Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 15

Posted: N/A

While Cray finished showering, Spike checked out the Economist website on his laptop in the living room. He'd cleaned up earlier and was dressed in a variation of the usual dude-in-the-desert look: a bright orange AE tee, cargo shorts and flip-flops.

His fingers kept busy moving around the various business Internet editions - including the WSJ, Bloomberg Report and The Financial Times - to maintain a pulse on the continuing eruptive changes in the world economy. Although he was now busy coordinating the new PDTPlease Don't Tell club renovations and getting ready for the fall opening, Spike didn't want to get 'rusty' with his edge in finance. 'I don't mind being a saloonkeeper for the short run in order to build up my own cash flow,' Spike thought while scanning an article about the growing U.S. deficit, 'but I'll be ready to return to an office and a 'puter loaded with numbers as soon as things get back on track.'

Patience was the key. He figured Vegas would be in the shit can for a while.

They were due at Drew and Bob's home for dinner in an hour and Cray had just returned from The Barcelona. He'd been 'hauling ass' around a sea of café tables for the past eight hours and stated that he needed to immediately 'de-smellify' himself in order to be socially suitable for the evening. This comment cracked up Spike and led to a few smarmy comments about funkiness being an alluring ingredient for 'tasty' sex…if they hadn't had previous plans with Drew and Bob.

Cray had answered with a raspberry tongue and extended middle finger. He tossed his dirty boxer briefs at Spike and said, "Eat your heart out, babe. Missed opportunities."

Spike caught the underwear, exaggerated a sniffing sound and winked. "The night will still be young when we return to the manor," he replied with a mixture of lustiness and humor.

"Riddle me this, Batman," Cray replied, "What else is new?"

"Well, Robin, dress up in your cute tights and cape…and find out."

"Ohhh, kinky." Cray wiggled his butt, stuck out his tongue and went to the bathroom.

Spike admired the way Cray 'busted his buns' and worked up an honest sweat for much-needed school dollars. And slinging hash - along with pancakes, club sandwiches and Cobb salads - had a financially rewarding payoff. Even in this iffy Vegas business climate, The Barcelona successfully attracted and moved bodies through the casino resort - albeit with special deals and discounts - and the casual, value-priced Café Bogatell continued to be a gold mine for tips. Cray was now working four or five shifts per week. Today, he'd brought home $153.00 that would be deposited in the college fund account first thing the next morning.

Spike's mind drifted away from the Economist article as he thought about his telephone conversation with über-hot Spence Trotter a few days earlier. The stud had been forthcoming about horny Lou's desire to see him in New York for a visit the weekend after next, and his decision to make the trip…but only for business. That he intended to be a 'companion' for Lou, and all that meant, without having starry-eyes of unrealistic expectations - cue Mendelssohn's_' __'Wedding March_ - moved Spence way up on the scale of credibility and likeability.

'However,' he concluded, 'I fell for Lou's whole package, his Italian sausage notwithstanding, and probably shouldn't be his judge.' But the best thing about the newest development in Lou's love life was that Spike didn't feel a tinge of jealousy - he'd moved on.

The request for Spike and Cray to look after Kevin, Spence's younger brother, while Spence made the trip, eased the rating even higher. "Kev is 14 going on 21…a cool kid without the usual heavy maintenance of being a pain in the ass," Spence had said. "I just need someone I trust to keep him company periodically - do a few things together - and be available in case of emergency while I'm gone."

The 'do a few things' topic was brainstormed and Spike tentatively agreed to the proposal. However, nothing would be definite unless Cray agreed. It was also agreed that Spike would not reveal any knowledge about Spence's specific reason for traveling to New York. Nor, how Mario's superstar really earned his bread in Vegas.

The fact that Spence was a brother, as well as a guardian, sold Cray on the task ahead. It was decided they would all get together at Spence's apartment on Wednesday evening and work out the 'teen-sitting' details from a grab bag of ideas. Friday dinner and a sleepover at Spike and Cray's condo, working out at the gym followed by a movie on Saturday, and a Sunday pool party cookout at Drew and Bob's home were high on the list and seemed doable.

