Finding My Way Home: Book 2 - Heart And Home

Chapter 1

Winter seems to drag by even in the best of circumstances.  When you're recovering from a gunshot wound to the chest and the resulting surgeries, it takes even longer.  I freely admit that I was getting a little grouchy.  Cabin fever had taken its toll rather quickly.  Dr. Martin wanted me to take things easy and the boys, Edan, and Grandma Sarah were making sure that I followed his instructions to the letter.  Although I couldn't have asked for more love and support; I certainly wouldn't have turned down a little more freedom, but such was the price to pay for having a family.  I wouldn't have traded that feeling for anything or anyone in the world.

We had all been worried about the younger boys return to school since their relationship would no longer be a secret.  After the initially chilly reaction Brendan and Derek had received at the high school, the Walborn's, and Edan and I feared for their safety. 

Karen's nervousness was compounded by the fact that the break in Peter's arm had been severe enough to require pins.  He would be wearing a cast and sling for quite some time.  He had also grown up with the kids he went to school with.  The sudden revelation of his true relationship with Ephraim would be a shock to his classmates.  If he got into trouble, he would be hard pressed to defend himself until his arm healed.

A call to the boys' principal did nothing to calm us down.  The man was revealed to be a total homophobe.  He worded his answers very carefully, but the sentiments were all too clear.  Peter and Ephraim would be standing alone.  He would only intervene after there was trouble.

Peter was more than a little nervous about his first day back himself.  He would have to face the possible torment alone for a full week before Ephraim could join him.  The knife Ephraim had taken to the midsection hadn't hit anything vital, so he would have a quick recovery time, but the doctors still recommended an extra week out of school for him.

Amazingly enough, all of our fears turned out to be unwarranted.  As Peter arrived at school, he wasn't too surprised that some of his old friends seemed to be avoiding him.  He had been told to be prepared for that.  He knew they had to adjust to the new information about him.

The anticipated confrontation came at lunchtime.  A couple of jocks from the football team started harassing him and bumping into him.  The principal saw, but did nothing, even when Peter's tray hit the floor.

"Ooops, sorry about that fag boy," one of the bullies taunted.

"Jack Palmer!" the boy turned to see one of the kitchen workers glaring at him.  "You got better manners than that, don't you boy?"

"Yes ma'am," the boy admitted quietly.  He looked at Peter and mumbled an apology, but it was obviously not from the heart.

"Now, I'm going to ask this of all you kids," the woman called out.  The whole cafeteria was already looking at them.  "I don't know how many of you plan to date each other, boy-girl, boy-boy, whatever, but you should think about what Peter did when you do."  She reassured herself that she still had their attention before continuing.  "Ask yourself this question.  If the love of your life for this week is being kidnapped by armed hoodlums, would you risk being stabbed to save them?  Would you jump out of a moving car to be with them because they are hurt?"  The kids were all quiet.  "Ephraim and Peter have just given you all a lesson in how you should feel, and what you should be willing to do for the person you claim to love."

A girl suddenly jumped up and yelled, "Jack, you apologize to him like you mean it and buy him a new lunch or you will never go out with me again."

"I ain't doing nothing for that queer," Jack responded.  "There's other girls in this school besides you."

"None that will go out with you now," another girl called.  A chorus of agreement followed.

"Do you think your Uncle Tony will take you to the movies in town this weekend after I tell him what you've said and done here today?" the cafeteria worker asked the loud mouthed boy.

"Why wouldn't he, Grandma?" Jack asked her.

"Boy, don't you know that Tony is gay, just like Peter here?" the woman answered.  Jack's eyes grew wide in shock and disbelief.  "Think about it, Jack.  Billy is his roommate and they have a one bedroom apartment."

"But, Uncle Tony is so normal," Jack insisted.

"So is Peter," his grandmother retorted.  "You've known him your whole life.  Has he ever tried to do anything to you that you didn't want?"

"Well, no," Jack admitted.  "But he's different now…."

"He ain't different," the woman scoffed.  "You just know something about him that you didn't before.  Now go sit down and eat.  I'll take care of this, but you will pay for it later."

"Yes, Grandma," Jack gulped.  To Peter he said, "I guess I wasn't thinking too straight, Oh! I mean….."

"That's ok, Jack," Peter told him.  Jack didn't walk away, though.  "I said it was ok, you don't have to worry about it," Peter assured him.  "You don't have to stand here and watch me."

"Well… I… umm… I wanted to ask…." Jack stammered in a whisper.

"No, Jack," Peter snapped a little impatiently.  "I never looked at you in the showers after baseball practice or on campouts or sleepovers.  You're practically my cousin. That would be nasty."

"That's not what I was going to ask," Jack explained.  "Wait a minute, what do you mean I'm nasty?  I'll have you know that I'm considered very good looking by some people."

"Your mother's opinion doesn't count," Peter snapped.  "Now, what do you want, Jack?"

"Well, I was just wondering," Jack gulped nervously.  "Were you scared when you jumped out of that car?"

"To be honest, I was more scared of coming to school today," Peter admitted.  "When I jumped out of that car, all I was thinking about was Ephraim lying there on that sidewalk bleeding.  I didn't know if he was still alive or what and I couldn't leave him." 

"Why would you be afraid to come to school?" Jack asked.

"What did you just do to me a minute ago?" Peter returned.  "I expected that and a lot worse.  People can be really mean to gays sometimes."

"I was just kidding around," Jack said a little defensively.

"Yeah, well, think about this," Peter told him.  "Derek was kidnapped because he was gay.  The gang planned to kill him and Brendan, too.  They were going to die just because they are gay.  Now do you think I had a reason to be scared to come back to school today?"

"But… everybody likes you, Peter," Jack said.  "You're like the most popular guy in the whole school."

"I might have been," Peter told him.  "Now everything's changed.  You said yourself I was different now."

"You ain't acting no different, though," Jack replied.

"That's right," Peter confirmed.  "I'm not acting different, because I'm not different.  It's just like your grandma said, you just know something more about me.  That is enough for some people to start hating me, though.  Even people who don't know me."

"That's messed up!" Jack exclaimed.  "Well, anyone that messes with you or your boyfriend will have to answer to me," he added firmly and loudly so that plenty of kids could hear him.

"Thanks," Peter smiled.

"So you really didn't think about it, you just opened the door and jumped?" Jack continued.

Peter grinned as well as he answered.  "After I saw that Ephraim was ok, that's when my arm started hurting and I was like 'Holy Crap, I just jumped out of a moving car.'"

"It's just like Romeo and Juliet or something," Jack's girlfriend observed aloud.

"Well, more like Romeo and Julio," Jack said with a laugh.  He realized that Peter might have been insulted again and started to apologize, but Peter stopped him.

"Romeo and Julio….  I like that," Peter giggled.  "Rimmer will too.  I can go home this afternoon and stand under his window.  Romeo, O Romeo, where you at boi?"

The cafeteria erupted in laughter and in less than one day, Peter went from being an outcast to a hero.  By the end of the week, he and Ephraim were being touted as the greatest of all the classic love stories.  Ephraim received a hero's welcome when he returned to classes the following week as well.

The boys weren't really surprised that their male classmates were still a bit distant.  The girls made up for it, though.  Several of them volunteered to carry Ephraim and Peter's books until they were able to do it themselves.  I got similar offers just before classes started back at the university, but I had to turn them all down.

I had been forced to sit out for the spring semester.  While I agreed with the practical reasoning for it, I didn't have to like it.  It did, however, give me plenty of time to work on the plans for the addition to the house. It had been planned to start the first week of January, but New Year's night changed all that.

Edan and the boys had done an admirable job of helping around the house until I was able to take some of the workload over again.  I couldn't help wondering if the reason was me being injured or the fact that Grandma was coming over two or three times a week to help out as well.  It was amazing how much better behaved the boys were when she was around.  I was actually considering another addition to the house that would allow her to move in.  Ok, maybe not, but the thought did cross my mind a few times.

Edan had helped me with the personal things like the toilet and bathing situation until I was able to do more for myself.  The toilet duty was the most embarrassing for me, but he assured me repeatedly that it just helped him express exactly how much he loved me.  Bath time was a different story altogether.  It was sheer torture through no fault of his.  It was just that it was exceedingly difficult at those times that he was washing me to remember that I was on restrictions against "excitement".

The bullet had damaged my lung mostly.  It had been dangerously close to my heart as well, though.  When I was finally released from the hospital, I was put on bed rest for the first full week at home.  While spending a week in bed had always been a fantasy of mine, the no sex rule ruined that dream.

