Boil and Bubble
"Don't get me wrong, Drew. What you and Bob want to do is admirable. But fostering a kid can be a time-consuming proposition and we've got a 1.5 billion dollar resort to open. I don't want you setting yourself up for failure; as president of this venture, I've got an investment to protect." Nick Maggiano was comfortably stretched out in his leather chair behind the massive mahogany desk. "You've got to convince me that helping this young man will not jeopardize Barcelona...or your career."
"I appreciate your concern. My focus is to successfully open Barcelona and your faith in me isn't taken lightly. I plan on camping out at the hotel during the training process to make sure we have the best crews manning things." Drew usually relaxed when he was with Nick. However, today was different: proposing being a foster parent and convincing his boss that this idea would not sap his energy would take a strong argument.
"And then having everything 'shaken down' so we can get through the New Year's chaos. After Labor Day next weekend, it'll be four months of pure hell. Are you prepared for that plus becoming a parent...of a teen, no less?"
"Cray is 16 and pretty low maintenance. He's not a troublemaker, has good grades and seems to be coming to terms with the way his stepdad treated him. His real dad must have done something right because the boy seems pretty well screwed together...all things considered. The guy just needs an anchor in a gay-friendly home."
"Maybe I should meet him. Rod and I are having a casual dinner with my nephew tomorrow night. I just found out he's flying in from New York and is staying for the weekend. As a matter of fact, you guys and Cray would be terrific for Lou to meet."
"Lou is your nephew?" Drew asked as he pulled his chair closer. 'This must be one of Nick's sister's sons,' he considered. 'Louis Gallian, Jr.?' He had yet to meet the eastern branch of the Gallian family and only knew of Louis Gallian, Sr. as a high-powered Wall Street lawyer, financier and brother of Mrs. Bromley.
"He just graduated from Cornell and his dad wants him to spend a year or so with us before he goes on to Wharton for his MBA. This was just sprung on me this morning or I would have told you about it earlier. My hunch is that the company will expand to Macao in the future and Lou, Senior, wants someone in the family to look after that investment."
"Wow...Macao. That'll be a big move." Drew considered what he had just been told. 'Sounds like Mr. Gallian has quite a bit of clout in this company if more family members are being brought in.'
"It's just a guess and I'd appreciate your keeping these expansion plans just between you and me," Nick said in a lower voice.
"Not even Bob? He's indirectly part of that family."
"Let Al be the one to tell him. It's better that way."
"Got it. Bob and I don't have anything going on tomorrow night. And I'm pretty sure I can spring Cray free from his job. But between you, Rod, and the three of us, there won't be a straight man in the room. Won't Lou find this a little one-sided?" Drew knew that Nick and his lover of several years, Rod Liddy, were always very comfortable entertaining a variety of people in their elegant home. "I just wonder if five gay guys might be a little overwhelming to Lou?"
"You're correct with one exception. With Lou included, there won't be any straight men in the room. Must be some Maggiano genes kicking around in my nephew," Nick replied with a chuckle. "He's 22, bright, gay and very single. His dad thought that between his cousin, Al Bromley, and myself, we could give him the big picture on getting a major resort casino up and running. I must say, although it's kind of a pain in the ass, Lou will get a 'hands on' education that will serve him well. In fact, I should probably invite Al, Junior, to dinner since the two cousins will be running the business someday. He'll be our token straight guy."
"Should you invite Trish to the dinner?" Drew knew that Bob's sister, Trish, didn't go out that much because of her pregnancy, now in its last trimester. 'Might as well be polite and cover all the bases.'
"No. She and Al are entertaining Lou on Sunday as a family outing," Nick said with a nod.
"Then a stag night, it is. You'll meet Cray and the way he can navigate in a friendly group. I suspect he'll be a little reserved until he gets comfortable. Why don't I introduce him as a neighbor friend and leave it at that?"
"Fair enough. And on Monday you can twist my arm again. Now let's look at your staffing guides one more time." Nick smiled as he stood and walked over to the conference table. "Spread things out here so we can have more room."