Two warm hands landing on Spike's shoulders and a quick kiss on his head announced that Cray had finished his shower. Spike wickedly imagined what awaited him behind the chair back. "Ahhh, the phantom strikes," he said.

"I thought I was Robin."

"When I get a Batmobile, we can…" With a quick turn, his nose almost poked Cray's tempting blond treasure trail. Alas, the adventure ended at the elastic band of Cray's CK tighty-whities. "Um, yum."

"Keep it in your pants, stud." Cray replied.

After licking the trail, Spike said, "Until later, then."

Cray leaned down and pecked Spike on the forehead. "I'm almost ready. Just checking to make sure I don't put on the same color shirt as yours."

"Don't wear anything black. With my orange tee, that combo would make us look like a walking school bus."

"Or, Halloween. Maybe I'll put on my red Billabong and we can go as flamers," Cray replied.

Spike smiled and extended his middle finger. "Flame this, buddy."

"Oh, all this talk makes me soooo horny." Cray grinned and raised an eyebrow. "Give me a sec to get dressed." After disappearing from sight, he shouted, "And it'll take more than one finger, big boy…if you're thinking of exploring later."

Cray was now leaving minimal changes of clothes at the condo to spend quality time with Spike, and Drew and Bob seemed fine with the arrangement. There had been a discussion about his moving in with Spike on a permanent basis but nothing had been decided. For Cray, 'flying the coop' would be a major passage in his life and Spike hadn't pushed the issue. Spike did suggest that a move in late August would be the best time - a lull before he opened the club and Cray started school - to get settled. The other issue was Spike's younger brother Henry moving over from L.A. to also begin his first year of college.

'I think I should play it safe…wait and see what happens after school gets underway,' Cray had decided. While Spike was _the _man in his life, he wasn't ready to leave home just yet.

On the way over to the house, Cray thought about his growing relationship with Spike, the remainder of the summer and the beginning of his freshman year at UNLV that was only five weeks away. His mind drifted back to all that had happened since meeting Mario. Setting aside Mario Cirillo's profession, the handsome mystery man had been Cray's savior, and everything that had happened to him stemmed from that May morning at the downtown bus station two years earlier when they'd met. 'He certainly saved my butt almost from day one,' Cray thought, 'and was indirectly involved in everything that followed.'

Looking back, it was very easy to connect the dots. From Mario's friend Anthony forging the driver's license, to getting a job with Anthony's cousin as a construction janitor at the Barcelona site, to meeting Drew in his temporary trailer office, to staying in the small studio apartment behind Mario's garage…one thing led to another. Cray's life now included two loving best adult friends, a very special bud and partner, a part-time job that helped pay the bills and the coming intellectual adventure of college. Life was pretty good.

Music was pretty good, too. KLUC-FM, the number one Anglo pop music station in Vegas, was playing on Spike's car radio with a good mix of current faves and stuff from the 90's. When a set of opening lyrics started booming, Cray smiled, punched Spike and rolled his eyes.

Hi Barbie!
Hi Ken!
You wanna go for a ride?
Sure, Ken!
Jump in!
Ha ha ha ha!

I'm a Barbie girl in the Barbie world
Life in plastic, it's fantastic
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

Come on, Barbie, let's go party.

"Oh, my God," Spike said, "I haven't heard this song for years…since I was a pup."

"This is a hoot." Cray patted Spike's leg to the beat and continued, "I remember seeing a couple of studs, wearing A & F tees and shorts, lip-synching this song on YouTube. I thought at the time, 'how gay is that,' but they were pretty funny."

"Give most straight frat boys a few beers, and the gay slash straight line gets pretty blurry."

"Like when they tuck their junk between their legs and show their make-believe pussies," Cray said, "cracks me up."

"Thinking the pose is the most original idea to come down the pike. And then there are the mooning shots with a few low-hangers in silhouette. Thank God for the Internet."

"And for the guys who love to show off…everything."

