FOREVER Book II - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015, 2016. All rights reserved.
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015, 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
"But you can't!" I yelled at Ben across the breakfast table.
He threw his newspaper down and glared at me. "I'm done talking about this. It's not an option, Jack. I'm coming, and that's it. I can't protect you from two thousand miles away."
"There's no way to explain you." I looked at Sam, who just watched us bickering, offering no assistance. I didn't know who I was more frustrated with at the moment.
"Explain me?" said Ben, sitting back.
"Yes! How are we supposed to explain to Sam's parents that not only has Sam brought his partner home, he comes with his very own armed bodyguard. How is that going to look?"
"I don't care how it looks. My job is to keep you and Sam safe. Case closed."
I flopped back in my chair, seething, and ripped a piece of bacon in half with my teeth. It was Friday, three days before we were supposed to leave for Rhode Island, and I was a nervous wreck. Ben was determined to destroy any chance I had with Sam's parents.
Sam put his fork down - an immense effort, since he still had food on his plate - and looked up. He stared at me across the table, and I stared right back, willing him to get in the fight. I knew Ben meant well, but if he insisted on coming with us, we were doomed.
Sam reached across the table with his right hand. I sighed, and grabbed it. "Trust me," he mouthed silently. I nodded.
Turning to Ben, Sam said, "Is there any way you can be around, but not be seen?"
Ben looked at Sam, thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't see how. I need to have eyes on you, Sam. I need to know where you are, what's going on and who you're with."
"Fair enough. Most of the time I suspect we'll be at the beach house. My mother prefers the family stick close and not go out much, since we aren't together very often anymore. Do you really need to be in the house with us?"
Ben looked back and forth at Sam and me. "What's the deal with you two? I've been in your space for weeks now. Why the push back?"
"Jack has a point, Ben," said Sam. "We might be used to you hanging around all the time, but my family has no idea about...well...any of this. They still think I live in Hawaii."
Ben's eyes widened. "Why haven't you told them the truth?"
Sam sat back, looking hurt. I squeezed his hand and he gave me a half smile.
Measuring my words, I said, "Ben...it's been a challenge for Sam to come to terms with me entering his life, and all that comes with me, including you and your team. There are good reasons why Sam's family doesn't know everything yet." Sam squeezed my hand harder. "This is the first time Sam has ever brought someone home to meet his parents. It's a big deal. We need them to like me. To accept me being a huge part of their son's life. So we have to reveal the whole package a step at a time, if we can."
Ben sat there quietly. Sam squeezed my hand tighter. I wasn't the only one apprehensive about this family visit. Ben was a good guy, and I knew he cared about Sam and me. It wasn't his fault his job conflicted with other priorities.
Sam spoke up. "Surely you can find a way to keep watch on us from outside the house. Close enough to know what's going on, but invisible?"
Ben was still staring at me when he answered. "That depends on whether or not you cooperate." I swallowed hard. I didn't try to be a pain in the ass, but most days I suspect Ben was on the fence about just shooting me and making his life easier.
"What do we have to do?" I asked.
"For starters...stop fighting me and trust me to do my job. Second, you don't go anywhere or do anything beyond the house without telling me first. Can you do that?"
I looked at Sam and he nodded. Ben was still staring at me. I nodded to him.
Ben sighed and shook his head like we were nuts. "Fine. Sam...this house is on a beach? Public or private?"
"Uh...mostly private I think, but I'm not sure. The house is at the end of a street, but the beach goes all the way up along the road the other way. There's a public beach up that way, but not many people walk all the way down to where we are."
"I have the address you gave me," said Ben. "Who all will be in the house?"
"My parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and their two kids. My aunt and uncle, and Jack and me."
"What about the Bertrands?" I asked. "Won't they be there, too? It's their house, isn't it?"
"Kat said they decided to visit their daughter in Florida for the holiday. We still get to use the house, though."
"So it's only your family, Sam?" asked Ben.
"We still leaving on Monday?"
"Yes," I said. "I have to take my GMAT test in the morning, then we can leave. We should be in the air by one o'clock, according to Ron."
Ben looked hard at me. I tried not to wither under his gaze. "Do I have your word, Schaeffer, that you'll do exactly as I say regarding your security?"
"Yes. All I ask is that you stay out of sight as much as possible."
"If I sense danger, to hell with staying out of sight. I'll break down the fucking front door and ask questions later. You got that?"