Edan and the boys were certainly enjoying my recovery time.  I had regained my strength much faster than Dr. Martin had expected, and was bored sitting around the house all day.  I therefore started doing the most relaxing, non-stressful thing I could.  I started baking… a lot.  I single handedly supplied an entire bake sale in Ephraim's name for the junior high school library fund.  I had also contributed quite a bit to the snacks for the gay straight alliance at the high school for Brendan and Derek.

I was right in the middle of preparing my Cake That Doesn't Last when Janice called.  She had a couple of crises that required my help.  That was nothing unusual and I told her so.

"Don't make me come out there and tickle your scar," she threatened.  She knew the surgery incision was driving me up the wall.  It was at the itchy stage.

"Are you and Beth coming out for dinner?" I asked.  We both knew it was a standing invitation, but one which they tried not to wear out.  Not that they could have, the boys loved their aunts almost as much as they loved Edan and I.

"I can't," she whined.  "That's why I called.  Something's come up that I need your help with."

"I'm making cake," I teased mercilessly.

"Which one?" she demanded, but didn't wait for a response.  "No!  You are evil!  You know I'm on a diet.  Now, shut up so I can talk to you."

"So talk to me," I prodded.

"I have been roped into going to a conference at the state capitol next month for a week," Janice began.

"Can't you get out of it?" I asked.  "Beth is still having problems with the pregnancy isn't she?"  The fertilization had indeed been successful and the pregnancy was viable, but Beth had been put on a strict diet due to gestational diabetes and anemia.  She had also been forced to cut back on her law practice to rest more.  The doctor was threatening bed rest for the rest of the term if her health didn't settle down soon.

"Don't you think I know that?" Janice retorted.  "I have to go, though.  This is too important, and not just because it's a career boost.  I have been asked to speak at one of the meetings on the issues of same sex couples as foster parents."

"That's terrific, Janice," I congratulated her.

"They have also asked that I bring any guests that might be able to make an impact on the discussion," Janice continued.

"So you want us to go with you," I suggested.

"I thought about it, I really did," Janice started.  "I realized though that I would rather have you here for Beth and the baby," she added.  "There is no one I would feel safer leaving them with, Cam."

"I don't know nothing 'bout birthing no babies, Miss Scarlet!" I whined falsetto.

"You don't have to do the vocal impression," she observed.  "I already know you're prissy."

"Watch it woman," I growled playfully.  "So what do you want from me?"

"Well first, I was hoping you would let Derek go to the conference with me," she admitted.  "He could make a more lasting impression having been in a foster home with gay parents."

"I don't have a problem with it," I told her.  "You will still have to check with him to see if he will agree."

"Well, he won't have to pay for anything," Janice pointed out.  "Beth and I will cover all of his expenses for the trip."

"You don't have to sell me; I already agreed," I reminded her.

"Ok, there is just one other thing," she said hesitantly.

"What is that?" I queried.

"Well, there's this boy," Janice started.  "I just need an overnight placement for him.  He is scheduled to go somewhere else tomorrow."

"Janice, you have never been this nervous about asking me anything before," I pointed out.  "What's the story with this kid?"

"Well, he's almost eighteen already, and I really think he's a good kid, just needs a good example of a real home where he will be loved and supported…."

"What are you buttering me up for?  More to the point, what aren't you telling me about this kid?" I demanded.

"He was kind of sort of a little bit involved with the gang," she confessed quietly.

"Janice!" I exclaimed.

"I know, but I'm stuck here," Janice told me.  "Juvy won't keep him any more because of his age, but the family that agreed to take him in had an emergency come up.  It's only for one night, I swear.  If you don't take him, I will have to send him to a state group home for troubled teens.  You know what those places are like."

"I would have to talk this over with the family for sure," I told her firmly.  "What's his name?"

"His name is Daniel White, but he goes by D-Man," she answered.

"How clever," I mused sarcastically.

"What?" Janice asked innocently.

"D-Man, da man," I explained.

"DUH!  I never caught that before," she admitted.

"Not the brightest crayon in the box, are ya darling?" I giggled.  "I'll call you back after I talk to the boys," I promised.

The boys remembered D-Man quite well.  He had never had a problem with Brendan and Derek.  They were surprised to learn that he had been locked up.  According to them, he was basically a good guy.  They assured me that he had not been involved with the events of New Year's Day.

"Janice, I'm still a little cautious, but the boys say they are fine with D-Man," I told her when I called her back.  "We'll take him for the night."

"You're terrific!" Janice exclaimed.  "If you were a woman, I'd kiss you."

"If I were a woman, I'd be straight and still wouldn't be your type," I pointed out.

"Now all I have to do is convince D-Man that you don't want to kill him," she muttered. "I'll bring him out around 5 pm."

"That will be fine," I told her.  "Oh, and Janice, it's the Cake That Doesn't Last."

"Is that the one with the mashed bananas in it?" she asked quickly.

"It sure is," I confirmed.  "I just put it in the oven while we were talking."

"You are evil and you must be destroyed," Janice snapped before hanging up on me.

We waited to have dinner until D-Man could be there to eat with us.  He and Janice showed up promptly at a quarter till six. I had been prepared for that, though.  I knew Janice very well.

"Right on time, Janice," Edan teased.

"I'm on a diet, Edan," she warned.  "I am not my usual friendly self."

"We didn't notice a difference," Ephraim quipped.

Janice stared at him in shock as we all giggled.  "He was a nice boy before you monsters got him," she lamented as she shook her head in dismay.

"We didn't corrupt him," Derek defended.  "We just helped him get in touch with his inner smart-ass."

"You think I'm a smart-ass?" Ephraim asked quickly.  "Cool!" he grinned impishly.

The adults all rolled our eyes at that one.  I invited Janice to stay for supper, but she said that Beth was waiting at home.

"I have to bring home a strawberry milkshake and two large orders of fries," she complained.  "I thought the cravings were supposed to end with the first trimester."

"Apparently not in all cases," I observed.

"What's wrong with fries and a shake?" D-Man inquired.

"She dips the fries in the milkshake," Janice explained.

"YUCK!" six male voices said in unison.

"Well, D-Man, pull up a chair and get settled," I announced.  "We're having lasagna tonight."

"You are a sadistic bitch," Janice growled as she stormed out of the house.

D-Man only picked at his food for the longest time.  He was very quiet and didn't seem to want much conversation.  He also couldn't seem to look at any of us.  I sat and tried to ignore it as long as possible.

"Do you not like the food?" I asked him.

"No, I mean yes, I mean it's great," he stammered nervously.

"Then why aren't you eating it?" I continued.  "If you are uncomfortable about staying in a house full of gays…."

"No, sir," he corrected quickly.  "That's not it at all.  I mean I'm not gay, but that's not it."

"Is there some other reason that you are uncomfortable then?" I countered.

"No… well, yes, I guess there is," he finally confessed.  "I'm wondering why you let me stay here tonight.  I mean, I was part of the gang."  Brendan started to answer, but I cut him off.

"D-Man, did you take part in what happened New Year's night?" I asked.

"I didn't stop it," he murmured.

"That's not what I asked," I pointed out.  "Did you take an active role?  Were you one of the guys that grabbed Ephraim, Peter, and Derek at the theatre?"  He shook his head no.  "Did you join in on the gang rape of Derek at the hideout?"  Again he made a silent, but negative response.  "I know I didn't fight my way past you coming into the building," I recalled aloud.

"Lucky for me," he muttered.  "I left when I heard Death planning everything.  I should have stopped him."

"Death was psycho," Brendan observed.  "I know you, D-Man.  You're no weakling, but Death would have been dumping your body somewhere.  I got lucky and beat him once.  There is only one person who could actually stop Death, and that's exactly what he did."  He looked at me and we shared a warm smile.

"No one is going to get back at you," Derek contributed.  "We just think that you're a cool guy who deserves the same chance for a better life that we've been given."

Everyone seemed to relax a little after that.  I don't think any of us had realized how nervous we all were. Ephraim settled the tension off for good though.

"If you're too nervous to eat, can I have your lasagna, D-Man?" he asked seriously.

"Get away, little dude," D-Man scolded with a smile.  "I've been eating juvy shi… I mean rations almost two months.  I ain't gonna miss out now."  He dove into his plate with fervor after that.  He wound up eating more than Brendan and Derek together, but Ephraim was still King of the Chow Hounds.

"Dude, where does a little guy like that put that much food?" D-Man asked after dinner.

"He's got a hollow leg," Edan answered.

"Yeah, the one in the middle," Derek teased.  "That boy has a terminal case of horny."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black," I laughed.  Derek blushed, but giggled along with everyone else.

"Well, if we are that way, we must have inherited it from Dad," Ephraim quipped grinning at me as he said it.  That had me blushing as well while we all laughed out loud.