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees
Come jump in, be my friend, let us do it again
Hit the town, fool around, let's go party

You can touch, you can play
You can say I'm always yours
You can touch, you can play
You can say I'm always yours

"Just be sure, babe, that if you're ever begging on your knees, it's in front of me," Spike replied with a snort.

"If I'm ever in front of you on my knees, it's because of what 'you' offered." Cray squeezed Spike's thigh and winked.

Oh, I'm having so much fun!
Well, Barbie, we're just getting started!
Oh, I love you Ken!

"Vice versa…and all of the above." Spike picked up Cray's hand and kissed it.

The guys arrived at Drew and Bob's just before 5:00 p.m. Because of the hot, windy weather, Cray knew they'd be dining inside. 'I better grab a few more clothes,' he thought as they got out of the car, 'to take back later.' Because Spike had driven, it was unspoken that Cray would return to the condo and roost rather than stay here.

"Bringing some wine's a nice touch," Cray said, noticing the cabernet sauvignon for the first time. He slipped his key into the lock and wondered, 'At what point should I start knocking first?' On second thought, Cray decided that there was no rush. 'This is my home…I'll wait and see how the school year goes.'

"A bottle of nectar from Napa is the least I can do for my pops-in-law, especially one who's also my boss." Spike lowered his voice when Cray opened the door. "Just a few well-intentioned brownie points, dear."

"Right…like you need them." Cray stopped and took Spike's hand. "You're a cool guy - huge - and doing this is just another reason ya snowed me. I'm hopelessly in love." He winked and kissed Spike on the cheek.

They stepped inside and Cray noticed the dining room table wasn't set. "Looks like we're going casual and eating in the breakfast nook."

"Works for me…24/7. As long as they're not serving oatmeal."

"Cray, is that you?" Drew's voice was coming from the kitchen.

"And the infamous Spike?" Bob added, from the same direction.

"Guilty." Cray squeezed Spike's shoulder and added, "Stay there…we'll join you."

Cray and Spike exchanged hugs with Bob and Drew in the middle of the kitchen by the food prep island. While Bob took the bottle of wine with thanks, Cray noticed Drew seemed to be preoccupied. The usual smile seemed a little forced…as if to mask something. But he didn't think it was a problem between his two dads - they never let an argument bubble over into something serious. Or let it simmer, for that matter.

"I've been officially appointed the steak griller tonight," Bob said, "and bartender."

"But first, we need to speak with Cray…it's a family situation." Drew looked at Spike and raised his eyebrows.

"Why don't I get lost…like watch TV in the den…while you guys sort out what's what," Spike replied.

"Bad news?" Cray frowned with a quizzical expression.

"It's…different news," Bob said. " But something that's good."

"It can't be about money cuz I don't have any rich relatives." Cray frowned and thought, 'Except for these guys, I don't have any relatives…that mean anything to me.'

"Just family matters," Drew replied, "that we need to hash out."

"If it's about family, Spike's part of us now," Cray said, and turned to Drew. "Unless there's something that involves national security, I'd like him to be with me…us…for whatever it is." He couldn't figure out what was so important that it couldn't wait until later, or be discussed with his best friend and partner. 'Unless it has something to do with Drew or Bob's family.'

Drew and Bob studied each other for a moment and each nodded their head.

"Let's all go into the living room," Drew said. He put his hand on Cray's shoulder as they walked out of the kitchen.

Cray and Spike sat on the sofa, close to each other, while Bob and Drew settled into the chairs. The stare-off between the men ended when Bob spoke first. "Drew and I met someone earlier today."

"Actually, he sought us out." Drew took a deep breath and leaned forward. "Cray, your dad is in Vegas."

"Jack Gamble. Through a fluke of a connection that came out of left field," Bob added.

The news and name didn't register immediately…it took a few seconds for this information to sink in. Then a gasp. Cray swallowed, frowned and croaked out in a high-pitched voice, "Daddy?" He felt his lips tremble and his breathing began to heave. "You saw…?" The first tears appeared and trickled down his red cheeks.

"Yes, it was quite a shock for us, too," Drew replied.

Stunned timidity was quickly replaced by anger. " Goddamn, motherfucking, sonofabitch," Cray ranted, "he deserts me and then fucking shows up when everything's going so well."

