The silence in the car was deafening as Galen occasionally glanced to his side to see how Christian was doing.
Finally, when the silence had gone on far too long, Galen quietly said, "While we have a private minute or two, we could talk about you and Collin, if there's anything you'd like some help with."
"I don't really feel like talking about that." Christian said as he kept his attention focused out the window.
"That's fine. Since I'm Collin's father, I thought that maybe I could offer a different perspective about things. I just wanted you to know that it's okay to talk if you want." Galen said, sounding casual, then added, "Would you like to talk about your father?"
"Collin and I are doing just fine. I don't know if… I mean, you know, it's getting kinda serious, at least, for me… but I'm not sure if he… you know…" Christian stammered to a standstill.
"Collin and I talked. I won't repeat what he said, just like I would never repeat anything that you told me in confidence. But suffice it to say, that he's as serious as you are." Galen said as he kept the majority of his attention on the road ahead of him.
"Good to know." Christian said as he continued to look out the window.
Galen remained silent and left Christian with his thoughts for the few remaining minutes before they reached the hospital.
"He's going to be fine. He's got Galen to help him." Marc said quietly to Collin.
"Yeah. It just sucks." Collin said petulantly.
"Some things do." Marc agreed with a smile, then added, "Will you help me keep the guys entertained? I have about a million things that I have to take care of for Christmas dinner tonight."
"Yeah." Collin responded half-heartedly before leaving the kitchen.
Marc looked after him with concern for a moment, then got to work on his dinner preparations.
To Galen, it seemed that the parking space that he ended up with was the absolute most remote space that could still be considered to be within 'walking distance'.
Before they had even gotten to the door of the hospital, Galen had his arm around Christian's shoulders. The boy was obviously a bundle of nerves and despite any teenage bravado that he might want to display for the world, at that moment, he needed to be held.
"We're here to see Mr. Stone. The nurse in admitting said to come here. This is his son." Galen said to the nurse overseeing the critical care ward.
"Are you here to finish what you started?" A woman's hateful voice said from behind them.
"Sheila?" Christian asked as he turned.
"I've been telling Nate that he should just cut you out of his life. You're nothing but trouble." Sheila spat with disgust.
"Funny, I've been telling him the same thing about you." Christian said defiantly.
"Could you please keep it down? This is the critical care ward." The nurse behind the desk said urgently.
"You're a mistake that ruined both your parents' lives. You should have never been born." Sheila sneered.
"Just who do you think you are? You're nothing but a freeloading bitch taking advantage of someone who doesn't have the brains or the balls to stand up to you. Like it or not, I'm his family. What you think about me doesn't matter." Christian growled past gritted teeth.
"When he dies, you're not going to get ANYTHING! I'll see to that! I don't care what his will says, I don't care if I get anything or not, I'll be happy if I can just tie it up in court until you're old and gray. Wait and see if I don't!" Sheila screamed.
"Ma'am, you're going to have to leave." A uniformed security guard said as he approached.
"You're not leaving that little monster here with my husband! He's the one who put him in the hospital to begin with!" Sheila barked as she turned on the officer.
"I've asked you nicely. Now you can either leave right now and take some time to cool off, or I'm going to call the police." The security officer said reasonably.
Sheila saw the determination in the officer's eyes and let out a growl of frustration before turning and stomping away.
There was a long moment of silence as everyone calmed down.
Galen put an arm around Christian's shoulders and quietly asked, "How are you doing?"
"I'll be okay. Let's just get this over with." Christian said in a weary voice.
Without thinking, Galen pulled Christian into a full hug and kissed him on the top of the head.
"Thanks, Uncle Galen." Christian muttered into Galen's chest.
"Mr. Stone needs his rest. I can let you in to see him, but only for five minutes." The nurse said compassionately.
"That's more than I'll need." Christian said frankly.
"This way." The nurse said quietly as she led the way.
As Galen and Christian started to walk, the nurse said, "Only one visitor at a time."
"Can you please relax that rule, just this once?" Galen asked hopefully, then explained, "Christian and his father have a somewhat… tempestuous relationship. I think it would really be best for both of them if I were there."
"Five minutes." The nurse said gently, then pulled back a curtain, revealing a very bruised and battered man on a bed, hooked to several machines.
"How's that train coming along?" Collin asked when he noticed Jorry and Nick at the bottom of the tree.
"We're just doing some detail work with the village. The train's running fine." Jorry said as he kept the majority of his attention under the tree.
"Let's go in the other room and have some fun." Brucie whispered in Collin's ear, causing him to jump.
After a moment for the words to register, Collin slowly said, "My boyfriend is visiting his dying father in the hospital right now. How could you even ask me that?"
"You're gay. What do you care? It's just fun. It doesn't mean anything." Brucie said casually.
"I care because I love Christian! I would never do anything to hurt him!" Collin barked, drawing Jorry and Nick's attention.
"But it's boring in here. Come on!" Brucie whined.
"Brucie, you really need to start thinking about someone besides yourself. You're three or four years older than me, but you act like a five year old." Collin said irritably.
"A cock hungry five year old." Jorry added with a grin.
"Not helping." Collin said with a glance at Jorry, then turned back to Brucie and continued, "If you're always focusing on yourself, whatever impulse that's going to make you happy in that moment, no one's going to want to be around you. You'll always be alone."