Drew gathered his files and followed Nick. He sensed his boss would mellow by the time Monday rolled around. 'I need to tell Cray that this is just a dinner with good friends...nothing more. No reason to freak him out.'
The image staring back from the bathroom mirror was a blend of young, masculine physicality and pensive expressions. Cray studied his freshly shaved face and new haircut while he considered the evening ahead. Although Drew had downplayed the importance of meeting Mr. Maggiano and other guests in Nick's home, Cray knew that the man could be helpful in resolving his problem of legally becoming a Nevada minor resident under the care of foster parents - Drew and Bob. He studied the one zit that refused to go away and decided to apply a dab of Clearasil cream.
Memories of his childhood flooded into consciousness; the times he played with his real Dad in the house, and their roughhouse time out in the backyard. The man was always there to fix 'boo-boos' when Cray scraped a knee or cut a finger. 'I used to love Daddy reading stories at night before I went to bed,' he remembered as his eyes moved down to inspect a body that had begun to fill out and show definition. He flexed his biceps and smiled. 'Got to get back to practicing Tai Chi, Kung fu and kicking. Wonder if they have some sort of club at my new school?'
Tonight was going to be a fresh start in more ways than just meeting new people. Cray admired the new pair of CK briefs that he had slipped on. Spike had bought six pairs of 'tighty-whities' as a present the previous week on the condition that Cray toss out his frayed and grayed FTLs that he had brought to Vegas. 'Not bad,' he judged as he backed up and slowly turned around to check his backside. 'Gotta continue the workout routine Spike showed me.' He slipped his hand into the front of his briefs and adjusted himself. 'This is going to be saved for the right guy.'
The final task of brushing teeth shared his attention with thoughts of the more recent past. Cray frowned as he conjured up images of Gene - lecherous, leering, perverted Gene - looming in the background. The insidious laugh and the calloused hands; the heavy breathing and hungry lips; the rough movements and sour smell when Cray was forced to reciprocate made him think, 'That bastard,' as he spit out the toothpaste and rinsed with water. 'Never again...with him.'
He made a dash to put on his new khakis, polo shirt and shoes so he'd be in front of the house at 6:45 p.m. and ready for his ride. The last thing he wanted to do was be late. 'Late, late...for a very important date,' he remembered from the Alice in Wonderland movie that he'd watched with his dad. However, he was first at the curbside and relieved when the shiny, maroon Bimmer pulled up a few moments later.
"Hey, guys. I hope that what I put on is okay?" he asked as he slid onto the backseat and closed the door.
"Hi, bud," Drew replied. "If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that we had been on the phone to coordinate our dress."
"We all look like we stepped out of a Gap khaki ad." Bob turned and shook Cray's hand. "You look cool. And a haircut...very prepped out, Cray," he said with a chuckle.
"Must be part of the bad influence I've fallen under with you two." Cray sat back in the seat and smiled.
"If everything goes well, that'll be part of the fostering program." Drew engaged gears and pulled away from the curb. "Tonight, because of the other guests, I'm just going to introduce you as a neighbor friend. Okay?"
"Um, sure...I understand." Cary had been told that this was primarily a casual dinner with friends in honor of Nick's nephew's visit. The additional news was that Al Bromley, Jr., who would also be a guest tonight, was Bob's brother-in-law and old college friend. 'Whew. More people than I figured I'd be meeting,' he thought. 'But if Al is even half-way as nice as Bob, I'll be okay.' Cray leaned forward and asked, "And all the guys at dinner tonight are gay?"
"Except for Al...but he has no hang-ups about being around gay men. We'll just all have fun and relax," Drew said.
The trio quieted and let the FM's soft-rock music dominate. Cray vaguely recognized some of the lyrics of the old Madonna song, "Ray of Light", as the car quietly glided through the residential neighborhoods. Drew had told him that Nick and Rod were a couple and lived nearby. 'Funny,' he thought with a smile, 'What I would never have considered natural a month ago - going to dinner at an older gay couple's home with another gay couple - now seems like normal.'