The next morning the phone rang a little after 9 am.  I was expecting Janice, so we weren't surprised that it was her on the phone.  She did shock us with what she had to say, though.  It seemed that the emergency in the foster family for D-Man was a bit more serious than Janice had been led to believe.  The couple had gotten into a fight and the wife had hit the husband in the head with a cast iron skillet.  He was now in the hospital and she was in jail.  D-Man had nowhere to go.

"Then he stays here," I told Janice simply.

"Are you sure about that?" she questioned.

"I wouldn't have said it if it weren't," I assured her.  "He stayed in Derek's room last night.  He can do it again, and as long as necessary."

"I'm not honestly sure how long that will be," she confessed.  "None of the other foster homes will even consider taking him in because of his connection to the gang."

"D-Man is welcome here as long as he needs a place," I reiterated.  "We'll take him shopping today.  He borrowed some of Brendan's clothes this morning."

"I'm afraid that given his background, he doesn't have much of anything," Janice told me.

"That's ok," I informed her.  "We'll take care of him."

D-Man walked in at just that moment.  He raised an eyebrow questioningly at the phone.  Janice asked to talk to him, so I handed the receiver to him.  They spoke for a few minutes before he hung up the phone.

"I really appreciate you guys taking me in, Mr. Ragland," he told me.  "I won't let you regret this."

"If you keep calling me Mr. Ragland, you will be the one regretting it," I threatened playfully.  "I am Cameron, or Cam.  You can even call me dad if you get comfortable enough with me to do so."

"Gee, Dad, can I borrow the car?" he grinned.

"He catches on quick," Edan laughed.

"You can ride in it," I told him.  "Get the guys; it's time to power shop."

"UGH!" Edan groaned.

"You are excused," I told my lover.  "You have your first round of tests to grade."

"Suddenly the mall sounds a lot more appealing," Edan complained.  "Brendan drives, right?" he questioned me seriously.

"If I get tired," I answered.  He gave me the evil eye, but I resisted.  "I can handle my car; it has automatic transmission and power steering."

"Dr. Martin said no strenuous activities," Edan cautioned.

"Driving relaxes me," I countered.  "I promise I will let Brendan take over at the first sign of pain."  I kissed him goodbye before he could complain any more.  I went out the French doors to join the four boys standing around my car.

"Damn!  This is a tight ride," D-Man exclaimed as I waked out.

"We'll fit fine," I told him and was rewarded with patronizing glares from the entourage.  "What?" I asked them innocently.

"He means that it is nice looking, Dad," Ephraim enlightened me.

"Oh, so it's totally radical," I said earning blank looks this time.  "Gnarly?" I tried again.  The patronizing returned.  "You boys don't know how to talk.  Get in the car, you brats," I told my giggling herd.  "Wicked?" I tried one last time to no better response.

Driving to the mall did not bother me at all.  Two and a half hours of walking around the enormous place took its toll, however.  I gave in to rational thought and asked Brendan to drive home.  Once we arrived at the driveway, however, I had him pull over and switch places with D-Man.

The boy's face lit up like a little kid on Christmas Day.  He was grinning from ear to ear as he started very slowly up the long driveway.  We were barely moving.

"I don't mean to complain, but we could get out and walk faster than this," I pointed out gently.  "I don't know about the rest of you boys, but I have to pee."  I looked directly at D-Man as I said, "That means move it, slow poke."

"Sorry," he said with a bashful grin.

Edan came out of the house as soon as the car stopped.  "Are you all right?" he asked opening the door for me.

"I'm fine," I assured my over protective lover.  "I'm a little out of shape for power shopping.  The drive into town didn't bother me at all."

"I knew you'd be tired, so I decided to make supper tonight," Edan said proudly.  "I'm going to do a frittata with the noodles that were leftover from Thursday's spaghetti."

"What's a frittata?" D-Man asked.

"It's what you get when you take all the leftovers out of the fridge and you fry them," Ephraim answered.

"A simplified definition, but not entirely inaccurate," Edan added.  "It's good, trust me."

"All of the food is good around here," Derek observed aloud.

"Unless Derek makes it," Ephraim giggled.  He ducked the playful punch Derek aimed at him.

"Derek, why don't you help D-Man take his things upstairs?" I asked.  "Ephraim, you and Brendan can help out in the kitchen."

"I can get this stuff," D-Man insisted.  "Derek doesn't have to help me.  There isn't that much anyway."

"Trust me when I say that we will all be better off if Derek is helping you," I said seriously.  "We don't want him in the kitchen."

"Et tu, Dad?" Derek quipped in mock indignity.

"Not yet I haven't.  That's why I don't want you in the kitchen," I teased.  Everyone laughed and then I announced my own plans.  "I'm going to recline on the couch," I told Edan.  "Have one of the slaveboys bring me bon bons.  The king has spoken."

"Don't you mean the queen?" Edan retorted.  The boys all started giggling as he continued.  "No bon bons before dinner, either.  They'll spoil your appetite and set a bad example for the children."

The boys were all in near hysterics as they chanted "Busted!"  Once inside the house, everyone went to their places, but I was not meant for an idle life.  I could only sit on the couch for so long.  Edan wouldn't let me in the kitchen, so I went upstairs to check on D-Man.

"It smells like a dirty locker room up here," I observed as I reached the top of the stairs.  "I thought you guys were helping to clean the house."

"We do, Dad," Derek defended.

I looked into the bathroom and saw a veritable mountain of wet towels lying on the floor.  There appeared to be a new life form growing in between the tiles in the shower.  There was also a pile of clothes around the hamper.  I didn't need to wonder if they were dirty.

"D-Man," I called, "could you go down to the kitchen and ask Brendan and Ephraim to come up here?"

Once all four boys were standing in front of me, I let them stew for a few seconds before I spoke.  I wanted to give them the chance to notice things for themselves, or failing that, use the time to think up a plausible explanation.  It seemed neither was happening, so I broke the silence.

"I won't yell at you," I began by assuring them.  "Brendan, Derek, and Ephraim hopefully know me well enough by now to know that I don't do that.  I will be glad to listen to your excuses if you feel the need to make any, but I don't ask for them.  What I will do is point out what could happen if this situation isn't corrected," I continued while indicating the bathroom conditions.

The boys suddenly developed an insatiable curiosity regarding the carpet.  They were all looking down and shifting their weight nervously.  I kept right on talking.

"I hope you are all aware of how much you mean to me," I told them.  "I have fought to protect and keep you.  I will gladly do the same again if the need should ever arise.  D-Man, I am including you in this as well.  You are one of my boys too now, and I don't want to lose a single one of you."

"Because Edan and I are a gay couple, we have to be more careful of what goes on in this house.  There are people out there who would use any excuse they could to declare us unfit to be parents.  If the state ordered an inspection of this house right now, they would remove all of you," I informed them.  I pointed again to the bathroom.  "This is unhealthy, guys."

"We're sorry, Dad," Derek said for all of them.  "We'll take care of it right now."

"Thank you," I said simply.  "D-Man, you don't have to help them on this since you have only been here one night."

"If you really mean it when you say that I am one of your boys, then I have to help," he told me firmly.

"Of course I meant it," I assured him.  "You just got here yesterday, though, and that room didn't get that way in one day."

"Ephraim still can't do a lot of physical stuff, right?" D-Man questioned.  When I nodded, he continued.  "What kind of big brother would I be if I let him hurt himself because I wouldn't help him do something that won't hurt me a bit?"

"Thanks," Ephraim said with a bit of a blush.

"Thank you, D-Man," I told him.  I turned to leave, but Ephraim stopped me with a tight hug.

"I don't want to lose you, either," he told me.  "I didn't know what having a dad really was like until I came to live here."

Derek suddenly joined in on the hug as he said, "I didn't either."  He looked directly into my eyes as he said, "You'll always be my dad, even if you can't adopt me."

"I could if you dumped my little brother," I teased softly.  Brendan gave me the evil eye stare for even suggesting it.  "Some day you two will outgrow me and leave the nest, but Bren will be my baby brother forever."

"That's right," Brendan confirmed.  "That means that I will always be younger and better looking than you."

"D-Man, don't let yourself be too influenced by the disrespectful attitudes around you," I cautioned.

"But he's right, isn't he?" D-Man replied with a smile.  "He will always be younger."

"Oh no!" I exclaimed.  "It's already too late."  We all shared a laugh before I spoke seriously again.  "Let's get to work, guys.  Ephraim, since you and I are still on restrictions, you will still be on K.P.   The rest of you can get to work swabbing the poop deck."

"EEWWW!!!  Did you have to say it like that?" Derek whined.