"No one likes me anyway, so it doesn't matter. I might as well do whatever I want to make me happy." Brucie said frankly.
Collin was stunned by the statement and stood with his mouth hanging open.
"Are you happy?" Jorry asked simply.
"Sometimes. When I'm, you know… doing it, I feel like someone likes me, even if it is just for a few minutes."
"You are really messed up. And coming from me, that's saying a lot." Jorry said with a shake of his head.
Collin finally found his voice again and added, "He's right. You need professional help."
"I'm not nuts!" Brucie exploded before running out of the room.
There was a moment of silence, then Jorry said, "I always thought that Uncle Marc's house would be fun."
Christian walked to the bedside, not knowing what he was feeling. His father looked so small and frail on the hospital bed.
"I didn't think you'd come to see me." Christian's dad, Nate, barely was able to say as he opened his eyes, just a slit.
"Yeah. Well, the people I'm staying with, they didn't give me a choice. They said that I needed to be here." Christian answered in a voice that tried to sound confident.
"Mr. Stone, I'm Galen Anderson, and no matter what happens, I'll be making sure that Christian is taken care of." Galen said gently.
"I'm sorry." Nate said as he looked at his son.
"You always are when you sober up." Christian said frankly.
"You're not going to cut me a bit of slack, are you?" Nate asked with what appeared to be an impressed grin.
"When have you ever cut me any slack?" Christian fired back with anger burning in his eyes.
"Christian, your father needs to stay calm." Galen said as he put a comforting hand on Christian's shoulder.
After a moment to calm himself, Christian looked up to Galen and gave him a brief smile before turning back to his father. "Dad, look at how we are with each other. Not just you and me, but She-dog and mom, too. There's no love, no support. It's not like a family at all, it's just a bunch of toxic people who get their jollies from hurting each other. I'm tired of it. At Uncle Galen's house, people help each other and push each other to succeed, they don't constantly tear each other down."
"It sounds like a way to go." Nate said in a non-committal voice.
"It's great, Dad. It's like all those syrupy crappy sitcom families that we used to make fun of, except that these people got it right." Christian said urgently, imploring his father to understand.
"If I'd gotten my head on straight a few years back, then maybe I could have chosen a path like that and things would be different now." Nate said in a weaker voice.
"It's not too late to change." Christian said with a pained smile at his father.
"Look at me, boy. I think it is."
Tears welled in Christian's eyes as he quietly said, "For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry that I couldn't be what you wanted me to be… whatever that was… I never could figure it out, I just kept on getting it wrong."
"Don't worry about what I expected. None of that had anything to do with you, not really. It was me taking out my regrets on you. Listen to me, from here on out, it's what you expect that matters. From the look of it, you're doing pretty good." Nate said as he fought to keep his eyes open.
"I'm getting there. With Uncle Galen's help, I know that I'll be okay." Christian said as he reached up and squeezed the hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Stone needs his rest now." The nurse said as she poked her head in through the curtain.
"The nurses have Uncle Galen's phone number if you need me for anything." Christian said to his father.
"I won't." Nate said, then closed his eyes.
As Galen and Christian were walking through the curtain, the nurse quietly told them, "He needs his rest right now, but you can see him again this afternoon."
"That, right there, was probably the nicest talk we've ever had. I think it's best to leave it at that." Christian said as he held tightly to Galen's side.
"Did you try to turn him against me? Did you get him to promise to leave everything to you?" Sheila demanded from the hallway.
Christian glanced at the nurses station to find her watching them warily, poised to call security at the first sign of trouble.
"Nope. He's all yours. I'm out of it. I won't be back." Christian said as he released Galen so he could face Sheila on his own.
As Sheila seemed to be formulating a vitriolic response, Christian quickly added, "Oh yeah, one more thing, I almost forgot. Fuck off and die, you hateful selfish bitch."
Christian turned to leave and Galen followed immediately behind.
"What's wrong, Brucie?" Marc asked as he turned off the sink and quickly dried his hands on a hand towel.
"The guys! They said that I was selfish and nuts and needed to see a psychiatrist." Brucie said as tears slid down his cheeks.
Marc automatically put an arm around Brucie to comfort him, then jumped back when he felt Brucie's hand grope his crotch.
"No, Brucie. You can't do that." Marc said firmly.
"But I NEED to." Brucie whined as he stepped toward Marc again.
Marc pushed him away and said, "What you need is to learn how to control yourself. I don't know what the guys said to you in there, but they're probably right about you needing to talk to someone about your behavior."
"Come on, just let me, just a little. It feels good. You'll like it." Brucie begged.
"No." Marc said firmly.
"You don't love me either!" Brucie cried out as he broke down into sobs.
Marc quickly turned off the burners on the stove, then guided Brucie to walk with him, making sure to keep a respectable distance between them.
As he drove, Galen kept glancing over at Christian to see how he was doing.
Although Christian had walked out of the hospital with his head held high, Galen could tell that the visit had taken a terrible personal toll on the boy.
"How are you doing?" Galen finally asked.
"I don't know." Christian responded distantly.
"Your father doesn't seem to be the heartless bastard that you were imagining." Galen said softly, trying to sound casual.