"This is the place," Drew said. While turning into the driveway, he looked back at Cray and asked, "Why the big smile?"
"Just that I'm with you guys and feel pretty good about myself." Cray immediately leaned forward and placed his hands on the shoulders of Drew and Bob. "And pretty gosh darn lucky." He looked around at the manicured landscape surrounding the low, sprawling, brick ranch style home. Dusk was settling in and the exterior lighting accentuated the sculpted shrubbery.
"We feel the same way. Tonight, just have a good time." Bob waited until the 525xi stopped and opened the door. He swung his long legs and body frame around, got out and opened the back door for Cray. Just then, an SUV pulled up behind them. "Al, good timing," Bob said loudly.
"If nothing else, we're both punctual," Al said as he walked up to Bob. "Good to see ya, bro." The two men slipped into an intricate, fraternal handshake and momentarily hugged each other. "And this must be Cray?" Al looked as the teen emerged from the back seat. "Al Bromley," he said as he extended his hand.
"Cray Gamble, sir." He took Al's hand, pressed firmly and shook it a few times. Cray was impressed with Al's friendliness and thought he was pretty hot looking.
"Al's just fine and I'll call you Cray. Okay?"
"That's what it'll be, then." Cray turned on a full-beam smile and relaxed a little.
"Glad we could all get together away from the hotel." Al repeated his handshake - without the secret grip - and hugged a greeting with Drew. "Let's hope Nick doesn't want to talk business tonight."
"I think the reason for dinner is to get Lou comfortable with the idea of moving to Vegas. Apparently this idea to have your cousin out here was sprung on Nick just a few days ago and Nick wants it to be a win-win situation." Drew rendered a 'thumbs up' and added, "Let's cut through the breezeway to the back. That's where everyone will be."
"And I want to get to know my cousin. With him out East and me in L.A., we haven't really seen each other since I was in high school. Let's see...we're four years apart in age...so he must be 22," Al said as the group followed the flagstone walkway.
"Excuse me, Al. How are you guys cousins?" Cray asked. "If I'm not being too nosy." The family relationship of Al and Lou intrigued him. 'Wish I had some cool cousins,' he thought a little enviously.
"Naw, no problem. My mom and Lou's dad are brother and sister. And Nick's sister is Lou's mom. Lou's got a younger sister and a brother who's about my age. The Gallian side of the family is actually pretty small."
"But you're helping it grow." Bob smiled at Al, opened the screen door and asked, "How's Sis and the pregnancy?"
"Healthy, big as a horse and bearing a future son. You'll be an uncle around December 15th. You'll see for yourself this weekend at the cookout. Oh, please keep the 'big as a horse' comment to yourself," Al said with a chuckle.
"The only thing Trish wants to be is a fashion horse. My lips are sealed," Bob replied.
The four men exited the breezeway and walked towards the patio and pool area. Cray immediately noticed that this was much nicer than where he was staying. All the furniture and cabana tenting looked like a picture out of one of the magazines he had seen back at Mario's house. Lighted Tiki torches dotted the perimeter of the pool 'The only thing missing is some beautiful girl model parading in a flowing gown,' he thought. Instead, three men were standing around a bar cart. He recognized Nick by having seen a picture of him. 'The other older man must be Rod Liddy,' he guessed. 'The younger one is probably Lou Gallian.' He casually observed that Nick and Rod were in expensive slacks and shirts while Lou - handsome with dark features - wore a khaki and polo combination similar to the younger guys.
"Hi...good to see you," Nick said as he walked towards the arriving group. He briefly shook everyone's hand and saved Cray until the last. "And you're Cray: a special welcome, young man. I'm Nick Maggiano. I know that Drew and Bob think a lot of you. Come over to the bar, boys, and get a drink."
Cray was a little embarrassed to have been singled out by Mr. Maggiano. But, at the same time, he was pleased that the older man had made an effort to introduce himself.