Drew and Bob tensed, but said nothing.

Cray placed his hands over his face as tears gushed out in full force and leaned into Spike. "Jeez," he said with a shout, "My dad has a helluva nerve…after…" He couldn't finish. As the crying continued, he gurgled out, "What…the…fu…" and convulsed in Spike's arms. In the midst of this startling moment, however, Cray felt good and comforted to be near his partner, lover, rock and friend.

Drew turned to Bob and said, "Would you get a wet cloth for Cray?" Bob left the room and Drew continued, "Before you make any judgments, Cray, I'd appreciate you hearing what he told us. Okay?"

The memories: that day when Cray's mother announced that his dad had left for good; that moment when he realized that his step-dad was a creepy perv and found out his mom wouldn't rescue him; that evening when he'd had enough of Gene's bullshit and physically 'clocked' him. This murky crap that he'd buried into his subconscious was suffocating - he squirmed as the past events regurgitated in his mind. 'And where was Dad when I needed him? Gonzo.' Dark and foreboding thoughts flashed in his mind.

Hiding his face caused darkness, Cray suddenly realized, as well as stifled his breathing. He removed his hands and saw Bob returning with a wet kitchen towel and a box of Kleenex. He took the towel and wiped his face. As Cray had done for the past several years when dealing with adversity, he temporarily compartmentalized his anger to consider this revelation. He set the towel on the granite coffee table, took a tissue and blew his nose. 'Time to get my shit together and figure this out?' He wadded up the tissue, placed it on the towel and looked at Spike. "Did you know anything about this?"

"Nada." Spike turned up his hands and scrunched his shoulders. "This has completely come outta left field."

"Bob, Drew?"

"Cray, this whole thing started this morning when your counselor at Green Valley, Mary Grace, called my office." Drew replied. "She and her friend had hosted a party last night - mostly teachers - and your dad came with one of the invited guests." He turned on a wistful smile and added, "Mary picked up on the close resemblance between you and Jack, connected the dots and asked if you two were related. I can assure you that Jack Gamble had no idea you were in Vegas and went into shock…literally."

A puzzled frown crept over Cray's face as he processed this information.

"After your dad pulled himself together from this surprise, Mary told him how we fit into the picture as your foster parents," Bob added. "She then called Drew and arranged a meeting between Jack and us at Drew's office earlier this afternoon."

"12:30 to be exact." Drew looked at Cray and asked, "How you doing with all this stuff we're jamming down your beak?"

"Um…I'm past the point of shock. Christ, this was so totally not expected." Cray sat back into the sofa cushions and shook his head. "I just can't forget how he left me with that…asshole of a stepfather and my good old pimping mom. To say it pisses me off is an understatement." He wondered if his comment about his mother was a little too strong? 'Naw,' Cray decided, 'she didn't do me any favors.'

"To borrow a twenty-five dollar word from my lawyer, there were mitigating circumstances that caused Jack to leave you." Drew rubbed his brow and sighed. "Your mother drove him away by threatening to 'screw' him very badly."

"What?" Cray mouthed.

"She was going to turn in your dad to the police by falsely charging child molestation. Jack knew he didn't stand a chance in the courts."

"Even if I would've said it was bullshit?" Cray replied.

"Cray, who would the judge believe; a concerned mother or a 10-year old boy?" Drew asked. "It was a judgment call that has eaten away inside Jack everyday…he says."

Cray shook his head as he digested this twist. He looked at Spike and said, "Wow…how about them apples?"

"Like applesauce," Spike replied. "How you doing with all this info?"

"Better." Cray thought about his outbursts for a moment. "I…probably should wash my mouth out with soap. Sorry for all the swearing. Jeez, what I garbage mouth I am."

"Under the circumstances, no one blames you for being so expressive." Drew smiled and said, "And it's nothing none of us have heard before."

"Or used," Bob said. "I think this calls for beers for everyone…I know I could use a brewski before we go any further. Cray, how about you?"

"Yeah…as long as you're not checking I.D.s," Cray replied with a weak smile, "I could use a little fortification while I figure things out." He appreciated the way Bob was temporarily defusing the tension.