"Yes he is. He's just scared. If he gets better, he'll go back to how he was. Nothing ever changes." Christian said regretfully.
"I don't know about that, but one thing that won't change is how Marc and I feel about you. You're in our hearts now and always will be." Galen said honestly.
After a moment, Christian quietly said, "I think I believe you."
"When we get home, I'll make sure that you and Collin can have some time alone together. I'm sure that will help." Galen said gently.
"Thanks, Uncle Galen. I mean, for everything. I don't think I could've said all that to him if you weren't there." Christian muttered.
"I'm glad you had the chance to say what you needed to say to your father." Galen said soothingly.
"When we went in there, I thought that I was going to tell him that I'm gay. But when we started talking, I kinda forgot." Christian said as he glanced at Galen with watery eyes.
"Well, I guess I could turn the car around. If we promised to keep it brief, the nurse might let us in long enough to wake him up and tell him, then we could leave again." Galen said speculatively.
There was a long moment of silence, then Christian began to chuckle. "Just walk in, shake him awake and say, 'Dad, I'm gay', then walk back out."
"If you want to." Galen said with a smile.
After a moment, Christian said, "No. I told him what's important. It's enough."
"You know, being gay is something that you are, not everything that you are. It doesn't define you, it's just one of your attributes." Galen said softly.
"I always thought that it was such a big deal, but really, it's on the same level as being left or right handed, isn't it?" Christian asked curiously.
"That's up to you. It's only as important as you make it. For some, it's the cornerstone of their identity. For others, it's just a fact of life." Galen said frankly.
"Thanks, Uncle Galen. I can see why Collin has such a cool attitude about things, having a dad like you." Christian said warmly before turning his attention out the window again.
"Boys, I think we need to talk." Marc said as he walked into the living room.
"He tried to suck Collin's dick! We didn't start it!" Nick said as he pointed at Brucie.
"I'm not accusing anyone of anything, Nicky. And you're not in trouble. But Brucie is a member of our family and he has a problem. It's our duty to stand by him and help him." Marc said firmly.
"Okay. I'll take one for the team. Come on, Brucie." Jorry said as he started walking toward the door.
Brucie perked up at the suggestion.
"No. That's not what I meant. What I'm asking is for all of us to find ways to help Brucie to cope without indulging in inappropriate and destructive behaviors." Marc said as he looked at all the boys.
"How do we do that?" Collin asked cautiously.
"I was hoping that if we discuss it, we might come up with some ideas together." Marc said honestly.
"So, when Brucie's wanting to suck some cock, we'll do something else, instead?" Jorry asked uncertainly.
"Yes. I think that's a good place to start." Marc said with a smile.
"I guess a punch in the face is outta the question." Jorry said under his breath.
"Yes. It is." Marc said with a disapproving look at Jorry.
"So, like, a hug or something?" Collin asked uncertainly.
"Yes." Marc said with a smile, then glanced at Brucie before adding, "Hands above the waist."
"We could tell him we love him. Maybe if we said that, he wouldn't feel like he wanted the touchy kind of love." Nick offered seriously.
Marc smiled lovingly at Nicky and said, "That's an excellent suggestion."
"I have to say that I love him… without vomiting?" Jorry asked dubiously.
"No, Jorry. Lets just say that you have to tell him something positive. You don't have to use the 'L' word if you're not comfortable with it." Marc said with a grin at his nephew.
"I guess." Jorry grudgingly relented.
"Go ahead. I want to see if you can manage it." Marc said with a smile.
"Seriously? Now?" Jorry asked in a pained voice.
Jorry walked up to Brucie and, after a moment to talk himself into it, he awkwardly put his arms around Brucie and sort of hugged him.
Finally, Jorry reluctantly muttered, "You got nice hair."
"You like my hair?" Brucie asked with surprise.
Jorry quickly released the hug, then said, "Yeah. It looks soft and… you know, clean and stuff."
"Thanks." Brucie said with a radiant smile.
"Now, Brucie. I think that what the guys were saying about you seeing a mental health professional is still a good idea. But if you'll try to control yourself and the guys will follow through with this, then we might be able to get you through Christmas without an unfortunate incident." Marc said honestly.
"This is why my dad's so freaked, isn't it?" Brucie asked Marc in sudden realization.
Marc slowly nodded.
"Does he hate me now?" Brucie asked as tears started welling in his eyes.
"No, Brucie. He loves you more than anything. He was afraid that if he did the wrong thing to help you, he might end up hurting you instead. So he brought you here, hoping that we might be able to find some answers."
Collin walked up to Brucie and reluctantly pulled him into a hug.
"Your dad's really great and he loves you a lot. As long as you got that, you should be fine." Collin said reassuringly, then stepped away.
"Are you feeling better, Brucie?" Marc asked hopefully.
"I guess. I mean, it's nice, but I still want to… you know…" Brucie admitted shyly.
"Suck cock." Jorry supplied bluntly.
"We all knew what he meant." Marc said gently to Jorry.
"Not talking about it doesn't make it go away. You need to put it out there and deal with it, or it's only going to keep happening." Jorry said as he looked Marc in the eyes.
Marc considered for a moment, then said, "Point taken. You're pretty smart, Jorry."
"I've just had years of therapy. I must have picked up one or two helpful hints along the way." Jorry said dismissively.
