Castle Roland

Dessert Fantasies

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 16

Posted: N/A

Here Come Da Judge

"Lookin' pretty sharp," Drew said as Cray walked out of his room. "I'd say 'dude' but you're probably somewhere between 'lad' and 'dude'. Whaduya think, Bob?"

"Hmmm. Getting pretty close to 'dude' material." Bob winked at Cray and added, "Our son looks all grown up." The idea of being legally a foster parent for the handsome young man's remaining two years of minor status still caused Bob to pause and reflect about the responsibilities attached. "Although I'm sure he'd feel more comfortable in shorts and a tee," Bob added with a grin.

"Semi-dude will do and I prefer a sleeveless, muscle tee. But these clothes are okay once in a while." Cray smiled at the two men and exaggerated a model runway walk as he came closer, wearing his new blue blazer. He had come home - to his new home - after lunch and dressed for the afternoon appointment with the judge. "You guys look pretty cool, too, in your suits."

"The price you pay for being an adult and working in jobs that require grown up clothes," Drew replied. "Seriously, you really clean up well. Very sharp."

"Thanks...I think. We can celebrate 'dude' status when I hit 18. A new home with two, older dude-dads is good enough right now."

"Along with an official Nevada Driver's License?" Bob asked with a smile. He and Drew knew that some sort of car, once he had a license, was on Cray's mind. "And maybe some wheels next summer if your GPA holds up this school year."

"That's definitely part of the program." Cray walked up and bumped knuckles with Bob. "A dude-in-training definitely needs transportation."

"Speaking of celebrations, I made reservations for us at the Prime Steakhouse. Since the Bellagio is next door to us, I can use this opportunity to check out the competition. You okay missing Tai Chi?" Drew asked.

"No problem. Michael was going to do something with his dad so we'll work extra hard with the master next week in class and get caught up."

"Well, guys, it's almost 1:30 p.m. so we need to get going. Mitch will meet us at the courthouse," Bob said as his cell rang. He flipped open his cell, looked at the screen and said, "It's Mitch. Wonder what he wants?"

"Bob...we got problems. Is Drew there? I tried calling him but got no response."

"Yeah, he's here. I'll put him on."

"Not necessary. You can fill him in because I'm on the run."

"This must be serious. Whazzup?" Bob made an exaggerated frown at the guys and listened.

"At the last minute, Judge Woods has been assigned Cray's case. Apparently the other judge is ill."

"Can we get it postponed?"

"If we delay this, the momentum will be lost. One of two things will happen. He might be arbitrarily assigned to a foster home...if one is available. Or, we could ask for a continuance. However, since Cray is a minor and officially without a home, he could be placed in a homeless youth shelter until the case is rescheduled.

"I don't follow?"

"We can hardly acknowledge that Cray has been living at...the other residence with all the implications that could arise. I don't want to allow the county to have extra time to investigate where Cray has been these past few months. It will probably be a week with all the paperwork shuffling that goes on. So, in the eyes of Family Services, our boy is homeless - I don't have to tell you about the crap that goes on in a shelter."

"Kee-rist...that is a problem. So, what do we do?" Bob frowned and raised his eyebrow.

"The hearing has been moved back to 4:30 p.m. Is there any possibility that Mr. Maggiano could call someone and pull a few strings? I know it's short notice but I think we need to go for it. Judge Woods is a holier-than-thou Christian fundy but he's also a political animal who has aspirations."

"Sounds like we need to track down Nick and find out. Christ, we'd better get on it. You sure you don't wanna talk with Drew?"

"Not necessary. Just give him a run down on everything I told you and have him get on the phone - pronto. It certainly wouldn't hurt to have some 'juice' going into this hearing. Unless there's a snag, let's plan on meeting at the courthouse around 4:00."

"I agree. Unless you hear from us, or vice versa, we'll see ya then. Bye." Bob touched the 'end' button on his cell and turned to look at the guys.

"Why don't I like the sound of what just went down?" Drew asked.

"Because I was reacting to the news about the famous Judge Woods being assigned our case." Bob then repeated the details of the conversation. "Mitch tried calling your cell but couldn't get you."

"That's because dumb-shit me left my cell in the car," Drew replied as he shook his head.