"Sounds like a job for 'mister club manager'," Spike said as he got up. "I'll get four cold ones."

"No glasses since it's just us boys." Drew nodded, stole a glance at Bob and winked.

"While Spike's playing barmaid, I'm going to the john to freshen up for a sec," Cray said, and walked over to the powder room just off the foyer. Not only did he need to splash some water on his face and take a pee break, Cray wanted to be alone for a moment so he could re-group.

He closed the door and looked in the mirror. He hadn't thought about how he - the adult Cray - would now measure up to his real dad…in all ways. 'But if Ms. Grace could recognize Dad just from meeting him, I guess we must be similar.' As Cray took a leak, he looked down at his penis and wondered if he'd inherited this from his dad as well. 'If so, maybe I should at least thank him,' he thought with a shade of irony. 'So many questions I need answered.'

It only took a few minutes for everyone to re-group with frosty Heinekens in hand. After each man took an initial swig from their green bottle, silence pervaded the room. Bob had one more pull from his bottle and gestured for Drew to continue.

'Let me piece this together with a timeline you'll best understand. Stop me if you need some point of clarification." Drew leaned forward and continued, "I think it's best to emphasize that your dad loves you very much."

"He had an odd way of showing it," Cray snapped back.

"Trust me, he regrets he ever left you. But hear me out first." Drew sipped his beer. "You were ten when he left…and now you know what happened to force your dad out of your life. As that old radio guy used to say, 'here's the rest of the story'."

By 6:00 and another round of beers later, Drew and Bob had completed replaying the story of Jack Gamble's exit from Provo, Utah, eight years earlier - relating the gritty, threatening reasons for 'getting outta Dodge'. Occasionally, Cray would ask a question to clarify a point. Gradually, he felt more comfortable about the news of his dad's travails and sudden reappearance on the scene. For the first time, Drew fully explained Mario's role in obtaining the various documents that'd allowed Cray to enroll at Green Valley High School two years earlier. Cray bristled at the thought of his mother giving up parental rights for money…but he was happy at the way it'd turned out.

"Spike, you didn't know anything about Mario's hand in this?"

"I was clueless. You were this young cutie who had mysteriously arrived on the scene. My boss gave you a place to stay and arranged the job at the construction site…that was about all I knew at the time." Spike grinned and rolled his eyes. "We first met when you volunteered to do my laundry."

"Watch it…we're getting close to TMI." Cray grinned, and felt his face heating. 'I imagine I'm blushing to the max,' he thought. The two-year old memories of him secretly sniffing Spike's dirty underwear were still erotically vivid.

"Anyway, Mario set you up with that little apartment and we became friends. By the time Bob and Drew entered the picture, I was too busy with my own life to get nosy with yours…other than to know you were being looked after real well." Spike patted Cray's leg and asked, "Is all this making sense to you?"

"There's a lot to chew on," Cray said, and smiled at Spike.

"And how do you feel about reconnecting with your dad."

"I…of course I wanna see him again and figure things out. It's crazy that he's lived in Vegas for the past year or so."

"And works in the hotel biz," Drew replied. "But even though Lake Las Vegas is only 20 miles away, that place is a world unto itself. I've met Jack's boss just once."

"Wonder what he'll think when I tell him about…Spike." Cray suddenly became aware that 'Dad' was still a 'he' in his mind. "My dad…how will he accept Spike and me being gay?"

"My bad," Drew replied, "In all the excitement, I didn't mention that your dad figured out that he is gay sometime after he left Provo and has been dealing with that. The guy with whom he went to the party is his partner. Name is Phil…"

Cray's mouth opened and froze in an 'O' expression.

"Phil Perez. He teaches at Coronado High School." Bob nodded and added, " We took the liberty to confirm your sexual orientation, cuz Mary had already mentioned it last night. Okay?"

"Um…yeah, sure. What's the dif at this point?" Cray grabbed Spike's hand, turned on an exaggerated grimace and said, "Man, all of a sudden I've got four dads. Seriously, how long have my dad and Phil been together?"

