing underneath the man's arm around her shoulders. She was smiling at us.

"Hello," I said. "I'm Jack, he's Sam. You must be the Smyths."

"Nice to meet you both. I'm Charles, and this pretty lady is my wife, Maggie. Welcome." His voice was deep and had a kindness in it.

"Thank you, sir," said Sam. "And yes, I do like what I see. It's beautiful. Did you do all this?" he asked, sweeping his arms to indicate the breathtaking landscape.

Charles bowed his head, slightly embarrassed by the obvious compliment Sam was giving him. "Yes...yes I did. Over a number of years. Now I just maintain it, mostly. Might make a change here and there occasionally."

"Well, it's magnificent. I've never seen anything like it," said Sam.

"Thank you."

"Charles can do just about anything - if it concerns a machine or the outdoors. Inside, not so much," said Maggie, grinning. "Except make a mess with his dirt." Charles chuckled softly next to her. Sam smiled at me.

"Speaking of inside, why don't we all go in and get better acquainted," said Maggie. We followed them up onto the porch and through the large, wooden double front doors, setting our bags down in a two story foyer filled with a round, wooden pedestal table sitting underneath a simple crystal chandelier floating high above it. On the table was a huge arrangement of colorful flowers in a large green ceramic vase. They looked real from where I was standing. I secretly reached out to touch a flower as I followed Sam and the Smyths around the table, across a wide hallway and down two steps into a large sunken living room. Yep, they were real.

Maggie suggested we all find a seat while she went to get some cold water for everyone. As I sat down next to Sam on a soft leather sofa I realized I was facing the same massive stone fireplace Amanda had posed in front of in the photograph Clyde had given me. I could almost see her standing there now, waiting for the photographer to snap the camera shutter. It was a surreal moment.

Sam was busy twisting his head and body to take in the entire room, his eyes moving back and forth from thing to thing. The wall of bookshelves behind us, stuffed with countless literary treasures of all genres, judging from the titles I could see. The two clusters of comfortable furniture - upholstered chairs in a traditional style with small tables and lamps - arranged in conversational groupings around the room. The enormous fireplace, with its stone facade covering most of the wall in front of us.

The far end of the room was essentially all windows looking out onto a wooden deck reaching out to the edge of the forest. The vaulted ceiling soared two stories above us, supported by 12 inch wooden beams of some indeterminate dark wood, adding to the ski lodge feel. It was a comfortable room, a place where friends gather and sit by the fire, telling stories and sharing memories.

Memories I would never share with Amanda and Phillip. I got up, feeling restless, trying in vain to chase away the thoughts of my birth mother, lest I start crying again. But how could I? I mean, I was standing in her home, in a room she probably decorated. Everywhere around me were her things, an eclectic collection of objects unrelated to each other, yet all coalescing into a pleasant, homey decor by their shared connection to the man and woman who brought them here. I didn't believe in ghosts, but being in their space, I could see why someone might "feel" the presence of a departed loved one.

There was a set of traditional drama theatre masks hanging on the wall near the entrance from the hallway. I remembered Clyde telling me how much Amanda and Phillip had enjoyed the theatre together. Next to the masks hung a large pastoral oil print of what looked like a Tuscan vineyard in a gilded frame. Two shining silver swords hung high above the massive wooden fireplace mantel, one crossing over the other. They looked real and deadly. On a side table next to the sofa where I had been sitting was an ornate silver serving platter, upon which sat a copper teapot, a single ceramic tea cup and saucer in a flower pattern, and another ebony wooden sculpture of...something - I had no idea what it was supposed to be. I knew there had to be a story behind every single thing in the room.

There were more fresh flowers in this room, two medium sized arrangements in beautiful vases sitting on display tables up against the walls. The colors of the flowers blended perfectly with the fabrics of the furniture and draperies. And there were several pictures in a variety of frames, including a silver 8 x 10 Sam was holding in his hands.

"Is this her, Jack?" he asked, looking at me. Charles was watching us from his chair, but said nothing.

"Yes, it is," I said, as I sat back down next to him.

"She was beautiful. And he was very handsome, too, wasn't he?"

"Yeah. Clyde gave me a few pictures, but I've never seen these."

"You definitely look like her, don't you." said Sam.

"He certainly does," said Maggie, arriving back with water bottles for everyone. "I hope you don't mind I just brought you the bottles. I wasn't sure if you boys were fussy about using a glass or not," she said with a kind smile.

