Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 19

Posted: 18 Jul 16

FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2016. 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

"Will you be back for lunch?" asked Sam, walking me to the waiting car in the driveway.

"I hope so. We'll see how this meeting with the lawyer goes. Please be careful up on that roof," I said, wiggling a finger into a rip in Sam's jeans, just under his left ass cheek. He jumped back and started laughing.

"Stop that! It tickles."

I grinned. "I can't help it. You know those jeans turn me on."

Sam grinned and pulled me into a hug. "Everything turns you on."

"Everything about you, Sam."

He kissed me. I pushed my tongue into his mouth, and he gently bit down on it, then pulled back. "You need to leave, before I drag your ass back to the bedroom and have my way with you."

I sighed. "I'm gonna miss you. And those jeans."

"You'll only be gone a few hours. And I'll be right here, waiting for you to get back."

He grabbed my hand and walked me the rest of the way to the car. Ben was in the driver's seat, smiling at us underneath his shades. Sam opened the back door and swatted my ass hard as I climbed in.

"Stop that! It tickles," I said, grinning.

He was still laughing as Ben pulled down the driveway.

Arlene Rideout was a revelation. Her firm occupied the entire sixth floor of a small building on 19th Street downtown. The main door was locked, so I knocked, and Ben and I waited in the hallway. Soon we heard the sharp slap of heels on the wood floor approaching.

I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't who opened the door. She was slim and tall, well over six feet in her pink, high-heeled pumps. She wore white jeans and a pink blouse, with large diamond studs in both ears. They sparkled against her dark mocha skin. She smiled, pushed a strand of long, black hair behind her ear, and shook our hands as we introduced ourselves.

Ben remained in the well-appointed reception area while I followed Arlene to her private office. She was apparently the only one working on a Saturday morning. The place was quiet. She pointed to one of two white leather guest chairs in front of a huge, ornamental white desk. Maybe a French design, but what did I know about furniture? It was feminine and powerful, just like the woman sitting behind it.

"Have a seat, Jack. How can I help you?"

I took a deep breath and explained the situation with Valerie's surrogacy and the resulting custody dilemma. She listened closely, then asked to see the contract. Ten minutes later, she set the contract aside - a couple of sections circled in red - and picked up her phone.

I had nothing to do but watch as she pushed piles of legal papers out of the way to make room for a brand new legal pad. She made four calls and pages of notes over the next thirty minutes, her excitement mounting with each new conversation. I spent the time thinking about Sam in his sexy ripped jeans and muscles bulging against his white t-shirt. I hoped he didn't fall off the roof.

As she put the handset down on the cradle after the last call, she dazzled me with a bright smile. "Well, Jack, you sure know how to pick interesting cases in which to entangle yourself."

"Sam would say it's a gift," I replied, grinning to myself.

"Who's Sam?" she asked.

"My partner."

"Business partner?"

I blushed. " partner."

She smiled. "Got it. I hope I get to meet him someday. But first, I need to ask you - are you doing this so you and Sam can adopt this baby?"

"Uh...we talked about it...but the timing's not right for us." I looked down at her desk, feeling very selfish all of a sudden.

"You shouldn't feel bad about that. It's perfectly understandable for two young men just starting out to not want to be saddled with a newborn. It's a big responsibility. So what outcome are we hoping for, then?"

I looked up. "We have friends here in Denver who want to adopt the boy." I went on to explain how Billy and Jerome had been working with the foster system and preparing to become parents.

"Alright then," she said. "My team will work to that end. At some point I'll have to get DCW involved."


"The Colorado Division of Child Welfare."

"Oh...yeah...right. Okay. Well...what do I tell Billy and Jerome?"

"Can I be honest?"

I nodded. "Please do."

"I wouldn't tell them anything yet. Just say we're working on it, and when we have something definitive, you'll let them know. I'll do my best to keep you updated on our progress."

"Um...okay...but are you anticipating a problem?"

She paused, sat back, and put her hands together, her long pink fingernails pointing at her narrow chin. "I've been doing this for a long time now. Child custody cases can take unexpected twists and turns. We have several parties involved, all of whom have to ultimately agree with the final placement. In all honesty, I don't know how it will play out, but I'm going to do my best to try to have the baby placed with your friends."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You mean, besides pay my fee?" she asked with a big smile.

I smiled back. "That I can do. Just have someone send the bill to my office," I said, pulling out a business card from my wallet.

She took the card and stood up. My cue the meeting was over. I followed her towering figure to the small reception area.

"I'll call you regularly with updates," she said, shaking my hand.

"Any idea how long this will take? I don't like the idea the little guy is all alone in the hospital."

"I totally understand. I will do my best to speed things along. I have some pull here in the Denver courts. California is another story, but I have a few ideas. Keep your phone handy, okay?"

"Okay. Thank you for taking this case on such short notice. I really appreciate it."

"My pleasure," she replied.

Ben stood up from where he'd been sitting, reading an ESPN magazine, and followed me out.

"How'd it go?" asked Ben on the way down in the elevator.

"I have no idea. Good...I guess. I'm not sure. It all happened so fast."

Ben laughed. "The good lawyers get you all bamboozled with their razzle dazzle, then they lift your wallet when you're not looking."

I called Sharon to fill her in on my meeting with Arlene. She had a million questions and I still had almost no answers. We agreed to not say too much to Billy and Jerome until we knew more.

I watched Sam's ass as he shinnied down the ladder from the roof over the far garage. He smiled at me, and I took a step toward him, but he put a hand up to stop me. He turned and held the ladder steady as Charles came down slowly. When he was safely on the ground, Sam walked over to me, pulled me close, and kissed me. He smelled like sweat and sunshine. He broke the kiss and nuzzled my neck.

"I missed you, little man."

"I missed you, too, big guy. How'd it go up there?"

"We're all good, Jack," said Charles, wiping his hands on his pants.

"No varmints in the rafters?" I asked.

"Nope. We got lucky this year. The reinforced vent covers I put up last year seemed to do the trick. No squirrels in the attic. No bats in the belfry."

I shuddered and he smiled. "We'll do our best to keep the wild beasts out of the house and in the forest where they belong."

"That would be nice," I said. Sam chuckled next to me.

"Sam, can you help me put the ladders away?" asked Charles.

"Sure," replied Sam. "Jack...would you tell Maggie we'll be in for lunch in a few minutes?"

"Okay, but do you guys need my help?"

"We've got this," said Charles.

I nodded, turned and put my hands on Sam's sweaty chest, and looked up into his blue eyes.

"What?" he asked.

"I love you with all my heart, Sam Wainwright," I said.

He grinned. "Forever."

Maggie was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on hot roast beef sandwiches and cold potato salad for lunch. She was slicing fresh tomatoes, laying them on a platter with onions and lettuce.

"Oh, Jack.'re back in time for lunch. Everything go okay with the lawyer?"

"I think so. We'll have to see. These things take a while."

She stopped slicing and looked up at me. "I think what you and Sam are doing for that little boy is nothing short of miraculous. If Amanda could see you now."

I had an instant lump in my throat. "Thank you. Um...I'm going to go change," I said. "The guys will be in in a minute."

"Take your time. Nothing here to spoil."

I was pulling on a pair of shorts when Sam burst through the bedroom door. He started ripping his clothes off, and I stood there and watched. Sweat soaked his chest hair, making it glisten in the sunlight coming off the deck through the bay window. When he was down to his blue boxer briefs, he walked over to me, grinning.

"You like what you see, little man?"

I nodded, chewing on my lower lip. My dick was rock hard.

"I want to do something. You up for it?"

I looked down at the tent in my shorts. "Apparently...yes."

He laughed. "I want to take you out on a date tonight."

"A date?"

"Yeah. You and me. Dinner, maybe a movie? Whadda ya say? You in?"

"Sure. Sounds like fun."

"Cool. I'm gonna shower. Wanna watch?" he said with a mischievous grin.