"As I recall," Bob said, "They're fairly new in their relationship. Probably about the same amount of time as Spike and you have been officially together as a couple."

Drew hoisted his bottle in a toast and added, "When the time's right, we'll have to celebrate father and son…and their partners."

"This is my cue to start the steaks," Bob said as he stood up. "Medium-rare all around?"

"That's good for us," Spike grinned, and looked at Cray. "We may have only been officially together for a short while, but I certainly know the temperature my man likes in meat."

"Eeew, that is too much information." Bob wrinkled his nose and laughed all the way to the kitchen.

Cray punched Spike lightly on the arm and said, "Don't give away all our family secrets." He was happy that this hour of strange and unexpected news was ending on an upbeat. However, the idea of meeting his 'old man' was mentally still in a wobbly, formative state. 'I used to look up to Daddy like he was some sort of a god,' Cray thought. 'Is that something that's lost forever?'

"I think I'll open that bottle of wine you brought," Drew said. He stood up, walked over to Cray and extended his hands. "How about a little hug in the meantime? After today, I think we could both use one."

With the assist from Drew, Cray stood and glided into his guardian's arms. "Thanks again, pops, for all that you and Bob have done for me. I'll never forget the shit you guys bailed me out of." He leaned his head on the crook of Drew's neck and held tighter.

"Assisting you through these past two years has been an honor and real pleasure. Both of us know that we'll all be in each other's lives forever." Drew hugged for emphasis and pulled back. "I'll join Bob in the kitchen and get the salad ready. Why don't you two join us in about five minutes?" He winked, rubbed Cray's hair, which was too short to muss up, and walked away.

"Hug number two, please." Cray pulled Spike up and they naturally glided into each other's arms. While the contact was just as loving as the hug, moments earlier, this encounter included a gentle grinding of crotches. The result of the two young men touching was predictable; they held each other until their bodies understood that this was the limit of stimulation…for the moment. Cray knew that he wanted Spike to fuck him ferociously tonight. To have his partner mark his territory. The thought of their bed antics caused Cray to chuckle in a low, lustful way. "I want you in me later."

"Feels and sounds like my baby is back on terra firma," Spike said. "But keep that up and we're both going to need napkins to cover fresh pecker tracks." He joined in the laughter and kissed Cray lightly on the lips as he moved away. "The answer to your not so subtle request is definitely 'yes'…a big 'yes'."

"Big is what I had in mind."

"Me, too, so hold that thought." Spike adjusted himself and continued, "It's time to join the guys for dinner, but first I want to make sure you're okay with all that's transpired. If I read you correctly, your sex drive is in high gear. How's your appetite?"

"Back to ravenous." Cray smiled and licked his lips.

"For food, asshole."

"Oh, that? Yeah, that, too."

"Good," Spike replied with a nod. "But go light on the wine; you've already had two beers and I don't want you nose-diving into your plate at the table."

"Yes, dear." Cray winked and batted his eyes.

"Okay, let's be serious for a sec. To me, it sounds like your dad didn't have a choice in the matter of splitting and he wants to make it right with you. How do you read it?"

"That I want it to happen." Cray took Spike's hands and said, "If I said I didn't think of him all the time, I'd be lying. But those thoughts have gotten dimmer and dimmer. Then, all of a sudden, I find out what's what and he's living in Vegas." He let go and walked around in a small circle in the living room. "First thing is to plan on a meeting like maybe tomorrow…probably just the two of us for openers…ya know…to clean out the attic. There are some bad memories that need to be 86'd forever. Then I want him to meet you…and also bring this Phil guy into the picture. Whaduya think about that approach?"

"You two take that first step, then we can play it from there. Let's join Drew and Bob for dinner and see what they advise. Okay?"


"Before we go in for dinner, let me say I love you more and more each day and want us to be together forever." Spike pulled Cray into an intense embrace and a kiss with an aggressive tongue.

After a few whimpers and moans, Cray ended the kiss and whispered, "Me, too. Thanks."