"Jorry, you said that Brucie can't touch me, ever. So am I supposed to hug him or not?" Nick asked cautiously.
"You can say what you need to say from right over there. Until Brucie's got a little better control of himself, I want you and your nads to stay out of his reach." Jorry said firmly.
Nicky nodded, then looked at Brucie and said, "Even though you're nuts, you're still my cousin and I love you."
Brucie seemed to be on the verge of tears again as he muttered, "Thanks, Nick."
"Okay, guys. As nice as it's been to spend this quality time together, the fact is that it's thrown me behind on Christmas dinner. Who wants to help me in the kitchen?" Marc asked hopefully as he looked around.
Brucie and Nicky immediately agreed. Jorry and Collin shared a look of indecision before giving their nods of acceptance.
"Why are we stopping?" Christian asked in confusion, suddenly snapped out of his jumble of thoughts.
"I promised Marc that I'd make lunch." Galen said casually as he pulled into the drive through.
After a moment to realize what was going on, Christian broke into a smile and said, "You're the coolest dad, ever."
"Not yet, but I'm working on it." Galen said playfully, then drove up to the speaker so he could order.
"I never knew cooking was this boring. No wonder mom's such a…" Jorry barely caught himself before he said it and went back to peeling sweet potatoes.
"Cooking isn't really boring, but prepping… you know, peeling, chopping, washing… that stuff can sometimes seem to drag on forever." Marc said slowly as he made little radish rosettes.
"I think it's fun." Nick said happily.
"That's because you got the best job." Jorry scowled.
"I'm sure if you were the one snapping green beans, you'd be whining and bitching about it just as much as you are now." Collin said with a cheeky grin.
"Watch it, Collin. You don't want me telling Uncle Marc about what Christian told me about you at the Christmas party, do you?" Jorry said devilishly.
Marc looked at Jorry with wide eyes, then at Collin with question.
Collin rolled his eyes, then said, "Yeah. What me and Christian do when we're alone is a real big secret. I bet if you don't tell, no one will ever figure it out."
"I bet I can guess." Marc said as he fought down his chuckles.
"You don't need to guess. I think you pretty much saw it all when you walked in on us." Collin said as his face began to redden.
"Really? Uncle Marc walked in while you were 'doing it'?" Brucie asked in wonder as he carefully sliced a cucumber into nearly paper thin slices.
"We weren't doing 'IT', but we were kind of, you know, doing a sixty-nine thing and the bathroom door opened, and there was Marc."
"What'd he do?" Jorry asked, then looked to see if Marc were going to answer.
"Nothing. He just said he was sorry for interrupting, or something like that." Collin said frankly.
"You didn't get in trouble?" Brucie asked disbelievingly.
"Of course not. We weren't doing anything wrong. Christian's my boyfriend. We're allowed to do stuff together as long as we're responsible and safe and all that." Collin said as he finished cutting the last carrot sticks, then started cleaning up his cutting board.
"If Collin were in the bedroom with anyone besides Christian, then I would have had some harsh words for him." Marc said as he walked to the refrigerator.
As soon as Collin was completely finished with his cleanup, Marc handed him a package of celery.
"So, it's okay for them to do that because they're boyfriends?" Brucie asked cautiously.
"Collin and Christian have proved to us that they understand what it means to be in a relationship. So Galen and I think it's a good idea to support them while they're getting started and figuring things out." Marc said casually as he went back to his radish artistry.
"But they're allowed to have gay sex with each other?" Brucie asked Marc seriously.
"I'm sure that sooner or later, that will probably happen. Hopefully, when it does, they'll both be ready to take that step and it will be a wonderful experience for both of them." Marc said honestly.
"You make it sound so nice. My mom always said it was a sin and that God hates people who do that." Brucie said in confusion.
"Listen to what you just said, 'God hates…', I think that when your mom talks about God, it's probably not the same one that I'm thinking of." Collin said calmly.
"That's a good point." Marc said with a smile at Collin, then turned to Brucie and said, "At some point, you're going to have to decide what 'you' believe. You've heard what your mother believes, only you can decide how you feel about that. In this house, we believe a little differently from what you're used to."
"What do you believe?"
"Well, we still believe in the same commandments that you've grown up with all your life, but we look at them as guidelines to tell us how to be good people, not laws that have to be strictly enforced. We believe in a God that is love. He wants us to live well and be joyful. He wants us to care for those who are less fortunate, help the injured and to do a good hard day's work, but he also wants us to be happy. He didn't put us on this earth to growl and snipe at each other." Marc said as he finished his last little radish masterpiece.
"That sounds a whole lot different from the God that my mom talks about." Brucie said frankly.
"Yeah. Ours, too." Nick said with a look at his brother,then added, "Her God hates everyone except the people in her church. And then he makes them go to church all the time so that the preacher can scream at them about how bad they are and how they're going to hell unless they do everything he says…"
"…Including giving him lots of money." Jorry interrupted.
Nick nodded, then asked, "Yeah. If God made the world, can't he make a big pile of cash so he doesn't have to keep begging?"
"Like I said, it's up to each of us to discover what we believe. That's why it's called 'faith'. If someone else tells us what to believe, then it isn't really faith as I understand it, it's just following someone else's rules and letting them run your life." Marc said as he started cutting the skin off of a small tomato.
