Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 14

Posted: N/A

The next several moments were a blur for Jack. Stunned. Shocked. Inadequate. Overwhelmed. Shuffling. Movement.

In his mind, images of Cray flashed by like a Flickr photo slideshow. The baby in diapers - with the wife from hell conveniently edited out - grinning with full-fledged innocence; the four-year old boy happily splashing in the park wading pool; the eight-year old Cub Scout sitting in a tent; the ten-year old lad proudly posing with Jack. Precious memories…and then a slow fade to blackness.

When the numbness and fogginess lifted, he found himself in a bedroom, sitting on a quilted spread that covered the bed, being held by Phil. Standing nearby was Mary Grace - the woman who'd rendered the news concerning Cray's whereabouts. 'He's been in Las fuckin' Vegas all this time?' Jack wondered as a tall, gangly kid's image - all legs, arms and big feet - flashed in his mind. Phil was rocking him slightly and saying something in a low voice.

"You want some water?"

Phil's familiar voice opened a door back to the present.

"Um…yeah, please." Jack looked up, nodded to Phil and watched him leave the room. When the door closed, he turned to Mary and said, "Excuse me for…kinda flipping out. You mentioned Cray and…it's a long story. I hope I didn't make a scene in front of the other guests?"

"No problem. Phil explained your sinking spell as simple heat stroke and suggested you'd be fine in a little while." Mary walked closer and put her hand on Jack's shoulder. "Maybe we can put our heads together and work out a solution to this turn of events."

The word turn triggered another long-forgotten memory. "It's crazy…like a soap, and I'm in it," Jack replied. "My mom used to watch - As The World Turns - and she'd re-cap the show when I returned from school every afternoon."

"We're going to make sure that this story has a good ending."

"How is he?" Jack took a deep breath and added, "I only remember him as a kid of ten, big for his age."

"The 'kid' filled out very well," Mary replied with a chuckle. "I think your son falls somewhere between handsome young man and sexy hunk. A real head-turner and smart as a whip. Definitely takes after his dad…from what I can tell and see."

Jack opened his mouth to comment just as Phil returned with an uncapped bottle of Arrowhead water. Jack took the bottle and felt the warmth of his face turning red from the off-hand compliment. It was difficult to imagine his son as a grown man. 'I missed out on so much.'

"You want me to stay, babe?" Phil asked. "Or I can go out and mingle if you'd like some privacy."

"Stay." Jack turned on a weak smile and added, "This is what being partners is all about. The good and the bad." As he sipped the water, Jack decided that it was best to be patient, go with the flow and let this revelation naturally unravel between the three of them. 'Mary is obviously used to taking the lead,' he thought, 'and I might as well trust her.'

"This definitely isn't bad," Phil replied, "just a helluva lot of tension we've got to work through."

"You feel like talking now?" Mary asked. "I think it might be best for you to give me some background…then I can fill in some of the missing blanks since you last saw him. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, I suppose." Jack wanted to know all about Cray, the young adult, but decided to follow Mary's lead. "Um, where do I begin?"

"Why not start with your ex-wife's ultimatum to leave Cray and her, and work from there?" Phil sat on the bed and took Jack's free hand.

"Right," Jack replied with a big sigh. He fidgeted a little, looked at Phil and started the tale of his forced exit eight years earlier.

After the first few minutes, Mary sat on the carpet, crossed her legs and paid rapt attention to Jack's monologue. The unanswered mail, the phone hang-ups, the guilt for deserting his son. He ended the first volume of the story with his attempt - at Phil's urging - to recently call his 'ex' in Utah and find out what had happened to the now-18 year old Cray.

"This woman sounds like a real piece of work. She wouldn't tell you anything?" Mary asked.

"Squat." There was a mixture of bitterness and sadness in Jack's voice. "Edith snarled at me and hung up. Blew me off. I could only remember the name of one of Cray's friends from when he was in grade school - but the family must have moved away. There was nothing listed for the family in Information or the Internet White Pages. And his old school didn't have any info."

"Guess this is where I come in," Mary said.

"Anything you can tell me. As I said, my only memories are of a 10-year old kid." Jack could have added, 'And the guilt that went with deserting his son,' but decided to take a pass.