The kitchen nook area had been set with wineglasses, black linen napkins, flatware, a large silver-color charger plate and a side salad for four. The window sunscreens and awning overhang diffused the early evening sun, and with the kitchen lighting on a dimmer system, the ambiance was restful. Beyond the glass sliding doors, Bob was tending to the steaks on the grill while the strong wind rustled the boughs of the trees. Cray noticed the debris in the pool and knew he'd have a clean-up job to perform tomorrow after work.

"I snuck a taste of the wine, Spike. This 2004 Jessup Cellars cab is fabulous…but a little pricey just for Sunday night dinner with the in-laws."

"Precisely why I brought it. I look at you two as guys I want to know for a long time." Spike looked around in a conspiratorial manner and added, "Plus, I wanted to suck up to the boss. But don't worry about the budget; the Jessup Cellars was part of my divorce settlement from Lou."

Cray decided not to play on the 'suck up' idea or make any comments about Spike's ex, and said forthrightly, "As it turns out, we can drink the wine in celebration of current events in my…no, make that 'our' lives."

"A celebration is definitely in order," Drew said. "And seeing Bob returning from the grill with his hands full, you guys sit down and I'll help him get inside."

Cray and Spike sat down while Drew opened the slider door for Bob. In one hand, he held four nicely scored ribeye steaks on a platter - in the other hand, a platter of grilled vegetables. He set the platters on the table and joined the rest of the crew.

"Although we're not that religious," Drew said, "I propose that we join hands for a moment and be thankful for a number of things."

Silently, the men took the hands on each side of them and held on firmly.

"First, is the obvious thanks for bringing us all together under a comfortable roof with an abundance of nourishment." Drew squeezed hands and continued, "And now we have Cray's dad re-entering the picture."

"Here's to a successful reunion," Bob said. "I know everyone at this table is covering your back, Cray."

A series of 'amen's' were uttered around the table and the men released their hands. While Bob started passing the platters, Drew poured wine. When he poured just a few sips into Cray's glass, there was a smile and acknowledgement between the men. Silently, each man lifted his glass and looked at Cray.

Cray raised his glass and said, "Thanks, guys." He took a sip and thought about the task ahead of him.

Spike cut into his steak and smiled at the first bite. "Terrific," he said between chews.

Everyone mumbled mouthful approvals and dinner officially began. In unison, three of the men drank their wine - Cray had wisely decided not to over-do the libations.

"Um, when can I see him…Dad?" It occurred to Cray that the 'D' word wasn't difficult to say…just strange. "You think I could meet him tomorrow evening?"

"Jack mentioned he could be available anytime after four," Drew replied. "I know you have an early shift in the morning and will be finished by three. Why don't we invite him to come over here at five and you can meet him in privacy. Bob and I can conveniently disappear to our bedroom until you tell us it's all clear."

"Or better yet," Bob said to Drew, "why don't you and I just get lost…like have dinner at the hotel?"

"I always like the idea of getting lost…with you…day or night, anywhere." Drew shrugged and smirked.

"Down, boy," Bob said. He turned to Cray and added, "My gut reaction is that you and your dad will get on quite well."

"And if you want to take him out for dinner…the Outback Steakhouse is nearby, and you like it…I'm buying. Unless you think otherwise, I suggest that the two of you take the opportunity to rehash things without any interference. However, if you'd feel more comfortable with Bob and me tagging along…we can do that. We could meet you anywhere of your choosing."

"I like the flexibility." Cray was sure that he'd be all right with a solo outing with his dad but liked the safety factor that Drew had tossed into the mix. "Would you call him now? I know I'm being a pain…but I can eat dinner easier by knowing the next step is ready."

"Not a problem." Drew got up from the table and went to the kitchen counter where the landline phone was located. He retrieved a card from his pocket and dialed a number. Almost immediately, he was speaking into the receiver. "Jack, this is Drew. It's a green light for tomorrow at five. Is that still good for you? Yes, our house. I can give you directions tomorrow. Great…see you then."

Cray took in a deep breath and felt tingly - a good tingly - at the idea of the reunion. 'One step at a time,' he thought as he rested his hand on Spike's thigh.

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