Brucie slowly nodded.
"It's not something that you need to decide today, Brucie. For now, why don't you stick with the golden rule. Be kind to the people who are around you and see how that goes." Marc asked as he coiled the tomato skin to make a rose.
"Any more sweet potatoes?" Jorry asked as he set the paring knife on the table.
"That's all we'll be needing peeled. The rest of them are for baking." Marc said with a smile.
"Okay. What next?" Jorry asked as he rested back in his chair.
"Why don't you take a break while the rest of the guys finish up?" Marc asked as he went back to making tomato roses.
"Do you need any help with that?" Jorry asked as he got up from his chair.
"No. This is pretty much a one man job." Marc said slowly, then quietly added, "But if you want to get the boiled eggs from the pan in the sink. They need to be peeled."
"Deviled eggs?" Jorry asked with a queasy look.
"No. These are going to be the centerpiece for the relish tray. They're mostly for show." Marc said with a grin, then continued, "If you'll also open the can of black olives, I'll show you how to make boiled egg penguins."
Jorry stared at him blankly for a moment, then broke into an adoring grin that was on the verge of laughter.
As Galen pulled into the driveway, he looked at Christian and quietly asked, "Do you need a minute or two before we go in there?"
"I might if this food wasn't smelling so good. But we'd better get in there quick before I lose control and there's nothing left for anyone else." Christian said with a smile, seeming to be of good cheer.
"Just promise me, if you need something, let me know, okay?" Galen asked hopefully.
"Sure thing, Uncle Galen." Christian said with a warm smile that conveyed his appreciation of the offer.
After checking the living room and finding it deserted, Galen and Christian walked into the kitchen to find everyone hard at work.
"Is anybody hungry?" Galen asked as he held up several paper bags filled with burgers.
From the reaction of the boys, anyone would have sworn that they hadn't been fed in days.
"We've got about every surface filled in here. Why don't you take that food into the living room while I wake up James?" Marc chuckled.
"You'd better not take too long, these guys seem to be mighty hungry." Galen said before turning to leave.
"Everyone, please clean up what you're doing before you go into the living room." Marc said as he looked at all his 'helpers', then hurried out of the kitchen.
When Marc walked into the bedroom, his heart melted at the sight of James, fast asleep.
No doubt about it, the man was cute.
Putting those thoughts out of his mind, Marc crossed to the bed and quietly said, "It's time for lunch."
When that got no reaction, Marc sat on the edge of the bed and gently shook one of James' shoulders as he said, "James. It's time for you to get up."
"What?" James asked blearily as he cracked open one eye.
"You asked me to wake you at lunch time. We're just about to sit down to eat." Marc said softly, feeling sympathy for the sleep fogged man.
"How's Brucie doing?" James asked as he sat up in bed.
"He's had a few tough revelations today. But I think that each one was a step in the right direction." Marc said thoughtfully.
"What happened?" James asked as he fought to be more awake.
"You know what he tried with you last night. He tried that with Collin today." Marc said regretfully.
"How is Brucie?" James asked cautiously.
"He's fine. I had a talk with him and the boys and we've sort of worked out a system so that they're all helping Brucie to fight his compulsion." Marc said slowly, knowing that it was hard for James to take in so much unpleasant information at once about his son.
"Thank you for helping him. I didn't know who else to ask for help." James said quietly.
"What we're doing right now is just to help get him through Christmas. Brucie's behavior really worries me. It's dangerous nearly to the point of being self-destructive. You need to get him professional help as soon as you possibly can." Marc said firmly.
"I can't help but feel that it's all my fault. I've never been an example for Brucie." James said regretfully.
"You're his father. Whether you're aware of it or not, you've always been an example. The question is, have you been a good example." Marc said frankly.
"I suppose I haven't, seeing what he's going through now." James said in an anguished tone.
"One thing doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the other. So there's no use in beating yourself up about it. Assigning blame won't help Brucie or anyone else. What you've got to do now is accept that there is a problem and commit yourself to fixing it." Marc said steadily.
"Thank you, Marc. It feels like everything in my life is falling apart. If it weren't for you…" James trailed off, then added in a lost whisper, "I don't know what to do next."
"Eat." Marc said with a sympathetic smile.
At James' bewildered look, Marc explained, "The food is waiting for us in the living room. Have something to eat and give yourself a few minutes to wake up before you start trying to sort things out."
James thought for a moment, then nodded his agreement as he swung his legs around to get out of bed.
"Do you shave your butt?" Nick asked Galen curiously.
"No. I never have. What makes you ask that?" Galen asked with a smile.
"I just wondered." Nick said with a shrug.
"James will be right in." Marc said as he walked into the living room.
"He'd better be. I don't think I can hold these guys back much longer." Galen chuckled.
"I think you can go ahead and hand out the food. We'll just be sure to set some aside for him." Marc said when he noticed all the paper bags stacked on the coffee table.
"There was no way I was going to try and keep these guys from eating once they had the food in their hands." Galen said frankly.
"Go ahead. Start handing them out." Marc smiled.
Christian walked to the table and started rummaging through several of the sacks.
"Brucie. Here you go." Christian said as he handed him two burgers and a sleeve of fries.
"Thanks!" Brucie said with surprise.