"This is not the end of the world, however." Bob turned to Cray and added, "We just need a little luck and some favors that the boss could call in."

"I remember you telling me about this judge. What do we do?" Cray asked with a worried frown.

"First, hang up your jacket cuz we've got a couple of hours to kill. I'm going to call Nick and see what he might be able to do to help. Let me use your cell." Drew took the mobile phone from Bob, walked over to the couch and sat down. "How about grabbing us all some water," he said to Cray as he punched in Nick's phone number. "I'm really thirsty."

"You want me outta here?"

"Cray, you're certainly invited to join us when you return and listen in. This is a family matter." Drew shot up a thumb and smiled.

Bob sat down with Drew and watched as Cray took off his jacket and draped it across a dining room chair on the way to the kitchen. He watched as Drew impatiently waited for Nick to pick up. 'Hope he doesn't ignore this call cuz it's I.D.'ing my name,' he thought. 'Nick is too busy to take calls from every manager.' He relaxed, however, when Drew nodded and started talking. Cray came back with three bottles of water and sat down while Drew restated the conversation Bob had had with Mitch moments earlier.

A few "Uh, huhs" and "right" were the only comments Drew made. On occasion, he would nod in silent agreement. "Thanks, Nick," he said as he turned off the cell and set it on the coffee table. "Nick's going to make a few calls but nothing's guaranteed. He did agree that Mitch had given us solid advice and said to go ahead with the hearing."

"Man, nothing's simple," Cray said as he took a sip of water from the bottle. "What do I do if this judge doesn't appoint you guys as my foster parents?"

"Worst're temporarily assigned to a youth shelter. With a shortage of foster parents, I doubt that you'd be turned over to a foster home that fast."

"Yuck. I've heard about what happens in those shelters. I'd be in one of those bully things - like Vince and the goombas - all over again."

"Only worse. But don't worry - neither is going to happen. Trust me," Drew said with conviction. "I'm sure that Mitch has plans 'A', 'B' and 'C' lined up just in case. I'm going out to retrieve my cell from the car."

"Cray, you want to watch TV? We've got a little time to kill," Bob said. He looked over at the crest-fallen teen and felt bad that the day was turning to complete crap. 'We pump up the guy and then the props are taken away,' he thought as he studied his young charge-to-be. 'Some serious damage control is needed.'

"I dunno, maybe I'll just lie down and listen to some music in my room."

"Probably the best for the time being," Bob replied. "Why don't we regroup at 3:30 and go down to the courthouse. Mitch will meet us and we'll take it from there." He walked over to the teen and put his arm around Cray's shoulders. "Chin up, buddy, this is going to happen. Now scoot."

Cray smiled wistfully and left the living room. Bob switched on the TV with the remote and clicked through the various news channels until he landed on Fox News. Bob thought it wasn't so much about the reporting being 'fair and balanced' as it was that the newsreader, Shepard Smith, was kinda cute. 'Wouldn't it be something if old Shep and Anderson Cooper were lovers on the sly,' he fantasized with a smile. 'They would be a hot couple.'

When Drew returned, Bob motioned for Drew to join him on the couch. "We've got a couple hours to kill and I'm too wound up to do anything other than 'veg out' in front of the boob-tube," he said as Drew joined him.

"Not even a 'nooner'?" Drew asked with a snicker as he sat down.

"Nooner? Josh Duhamel could walk in buck-naked right now and my dick would just yawn. Gotta get this problem with Cray resolved first."

"Babe, I know. Just trying to make a bad joke to get my mind off this crumby situation. I thought we had planned out all the details to result in a perfect conclusion."

"Somehow, it's going to happen." Bob put his hand on Drew's thigh and squeezed it. "And once that problem is taken care of, if you want to invite Josh in for a little three-way nuzzlin', I could get into that...not." Bob squeezed Drew's thigh and let out a big laugh. "I'm literally and figuratively pulling your leg, pal. You're the only man I'm interested in doing the 'nasty' with."

"Me, too. And I doubt if that will change anytime soon." Drew leaned over and kissed Bob on the cheek. "I'm going to the bedroom to get online. Might as well answer some e-mails and do some other office stuff while we're waiting." He got up and added, "I'll call Nick in a little while and see where we stand."