Once downstairs again, I learned a valuable lesson about my relationship with Edan.  We cannot work in a kitchen together.  It wasn't pretty.  I made it clear that if he hadn't already started cooking, I would have thrown him out of my kitchen.

"Your kitchen?" he asked in shock.  "I thought this was our house?"

"The house may be ours, but the kitchen is mine," I informed him.

"You bitch, you," Edan pouted playfully.  "If the kitchen is yours, what room is mine?"

"You have the whole barn," I answered.  He gasped in feigned shock.

"Do I have to separate you two?" Ephraim asked with a giggle.

We eventually got dinner finished in spite of our few disagreements and the repeated trips of the older boys through the kitchen with piles of wet and or dirty laundry.  I can admit now that it was an excellent meal.  I wouldn't have done it then of course.  I had my pride.

Later that night, Edan and I were snuggled up on the couch while he prepared for class on Monday morning.  Brendan and Derek had said goodnight before they went upstairs.  Ephraim still got into his pajamas; which was still one of Edan's old t shirts, and came back down to say goodnight.  To our surprise, D-Man came with him.  He too was wearing one of Edan's shirts, but you could tell he still had boxers on under it.  He lingered for a moment after Ephraim had returned to the bedrooms upstairs.

"Something on your mind, D-Man?" Edan asked.

"I wondered if I could talk to you," he said quietly.

"Sure you can," I told him.  "What's up?"

"I wanted to thank you guys for taking me in," he began softly.

"No problem," Edan said.  "We're glad to have you."

"That's what I wanted to talk about," the teen confessed.  "Why are you two so happy to have me here?  I mean, I know what you said yesterday about being in the gang, but…."

"You're not sure you can believe us yet; is that it?" Edan asked.

"Well, I believe that you're not upset about the gang," D-Man explained.  "I'm not really sure how to say this…."

"Just say it," I advised.  "I promise to listen and not get upset with you no matter what you have to say."

"Well, it's just that all my life I had heard that gay guys were all child molesting perverts who would do anything to get their hands on a good looking straight boy," D-Man blurted nervously.

"Are you afraid that we are going to force you to do something sexual now that we have you in our evil clutches?" I asked pointedly.  He was looking down at the floor and I could tell he tried not to let his answer show, but I caught the slightest nod of his head, and so did Edan apparently.

"Let's sort this mess out one issue at a time," Edan told the boy.  "First of all, statistically the overwhelming majority of child molesters are straight in orientation.  Second, although you are an attractive young man, I would never dream of touching you in an inappropriate way for several reasons.  The first one is the damage it would do to you emotionally and psychologically if not physically.  The most important reason is that it would violate the relationship I have with Cameron."

"I feel the same way," I added.  "I love Edan far more than I could ever lust after anyone else."

"Oh, thank god!" D-Man sighed in relief.  He must have realized how that could have sounded to us because he immediately tried to explain.  "I don't mean that you guys aren't… well, I mean if you had really wanted it, I would have to repay you for taking me in, but…."

"D-Man, even if I wanted to do something with someone, I still wouldn't unless they really wanted the same thing.  It wouldn't be worth it," Edan told him.  The boy looked a little confused by that statement.

"At the risk of offending you, I think I can explain that," I offered.  "Edan and I don't have sex; we make love.  Sex without love while physically pleasant just isn't fulfilling emotionally."

"I do feel better about staying here," D-Man informed us.  "I have to tell you, though, that I'm still a little uncomfortable about touching you guys, you know hugging you."

"That's fine, D-Man," I assured him.  "This is your home for as long as you need it.  We want you to be comfortable here.  Brendan doesn't hug us very often, either," I pointed out.

"Thanks, guys," he said with a soft smile.  "One more thing," he added as he stepped on the bottom stair.  "Could you guys just call me Daniel?"

"I guess we're a bit old to use the cool names, huh?" I asked with a wink.

"No, no," he protested.  "I just got to thinking about something Brendan told me today.  He says he doesn't even answer to Blade anymore.  The name reminds him of what he was, and it distracts him from the future.  He says Blade would never have been anything but a street punk waiting for someone like to Death to come along and waste him.  Brendan can be anything he wants."

"That makes a lot of sense," Edan remarked.

"Yeah, it did to me too," Daniel told us.  "Besides, I'm not 'da man'.  You da man," he said pointing at me.

"Me?" I questioned.

"Dude, the guys have told me about you," Daniel smiled.  "You're a freaking samurai.  You not only saved their lives, but you did it by single-handedly taking down the whole gang, Death included.  Plus, they told me you saved a couple of other people back when you were our age.  You rock!"  He paused in thought before continuing with a much more serious expression.

"Brendan, Derek, and Ephraim love you two," he said quietly.  "I mean they really love you.  They're not here because you make them stay or even because you give them stuff.  Those three are here because you are the best thing that has ever happened to them.  You guys made them feel like they were part of a real family.  Guys like me and Brendan and Derek, we don't get that unless by some miracle somebody like you comes along.

"I've known Brendan my whole life just about," he continued.  "We were friends way back when his streetname was Bran Muffin."

"Bran Muffin?" Edan and I both questioned.

"Yeah, he used to be a nasty little shit," Daniel laughed out loud.  "I have never seen him as happy as he is now though.  He found where he belongs."

"You don't know how happy I am to hear that," I told Daniel.

"That's why you're so cool, dude," Daniel replied.  "You get happy just knowing that he's happy.  No one's ever cared about guys like us that much before."

"Well, start getting used to it," Edan advised.  "I think you will find it worth the effort."

"I think so too," Daniel agreed.  "Goodnight, guys."

"Sleep well, Daniel," I told him.  "Oh and Daniel, you don't have to lock your door tonight."  He blushed a bit before turning and walking upstairs.

The Walborn's came over for dinner the following night.  Brooke and Daniel hit it off immediately.  They could hardly keep their eyes off one another during dinner.  She promised to show him around the area anytime he wanted to get together.  Everyone else at the table shared a knowing smile as they blushed a bit.

"So Daniel, what are your plans for life?" Dan asked our new resident.

"I don't really know," the teen answered truthfully.  "Up until now, it never really mattered what I wanted to do.  I never thought much farther than the gang," he confessed.

"You know, you were always good at building things for the gang," Brendan pointed out.  "Have you thought about construction?"

"I could try that I suppose," Daniel agreed.  "Who would hire someone like me, though?"

"I think I could help you out there," Dan told him.  "Have Brooke bring you by the site tomorrow afternoon for a look around.  We can talk more then."

"I will be honest with you, sir," Daniel told the man.  "I have a record."

"So do Brendan and Derek," I pointed out.  "Did you, like them, occasionally have to steal to survive?"  He nodded his head but didn't speak.  "Would you ever consider doing that again, knowing what it could cost you now?"

"I never had anything to lose before," he mused aloud.

"Now you could lose a lot," Karen pointed out.

"Nothing I could put in my pockets will ever be worth as much as the feelings I have right now," Daniel told us all.  "I have a family now, and maybe even a real future.  Those are things I never experienced before.  My mom is a hooker.  She has no idea who my father is.  She let me know real clear that all I was to her was a business loss.  The real reason I couldn't go back to her when I got out of juvy was that she refused to take me back."

"No matter how many times I hear it, I can't imagine a mother not wanting to have her child near her," Karen said as she shook her head silently.

"Don't worry, you can borrow my mom when you want one," Peter offered.  Daniel looked first at Karen and then grinned at Brooke.  There was another round of pointed looks between the adults around the table.

"It looks like that path through the woods between here and our house is going to be awfully busy," Dan said aloud, causing four kids to blush this time.

Edan fussed at me when I cheated on the doctor's instructions in any way, but especially when I started driving again before I was officially cleared for it.  I started a week earlier than I was supposed to, but I couldn't stand being cooped up in the house any longer.  What Dr. Martin didn't know wouldn't hurt me.

I drove myself to the doctor's office for my last appointment.  Edan and I had made plans to meet at his office for lunch after I finished with Dr. Martin.  As expected, I was given a clean bill of health.

"Have you had any problems while driving?" the doctor asked.  He saw my facial expression and said, "You don't get all the way through medical school by being stupid.  Now, how much else did you cheat on?"

"We didn't cheat on THAT," I promised.  "I've been a good boy and haven't had sex since December."

"Good boy like hell," Dr. Martin scoffed.  "Edan's been the good boy.  He hasn't given in to you."

"He told you, didn't he?" I demanded.

"I'm your doctor," he defended.  "It's my job to know my patients."  He laughed at my upraised eyebrow.  "Ok, I did run into Edan on campus the other day," he confessed with a grin.  "I was there doing a guest lecture and went to lunch in the Student Union.  He was there as well."