I did more than watch. We were a little late to lunch. But we were clean and happy.

Ben was sitting at the kitchen table talking with Charles about fishing in the area. Maggie jumped up when we came in and fixed us each a plate. We would have been happy fixing our own sandwiches, but it was her thing, and we let her do it.

"I'm glad all three of you are here together," I said, sitting down next Sam. "I've been meaning to talk to you all about something."

"What's that, Jack?" asked Maggie, setting a sandwich and a pile of potato salad in front of me.

"You all technically work for Schaeffer and Associates now, and our insurance company is requiring every employee to have an annual physical."

"I just had one about three months ago," said Ben. "Will that count? I mean, I don't mind doing another one, if you need me to."

Maggie gave me a thumbs up from the kitchen sink. Charles just stared at his plate of food.

"How soon do we need to do it?" she asked.

"As soon as you can, I suppose. I know Margie at the office is compiling a list and will start following up with everyone. I can get you a list of the doctors who are approved by the insurance company. Hopefully your doctor is already on the list."

Charles grunted as he took a bite of roast beef sandwich. "Don't have a doctor. Don't like them."

"Me either," I replied. "But we have no choice. I'll get you guys the list on Monday."

Sam changed the subject back to fishing and I listened as he and Ben and Charles told fish stories. I helped Maggie clean up while they continued to chat.

"Thank you," she whispered as she rinsed the plates and I filled the dishwasher.

"You're welcome. We'll get him to a doctor, one way or another."

"I hope he's alright," she said, leaning against the sink.

"Me, too," I said, patting her hand. She gave me a wan smile.

"You remember the last time we did dinner and movie?" asked Sam, squeezing my hand in the back seat as Ben drove smoothly through the Saturday evening traffic.

"How could I forget?" I said. "It was the best night of my life."

"The best?"

"Well...yeah, I think so. I mean we've had wonderful nights together since then, don't get me wrong. But that night...that night changed my whole life, Sam." I laid my head on his shoulder and he squeezed my hand again.

"Mine, too," Sam whispered, kissing the top of my head.

We were silent for the rest of the trip into the city. I caught Ben looking at us a few times in the rearview mirror, I guess to make sure we were alright. I smiled at him, and he smiled back. We were just fine.

Following Sam's directions, Ben valet parked at the Denver Pavilions just off the 16th Street Mall. I could smell Italian food wafting through the air from Maggiano's.

"Are we doing Italian?" I asked.

"Nope. I'm taking you to Marlowe's across the street," he said, grabbing my hand. I started to pull away but he squeezed it tightly and looked at me, blue eyes boring into my soul. He said nothing. He didn't need words. His eyes said plenty. I nodded, and didn't let go of his hand.

Ben followed a few steps behind us as we strolled hand in hand about a block to Marlowe's, walking past the big blue Martini glass hanging on the corner of the building and under the maroon awnings jutting out over the windows. Nobody said anything to us. Through the double doors and up to the hostess stand, Sam never let go of my hand.

"We have a reservation for two. Wainwright," said Sam.

The hostess, a platinum blond girl in black pants and white blouse, looked at us with barely disguised disdain. I shifted nervously under her stare. Sam just smiled and waited. She finally looked down at her reservation book, frowning, and made a show of trying to find an entry.

"I don't see a reservation under that name. I'm sorry."

"Please check again," said Sam. "I made the reservation early this afternoon."

"I've already checked. We have nothing available this evening. I'm sorry."

Sam looked around, his smile slightly wavering at the corners. He squeezed my hand as a reminder to not let go. There were only a handful of tables occupied. The restaurant was more than half empty.

Ben tapped Sam on the shoulder and we stepped back as Ben took control of the situation. "Excuse me, would you please ask Michael, the manager, to come out here. He's a friend of mine."

Platinum blonde was flustered by Ben's request. "Well...I'm sure he's busy in the kitchen at the moment."

"And I'm equally sure he would not want to miss an opportunity to speak with me. We go way back. Run along now and fetch him."

She looked at Ben, speechless. "Go!" said Ben forcefully. I almost ran with her to the kitchen. She turned on her heels and slowly made her way toward the kitchen entrance, turning her head to look at us once with a scowl.

"I don't want to eat here, Sam," I whispered.

"Easy, Jack. It's all going to be fine. Just wait a minute more," said Ben.

Sam pulled me closer and whispered, "I love you. Trust me."

"Okay," I said.

A moment later a big man dressed in a black suit with a red carnation in his jacket lapel came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. He saw Ben from a distance and quickened his pace. He stepped right past the hostess stand and pulled Ben into a quick hug.

", it's good to see you. You here for dinner? Where's Peg?" he asked, looking around for Peggy Reese, Ben's girlfriend.

"She's catering an office affair in Aurora tonight. I'm here with these guys. Seems to be a problem with their reservation, I thought maybe you could sort it out, Mike."

He gave the hostess a hard look and moved behind the stand. He looked in the book and put his finger on the third line. "Wainwright? Party of two? But there are three of you."

"They're on a date. I'm just here to keep an eye on 'em."

Mike smiled. "Nice. Welcome to Marlowe's gentlemen. Right this way." He grabbed three menus and led us to a table for two next to the window where we could look out on the 16th Street Mall.

"Will this table be suitable, sir?" he asked Sam.

"Perfect. Thank you very much," said Sam, smiling.

"My pleasure. Trevor will be with you shortly. He'll take good care of you this evening. Ben, how about a seat at the bar over there?" Ben nodded, then nodded to Sam. They turned and walked away.

"If I let go of your hand, you aren't going to run away are you?" asked Sam softly.

I shook my head. He nodded, and finally let go. I sat down opposite him at the table and sighed.

"You okay?" asked Sam.

I nodded. "I think so. I'm sorry."

"For what? You didn't do anything wrong. She did."

"I know, but I still feel bad. I don't want her to get in trouble. I'm sure she needs this job."

Sam sighed, then looked across the table at me and smiled. He reached a hand out and I grabbed it. In for a penny, in for a pound. "You are an amazing man, Jack Schaeffer. I love how you can find a way to care about someone who just totally dissed you."

I shrugged. "It's not that noble, Sam. I don't like confrontation. Nobody wins."

"True. So let's put it behind us and have a great evening, shall we?"

We opened our menus and decided to skip any appetizers in favor of popcorn at the movie later. Trevor, our waiter for the evening, interrupted our perusings.

"Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome to Marlowe's. Is this your first time dining with us?" He was a slim, bright-eyed ginger with red-orange hair and a short beard. I liked him immediately.

"Yes," said Sam. "Do you have any recommendations?"

"If you're in the mood for steak, the Buffalo ribeye is something special. It's my favorite. The Wagyu Sirloin is great if you like spicy. Can I interest you in a bottle of wine or a cocktail?"

Sam shook his head. "Sorry, we don't drink alcohol. Iced tea for me."

"Same for me," I said.

Trevor smiled. "I'll be back with your teas and some warm bread and butter. Take your time with the menus."

I relaxed a little and Sam could sense it. "You feeling better, little man?"

"Yes. I'm good. What are you having?"

"I think the ribeye. I've never had buffalo, but it sounds delicious."

"I'm doing the spicy beef thing," I said, finding it on the menu. "What's chimichurri sauce?"

"I have no idea. You can ask Trevor."

"Doesn't matter. If I don't like, I'll just watch you eat."

He grinned. "Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"You know what. You're sitting over there making eyes at me, trying to get me all hot and bothered."

"Me? Do that to you?"

"Yes, you little shit," he hissed softly. "And keep your feet to yourself." He reached under the table and adjusted his dick in his pants.

I grinned and pulled my foot back from his leg and put it back in my loafer.

Trevor came back with our drinks and bread with sweetened butter. We placed our orders and Sam cut off a slice of bread for each of us. The butter was heavenly on the warm bread.