"I'll be right here." Bob watched his partner walk into their bedroom and smiled. 'Drew's got to keep busy and burn off his nervous energy,' he thought as he turned to the TV screen and Shep in Studio B, 'while I'm better just chillin' out. It appears our son takes after me in this regard.' Bob turned up the volume and sat back into the cushions. 'Might as well see what Congress is screwing up today.'

The two hours crept by. At one point, Drew poked his head into the living room to report that Nick had placed callback messages to several people. There were no responses but he said this was a crowd who took long lunches. Drew shrugged, crossed his fingers and went back to the bedroom. By 3:30, the three anxious guys were buckled in Drew's Bimmer for the drive to the Family Court and Services Center. The Bose speakers' delivery of Beethoven's lush Fourth Symphony only added to the tension. The months of planning had been dealt a potentially lousy hand that was about to be played out.

Mitch was pacing the terrazzo floor in the hallway directly outside the family courtroom, holding a cell to his ear, when the guys found their way to the proper area of the sprawling courthouse. He said something, disconnected and put it in his pocket.

"Here we are - ready to do business with 'Hizzoner'," Drew said as he walked up to Mitch. "Nick's got several calls out but none returned. Any change with the judge?"

"Same old, same old. Hi, guys." Mitch smiled stoically as he shook hands with everyone. He looked at Cray and said, "I wish I had some Harry Potter magic wand-waving to make things easier. But we'll just resort to old-fashioned 'lawyering' and somehow get this resolved. You doing okay?"

"Yes, Mr. Mitchell...under the circumstances. I'm in good hands and feel positive about things," Cray replied as he nodded and turned on a smile. Even though the tension had earlier been like a knife slowly turning in his back, Cray now felt almost detached as he stood next to his adult protectors. 'I just know that it's going to work out,' he decided.

"That's the spirit. With Judge Woods, be courteous and answer his questions as forthrightly as possible...based on our story."

"I've got that drilled into my head." Cray had gone over the revised details of his arrival and location in Vegas so often that fiction had almost become fact.

"I'll step in if it appears that he's trying to make you say things that...well, don't represent your beliefs. Drew, have you or Bob got any questions?"

"I'd feel better if I knew that Nick had been able to touch base with his contacts. As we discussed before, I'll follow your lead if the judge starts pinging Bob or me about being fit to be foster parents." Drew turned to Cray and added, "This is going to be a real team effort this afternoon."

"Tag-team, you mean," Bob said. "But I'm confident that we'll somehow come out okay on this. When do we go into the courtroom, Mitch?"

"Actually, it's not like a court you see on TV. Strictly an office and conference table setup," Mitch replied. "Woods' assistant will call us and..." Mitch paused as a middle-aged woman opened the judge's door, walked out to the hallway and stared at him.

"Mr. Mitchell. Right?" the woman said with an officious air. "I'm Mrs. Ford and the judge is ready for the Crayton Gamble hearing. I assume that, in addition to the young man, Mr. Harrington and Mr. Reichardt are the other two?"

"That's correct, Mrs. Ford." Mitch smiled and nodded. "We are ready to proceed."

"Please come in, then. Hopefully, we'll get this all sorted out and have you on your way." Mrs. Ford opened the door and waited for the group of men to enter the suite of offices.

Cray swallowed hard and followed Mitch. He turned slightly and felt comforted that Drew and Bob were directly behind him. They walked past Mrs. Ford's desk and into a large office that contained a long table with several chairs, in addition to a large desk further back by a window. 'Pretty sweet,' he thought as he scanned the paneled office. He automatically stopped when Mitch did. 'The old guy by the desk must be the judge.' Cray stood slightly taller as he watched the portly man with gray hair walk towards them. The judge was carrying several thick folders.

"Gentlemen, please be seated. I'm Judge Woods and you must be Crayton?" He looked at Cray and turned on a patronizing smile as he pulled back a padded, black chair at the end of the table. "Mrs. Ford, this shouldn't take long and I'll call if I need you."

"I'll be right outside, your Honor," the assistant replied as she walked to the door. "This is your last hearing of the day." She turned her back to the group and left the room.