"The bottle is fine," I said. "Thank you."

Maggie was looking at me, much as Sharon and Clyde had done upon our first meeting. "I don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable look so much like her, now that I'm seeing you up close. It's almost like she's here again." Maggie looked at Charles and he nodded his agreement. "I miss her so much. It's been over 7 months, but it seems like it was just yesterday she was working on her flower arrangements in this room, getting them just so."

"Is she the reason why there are so many flowers everywhere?" asked Sam.

"Oh my, yes. She loved flowers. Phillip would have them sent to her all the time. And she was always consulting with Charles, asking if he could add different varieties to the landscape so there would be color year round. She would always tell me flowers were God's way of answering for all the ugly things that happen in life. I think she surrounded herself with flowers so she never forgot life was beautiful even when it was hard." I saw her wipe the corner of one eye as she remembered her friend fondly.

I suddenly felt we were intruding and unnecessarily upsetting them. "I hope our being here is not too difficult for you. If it is, we can leave. Really, I don't want to make you feel bad, dredging up sad memories."

"Oh no, Jack! Please...please stay. We've waited a long time to meet you. To tell you the truth, ever since I found the letter addressed to her son sitting on her nightstand...well, I've been extremely curious to meet you. I didn't think it would ever happen until Todd called the other day to say you had finally decided to come see the house. I hope you like it here."

"So it's true then? She never told anyone about me? I thought maybe she might have confided in you."

"No, we had no idea. It was quite a shock to us all. She never mentioned anything of her past other than she came from California. Her life with Phillip was all she ever discussed. Clyde told us only a little - that Amanda had had a son she had given up for adoption and he was supposed to try and find you. Until Todd called, we didn't know he had succeeded. Did you read her letter?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am, I did. Clyde gave it to me a few weeks ago. I...uh...well, it was hard to read, but I'm grateful she wrote it. She gave me some very good advice. I can't imagine how she did it with all she was going through at the time."

"Amanda was a strong, independent woman, no one could deny it. She was tough and focused, and when she put her mind on something, there was no backing down for her. In her last week, she all but shut Charles and me out completely. She let me bring her a little food which she almost never ate, but nothing else. I think now it was because she was focused on you and her...secrets...and what to do about them. Of course, we had no idea what she was going through, either. We just did the best we could to make her comfortable. I know it may sound awful to say it, but it was a blessing of sorts when she died. So much pain and suffering for one person to bear." Maggie's voice cracked and she suddenly had tears in her eyes. "Excuse me a moment," she said, as she got up and quickly left the room.

"Will she be okay?" Sam asked Charles. I was shifting nervously where I sat, still not convinced we should stay. I didn't like being the reason people might be getting upset.

"She'll be fine in a minute, don't worry. She'll start doing something to get her mind off of things. Probably cook something. It's what she always does." Charles looked directly at me and said, "It's not about you being here, Jack. She and Amanda were very close, more so than Phillip and I, so it's taking her a bit of time to grieve, that's all. She lost her best friend. Don't get me wrong, Phillip was a great man, and a friend as well, but Maggie and Amanda talked more and...I don't know...did what women do, I guess. I just mostly stayed out of the way and worked outside. Still, it's sad that they're both gone now. This ol' house doesn't feel the same anymore."

"But enough of that. You boys didn't come all the way out here to reminisce. I'm sure you want to explore the place a bit. Well, help yourself to a look see. Take your time, and when you're done inside the house, I'll walk you around the outside and tell you a little about Phillip's mountain. I'll be in the garage across the driveway. I've got my big weed trimmer torn apart and I need to put it back together before the thistles take over the backyard." He stood up, nodded to us with a smile, and left the same way Maggie had gone.

I looked at Sam and he looked at me. "What should we do now?" I whispered. Sam just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"Let's go check it out, Jack."

"Uh...okay. Where do we start?"

"When in doubt, go left." He stood up and I followed him up the two steps into the main hallway and we started walking towards our left. The first thing we came to was an open staircase on our right, one set of stairs leading up, the other down to a lower level. On our left was a closed, six panel wooden door. Sam turned the handle and pushed it open and flipped a light switch on the wall near the door.

It was the most masculine room I'd ever been in. It had to be Phillip's study or den or whatever he had called it. I swear you could almost feel the testosterone in the air. Sam must have been feeling it too because he kept looking at me lustfully as we explored the space. I was feeling a little randy myself all of a sudden.