"So I have something to tell you. Promise you won't be mad?" I said.

Sam sat back. "Depends on what it is, I guess. Shoot."

"I'm thinking of going back to school when we move to St. Louis."

"Seriously? That's great. You mean at Wash U, right?"

I nodded. "You're not mad?"

"Mad? Why would I be mad?"

"I don't know. I don't want you to think I'm only doing it because you are. I actually wanted to get an MBA right after undergrad, but I didn't have any money."

"I think it's great. How long does it take to get an MBA?"

"Two years, if you go full time. I might stretch it to three, since you'll be there for three. I have to pass the GMAT test first. And get accepted. They aren't exactly expecting me."

"How can I help?"

I stopped mid-bite, the piece of bread dangling in my fingers in front of my mouth. "Help?"

"Yeah. With the test thing."

"The GMAT? I don't know. Margie's looking into a tutoring program for me. My guess is I'll be spending a lot of time at the office preparing for it."

"Cool. I did something like that for the LSATs. It helps. I'll be happy to quiz you or study with you. Whatever you need."

"Thanks. We'll see." I sliced off another piece of bread.

"Are you excited?" asked Sam.

"About school?"

He nodded. "Yeah. What are you going to study? Besides business stuff?"

"I'm hoping to take a bunch of computer courses. Todd thinks I could be a great consultant someday."


"Why do you say that?"

" see the big picture in an instant. You can identify the real problems, and you can see a solution almost immediately, even if you aren't the one to implement it. You do it all the time with your team."

"I do?"

"Yes, you do. Look at what you did with Andrew and Michael and their clinic. And you're doing it again with Valerie's baby."

"I hope so. I'm not so sure. Arlene was iffy on the outcome today."

"You think she's the right one for the job?"

"Definitely. You should have seen her in action. I'd hate to be against her in a courtroom, that's for sure."

"So give her some time. She'll come through."

Trevor brought our salads and refilled our iced teas. He started to walk away, then turned back. "Um...could I ask you guys a question?"

"Sure," said Sam.

"Is be out in public...on a date together?"

I sighed, wanting no part of this conversation. Sam gave me a look.

"Usually not. Why?" he said.

"It's boyfriend wants to go out more, and I'm trying to get comfortable with it. But I see the looks sometimes, and I...well, it's just easier to avoid the whole thing."

Sam smiled. "It is easier. And if that's what you guys choose to do, great. It's nobody's business but yours. But it's also your right to have a meal with someone you love, same as everybody else. Jack and I don't get a chance to do this very often, so I may have pushed it a little tonight. We have an agreement. We don't want to make people uncomfortable with our relationship."

I decided to speak up. "The hostess didn't get in trouble, did she?"

Trevor smiled. "She got exactly what she deserved. The manager demoted her to dishwasher for the evening. He gave her a good dressing down in the kitchen, and told the whole wait staff the next person to look down their noses at anyone wanting to dine at Marlowe's better be prepared to leave, permanently. You guys are like celebrities in the kitchen tonight."

I gasped, and Sam reached for my hand before I could pull it off the table. "Easy, Jack. That's a good thing, right?" he directed at Trevor.

"Oh...yeah. Totally. And don't worry about Mandy. Mike's fair. He'll give her another chance. I'll leave you two alone now. Your dinners will be up soon. Enjoy your salads."

We did. And the entrees were spectacular. Sam oohed and aahed over his buffalo ribeye like he'd never eaten meat before. Mine was definitely spicy, and the chimichurri sauce was fantastic. When Trevor came to collect our empty plates, I could hardly move.

"Dessert for you guys?" he asked. We both groaned and patted our stomachs. Trevor smiled. "I'll take that as a no. Coffee? Anything else?"

"Nope," said Sam. "We have a movie to catch."

"I'll bring the check right away." Trevor walked off and Sam looked at me across the table, his blue eyes dancing. My foot might have been rubbing his thigh under the table.

"You go for my crotch with that thing and you'll be limping home, little man."

I grinned and pulled it away. "Touchy, touchy."

"No. I just want to be able to stand up and walk out of here without embarrassing myself."

I reached across the table for his hand. "Thanks for a great dinner, Sam. And for...pushing it a little."

"You're not mad?"

"Nope. It was all good in the end."

"Cool. So does that mean I might get you to hold my hand in the theatre?"

"Maybe...if you share your popcorn."

"You got it," he said, as Trevor handed him the check.

"It was great meeting you guys. Come back anytime."

"We will. Thank you for everything."

"Good night," said Trevor.

Sam paid with cash, leaving a big tip for Trevor. We collected Ben and headed back across the street to the movie theatre. I noticed Sam didn't try to hold my hand in the street this time. It felt weird. His expression said he was happy and content, but I had to wonder. When we got to the outside escalators to go up to the third floor of the Denver Pavilions center, I touched his hand with mine. He looked at me with a hint of sadness in his eyes. I grabbed his hand, intertwined our fingers, and held on tightly. His smile lit up the night. It's the little things.

Sam bought a large popcorn for Ben and another for us to share. We each had a soda to carry, as well, so we didn't hold hands as we rode up yet another escalator to our theatre. Ben moved to the back row, two rows behind us. There were only a handful of other people watching the movie.

We sat down just as the lights dimmed and the previews started. Sam pushed the button to lift up the foot rest on his chair, and showed me how to do it, too. He lifted the seat divider between us and pushed it back behind our shoulders, then grabbed my hand. I slouched against his shoulder with a contented sigh.

"You know what I love about you?" I whispered.


"All these empty seats, and still you choose to sit next to me."

He turned to look at me. I swear the love in his eyes brightened the whole theatre.

"There is no other place I would rather be, than right here next to you," he said.

I was in danger of shedding tears, and the movie hadn't even started yet, so I laid my head on Sam's shoulder and reached for the popcorn.

The movie was so-so. It was a weird take on a fairy tale called "Snow White and the Huntsman." I was distracted, not paying much attention to the screen. I kept looking sideways at Sam's strong profile, his long eyelashes, his full lips. I wanted to kiss him, but I wasn't sure he'd go for that in a public theatre, even in the dark.

At a slow point in the movie he caught me looking at him. He grinned and leaned toward me. I met him halfway in a romantic, though perfectly chaste kiss. He started to pull back, but then lingered a little longer, our bottom lips touching.

"Can I take you home now?" he whispered.

"Please," I said.

As quietly as we could, we gathered our partially consumed treats and stood up to leave. Ben followed us out of the theatre.

"You guys didn't like the movie?" he asked.

"It was okay. But I want to take Jack home now," said Sam.

"Right. Got it," said Ben with a big smile. "Let's get the car."

Pulling away from the valet stand five minutes later, Sam leaned over and kissed me deeply. I slid down on the seat, pulling him on top of me, never breaking the kiss.

My hands were kneading his ass when Sam pulled off long enough to say to Ben, "Don't spare the horses, man."

Ben laughed as the car accelerated.

Sam and I spent all of Sunday lazing away by the pool. Date night had taken a lot out of us, in more ways than one. My muscles ached, and I had a bit of a headache, too, which thankfully faded away in the sunshine.

After breakfast we raided the bookshelves in the study for something to read. Sam picked a book on the history of the American Civil War.

"I love history books. What do you like to read?" he asked.

My eye landed on an Agatha Christie mystery in hardcover. "Pretty much anything except science fiction or fantasy. Mysteries are my favorite," I said, pulling out a second book, just in case I didn't like the first.

"Cool. Race you to the pool."

I smiled at his retreating ass in his tight, blue swim trunks. I thought about the first time I'd seen him in those, and my dick was instantly hard, pushing out the front of my red lifeguard trunks.

I stepped out of the study and bumped straight into Maggie carrying clean towels and bed linens. She dropped her clothes basket and I dropped the books to cover my bulging basket.

Blushing, I said, "I'm so sorry, Maggie. Are you alright?"