"If anyone wants something besides coke, you'd better go and get it yourself." Christian said as he handed a drink cup and a straw to Brucie.
"We have a few different types of sodas in the fridge in the garage, if anyone needs them." Marc offered helpfully.
"Jorry." Christian said as he also handed Jorry two burgers and some fries.
"Thanks!" Jorry said gratefully.
After giving Jorry a drink, Christian said, "Nick."
Nick was happy to see that Christian only gave him one burger.
James walked into the living room and looked around curiously.
"The table in the kitchen is full of preparations for dinner, so we're having lunch in here." Marc happily explained.
"Dad! Come over here and sit by me!" Brucie said excitedly.
After a look around, James walked to the couch and settled in at Brucie's side.
"Here you go, Uncle James." Christian said with a grin as he handed food to him.
James was surprised at being called 'Uncle' by the relatively unknown boy, but finally accepted it as the honor that it was intended to be and returned the smile.
"Does everyone have food?" Marc asked as he looked around.
When no one answered that they didn't, Marc said, "Then let's eat!"
"So, Christian, is everything okay?" Marc asked curiously, hoping to get some sense of how Christian was handling seeing his father.
"As good as it's gonna get." Christian said between bites of food.
Galen nodded his agreement.
When Christian swallowed, he asked, "What about here? Did we miss anything?"
"Just Brucie being a cockhound." Jorry said frankly.
Brucie was mortified and looked at his father with fear.
"Marc told me what happened. We'll figure it out together." James assured him.
"You're not mad?" Brucie asked cautiously.
"Well, I'm not exactly happy. But, no, I'm not mad at you. It looks like you have something difficult to deal with. I'll help you with it as much as I'm able." James said honestly.
"I'm missing something. What happened?" Christian asked slowly.
"Brucie offered to blow Collin." Jorry said simply.
Christian's eyes went wide with surprise, then he looked at Collin inquiringly.
"I said 'no'." Collin said in his defense.
Christian turned to look at Brucie and found him looking anxious, huddled into his father's side.
"Not cool, Brucie. That's all I'm saying." Christian said darkly.
"I know. I shouldn't want to do that. Uncle Marc says that there's something wrong with me and I need to get it fixed." Brucie said as his eyes filled with tears.
Christian thought for a moment, then looked around the room and said, "Show of hands. Who in this room does NOT like to suck cock?"
Two hands slowly raised.
"See Brucie? You're not as weird as you thought. Your dad and Jorry are the only ones here who don't like to play the skin flute sometimes. The problem isn't wanting to suck cock, the problem is learning where, when and with who to do it. You've got to get it through your head that sex and love aren't the same thing. It looks to me like you're mistaking one for the other." Christian said seriously.
After a moment to think it over, Brucie looked at Nick and quietly asked, "Even you?"
"Yeah. But only with my boyfriend, Danny." Nick confirmed.
Brucie's gaze fell away from Nick as he slowly nodded.
When the last of the lunch was finally consumed, Marc stood and said, "I still have about a million and one things that need to be done before I serve dinner tonight. If anyone wants to help me, come to the kitchen. Everyone else, enjoy your afternoon."
As Marc left the room, James automatically stood to follow.
Brucie looked around and considered for a moment before he, too, stood up.
"Who wants to check out what's on TV?" Galen asked as he relaxed back into his chair.
Although Brucie actually was helping by doing various chores around the kitchen, James was sipping coffee while in deep contemplation.
Finally, James quietly said, "I'm going to move back to Pennsylvania."
Marc and Brucie both looked at him with surprise, the declaration coming without any buildup or warning.
James looked at his son and quietly said, "Brucie, I hate to do this to you, but I can't make this decision for you. I'm leaving. If you want, you can stay with your grandparents until your mother gets out of jail. That way you can continue to go to your old school and live in your old house… basically, keep just about everything that you're used to."
Brucie stared at his father, not knowing what to think, much less, say.
"Of course, if you want to go with me, I'd be happy to bring you along. Things might not be easy at first. I know that we can stay with my mom, your Grandmother Clairborne, but money could be tight for a while, and your grandmother isn't the easiest person in the world to get along with. She was a hippie before there were hippies." James said anxiously.
"If I went with you… I mean, you'd want me?" Brucie asked uncertainly.
"Of course. Please don't ever doubt that. I've always wanted you." James said imploringly.
"But you never talked to me, or did stuff…" Brucie trailed off weakly.
"I know, but that wasn't anything to do with you. Your mother had this tendency to make my life 'difficult' when I paid attention to anyone but her, that included you. I should have been stronger. I shouldn't have stood for it as long as I did." James said regretfully.
"But you want me?" Brucie asked to be sure.
"Yes. As long as you want to go with me, I want you to be with me." James said assuringly.
"Yeah. I want to go." Brucie told his father as his eyes filled with tears.
James stood and pulled his son into a firm hug.
Marc smiled at the scene, but still kept an eye on Brucie to be sure that he kept his hands above the waist.
"A house full of people and I have to drop what I'm doing to answer the door." Marc grumbled loudly as he walked past the living room where everyone was engrossed in a black and white movie.
When he opened the door, all thoughts of Christmas dinner and house guests immediately fled his mind.
"I'm here for the boys. Get'em so we can go." Nolan slurred.