"Since he came to our school two years ago, Cray has lived with, and been fostered by, a neat couple. Two men." She looked intensely at Jack and added, "You should know that your son is gay."

"Gay?" Jack was startled for a moment. "How…do you know?" This was something he'd never considered. 'Guess it's part of that fruit not falling far from the tree business.'

"He's been 'out' at school almost from the time he transferred in…from Provo, as I recall."

"That's where I last saw him. Has it been tough on him…being known as a gay kid?" Jack remembered a boy in his high school class who constantly got pounded on by other guys. 'All those names the kid was called,' he thought. 'Sissy, fairy, fag, butt fucker…and much worse.'

"Not at all. First, your son is over six feet tall - around six-three - and quite athletic. Second, Cray is very skillful in martial arts - Tai Chi and Kung fu - and can take care of himself. Third, he ran with a solid core of friends at school - mostly straight - who didn't care about his orientation. He was one of the most popular boys in that class."

A feeling of pride surged through Jack.

"And your son's bright and very focused. As his counselor, I was pleased at the way he planned ahead and took charge in his peer group." Mary shrugged and added, "Here I go with all our buzz words. Suffice to say, Cray is a B plus student and has a pretty good scholarship lined up for UNLV this fall."

"Tell me about these guys who are…his foster parents," Jack said. "I assume they're also gay?" He'd read about arrangements like this from magazine articles but had never given it much thought.

"Drew and Bob. They both work at The Barcelona where Drew is the head honcho. Runs the place quite well, from what I hear."

"I know that name from reputation - Drew Reichardt." Jack paused for a moment and thought that Mary probably didn't know he was also in the hotel business. "Phil probably hasn't told you too much about me. I'm the resident manager out at the Reflection Bay Resort. I've never met the man, however…I did listen to him speak at a seminar last year."

"Ah, I get the connection. Small World."

"Reichardt seemed to be a sharp guy…and pretty young, as I recall."

"He probably hasn't hit 30 and Bob's probably a few years younger," Mary replied with a chuckle. "And that's very young from my perspective. I must say, one of them was always available for general parent conferences…not that Cray ever presented a problem. And I know their house was usually a magnet for Cray's friends to hang at. Probably still is."

"What about Bob…aside from being the other half?" Jack's curiosity was tinted with a touch of jealousy - these guys had provided Cray with the support that he should have shouldered.

"Bob Harrington. He's in the marketing department, as I recall…one of the top execs. How exactly they got involved fostering Cray is something you should sort out with them." Mary stood up, placed her hand on Jack's shoulder and continued, "Here's a suggestion for you to consider: why not let me be the middleman and contact Drew? I know you're anxious to see your son…but, after eight years, we all need to work together to make that happen. Cray has never mentioned much about his life before coming to Las Vegas; he's probably not aware of why you left him." She stood back for a moment and looked at Jack with a smile. "I hope you don't mind me meddling and go into counselor-mode?"

"Until twenty minutes ago, the idea of seeing Cray again was only a remote possibility I thought about…like almost every night." Jack got off the bed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Babe, anything you want to add?" he asked, leaning over and tenderly pecking Phil on his forehead. "What Mary said makes a lot of sense."

"You couldn't be in better hands." Phil turned to Mary and asked, "What exactly do you have in mind?"

"Normally, the weekend would be a bad time to call him…and I'd rather not call the house if Cray is apt to be answering the phone."

"You're saying we need to wait until Monday?" Jack asked, feeling somewhat deflated.

"Not necessarily. Drew will probably be working on Sunday…for a little while. I'll try him at the hotel around ten-ish in the morning and play it by ear. If I can arrange a meeting tomorrow, Jack, are you up for it?"

"Absolutely. Phil and I were just planning on lounging around and I could be at The Barcelona in 15 minutes." Jack didn't get to The Strip very often and hadn't seen several of the big hotels.

"Then that'll be the plan. Now, what do you guys want to do? We've got a fun crowd that's probably wondering where I've disappeared to." Mary looked at Phil and then, Jack. "You up for a little partying? Maybe a quiet celebration of what you've learned?"