I gulped. "Yes."
"Good. You guys ready to go to the office? I've got work to do."
"Give us five minutes and we'll meet you at the car," said Sam, standing up. He motioned with his head for me to follow. We took the breakfast dishes to the sink, rinsed them off, and put them in the dishwasher without a word. I followed Sam out into the hallway.
"You okay, little man?" Sam whispered, grabbing my hand.
"Yeah...I think so. I'm sorry."
Sam stopped and spun me to look into my eyes. "Sorry for what?"
"For upsetting everyone. But so much is riding on this first visit with your family, Sam. The last thing we need is them freaking out over armed guards in the house."
Sam chuckled. "You're right, I agree. I've gotten so used to Ben and his people being around, I don't even really see them anymore, but my mother would have a cow over guns in the house. The boys would love it, though," he said with a grin.
I slid up into Sam's chest and he put his arms around me. Looking up at him, I said, "You know...assuming they don't run me off with a stick, we're gonna have to tell them."
"Nobody is running you off. Tell them what?"
"Everything. This house, the money, the security. All of it."
Sam sighed. "I know. I'm trying not to think about that," he said, kissing me on the forehead.
"I won't let the money - or me - get between you and your family, Sam. I can't be that guy."
Sam pushed me back and looked at me, his expression pained. He poked a hard finger into my chest. "Jack, for the last time...you are my family now. Get it out of your head that I'm leaving you...for anything or anyone. If my family can't handle...whatever...then that's their problem. We don't have to rub their noses in it, but we're not hiding, either. And yes, at some point, Ben and his team will probably have to make their presence known. We'll deal with it when it comes."
I blinked at him, stunned at the depth - and force - of his convictions, and rubbed my chest.
"Look, little man," said Sam, softening his tone as he put his hands on my shoulders. "I know you love me. I get it. This is you making it about me, and wanting the best for me." Then he put a hand on my cheek. "Can't you see? You...are what's best for me." He pulled me into a sweet kiss. I surrendered to it, wanting what he said to be true more than anything in life.
Breaking the kiss, Sam put his forehead on mine, and stared into my eyes. "I would be so lost without you, Jack. Nothing else matters to me anymore," he whispered.
I threw my arms around him and leaned into his warm chest. Tears threatened, but I held them at bay. Family was everything to Sam. And if he was willing to give them up for me...oh, man, I couldn't afford to screw this up.
The ride to the office was intense. Ben swerved through traffic while talking non-stop to associates in various places, putting together a security team for Rhode Island. From the backseat, it seemed complicated and Ben sounded pissed. Sam and I held hands and stayed quiet.
Once we stepped off the elevator into the office, Ben turned to me and said, "Can you stay out of trouble for a while? I need to run some errands."
"Yeah...right. Sam, are you sticking around? Can you keep an eye on him? I'll have Lydia on the floor, too. Frank will keep an eye on the elevators."
"Uh...yeah, sure," said Sam. I rolled my eyes.
Ben returned to the elevator, and Sam followed me toward my office. Margie was on the phone, but held up a hand for us to wait by her desk. She finished her call and looked up at us. "Morning, guys. Jack, Carol is running a bit late this morning. She said you should start without her and she'll be here within the hour. Todd needs to speak with you sometime this morning, whenever you can, and Danny asked for a few minutes today, too, if possible."
"Did Danny say what it's about?" I asked.
"No. Just needs a few minutes, he said."
"Hmmm. Okay, tell him I'll come find him as soon as I can."
"You got it, boss. Well, Sam, to what do we owe the pleasure of your company this fine Friday morning?"
Sam smiled. "I'm tagging along for the morning, then Jack and I have some shopping to do this afternoon for our trip."
"Sounds like fun," said Margie.
Sam and I both sighed deeply at the same time. Margie laughed. "You two are the only gay guys on the planet who don't like to shop. Are you sure you're gay?"
Sam looked at me with thinly veiled lust. "Oh yeah, I'm sure."
I grinned. "No doubt about it."
"If you guys hate it so much, why not hire a personal shopper?"
"A what?" I said.
"Personal shopper. You tell them what you need and they go get it for you and bring it here or the house or wherever."
"You mean like the guy who does our suits?" asked Sam. Margie nodded. "Really? Do you know any?"
"No...but I can try to find one," said Margie.
Sam looked at me, excited by the prospect of not having to shop. "See what you can find," I said to Margie.