"First Sam comes running down the hall, now this. Whew! You boys are always on the move, aren't you?"

"Uh...something like that. Here, let me help you refold these," I said, bending down to pick up towels strewn all over the floor.

"I've got this. You go be with Sam. He gets so down in the dumps when you aren't around."

I stopped folding a bath towel. "He does?"

"Oh my, yes. The other day I caught him staring out the kitchen window, like a lost little puppy. I asked him if he was alright. He said he would be when you got home. That man loves you, Jack. Mark my words."

I didn't know what to say, so I just nodded, then finished helping Maggie fold all the spilled linens. It didn't take long.

"Tell Sam I'll have sandwiches set up in the kitchen for your lunch a little later. There's leftover pasta for dinner. Make a salad, Jack. You boys don't eat enough vegetables. Charles and I are headed out to do some shopping. He's taking me out to dinner tonight. Some place called Marlowe's. Ever hear of it?"

I smiled. "Yes. It's very nice. Have a wonderful time."

Sam and I helped each other apply sunscreen, then settled into lounge chairs to read. He was soon engrossed in his book. I kept skimming the first page of my novel, distracted by Maggie's comment about Sam missing me when I wasn't around. A few minutes later I heard car doors shut on the other side of the garage, and the Smyths' car depart.

I set my book aside, stood up, and carefully straddled Sam's waist. I took his book from his hands and set it on the deck next to the chair. I had his full attention.

"What are you doing, Jack?"

I looked down at his deep blue eyes sparkling in the sunshine. "I just want you to know, I love how you love me. Asking me out on a date last night...nobody's ever cared about me like that. It meant everything to me. I'm here for you. I want to love you, Sam...however you need to be loved. If there's anything I can do better, or differently, or whatever, please tell me, okay?"

He rested his hands on my waist and looked up into my eyes. I maintained eye contact as I leaned in a little closer, my hands resting on his chest. I could feel his eyes touching my soul, so deep was the connection.

Sam reached up and pushed my hair off my forehead, then held my head in his two hands. "You are so amazing, Jack. I never dreamed I could feel this...this intensity in my heart. You leave my side and it hurts, and I can't wait until you come back to me. It scares feel like this," he whispered.

I laid my head sideways on his chest and he wrapped his arms around me. "I'm here for you, Sam. Forever."

"I told you to put more sunscreen on," said Sam, as I winced yet again pulling on my dress shirt the next morning. He was lying naked on the bed, watching me get dressed.

"The tube said SPF 70. It should have lasted longer than thirty minutes." I whined, slipping into my suit pants.

"It was more like two hours, and that's only true if you don't get wet."

"So it's your fault. You pushed me into the pool. Then you ripped my suit off and threw it across the deck. What was I supposed to do?"

Sam got off the bed grinning, his cock growing rapidly. "That worked out exactly how I'd hoped. I didn't hear any complaints when I had you bent over the edge of the pool."

I put my arms around him, wincing only slightly when he touched my sunburned back. "Mmmmm. No complaints," I said, looking up into his beautiful blue eyes. "I love you, Sam."

"Love you back, Jack." He kissed me. I was late for work.

The next week flew by in a blur of activity. Mornings were lessons in real estate investments and hotel management issues. Simon and Mason were still adamant we purchase at least one of the two boutique hotel chains on the market. Danny was still crunching the numbers. I was a little leery of such a big step, but they were wearing me down. Todd kept saying it was my decision.

He had his own challenges. Monica Bailey, his new assistant, arrived an hour late on Monday morning, wearing a bizarre outfit of hiking dungarees, black boots, and black t-shirt underneath an army surplus vest with extra zippered pockets sewn all over it. Several of them bulged with who knew what. According to Margie, who had to sit next to her, when Todd asked her why she was late, she claimed she chose to ride a bike to work so she wouldn't be trapped on mass transit if an electromagnetic pulse wiped out all public and private systems. Todd said if she was late again she should just stay home and ride out any EMPs from there.

Later that afternoon she'd moved a rolling cart next to a nearby window and set up a strange looking device, with wires running across the floor to her desk. I made the mistake of asking what it was.

"This beauty is my Enerplex Kickr IV Portable Solar Charger. The sunlight on this side of the building is perfect. Right now it's generating enough power to load my Generatr S100 Portable battery and my cell phone at the same time. It's the best Prepper equipment money can buy."

"Prepper what?"

"For the coming social apocalypse. You can be a denier all you want, but when they knock out the power grid and we're sitting here in the dark, you'll all be very glad I've got this baby at the ready. By the way, I ordered enough water sanitation kits for everyone in the office. And over there are enough freeze dried meals to keep us going for a week until help can arrive," she said, pointing to several white, five-gallon plastic buckets.

I looked out at the bright sun, shining high above the mountains in the distance. It was the middle of summer and didn't get dark outside until nine at night.

"You know," Monica continued. "With this great sunlight, we could set up tables along these windows and grow a pretty good survival garden. I'll get some seeds started at home."

"Uh...let's wait on that for now. Maybe you can concentrate right now on helping Todd," I said, moving away. I made a face at Margie and she smiled, shrugging her shoulders.

Margie found me a personal tutor for the GMAT, and I spent every afternoon reviewing grammar and punctuation rules, sentence structure, and hundreds of math problems. I started second guessing my decision to go back to school. By the time I left the office every evening, my brain hurt.

On Wednesday, Arlene Rideout called with an update on the custody case. She'd just returned from California, where a friend from law school had sponsored her to appear pro hac vice for our case, whatever that meant. At least the judge seemed agreeable to the proposed settlement and would make his final ruling on Friday. I decided to not call Sharon until I knew for certain, but this was welcome news.

Maggie had dinner waiting whenever Ben and I arrived home, and Sam would greet me, fresh from the shower, with a big kiss. We'd catch up on our day, and then just hang out around the house.

On Thursday Sam taught me how to play "stripes and solids" on the pool table downstairs. As usual, I wasn't very good, but he was patient with me. Twenty minutes in I was bored, so I started taking off one piece of clothing after every missed shot.

I had my t-shirt over my head when he said, "What are you doing?"

"You said we're playing strip or solids, right?"

"Stripes or solids."

I shrugged. "Whatever. My way is more fun," I said with a grin.

"You're messin' with me, aren't you?" he said.


"Okay. You're on." Needless to say, I was totally naked long before he'd missed a shot, and then he didn't want to play pool anymore. My way was definitely more fun.

Just when life was finally settling into a relaxing routine, all hell broke loose at the office on Friday afternoon. I was trying to solve an algebra problem and Carol, my GMAT tutor, was getting more and more frustrated with my mistakes.

"You know how to do this, Jack. Think!"

"I am thinking! My hair hurts from thinking so hard. I don't get why you're supposed to..."

Shouting erupted from Todd's office next door. I dropped my pencil and bolted for the door. Margie was standing by her desk looking pale as a ghost, shaking. Monica was nowhere to be seen.

"It'll be okay. Find Ben," I said, before knocking on Todd's door.

"What!" came a shout from inside.

I opened the door to see Todd pacing by the windows and Mason sitting on the couch against the wall, looking at his shoes. Todd's face was a funny shade of red. He was clearly pissed about something. He was breathing heavily and his eyes were twitching back and forth.

"What's goin' on, guys?" I said, as calmly as I could. Todd's eyes were freaking me out.

"You tell him," snarled Todd.

Mason sighed, but said nothing.

"Somebody talk," I said, crossing my arms.

Mason looked up at me. "I'm leaving Schaeffer and Associates."

"Yeah. The ungrateful little shit is up and quitting, after everything we've done for him." Todd whirled and yelled at Mason. "How can you do this? How can you leave us in the lurch at a time like this? We're supposed to make a bid for the hotels next week. That's all you. What the fuck, Mason?"