"I feel like I'm walking on cloud number…whatever, right now" Jack replied. "Why don't you join your guests, let them know that everything's okay, and we'll be out in a few minutes." He massaged Phil's neck and added, "Maybe stay for a while and then head home?"

"We can do that." Phil took Jack's hand and kissed it. "See you and Billy Jean in a few, Mary."

With a broad smile and nod, Mary left the bedroom and closed the door.

"How about them apples?" Phil said

"Yeah. It feels like Christmas Eve and I'm starring at a gigantic package…all wrapped up with a bow to pull open."

"I'm not shitting you," Drew said into the office speakerphone. "Mary Grace from Green Valley just called a half-hour ago with this news." He absentmindedly glanced at the computer screen that displayed columns of Saturday night's revenue numbers - the report hadn't advanced forward since he'd taken Mary's call. Afterwards, the first thing he had done was to contact Bob at home and relay the revelation. "And she found out about this…met Jack Gamble…last night at a party she and her other-half were having. Apparently, a teacher from another school brought Jack as a guest. And the plot thickens: Jack and the teacher are partners. How's that for a cliffhanger?"

"Whoa, when you get newsy, the headlines just keep coming. She said he seems to be a decent guy?"

"Who got trapped up in that she-wolf of a bitch's big plans." Drew thought back to the way Cray had come into their lives two years earlier and the heavy-duty baggage the kid was toting. "Jack was sent packing with the threat of being charged with child molestation if he didn't 'get out of Dodge'. Total fiction…but who are the authorities going to believe when this allegation comes from the mother…especially in a Mormon community?"

"Mommy dearest, and the step daddy from hell. Did you share with Mary anything from Cray's perspective?"

"No, that chapter of his life is for him to tell…if he wants to." Drew took a deep breath and shook his head. "I obligated us to meet Jack in a couple of hours and figure things out. Is that okay with you…not having a chance to discuss this first? I mean, it's not like Cray's officially under our guardianship since he's 18…but we need to get a handle on how we all move forward."

"You did the right thing, buddy. We're talking 12:30 p.m. in your office?"

"Exactly. If you can get here at noon, I'll have a couple of club sandwiches waiting and give you the complete rundown of Mary's call. Then, we meet Jack and figure out the best way to plan getting father and son together. All of us, Cray included, are adults…but we need to make sure the reunion's a positive experience."

"I can be over there earlier."

"Sorry, but I need to crunch the numbers right now, or I'm fucked tomorrow morning for Nick's meeting."

"That's cool. I may come in early anyway and work on the marketing plan…you've got me wound up and I can't stay home."

"And I'll call Mary and suggest that Jack should meet us in the reception area." Drew wanted to make sure Mary passed on to Jack that the office was locked on Sunday for security.

"Never a dull moment in our lives. Later, dude."

Nerve wracking and anxious…a flood of emotions battling for frontal lobe attention…anticipation…feelings of guilt being pushed aside. 'So close, but no cigar.' Jack thought while mulling over the past, angst-filled hours.

When the final act of the previous evening's drama had played out, Jack splashed cold water on his face, and returned to the festivities. Glued to Phil's side, he politely circulated around the party and met Phil's friends - apologizing along the way for his 'heatstroke' incident - sipping only one glass of wine the entire time. Mary and Billy Jean helped gloss over the incident by gathering everyone on the patio and officially accepting everyone's best anniversary wishes a little early. A relieved and grateful Jack was ready to leave as soon as the toasting speeches were completed and the carrot cake was cut.

Once home, they sprawled out on the sofa with Jack's head resting in Phil's lap, and discussed the turn of events until both were talked out. After teeth brushing and peeing, they eased into bed, found familiar middle ground and cuddled up. However, snuggling was only partially successful. Jack's restlessness and thrashing about kept the two men awake for the first hour before they finally drifted off around one in the morning.

After the cock crows - a twist of a phrase that Jack remembered from Sunday school - was the best description of his resolve when he awakened five hours later. 'I know it's a stretch,' he thought, 'with apologies to Jesus and Peter, I'm not going to be denied on this day. I gotta make sure this works…to be reunited with Cray…and set things right.'

Jack stealthily got out of bed, dressed in gym shorts and made his way to the kitchen for a cup of coffee - he had set the automatic timer for brewing at that hour before he retired.

At this hour in the morning - on a July Sunday in the desert - it was still comfortable out on the patio. As he sipped his caffeine fix and flipped through the pages of the shrinking Review-Journal, Jack was determined not to mentally beat himself up again. 'What happened is history,' he thought, 'and somehow I'll convince Cray not to hate me for deserting him.' As far as for Jack re-establishing a father-son relationship, he wasn't optimistic. 'It's too much to ask for…at this point. But maybe some day.'

Phil was up two hours later and they tag-teamed in preparing breakfast. Since they hadn't eaten much at the party, calorie caution was moved aside. Scrambled eggs, bacon, shredded hash browns and English muffins ruled the morning. Potatoes weren't the only things hashed; they discussed a series of 'what ifs' and replayed, again, the highlights of the episode. Jack decided to take a positive slant on the situation and, among other things, verbally imagined how they could all forage on a camping trip some day. 'That is, if Cray is still into that stuff.'

Waiting. Conversation, at that point, was merely a time filler until Mary called with the outcome of her conversation with Drew Reichardt.

10:32 - the phone rang and Jack froze as Phil answered it. There were a series of "Uh-huhs," a final "Thanks," and then a big grin crept over Phil's face. "That's it, babe. Drew wants to meet you - 12:30 at his office. You want me to tag along?"

"Best I go by myself," Jack had replied. He'd anticipated Phil's offer of moral support and knew that Phil was also aware of what his answer would be.

By 11:30 Jack was dressed in khaki slacks, a pale yellow button-down shirt and polished brown tassel loafers. He wanted to take a walk through The Barcelona - partially out of curiosity because he'd never been inside, and the rest because it was a way to ease his nerves. But an unsettled feeling was making a return appearance; hardly an encore he needed. 'Maybe some herbal tea when I get there,' he had decided. A quick hug and kiss, plus a few words of encouragement, and Jack departed for The Strip. The appointment was certainly not 'destiny' - but close to it.

His four-star resort out at the 'Lake' was very conventional in a generic Loews slash Hyatt slash Marriott sort of way, and Jack was somewhat jaded by that look. However, the initial stroll through The Barcelona and its Vegas twist on opulence was an eye opener. The antiques, art collection and interior sculpture garden were obviously museum quality, and the mammoth casino was nicely populated with players. 'Probably the L.A. crowd getting in a few more miles with their favorite games before returning to the coast,' he thought. Even though The Barcelona was a classy operation, one thing was consistent with other casinos: amongst the lavish appointment of crystal, brass and mirrors, the guests were still assaulted with flashing lights, bells, whistles and bongs, along with acres of slot, video poker and other electronic games of chance.

The pits were a different story. Crap, wheel games, roulette and blackjack projected a subtly intense drama. Dealers, boxmen and stickmen - males and females wearing a generic silk shirt, cummerbund and gaucho pants - solemnly went about their business while scantily dressed cocktail servers plied the players with refreshments. Finally, Jack passed the hushed and genteel action of the roped-off baccarat room. Very high stakes. The dealers wore appropriately tailored jackets, striped pants and a silk tie.

He finally arrived at the hotel lobby area. A large kiosk displayed a layout of the first floor - several restaurants and lounges, a nightclub that would be opening in the fall, the showroom, convention spaces and meeting rooms - it was all quite impressive. He spotted the Café Bogatell's all day dining notation - hotel-speak for the ubiquitous coffee shop - and decided to spend a few minutes before his meeting with a cup of Chamomile tea. Jack needed something to sooth and mellow out his rising anxieties.

The café was what was called in the industry a 'three-meal outlet' - the one restaurant in a hotel that served all was open from early breakfast to late dinner. For efficiency sake, the kitchen was usually shared with the room service department. 'But at this humongous place,' he thought as he sat down at a counter seat, 'they probably have a separate kitchen for room service.' He smiled that, even with the stress, he was analyzing the operation…checking out the competition.

While waiting for a server, he noticed that the dining area, with a sea of tables mostly occupied, looked out upon the pool area. The interior, rather than being a theme, was more in a European modern décor - lots of brushed stainless, glass, maple paneling and slate - with pronounced architectural lines. The aqua blue swirl-patterned carpet was flattering to the large patio beyond the ceiling-to-floor tinted glass wall.

A smiling female server took his order and returned shortly with a ceramic pot, a strainer and a cup. She said the Barcelona was one of the few hotels in Las Vegas that served Upton's Egyptian chamomile loose-leaf tea and poured the tea through the strainer and into the cup. He asked if she meant Lipton's and was told that Upton's was a tea-importing firm from back East. "Enjoy," she said with a wink and moved over to the next customer, three seats away.

The tea was superb: although Jack was not an expert, he knew when he'd been served a distinctive item. He took another sip and looked at his digital watch. 12:10. 'Ten minutes before I need to find Drew's office.' Suddenly, his line of vision focused on a male server who was standing by a table at the opposite side of the room. Young, tall, short blond hair. "It's Cray," Jack mumbled to himself. He was sure of it. His body tightened and he felt his hands slightly tense as he mentally shifted gears - from the etched memory of his ten-year old son to the living image of this breathing, functioning teen who'd emerged into young manhood. Part of him wanted to run over and hug his son…be damned with the setting…but the rational Jack took over. His breathing slowly returned to normal and his muscles relaxed.

The seventy-five feet separating the two men and the busy room were enough subterfuge for Jack to observe his happy son without being obvious, nor chancing recognition. He set down the cup and watched this younger Gamble edition at work.

Handsome. 'Yeah, if I do say so myself, Cray definitely takes after me.' Direct eye contact with the guests, an attitude that revealed confidence without being cocky, a professional in constant motion. 'He seems to juggle the six tables in his station with no sweat.' Jack marveled at Cray's balancing three full plates of food on one arm on one occasion. Throughout this stalking peek, Cray orchestrated the tasks with a Hispanic busser and kept the flow of service on an even plane.

Ten minutes later, it was time to leave. The chamomile was cold but his newest memories were steeping. Jack put money for the bill on the counter, including a generous tip, watched Cray for one final moment. 'That's my boy,' he decided with pride, leaving the café.

Bob was a no-show, on purpose. After the initial phone conversation, he'd called Drew back and suggested that it might appear they were ganging up on Jack if they both were at the meeting. Therefore, it was decided that Bob would stay in his office, one floor below in the marketing department, and be available to come up if the atmosphere was right.

As 12:30 approached, Drew pulled out the Arts section of the untouched Sunday New York Times, walked out to the reception area of the executive office suite and sat on the edge of the receptionist's desk. He wanted to be on hand to unlock the office door when Jack Gamble approached. Be hospitable to the other dad - the biological one - who was responsible for Cray's earthly being.

The headlines were the only part of the paper on which he could concentrate. Drew's mind kept reaching back to the first time he'd met Cray: cleaning the temporary offices while The Barcelona was still under construction. The engaging young man who'd fibbed about his age, the troubled teen who was a runaway from an abusive home, the confused boy who needed love and support. Then, the somewhat devious process of integrating Cray into the Clark County school system.

A knock on the thick glass interrupted his thoughts. Drew looked up and saw his expected appointment - the man standing on the other side of the door was close to what he'd imagined the older Gamble would look like. 'The guy has taken care of himself,' Drew thought, 'and there's no denying the gene pool.' He reached behind the desk, released the lock and stepped forward to open the door.

Jack walked into the reception area and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Gamble."

They jointly extended hands, shook and exchanged business smiles.

"Drew Reichardt. Let me make sure the door is secure and we can go back to my office." He tested the door's rigidity, started walking into the office spaces and added, "You want anything to drink?" Drew looked back and was satisfied that Jack was following.

"Thanks, but no. I just had some tea. If I have anything else, I'll have to take a bathroom break."

As they entered Drew's office, he directed Jack to the conversation area with two club chairs. 'Better this way rather than me sitting behind a desk.' Jack eased into a chair and Drew observed that age - if nothing else - had been very kind to his guest. The full head of hair, soft smile lines around his eyes, strong jaw and flat stomach projected the image of a man several years younger.

"This has been an intensive few hours for Bob and me. Bob Harrington is my life partner. Mary told me that this whole situation unfolded just last night."

"Yeah, intensive is an understatement." Jack replied. He maintained eye contact without blinking. "Attending a party - Mary and Billy Jean are friends of my partner Phil Perez - and to be hit with this news was overwhelming at the time. I must tell you, Drew, I was very unsettled. Still am. It's been eight years since I last saw Cray…until just a few minutes ago."

"How's that?"

"I got here a little early, so I decided to kill a little time in the café. Sat at the counter…lo and behold…"

"Cray's working today. Saving money for college." Drew raised an eyebrow and asked, "Did he see you?"

"No. I was at the counter and he had a station at the opposite side of the restaurant. Tempting as it was, I held myself back and just watched. Does a good job. By the way, I'm in this crazy business also…resident manager at the Reflection Bay Resort."

"Well, then, you're a good judge." Drew leaned back and continued, "Maybe we can talk shop on another occasion?"

"But right now, let's focus on Cray. Is it okay to give you the highlights - and the low points - of Cray's first ten years…"

"Fire away. And I can fill in the last eight."

Jack put his elbow on his thighs, clasped his hands and began the tale. Meeting Edith, Cray's birth and early years, the bonding of father and son, and the upset that led to his wife's threats. By the end, Jack's face was streaked with tears and he readily accepted a Kleenex.

"Edith was…and is…a real piece of work," Drew said, when it was apparent that nothing more would be related at this point. "I have friends who met her and were pretty disgusted with the woman."

"Met her? How did that happen?"

"Just some fact-finding that needed to be done to help Cray's assimilation into the school system." Drew decided to leave Mario's name and the infamous Provo mission out of the picture. "We can only imagine what all happened to Cray once Edith married Gene. Cray's pretty tightlipped about it. From what Bob and I have pieced together, Cray's life was pretty uneventful until he hit late puberty. That asshole, Gene, then became sexually abusive - for real - with Cray. When your son was strong enough to fend for himself, he literally took matters into his own hands. Kicked the crap outta Gene and ran away."

Jack's mouth was open and his expression was one of shock. "Holy shit," he said and just shook his head. "Edith had to know."

"Gene was the meal ticket and she just turned her head to Gene's kinks. At least that's the way it seems. When Cray first told Edith about Gene's advances, she just shrugged it off."

"She was just as guilty as he was."

"Absolutely. And Cray finally figured out he had to get away from that man…and his mother…if he was to have a chance living a normal life. That's when he bolted two summers ago, arrived in Vegas…and the rest is history." Drew picked up Cray's story from the day they'd met and unfolded the relationship that developed beyond the workplace. While being purposely vague about obtaining school records and Edith's waiver of guardianship, he shared with Jack the bullet points of Cray's school and home life.

"From watching Cray and listening to your story, is it fair to say he wasn't permanently damaged from Gene's…abusiveness? What I saw was a very happy guy."

"There were trust issues when he met us. But Cray was exposed to a colorful group of supportive men from the beginning and we - Bob and I - were there at the right time to become foster parents. I guess I'm bragging…but we were, and are, good role models."

"I can see that. Um…do you think that Gene's monkey business contributed to Cray being gay?"

"That's something that we talked about very early on. Your son admitted that he had more attraction for his male classmates…going back to grammar school…than girls." Drew paused for a moment and continued, "Don't beat yourself up for not being there. Cray loved you, but it's pretty obvious that he was very turned on by guys from an early age. That's probably why Gene didn't flip him out."

"How so?"

Drew wanted to delicately roll out this part of the story. "Cray knew what had happened was wrong…and, without getting too graphic, we're talking oral…but no rough stuff or anything anally."

"Christ." Jack squeezed his jaw tightly and exhaled.

"Exactly. It's nothing I'd ever want for a kid…but these are the facts, and this unpleasant history that can't be changed. At the same time, the asshole's moves awoke Cray's sexual curiosity…he confided to us that Gene was usually very tender and gave him little gifts during the first years."


"Toys, extra clothing," Drew replied, "to bribe Cray from telling. Then you add into the equation a young guy experiencing the pleasure of…"

"I understand," Jack interrupted. "Just the same, it's downright creepy."

"And wrong, and predatory and…all the above. Fortunately, he was able to compartmentalize everything at the time. It was when Gene wanted to become more aggressive with…well, anal…that Cray bolted."

"Thank God that triggered him to get outta there. And Drew, I do believe that a greater being led him to Vegas and into your life…and Bob's."

"I'm not a religious man, but you have a point I won't argue with. He's handled the usual teen issues very well and even had his first serious boyfriend for almost a year and a half. In fact, he and the other guy broke off their relationship just before they graduated."

"Except for being gay, it sounds like Cray has had a fairly normal life these past couple of years…thanks to you guys."

"Normal and standard, Drew replied. "Bob and I happily discovered that Cray's straight buddies didn't give a hoot about him being gay."

"That's great…I really mean it." Jack licked his lips and said, "Do you have some water handy?"

"Coming right up." Drew went over to a console, opened a wood panel and retrieved two bottles of water from the recessed refrigerator. He handed one bottle to Jack and returned to his chair.

They both cracked open the caps and took long sips.

"I should add that the latest chapter in Cray's life includes a new boyfriend. His name is Spike Jensen, and they've known each other since the beginning. Spike's a little older and was kind of like a big brother and mentor when Cray first arrived. Things advanced to something more just this past month."

"Gives credibility to that old saying, 'A rolling stone gathers no moss'," Jack replied with an amused expression.

"And in this case, the stone is rolling on a steady course. As you've probably guessed, Cray is very mature for his age and I'm not the least concerned about him being in a relationship with a guy who's four years older."

"Does Cray now live with this guy?" Jack asked.

"He hasn't officially flown the coop yet…I'd say Cray stays overnight with Spike a couple times a week. However, he always calls us if he's not coming home."

"That sounds like they are serious."

"Serious enough," Drew replied. "They both recently broke up with boyfriends…so it's probably best to take a 'wait and see' approach. In due time, you'll meet Spike and come to love him like we do."

"Meeting…that's the 800 pound gorilla in the room, isn't it?" Jack took another sip of water. "I obviously want to see Cray in person. But, I also know that he may resent my deserting him. Especially after what I've learned today."

"Here's what I'm thinking," Drew said. "First things first…and that means meeting my other-half. Are you up to saying 'hi' to Bob? He's in his office and would love to join us. Quite honestly, he thought it might be too intense if you arrived and saw both of us. And I think that was the best plan." He appreciated Bob's sensitivity and thought this one-on-one had worked out for the best.

"I'm a little relieved that it was just the two of us…but I'm ready to take the next step," Jack replied.

"Excellent." Drew reached over to the telephone resting on the console and hit a speed-dial button. "Hey, babe. Come on up and meet Jack."

"Be there in a minute or so," Bob voice replied on the speaker.

"Done." Drew disengaged the call and made a temple with his fingers. "Afterwards, I've got some office work that must be finished…so I'll probably get home by 4:00 p.m. Sunday night dinner is usually a casual thing…probably burning burgers on the grill…and I can work up a game plan with Bob at the house. I know that Cray has invited Spike and we can have a family discussion at some point. I'd invite you, also, but I think we need to move with caution…if you know what I mean?"

"Agreed. I can't just reappear out of nowhere. When you do speak with him, please let him know that I've never stopped loving him, and feel awful how his mother's actions stung both of us. Doesn't excuse my cowardice, but…"

"Don't beat yourself up any more, Jack. Jail and notoriety of being labeled a sex offender is pretty heavy-duty." Drew stood up and waited for Jack to join him. "Bob and I are on your side, buddy, and we just have to let Cray get used to having his real dad in his life again. If he's up for it, I'll get you over to our house later tonight. If timing's not right, we can plan something later in the week. Deal?"

"A deal I can't refuse…as they say in Vegas. I want to make this work." Jack spontaneously closed in on Drew and gave him a hug. "Thanks," he whispered.

From the office doorway, came the sound of Bob's voice. "So, this is the famous Jack Gamble. I want to meet him."

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