"I'm on it. Anything else you need today? Your flight is all set on Monday. Ron said Nancy's flying with you guys. And Justin might bring Gary, but it all depends on his court schedule."
"Oh...okay. That's cool, I guess. Where will they stay once we're out there?" I asked.
"I have no idea. Ron said something about possibly going to New York or maybe Boston?"
"Do me a favor. See if you can subtly ask about their plans. If we can find out where they're going, I'd like to maybe pay for their accommodations or something."
Sam put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed them. "That's my guy," he said, leaning in, his mouth next to my ear. "Good thing you've got a big wallet to go with that giant heart of yours."
I turned my head and kissed his cheek.
"I'll see what I can find out," said Margie, grinning at us.
"Thanks, Margie. Send Carol in as soon as she gets here. I can't wait to get this GMAT business over with. Are we good to go with the college application?"
"Soon as you finish writing the admission essay."
"Crap! I forgot all about it," I said, rubbing my temples. "Okay...I'll have to work on it over the weekend."
Sam followed me into my office, closing the door behind us. I walked around behind my desk, slipping out of my suit coat and putting it on the back of my chair. Sam stood in the middle of the room, staring at me. I started to sit down, but then stopped. I looked into his smoldering blue eyes. Something was up.
Without a word, he motioned with a finger for me to come over to him. I shifted internal gears and obeyed his request. Standing before him, he reached out and put his hands on my shoulders, his face inches from mine, eyes boring into my soul.
"Over the last few weeks," he said in a hushed whisper. "I've watched you use your team and your resources to change lives. Your heart, little man, is one in a million. Being with you, being a part of changing the world, it doesn't get any better than this. I want to do this - forever - with you."
"Good," I whispered, never breaking eye contact with him. "Because I'm not doing it without you."
Sam moved his hands to the sides on my head and pulled me to his lips. Slow, sensual, full of love. It wasn't lust, it was much, much deeper. Our lips never parted as he moved us to the couch, and before I knew it, he was lying on top of me. His hands caressed my head, my neck, my face, as his tongue gently rolled around mine. I lost all sense of time and space. There was only Sam and me in the moment.
Until someone knocked on the office door and broke the spell. Sam reluctantly pulled up from my embrace. I reached to drag his head back down to mine, but he just grinned.
"Answer the door," he said, standing up beside the couch. His hard cock tented his dress pants. He caught me looking and pointed at my crotch. "I'm not the only one this time."
Blushing, I stood up, did my best to rearrange my dick in my pants to a less noticeable position, and walked to the door. Carol was here.
"Good morning, Carol," I said, waving her into my office.
"Morning, Jack. Ready for your last day of tutoring?"
"You know it. Come on in. Carol, I don't think you've met my partner, Sam. Sam, this is Carol Johnson, my tutor." I walked to my desk as Sam stepped up to greet her.
Carol looked a little confused, for such a smart lady. "Pleasure to meet you, Carol," said Sam, reaching to shake her hand. "Jack's spoken highly of you. Thank you for helping him with his studies." Sam still had his hand out, but she just looked at it.
"Uh...my pleasure...I guess," she said, looking back over at me.
"Something wrong, Carol?" I asked, reaching for the stack of practice exams on my desk. She had a strange look on her face. Normally she was all business and smiles. Now she looked flummoxed.
"I'm not...sure. Are you and Sam...um...you said he was your partner? You mean business partner?" I felt the blood drain from my face.
Sam smiled at her and said, "No. Jack and I are life partners. We're a couple."
She actually took a step backwards. Sam was as surprised as me. "I see," she said, setting her lips in a thin, hard line. She looked at her watch, then out the windows behind us, then at her watch again. She shifted on her feet, then said, "Um...I uh...well. Hmmm...okay then. I think I should go. Mr. Schaeffer, I'll send my final bill next week." She turned as if to leave.
"Wait...I don't understand," Sam said. "Jack told me he still needed to work on the math portion of the test. Aren't you supposed to study with him this morning?"
Carol turned back. "That was before...I...never mind. I should go."
"Are you serious?" I said, with a harsh edge. I threw the practice exams back on my desk and slid around to face her head on. "You're leaving because I'm gay?"
Carol's face reddened, but she didn't respond.
"How can it possibly matter when it comes to studying for a test?" I moved toward the open door, my eyes fixed on hers. "I need your help. I've done everything you asked me to do over these past few weeks. I've studied my ass off. I've done the work. Now you want to bail?" I gently shut the door and squared off again. "Tell me...why? I think you owe me that much."