"Todd! Go sit down. You aren't helping," I yelled. He looked at me stunned. I was probably more shocked than him, but whatever. Now was not the time.

"Mason," I said, walking over to the couch. "Talk to me. What's going on?"

He looked up at me and I swear he was on the verge of tears. "It's my dad, Jack. He's not doin' so good. His latest heart scan shows a ton of plaque buildup and two blocked arteries. He's going in for bypass surgery tonight. I'm supposed to fly to Chicago as soon as I can get out of here."

I sat next to him on the couch. "So...why do you need to quit?"

" dad needs me. I have to help him, Jack. He's in the middle of opening the New York office. He has three deals closing this week alone. With surgery and rehab and who knows what else, he can't be dealing with all that. I have to help him. I have no choice."

Not knowing what else to do, I put my arm around his shoulder, and to my surprise, he leaned into me. His body went limp and I was actually holding him upright.

"I understand. He's your dad. How can we help?"

"Excuse me?" said Todd, standing up behind his desk. "Help? Who's going to help us? I don't think you understand the position this puts us in, Jack. Mason was point on this hotel deal. We haven't had time to train anyone under him to take over. I can't possibly take on this project with everything else happening around here."

"For crying out loud, Todd. This is his father we're talking about. The hotels don't matter. Family does. We need to be helping Mason right now, not attacking him and worrying about our own work loads."

Todd looked from me to Mason and back to me for a long moment, not speaking. I couldn't read his expression. We were all running on adrenaline and pure emotion at the moment. Finally he dropped his shoulders and fell into his chair, putting his face in his hands.

The three of us remained silent. Nobody moved. I was aware of the air conditioning hissing through the vents. I could only imagine what the other employees were thinking on the other side of the closed door.

I jumped when there was a light rap on the door, and Ben slowly poked his head in. "Everything okay in here, Jack?" he asked.

"We're good. Thanks, Ben. Give us a minute?"

"Sure," he replied, then slowly shut the door.

Todd let out a deep sigh, then stood up, walked around his desk, and approached Mason and me on the couch. "Guys...I'm sorry. I totally blew it., you didn't deserve that. I'm sorry about your dad. I know it's rough, believe me."

"It's okay," said Mason. "I hate that I'm leaving you guys holding the bag. If there was any other way, I'd do it."

"Maybe there is," I said, standing up. I stepped to Todd, put a hand on his shoulder and nodded once in gratitude for his apology. I turned to face both of them.

"Let's make lemonade, guys."

"What?" said Todd.

"Let's turn it around. said your dad's company handles mergers and acquisitions, right?"

Mason nodded.

"If you take over your dad's company, or even just his New York office, couldn't we be your client?"

"Oh fuck, why didn't I think of that? It's brilliant, Jack," said Todd. "We give Mason our M&A work, so it's like he's still working for us, at the same time he's helping his dad. What do you think, Mason? Will it work?"

Mason looked at me, now very close to tears and fighting hard against them. He slowly stood up. "You'd really do that?"

"Yes. On one condition."

"What?" asked Todd and Mason in unison.

"You take personal responsibility for our account with your dad's firm. I want to know we're getting the full Mason Wheeler effort when you handle projects for us."

"This is so unreal. I can't believe this. Yes...of course...I'm sure I can make that work. I don't know what to say, guys."

"Say thank you," whispered Todd, now smiling.

Mason walked over to me and reached out his hand. I shook it and he wouldn't let go. "Jack...I...thank you. You have no idea. I're incredible. I don't know what else to say?"

"You said that already. Don't you have a plane to catch?" asked Todd.

Mason looked at his watch and blanched.

"Oh, shit. I'll never make it on time. I'll have to see if I can catch the later flight." He reached for his cell phone.

"Hold up. Give me a sec. Wait here," I said. I opened Todd's door and waved Margie in. She made a beeline for Todd. He hugged her briefly and put his arm around her shoulders.

"Margie, call Ron and see if he and Justin can fly Mason to Chicago this evening. The sooner the better."

"You got it, boss. Anything else?" she asked, looking at Todd. He shook his head.

"That's all for now. Thanks, Margie," I said and she left to make the call.

Mason started to say something, but I cut him off. "Just roll with it, Mason. You have a car here?"

"Yeah, it's in the garage."

"Give Todd the keys. I'll get you a ride to the airport. Your car can stay here for now. Is there anything else you need right now? I'll make sure there's food on the plane for you."

"Jack, this is too much. I can't ask you to do all this for me."

"I don't remember him asking, do you, Todd?"

"Nope. Not a word. Take the help, Mason. And listen, once your dad is stable and recovering, call me and we'll work out next steps, okay?"

"Are you guys sure?"

"YES!" we said in unison.

Margie poked her head in. "Ron's prepping the plane. Justin's there, too. Should be ready to fly in an hour or less, he said."

"Good. Call Billy and ask him to have someone pick Mason up downstairs ASAP. Thanks, Margie," I said.

"I'm on it." Her head disappeared behind the door again.

"Mason," said Todd. "Before you go, I want to apologize again for not listening to you. I was being selfish, and I'm really sorry. If you need anything, all you have to do is call. Jack's right, you're family. You've been like my right hand for the last two years. I'm gonna miss having you here every day, man." His voice cracked and he shut up.

Mason stepped over to him and hugged him briefly. "Thanks, Todd. I hope we can make this work. I'd really like to keep working with you. We've done some amazing shit together over the years."

"Okay, I really hate to break up this bromance, but you have a plane to catch. Let's go. Todd, why don't you walk Mason out." He nodded and together he and Mason made their way to the elevators.

"So Mason's leaving?" asked Margie.

"Sort of. We'll still be working with him."

"Cool. I like him."

"Where's Monica?" I asked, looking around for Todd's assistant. She should have been right there in case Todd needed anything.

"Yeah, about Monica. I found her under her desk, checking websites for more prepper gear. Once things calmed down she grabbed her survival kit and solar battery thingamajig and split. Said she couldn't take the stress of working for a maniacal loose cannon. I don't think she'll be back on Monday."

"That's the father of your baby you're talking about."

"Damn straight."

"He's a good man."

"Sure is. And so are you."

The following Monday evening, Sam met me at the office and Ben drove us to Denver Health Medical Center. We left him in the lobby and stepped onto an elevator, relishing the cool air inside. Denver was in the middle of an intense heat wave, and the record breaking 100 degree heat outside made me sleepy. I closed my eyes and relished the cool, air-conditioned comfort.

Sam bumped his shoulder into mine as the elevator vibrated its way up to the seventh floor. "This is exciting, Jack."

"What is?" I mumbled.

"Billy and Jerome get to be fathers! I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they find out."

"Hopefully it all works out."

"Too bad it couldn't have been yesterday," said Sam.


"Father's Day. How cool would it have been to become a father on Father's Day!"

"Oh...yeah...I guess."

Sam had spent an hour on the phone yesterday, wishing his dad a Happy Father's Day. I only eavesdropped on part of the conversation, the gist of which was an analysis of his golf game and a hundred questions on Sam's preparations for law school. Sam took it all in stride and patiently answered his questions. What I noticed most of all was the heightened tone of respect in Sam's voice. He loved his dad. As happy as I was to help Billy and Jerome adopt Valerie's baby, a part of me longed to be giving that same joy to Sam. Someday.

I, of course, did not call my father on Father's Day. I had no idea where he was, and he probably wouldn't remember me anyway. I also hadn't called my mother on Mother's Day this year, something I had never missed before. The last time I'd talked to her was right before I left Chicago. As far as I knew, she thought I was still there. I had no idea when, or even if, I was going to tell her I had moved. As for the rest, was impossible. I sighed heavily.

"You okay, little man?" asked Sam.

"Yeah...just hot and sticky. And a little worried. This has got to work, Sam."

"Relax," he said, rubbing my arm. "You've done everything you could. Now it's up to Billy and Jerome, don't you think?"