Mitch and Cray sat to the right of the judge; Bob and Drew walked around and sat to the left. That the judge barely acknowledged Bob and Drew didn't go unnoticed. Cray observed Mitch slightly raise his eyebrow and shake his head to indicate displeasure. From the other side of the table, Drew tipped his head in a nod to Mitch.

"Your Honor, the other two men present are the individuals who have been nominated by family services to be Cray Gamble's foster parents. The gentleman nearest you is Drew Reichardt. The man next to him is Bob Harrington."

"I'm aware of that," Judge Woods replied, curtly. "Two homosexuals who want to foster a teen male." He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. "Hardly an ideal situation, don't you agree?"

"Sir, Drew and Bob are concerned about the well being of a young man who needs a home,'' Mitch replied. "Cray Gamble is a bright, healthy and considerate 16-year old. He also happens to be gay and will benefit from the men's foster parenting over the next two years. It's a win-win situation for Cray and the county. Furthermore, the men are positive role models and solid members of our community. I might add that they are committed to provide financial assistance for the young man's college education."

"How does a teen boy know what his preference is, Mr. Mitchell? My God, he's only been out of puberty for a few years, and chooses to be a...homosexual? I think that young Gamble needs a Christian home to live in until he is 18. Christian, with a male and female as fosters. And a strong church influence to get this abnormal notion out of his mind. You get my point?" Judge Woods sat back in his chair and closed the folder he had been referencing.

'What the fuck?' Cray wondered as he digested what was being said, 'This judge has already made his decision.' He swallowed hard and nervously raised his hand. "Sir, could I say something?" He decided to literally exercise his last name and go for it.

"Crayton...Cray. This is highly unusual for me to be interrupted. What do you want to say?" Judge Woods was clearly perturbed but begrudgingly opened the door for dialogue.

"Sir, I really want to be fostered by these two men at the table. Although I'm only 16, I've known that I was gay since I was probably 10 or so. I fought it and tried to change...but it's not a choice. This is the way I was born. To be able to have Bob and Drew look after me the next two years - knowing where my head is with guys - is the 'rightest' thing in the world. I beg your Honor to be assigned to them as foster parents." Cray trembled slightly as a tear rolled down his cheek.

"Judge, I urge you to consider Cray's request," Mitch said on top of Cray's words. "They will provide a loving home for a young man who also happens to be gay."

"Rubbish. Most Christians consider these two men's relationship an abomination. Next, they'll probably try to get married if they're together that long. I couldn't, in good conscience..."

"Judge, I'm sorry to interrupt," Mrs. Ford said as she entered the office. She walked rapidly over to the judge, handed him a note and whispered in his ear.

"Hmmm. He's on the line now?" Judge Woods pushed his chair back and stood up abruptly. Without saying anything, he went over to his desk and picked up the telephone receiver. "Good afternoon, Governor. What a pleasant surprise." He opened his mouth but started nodding before any words came out.

'Governor? What's goin' on?' Cray wondered as he watched the judge scowl and nod his head while listening intently to whatever was coming out of the phone. Several times, he thought the judge wanted to say something. On each occasion, Judge Woods backed off. Cray turned and saw Drew listening to his cell phone. Drew smiled and gave a 'thumbs up' signal near the surface of the table. "Mr. Mitchell, what's happening?" Cray asked in a whisper.

"It appears that someone is looking out for you," Mitch whispered back. "If I'm right, I suspect that the esteemed Judge Woods is getting his ass reamed out - excuse the expression - from the Governor and receiving his marching orders."

"Reamed out, huh? I can live with that," Cray replied. 'Yes,' he decided, 'there is a God.' Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the judge place the telephone receiver back in its cradle and shake his head. Drew had flipped off his cell and was whispering in Bob's ear. 'Bob has turned on his shit-eating grin,' Cray observed as the judge returned to the table. 'Must be good news.' He noticed the guys fall into sober expressions as Judge Woods sat down and looked at the file for a moment.