"Jack," said Sam, trying to diffuse the tension.
I was pissed. Carol looked at me hard.
"Fine...you're right. You have worked hard," she said, then paused, looking down at her feet. "And...you've made very good progress. I'm just not...comfortable...with this."
She took a step to leave, but I slid in front of the door, blocking her exit and stopping her short.
"Not comfortable with what? Nothing's changed. I'm still the same guy I was the first day you met me. Now you know something else about me, but what difference does it make?"
"I don't know!" she said.
"Jack...just let her go," said Sam quietly.
I looked at him. "But Sam..."
"I know. But we agreed." His blue eyes bore into mine like lasers, and I knew he was right. I sighed and pushed myself away from the door.
"Agreed to what?" asked Carol, turning to Sam, surprised she said it outloud.
Sam moved next to me, putting his hand on the small of my back. "When Jack and I got together, we agreed that we would try to live our lives in such a way as to not make other people around us uncomfortable, if we could avoid it. I'm sorry if you feel like we deceived you or something. Honestly, I can't see how it makes any difference whatsoever with tutoring Jack, but if you do...then there's nothing more to be said, I guess."
I sighed. It felt like we were surrendering some moral high ground, but at the same time, I did agree with Sam. I looked at Carol and felt bad for her. She looked...lost. And hurt, for some reason.
"I apologize for pushing, Carol," I said, forcing a smile. "Thank you for help. I really do appreciate it. I know when I take my test on Monday, if I do well, it will be in huge part to your tutelage." I stepped over and opened the door for her leave. "If I can do anything for you, a recommendation or whatever, please let me know."
She nodded as I returned to Sam's side. Carol put her shoulders back and took two steps toward the door, then stopped. Sam and I looked at each other, but said nothing. After a moment, her shoulders sagged and she turned back around.
Carol looked at me, then over at Sam. She closed her eyes for a moment, sighed heavily, then opened them. She dropped her book bag on the floor, pulled her handbag off her shoulder, and dropped it, too. She put her hands on her hips and looked right into my eyes.
Then she smiled wide. "Well...don't just stand there, Jack. We have work to do, and we've wasted enough time. Grab your paper and practice tests and let's do this."
"But I thought..." I said.
"Jack, just do it," said Sam, smiling. He reached out a hand to Carol and this time she shook it.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I was caught off guard, and I reacted badly. You're right, of course. It shouldn't matter at all with my tutoring."
"I understand," said Sam. "Thank you for staying. I really, really appreciate it."
"Thank me after Jack gets a high enough score to be admitted," said Carol.
"Something tells me he'll do just fine. I'll leave you two to do your thing."
"We still on for lunch?" I asked, sitting down at the small, round conference table by the windows.
"If you're a good boy, study hard, and get your work done," said Sam, grinning.
"Bite me," I said with a grin, and Sam laughed.
"Bye, Sam," I said.
Carol sat across from me, pulling a math textbook from her bag of tricks. "Quadratic equations...ready for some fun?"
It wasn't fun, but three hours later, she declared me as ready as I would ever be to take the GMAT. After reviewing the process for taking the actual test on Monday, Carol left, with a promise from me for a glowing recommendation for her services. She thanked me for teaching her a few things as well.
Sam spent the morning hanging out with the staff and helping Will organize the management contracts for the hotels we had purchased the week before, which meant he was more up to speed on the deal than I was. After my marathon session with Carol, I was famished.
Sam and I had lunch together at Root25, the main restaurant at the Hyatt hotel behind our building. Lydia followed us over, and lingered in the lobby nearby. I offered to buy her lunch, too, but she declined.
We both ordered Taphouse burgers with fries and bread and butter pickles, which were delicious. I missed having lunch with Sam. It was fun to have him around the office, but I could tell he was bored and restless.
"What are you going to do when you're a lawyer, and have to work in an office, Sam?"
"What do you mean?"
"I can't see you in an office full-time. You get antsy. You need to burn off energy or something. Aren't you afraid you'll get bored with the work? You're happier outdoors."
"Can't I do both?" said Sam, wiping some burger drippings from his scruffy, sexy chin.
"Sure, I guess. I just want you to be happy, doing what you love to do."
"My dad says it's all in how you look at it."
"How's that?" I asked.