"Hey, Cuz," Al said with a wave before walking over rapidly to Lou. The two cousins slipped into a tight hug and a little awkwardly kissed each other on the cheek. "It has to be at least eight years since we've seen each other."
"Manhattan. I was 14 and you were about 18? It's been too long." Lou stood back and appeared to study his cousin.
"And look at you...all grown up and going to be a big deal in the company," Al replied with a laugh.
"I think maybe I'd better learn a few things first before I am considered a 'big deal'," Lou said with a shrug.
"We all do. Rod, 'hi'. I'm being rude for not saying hello to one of the two best hosts in town." Al walked over to Nick's lover and eagerly shook his hand while grabbing his shoulder with the other hand. "Let me introduce everyone else."
Cray watched as Al adroitly maneuvered around and made sure each man knew the other. Finally, Al introduced Cray to Lou and Rod. Whatever concerns Cray had about coming to a casual dinner with these men evaporated as he unofficially became an equal for the evening. Although he was offered a beer, Cray quietly said that he was still a growing teen and should stick to a Coke. He proudly mentioned to everyone that he would be entering his junior year of high school in a week.
Each man spent a few moments with Cray and he never felt he was an intruder. Before dinner, the adults had ample opportunity to have a few drinks ranging from martinis to wine. At some point, an older Hispanic man walked around and asked each guest for the preferred meat temperature they wanted their steaks grilled. Cray guessed Cesar, as he was introduced, worked in a similar capacity for this home as Mr. Ed did at Mario's place. Cesar was always discretely in the background tending to the bar, adding utensils to the large round table and fussing with food around the grill area.
It was also interesting for Cray to watch the way the adult men interacted with each other. Nick was certainly the boss, however underplayed, to Drew and Bob but interacted as an equal partner with Rod. However, Nick treated Lou and Al with subtle deference. 'Certainly not ass kissing, though. Must be the relative thing plus being a good host,' he decided.
At the dinner table, Cesar effortlessly served each course with appropriate wines. At Drew's request and with Nick's permission, Cray was allowed to taste a small sip of each wine. All he could remember was the white wine went with the lobster cocktail and the red stuff worked with the steak. He smiled and thanked Nick but privately thought it would be a few years before he'd try wine again.
Most of the evening, Cray played the role of the attentive guest. One or the other of the men would occasionally ask him a question that he would politely answer. But, for the most part, he listened and learned. Cray found out that Al and Bob were UCLA graduates and that Lou had just graduated from Cornell. The handsome young New Yorker said he was slowly becoming convinced that a year in Las Vegas would be a great learning experience. And, he joked, would probably offer him a few experiences in life. The plan was for him to spend the next four days in Vegas and return to New York just before Labor Day so he could pack and wrap up business.
Cigars and Cognac ended the dinner at a poolside area where couches and chairs had been arranged. Cray excused himself and relaxed on a chaise lounge near the group but not close enough to inhale cigar smoke. 'This is really a time for the adults to be together,' he decided.
"Cray, mind if I join you? I'm not much of a cigar smoker either," Lou said as he sat down on the next chaise lounge. "And we didn't get a chance to talk much together."
"Please. I thought, being the kid in the group, they wouldn't mind if I crashed over here for a while." Cray smiled and added, "This has really been a fab evening. I haven't had the opportunity very much to get out with adults...but not yet seniors, if ya know what I mean. This has been fun." He would have cringed at the thought of socially connecting with an adult stranger a month ago. Now, it was not much of a problem...especially when someone as nice and goodlooking as Lou was the adult.
"So you just moved here? I suppose it's too soon to have found any girlfriends?" Lou asked.
"Um, Lou," Cray replied. "It didn't come up but I've figured out that girls are not what I'm into." He took a deep breath and hoped that what he had just said didn't come out the wrong way. "Moving to Vegas was like turning on a light for me...in several ways."
"No...no one briefed me. So cousin Al is the token straight here tonight." Lou chuckled and stretched out. "I guess you know that I'm a 100% homo? And don't worry, I'm not going to hit on you...although if we're both single in a few years I might get a little aggressive."