"Nolan, you're not good to drive." Marc said slowly.
"I'll get'em myshelf." Nolan said as he elbowed his way past his younger brother.
Marc's mind raced, then, in a flash of inspiration, he ran to the kitchen.
"James, would you call Ruthie? Nolan's here and he's really drunk. There's no way I'm letting the boys into a car with him behind the wheel." Marc called into the kitchen before heading to the living room.
"Go get your shtuff, boys. We gotta go." Nolan said as he swayed unsteadily.
"Dad. You're drunk. Get it through your stupid thick head. If you drive, you're going to kill someone." Jorry said firmly.
"I juss had one or two to to to take the edge off." Nolan said, then stopped to consider his words, thinking that something about them didn't sound quite right.
"I think you mean one or two cases." Jorry said defiantly.
"Don't sass me, boy! Or I'll take my belt off… Is that 'It's a Wonderful Life'? I love that movie." Nolan said as his scowl changed into a lopsided smile.
"Nolan, it's for you." James said as he rushed into the room and handed Nolan the phone.
"James? Wow! That bitch really nailed you, didn't she?" Nolan chuckled, then held the phone to his ear and said, "I'd like a large pepperoni, a medium sausage and a case of Schlitz… no, make it two. Meet me at the garage door, so my wife don't see…"
Everyone watched as Nolan's face scrunched up in confusion, then he asked, "What're you doing at the pizza place, Ruthie?"
"I'm sorry. But I came to get the boys, like you said…"
"I'll be right there…"
"Yes, Dear." Nolan said meekly.
As soon as he hit the button to disconnect the call, he muttered, "Bitch!"
Everyone watched as Nolan turned and left the room, his footsteps loudly proclaiming his passage down the hallway and out the front door.
No one had anything to say in the wake of Nolan's dramatic exit until Marc suddenly announced, "He took the phone with him!"
"Don't worry about it, Jorry. I've been through it with my dad more times than I can count." Christian said sympathetically.
"It's okay. I should be used to it." Jorry said with a sigh.
"No. It's not okay. You shouldn't have to see your dad like that." Galen said regretfully.
"It is what it is." Jorry said with a shrug as he walked to Nick and pulled him into a hug.
"I'm sorry, but I still have to get back to dinner." Marc said with a concerned look at the pair of brothers.
"We'll be fine." Galen assured Marc as he walked to the boys and put his arms around both of them.
After a moment of indecision, Marc finally turned to leave the living room, followed by James and Brucie.
"You've got a lot going on. I think that Brucie and I should get out of your hair." James said thoughtfully.
"James, please stop and think about what you're planning. You're talking about driving all the way to Pennsylvania on four hours of sleep. On top of that, it's Christmas Eve. Nothing's going to be open if you run into trouble and it's going to be a miserable drive for both of you." Marc said reasonably.
"I don't know what else to do." James said weakly.
"Stay here. The boys can stay in the living room, just like they did last night. You can have the room that you slept in this morning. Then you and Brucie can spend Christmas morning with us and start your traveling after you've had a good night of sleep and a decent breakfast." Marc said seriously.
"We can stay at a hotel. I don't want for us to be any trouble." James hurried to explain.
"The thought of you two spending Christmas at a hotel would cause us a whole lot more trouble than you being here." Marc said honestly.
"You really don't mind?" James asked cautiously.
"Would you get it through your thick head already? You're part of our family. When things get tough, you need to turn to your family to help you out." Marc said sternly.
"I really appreciate this, Marc. I think I can understand now why Denise worked so hard to keep me from getting to know you." James said with a weary smile.
"Why's that?" Marc asked curiously.
"Because you're a much better person than she is. After what happened with Javier, she was afraid that if I got to know you, that you might seduce me away from her." James said frankly.
"Well, just to set the record straight, I didn't seduce Javier. I didn't realize it when they were dating, but looking back, I think the only reason that he ever went out with Denise was to try and get to me. If there was any seducing going on, it was him doing it. He was always nice to me and interested in my life. He treated me like I was special at a time in my life when no one else really did." Marc said distantly.
"Why didn't it work out?" James asked curiously.
"He was too controlling and manipulative. I was able to put up with it for a while, but I'm too independent to be happy with someone like that." Marc said honestly before opening the oven door a crack to look inside.
"Happy." James said with a weary chuckle.
"James, you're a great guy. I have no doubt that once you're past this whole ugly scene, that you'll find someone wonderful. You deserve it." Marc said as he stood again.
"Right now, I think I'll just focus on what's best for Brucie. I should have been doing that all along." James said darkly.
"Just try to keep in mind that wallowing in regret isn't going to help him one bit." Marc said before turning on the sink to run a pan of water.
The distant sound of a phone ringing caused Marc to look up.
"I can't believe that Nolan took the phone with him." Marc muttered as he turned off the water, then dashed for the door.
"It's for you. I think it's Ruthie." Galen said as he held out the phone to Marc.
Marc accepted the phone and cautiously said, "Hello?"
"Marc? It's Ruthie." She said uncomfortably.
"Nolan left right after he talked to you. Did you need to speak to Jorry?" Marc asked curiously, and noticed that the brothers were both looking at him with wary gazes.
"No. I just wondered… Would it inconvenience you terribly if the boys stayed with you a while longer? I thought that Nolan and I had come to some sort of understanding, but then… well, you saw him. The boys don't need to be here for this."