"Think about it. You aren't particularly thrilled with financial investments, are you?"
"No, not really. Todd and Simon get off on it though, big time."
"Exactly. They see it differently than you. And even though you find it all boring, you still own and lead a financial services company. Why?"
I put my burger down and took another bite of pickle. "I guess because of what the company can do for others?"
"Exactly. So...it's all in how you look at it."
"Okay, but then how do you look at legal work? The only lawyer I know is Clyde and he seems to love it. Two paragraphs into a contract, my eyes glaze over."
Sam laughed. "A contract is just a tool. It's the how, not the what. Like investments are a way to make money to do what you really want to do. You focus on what your business can do for people, and you leave the how to Todd and Simon and the team. It'll be the same with me. Helping people is what I want to do, and legal work is how I will do it."
I looked down at my plate, suddenly overwhelmed by unfamiliar feelings. My silence prompted Sam to say, "Are you okay, little man? Did I say something wrong?"
I reached for his hand across the table, ignoring the look from the lady at the table next to us. "I envy you, Sam. You have this wonderful relationship with your father. He's taught you so many things, especially about character and being a man and how to function in life. I can't wait to meet him."
"He's a great guy. But...why are you sad?"
I sighed, letting go of his hand. The lady at the table next to us seemed relieved. Whatever.
"I never had that. My father left when I was little, and...there wasn't anyone around to teach me. I've learned more from being with you than anyone else."
"I'm sure my dad will be there for both of us, Jack."
"I hope so. I don't want to screw this up for you."
Sam grabbed my hand again, and the lady next to us threw her napkin down on her plate and stood up, motioning for her check. I didn't let go. Sam was oblivious.
"You'll be fine, Jack. Trust me. My family is not that hard to deal with. Unless you get on Kat's bad side. Then heaven help you."
"Oh, great. How do I stay on her good side?"
"Will you relax? You've got it made. Just be you."
"Be me? How's that supposed to keep me on her good side?"
"Because you, little man, make it all about me, all the time. It's who you are, and Kat will eat it up. Her biggest concern will be whether or not you are good for me. And I don't think there's any doubt about that," said Sam, beaming at me.
"I do love you, Sam."
"I know you do. That's why we're going to meet my parents. It's time they meet the man I'm going to be with for the rest of my life."
It was a good thing I had finished my hamburger, because the lump in my throat made swallowing impossible. I tried, and failed, to keep the tears at bay. Sam looked across the table at me, the decorative lights reflecting in his deep blue eyes.
"Forever," he whispered. I nodded and reached for my napkin. Damned tears.
Back at the office, Will grabbed Sam as we stepped off the elevator.
"Hey, boss," he said to me. "Can I borrow Sam for a few? Clyde sent over another box of contracts and I could use his help sorting through them."
I looked at Sam and he shrugged. "Uh...sure, Will, I guess," I said, holding on to Sam's hand. "Just be sure to give him back later." Sam leaned over and kissed me lightly on the lips. I felt it in my toes, and Sam's eyes morphed at the edges. He wanted me. We stood there, looking deep into each other's eyes.
"Um...guys...you want me to leave you two alone?" said Will with a goofy smile . I'd forgotten he was standing there.
"Oh...uh...no, it's okay. I...uh...I have to meet with Todd now." My face felt hot.
Sam smiled at me, then followed Will in the direction of his office. I went to find Todd. He and Margie were finishing up their lunch at the small conference table in his office.
"Uh oh. Look sharp. The boss man is back," said Todd, dropping a sports magazine on the floor and picking up a brokerage report. Margie pushed their empty plates under a stack of file folders and tried to hide the used napkins under a notepad. She grabbed a pen and pretended to take notes.
"Will there be anything else, sir?" she said to her husband, trying not to laugh.
Todd looked at her over the edge of the upside down report in his hands. "Yes. The keg we hide in the kitchen closet is empty. We'll need another one for next week's big beer bash when the boss is out of town. Oh! Hi, Jack. How was lunch?" he said, pretending to be startled by my arrival.
I laughed. "Fine. I see you've borrowed my assistant again. When are you going to get your own? It's been two weeks."
"After Doomsday Delilah bailed on me, I'm using a different head hunter this time. They promised me they fully vetted a normal guy, with a normal business school education. He starts Monday. He won some kind of entrepreneurial award, so he must have something on the ball."
"Let's hope he doesn't want to plant a garden in here like the last one," I said.