"I think I'm honored and flattered." Cray knew that Lou was probably just being polite but the idea of being with him was a turn-on. 'Add Lou to my list of unrealistic crushes,' he thought, 'right up there with Spike.'
"In the meantime, I'm not sure what single life is like in Vegas for young, adult guys who are into other...guys." Lou said with a chuckle.
"I don't know about the scene...I'm too young for that," Cray replied. "Um, I have a good friend who lives nearby my place who is very single and really cool. Spike is a senior at UNLV so that makes him about your age. He doesn't get out to the gay scene very often cuz he works a lot at night." Since neither man was attainable, he figured he'd do a 'boy scout deed' and try to get the two guys together.
"Cool, you say?" Lou turned his head and looked at Cray with a frown. "How so?"
"Handsome cool. And I've seen him in...a swimsuit. Plus, he's got a great sense of humor and is a nice guy. If I was older and all that, I'd go after him in a second." Cray smiled and raised his thumb. 'My god,' he thought, 'if I'm not careful, I'll blurt out Spike's dick size, if I knew it. But Lou is so easy to talk to - he's a neat guy.'
"You think he might like to join me for dinner in the next couple of days before I return? I'm going over to Al's place tomorrow night but after that, I'm free."
"I could ask and have him give you a call. You got a cell phone?" Cray asked. 'Holy crap,' he thought, 'am I digging into someplace I shouldn't be going?'
"Yeah, sure." Lou reached for his wallet and pulled it out of his back pocket. He retrieved a business card and gave it to Cray. "I know I can trust you with this but please don't show this to anyone else. It has all my personal numbers and email address. If Spike is interested, give him the cell number. Maybe he and I could hook up Monday or Tuesday."
"I don't know his schedule. Whatever the case, I'll be sure that one of us gets back to you."
"Cray, that's all I can ask. I mean, I could call a...pay someone to show me around," Lou said as he rolled his eyes. "God knows it wouldn't be the first time. But just to go out on a regular date would be nice."
"Escorts?" Cray blurted out. He was immediately sorry he'd been so forward.
"In a new town, it's uncomplicated that way. You haven't gone through the experience of hanging around a gay bar looking to hook up. You feel like a piece of meat."
"Let me work on this," Cray replied, almost choking on the words. 'Little does he know what Spike does for money,' he thought. "I can vouch for the guy. You'll like him."
Lou and Cray returned to the lounging area just as the other men decided it was time to 'call it a night'. Within a few moments, everyone was going through the final hug routine and bidding the others a good night. Cray was especially pleased when Nick suggested that the two of them get together for lunch next Wednesday.
"I'd say that Nick is in our camp," Drew said as they drove away. "Believe me when I tell you that Mr. Maggiano is probably going to cancel some meeting with a political crony to have lunch with you."
"Cray, I'm so proud of you," Bob added. "Everyone, I mean everyone, thought you were a great guy. Drew and I know the pressure that was on you tonight. But just being you was the winning hand. In this town of bullshit, the real thing shines through...if you'll excuse the French."
"I've heard worse. Thanks, guys, for taking me. It really gave me a shot of confidence." Cray smiled and sat back for the remainder of the short trip home.
When the car stopped in Mario's driveway, Cray thanked them again and was pleasantly surprised when the guys got out to give him a real brotherly, tight, lingering hug. He waved as Drew backed out and watched the Bimmer and his dads-to-be disappear into the evening darkness. Just then, Spike drove up and went on to the parking area. Cray watched and waited by the kitchen door for his friend to appear.
"Hi, Cray. How was dinner?" Spike asked as he slid an arm around Cray's waist. He leaned in and kissed Cray on the cheek.
"Really fun. Come on in and share a cookie with me," Cray replied.