"I understand. And Jorry and Nick can stay for as long as it takes for you two to work things out. It's a pleasure having them here." Marc said, then smiled at the boys.
"I had my reservations about asking, but since James and Brucie are there, I guess that the boys will be alright." Ruthie explained.
Marc had to bite his lip to keep from telling her that the boys would, in fact, be much safer if Brucie weren't around, but knew that it would only complicate matters if he said anything.
"I'll be by later to pick up the boys, once things are settled here." Ruthie said firmly.
"I'll be sure to have their things ready." Marc said simply.
)"I never thought that I'd ever be asking you for a favor, but even after all the bad blood between us, I'm grateful that you're willing to help me."_ Ruthie said quietly.
"Before anything else, we're family, Ruthie. That's more important than some harsh words or hurt feelings over the years. When it comes down to it, you can count on me." Marc said seriously.
"Thank you." Ruthie said quietly, then hung up the phone.
When Marc hung up the phone, Jorry quickly asked, "What'd she say?"
"She said that she'll be by once she and your dad have discussed a few things." Marc said carefully.
"She's gonna rip him a new asshole." Jorry chuckled.
"I think that, if you tried, you might be able to find a better way to say that." Marc said as he tried to fight down a laugh.
"I call 'em like I see 'em." Jorry said with a shrug.
"Dad. I just thought of something and I kinda need your help." Collin whispered into his father's ear.
"What's up?" Galen responded equally quietly.
"I didn't get Christian a Christmas present. I thought we'd be going shopping again, and then stuff started going all crazy and… I thought I'd have more time." Collin said with concern.
"Let me see what I can do." Galen said as he stood, then walked to Christian and motioned for him to follow.
Once they were out of the room, Galen quietly asked, "Were you able to get all your Christmas shopping done yesterday morning?"
"Yeah… wait, no. I didn't get anything for Collin! Oh crap! How could I forget?" Christian asked in panic.
"Think about all that's happened the last two days. It's been crazy." Galen said honestly.
"Uncle Galen, I gotta get something for Collin. I've got to!" Christian urged.
"I know. Let me talk to Marc for a minute, then I'll tell you what I've come up with." Galen said as he gave Christian a quick hug.
"I love him." Christian said as he pulled back to look Galen in the eyes.
"It shows." Galen said with a smile, then hurried to the kitchen.
After a few minutes to present the situation to Marc, Galen stood inside the kitchen doorway and waited for his reaction.
James was sitting at the kitchen table, watching the scene, not knowing what to expect.
"ARE YOU INSANE?" Marc began.
"Probably." Galen said in a small voice.
"It's Christmas Eve and most of the stores will be closing in a few hours. And you're talking about taking five boys to the mall?" Marc asked disbelievingly.
"Yup." Galen said cautiously.
"It's going to be a madhouse!" Marc said as he tried to make Galen understand.
"I know." Galen said even more quietly.
"But you still plan on going?" Marc asked cautiously.
"Think about what Jorry and Nick are going through with their parents right now. Think about Christian and what he's going through with his dad. And then there's Brucie… The boys need a good dose of the Christmas spirit and this is the only way I can think of to give that to them. I've got to do this." Galen explained as he looked deeply into Marc's eyes.
"If you're going to do it, let me give you some money for the boys." Marc said as he walked toward the kitchen door.
"That's okay…" Galen began to say, but Marc was already gone.
"If I wouldn't be interfering, I could go with you to help out." James offered hopefully.
"Well, I'm pretty sure that, despite what Marc thinks, that I could manage on my own. But I bet that it would mean the world to Brucie if you wanted to do this with him." Galen said frankly.
"It will mean the world to me, too." James said honestly.
"This is the last of the Christmas club money. Don't worry about saving any. The money was set aside to be spent at Christmas." Marc said as he handed an envelope of cash to Galen.
"We'll be back as soon as we can." Galen said as he thumbed through the cash to get an idea of how much money he had to work with.
"You know the dinner that I've been planning for weeks and have been working on all day? It's being served at seven. That's all I'm saying." Marc said with a grin.
"I love you." Galen chuckled, then stepped in for a kiss.
James turned away and waited by the door for Galen to be finished.
"Let's go do this!" Galen said happily, then asked James as he approached, "I mean, really, how bad could it be?"
To Be Continued…
As always, I am very happy indeed to have a new chapter of Holiday Handoff.
I wonder if anyone remembers that this story started out as a short story one off. We are very lucky indeed that MultiMapper decided to enlarge the scope of the story, to include much more detail about all the people we have come to love. Thank You MultiMapper!
Brucie seems to still be trying to get some action, no matter who he might be hurting. However, It looks as if the other kids as well as the adults may have given him enough information that with a little bit of self restraint, he just might be ready to begin the journey to a better existence. Let's hope he can keep his tool under control and keep his hands above the belt, until and unless he can find someone he really cares about, and can have a meaningful relationship.
Christian's step-bitch is so totally self absorbed, that she will probably never be worth a flying fig.
His dad certainly needs to get his head on straight, and kick the booze under the bus, grow a pair, and leave the Sheila to her own devices, and get her out of his life for good.
Perhaps we will find out more in the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher