Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 1

Posted: N/A

This is the third and final volume of the Las Vegas series, the first volume being [It Stays in Vegas][1]. In the second volume, [Desert Fantasies][2], Cray left his Utah 'home' rather abruptly and ran away to Las Vegas. After a series of fortuitous meetings with strangers who looked out for his well-being, Cray became the foster son of Drew and Bob. The Gallian family, who own the Barcelona and several high profile companies and banks, has a shadowy past in crime of which the public was unaware. Lou Gallian, Sr. and Al Bromley, Sr., while their casino was opening, successfully fended off bloodthirsty attacks by a London-based Russian mob and made moves to be involved in only legitimate enterprises. In Shifting Sands, time has advanced one and a half years. Drew Reichardt and his partner Bob Harrington have kept busy working at the luxurious Barcelona Resort and Casino while forming a family unit that includes young Cray Gamble. Spike, Lou Jr., and Mario all return in this continuing tale that takes place in a recessionary Entertainment Capital of the World.


I enjoy receiving email comments so give me a 'shout out' on the forum or at [][3]. Mega-thanks to a talented group of prose-polishing friends who inspire me to tell a better story: Andrew Hunt, Brad Peters, and Rock Hunter. Trab has taken a sabbatical...but I hope he returns to the team soon.

Las Vegas shared a kinship with Los Angeles; both were places desperate people ran to. Often, when they ran from Los Angeles, they came to Vegas. It was the only place left. Beneath the veneer of glitz and money

and energy and sex beat a dark heart. No matter how much they tried to dress her up with neon and family entertainment, she was still a whore.

Michael Connelly Trunk Music A Harry Bosch Novel

He hadn't seen it coming.

Earlier in the day, disturbing bolts of emotions sparked the lurking insecurities burrowed deep inside the sub consciousness of this young man, recently turned 18. Cray Gamble was literally stunned when his boyfriend announced that their partnership was over - news that was not even remotely expected in his day-to-day life. The possibility that Michael Turner wanted out, after almost two years, was unfathomable - zero, on a scale of one to ten. However, the impossible had happened, and Cray was suddenly a single man five days before high school graduation ceremonies. The man he loved had ripped a big hole in his heart.

The defensive walls of his psyche, created in an earlier life of abandonment and abuse, swiftly reestablished themselves. While other people might have begun unraveling at such a major life detour, or immersed themselves in denial, Cray reacted by protecting himself from further hurt. Healing would take longer.

Second-guessing and self-analysis replaced initial anger and disappointment, a week's vacation to San Francisco with Michael was immediately scrubbed, and the game plan for his summer and freshman year at college was under revision. 'Maybe I should've picked up clues,' Cray thought, while brushing his teeth before bed, 'that things between him and me weren't as tight as they used to be. I dunno...everything seemed fine.' He tidied up the bathroom, returned to his bedroom and replayed the conversation in his mind, one more time, before turning off the lamp on the nightstand. 'Lemme see if I can figure things out before I talk with Drew and Bob.' Cray had decided to wait until morning to have a family conference over breakfast with his foster dads, Drew Reichardt and Bob Harrington, who were also his best friends.

The young men had been huddling over Cokes, fries and burgers during Monday lunch hour at the popular IN-N-OUT on West Sunset Road. Michael had suggested they leave the Green Valley campus for some 'real' food rather than gather with the guys in the high school cafeteria. It was spaghetti and 'mystery meat' sauce day and Cray welcomed the excuse not to 'carb out'.

Graduation day was looming and the two teens were ready to move on. Six-foot Cray's hair was now more of a dishwater blond and he'd filled out his lean muscular build through deliberate Tai Chi training and a serious workout regimen. Michael, who was Cray's partner, maintained a trim, wiry 5'10" frame that had more subtly toughened. They both were comfortably moving into adulthood - physically, intellectually and mentally - and had fit well together almost from the beginning.