"That snitch!" I fussed happily.  "All right, I admit it.  I'm addicted to sex.  If he weren't so good at it, I wouldn't be so tempted."

"T. M. I."  Dr. Martin was laughing as he said it, though.  "Well, as of now, you are a free man.  All restrictions are lifted, with the one exception that I expect you to use common sense.  Know your limits and respect them."

I had never heard a more welcome pronouncement from a doctor.  I felt as if I could have flown to Edan's side right then.  Dr. Martin seemed to sense my impatience, because he told the receptionist to draw up the paperwork, but hang onto it until after lunch.  I promised to return and sign everything and settle up that afternoon.

When I got to the college, I parked in the visitor spaces and immediately missed my student parking permit.  Visitor parking was in front of the administration building, which was halfway across the campus from the Humanities Department where Edan worked.  I had only gotten a few feet when I heard someone call out.

"Hey! Hot Stuff!"  I naturally kept walking.  "Yo, Blondie.  Wait up for a minute."

"Are you talking to me?" I asked after looking around and realizing that there was only one other person anywhere near me.  That other figure was a frail looking man with a cane.  At first I thought he was very old, but as he drew closer, I could see that he was about the same age as Edan.  He was either recovering or suffering from some catastrophic illness.

"You're the only blond stud puppy I see," the man replied.  "It's a shame I didn't meet you two months ago.  I wouldn't have sold my studio.  Oh well, at this point in my life, timing isn't a reliable commodity."

"What can I do for you?" I prompted

"God, why do I get the best offers at the worst times?" the stranger snorted. "Despite the myriad of possibilities that question brings to mind, I was wondering if you could direct me to the Humanities building. I want to surprise an old friend."

"I can do better than that," I answered.  "I'm meeting someone there for lunch, so I'll walk with you."

"I wouldn't want to slow you down," he protested.

"You won't," I assured him.  "It could be me making you wait.  I am seriously out of shape."

"I don't see anything wrong with your shape at all," he said with a grin and a wink.  I was blushing from the compliments in record time.  "Well, I'll be damned," the man laughed.  "I haven't seen a cute boy blush since... well, the person I'm going to meet.  That's been a while back.  I was beginning to think that blushing was a lost art, but you sweet thing, are a master of the craft."  Of course that only made me redder, much to his delight.

We began making our way across the campus as I continued to feel my face burning.  I attempted to change the direction and tone of the conversation.  I thought that it would be less embarrassing for me if he were talking about himself instead of me.

"You mentioned a studio," I began.  "Are you a photographer?"

"Film studio, gorgeous," the stranger corrected.  "I'm a producer, or was until I sold out last week."

"That must be nice," I said politely.  I was suddenly aware of a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"The fringe benefits were certainly nice," he said with a laugh.  "I made erotic gay films.  I officially retired last week."  Two and two now made four.

"You're here to see Edan, aren't you?" I could only whisper.  The gnawing feeling was now a stabbing pain worse than the gunshot had been.  Was I about to lose the man who had taught me to love and be loved as I was always meant to have done?

"I came to tell him how stupid I was 20 years ago," Randy confirmed.  My heart and stomach both sank to my feet instantly.

"Are you hoping for reconciliation?" I asked weakly.

"It's too late for that now, even if we did want it," Randy said sadly.  I believed in Edan and our love, but still the relief that washed over me swept my knees right out from under me.  I sank onto a bench beside the sidewalk.  It's a good thing it was so close, or I would have hit the ground.

"Are you all right, kid?" Randy asked me

 "I'm just a little winded," I lied.  "I am recovering from surgery."

"Well, damn cutie," Randy scolded.  "You should have said so.  Why were they cutting on you?"

"I was shot in the chest," I explained.

"Now who would want to hurt a doll like you?"

"A couple of my family members were kidnapped by a gang on New Year's Day," I explained.  "It won't happen again," I growled.

"I'll bet it won't," Randy said as he looked at the expression on my face.  Changing the subject, he asked, "Is Edan one of your professors?"

"No, he's my….We used to be neighbors," I stammered.  I didn't want to make Randy as uncomfortable as I was.

"I thought for a second there you were going to say something else," Randy laughed nervously.  He looked at my face and then sat down beside me.

"Edan always said I wasn't actually his type," he mumbled.  "I'd say his tastes have improved."

"Thank you," I responded somewhat guiltily.

"I should have expected this," Randy sighed.  "It was stupid of me to think that he wouldn't move on in twenty years."

There was an uncomfortable silence between us for a moment.  Randy suddenly gasped in fear.  He turned to face me quickly.

"You said your family had been kidnapped…." he whispered.

"It wasn't Edan," I assured him. "It was our two younger sons, and our youngest son's boyfriend," I explained. 

"You and Edan have kids?" Randy asked.  He continued before I could respond to him.  "He always wanted that with me, but I was too self absorbed.  I should go," Randy suddenly announced.  "I don't want to mess up Edan's life.  He finally has what he always wanted.  If he sees me, it will just hurt him all over again.  I can't bear that on my conscience."

"You came to tell him goodbye, didn't you?" I confronted Randy.  "You're dying and you want his forgiveness."

"I don't look for forgiveness," Randy told me.  "I'm not that kind of a guy.  I just wanted to see him again.  I couldn't make him happy myself, but I really wanted him to be.  I wanted to see Edan happy."

"You shouldn't leave without at least seeing him, talking to him," I insisted.  "Tell him what you just told me.  He deserves to know.  For what it's worth, he did wait for you.  There was no else between you and me.  Edan was alone for twenty years."

"Somehow I always thought he would show back up some day," Randy choked out.  "I didn't realize how much I needed him or loved him until he was gone.  I thought there would be time for us, until one day the doctor told me my time had run out."

"What is it, may I ask?" I inquired softly.

"No one ever seems to believe me, but it's not AIDS," he said sadly.  "I have plain old ordinary cancer.  How very ungay of me."

"I have read some fascinating studies on…." I began.

"Herbal diet supplements, strict food guidelines, etc." Randy finished for me.  "I've already tried it all, but it's too little, too late."

"I'm sorry," I told him sincerely.  "You should still see Edan.  He deserves the chance for closure."

"You're right," Randy agreed.  "That's why I came here.  Now that I am here, though, I don't know if I can go through with it.  I don't want to hurt him."

"Look at it this way," I said, "He'll be more hurt if you don't give him this chance.  It's too late to back out now anyway."

"Why is that?" Randy asked.

"Cammy, I thought you were going to meet me in my office," Edan called as he walked up.  "Who have you been yapping with this… Oh my god."

"It's been a long time, Edan," Randy said softly.  "It looks like twinkie here has been taking pretty good care of you."

"I can't blame this on Cameron," Edan replied, patting his stomach.  "He is an incredibly good cook, but most of this came from the sedentary life of a college professor.  Without the jetsetter lifestyle of the rent boy, the weight piled on over the years.  You still look great, though."

"Bullshit, Edan," Randy snorted. "I look exactly like what I am; a walking corpse."

"We may not be twenty something anymore, but we aren't that old yet," Edan protested.  "We have plenty of good years ahead of us."

"It looks like you have some great years ahead of you," Randy said with a smile toward me.  "You have a hot little twink boyfriend, and what sounds like a wonderful family.  You look a lot happier now than you did the last time I saw you."

"My life is pretty full," Edan agreed.  "I am happier than I have been in a long time."

"You don't have to spare my feelings," Randy told him.  "It's ok to tell me that you are happier now than you were with me."

"That wouldn't be true, Randy," Edan replied.  "I was just as happy then.  The difference is that I was never completely satisfied before.  Don't get me wrong, you were a fantastic lover.  I wanted more out of life than just great sex though."  He looked quickly at both Randy and I and added, "Before either of you asks, I will never tell anyone which of you is the better lover, so don't even try it."

I looked at Randy and said, "I'm sure you were better.  I haven't had any male to male experience other than Edan, so I don't know how to please him as well as you would."

"Experience doesn't make you better at something," Randy countered.  His eyes grew wide in surprise suddenly.  "Wait a minute, did you just say that you were a virgin when you and Edan got together?"  I blushed as I nodded yes.  I suddenly found myself wondering how I had been so bold as to admit that to a stranger.  "No wonder Edan looks so happy now.  You win, cutie, you win."  He went on to explain.  "With me, he had a playmate, someone to have sex with.  You are the total package though.  You are the life partner he wanted me to be, plus you were a cherry.  You make me wish I could stick around and try to find the same thing myself.  God knows there were plenty of horny little gold diggers that wanted to snare me into a relationship, but there was never anyone like you in my life."