The walls, floors and ceilings were all made of wood. Matching raised wood moldings of various thicknesses created a deep grid pattern across the ceiling. Another stone fireplace was fronted by a rich, dark red leather sofa with black iron-studded edging. A matching lounge chair was placed at an angle to the couch, the two separated by a gleaming black side table supporting a tall lamp with a black shade. Recessed lighting along the edges of the ceiling illuminated various pictures and objects hanging on the walls.

The biggest picture hung in a 20 x 30 inch ornate wooden frame above the fireplace mantle, showcasing Phillip holding a very large fish with an even bigger smile on his face, standing knee deep in a mountain stream, the currents creating white foam around his legs. A man in his preferred element for sure.

I saw a picture of Phillip with Clyde, Larry and the judge I had met with Clyde, standing together, each holding a golf club. Below the picture, leaning up against the wall in a corner of the room, was a black leather golf bag holding what were probably Phillip's golf clubs. Sam walked over to them and touched them, whistling softly.

"Jack," he whispered. "These are Honma clubs. These are like the most expensive clubs...maybe in the whole world. My old man would give his left nut to play with these. Wow!" I laughed quietly at him. I knew nothing about golf.

"Do you play golf, Sam?" I asked.

"Occasionally. Usually with my dad when I'm home for a visit - which is pretty rare these days. I'm not very good. My dad is, though. At least he holds his own when he gets invited to the country clubs in Connecticut with clients or friends. I don't even own a set of clubs myself. I just usually use some of his old ones. You ever play?"

"Nope. My family is not exactly in the country club set, if you know what I mean. The closest I ever came to golf was P.E. class in school. I wasn't very good at that sport either."

"I'll take you to a driving range sometime...if you want to. It's fun. You don't have to worry about getting the ball into a little hole. You just whack at the balls and take out your aggression on 'em. It's like therapy."

"Well...I'll try it, if you promise not to make fun of me when I miss the ball." I said it with a smile, but Sam immediately crossed the room and pulled me into a strong hug.

"Jack...I promise I'll never be mean to you or make fun of you. I just...I could never do that to you. You're too important to me now. I love you, little man."

"Thank you, Sam. You don't know how much it means to me you care about my feelings like this. I've always been afraid to try anything new because I dreaded all the comments and ridicule when I was no good at it."

"Jack, everybody needs a chance to try something new and the time to get used to it. The first time my dad took me to the driving range I nearly threw my back out in frustration. I think I hit maybe five balls square enough to get them off the ground in an hour of trying. My dad just kept telling me to relax and calm down - it would come to me. I wanted to hit him with the club, which I think he knew, because he kept inching away from me." He chuckled, his eyes filled with the memory of time spent with his father.

I reached up and gently pulled Sam's head to mine and kissed him, hoping to convey all my gratitude for his kindness and the love he gave me everyday. But love quickly gave way to simmering lust, and our kissing became frantic and needy. Sam had his hands down the back of my shorts, squeezing my ass, and I was pinching his nipples through his shirt, moaning into his mouth, our lips locked together tightly. I finally pulled back, needing to breathe, and Sam let go and took a step back, panting, his eyes now blazing with pure sexual want.

He whispered, "Fuck, Jack. You kiss me like that and I get all kinds of horny in two seconds. Damn! So hot. Oh man, I can't breathe." He bent over to catch his wind, while I tried to calm down myself. It probably wouldn't be the best first impression to have Charles - or God forbid, Maggie - find Sam and I having sex in the study. Sam stood up straight and I giggled at the obvious hard cock pushing out the front of his shorts. There was a very small wet spot, too. He caught me looking and grinned back at me. "That's all your fault."

"I take full responsibility," I said, smiling.

"Yeah, right. You do that again, and it'll be your responsibility to get it back down again," he said, pulling me gently into his embrace and lightly kissing me.

"Any time, big guy," I said. He smiled, kissed me again softly, and I laid my head on his chest, feeling his heart beat pulse a little faster than normal. I guess I really did get his motor going there for a minute. I smiled secretly to myself.

"Come on, let's go see what's down at the end of this hallway," said Sam, and I followed him out of the study, holding his hand and leaning on his shoulder. I didn't want to break contact with him for some reason.

