Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 16

Published: 8 Apr 14

Cray had begged for it, in a role-playing husky voice, and Spike masterfully delivered - twice, in fact - with an impromptu 'flip-flop' sandwiched in between. A tinge of soreness was a reminder of their recent sexual acrobatics. Cray lay on his back next to his sleeping partner who was on his stomach with the top sheet kicked aside. He was waiting for the last possible moment to get out of bed because, among other things, Cray needed deflation time for his morning woodie. 'Wonder if use it or lose it was originally meant in a sexual way? If so, my big ole dick will be around for a long time.'

He glanced at the clock and figured there were five extra minutes before he needed to move away from the warmth of his lover. The only downside to working the early café shift, aside from leaving his friend, was to fire up an acceptable level of friendliness and efficiency. Never an easy task at six in the morning, but today there was another factor thrown into the mix. 'Somehow, I'll make it.' For Cray, calling in sick wasn't an option.

Spike's muscled backside slightly moved up and down in synch with his breathing while Cray admired the light, blond furry hair that covered Spike's firm butt. He considered his luck in the timing of their union as partners. What hadn't been possible two years earlier, because of Cray's being underage and their different focus on life goals, had changed into a very natural progression in each other's lives. When their boyfriends had unceremoniously dumped them earlier in the summer, Cray became inspired. Wearing widow clothes was not his style; he finally figured out that Spike was the one - had been from the 'git go' - but a solid friendship with fringe benefits was only one of the changes he'd had in mind. Having another life anchor was the ultimate goal.

The rest was easy, although Cray admitted his move had been a tad bit aggressive for a guy just out of high school. 'But I have no regrets cuz Spike feels the same way.'

And now his dad was back in the picture. Since this revelation before dinner the previous evening, Cray's thoughts had pinged back and forth from his very early childhood to the day when he'd been told, 'Daddy was gone and wouldn't be returning.' The 'whys' and responding lies by his mother concerning his father's disappearance disturbed and baffled him at the beginning. Only ten years of age at the time, Cray thought Daddy didn't love him and his mom didn't dispel the notion. Good times, goofy times, sad times, bad times…snippets of memories growing up with parents who were constantly in conflict with each other. 'But it was always Daddy I'd turn to,' he thought as he put one hand behind his head, 'whenever I needed something.'

By the time he'd hit twelve and was experiencing his first orgasmic 'spurts' of puberty passage, his real father's absence wasn't an issue. Gene, now his mother's husband, started coming on to Cray in a sexual way. Odd and alarming - odd because Cray knew that it was wrong but felt good, and alarming because his mom didn't seem to care. He shuddered briefly at the image of 'stepdad-dearest' before banishing the perverted asshole back into the recesses of his mind. Cray had successfully tucked away this six-year nightmare and he didn't want to revisit it in detail.

'And now my dad shows up. Shazam,' Cray thought as he snapped the fingers of his free hand, 'just like that.' After eight years of wondering what had happened, the facts had suddenly hit him like the splat of bugs on the windshield of his trusty Ford. Once he'd had time to digest the reasons for the sudden disappearance, Cray looked forward to seeing his father again, one adult to another. That the two Gamble men were gay and had significant others were positive twists to the reunion in twelve hours.

But he was also aware that it might not be possible to re-establish 'what once was'…or as Spike had put it, "Think of trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube."

Cray softly patted Spike's behind, eased out of bed and went to the bathroom for his daily wake-up routine. As he shaved, he looked closely at his face and tried to imagine similar features on a 40-year old man. How many wrinkles…any bags under the eyes…a beer gut…any gray hair? 'Or has he lost some on top?' Cray wondered as he examined his full head of blondness. As he scraped the lather from his chin, he looked at his blue eyes and tried to remember if his dad's were also blue. 'I think so.'

Five minutes later he was dressed and almost ready to leave for work. Cray bundled his dirty clothes so he could wash them at home when he went over after his shift. One final check of the bedroom and he smiled at the yummy vision of Spike sprawling on the bed. 'There's something to be said for sleeping in the buff,' he thought as he walked over and tenderly kissed the cheek of his sleeping pal.