"Actually, I think I'm ready for a glass of wine or a beer. Tonight I was escorting some Christian 'fundy' banker from Kansas City. Nice guy but dry as a bone in the beverage department. He thinks drinking is a sin," Spike said with a laugh. "I'm not sure what he thinks sucking my dick is." He opened the door, waited for Cray to enter and followed behind.
"Ewww, more than I want to know." Cray went to the fridge and got the milk carton. "Looks like it'll be beer. I don't see any wine."
"Beer, it is." Spike took the can of beer Cray handed him, popped it open and tentatively took a swig. "Ahhh, I needed that. So, how was your night with the guys over at Nick Maggiano's place?"
"Really nice. It's the first time I saw an older gay couple together in a home. Pretty neat and something to shoot for in the future."
"I hear ya. Settling down at some point is part of my plan...down the road." Spike took another sip of beer.
"Nick has a nephew visiting him for a few days. Apparently he's going to move out here and get some experience opening Barcelona. Anyway, Lou - Lou Gallian, is his name - doesn't know Vegas at all and I told him I knew someone that he might like to meet for a friendly dinner."
"That 'someone' would be me?"
"Lou is 22, extremely hot, great personality and...gay. I told him I had a neighbor friend who's a senior at UNLV and I'd see if there was any interest. He's available either Monday or Tuesday," Cray said with a smile and looked intensely into Spike's eyes. "I hope I didn't say something I shouldn't have?"
"Hmmm. Actually, having a real date with no strings attached might be fun. Monday would work. I don't have anything scheduled but I'll have to tell Mario I'm busy on personal business. So, if this works out, let's keep this between the two of us."
"I think the two of you would be really H.O.T. together," Cray said while he squeezed Spike's shoulder.
"Enough, enough. What kind of a guy do you think I am, anyway? I don't put out on the first date." Spike grinned and added, "Well, maybe third base if I like the guy...and always save the 'home run' for another date."
"Right," Cray replied with a roll of his eyes. "Let me write down Lou's cell number. Why don't you call tomorrow and I'll follow up later?" Cray tore off a piece of paper from a note pad and copied the name and number from the business card. "Here ya go. I think you'll like the guy."
"I'll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, I'm off to bed." Spike had one more sip of beer and poured out the remainder in the sink before tossing the can in the garbage. "Take care, guy."
"You, too." Cray bit into his cookie and washed it down with the milk. He felt extremely satisfied about everything that had happened during the evening. Provo seemed so far away...on all counts. 'If I can just get through next week,' he thought, 'with the school registration and what all that means.' After the last of the cookie was finished, he rinsed out the glass and went to bed.
It was comfortably warm and quiet in the house around ten the next morning when Cray, dressed in swim trunks, went into the kitchen for breakfast. He smiled at the way his eating habits had changed as he wolfed down cereal and 1%-fat milk. And last night, he was aware that no bread or baked potatoes were served...just very thin bread sticks and a variety of grilled vegetables. 'Maybe it's a gay thing,' he wondered with a snicker. But Spike's dietary prodding aside, Cray knew he felt better, seemed to have more energy and noticed his body was a little tighter.
Because of everyone's usual busy, weekend schedules, he figured that he could get in a little workout and swim time by himself. Today would probably not be an exception to the normal Sunday routine; no one up before noon. Just a light breeze stirred the otherwise still pool area as Cray grabbed a towel and went over to the covered patio that housed the weights, floor mats and benches. For the next half hour, he followed a routine that Mario had suggested. Cray was on the mat doing crunches and counting out loud, "45...46...47..."
"48...49...50. Morning, buddy," Mario said. "Looking good. Your abs and pecs are really showing some definition."
"Hi, yourself," Cray replied as he lay flat on his back. He was breathing a little heavily and had worked up a good sweat. He felt proud that his workouts were paying off and were noticed by Mario.
"Thought you could use some water. Dehydration can sneak up on you." Mario placed the bottle beside Cray and sat down on a bench.
"Thanks." Cray pulled himself up to a sitting position, crossed his legs and cracked open the bottle cap. He raised the bottle, nodded to Mario and took a couple of long swigs. "Yeah...I needed that." He smiled and grabbed the towel to wipe himself off. "You're up pretty early."