I smiled. "Don't forget Sharon. If I had to guess, grandma's gonna want a say in just about everything."

"I can't wait to see the little guy. What do you think they'll name him?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Sam. Arlene said there's still a chance Child Welfare won't go along with our plan."

"But didn't the judge grant temporary custody to Billy and Jerome?"

"Not exactly. Custody was transferred to the Colorado Division of Child Welfare. We're hoping Billy and Jerome will be named the foster parents. Arlene's trying to work the system from the inside. Or so she said."

The elevator dinged, and we exited into a quiet hallway. I don't know why, but I was expecting screaming babies on the mother-baby floor. You could hear a pin drop.

"Where are we meeting?" asked Sam. I looked at the email from the attorney.

"Room 7245," I replied.

"Down here, then." I followed a fast moving Sam down the hall, our shoes squeaking on the pristine tile floor. It smelled like a hospital. Sweat ran down my back into my underwear. The door to Room 7245 was open.

It looked like any other meeting room you would find in an office building. An empty, standard issue conference table surrounded by twelve high-backed, fake leather chairs. The formica was cracked and broken off in places around the edges. The fluorescent lights enhanced the antiseptic ambiance.

Billy, Jerome, and Sharon were standing in the far corner by a row of windows looking out at another wing of the hospital across a narrow alley filled with gloomy shadows. Up here, it was dreary, but cool and comfortable. Down on the sidewalk you could fry an egg in the shade.

Sharon nervously grabbed at the gold chains around her neck and fidgeted with the ruffles on her blouse. Jerome looked scared to death. Billy was smiling, listening to something his mother was saying, and when he caught us out of the corner of his eye, his smile amped up to the full Adams wattage.

"Jack! Sam! You made it," he yelled, waving us over.

" Not so loud," said Sharon, waving a hand at him.

"Sorry, Mama."

"Hey guys," said Sam. "Sorry we're late. Where is everybody?"

Jerome spoke up. "We were told to wait in here. The attorney...Miss Rideout...she and another woman are meeting with the Hospital Administrator in his office somewhere. They've been gone for twenty minutes. We don't know what's going on. Do you?"

Sharon let out an exasperated sigh, looking defeated for some reason. That wasn't like her at all.

"Sharon, can you help me with something while we wait?" I asked, moving slowly away from the group. She followed me, curious. I gave Sam a look and he nodded, engaging Billy and Jerome so I could talk to Sharon.

Now a safe distance away from Billy and Jerome, I asked, "Are you hanging in there, Sharon?"

"I'm a nervous wreck, baby," she said, leaning on my arm. "What if they won't agree to let my boys even see the child? What if they refuse to follow the judge's order?"

"You leave that to Arlene. According to her, the judge in California met with the original intended parents, along with the surrogacy agency representative, and they hashed out an agreement to surrender custody to the State of Colorado."

"But why not directly to Billy and Jerome?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe because they don't know them?"

"I don't understand. The intended parents get divorced, and they just give the baby to another state? How can they do that?"

"It sounds bizarre to me too, but I guess that's the law. The judge's order states the final decision for placement of the baby lies with the Colorado Division of Child Welfare. He wouldn't grant a direct adoption."

"Harumpf! Sounds like he's just coverin' his ass. Oh goodness, my manners. I'm sorry, baby. I shouldn't say things like that. I'm just upset."

I smiled. "Sam said exactly the same thing when I told him. He even asked his father what he thought. Apparently custody issues across state lines get a little messy. Some judges punt to another jurisdiction if they can."

Sharon sighed and folded her arms across her bosom. "So now what?"

"Hopefully Arlene is able to get Billy and Jerome assigned as the foster parents. After that, she'll work on the official adoption process."

"Oh, Lord. This is gonna cost a fortune," she said, frantically rubbing her necklaces again.

"You let me worry about that part," I said.

She looked at me with narrowed eyes. "I appreciate the gesture, baby. But I've put away a bit into savings. I think the boys and I can manage it."

I glanced over at Billy and Jerome, relieved they weren't paying attention to us. "Sharon, now's probably not the time to talk about this, but...the hospital bills alone were nearly fifty thousand. And he's still not able to leave the hospital."

She inhaled sharply. "Oh, my!"

"And there's no medical insurance. The only way the State of Colorado would accept custody is if they were not held liable for the medical bills. Please don't be mad but I told Arlene, Sam and I would handle all the financial obligations."

She squeezed my hands in hers as tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh,," she said, then touched my cheek. "I knew...I knew there was so much good in you. So much good." I nodded, fighting back my own tears.

Somehow Billy noticed his mother was crying and rushed to her side, Jerome and Sam right behind him. Sharon released my hands and smiled.

"What's wrong, Mama?" he said, pulling her into a hug.

She pulled back, wiped her eyes with a tissue that magically appeared from her sleeve, and grabbed a hand of each of her sons.

"Nothin', baby. I'm alright. Just a lot to take in right now."

"Don't worry, Mama. If it's meant to be, it'll be." Sharon patted his face and leaned into him for support. Jerome hovered over her, rubbing her upper arm.

"Do you know what's happening, Jack?" he asked.

Before I could answer, Arlene, dressed in a deep purple power suit, entered from the hall, followed by another woman. They crossed the room and joined our little group in the corner.

"Ah...Jack. Good to see you again," said Arlene. "And this must be Sam." She shook his hand, then introduced us to Melva Brown, a social worker from the Division of Child Welfare.

"Thank you all for coming in this evening. I know waiting can be tough. Why don't we take a seat, and I'll explain where we are."

We all moved to the conference table in silence. I noticed Billy was holding Jerome's hand, trying to reassure him. I smiled and grabbed Sam's hand under the table. He grinned at me.

"As I think you all know, the State of Colorado is now the legal guardian of Baby Doe. After completing her evaluation and reviewing the recommendations submitted on their behalf, Melva here has agreed to place the boy in the home of Mr. Adams and Mr. White, once he is released from the hospital."

Sharon gasped and clutched her throat. Billy and Jerome both jumped up out of their chairs.

"Mama! Did you hear that?" Billy's smile was bigger than I'd ever seen it. Sharon's was a close second. Jerome was hanging on Billy's massive shoulders, hopping on his toes.

"Yes, baby. I'm so, so happy for you," said Sharon.

Billy twisted back to Jerome, grabbed his face in both hands, and planted a huge kiss on his lips. "We're gonna be daddies," whispered Billy, resting his forehead on Jerome's, looking deep into his lover's eyes.

"Billy?" asked Melva, after a moment had passed.

Billy turned to her. "Yes, ma'am?"

"You remember what I told you at the last home visit? About the difference between fostering and adopting?"

He glanced at Jerome and then at Sharon. "Uh...yeah. You said we needed to think of fostering as a temporary thing, subject to change. Adoption was permanent."

"Have you discussed the options? Do you want to pursue adoption?"

Billy swallowed, looking at Jerome. Jerome looked into his eyes, then nodded.

"Yes, ma'am. We'd like to have him permanent."

Melva smiled. "Very well. Once the baby is released from the hospital, we'll continue the home visits for about three months. As long as there are no issues, at that time Arlene can start the legal process. I'll personally green light the adoption."

"Can we see him now?" asked Sharon, now on the edge of her seat.

Arlene stood up. "Let's go down the hall and check. The hospital administrator should have sent up his approval by now."

She and Melva led the way, with Sam and I holding up the rear. Billy had Jerome in one hand and his mother in the other. I swear he would have skipped down the hallway if he could. Sam squeezed my hand hard. He was excited, too. My stomach was still in knots, but I managed not to vomit.

Melva stopped to talk with a nurse at the station in the middle of the floor. Ten rooms in a circle surrounded this central work area, filled with an assortment of monitors and video screens, blips of green and red and blue in the soft ambient light. Three nurses chatted quietly as they recorded observations in medical charts.