The challenge this morning would be to keep his mind on the job and not daydream about the meeting later in the evening.

Jack's fingers absentmindedly explored Phil's dark, wiry chest hair as the first morning light crept into their bedroom and he pressed his light complected arm against his partner's brown body. The physical contrast symbolized their expanding yin and yang relationship. Jack's Yankee waspishness melded well with this man who was steeped in Hispanic heritage - intellectually, emotionally and physically. And the two men - with Phil being more alpha-driven than Jack - worked on making their partnership click by striving for balance and constantly weighing compromises. Both understood that two men - in the early years of middle-age - living together for the first time would be a challenge.

They'd stayed up late and discussed the news of Cray living only five miles away from their house. Phil had pointed out what critical mass was needed on both sides for the meeting later in the day to be a success. First, that Cray understood and accepted the reason why Jack split from the scene eight years earlier. Second, that Jack weighed carefully the fact that his son was now a man who carried the burdens of an adult…especially the emotional scars of being deserted by his father, and the abuse from the asshole who'd married Jack's ex-wife. They agreed it might be impossible to reconstruct what the father-son relationship had once been and that Jack should be ready to adjust for the erosion that time may have taken.

Variations of an apology speech he'd made up in his head over the years kept spilling out in fragmented phrases. Jack had originally thought whatever differences there were between Edith and him would somehow resolve themselves with time - time being relative, but always within a few months. But continued threats by his 'ex', and the final stonewalling of unanswered calls and returned mail caused him to eventually lose any expectation that he'd ever see Cray again. Months dragged into years. And now, these eight years of hopelessness had vanished in an abrupt change of events.

'And to think we've been in the same town the past year or so,' he thought. 'What are the odds?' Jack untangled himself from Phil, sat up and shifted his legs to the floor. He wanted to be in the office early so he'd have plenty of time to work through the weekend reports and the Monday routine. 'Should be able to get back here by three to get ready for seeing Cray again.'

"Hey, babe," Phil said with a yawn, as he rolled over onto his back.

"Hi." Jack reached over and touched Phil's shoulder. 'Morning breath be damned.' He leaned in and quickly kissed Phil's warm lips.

"Coming back for some snuggle time?" A smile crept over Phil's face, punctuated by a wink.

Jack looked down at his partner's morning pee hard-on tenting beneath the sheet and returned the smile with a shake of his head. "Very tempting…but I gotta git. Too much to do if I'm going to split early from the hotel this afternoon. Whatchu up to today?"

"Since the bottom sheet is almost glued to my backside, I think laundry is the first order of business," Phil replied. He still had two weeks of summer vacation before returning to school and preparing for the fall term. "Then a little housecleaning and a run to the store."

"Cool." Jack stood up and added, "I'll work on the pool area tomorrow night."

"Go…do your thing while I brew the coffee. Least I can do is make sure my baby has a cuppa 'Joe' for the commute." Phil got out of bed, stepped into a pair of boxer shorts and pulled them up.

"Works for me." Jack momentarily studied the fit form of his partner and felt very lucky that he'd found this man. 'Not only smart but sexy as hell…love that guy,' he thought as he walked to the bathroom. 'And now I'm going to have another man in my life. My son.' He hoped that Cray would give him another chance.

Lou, Junior, sat in the back seat of the dark blue, window-tinted Chevy Suburban as they crept slowly in the midtown Manhattan traffic. 'They' included a driver and one security man. Rather than a standard bench seat, the interior had been reconfigured to include a computer workstation, fully stocked bar, and a jump seat that faced the black leather, limousine-style seating.

The usual livery license plates had been replaced with anonymous numbers that, if traced, would end up at some 'Guido's' address in a Long Island neighborhood. Ever since the unsuccessful assault at the apartment two months earlier, SOP was to use an armored vehicle and a guard whenever he traveled around the city. Lou missed the casual strolls to and from Gallant National Bank's Third Avenue headquarters but understood the reasons for diligence.

The Russians had been very quiet concerning further threats to the Gallian family. Surveillance reports from AOI Security indicated Kiril Datchev's organization had been decimated beyond being a threat; and eavesdropping continued to pick up chatter that other_mafiya_ groups didn't want to cross swords. However, Oleg Petrov - quoting the words of Jack Dempsey - said that the 'best defense is a good defense' and recommended to discretely keep the family's guard up through the fall in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Not that Lou holed up in his office or the apartment at The Pierre. This morning, after a spirited board meeting to discuss the final sale of 'toxic' defaulted real estate to a friendly investor - actually a shell-corporation based in the Caymans - he decided to go cross-town for a personal training session at the Reebok Sports Club/NY. From there, he was due for a business luncheon at the Four Seasons. These appointments were a couple of the reasons his personal security were young, physically fit men who looked as if they 'belonged', whether it be in a tank top at the gym or in a dark suit at social gatherings.

Glancing up from his laptop, Lou briefly admired his handpicked, lethal, eye candy 'minders'. Each man, in their late 20s, could have passed for brothers. The short dark hair, ruddy complexion, strong nose and blue eyes enunciated their Irish heritage. These former special services warriors were also gay friendly - that was an unspoken part of the job profile - and Lou wondered if these studs were heteroflexible. This was the latest buzzword for straight guys who were adventurous and curious enough to explore walking on the wild side with another male. 'Not that I'd ever step over the line,' he thought with resolve, 'and fuck up a professional relationship.' He then chuckled to himself. 'Would be hot, though.' A few delicious images flickered in his mind before the debaucheries were stored in his fantasy files.

Relationships. 'Christ,' he thought, 'I'm running on empty in the nooky department.' Nothing but lots of solo action with his hand since the rendezvous with Spence in Vegas. 'Damn, that boy is mighty fine. Could be marriage material…but that's not going to happen.' Lou had learned an emotional and expensive lesson in love - he'd had it all with Spike and that still wasn't enough. 'Being a shit as a boyfriend is part of my DNA, I guess…but that doesn't mean I have to live like a hermit. It's time to get Spence to New York for the weekend.'

He powered down the laptop and opened his iPhone address book. Two thumb strokes later, the phone was connected and ringing.

_"Speak,"_the voice said.

"One aught two," Lou replied with his client code. "I was curious if my order was in stock." Whenever he called Mario Cirillo on a cell phone, they spoke in a brief code. "I need a Friday morning shipment.' On his last visit, Lou had discussed with Mario what he wanted to set up. The two men related on several levels - friendship and client slash vendor being only two. Lou was now aware of where a generous amount of cash flow originated - from Vegas, as well as other major cities scattered throughout the world. Legalities aside, his dad's financial slight of hand was truly masterful.

"Hmm, let me check our inventory."

There was a pause. Lou could hear the clicking of a computer keyboard being stroked.

"That shipment can be arranged. What sort of shelf life do you require?"

"48 hours is just fine." Lou was excited that Spence was available. He knew the stud was in high demand and figured Mario was juggling the appointments around. "First in, first out." Meaning that Mario should book Spence on the first available flight out of Las Vegas on Friday and the first return flight on Sunday.

"And that will be door to door?"

"Yes, and bill accordingly." Lou thought it was less complicated if Spence took a cab to and from LaGuardia.

"I'll send a confirmation later in the day ," Mario replied. "Is there anything else you need today?"

"I think that'll do." Lou would love to have a 'shipment' today…but he'd have to wait. "Thanks, as always. I'll probably visit the store next month." He'd find a reason to travel out to Las Vegas on bank business.

"I'll have it gift wrapped," Mario replied with a soft chuckle. "No extra charge."

"I can't wait to unwrap it." Lou fantasized where he'd find the imaginary bow. "Thanks."

"Always a pleasure. We aim to please."

"Yeah, yeah…you aim, too…please," Lou said with a laugh, thinking about the timeworn men's room graffiti quote.

"Count on it. Bu-bye."

The connection ended and Lou smiled as he put the phone in his pocket. Later in the day, he'd call Spence from a secure phone in his office and run over the details of the visit. He picked up the New York Times and found the theater section. 'I think Hair would be fun to see with Spence on Friday night. I'm kinda into a retro mood.' Lou recalled his dad mentioning taking his mom to the original production way back in the late 60's when they were dating.

'One down and one to go,' Cray thought. He was in the hotel's Cast Retreat - a creative name for the employee cafeteria - taking his break. Breakfast had been a fairly quiet meal period in the café and he didn't expect luncheon to be much better. 'Monday in August…what else is new?' He took a sip of coffee, took another bite of his barely eaten fruit salad and noticed Drew carrying an iced glass of water.

After stopping at one table to speak with two casino dealers, Drew walked over to Cray and asked, "How about a little company?"

"Cool…I've got ten minutes." Cray picked up a pile of that day's newspaper sections to make room and set them on an empty chair.

"I won't ask the obvious, except to say that you seem pretty mellow."

"Don't believe what you see," Cray replied. "I'm wound up pretty tight inside…but that's okay. After I had a chance to figure out everything that happened last night - what you guys told me - seeing him again is just the next step in me growing up for real. You know what I mean?" He speared a chunk of watermelon and slowly chewed. Cray shook his head and swallowed. "What's strange is that I really don't know what to call him. Eight years ago, it was Daddy. That's kinda lame…but I'm having a problem with 'Dad'. It's like…well, you and Bob are my dads. Or, were."

"Bob and I were your foster dads…and now, I think it's safe to say we're all very close friends…like we talked about earlier this summer. Right?"

"Of course."

"And we'll have your back covered as long as we know each other, which I suspect will be forever." Drew sipped his water. "Our home is your home and that's not going to change. Whenever you decide that you want to move on, Bob and I will respect that."

Cray nodded silently and nibbled on a strawberry. 'Spike and I will have that discussion again…when I'm ready to fly the coop.'

"Who knows…maybe you'll feel more comfortable calling your father, Jack." Drew pulled up a little closer and put his hand on the top of Cray's hand. "You two will figure that out tonight."

"Yeah, almost six hours from now," Cray replied. "I'm going home right after work and chill. Maybe I'll clean up around the pool. It looked a little shaggy yesterday. You guys are still planning on staying away?"

"Unless you want us to be on hand, Bob and I are going to have an early dinner here at the hotel. Probably ask the chef at Wang's to do a Sichuan tasting menu for us."

"This is between…Da…Dad and I." Cray smiled and thought, 'That wasn't so bad…I guess.'

"We'll be home around seven. So if you two are still there, we can talk. There's plenty of food if you want to make something there."

"That would be a gas; me cooking for him. The one time I remember was when I attempted to make hotdogs for us. My mother wasn't around." Cray clinched his teeth and thought, 'Probably fucking with Gene.' He looked at his watch and frowned. "Time to get back to the café and hustle for some change."

"Coin of the realm. And I'm due for a meeting." Drew stood and waited for Cray to join him. "Good luck, buddy. Just think of it this way…Jack's probably more nervous than you."

"Hard to imagine."

Cray returned home after three, changed into a pair of boardshorts and nervously went through the motions of checking his email before cutting the backyard grass. Next, came the hosing down of all the pool furniture and hard surfaces. After wiping the tables, chairs and chaise lounges he looked at his watch and noticed it was less than an hour before the event. 'Time to burn off a little energy.' While the pool area and surrounding patio surface were drying in the afternoon sun, he jumped into the warm water to swim some laps.

Propelling back and forth in the pool - freestyle one way, breaststroke the other - always worked as a way to think out problems without distraction. Cray realized that he was beyond the angst stage with meeting his dad. 'It'll be what it is,' he thought as he flipped on a turn, 'and I still don't have the foggiest notion of how I'm going to react. But, if everything is as I was told, I'll try to figure out how we can be friends.'

A call from Spike earlier to offer encouragement was a soothing balm. He also mentioned that Spence would be traveling this coming weekend - meaning that they would have his younger brother to watch. Although Spike volunteered to completely handle the 'baby-sitting' project with Kevin, Cray said that the reunion with his dad shouldn't be that overwhelming and wanted to help out…as a couple. 'By Friday,' he thought, getting out of the pool, 'all this drama crap will be history. The worst that can happen is that we shake hands and go our separate ways.'

One of Cray's concerns was the problem he had in remembering what Jack looked like - in the haste that eventful night when he clocked Gene and ran away, he'd forgotten to grab a photo of his dad. He studied his features in the mirror while brushing his teeth and tried to imagine, again, what a 40-year-old Gamble looked like. Memories flooded back of people always saying he had his dad's nose, eyes and mouth…but honestly he couldn't relate, to taking on the features of someone that old. His role-model foster dads weren't even 30. Back in the bedroom, he examined himself with his clothes for the evening - more formal long khaki pants, a yellow polo shirt, and sneakers with low-cut white socks - and decided to go with the look. 'Shorts are a little too casual.'

The doorbell rang.

"Oh, shit." Cray scurried through the house and stopped abruptly at the door. He decided not to peek into the security door eye and firmly grabbed the knob. He took a deep breath, released the lock and swung open the door. 'Whoa.' Cray scanned the man's features and decided there was no question about it - this was definitely a more mature edition of a Gamble male. 'And there's nothing old about him.'

"Cray, I've waited a long time for this day," Jack said behind a nervous smile. He stepped forward and paused at the threshold. "Too long." He lifted and extended his arms.

"Da…Daddy." Cray sniffled and automatically let his steps move him into Jack's arms. He was pulled tightly into an embrace as he wrapped his arms around Jack. What reluctance and resistance he'd had about this moment instantly evaporated into the desert air.

They breathed in unison and didn't let go. The reverberating convulsion from Jack's body was a giveaway that his dad was crying. Cray assumed that he was sending the same physical message.

"Come on in," Cray said, as he pulled back and smiled. "We're really messing up our shirts."

"Not a problem." Jack followed his son into the living room. "I see, by the way, that we have similar tastes."

Cray didn't understand the comment until he noticed Jack pointing at their shirts. Both men were wearing yellow polos and khaki pants. "Oh, Jeez," he replied with a laugh. "Yeah, I got the memo."

The tension was broken.

"Just let me drink in this moment." Jack wistfully studied the young man standing before him - head to toe - and nodded. "I like the grown up version of you, Cray. This is something I never thought would happen."

"And you aren't so bad for an old guy." Cray gestured to the sofa and said, "Why don't we talk here? Can I get you something to drink?"

"Maybe in a little while," Jack said as he sat down. "There's so much to say."

"Drew and Bob told me the details about you and…"

"Edith…and why I cut out." Jack's interruption was more of a fact rather than a question.

"What a bitch," Cray replied with a distasteful look. He joined Jack on the sofa.

"I was determined not to badmouth Edith…but the term 'bitch' is too complimentary." Jack shook his head and moved closer to Cray. "Not in my wildest imagination did I think she drove me away so that…man she married could…do things to you." Jack's lower mouth trembled and a few tears rolled down his cheek. "Never in a million years…"

"It was pretty…shitty…and…"

"You don't have to revisit those days if you don't want to," Jack said softly.

"I want to. Maybe I can get this off my chest…finally." He looked at his dad - yes, definitely 'dad' - and said, "How about a beer? Drew and Bob allow me to have one if I'm not driving."

"A beer sounds great."

Cray smiled and walked to the kitchen. He was being pulled into an old, familiar trusting relationship that he remembered from years ago…and it felt good. 'Man,' he thought as he got two bottles of Heinekens, 'good isn't even close. It feels effing great.'

'Whatever emotional crap Cray has suffered seems to be wearing well,' Jack thought as he waited for his son to return, 'But I'm sure he's buried a lot of baggage.' He looked around and admired Drew and Bob's home. 'Nothing pissy…just very nice. Probably done by a designer, but without the attitude.' He looked out through the floor-to-ceiling, glass-sliding wall and noticed the gazebo beyond the pool area. 'Now that's a classy setup.'

Cray returned with the beers and handed a bottle to Jack. He studied his son - now very much the young adult - and was struck by how much he'd missed in not being with Cray these past eight years as the boy went through those growth passages. Modesty pushed aside, he judged the handsome similarity between father and son. He was sure Cray could have had the 'pick of the litter' with the hottest girls in his class…if girls had flipped his switch. 'Like father, like son,' he decided, and he took a swig of beer. "Thanks." Jack let out his breath and licked his upper lip.

"Skol." Cray sipped his beer and continued, "I suppose I should give you a rundown of what has all happened to me since you…left. And then you can do the same. Okay?"

"Makes sense." Jack leaned back and placed an arm on the back of the sofa. "Take your time."

Over the next half-hour, Cray unfolded the past, including a few graphic details of the step-dad's physical advances. Relating that while he knew what Gene was doing was wrong, there was a need to please and seek approval from the new man of the house.

There were several times when Jack cringed and held his breath. He was amazed and impressed that his son had decided he couldn't live in that screwed up home any longer, escaped from Provo and ended up in Las Vegas. The details of exactly who Mario was and how he fit into the equation were rather vague, but Jack decided not to question the missing pieces. Through the story, Cray projected poise and articulated the history in a clear, concise manner.

'My kid's really bright,' Jack thought, when Cray finished, 'and surprisingly pulled together.'

"I'm amazed you were able to handle this abuse without flipping out," Jack replied in measured tones. "But what Gene did was very wrong…let alone, criminal."

"I've thought about those years and talked it out with the guys - Drew and Bob - on many occasions. Mom was doing a guilt trip on me…to make Gene happy so we'd have a roof over our heads. I guess the only good thing was not getting the crap beat out of me. It was messed up big time, but I survived. And while we're at it, I also don't think that the asshole diddling me is the reason I'm gay. In fact, I'm thinking that being gay made it easier to let him do things to me without going completely crazy."

"You're a strong guy and it sounds like you couldn't have done any better than to have Drew and Bob as foster parents."

"Yep, lucked out big time there. And what a trip to have Ms. Grace from my school recognize you as my real dad," Cray said.

"Thank God for Phil. If we hadn't met…weren't a couple…hadn't gone to the party…who knows…"

"Lots of 'ifs' for both of us. I want to know all about him, and I'll tell you about Spike," Cray replied in a more upbeat manner. "But first…"

"Time for my show and tell." And Jack did, starting with the threats from Edith. He shared the frustration of being stonewalled by letters not being answered and phone calls resulting in hang-ups. How he'd ventured over to California and found a hotel career in San Diego. Finally, after glossing over the move and promotions at the Reflection Bay Resort, he shared some of the details in meeting Phil Perez.

"The old 'hitting on a dude in the gym' routine, eh?" Cray said with a snicker.

"What can I say…it worked." Jack was somewhat amused but encouraged that he could share adult aspects - edited, of course - of his personal life with Cray. 'Re-building a relationship…one step at a time.'

"Worked for me, too. My first serious boyfriend was Michael, a guy in my class. We kinda checked out each other at the gym when I settled in at school a couple of years ago and…we were together until a few months ago. Just before graduation."

Jack wanted to point out that 'kinda' had nothing to do with two men cruising, but decided to pass. "And the guy you mentioned…Spike?"

"Very serious boyfriend. I wanna say this is the real deal…Dad." Cray smiled with a questioning look.

Being called 'dad' sent a chill through Jack's spine.

"He's a close friend who's got even closer…a lot closer. Spike and I are committed but it's very early in the relationship. Ya know?"

"I do, as a matter of fact. Phil and I just recently started living together. However, it's a little different when two old farts like us decide to share space. A lot of habits you establish from living alone - Phil forever and me…well, since you last saw me. But we're working on it."

"In a way I understand," Cray said with a nod. "Right now I'm at Spike's place about half the time and we're figuring out things slowly. I'm his second partner…we both want to make it right. "

"Without deciding who's going to be the housewife," Jack replied with a chuckle. "I can't believe there are still a lot of straight people who think in those terms about two gay men living together."

"Ha, I don't see either of us running around in a little housedress fluffing up the pillows." Cray rolled his eyes and joined the laughter.

"At least we don't have to worry about leaving the toilet seat up." Jack remembered Edith ragging on him about that little piece of bathroom etiquette. "But Phil's pretty cool about accepting a lug like me." He turned and looked directly into Cray's eyes. "Son, will you forgive me for being such a thoughtless, dumb coward and running out on you? If you can't, I'll understand. But maybe we can still be friends."


"I was a just little kid who didn't know crap about what was happening." Cray let out a sigh and squirmed before he settled, sitting with his legs crossed, 'Indian-style', on the sofa. "I was pissed, really pissed when you left and never came back. But now, what she did pisses me off even more." He took Jack's hand and squeezed very hard. "I can't blame you for running, with the threat of being put in the slammer for a long time. And I've been around long enough to hear about what inmates do to child-molesters - true or false - in jail."


"Yeah…truce." Cray kept holding Jack's hand. "I really don't want to think about what happened up in Provo anymore. Growing up back there, you were pretty cool. And it's rotten that Mom and Gene robbed both of us of these past eight years. However, my life was given a second chance when I arrived in Vegas…and I haven't looked back. As far as Mom and Gene are concerned, fuck 'em, if you'll excuse the expression."

"I'm familiar with that expression…and it works for me."

"You're my dad and, with all the facts out on the table, I'm really jazzed that we're together again. Add Drew and Bob into the mix - plus Spike and your Phil - and this is an awesome family." Cray scooted closer, wrapped his arm around Jack's shoulder and burrowed his head against Jack's neck. "At this point, being friends is a given. I love ya…and that's that."

"Same here. Cray, I'm so proud of you." Jack turned slightly and their lips met, briefly pressing together in a father-son way.

The silence was broken only by sobbing sniffles. Jack was settling into his new role of friend and father - adult to adult.

"We're a mess…again," Cray said, after a few moments as he broke away. "Um, it's only a little after six, but I could eat a horse. You wanna order in pizza or something?" He decided to save going out to a restaurant for another day. 'Although I'll take up Drew's offer on buying.'

"Pizza and beer sounds great."

"Why don't we go over to Spike's place? I'd like him to meet his father-in-law over dinner…if that's okay."

"He's an important part of the mix," Jack replied, "and that'll be fine with me." The final words almost got caught in his throat as he thought about being referred to as 'father-in-law'.

"I'll call him." Cray got up from the sofa and added, "Be right back."

Jack's admiration swelled as he watched his son trot into the kitchen. He knew the past eight years that had been robbed from them could never be replaced; however, he was going to make sure they became lifelong friends. He stood up and said loudly, "Where's the nearest bathroom. I need to freshen up a little."

"The powder room is the first door in the hallway," Cray yelled back.

Cray hit the speed dial and Spike answered after one ring.

"Hey, buddy. How'd it go?"

"Bigger than big. Huge. To say I'm stoked having him back in the picture is an understatement. It's just so fucking cool." Cray could feel tears swelling.

"Wow, that's great."

"I told him all about you and he'd like us to get together. Would it be okay with you if Dad and I came over now…we could order pizza or do Chinese."

"Absolutely. Pizza always works, although it seems that's all we ever eat."

"It's a safe choice for all of us growing boys," Cray replied with a chuckle.

"Done. And I'm dying to see what the senior version of you looks like. I mean, is he…"

"My old man's a total stud for his age. And he's a nice guy…like the father I remember."

"I can relate - chip off the old block."

"He joked about meeting his son-in-law…but I think Jack was being very serious, in his own way." Cray was aware he'd referred to his dad as 'Jack'. Using the official 'dad' title didn't quite seem right all of a sudden, but Cray couldn't figure it out on the spot.

"Serious is cool. You guys come on over and I'll call the pizza order in right now."

"See ya in a few." Cray hung up the phone and wrote a note for Drew and Bob.

All went well. We're over with Spike and I'll be back by 10.

So much to talk about. Love you guys, Cray.

Cray placed the note on the kitchen counter and decided to freshen up, too. He looked in the living room and felt so totally psyched that his father was back. "Spike's excited about meeting you. I'm going to use the bathroom before we leave…give me a few minutes."

"That's fine, son. As far as I'm concerned, we've got the rest of our lives."

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