"He might," said Todd. "I think he double-majored in business and agriculture."
"Great. Is he going to wear overalls to work, smell like dirt, and spit tobacco juice into a can?"
"Hey, I'd prefer that over getting electrocuted by Monica's battery gizmo thing," said Todd.
"True," I said.
"What did we do with all that freeze-dried food?" asked Margie.
"Simon took it to his neighbor, who was thrilled to get it. Then he invited Simon to see his bomb shelter under the back yard."
"Seriously?" I said.
"Oh yeah. Preppers take this stuff very seriously," said Todd.
"And how do you know?" asked Margie, looking at him sideways.
"Monica gave me a stack of pamphlets. They made great bathroom reading."
"Better for toilet paper, if you ask me," said Margie, standing up and gathering their used plates and napkins.
"Can't say I was sorry to see her go. I hope this next guy is the real deal," I said.
"He'll be fine. You have a minute to talk about the hotels?" asked Todd.
"Sure," I said, sitting at the table vacated by Margie.
"Jack, I have to run downstairs for a few minutes, but I'll be back shortly. Do you need anything?"
"Nope. Take your time." She nodded and left.
I looked at Todd. "Before we start, what's happening with Mason's dad?"
"I spoke with him yesterday afternoon. His dad is doing much better after the bypass surgery. You know about the complications, right?"
I nodded. Mason's father suffered a second heart attack on the gurney headed to surgery. Instead of a single bypass, it became a quadruple bypass operation. He almost didn't make it.
"So he's going to be okay?"
"According to Mason, they're moving him to rehab today or tomorrow, so I guess he's out of the woods."
"That's good news. How's Mason handling everything?"
"Professionally, he's doing great. The hotel acquisition deal was tight, and came off without a hitch. Personally, he's struggling, but that's to be expected. His father nearly died. Plus he's suddenly running a large company by himself. But if anybody can do it, it's Mason."
"Can we help him in any way?"
Todd scratched the back of his head. "I don't know. I'll talk to Simon. I know he keeps in touch with Mason, too."
"Good. I want our relationship with his dad's company to work. Now that we have the hotels, how's it looking?"
Todd sighed. "Financially, we'll make a very nice profit by the end of the year. However, we have to re-negotiate management contracts and review service standards. The idea is to turn these into high-end boutique hotels, catering to a first class clientele."
I made a face. I wasn't comfortable serving only the upper echelons.
"Don't," said Todd.
"Make that face. We've been over it fifty times, Jack. This deal is designed to make us a hefty profit. The people who frequent these hotels, they have plenty of money, and we need them to leave a ton of it behind when they check out."
I sighed. "I know. But charging a thousand dollars a night for a hotel room? Really?"
"Yes, really. Look...think of it as a hundred dollar a night hotel, with an added zero. These people live with added zeros on everything they buy. Believe me, a thousand dollars for a hotel room is like twenty bucks to you and me. Well...me, anyway. You own the freakin' hotels. You get to stay for free," he said, grinning.
"Very funny," I said, sitting back.
"Don't you want the company to make money?"
"Sure. I'm not against profit. I just don't want to take advantage of people."
"And we won't, I promise. We won't charge a penny more than the market will bear. Thankfully there happens to be a thriving market for upscale accommodations."
"You're supposed to be thinking about ways to spend it, you know," said Todd.
"I know. I'm working on it. Anything else?"
"Nope. You excited about the big trip out East?"
"Yes and no," I said.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just don't want to screw it up for Sam."
I frowned at Todd. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because I know Sam. And I know you. The two of you are perfect together, and nothing is going to mess that up. Sam won't let it happen."
"I hope you're right."
"I am. Aren't I always?" he said, grinning ear to ear.
"You know, it's a wonder you can get that big head of yours into the elevator anymore."
"It's easy. I just turn sideways."
I groaned. "Whatever."
I stuck my head into Danny's office a few minutes later. He was on the phone, but motioned for me to take a seat in front of his desk. I looked out the windows toward the mountains in the distance.
"How are you, boss?" he asked, hanging up his phone.
"Me? I'm great. I wanted to thank you again for the big bonus you handed out on opening day. I'm helping my kid brother with his last year of college. I want him to graduate with manageable student loans."
"What's he studying?"
"Is he any good?"
"Hey, he's my brother. Of course he's good," said Danny, smiling.
"When he graduates, if he's interested, we should see if we have something here for him."
Danny stopped smiling. "Jack...you've done enough. My brother can find his own job. He's interning at a great firm in Seattle this summer. I think he'll get an offer from them."
I shrugged. "Okay. But if things change, let me know. Unless working with your brother would be awkward," I flashed to my own brother, and the disaster he'd be in the office.
"I could handle it. Not sure he'd want a hand out, though."
That rankled. "Danny...I'm not offering a hand out, any more than I've given you one. You work hard for this company, and you get results. I wouldn't expect anything less of your brother. Would you?"
"No. I mean...no, of course not." He looked at someone behind me.
"Swallowing your foot again, Daniel?" asked Simon with a chuckle. "Hey, boss," he said as I turned to face him.
"You tell Jack about the thing?" asked Simon. Danny shook his head.
"Tell me what thing?" I asked.
"Shut the door," said Danny. Simon closed the door, then sat next to me.
"What's going on, guys?"
"We might have a problem," said Danny.
I sat up straighter. "Tell me."
Danny looked at Simon, who nodded for him to continue. Danny sighed, then said, "My accounts payable guy is having a problem."
"What kind of problem?"
"Uh...well...a problem with you, actually."
My mouth dropped open. "With me? I don't even know his name."
"His name is Derek, and he seems obsessed with you and Sam."
"I'm not a hundred percent sure, but apparently he's been instigating a bunch of chatter about working for gays and supporting a gay company and things like that."
After Carol's reaction earlier, this latest hit me like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. All the air in the room seemed to vanish.
"Simon...would you please find Sam and ask him to step in for minute?" I said, as calmly as I could.
"Sure thing. You okay, boss? You look pale."
I swallowed back some bile. "Just get Sam, please."
"Be right back," he said, jumping up.
"How do you know about this?" I asked Danny.
"Two different people on my team came to me, annoyed with his comments, and asked me to do something about it. To be honest, I didn't want to make it worse by saying something wrong, so I thought I'd just ask you how you want me to handle it."
I nodded. Fair enough. I was grateful Danny remained on the team when he'd learned he would have a gay boss. He never seemed to have a problem with Sam or me.
"Have you heard any of these comments yourself?" I asked, stalling for time. I needed Sam. He would know how to handle this.
"No. Only what I've been told. I don't think it's a big deal, but I want to nip in the bud before it becomes a bigger thing."
Sam suddenly flew into the office. "What's going on? Are you alright, Jack?" He kneeled down and looked at me with flashing blue eyes.
"I'm fine. Sit," I said. He did, grabbing my hand, which I held onto tightly.
"Tell him what you told me," I said to Danny. He repeated the story, and Sam sighed heavily, then turned to me.
"What do you want to do?" he asked me.
"Honestly...I have no idea."
"Take a minute...what is your gut telling you?" I looked at him, slightly annoyed he wasn't just solving the problem. Why was he pushing it back on me?
"I want to talk to him. With you present," I said. "And Danny and Simon. Maybe Margie, too."
"I'll stay, but you don't need the others. This is your company, Jack. It's your team. It's your rules," said Sam. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Danny and Simon nod in agreement.
"Fine. Danny, would you please ask Derek to come in here for a moment?" I stood up and walked over to the window while Danny and Simon stepped out. Sam came and stood beside me.
"You've got this," he whispered.
"I hope so. This could all go sideways."
"Trust your instincts," said Sam. I wanted to throw up.
A moment later we heard a light rap on the office door frame. "You wanted to see me, Mr. Schaeffer?"
I turned to look at him. I remembered him from opening day, and the strange looks he gave us as we walked through the office after lunch - after the big reveal that Sam and I were a gay couple.
"Call me Jack. This is Sam. Have a seat."
"Uh...okay," he said, as we both sat down next to each other in Danny's office guest chairs. Sam remained standing behind me.
I swallowed. "I understand you might be having some challenges working for me."
He looked startled, then recovered. " Um...no...not really. I mean...uh...why would you think that?"
"I don't know, Derek. But I was told you've been having conversations about me and Sam with other employees, and I just wanted to see if I could answer any questions for you."
"Questions?" he asked, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"Yes. For example, is there some reason working for a company where the owner is gay might be a problem for you?"
He wiped his palms on his pant legs and grabbed his knees. "I don't know what you mean?" he said, stalling.
"Look...Derek...I'm not trying to bust your balls here. I'm honestly trying to understand if I've done something to offend you or make it difficult for you to work here."
Derek winced, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "Uh...no...um...of course not. No."
"Good. So what's your concern then?"
I sighed. "Derek, we can do this all day, or you can just tell me. What have you been saying to the others about working here? About me and Sam?"
He looked at Sam, then down as his feet.
"I...um...when I started here...that first day...and you and...Sam...came out to us all, I wasn't expecting that."
I nodded. "And..."
"And...I don't know...I said something about it to my fiancee, and she told her parents, and then they started in on her, and then she started telling me it was wrong to work here, and...I got all confused. So I asked a couple of others what they thought about it."
"What did they say?" I asked.
"They had no issue with it at all."
"And what about you?"
He looked at me in the eye for the first time. "Honestly?"
"Please," I said.
"I don't know."
"Why don't you know?"
"Because," he said, taking a deep breath. "I believe in what you are trying to do with your company, but I don't believe in how you are living your life."
I inhaled sharply. Sam put a hand on my shoulder. Instinctively I reached up and touched it, then dropped my hand in my lap when Derek's eyes widened.
I stood up and walked to the windows. My eyes fixed on the mountains at the horizon. The room behind me was silent as I considered my next move.
"Derek, would you come over here for a minute?" I said, after a few minutes had passed.
He paused a moment, then came and stood next to me.
"You see those mountains out there in the distance?"
"Yes, I do," he said.
"What do you think of them?"
"They're beautiful. I love the mountains."
"You think they care?"
"You think they care that you love them, or think they're beautiful?"
"No, of course not. They're mountains."
I turned to him. "You and me, and Sam, we're not mountains, are we? We aren't soul-less piles of rocks. You step on us, and it hurts, right?"
He nodded, shifting on his feet.
I gazed out at my beloved mountains. "Before I came to Denver, I tried to live like I was a mountain. Alone and emotionless. I pretended to be whatever anyone wanted me to be so I wouldn't get hurt. And you know what? I ended up hurting myself. I stopped believing I mattered."
I turned back to face him. "I matter, Derek. I'm gay...and I matter. Sam matters. And so do you. What we do with our lives, the good we accomplish, that's how we matter. That's how we change the world for the better. Who I love...who I have sex with...shouldn't matter a hill of beans, let alone a whole mountain's worth of anything. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be alone anymore. Sam and I are really no different than you and your fiancee. We want to love and be loved in return. We just happen to be wired a little differently, that's all. What I'm attracted to is different than you. It's not wrong, just different."
Derek nodded slightly, then turned away from me to look out at the mountains again.
"I started this company, and put this team together, because I want us to make a difference. We have a tool to change the world, but I can't do it alone. It's too big for just me. I need help. I can't tell you what to believe, Derek, about me or anything else. You're your own man, and you have to make those choices. But I am asking you, do you want to help me?"
Derek looked into my eyes, knowing he was at a crossroads. He glanced over at Sam, then back to me with a deep sigh. "Yes, Jack. I do want to help you. Very much so."
I exhaled. "Good. Can we find a way to work together, even though we're different?"
"I'm willing to try, sir," he said.
"Me, too," I said.
"Me, three," said Sam, smiling. Derek smiled, too, and I no longer felt like vomiting.
"If you ever have any questions, or just want to talk, please come find me," I said.
Derek nodded. "I should get back to work."
I walked closer to him and extended my hand. He shook it. "Thank you for giving me a chance," I said.
He looked down. "I should be thanking you for giving me a second chance."
"Let's call it even. Now get back to work," I said. He smiled, nodded to Sam, and left.
Sam followed him and closed the door. Then he walked over to me and pulled me against his chest. I nearly fell over as adrenaline and pent up emotions drained away, but he held me up.
Lifting my chin, Sam said, "You are fucking awesome, little man. I knew you could do it. You're two for two today."
I sighed. "You know what they say, don't you? Problems always come in threes."
The stage is set for meeting Sam's family, and there's plenty of drama in store. Can Ben find a way to keep Jack and Sam safe from a distance, or will he just shoot Jack and get it over with? How will Jack score on his GMAT exam? Will Sam's family run him off with a stick? If not, how will they handle the fact their son is in love with an almost-billionaire? And most importantly, will Todd's new assistance be a looney tunes as the last one? Stay tuned to find out…
Thank you to Harry and Mark, our editors, for turning this chapter around in record time. You guys are the best.
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