On our left was a half bath done in pale blues and yellows. A small arrangement of flowers - real of course - rested on a white shelf hanging on the wall, next to a ceramic figurine of a boy and girl riding bicycles.

The last room at the end of the hallway was a palatial master suite, complete with two bathrooms and two walk-in closets. Unfortunately, the larger of the two bathrooms had a decidedly feminine decor, so I was pretty sure it would need to be changed. If it could match the other more masculine one, it would be perfect. I stood there in front of the mirror for a moment, imagining Amanda getting ready for work, putting on her makeup and fixing her hair. It made me a little sad, so I stepped back into the main room, lest I start crying again.

The main bedroom had a king-sized bed with two matching nightstands on either side of a massive wooden headboard. The focal point on the wall opposite the bed was another fireplace, slightly smaller than the others we had seen so far. Sam was standing over in a sitting area with two chairs and table in front of a set of bay windows overlooking the back deck, which could be accessed by a single door off to one side. The room was comfortable and cozy despite its large size. Sam was staring at the bed.

"Whatcha thinking, Sam?" I asked.

"Besides throwing you down on the bed and having my way with you?" I laughed out loud. He really, really wanted me. I liked him all hot and bothered. He smiled.

"I was thinking this bedroom is huge, Jack. It's bigger than my whole studio in Hawaii. And you could get lost in the closet back there."

"No way, Sam. I spent enough time hiding in the closet. I'll stay out here with you, thank you very much," I said with a grin.

He laughed. "Good. Cuz I like you here with me," said Sam, pulling me into another hug and kissing my neck with a giggle. My pants started getting very tight in the crotch again. Time to move on before we started a fire we couldn't put out this time.

"Come on, big guy. Lots more house to see."

"Okay...but I want you, Jack. You know what you do to me, don't ya."

"I want you, too, Sam. Badly. And if we decide to stay, we'll have the whole night together, here in this room. Just us. And I'll even do the thing you like me to do." He grinned from ear to ear.

"Well, come on then, little man. Time's a wastin'," said Sam. I laughed to myself as we retraced our steps out of the master bedroom and back down the hallway to the stairs.

"Let's go up, and then we'll finish the other side of this level later," said Sam. I followed him up the stairs, my dick getting harder as I watched his muscular ass moving in his shorts. I so needed to be with him.

Upstairs we found two more large bedrooms with private full bathrooms. Each one was done in a neutral decor, suitable for any guest. Nothing was excessively fancy or fussy, just comfortable and inviting. There was obviously money in this house, but it wasn't the focus.

Amanda and Phillip did not seem to be people who liked to show off their wealth. The furniture and linens and decor were very well done, but nothing screamed, "Look at me, I'm worth a fortune. Don't you wish you could have me, too." I had an aunt who had married a wealthy man for his money, and she had a nice home - nicer than anyone else in the family - but she filled it with expensive things to impress people, and it only made it feel uncomfortable and more of a museum than a home. Who needs crystals hanging from every single light fixture in the house?

Between the two bedrooms the hallway opened up on one side to look down into the living room through the criss-crossing wooden beams. The room below, especially the fireplace, was even more impressive from the upstairs vantage point. This was truly a magnificent house without being overwhelming or pretentious.

At the far end of the upstairs hallway, it turned to the left, revealing another set of stairs leading down to the first level. At the top of these stairs was another closed door. Ever the curious cat, Sam walked right up to it and turned the knob. Behind the door was a nicely furnished studio apartment.

The entry opened into a good sized living area with a couch, several upholstered chairs and a couple of lamps on tables. Again, all well made furniture, the fabrics done in various neutral shades and the couch a dark brown leather in a contemporary style. Off to the side and tucked behind a short wall near the entrance was a small galley kitchen, with a refrigerator, two-burner stovetop, wall oven, and a dishwasher. A small table for four sat between the kitchen and the living area. A short hallway beyond led to a single bedroom and a full bathroom with walk-in closet.

At first I wondered if this was where Charles and Maggie lived, but it was quickly obvious no one resided in it. There was no food or anything in the kitchen and the clothes closet was bare. A perfect little in-law suite, but no in-laws to occupy it.

We went down the stairs at that end of the house, finding ourselves in an expansive mudroom/laundry area. Sam opened a door behind us, and gasped.

"Jack! There's a Beemer and a big truck in here. Look!" he exclaimed. Sure enough, the two-car garage held a new looking BMW 750 luxury car, much bigger than the one I had rented in Hawaii, and a huge Ford F-250 4-wheel drive truck complete with a four door passenger cabin. Impressive. And kind of scary. That was a lot of truck.

"You think they're the Smyths'?" he asked. I shrugged my shoulders. I really had no idea. We closed the door to the garage and walked back through the mudroom, around a corner, and found ourselves looking into the most wonderful kitchen I had ever seen. Maggie was busy assembling sandwiches on the massive island floating in the middle of the impressive room. She looked up from her work as we arrived.

"Oh, there you are," she said with a smile. "Finding your way around okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Sam.

" can stop with the ma'am. Just call me Maggie. And my husband is just Charles. We don't stand on too much formality around here."

"Thank you, Maggie. The house is amazing. And this that a brick pizza oven on the wall over there?" I asked. Maggie laughed.

"Yes. It was Phillip's idea. He and Amanda toured Italy at one point, and Phillip, like he always did, got to talkin' to some restaurant people and I guess one of them convinced him the best pizza had to be cooked in a brick oven. So...when they returned, Phillip had that wall redone to include the brick oven, and Amanda wanted the fireplace to come through the wall from the living room into the kitchen. You can see the fire from both rooms."

The stone wall on the kitchen side was actually the back of the fireplace in the living room. It now made sense. I leaned down to look into the firebox, and sure enough, I could see straight through to the leather couch in the living room. Cool! Sam was busy drooling over the pizza oven. The man liked his pizza, this I knew. If we decided to stay here I was pretty sure the pizza oven was one of the first things he would learn how to use.

The rest of the gourmet kitchen was laid out in an efficient manner around the center island. The appliances were all high end, and the stone backsplashes and dark golden colored granite countertops blended perfectly with the tea-stained white cabinetry. Beautiful and functional.

"I would never have imagined a house this big could feel so...homey. And you've obviously taken very good care of things for the Franklins," I said to Maggie.

"Oh, it's what I do. It's what I was born to do according to my mother, God rest her soul. She used to tell me I came out of the womb looking around to see what needed to be cleaned up and organized better. By the time I was eight or nine it was my job to clean and cook and care for the house while my mother worked outside the home. I didn't mind. I suppose it made sense I'd end up working in a hotel managing the housekeeping and then eventually here, taking care of Amanda and Phillip. I like the work. I always have."

Sam had spied the sandwiches and I could almost hear his stomach rumbling for food. My own stomach was still iffy. "What are those you're making?" he asked.

"BLTs on wheat toast with mayo and I have some fresh fruit cut up as well. Care to have a bite of lunch with me?" Sam answered by picking up the tray of sandwiches and carrying it to the table sitting in the middle of an octagonal eating area, each wall made of floor to ceiling windows. The overall feeling was like you were eating outdoors among the trees.

Maggie laughed. "I guess that means he's hungry, yes?" she said, looking at me. I smiled big.

"Yeah. He's always hungry. And whatever you do, don't let him know you have any potatoes nearby. He goes nuts for the things."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said. I carried the fruit platter to the table and sat down next to Sam, while Maggie brought plates and utensils with her. We each took a sandwich and some of the fruit - a mix of grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. I grabbed napkins from a holder in the middle of the table and passed those around, and we dug in.

"Will Charles be joining us for lunch?" I asked, nibbling on a strawberry.

"No. I asked him, but he's busy trying to put his weeding machine back together. It didn't look like it was going too well. I'll save him a sandwich for later. Most days he's up and outside right after breakfast and I don't see him till dinner time."

"Does he need any help?" asked Sam between bites of his second sandwich.

"I don't know. You'd have to ask him," she replied. Sam nodded. I wondered what he had in mind. I certainly didn't know the first thing about putting a weed whacker back together. I doubt I could have taken it apart in the first place.

"Is this your first time to the Denver area?" asked Maggie.

"Yes for me," answered Sam.

"I was here a few weeks ago...when Clyde called me to tell me about...well, everything."

"It must have been a real shock to you, finding out about Amanda. Are you doing okay with it all?"

"I think so. It was hard at first. I didn't know what to think. I couldn't figure out why she did it. I mean, why tell me now, you know? But her letter really helped me understand. Thank you for taking care of it for me. And...for...for taking care of her." My voice cracked and I felt a tear fall. I saw Maggie's eyes well up with tears, too. Sam reached over and grabbed my hand and held it tightly, looking at me with his beautiful blue eyes filled with love. It didn't go unnoticed by Maggie.

Dabbing at her eyes with a napkin, Maggie said, "Taking care of Amanda was what I have lived for for the past twenty years or so. She and Phillip were so good to Charles and me. It was the least we could do for them." I smiled at her in gratitude. I saw her look from me to Sam and back to me with a grin.

"So...if you don't mind my asking, are you boys a couple?" Maggie wasn't shy apparently.

"Yes," said Sam with no hesitation. "Jack and I met in Hawaii a few weeks ago, and we are now partners starting a family together." I loved how it sounded on his lips. He smiled at me and reached for my hand again. I gave it to him, feeling very comfortable with Maggie, which surprised me.

"Beautiful. It will be so wonderful to have love in this house again...if you decide to stay, I mean."

"So you have no problem with two gay men living here?" I asked.

"Oh no. Not at all. Our son Adam was gay, but not really 'out', I think you call it. My husband Charles and I always suspected, though he was 19 before he ever told us directly. Came home on leave from the army and told us he wanted to be a career military man but it wasn't possible. He liked boys, not girls, and I guess the army frowns on that sort of thing. So he decided he was going to work with computers when his enlistment ran out."

"You said 'was' gay. Did he...change his mind?" asked Sam.

Maggie sighed. "No, nothing like that. No...Adam died in a training accident before his service time was up. Weaponry of some kind malfunctioned in the tank he was driving and he and two other boys were instantly killed."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Maggie," I said.

"It's okay. It's been over twenty years now. Life goes on. Our daughter Madison lives in Springfield, Illinois now with her husband Roy and my granddaughter Callie. We just got back from a visit out there last week. Callie's starting high school in the fall. They grow up so fast," she said, looking out the window at the swaying pine trees.

"How did you and Charles decide to move here to Denver?" asked Sam.

"We've been here...well, ever since Phillip and Amanda bought the place. We were working together in a hotel in Florida, Charles and I, and he and Phillip met one evening and hit it off. Adam had...well, he had just been killed, so when Phillip offered us the opportunity to take care of this place, we jumped at the chance to start over. Madison was getting married and moving away, so it was a good time for us. Now Charles takes care of the outside, and I take care of the inside."

"It's a big place for just two people to take care of," said Sam.

"Yes, but it's been our home for so long now. We love it here. Phillip and Amanda, they were our friends more than our employers. The four of us had a very happy life here in this place. They had their research and travels, and Charles and I had our work here at the house. We all together. It was wonderful."

"When I spoke to Todd a few weeks ago, he said you and Charles were wanting to stay on as long as you could. Is that still true?" I asked.

She nodded. "Oh, yes, if we can. I mean, I understand you may need to sell the place. I know we could never afford to buy it, with all the land and the house and everything. But we did talk about it after...after Amanda died...and we decided we would stay on until Clyde figured out what was going to happen with her estate. We did talk about moving to be closer to our daughter, but they're all so busy. Roy is in the state legislature, and Callie is too old to want grandma and grandpa around all the time. Besides, Charles would be lost without the grounds and the house to take care of. He always has a list of things to do to keep himself busy."

I looked across the table at Sam and he immediately nodded once, already knowing what I was thinking. I turned back to Maggie and said, "If Sam and I decide to live here, we would very much like you and Charles to stay on and help us, much as you did for Phillip and Amanda, as long as you are truly okay with two gay guys living here. Do you think Charles would agree?" I asked.

"Agree with what?" said a booming voice from the kitchen. Charles walked in, drying his hands on a towel.

"The boys were just asking if we would be willing to stay on and take care of things for them if they decide to keep the house," said Maggie.

"Before you say anything, Charles, you need to know something," Sam interjected. "Jack and I are gay, and we would be living here as a couple. Would you be okay working for two gay guys?"

Charles surprisingly chuckled. "Well, Sam, you kind of gave away that little secret when you were kissing him in the driveway earlier." Sam smiled and grabbed my hand. I exhaled in relief, not realizing I had been holding my breath.

"I'm guessing Maggie told you about our son Adam." Sam and I both nodded.

"We're so sorry for your loss," said Sam.

"Thank you. Adam was a good man. He would have been great at anything he put his mind to. Pity they wouldn't let him stay in the army - it's what he really wanted to do. Ever since he was a little kid. I guess in the end it didn't matter. But I'll tell you this much, when he told us he was gay, I was more proud of him then than the day he enlisted. Not because he was gay. I didn't really care about that. No, I was proud of him for having the courage to be who he was and to stand up for himself, no matter what the cost. Don't know that I could have done it. So no...I've got no problem with you two being together. Maggie and I will do our best to give you your privacy."

"So you'll stay on with us?" I asked.

Charles looked at Maggie and she smiled at him with a quick nod. He smiled back at her. "Well, MagPie, I guess we'll be staying here a bit longer." She was clearly happy with the turn of events, and it made me happy, too. I liked them, and I knew Sam did, too.

The four of us spent the next half hour chatting while Sam and Charles ate their lunch. Maggie and I just picked at our food. My stomach was feeling better, but I didn't want to push it too much. Charles told us a little about the land - Phillip's Mountain, he called it. There was a path through the woods that went further up the mountain from the house, around a small lake and back down again. He said it took about an hour to hike all the way around it.

Finally they were finished, and I helped Maggie clear up the dishes and put away the leftovers while Sam excused himself to go outside with Charles. I decided to not tag along and give Sam some time alone with him. I wasn't sure why, but something inside me felt like Sam needed it.

"Do you cook, Jack?" asked Maggie.

"Very little. I would like to...I think...but I'm not very good at it. I can make a few things, I suppose." I was thinking about the romantic dinner I had made for Sam. Despite my apparent success with that meal, I still wasn't confident I could repeat my performance.

"How about you help me make some cookies this afternoon. I thought we could barbeque some chicken for dinner and have homemade cookies and ice cream for dessert. Sound good?" she asked.

"Yum! Sure, I'll help. Just tell me what you need." I followed her instructions as she measured out flour, baking soda and other ingredients. She had me laughing and very relaxed by the time Sam and Charles came back into the house. We were just pulling the last batch of cookies out of the oven.

"Oh man, those smell fantastic. Can I have one?" asked Sam.

"No you cannot! Those are for later. Now wash your hands, both of you, and I'll get you some fresh water," said Maggie. Sam smiled at me from across the island. I think he liked having a mother-type around. I did, too.

"Where'd you go, Sam?" I asked.

"I helped Charles fix his weed trimmer. We figured out the fuel line was clogged. Once we cleaned it out, it started right up, good as new. I'm gonna help Charles trim back the thistles in the backyard tomorrow, if that's okay with you." I smiled. Sam had already found something to do with his time. I knew he needed to be useful or he'd go crazy just sitting in the house everyday. Actually, he loved the outdoors as much as Charles. Maybe they could work on projects together.

"Fine with me. I'll probably have to go into the office to meet with Todd and sign a gazillion papers. I'll call Billy to drive me into the city."

"You could drive yourself in, you know. Your car's right there in the garage," said Charles. "There's two of 'em, in fact. The truck and the BMW. The truck doesn't get much use except by me when I need it to haul mulch or some other larger supplies. I have a blade I put on the front in the winter to clear the driveway if it snows too much. Amanda and Phillip mostly used the Beemer. It's my understanding everything in this house, including the cars, now belongs to you, Jack. That's what Todd said on the phone the other day."

"I guess that answers that question," said Sam. I was suddenly feeling shaky, and walked over to sit in a chair, putting my head down on the table. I was fighting tears when I felt Sam's reassuring hand on my back.

"Easy, Jack. It'll be okay." I lifted my head to look at him, searching his eyes for answers. When would the shocks and the surprises stop? I suppose I should be grateful, but suddenly learning all her personal possessions were now mine was almost as difficult as inheriting 580 million dollars, crazy as it may seem. To me, her things were more valuable to me in a way, more precious because they had a direct connection to her. I just never expected it to be like this.

"Talk to me, little man," said Sam.

"I don't...I don't know what to say. I...I don't understand...what am I supposed to do with her things, Sam? I never asked for any of this. I didn't do anything to deserve any of it. What do I do?" The irony of me now asking Sam about how to handle my inheritance was not lost on me.

He grabbed my hands into his and held them tightly. "'s like you told me. Everything Amanda gave you is for a purpose. To help people, right?" I nodded. "Okay then. We keep what we need for ourselves, and we decide what we can do with anything else to benefit other people. I'm sure Maggie and Charles can help us. And Todd. It'll be fine. I know it's a shock. But we'll get through it, okay?"

"Jack? Can I say something?" asked Maggie. I nodded to her and she came and sat down next to me at the table. "I'm sure this is all very difficult to understand, but I want you to know Amanda was not a woman given to emotional decisions. I never knew her to not spend a lot of time carefully weighing out her options and looking at a problem from all angles. She was very analytical that way. I think it's why she was so successful in her research. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, whatever Amanda gave you, she didn't do it lightly or because it was the easy thing to do. She wanted you to have it because she believed you would need it or would know what best to do with it. Sam's right. Use what you can, and we'll figure out the rest when the time comes."

"Thank you. It's just...I don't want to disappoint her somehow. I never met her, but I feel all this pressure to do something - be someone - she would be proud of. The thing is, I don't always know what's the right thing to do."

"Of course, dear. Perfectly understandable. But I can tell you if Amanda were here with us she would tell you to trust your instincts and go for it. She had this saying she repeated all the time: 'Do it afraid'. I asked her about it once and she made some remark about having once lived her life in fear and now she refused to do it ever again. Trust her, Jack. She did all of this for a very good reason."

I nodded to her in agreement, and turned to Sam. "She told me the same thing in her letter, and I've tried to follow her advice. I guess I just have to keep doing it afraid, right?"

"And you're not alone anymore, Jack. Remember that," said Sam. I squeezed his hand, looking into his eyes. He gazed back into mine with so much love I could almost feel it jumping out across the table. I sighed deeply, feeling a little better.

"Why don't you boys go outside for a bit of fresh air to clear your heads. It'll do you good. Charles and I are going to the grocery store - I need a few things for dinner. We'll be back in a couple of hours. Will you be okay here alone? Do you need anything before we go? Is there anything you want from the store?"

"We'll be fine, Maggie," said Sam. "Thanks. Come on, Jack. Let's check out the deck." We stood up and I followed Sam out a door by the kitchen table and down two steps to the deck. There was a gentle breeze blowing, and the smell of pine wafted through the air. Sam pulled me into a hug and kissed me.

"I love you, Sam. So much. I'm sorry for being such a basket case."

"Forget it, Jack. You're fine. This is tough stuff. A lot of changes coming at you fast and furious. I don't know how you're still standing at all. I can barely keep up with everyone and everything going on, and we've only been here two days!"

"I know. We need some real down time, don't we?"

"Yeah," he answered. We were quiet then, each with our own thoughts. It had been an emotionally difficult day for me, which I had not expected. I was grateful Sam was nearby. I needed him more than he would probably ever comprehend. I'm sure he was reeling himself from the whirlwind our life had become since we had declared our love to each other only a few days earlier. I hoped he didn't regret being with me.

"Sam...will you promise me something?" I asked.

"Sure, Jack. What?"

"Please promise you'll tell me if it all gets to be too much for you. I'm sure you never bargained for all this. It's all kind of complicated now. But I meant what I said before. I'll give it all up to be with you. I won't let money or houses or things get between us, Sam. I love you. And I need you."

"First of all, yes, I promise I'll tell you if it gets to be too much. But I will also promise you I'm not going anywhere. We're family now, Jack. You and me. Whatever comes, we'll deal with it together. I've been thinking about what you said to me in the driveway - about being home whenever you're in my arms. Well...I feel the same way. I don't really care where we live, or what we do, as long as we're together." He pulled me even closer into his chest.

As we stood there on the deck, listening to the birds chirping and the sounds of the forest all around us, I could feel Sam's heart beating against my cheek. I couldn't remember when I had ever felt so much at peace. Despite all the emotional challenges, I liked it here in Amanda's house. Maybe Sam and I really could make it our home.


"Yeah, Sam?"

"I want to live here...with you." I leaned back and looked up at him. He was crying happy tears. I felt my own tears start to fall as I realized I very much wanted to live there, too. We would be happy anywhere as long as we were together. But there was something special about Phillip's Mountain.

I looked up at Sam and smiled. "Welcome home, big guy."

To be continued...

Author's Note: If you are enjoying this story, please take a moment to comment in the Forum on CastleRoland – you can click the link labelled "Forum Discussion" just under the story synopsis at the top of this page. Or, if you prefer, send me an email to I would love to hear your thoughts about the story.

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