"Ahem. As I was saying, good conscience can let this young boy continue his growth into manhood under the foster parenting of Mr. Harrington and Mr. Reichardt. While it is an unorthodox arrangement, I do agree that Crayton Gamble will benefit from this decision. Gentlemen, don't let me down." Judge Woods called Mrs. Ford back, then signed a series of documents before pushing them over for Bob and Drew to sign. His lips were tightly drawn and eyes narrowed as each page was signed. "Mrs. Ford will notarize all the papers," he abruptly added when all the signatures were in place.

"Thank you, Judge, for your consideration," Mitch said while Mrs. Ford finished the signing process and stamped her seal. She gave Mitch one copy and neatly arranged the files.

"Yes, I imagine you should." Judge stood and surveyed the group before he walked back to his desk. "Mrs. Ford can show you out." He stood at the window, moved the blinds aside and stared out to the landscaped garden in the courtyard.

As a group, the four men pushed back their chairs and stood up. They followed Mrs. Ford back to the reception area and then continued to the busy hallway. Cray looked at the guys and smiled broadly. As soon as the office door had latched, Bob and Drew whooped it up and grabbed Cray into a bone-crushing, three-man hug.

"Wait a damn minute," Mitch said in a loud voice. "Doesn't your lawyer get a hug, too?"

"As long as I can call you Uncle Mitch." Cray wiggled his way loose enough so Mitch could be included.

"It'll be an honor. Christ, someone in this family unit should be straight." Mitch wedged himself in between Cray and Drew and the four guys laughed as they pulled each other together even closer.

"Guys, due to the risk of creating a pedestrian traffic jam, I suggest we move over to the side," Drew said with a trailing laugh as he backed away. It was approaching 5:00 p.m. and many people were spilling out of the doorways.

"So what exactly happened?" Mitch asked while they moved to a less-congested corner. "I picked up 'Governor' when the judge answered the phone but can only guess what must have transpired."

"I think that Woods dropped a big load in his pants," Bob added with a laugh. "He was not a happy camper."

"Bigot is more like it." Drew looked around the hallway and continued, "Nick came through for us, as you probably guessed. From the message Nick left on my cell that I just heard, I can safely tell you that the Governor leaned on the judge - one politician to another. I doubt if we'll ever know exactly what was said, though."

"And it is best if we keep this information between the four of us only," Mitch suggested.

"My lips are sealed." Cray put his arms around Bob and Drew. "I'm just so happy to officially have two dads and I won't let you guys down." He then freed himself and extended a hand to Mitch. "Uncle Mitch, thanks for all you did. I'll make sure you're proud of your nephew."

"Believe was my pleasure." Mitch shook Cray's hand and smiled. "The next couple of years will go by pretty fast and if you need any legal advice down the road, I've got special 'kin-folk' rates for my favorite nephew."

"If I remember, Mitch, he's your only nephew. But then, he's our only son. Thanks...really." Drew shook Mitch's hand and winked. "I think it's only fair that we get you and Brenda over to our place for a little family dinner real soon. She needs to meet her nephew."

"You've got a date. Give me a call when you get things settled. Guys, speaking of my wife, I've got to get home. We're driving out to Lake Las Vegas for a small party and I need to get ready." Mitch shook Bob's hand and ruffled Cray's short head of hair before he departed.

"Since it's a little early for dinner, why don't we go back to the Barcelona for a few minutes? I want to let Nick know about the good news in person...along with seeing you guys. He wanted to be among the first to congratulate us. And I can stop by my office and see if there are any fires to put out. Okay?"

"Could I use a phone in your office? I wanna let Mario and Spike know how things went today. And I know Mr. Ed is dying to get us all over for a cookout by their pool real soon." Cray was anxious to pass on the good news to all of his adopted older brothers and the 'house mom' - as he affectionately thought of Mr. Ed.

"No problem. You can use the conference room. I'm sure it's not being used."

"And I can run down to my desk and see what fires of my own I'll need to put out tomorrow," Bob replied. "Then Cray and I can walk next door to the Bellagio for a drink - well, one adult beverage and one Shirley Temple - if you need a little time shuffling paperwork. That okay with you, Son?"

"I suppose so, if ya tell me who and what a Shirley Temple is." Cray rolled his eyes and grinned. "Son...I like the sound of that. Especially now that it's legally a done deal."

"You're stuck with us for the next two years, courtesy of the 'honorable judge'," Drew replied with touch of sarcasm at the end. "Seriously, we look at this as a lifetime friendship. You know we're going to be there for you a long time?"

"Forever...that's what I'm thinking. I hope you don't wanna wash my mouth out when I say I was scared shitless a little while ago in front of that...asshole."

"No, Cray. Let's just say that your dads were also scared shitless." Drew smiled and playfully punched Cray on the shoulder.

"And that your dads agree in your assessment of the judge," Bob said. "However, let's also agree that we save that term for only the few who deserve it."

"Yes, Daaaad." Cray knew that Bob was subtly letting him know the boundaries of vulgar slang in their presence. 'Pretty neat,' he thought while they walked out of the courthouse, 'the way Bob did his dad-thing.' As they came out to the warm desert air, Cray's mind swirled around a determination to get going with the next phase of his life.

The next couple of days were pure bliss for Cray. At home - a real home - he was getting settled in and had established a routine. And while he fondly recalled his unusual 'bachelor house' living arrangement at Mario's place, he knew that it was best that he had moved on. However, everyone was looking forward to a Sunday afternoon cookout and buffet that Mr. Ed and Mario were arranging in a couple of weeks for the assorted 'families'. The one thing he missed was the wonderful daily variety of food prepared by Mr. Ed. Except for the breakfast time he shared with Bob and Drew, Cray usually had to rustle something up for dinner from the well-stocked fridge. Both men were extremely busy getting the hotel ready for the opening and usually didn't 'drag in' until after 8:00.

Michael was the first of Cray's immediate group to find out that he was officially now under the care of Bob and Drew. He found out after the new family had returned from their dinner celebrations on Tuesday. However, Cray asked Michael to keep everything under wraps until later in the week. Cray also said that Drew wanted the opportunity to speak with Bud Turner - parent to parent. He assured Michael that he had not mentioned Bud Turner's sexuality. "That's for the adults to figure out," Cray had said.

Toward the end of lunch at school on Thursday, Cray said he had a couple of important things he wanted to share with his friends. In addition to Michael, Tim and Chris, the two former 'goombas' - Glenn and Benny - had started hanging with the crew. 'This is the makings of a good crowd,' Cray thought as he looked around at the guys. 'I don't think this news is goin' to freak out anyone.'

"So what's on your mind, buddy?" Glenn asked. "We gotta get to class pretty soon."

"We got ten minutes and what I need to say will take much less." Cray took a sip of his water and continued, "First, I moved this week and have a new address. My mother isn't in Vegas and I've got two cool guys for foster parents." He paused long enough for this information to register. "I met these men through my job this summer and we became good friends. When I needed a home, they came through."

"Your mom's going to be gone for a while?" Tim asked.

"Gone, like forever. I legally need guardians 'til I'm 18 and the guys - Bob and Drew - stepped up to the plate."

"Whoa, wait a second. What do you mean by having two guys for foster parents?" Benny asked with a frown. "You mean...."

"He means that he's being looked after by foster parents," Glenn interjected. "I'm guessing that these guys are gay. Right?"

"Yeah. Both have passed all the tests and interviewing processes in this county, and its gone through a court review." Cray nervously shifted in his chair and nodded at Glenn. He was happily surprised that his newest friend seemed to be handling this really well.

"What's the big deal? Sounds to me like Cray found two dads who are helping him out of a jam," Glenn said. "Benny, your dad is so rich that he probably doesn't even think about those who have to scramble on a daily basis to keep their heads above water. I've got two parents who work their...well, you get the provide for me."

"I, um, understand what you're saying. It's just a little strange to think about two guys being parents. Nothing personal, but how do you feel living in the same house?"

"Really cool. I've got a roof over my head, food and clothes when I need them. Plus a few bucks from an allowance to spend. Most important is that I've got two people who really care for me and love me like parents should." Cray looked at the crew and measured his next words. "I just want to make sure that you're all cool with the gay thing and it's not goin' to be a problem?"

"Jeez, this sounds like a conversation my family had a couple of years ago when my brother came out to us before he went away for college," Chris said. "Cray, I am right in assuming that you were assigned two men as foster parents cuz you're gay?"

"Three points for Chris," Cray replied with a shrug. He took a deep breath and felt his stomach knotting up. "Guys, if any of you are uncomfortable with this and don't want to be around me, I'll accept that." He looked each guy in the face for a moment and gave each a little time to consider what had just transpired. 'So far, so good,' he thought when no one started snarling or left the table.

"I'm tight with this info," Tim said. "I was reading something the other day about gays and lesbians for a journalism project. First, it's not a choice. Most in the medical world agree that the genes you're dealt with determine whether you're straight or gay...or somewhere in between. Number two, look around the cafeteria and understand that prolly one out of every ten of us you see in school is wrestling with this. However, most don't have the guts to deal with it cuz their scared shitless. I also read that this is one of the major reasons for guys our age 'offing' themselves."

"Thanks, Tim. Since no one has left the table, I'm guessing you're cool with this," Cray asked, "or will give it a chance?"

"As long as you don't try to jump on my bones, I have no problem," Glenn said with a snicker. "I think of you as a neat new bud. Period."

"Same here. My older brother is also my best friend." Chris raised his drink and added, "Although I don't think you'll need it with all that kung fu stuff you do, I'll cover your back if anything ever goes down."

"We're tight friends, Cray. You know I'll be with you," Michael added as he slightly raised his brow.

"Let me think this over." Benny looked at his cafeteria tray before training his eyes on Cray. "It's just something that's new for me. That's all."

"Guys, thanks for bein' honest with me. Do me one favor - let's just keep this among ourselves for the time being. Okay?"

To a man, everyone agreed not to say anything to their other friends until Cray was ready to make it less private. Everyone - even Benny - laughed when Tim promised not to use the story for a scoop in the school newspaper.

"Now, to change the subject, here's something else that's on my mind that you guys might like. My dads gave me a heads up to invite all of you for a Chinese dinner at one of the new restaurants at Barcelona this Saturday night. I even got the night off from work. The staff has been practicing real hard all week and Drew - one of my foster 'rents - wanted me to get a group together for a test meal. The chow's on the house and I've got access for someone to drive us to the hotel and back. Whaduya think?"

"Sounds like I'm going to eat pretty well this weekend," Tim said. "I'm in."

"Me, too." Glenn bumped Cray's knuckles and smiled. "Friend and free food. What's not to like? With a designated driver, does that mean we get to drink some booze?" He licked his lips and shrugged.

"Right, doofus. Like the Barcelona is goin' to risk their license to take care of your alcoholic cravings," Cray said with a wink.

He nodded as Chris and Michael enthusiastically said, "yes", at the same time. Cray turned to Benny and was about to write him off as 'hopeless' until he noticed a slight grin.

"Yeah, yeah...okay, I know I'm being a turd 'bout this. It's just a new thing that I'll figure out and I want you to be patient, Cray. But...I gotta say I'm nuts for spicy shrimp and fried rice. And maybe some Moo Chu pork. Count me in." Benny also bumped knuckles as he stood up. "As much as I hate to say it, it's time for class."

"Give me your addresses before we go home today. All I know is that we'll pick you up sometime around 6:00 p.m. on Saturday." Cray stood up with the rest of the guys and picked up his refuse. 'I'll delay until the other guys are ahead of us before I talk to Michael,' he thought as his friends took their trays to the dirty dish area.

"That was quite a lunch announcement," Michael said quietly as they walked slowly to dump the trays. "You got balls...I'll say that much."

"I'm glad you noticed. But that's just part of the 'package'." Cray chuckled and continued, "We can talk on the phone tonight. This isn't going to pressure you to make any earthshaking announcements. As far as I'm concerned, we can keep our special friendship completely under the table."

"Thanks, buddy. I know that I've got to say something...I just haven't figured out when that will be."

"Michael, take all the time you need. In the meantime, we need to make some plans for Sunday afternoon." Cray winked as he set down his tray. "I'll show you my new home."


"Yeah. That, too."

Authors note: The title is homage to a terrific comedian, the late Flip Wilson. He used this expression in television skits 'back when'. "Here come da judge, here come da judge! The court's in session, the court's in session!" was originally created by comedian Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham and popularized on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in. Ahhh, simpler times.

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