"I think I aced the test," Cray said while chewing a mouthful of his cheeseburger, "and I'm soooo chilled it was the last one. No sweat now until we get our diplomas on Saturday. When you come over tonight, we won't have to crack the books - it'll just be us...and fun time." He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. "Drew and Bob won't be home until eight or so."

"About tonight," Michael replied with a nervous tremble in his voice. "We need to talk about that."

"Problems at home?" Cray was puzzled by his boyfriend's glum expression.

"Naw...nothing like that," Michael said as he fidgeted in the plastic booth seat. "This is tough, Cray."

"Tough? Whaduya mean?"

"Bro, we've had some great times...fantastic times, in fact...but I need to come clean about something." Michael took a long pause, scowled his eyebrows and added, "It's time for us to be just friends...buds only."

The immediate silence was deafening as Michael looked down at his food and pushed a few fries around in a puddle of catsup. Cray sat there with his mouth gaping - like a guppie - and wearing a puzzled frown. "Buds only?" he asked in a hoarse croak of a whisper. "What the hell is that 'spose to mean...'buds only'?"

"It's complicated. It's a...we can't do...those things, you know...anymore, ummm..."

"Whoa. Those things being..."

"In bed, that stuff," Michael replied before he swallowed air.

"That 'stuff' we call making love? Let me get this right - cuz is it just me imagining that we care about each other so much...have loved each other almost from when we first met?" He stared at Michael's head and waited for him to make eye contact. 'Calm down,' he thought as he felt his chest swelling and his stomach knotting up, 'I don't want to make a scene here in front of the other kids.' "You cutting me off...gittin' some sort of religion or sumpin?"

"Hey, dude, chill. This isn't coming out the way I wanted." Michael raised his head and looked into Cray's eyes. "You're a neat guy and I...yeah, love you. But now it's like's gotta be like I'd love a brother, you know? Stuff like that."

"What we do...did in my room just 48 hours a lot more than brothers do," Cray said in a gravely rasp, "Or do I have to remind you?" He remembered driving home the final thrusts into his lover and the effort they both made to muffle the noise the previous Saturday. "You seemed pretty happy when you shot your wad."

"Guilty...Okay? I feel shitty about this. I shoulda stopped what we were doing and insisted that we talk before, ya know, we..."

"Got off?" Cray asked angrily. "What's this...shazam and I'm now only a buddy to screw around with? Shee-it."

"Nothing so easy." Michael leaned in and added, "I wanna get things out on the table now...before my willpower breaks down, again...later on, after school."

"Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Since when did you start confusing being horny with making love?" Cray spat out as he grabbed his cheeseburger. "And since when did I become just a dick to suck?" Without being aware of it, he had tightly squeezed his burger in his strong hands...the food was oozing out and falling onto the tray. He dropped the squished mess and wiped his fingers clean of the catsup, beef and cheese. Part of him wanted to sling the food at Michael's face...but the 'good Cray' put on a game face and held himself in check.

"Go ahead and get it off your chest," Michael replied softly. "I deserve it."

Cray gritted his teeth and frowned as he concentrated on what he'd just been told and unconsciously licked his fingers. 'Sex has been pretty good...well...just okay...maybe,' he thought, 'but that's because we're busy finishing school. I sure didn't see this coming.' They both had worked hard to be finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program and to achieve academic honor roll status for the graduation ceremonies' recognition. Part of him wanted to tell Michael to 'fuck off' and leave him sitting there, and he was also upset that Michael had chosen the impersonal IN-N-OUT for this very personal announcement. 'But I need to find out what's going on,' he decided. Cray suddenly remembered that when he'd told Michael he loved him this past Saturday night, Michael didn't say anything in return.

Michael was looking around the burger joint. Any place but in Cray's direction.

It hit him like a halogen light beam. Cray took a deep breath and asked, "So, what's the deal? Am I being dissed cuz there's another dude?"

"Yeah," Michael replied. He made eye contact and picked up his drink cup. "And now that we've taken all of our tests, I wanted to clear things up."

"Yeah? Clear things up?" Cray yelled back. He pulled back and said in a lower voice, "That's all you can say?"

"Okay, okay. I met someone...and it's serious."

"And you picked this place to do it. Smooth move." Before Michael could speak, Cray put up his hand and asked, "Who...who is he?" He did a fast inventory of the friends at Green Valley but no one remotely matched. Except for the class computer genius and a few 'out' students in rival school cliques, everyone they knew and ran with were confirmed heteros. Their tight group was composed of the same guys Cray had first met at the beginning of his junior year.

"He's not from Green Valley...Randy's a senior at Bishop Gorman. We met a couple of months ago at the mall and things just kinda took off from there."

Bishop Gorman High School was a private Catholic school that ranked high in college preparatory education, and the 'mall' meant the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip. It was located across the street from the gigantic Wynn, Encore, Venetian and Treasure Island resort casinos and considered neutral turf by the kids from all the Las Vegas schools.

"Is this Randy guy going off to college this fall?" Cray asked in a tone of caution as he stared at his half-eaten burger. 'If he's a rich guy, school will probably be at some fancy place out of town,' he reasoned, 'and away from Michael.' He shifted his strategy and decided to figure out if Michael was sure of this move. "Or is he going to UNLV?" He and Michael had planned to begin their freshman year at UNLV together in September.

"Nope. Reno, to study pre-med." Michael shrugged and sighed before continuing, "I decided to do the same thing. I spoke with Ms. Grace this morning and she'll help me find the best scholarships that are still available. She's sure, with my scores, that there won't be a problem getting a full ride."

"Does Ms. Grace know about this?" Mary Grace was Green Valley's very popular English teacher and guidance counselor for both of them. Both had come out to her and she was very supportive. It was rumored that she and a teacher from another school were more than just roommates.

"Nobody knows. Not even Dad."

It seemed to Cray, with the details of this whole story starting to unfold, that this was definitely not a casual fling. 'Much more than a wham, bam, thank you, thing.' He felt a combination of emotions: deceit, loss, anger...but mostly disappointment. "Sounds as if you've been planning this for a while," he said in an accusatory tone. "So much for good times here in Vegas."

"Honestly, this whole thing kinda happened rather suddenly after Randy and I met. We saw each other in the food court one weekend in March, and...well, he and I hit it off. You were busy with your job at the hotel and I..."

"Decided to play while the cat was away?" Cray took a sip of his drink. "Not that I'd put you in the 'rat' category." He knew exactly what 'hitting it off' meant.

"If you're going to be technical, it'd be 'mice'," Michael said quickly, "but I see your point. Please believe me...I didn't plan on this happening. We both got caught up in something awesome. Something I never planned on."

"How long have you been...fucking him?" Cray snapped back.

"Um...that's kinda gross."

"But accurate...right?"

"It didn't start out that way...but things happened," Michael shook his head and added, "Um, we've always used condoms."

"So, I s'pose I should thank you for playing safe?" Cray thought about the past month or so and the times that he'd bottomed for Michael. 'Not once, thank God.'

Michael just fidgeted in the booth.

"You love him? Like you loved me, Michael. Love him enough to throw away what we have...had?" He hated speaking of their bonded friendship in past tense but decided to resolve this dilemma on the spot. "So what is it...big guy?" Cray had almost used 'asshole' but thought better of it.

"Yeah, we admitted that...that we love each other...just recently. Randy isn't out to his folks yet, but he'd already told his girlfriend that they should go their separate ways since she's going to college in California. He said that he'd been with this gal for show only and hadn't done anything sexually with her. In fact, Randy was relieved that the girl took the split-up so well. They went to their senior prom as friends and...he wasn't pressured into getting laid."

"Christ, you make me feel like yesterday's coffee grounds," Cray said with a measured tone of sarcasm, "or a rubber you toss away after screwing some Fremont Street dude." He bit his lip and thought, 'Man, it's like...who do you trust if even your best friend stabs you in the back?' Right now he wasn't sure whether or not they could ever be friends again. "Fuck..."

"Go ahead and blast me." Michael took a deep breath.

"Blast, my ass. What's his last name?" Cray asked. He was pissed but wanted all the details before he said anything else.

"Gerber...Randy Gerber."

"Like the baby food?"

"Yup, but no relation. His dad's a doctor - a urologist with a practice in West Las Vegas, and..."

"Okay, Michael, I get the picture," Cray abruptly replied. "Bottom line is...we're history...period. Right?"

"You're P.O.'d and I can dig it. Believe me when I tell you I didn't plan on this happening...but I know it's solid. Randy's going to talk to his mom next week and figure out things with his family. I'm truly sorry, Cray."

"Let's talk about that there's no 'us' anymore." Cray sat back in the booth and continued, "Friday night was supposed to be a cookout at my house with you and your dad. Obviously, that needs to be cancelled."


"And Saturday is our graduation. How do you propose we handle Benny Boren's party?" Cray had been looking forward to partying with their 'crew' and several more of their class at Benny's house. Benny's dad was hosting an elaborate poolside party for Benny's classmates and their parents. "I plan on going regardless of our situation."

"I hadn't thought about the party," Michael said with a frown. "Maybe I shouldn't go."

"I should be a prick and insist that be the case."

"I'll drop it...if it'll make things easier for ya."

"That's too easy," Cray replied. "This party's a big deal and it's one of those passage things people will remember many years later. We both should go...separately." Cray wrinkled his face and looked around the restaurant for a moment. He nodded at a few of the kids he recognized, took a deep breath and said, "But you gotta tell our crew that we're no longer a couple."

"You'd be okay with that?"

"Michael, I'm not okay with any of this...but I don't see any options," Cray replied in a matter of fact manner. "And like our Asian friends, I want to save face. You get the picture? Let's stick to a story that says we decided to split and move on cuz you're going up north to UN-Reno and their pre-med program."

"And be positive about it...I get the picture. Yeah, that's something we could do."

"The operative word is 'we'. You keep this Randy dude buttoned up for a mentioning him for at least the next couple of weeks. Maybe longer." Cray wasn't embarrassed at creating some temporary diversion - being 'aced out' by another guy hurt, not to mention the pain of losing Michael. "We go to the party and enjoy our friends. The key is not...I repeat, not, for either of us to do things that'll make anyone feel uncomfortable. Okay?"

"If that works for you...I can do that. Randy doesn't know anyone at Green Valley and he mentioned that there's some senior class event at Bishop Gorman this Saturday night. I'll tell him to attend it and keep quiet about...things." Michael looked into Cray's eyes and they locked into an intense stare. "I don't think you like me very much right now. However, I still love you - just in a different way - and I hope we can be friends down the road. We've experienced too much just to go our separate ways."

"Let's start with this and see what happens," Cray replied - still searching Michael's eyes. "This whole thing has shaken me up pretty well."

"I won't push..."

"Let it lie, for Christ's sake," Cray replied as he shook his head. "And on top of everything, I've lost my appetite." He picked up his tray, walked over to the trash stand and dumped the half-eaten cheeseburger and untouched fries. Michael was behind him and did the same thing.

They left the IN-N-OUT without making eye contact with other students and awkwardly got into Cray's trusty 2004 Ford Focus. To compensate for the missing chatter and banter, Cray turned on the radio as he pulled out of the parking lot. Coldplay was finishing The Hardest Part:

I could feel it go down You left the sweetest taste in my mouth The silver line in the cloud Oh and I, oh and I, I wonder what it's all about I wonder what it's all about

Everything I know is wrong Everything I do, it just comes undone And everything is torn apart Oh and that's the hardest part, Oh and that's the hardest part Yeah that's the hardest part, oh that's the hardest part

Cray pushed the 'off' button and welcomed the silence. Complete silence. There was no further acknowledgement of the breakup and the route back to school was akin to emotionally traveling through barren tundra - Cray felt numb, and imagined icicles forming on the rear view mirror as he drove almost on autopilot. When they arrived at the student parking lot, Cray watched as Michael got out of the car and kept him in sight until his 'ex' entered the building. Cray debated whether or not to skip the remainder of the day but decided to carry on: the risk of further confrontation was low in that they shared no afternoon classes. 'And being surrounded by my buds,' he thought, 'can help me while I deal with this crap.'

He had almost made it through the remainder of the day without incident when Tim Woods intercepted him in the hallway before their last class. Tim was a member of their tight group of friends -a guy who'd offered solid support when Cray first moved to Las Vegas and enrolled in high school.

"Hey, dude, wait up," Tim called out from behind him in the hallway.

Cray stopped his slow pace and turned around. "Whazzup?" he asked with a broad sweep of his hand. The two tapped knuckles and moved to the side. Cray noticed they still had three minutes before the final bell rang.

"Man, I should be asking you that question," Tim replied in a low voice. "I heard that you and Michael are history and..."

"The jungle drums are beating, huh?"

"Glenn talked to Michael in the crapper and...well, then Glenn sat with Benny and me in class last period."

Cray shrugged and added, "For once, Glenn's got his facts right." He paused for a moment and decided to try his version of the 'truth' for consumption. "Michael and I decided to break off whatever we had going. So, that's what's going down." He tried to treat the conversation in a light, breezy manner but didn't think he was pulling it off very well.

"That's basically what I heard." Tim put his hand on Cray's shoulder and continued, "But the reporter instinct in me senses that there's 'more to the story'." He was the editor of the school paper and had just put out the final issue for the school year.

"Did Benny's version of this news event include that Michael has decided to go up to UN-Reno?" Cray asked, as he advanced his pawn one move.

"Reno?" Tim replied. "No, that wasn't mentioned."

"Then there's your scoop, Timmy." Cray smiled when he used Tim's nickname - a play on Clark Kent's co-worker's name at the Daily Planet, 'Jimmy' Olsen - that the group had jokingly used for the last couple of years. "He'll be in Reno and I'm staying in town, so we decided to make a clean break of things."

"Just friends?"

"Something like that...long distance, it's just hard to have anything else going, ya know." Cray wanted to add that it was impossible since Michael dumped his ass, but he let it pass. "And speaking of schools, what's happening with you and Brenda? You're off to Berkeley and she's going to Tempe." Cray knew that Tim had a scholarship to the University of California, majoring in journalism, and Brenda would be attending Arizona State. 'That's apples and oranges, but this might be a good argument to toss out to confuse the issue.' He felt better having a casual one-on-one B.S. and banter with Tim.

"I see your point," Tim said with a frown. "We...this is a conversation we haven't had yet and old snoopy me shouldn't be lifting rocks."

"Be careful of what you call yourself," Cray replied with an impish smile, "cuz 'Snoopy' might stick and follow you to Berkeley." He imagined Tim sprawled out on top of the famous cartoon doghouse and added, "Woof, woof."

"Ouch...another good point. Seriously, we're not really all that hot and heavy, so being apart won't be a big deal. I guess, number one, I'd better talk to her real soon to make sure we're on the same wave-length, and, number two, I apologize for bringing up your deal with Michael."

"No's for the best that all of the guys know about Michael and me deciding it was time to move on. Hey, let's shag ass or we'll be late for class." Cray patted Tim on the back and hoped that his nose hadn't grown too long. 'Moving on and being 'just friends' with Michael is going to take some doing,' he thought as they started walking towards the classroom, 'I'll just have to re-group somehow and deal with L.A.M. - Life After Michael.'

"If you're not doing anything tomorrow, ya wanna go to the gym, then check out a flick?" Tim asked.

Tuesday was Senior Skip Day and Cray had originally planned on hiking Mt. Charleston with Michael. "I'm free but aren't you going to be with Brenda?"

"She'd already planned on shopping with the girls at the outlet mall. Guess that tells you something about our relationship."

"Then I'm After the workout, maybe we could see the Wolverine X-Men movie that just came out." Cray wouldn't mind seeing a good action film that also featured some yummy eye candy.

"That's a plan, my man," Tim said with a nod as they approached the classroom door. "And if we add a pizza at Metro afterwards, then we're in business."

"We'll work out details in the morning. Thanks, buddy."

"I'll call ya around nine if you're up," Tim replied, "so we can figure out times."

"Nine's fine." Cray smiled and gestured for his friend to enter first. He knew that Tim had probably seen through the charade and was coming to Cray's rescue with moral his usual subtle style. Tim, along with Benny, would be a friend for life. At that point, however, he didn't know where Michael fit in with his future. 'I'll deal with him privately when I'm not so pissed off,' he thought, 'and can work things out.' He also knew that, at some point, he wanted to meet the guy who had stolen his boyfriend.

Drew and Bob were enjoying the landscaped views from the kitchen window while having coffee.

It was always the most peaceful time of the day. At 7:00 a.m. on that early June Tuesday morning, the angle of the rising sun produced a variety of shadows and sparkling light reflections. Drew and Bob had built their dream home - within a realistic budget - on the grounds of Nick Maggiano's bombed out house and they'd been living there with Cray since the first of the year. The kitchen and breakfast room looked out on the original patio, gazebo, pool area and spacious grounds that abutted the White Horse Country Club's 16th fairway - a tranquil and vibrant backdrop for their nuclear family to begin their day.

This area was also the architectural hub of their home. As promised, Drew and Bob had the floor plan designed so Cray's bedroom was at the opposite end of the single-floor structure from the master and guest bedrooms. The need for a teen's privacy was not a hard 'sell' because of the relatively small age difference between the two foster dads and their son - Drew was now 30 and Bob would soon be 27. And the dads had thought their privacy was just as important...especially late in the evening. With the kitchen, dining area and living room separating the sleeping accommodations, it was usually very peaceful.

The 'foster' part of the arrangement was now history. Cray had reached his 18th birthday that spring and was now considered a consenting adult. However, the love between Drew, Bob and Cray had cemented a familial bond that ensured a solid relationship for the rest of their lives. The next phase in Cray's life would begin in the fall as a freshman at UNLV, but he'd live at home for the first year of college.

"Hey, champ," Drew said as Cray - clad in boxer briefs and a tee - padded into the kitchen. "Bob and I didn't know what time you'd be up, so we started without you." Because of everyone's erratic schedules, they tried to start the day together and wearing underwear at the breakfast table was the norm for everyone. It'd been that way from the beginning.

"Morning," Cray replied with a yawn.

Drew watched Cray - with bed-head hair and eyes not quite open - approach the breakfast room table and wondered if he wasn't feeling well. 'He seems kinda down.'

"There's plenty of freshly brewed coffee," Bob added, looking up from some papers he was reading, "and juice is on the table."

"Thanks, guys." Cray reached into the cabinet and - as he had done almost every morning since he moved in with his dads - grabbed a mug, poured coffee and sat down in his chair.

"You still planning on hiking up Mt. Charleston?" Drew asked.

"Ah...nope." Cray carefully sipped his hot coffee and stared at the tabletop.

"Something came up with Michael?" Bob added with a slight frown. He looked at Drew and shrugged.


Drew sensed that all was not well in their young friend's life on that beautiful morning. However, he also knew that Cray needed to work out what he wanted to say and shouldn't be rushed. This give and take communicative style had been refined over the past year: neither Bob nor he would needlessly push for an immediate response. 'We've never had to confront a problem that couldn't wait until Cray was ready to talk,' Drew thought as he raised his eyebrow to Bob.

"And I won't be going to San Francisco," Cray said in a low voice.

"Really?" Drew replied. "Should I cancel the reservations at the Courtyard Inn near the Museum of Modern Art?" He had arranged for a very special rate - zero - with an old classmate of his from hotel school.

"Probably for the best." Cray poured orange juice into his glass and gulped it down. "Guess we need to talk...huh?"

"What's on your mind?" Bob asked as he settled back in his chair.

"Michael and I are...history. Kaput. He ended it with no warning." Cray looked at each of his best friends and his face quivered as he fought back tears.

"That's a major bummer...I'm sorry, buddy." Drew reached over, took Cray's hand and squeezed it. Cray squeezed back and didn't let go. "Is this a problem that can be worked out?" He was concerned because Cray and Michael had never had a major spat in the past.

"He's...found someone else," Cray said with a sigh and sniffles. "Some dude from Bishop Gorman. Says he fell for the guy and it's the real thing. 'Real thing'...funny, that's what I thought we had."

"When did this happen?" Drew asked. He wondered how long Cray had been dealing with this. 'Just like the guy,' he decided, 'to keep something like this to himself.'

"He dropped this bomb on me yesterday at lunch...but I had to figure things out for myself before talking to you two."

"I understand." Drew nodded his head and wondered if the two guys were just going through a case of 'end of high school' euphoria.

"This may be a dumb question, but could Michael's actions with this other guy be some sort of spring fling infatuation?" Bob asked. "I don't want to play the age card, but you guys are in the prime of a young male's hormone rage."

"All guys do dumb things," Drew added, "but guys your age are...well, you know."

"It's not like that. Michael and I have always taken care of each other's..."

"Got it." Drew thought this was not the time to graphically discuss Cray's sex life. "It's not just a passing thing then."

"He's even changing schools to be with this guy - Randy Gerber. They're going to UN-Reno."

"Whoa, that is serious." Drew squeezed Cray's hand again for emphasis. "Is there anything that Bob and I can do?" He hoped that this change wouldn't drag Cray along a rocky emotional bottom for long.

"Just cover my back like you two always do." Cray gently pulled his hand away and sipped more coffee. "I don't see what there is to salvage. Michael was pretty clear about where his life is going...and that's with this guy. Many people break up or I shouldn't be so surprised. Stuff happens."

"It sure does, except in this case...shit happened." They usually never used swear words in conversations with each other but Drew decided the 'S' word qualified that day. "Since we'll have extra room at the cookout we planned for Friday, you want to invite anyone else?" He assumed that the dinner with Michael and his dad, Bud, was now off. Bud Turner was a co-worker at the hotel and close friend of theirs.

"I'd just as soon keep this low-key for a while. Michael did agree not to mention the new boyfriend to our friends for a while and we plan to go to Benny's party on Saturday - separately."

"I've got an idea." Drew looked at Bob for a moment and continued, "Why don't we have dinner at the hotel - maybe Chinese at Wang's - and see Kathy Griffin in the showroom. At 18, you're ready to be exposed to her uncensored concert." He smiled and playfully patted Cray's shoulder. "What do you guys think about that?"

"First, I don't think Kathy can shock me...I've read her lips on her Bravo concerts," Cray said as he smugly rolled his eyes and smiled for the first time. "But, yeah, that might be fun. Doing something with you guys is always cool."

"Cool is the operative word and we won't have to cook." Bob leaned over and pecked Drew's cheek with a light kiss. He turned to Cray and asked, "Is our son, and friend, too old for a little morning affection?"

"Lay it on me, Dad." Cray met Bob halfway and smiled happily when Bob's lips landed on his cheek.

Drew watched his partner and their son embrace and hoped that this breakfast conversation would begin the healing process. 'At 18,' he thought, 'losing an anchor like Michael is a big deal.' Although he didn't think it would ever happen, Drew wondered what his reaction would be if Bob ever wanted to break loose. 'Probably not good...not good, at all.'

When decorum returned, Cray informed Drew and Bob of his plans for the day with Tim Woods while he toasted an English muffin. As he slathered the muffin with orange marmalade, he asked Drew if it would be possible to continue working fulltime at the Caf Bogatell in the hotel for the summer since he wouldn't be traveling to San Francisco. The previous year, Cray had worked the Saturday and Sunday breakfast shift and was able to save a decent amount of money to go towards college expenses.

"Cray, you have to understand that I can only be supportive of your job as a bystander," Drew said. "If you can get extra hours through the seniority system at the caf, I'm all in favor of you working as much as you want. However, you're aware that we've cut back on hours with many of the staff throughout the hotel and casino. I can't, in good conscience, ask the manager to move my son ahead of someone else." As Executive Vice President and C.O.O. of the Barcelona Resort and Casino, he didn't want to risk the criticism of nepotism during the struggling economy.

"Believe me, I understand completely." Cray still felt a slight surge of electricity in his body when either Drew or Bob referred to him as 'son'. "I'm going to talk to my supervisor this week and let her know that I'm available. Fortunately, many of the servers don't like to get up for the early I shouldn't have any problems getting a full schedule."

"Then it sounds like you'll be in demand all summer." Drew took one more sip of coffee, stood up, walked over to Cray and added, "Bob and I have to get dressed and get to work. If you have anything you need to discuss, call either one of us on our cells. I don't mean to minimize this setback you're experiencing, but it'll pass. Now, since Bob got a kiss, can I have a hug?"

"A hug sounds good." Cray got up from the table, sunk into Drew's chest and wrapped his arms around Drew's body.

"Trust me, this crap happens to a lot of people, but it'll all be good for time." Drew felt the warmth of his son's arms and the beat of his heart as they stood still together. He hated to use the clichs and tired platitude but there wasn't much else to say. Since his partner Bob was the first real love of his life, Drew couldn't draw any comparisons from his own life.

Bob joined the group hug by wrapping his arm around both guys and said, "And if the boss can swing it, we could take the boat out on Lake Mead next week...just the three of us...for a sunset cruise." He looked at Drew and winked. The Barcelona owned three 22-foot Maxim in-board boats that were available for high-rated casino players to use.

"That deal has just been swung," Drew replied as they released each other. He looked at Cray and asked, "Is that something you'd like?"

"That'd be neat," Cray replied with a smile - his second smile of the morning. "Really neat."

"Consider it a plan. Now, both you, scoot. It's my turn for scullery duty." Drew handled tidying up the kitchen so that Bob and Cray could get ready for the day. He rinsed the dishes and placed them in the dishwasher, wiped down the table and turned off the coffeemaker.

Back in the master bedroom, Bob was adjusting his necktie knot when Drew returned. As he dressed, they discussed the way Cray seemed to be adjusting to his new 'single' status and what else that needed to be considered.

"Working full time this summer will take his mind off Michael," Bob said, "and us doing more things together as a family should work."

"That was a good idea you had concerning the evening out on the boat," Drew replied. "Perhaps we can all get away for a Dodgers game next month."

"I'll handle that. Al won't mind if we stay at his house overnight." Al Bromley, Jr., was now a vice president with the parent company, Gallian Enterprises, and had moved back to L.A. with his wife Trish - Bob's sister - and their infant daughter. After the assault on the Bromley and Maggiano families two years earlier, Al and Jennifer had been eager to return to the coast. When Al's position was expanded at the corporate level to being his father's chief aide, they happily relocated.

"It's always good to see Al, and Cray is very fond of his 'uncle'." Drew paused as he filled his pants pockets with his keys, wallet and change. "Speaking of relatives, I think we need to speak with Bud. Even though our sons are splitting, he needs to know that we're still his friends." Bud Turner, now Director of Slot Operations, was not only a good friend of the guys and also a valued part of the Barcelona team.

"Why don't I talk with him this morning? He and I are planning the slot tournament and we've got a meeting at ten." Bob's job as Director of Casino Marketing caused him to interface with various casino executives on a daily basis, and slots was a very valuable part of Barcelona's revenue stream.

"How about getting together for an early lunch?"

"Sounds like a plan, my man. If there's any problem, I'll call your office." Bob grabbed his jacket and followed Drew out to the garage.

"I'll be prepping for my meeting...Nick's attending it, and only God knows what that means." The presence of Nick Maggiano - who now oversaw all casino projects from Gallian's corporate offices - signaled a special importance to the monthly numbers-crunching exercise and Drew wanted to be prepared.

But nothing could prepare him for the news that Nick would share.