"I didn't have a late night. How was your dinner? I want to hear all about it."
"Cool. Really neat," Cray said with a big smile. "And I think Nick is going to help me."
"Now that is good news." Mario took a sip from his water bottle and continued, "So it was just Nick, his partner and the guys?"
"Rod is Nick's...friend. I guess Nick's nephew from New York came in for a visit at the last minute so that's why the dinner took place. And, Bob's brother-in-law, Al, was invited, too. Al is Lou's cousin." Cray looked up and said, "You kinda look puzzled. I don't think I'm telling this very clearly."
"Al and Lou? You say they're cousins?" Mario asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Let me slow down and try again. I just get excited when I think about what all's happened. Lou Gallian, Jr., is the New York guy. He's the son of Nick's sister. And Al is Al Bromley, Jr. He's also Bob Harrington's brother-in-law. As I understand it, Lou's dad and Al's mom are brother and sister. Jeez, it's really crazy when you try to explain family relationships," Cray said with a smile. He looked at Mario and sensed he had said something wrong from his mentor's frown. "Um, did I say something wrong?"
"No...not at all. In fact, I found the explanation fascinating. One thing is for sure, buddy: you've won the lottery," Mario said with a laugh. "Big time."
"I don't understand. Whazzup?"
"It's just that you came into town, a homeless runaway a month ago, and now you're holding the winning trifecta ticket. I can tell from your expression that you're not a big fan of horseracing?"
"Except for TV, never saw one," Cray replied.
"A trifecta is a bet in which the bettor must predict which horses will finish first, second, and third in exact order. The odds are extremely high so when someone hits a trifecta, the win is enormous."
"And how does this horserace stuff jive with what I just told you?" Cray raised his eyebrow and scooted closer on the mat to sit at Mario's feet.
"I think the best way is to think of the new people in your life in three groups. First, there's Drew and Bob - I'll throw myself in here - who are going to look after your well-being for a long time." Mario paused a moment and winked. He put his hand on Cray's head and ruffled the short hair. "Then, the second group consists of Nick and Rod. They're movers and shakers in this community. But, finally, is the 'big kahuna' category. Al and Lou's families are big financial powerhouses...among other things...in this country."
"But that money stuff doesn't interest me. They just seem like nice people." Cray stood up and sat next to Mario. "Does that sound stupid, or something?"
"No...not stupid, at all. In fact, pretty wise. Just consider those three groups of men as your 'win, place and show' in whatever order comes naturally for you." Mario put his arm around Cray and squeezed firmly. "It's just good to know that your friends are able to back up their promises. I hope, kid, you never lose your qualities."
"Not telling lies and not using people...these were all things my real dad drummed into me," Cray replied as he snuggled closer and leaned his head to rest on Mario's chest. "I now know that if he hadn't been around when I was a kid, I'd be up that creek without a paddle."
"He must have been a helluva guy."
"So I'm finding out as I discover more about myself." Cray sighed and felt tears escaping. 'But,' he thought, 'they're happy tears.' Happier still when Mario squeezed harder and kissed him on the forehead.
"And as you discover more about yourself in the next couple of years, there are several - including me - who will have your back covered." Mario patted Cray's shoulder and continued, "I think I'm going over to the Fashion Show Mall and get a few things in a little while. You want to join me? Maybe we can take in a movie and I can drop you off at work?"
"I'd like that. I've got money from my first paycheck and need to buy some clothes for school."
"Let's say I meet you in the house in about 45 minutes?" Mario asked as he stood up.
"That's fine." Cray watched his friend walk across the yard and disappear into the house. He felt a little conflicted about what he had learned. The news about the two cousins was obviously of interest to Mario. However, he didn't want to reveal that Spike might have a personal date with Lou. He had promised Spike he wouldn't mention anything about the date to anyone. 'Hell,' he thought as he returned to his room, 'I don't even know if the two guys are going to get together.'