Turning to us, Melva introduced the head nurse, Julie. "Welcome to the NICU," she said. "Melva tells me two of you are going to be Baby Doe's fathers?" Billy and Jerome raised their hands immediately. Julie shook their hands. "It's great to meet you. Why don't we get you gowned up and we can take you in to see the little guy. He's sleeping at the moment, but I think we can take a peek if we're quiet."

"Can my mama come, too?" asked Billy.

"Of course. But the rest of you will have to wait a bit, okay?" We all nodded.

Melva said her goodbyes, claiming a mountain of paperwork to process before morning. We thanked her for her help, and she smiled.

"If you gentlemen need anything from me or my office, you have my number. Just call. I'll check in with you a couple of days after you take the baby home. Oh...I almost forgot, do you have a name for Baby Doe?"

Billy looked at Jerome, who smiled and nodded. Billy turned to Melva and said, "Jayden."

"Perfect," said Melva, making a note in a file. "Have a lovely evening, everyone."

Ten minutes later Julie had found a gown big enough to cover at least the front half of Billy. Sharon watched Jerome try to tie Billy's gown in the back and laughed under her breath.

"It's a good thing you ain't naked in this getup or people'd be seeing the dark side of the moon tonight," said Jerome. Billy picked Jerome up off the floor and squeezed him in a bear hug, causing him to squeal softly.

"Shhh...boys!" hissed Sharon. "You'll wake the babies."

"Sorry, Mama," whispered Billy, putting Jerome down, then pulling him under his arm.

"Ready to see our son?" he said.

Jerome looked up at him, and suddenly buried his face in Billy's massive chest. His shoulders shook as he sobbed. Billy held him close, kissing the top of Jerome's head and whispering things we couldn't hear. Finally Jerome stopped crying and looked up at Billy's face.

"Sorry. I just never thought this would happen for us. Are we doing the right thing, Billy?"

Billy pulled his chin up and looked lovingly into his eyes. "'ve wanted kids since the day we met. We've waited over ten years. Yeah, this is the right thing," said Billy. Jerome looked into his eyes and nodded.

"Okay...let's do this. Mama A, you ready?" asked Jerome.

"You two go in first. I'll come in in a minute."

"You sure, Mama?" asked Billy.

"Yes, baby. Go on now."

As Billy and Jerome followed Julie into the baby's room, Sharon turned to face Sam and me and grabbed our hands.

"You've sacrificed so much for my family. How can I ever repay you both for this?"

"Sharon, please. The money's nothing. What's important is there's a little boy in that room who came into the world with nobody to love him, and that's not okay," I said. "If Billy and Jerome...and you...can give him a loving home and help him become all he's supposed to be, we just want to help."

"But why him? It's so much, and for a baby you have no connection to."

"We do now," said Sam. "Sharon, if we better the world for this little guy, we also better the world for every life his ever intersects, including our own." I smiled. I couldn't have said it any better.

Sharon sighed, let go of our hands, and stepped back to look at us. "You two..."

"Go see your grandson," I said, gently turning her toward the baby's room. She smiled, took a deep breath, and with head held high, walked steadily into her dream come true.

Sam put his hand on the small of my back, unperturbed by the dampness pooled there. I turned to look up at him, and he grinned, blue eyes dancing happily. "Nobody. Nobody has a bigger heart than Jack Schaeffer." I looked down, embarrassed.

"I'll say," said Arlene, stepping next to Sam. "I've worked a lot of custody cases, and sad to say, most don't end well for the kids. But you guys just changed the whole world for that little boy."

"Do you think there'll be any problem with Billy and Jerome adopting?" I asked.

"I don't think so. Melva was very impressed with them. They've done all the parenting training classes, the home visit was spot on, and the recommendations from friends and family put it over the top. Yours in particular, Jack, was most touching," she said. "Listen, I have court tomorrow at nine, so I'm gonna call it a night. You all will be here a while. If there are any questions, call me. Sam, very nice to finally meet you. You certainly have a wonderful man standing next to you, but I think you know that already."

"I certainly do," he said, pulling me into a side hug. "It was nice to meet you, too, Arlene. Thank you for everything," said Sam.

"My pleasure. I wish all my cases turned out this well. Okay...gotta run. Bye." She turned on her black high heels and quick stepped down the hall.

I turned to Sam, and his eyes were immediately probing mine. "What did you say?" he asked.

"I didn't say anything."

"In the letter. About Billy and Jerome?"

"Oh, that. Not much, really. I talked about how Billy helped me when I first came to Denver. How he protected me and made me feel safe in a strange new place. I thought he would be a perfect father for the baby, because he knew instinctively how to do that. Like you, Sam. You make me feel safe. And a little kid needs that. I know I do," I said, leaning against his chest. Sam wrapped his big strong arms around me and held me tightly. No safer place in the world.

Sam was still holding me when Jerome stepped out, wiping his eyes. He was smiling, so I knew they were happy tears, the best kind.

" don't know what to say. Thank you doesn't cut it," he said.

"You don't have to say anything," said Sam. "We're happy to help in any way we can, and that includes in the future, too. Anything you guys need, just let us know, okay?"

"Uh...yeah...sure. like, hardly know us. I don't..." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still a little in shock."

"Here, sit down before you fall down," said Sam, leading him to a short row of chairs against the wall. I followed, taking a seat next to him.

"You okay?" I asked, after he had taken a couple of deep breaths.

He nodded. "Yeah, I think so. It's just...I've wanted this my whole life, but I never thought it would be possible. I mean...I'm gay, right? I can't have kids. But Billy...oh, man, Billy is so good to me." Jerome's voice cracked and he took another deep breath. "He kept sayin' someday, Romy...someday we'll have our baby. If it's supposed to be, it will be. How does he do that? Always believe the best?"

"It's a gift. Like Jack's big heart," said Sam.

"Yours, too, Sam. You made this happen. If it wasn't for you..."

"Wait a minute there," I said. "You and Billy have the hard part. What we did was nothing. You have the two a.m. feedings, the diapers, the crying, the skinned knees, the broken toys, the screaming in the middle of the night because there's a monster under the bed."

"Way to cheer him up, Jack," said Sam, smiling. Jerome smiled, too.

"I'll take all that, Jack. Any and all of it, if he can stay with us. I just want him to be happy and safe...and loved. He's so little. He looks so fragile."

"My guess is Billy will toughen him up in no time," said Sam.

Jerome laughed. "If he doesn't squeeze him flat first. Sometimes that man does not know his own strength. You guys want to see him now?"

"Yes!" said Sam. I shrugged, much less enthusiastic.

Sam grabbed my hand. "Come on, Jack. You'll be fine." He pulled me up from the chair, turned my shoulders toward the baby's room, and gave me a gentle shove.

Jerome was right. He was tiny. Sharon had him all swaddled up against her bosom, and he all but disappeared in there. He was still sleeping, which is how I like babies. Sharon whispered to ask if I wanted to hold him. I shook my head.

"I do," said Sam, softly. Julie, the nurse, quickly helped him into a gown. Then Sam looked at Billy. "May I?" Billy was startled at first by the question, then realized Sam was giving him his place as the baby's father. He smiled big, and nodded.

"Meet little Jayden," said Sharon as she carefully transferred the baby to Sam's waiting arms. His eyes welled up the second he looked down on the little guy. Just then the tiniest brown hand, with five outstretched fingers, reached up towards Sam's face.

"Oh, Jack. Look at him. He's beautiful!" Sam looked up at me, and a tear fell.

In that moment, something inside me shifted. Sam needed to be a father. This little guy was for Billy and Jerome, but someday...someday Sam would be a father. And me with him. Today, I needed to get over my fear of babies once and for all, for Sam's sake.

I stepped to his side, and looked down at the sweet, contented face of the most beautiful little man I'd ever seen. He was perfect. His eyes slowly opened, looking up at Sam and me, two new strangers in this strange new world of his. I grabbed Sam's bicep with both hands and braced myself for the scream.

It never came. He just stared at us, his eyes moving from Sam's to mine and back again. His little hand found its way to his mouth and he started sucking on it. He looked...happy. I'm sure I only imagined him mouthing his thanks to Sam and me.

Two days later I got a surprise for breakfast. Sam, Ben, and I were sitting at the breakfast table while Maggie scurried around us in the kitchen. She brought the coffee pot over and refilled Sam's and Ben's cups.

"I almost forgot. There's a letter for you, Jack. It's on the counter over by the stove," said Maggie, carrying an empty platter away from the table. Sam looked up from his eggs and sausage.

"Who's it from?" he mumbled.

"How would I know?" I said with a grin. "I'm sitting here, the letter is over there."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Cute, Jack, real cute. Aren't you gonna read it?"

"Maybe Ben should check it for explosives, first."

"Take it outside on the deck before you open it," Ben said from behind his USA Today newspaper. "Maggie just waxed the floor, and she doesn't need you making a mess everywhere."

I threw a sausage link at his face behind the paper, and it rebounded down to his plate. He dropped the paper, smiled, then saw the sausage link.

"Oh...thanks, Jack," he said, as he popped it in his mouth, grinning at me. I stuck my tongue out at him. Morning rituals.

"For heaven's sake," said Maggie. "Here." She dropped the letter next to my plate. "Would you like some more orange juice, Jack?"

"No, thank you."


"I'm good. So Jack, who's it from?"

"Huh. It's from Fred Thompson."

"Thompson? Isn't that the guy you used to work for?"

"I worked with his dad. This is from his son. It looks like it was forwarded from my old address. That's odd. I only set up forwarding to the trust, not the house."

"Why not?" asked Ben, folding his paper.

"I didn't know where I would end up. I mean, I knew this place was a possibility, but...I packed up my stuff and got on a plane with no plan, really."

"Then he met me," said Sam with a smile, his blue eyes twinkling at me across the table.

"And then all hell broke loose and you met me," said Ben, grinning.

"Yippee skippy," I said, grinning back. He laughed.

"So what's he say?" asked Sam.

"Give me a minute," I said, ripping the envelope open. I scanned the hand written note. "Apparently he's getting married. Allison finally said yes. Oh crap! He wants me to be in the wedding."

"Cool. You get to dress up in a tux," said Sam. "I'll bet you look hot in a tux."

"Who'll be hot in a tux?" asked Maggie, returning from the laundry room.

"Jack," said Sam. "He's going to be in a wedding."

"How nice. But why would he be hot? Is it an outside wedding? Really, if you're going to be outside, Jack, shouldn't you wear something more sensible?" Sam grabbed his napkin to cover his mouth and Ben just smiled.

I grinned. "If I agree to be in my friend's wedding, yes I will most likely be wearing a tux, and no, it won't be outside." I looked again at Fred's letter. "The ceremony is at Hope Church in Lake Forest, and the reception is at the Knollwood Club. Allison's father is a member."

"When?" asked Sam.

"August tenth," I replied. "We might be in St. Louis by then. Maybe I should say no."

Sam looked at me with a strange expression. "Why? He's your friend, isn't he? He's giving you the honor of standing up in his wedding. It's a big deal."

I sighed. "I guess. I just don't like all the fuss." Sam stared at me across the table. For some reason it made me uncomfortable this time, and I averted my eyes.

"Do I need to be concerned about anyone at this shindig?" asked Ben.

"No," I replied. "Fred is my friend. His family was like my Chicago family for two years. I worked for his dad. They're good people, not a threat. Besides...I'm not going."

I stood up, letter in hand, and walked out of the room, confused by my reaction to Fred's invitation. Why did I not want to go?

Sam caught up with me in the hallway and I stopped.

"Talk to me, Jack," he said softly, wrapping his arms around me from behind. I closed my eyes and sank back into his embrace.

"I don't know what's the matter with me," I whispered. Sam just held me and waited, as my thoughts cascaded into one another.

"I'm happy for Fred. I am. But I wish he hadn't asked me. I don't want to go back there. I don't want any part of my old life." I spun in Sam's arms to face him. "I just want to be with you, Sam. I only want this life. I want to be this guy, the one I am with you."

He looked deep into my eyes, and this time I let him, hoping he could make some sense out of my jumbled soul.

"What are you afraid of?" he finally said.

I swallowed. "I want to be me. With you. But no one back there knows I'm gay. Well, Fred does. But his parents don't."

"So? Fred knows, and he still wants you in his wedding. Doesn't sound like it's a big deal to him."

"No...but...his parents, Sam. I don't want to embarrass them at their son's wedding."

"Embarrass them? Is that what you think you are? An embarrassment?" I didn't like the edge to his voice.

"That's not what I mean. I mean...I don't...I just...they were so nice to me, Sam. You don't understand. I don't want to disappoint them. Please don't be mad at me. I'm doing the best I can." My voice cracked as the tears welled up. Sam grabbed me into a tight hug.

"Shhh...I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you. I'm just trying to understand." He kissed the top of my head and held me close for several minutes while I got myself back in control. I leaned back and looked up at him.

"I guess I'm still not all the way there, Sam. I'm sorry."

"I'm not trying to push you, Jack. I'll support you, whatever you decide. I just don't want you to regret not being at your friend's wedding because of what other people might think about you. Besides, you don't have to tell them you're gay, you know. It's none of their business."

"I think they'll figure it out when I show up with you."

"Oh...yeah," he said, grinning.

"You don't think I'd go without you, do you?"

"If you need to, I'd understand."

I dropped my arms and stepped back, hitting the wall. "You don't understand. I don't want to go without you. I told you...I want this," I said, waving a finger back and forth between us. "You and me...together...forever. I'm not going back to the old me. I won't do it, Sam. Not for anyone or anything." I turned and walked into the study and stood by the windows, looking out at the deck and the forest beyond. If I wasn't scared of what was lurking up there, I would have run for the mountain top.

But I was tired of running. I sighed heavily, aggravated with my residual fear of others' rejection. I fled Chicago still hiding who I was - a gay man with a dream to do something good with my life. But I was okay with being gay now - more or less - thanks to Sam, and the acceptance and love from my friends, as well. I no longer believed I was worthless or incapable of good because I was gay.

But would the Thompsons accept me as they once did? I missed them. They had been a loving family to me, when my own family barely acknowledged my presence. I owed a lot to the Thompsons, and I would love to see them again. Would they still love me, once they found out I was different?

I owed a lot to myself, too. I'd faced this same fear again and again in the past few months. I'd done it afraid, with mostly good results, so far. I wasn't kidding myself - I knew there would always be people who would not accept me as a gay man. But I had made the biggest leap of all - I accepted me.

Sam walked up behind me and put his arms around my shoulders. I reached up and grabbed them like a life preserver as tears suddenly overflowed, nearly drowning me in deep gratitude for his acceptance and love. He held on tightly and rode the emotional waves with me.

When I calmed down a few minutes later, he nuzzled his head next to mine, his lips grazing my ear. "We don't have to go," he whispered.

I sighed and turned in his arms, wiping my face on my shirt sleeve. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I looked up at his sapphire blue eyes, etched with concern. "Yes...we do. It's not fair to Fred to say no. And there's no way I'm going alone, so...can I put you down for my plus one?"

He smiled. "I will gladly be your plus one, little man."

"Thank you. I'll try to get it together. I'm making no promises, but I'll try."

"You'll be fine," said Sam. "I'll be with you every step of the way. And I can't wait to see your ass in a tux."

"Yeah, big guy? And what are you going to do to my ass in a tux?"

"You'll have to wait to find out, won't you?"

"Hmmm. Maybe you should practice right now," I said, rubbing his left nipple through his t-shirt.

He growled and nearly dragged me to the bedroom. We fell on the bed, laughing. I was late for work again.

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