"That's because there isn't anyone else like Cammy, he's one of a kind," Edan said proudly.  "Why don't you stick around for a while?  We were great friends once before we started into the business.  I have missed that the most, you know.  As for the other, it's never too late to settle down."

"I've missed our friendship, too," Randy agreed.  "Unfortunately, it is too late for me.  That's the reason I'm here, babes.  I'm here to say goodbye in person."

"I don't understand," Edan said slowly.  "What do you mean?"

"Edan, I have cancer," Randy admitted quietly.  "I only have a couple of months left, if that."

"No!" Edan cried out.  "This isn't funny, Randy!" he snapped.  "I love Cameron and the boys too much to ever leave them.  Don't lie to me just to try and win me back or something."

"Edan, look at me," Randy demanded.  "Do I look like I'm lying?  I'm dying, babes."

"Why don't you two go to lunch together?" I suggested.  "You guys need to talk.  I can just go home.  I'm a little tired anyway."

"I didn't come here to get between you two," Randy protested.  "If you guys had plans, then go ahead."

"Well, actually, I cleared my afternoon schedule so we could go back home," Edan told me with the faintest hint of a blush.  He didn't do that often, so it was rather significant that he did now.  It meant that he had romantic plans for us for the afternoon.

"You guys do that then," Randy insisted.  "I'll just go back to my hotel room and rest for a while."

A glance at Edan and I had the confirmation I needed.  "I won't hear of it," I told Randy firmly.  "You are coming with us."  Two sets of raised eyebrows had me blushing hotly instantly.  "You both knew perfectly well what I meant.  You and Edan can talk while I prepare dinner.  If you get tired, you can rest in one of the bedrooms."

"You could stay with us in the guest room upstairs rather than being alone in some cheap roach motel," Edan added.  "Before you deny it, I know you too well to believe you have stopped being cheap on the motel stays."

"A bed is a bed, as far as motels go.  Why pay a fortune for it if you don't have to?" Randy asked.  "But really, I couldn't intrude on you guys."

"What intrusion?" I asked.  "You will be the visiting faculty, there to teach the boys and I all the dirty little secrets in Edan's past."

"Now wait a minute!" Edan exclaimed.

"You stay out of this," I snapped playfully.  "Come on, Randy.  We can talk on the way.  Did you drive here?"

"No, I've had to give up driving," Randy answered.  "I sold my car a few weeks ago.  I only have one set of wheels at home now.  I just couldn't bring myself to part with it."

"You don't mean that you've still got the bus?" Edan asked from behind us.

"Sure do," Randy confirmed.  "I had new curtains made for it and got it repainted a couple of years ago, though.  The hotties aren't as impressed with it as they used to be, but it can still hold an entire film crew and cast fairly comfortably for the two days it takes to do a location shoot."

"I don't watch them, but I knew you were still in the business," Edan said quietly.  "You should be proud, your studio is consistently ranked at the top of the lists, right up there with Bel Ami."

"Not anymore," Randy said.  "I sold the business last week.  I made quite a bit of money for you on the deal."

"For me?" Edan questioned.

"Who else do I have to leave my money to?" Randy answered.  "As it stands right now, you and the American Cancer Society are my only heirs.  They get one mill, and you get everything else."

"Randy, I don't know what to say," Edan gasped.

"Nothing to say," Randy told him.  "Like I said, there ain't no one else I would want to leave it to, anyway.  Besides the house is still half in your name anyway."

"You still live in the cottage?" Edan exclaimed.

"Best place in the world to sit and watch the beach butts," Randy grinned impishly.

"Don't you mean beach bums," I asked.

"Butts or bums, it's an ass either way," he retorted.  "I got the majority of my talent right off the beach behind that house.  Some of them very talented, some of them extremely popular, but none of them ever held a candle to Babes, here, though."

"Let's not glorify the business too much in front of the kids tonight," Edan requested.

"Are you ashamed of yourself, your past, or me?" Randy questioned.

"I'm not ashamed of any of it," Edan answered. "It's just that I don't want the boys to think they could get into the business and get out of school."

"No, worries there, Babes," Randy assured us.  "All my boys signed contracts agreeing to stay in school or be dumped from the stable.  This business is for the young.  You have to have something to support the rest of your life."  He paused for a moment, presumably thinking of some of the young men he had known through the business.  When he spoke again, he changed the direction of the conversation.  "So tell me about your boys."

"Daniel is our foster son, and is a senior in high school," Edan told him.  "He is the token straight boy in the house.  He is dating the girl next door."

"Brendan is my younger half brother," I continued.  "He and I met by accident a few months ago and later discovered our relationship.  He is partnered with Derek, our other foster son.  They are both high school juniors."

"We also have a son that we have officially adopted," Edan took over again.  "His name is Ephraim, and he is twelve years old and is paired off with the neighbor's son."

"Mighty convenient neighbors," Randy observed.  "Do they know about… well, how much do they know about you and your boys?"

"Dan and Karen know all about all of us," I told him.  "They are some of our closest friends," I went on.

"Nice wheels," Randy said as he caught sight of my car.

"I like it," I admitted proudly.  "The boys love it."

"I'll bet they do," he laughed.  "Who wouldn't like this?"

As I was getting into the car, I suddenly remembered that I still had to stop back by the doctor's office.  I told Edan and Randy this and they both said they had no objections to the small detour on the way home.  It only took a minute to run in and finish the paperwork.  We were on the way home in no time.

Randy was very polite about the farm, but I could tell he was a city boy.  He kept glancing around nervously as if he was expecting something.  I finally asked him if something was wrong.

"I was thrown from a horse during a shoot once," he answered.  "I've been afraid of farm animals ever since."

"Well, the only animals around here are the two legged variety," I assured him.

He visibly relaxed after that, which was when I began to notice how tired he was getting. There was still awkwardness between him and Edan as well.  I realized they were going to need a little push if they were ever going to get things settled between them.

"Edan, take Randy up to the guest room," I ordered.  "Don't come back out until you two have talked over everything you are avoiding saying in front of me."

"You're sending Edan to a bedroom with me?" Randy asked.  "I must look really tired."

"I trust both of you," I replied.  "Of course there is also the fact that if Edan does cheat on me, what I did to that gang at New Years will look like a Boy Scout picnic."

"You mentioned something about that earlier," Randy said.  "What happened?"

"I can get you the newspaper articles or the film coverage from the television station," Edan offered happily.

"I thought we got rid of all those newspapers," I said sternly.  Edan just coughed and began helping Randy up the stairs.  A few minutes later Edan joined me in the kitchen.  He walked up behind me and laid his head on my shoulder.  I felt his tears on my neck.

"He was so weak and tired that I had to help him into the bed for a nap," Edan murmured.  "I told him we could talk later."

"I can't say that I know what you are going through or feeling, but I know this is difficult for you," I told him while returning his embrace.

"I don't know what I ever did to deserve you," Edan told me as he nuzzled my ear.

"You probably pissed someone off," I joked before squirming away from him.  "Don't get me started when we can't finish things," I scolded playfully.

"Don't talk bad about my Cammy," he said as he tapped my forehead with his hand.  "I love you, you little studlet."

"I love you too, my cuddly bear," I replied giving in to another snuggle session.

"Oh, good grief boys, can you pile it any higher or deeper?" We both turned to see Grandma Sarah standing in the doorway.

"Like you and Reynold don't get all cute and mushy from time to time," Edan retorted.

"There is nothing merely cute about my stud muffin," she said quickly.  "That man is so hot he can melt my butter just by walking in the room."

"Well there went my appetite," Edan complained melodramatically.

"Oh, poor baby," I cooed.  "Well more stir fry for the rest of us."

"You're doing stir fry tonight?" he asked excitedly.

"I thought that would restore your appetite," I smiled.

"You two are supposed to be going out to lunch today, aren't you?" Grandma asked as she sat a couple of bags of groceries on the counter.

"My, what big bags of food you have Grandma," Edan quipped. 

"Plans changed," I told Grandma.  "Randy is here."

"Randy as in your ex, Randy," she asked Edan who simply nodded.

"Is this a bad time for me to be here?" she asked gently.

"No, you're fine," I assured her.  "He's upstairs in the guest room taking a much needed nap."

"He's here in the house?" she gasped.  "It is a bad time for me to be here."

"No, it isn't," Edan insisted.  "Randy just came to say goodbye."

"Didn't you say that twenty years ago?"

"Well, actually we didn't," he replied as he thought back.  "We said we would see each other later."  He looked up at Grandma and I and said, "I guess this is later, huh?"

"I don't think I follow," Grandma said, her confusion obvious in her voice.

"Randy is dying of cancer," I explained.  "He came to give Edan and himself some closure before he loses the chance forever.  He also wanted to let Edan know that he was mentioned in Randy's will."

"Who cares about the money?  Are you boys all right with this?" she asked directly.

"He isn't my life anymore," Edan told her.  "I will always care for him on some level, but I have so much more with Cam and the boys than I ever did with him."

"Well, at least your priorities are still in order," Grandma stated firmly.  "I don't mean for that to be as harsh as it sounded, but you understand what I'm getting at, don't you?"

"You are just looking out for your family, and we love you for it," Edan told her then gave her a hug.  "You might be a mother to Cam, but I can't help thinking of you as a big sister I never had."

"Well, that sounds a little incestuous somehow, but as they say, 'the closer the kin, the better the skin,'" she laughed.

"EEWWWW!!!!  Yuck!" I groaned.  Edan turned rather green as well.

"You're his mother all right," Edan said seriously.  "You have the same twisted sense of humor."

"Keep it up and I'll show you my sense of humor at the dinner table when you get served black eyed peas and cornbread while we eat stir fry," I warned him.

"NO!!" he exclaimed.  "I'll be good.  Please, no prison food."

"You don't know what's good for you if you don't like peas and cornbread," Grandma told him.

"Don't waste your time," I cautioned her.  "I have tried and tried.  I can't get through to him."

"By the way, why are you here bearing food?" Edan asked Grandma.

"Your boys called me last night and asked me to come out and fix up a romantic little dinner for the two of you for tonight," she answered.  "They knew the doc was going to cut Cam loose today, so they planned to be gone tonight to give you guys some privacy as a little early Valentine's Day present."

"Where are they going to be tonight?" Edan asked before I could.

"They are having their own boys' night out," she told us.  "They are going to a movie first, and then they plan to spend the night at the little cabin tonight."

"Those sneaky little angels," Edan murmured with a smile.

"Well, their plans will have to be postponed a bit," I said firmly.  "I'll call Brendan's cell phone and act like I don't know anything about the plans for tonight.  Can you stay and join us?" I asked her.

"I would, but I can't," she replied sadly.  "Reynold has asked me out tonight.  He says he has something very special to talk to me about tonight.  I can't be sure, but I think he is going to pop the question.  If he does, I am going to say yes."

"Well, of course you are," I said with a quick hug.  "Congratulations."  Edan and I hugged her and congratulated her again, but shooed her away again so that she could get ready for her date.

"Cam, would you be upset if I went out to the barn for a while?" Edan asked after Grandma left.  "I know we were planning to spend the day together, but I really need some time alone to… I don't know how to say it; absorb the shock, I guess."

"You go ahead, teddy bear," I told him.  "Just remember that I love you and I will always be here for you."

"I know, Cam," he smiled warmly.  "That means a lot, and helps more than you can possibly know."  He walked out of the house, and I set about working in the kitchen. 

I was off restricted duties now, and I was going to make the most of it.  My kitchen needed some attention.  I loved Edan and the boys, but at times I would swear they were animals in disguise as people.  They had tried to clean up behind themselves, but they just weren't thorough enough to satisfy me.

"I was right, you know."  I looked around to see Randy standing in the doorway.  "It was a mistake to come here, on so many levels."  He came in and sat on one of the breakfast bar stools as he continued speaking.  "I was doing ok with it until he helped me into bed.  His arms were around me, and I could smell his cologne.  I looked into those eyes of his and…. I'm sorry; I shouldn't be telling you this."

"It's all right," I assured him.  "I know the power of those eyes, too, you know."

"Well, if you don't mind my saying so, you've got some pretty potent special powers of your own."  He laughed as I blushed again.  "That is your most powerful weapon right there," he told me.  "Never mind all the samurai gear.  Mary Tyler Moore may have turned the world on with her smile, but you do a much better job with your blush."

"Watch it, Cameron," Edan warned me with a wink.  "Randy is a professional sweet talker.  He could sell ice cubes to Eskimos."

"I haven't said anything that isn't true," Randy defended himself with a grin.  "I swear it on my grave."  He must have seen the look on our faces because he quickly apologized.  "Sorry guys, poor choice of words, I guess.  While we're on the subject, however, you two should know my final wishes.  When the time comes, I want my ashes sprinkled on the beach behind the house.  I tried to have it cleared by the city commission, but I don't expect to live long enough for them to make a decision.  The options are to leave me in a jar somewhere until they do give their permission, or just sneak out in the middle of the night and dump me anyway."

Edan must have had the same look on his face that I did because Randy apologized again.

"Guys, I know this may be uncomfortable for you, especially you, Edan," he told us.  "It's just that I've had a few months to accept what's happening to me.  I also know that I may not have more than a few more days to before I can't communicate any longer to tell you what I want done."

"I will take care of the details for you, Randy," I assured him.  "I don't mean to insult you, but I am basically a stranger.  It will be easier for me."

"It's not every guy that gets to bury the competition literally," Randy joked morbidly.

"I'd rather consider you a friend instead of competition," I informed him.

"I'd like that," Randy agreed.  "I'll be going back home tomorrow…."

"So soon?" Edan asked, cutting him off.

"Babes, you have a really great life here," Randy began.  "You don't need the ex hanging around complicating things for you."

"You can't complicate things unless I allow you the chance," Edan responded. 

"If you're worried about me, don't be," I added.  "I told you I trust both of you.  If I didn't, you wouldn't be in my home right now.  You are a part of Edan's life, whether you leave tomorrow or not.  If you stay, you both get the chance for closure to your relationship.  I think you both need that.  You're dying and nothing any of us can do will change that.  If Edan gets the chance to say goodbye, I will have to deal with your memory as competition.  I won't do that."

"This is an awfully smart blonde you found for yourself, Babes," Randy told Edan seriously.  "Maybe we should call the government or something.  Alert the media at the very least."

"Now that kind of treatment will get you cold oatmeal for supper around here, buddy," I told him with a grin.  "You don't want that tonight."

"What's so special about tonight, besides the fact that I have interrupted everyone's plans for Valentine's Day?" Randy asked me.

"Tonight is our last night with a kitchen," Edan answered for me.  "Tomorrow morning we start the remodel of the house.  The kitchen is being updated into the twentieth century, and we are adding a new wing onto the Master Bedroom."

"Wings in the bedroom?  Sounds kinky," Randy commented as I felt my face begin to blush.

"Wouldn't be the first time," Edan observed, referring to the private Halloween party he and I had.  I had dressed up as an angel and he was a devil.  I was thoroughly corrupted that night.  Both Edan and Randy burst into laughter as my face went redder than it had since I was a teenager.

"That sounds like it would have made a hell of a video," Randy observed.  "I wish I'd thought of it when I had the studio."

"No videos for me, thank you very much," I insisted.  Randy held his hands up in surrender.

"I didn't mean to imply that," he assured me.  "You can take the producer out of the studio, but you can't get the studio out of the producer," he added with a shrug.

A short time later the boys made it home from school.  As the three of them came in the French doors in the dining room, they all came and stood beside me and glared at Randy.  I could see an almost visible wall of distrust surrounding them.

"Guys, this is my old friend Randy," Edan introduced.  "Randy, this is Brendan, Derek, and Ephraim."

"Wasn't there four boys?" Randy asked in confusion.

"These guys are still in school," I answered.  "Daniel is being home schooled three days a week and works for the next door neighbor's construction company the other four.  Today is a work day for him, so he won't be home for another hour or so."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, guys," Randy offered his hand, but no one took it.

"Guys, what just happened here?" I demanded.

"I can't be nice to a guy who is just here to try to take Pop away from us," Ephraim spat out.

"Ephraim, where would you get such an idea?" Edan snapped.  "I can't be taken away unless I am willing to go.  I will never leave Cameron for anyone, not even Randy," he continued.  "To be honest, I am rather insulted that you guys would think that I am so unfaithful."  Edan turned and walked out of the house toward the barn.

"Congratulations, boys," I snapped.  "I don't think you could have hurt him anymore if you had driven a knife into his chest."

"But, we didn't mean it that way," Derek stammered.  "It's him we don't trust," he added pointing at Randy.

"Randy is a guest in our home," I said coldly.  "If you can't be civil to him, then you can all go upstairs.  NOW!"

"Dad, we…."

"Upstairs, boys, please," I said more calmly than I felt.  "I will come up and talk with you later."

"Let's get it out of the way now, shall we?" Randy asked.  "Guys, I am so glad to see you act this way."

"You want us to get in trouble so Pop won't like us anymore," Ephraim said emotionally.

"Ephraim, do you really think there is anything or anyone that could ever make your Pop stop loving you?" Randy asked the boy.  When Ephraim shook his head negatively, Randy continued.  "That's right.  Why, the first thing Edan told me about when he saw me today were you boys."

"Really?" Ephraim asked through a sniffle.

"Really, really," Randy answered.  "He is so proud of you boys and loves you all so much.  You see he wanted to have a family like you years ago when we were together, but I didn't."

"We just stabbed Edan right in the heart," Brendan thought aloud.

"Pretty much," Randy told them.  "And you did at a time when he needs you guys to stand by him.  I came here to see Edan alright, but not to steal him away.  I came to tell him goodbye.  I have cancer, boys.  I only have another couple of months to live."  He paused as his words sunk in.  "I knocked Edan on his ass emotionally today.  I haven't seen him in over twenty years, and when I do, I tell him I'm dying.  That had to be about the worst thing a person could do to him."

"No what we did was worse," Derek said quietly.

"Yes it was," Edan said from the doorway.

"POP!" Ephraim cried out as he ran to hug Edan.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to make you feel bad.  Don't hate me, please."

"I could never hate any of you," Edan told the boy as he returned the hug.  "I can be really hurt by you, though.  I thought you guys didn't love me or trust me, if you thought I would run off the first time I got the chance."

"Edan, I'm really sorry, too," Brendan said softly.  "I don't know how I would feel if I was going through something like this, but I know it would hurt a lot more if you guys weren't there for me."

"I know you guys love me," Edan admitted.  "I just had to step away for a minute so I could realize that you would never mean it the way that came out."

"Edan only looks like a hardcase," Randy observed.  "He is one of the biggest teddy bears I know on the inside, though."

"That's what Dad calls him," Ephraim piped up.  "Pop calls him Slut Puppy when he doesn't think we can hear him."

"That's enough with the nicknames, Rimmer," I pointed out through my continuing blush.  Ephraim's face soon matched mine as he quickly shut up.

"My nick name for him was always Babes," Randy admitted.

"What did you call him?" Derek asked Edan.

"Never you mind," Edan answered quickly as he clamped his hands over Ephraim's ears.

"OOO, it musta been a good one," Ephraim giggled.

"Never you mind, either, little boy," Edan growled playfully.

"So how long can you stay, Uncle Randy?" Ephraim asked with his best imitation of angelic innocence.

"Uncle Randy," Randy mused.  "I never thought that would sound that good."

"Did you keep making movies after Edan left to come here?" Brendan asked.

"Yes, I did," Randy admitted.  "I wasn't acting in them after that, though.  I started working behind the camera."

"What's that mean?" Ephraim asked.

"He got to suck the guys so they would be hard for their scenes," Derek answered.

"Derek!" I called.  He mumbled an apology, but it wasn't very sincere.

"Well, someone does do that," Randy continued.  "That wasn't my job, though.  I became a director and later a producer.  After that I bought the studio.  I just sold it a short time ago."

"COOL!" Ephraim gasped.  "You got to watch all those guys doing stuff and tell them what to do?"

"It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it," Randy laughed.  "It wasn't as glamorous as it sounded though.  For instance, did you boys realize that when you see a guy in the movie squirt, what he's really doing is squeezing a packet of wallpaper paste in his hand?"

"Wallpaper paste?" Derek asked.  "YUCK!"

"Well, if he actually shot off, it would take forever to film a whole movie," Randy explained.

"Wait until I tell Peter! He won't believe it," Ephraim giggled some more.

"When have you and Peter seen movies like that?" I asked sternly.  The older boys both blushed and looked away, giving me part of my answer.

"We found it in the machine already in the den upstairs," Ephraim confessed.

"What did I tell you that very first day could happen if you looked at something you weren't allowed to while you're living here?" I pressed.

"You said that the government could say that I couldn't stay anymore, and they might take Derek and Brendan too," Ephraim mumbled.

"That's right," I said loudly for the benefit of the other boys.  "Janice would have to take all of you into foster care, and Edan and I might go to jail."  All three boys sobered at that thought.

"We'll be more careful next time, Dad," Derek promised.

"I'll never watch another one as long as I live," Ephraim vowed.

"Yeah right," we all said in unison, causing Ephraim to blush all the way down to his feet.

"Well, I won't get caught,"

"Sure you won't," I said sarcastically.

"Jeeze guys, you'd think I was some sort of pervert or something," Ephraim complained.  "Just because that's what got me into trouble with my sperm donor…."

"Ok, that's enough of this conversation," I cut him off.  "Go upstairs and get washed up.  You guys will have to have my cooking tonight after all."

"That's the best Valentine's present I can think of," Brendan said honestly.

"Well, I could come up with a few other suggestions," Edan said with a wink.

"No wonder the boys are so bad," I fussed at him.  We all laughed as we waited for Daniel to come home.

Now that I was released from Doc's orders of nonexertion, I was ready to throw myself into the remodeling of the kitchen.  We had planned the project to begin the first week of January, but of course,  New Year's eve had changed all that.  I don't know if it was the six week long imprisonment in my own  home, or just a case of Spring Fever, but I was chomping at the bit to get started with the renovations.

I was so impatient that when I walked into the kitchen that morning and that one particular cabinet door stuck, as it usually did, I walked right back out of the room, through the French doors in the dining room, across the side yard and into the barn.  I came back with the toolbox from Edan's workshop.

In a few minutes I had removed all of the cabinet doors and stacked them into a pile in the middle of the floor.  I was bent over to pick up the top couple of doors to get rid of them when Randy walked in behind me.  I didn't hear him at first, but he called my attention rather quickly.

"Damn! What a sight to start the day with," he said with a chuckle.  "That almost makes me want to stick around.  I just can't do it, though.  I'm too tired," he added seriously.

I turned to suggest that go back to bed and rest some more, when I realized that he was referring to something much more permanent.

"I want you to take me to the airport today," he told me quietly.  "Don't ask me to explain, but I know the time is here.  I don't want him to see me go.  I don't want him to remember me dead."

"I'm sure he won't," I told Randy.  I understood what he was saying and why, however.  He was still trying to save Edan from pain.  "I'll take you whenever you need to go," I told him.  "As long as you say goodbye to him before you leave."

"Damn, you're a slavedriver," Randy teased.

"Don't tell me he's put you to work around the house, too," Edan joked as he walked into the kitchen.  He looked around the room and said, "McGreasey on the way in this morning."

"He won't let me leave," Randy pouted.

"Well, that I have to back him up on," Edan announced firmly.  "I don't want you to go yet either.  I've missed my best friend."

"I've missed you too, Babes," Randy agreed.  "You could have moved out, but stayed in town," he pointed out quietly.

"We both know that wouldn't have worked," Edan said softly.  "There's a ton of could have's and should have's between us," he mused aloud.  "If I had lived life any differently, though, I might never have met Cam, and I wouldn't have the boys.  I'm sorry if it hurts you to hear this, but I really feel whole and complete now for the first time in my life.  I get the most incredible adrenaline rush every time one of the boys calls me Pop."

"Not to mention the rush of blood you get when you see this little hottie," Randy teased us both.  "Don't worry about hurting my feelings, Edan.  I made my bed when I let you leave all those years ago.  If we were really meant to have been together, I would have fought tooth and nail to keep you.  I'm just sorry that my pig-headedness cost us our friendship for so many years."

"There's time to rebuild it now," Edan said hopefully.

"Be realistic, Babes," Randy cautioned.  "I was just asking Sweet Cheeks here to give me a lift to the airport today."

"Don't leave yet," Edan begged.

"I've got to, Babes," Randy insisted.  "It's ironic that my whole life I was afraid of dying alone, yet now that I am staring right into death's face, I plan to insist on it."

"Are you sure about that?" I asked.  "It doesn't have to be that way.  You can stay here."

"Kid, it was hard enough for me to show up here in the first place," he told me.  "I may be all man, but I am queen enough that vanity won't allow me to let people see me this sick."

"You can't help the way you look," I told him.  "You certainly didn't ask for this disease."

"That could be debated," he countered.  "I did smoke like a chimney for a long time."  Before I could respond, he added, "Don't worry, I've already finished the steps of grief.  I've accepted my fate and I face it wide-eyed and open-armed.  To die will be a very great adventure."

"You really should be wearing tights for that line," Edan told him.  "Peter Pan you're not."

"Never said I was, Babes," Randy replied then grinned at Edan's upturned eyebrow.  "Ok, not in the last fifteen years or so, anyway."  He grew serious and then continued.  "Look, I just came here to see if you were happy, really.  You are far better off than I ever dreamed.  That's all it takes for me to leave here contented, if not happy myself.  I had a full life, and now it's time for me to make room for someone else."

"What if we're not ready for you to leave?" Edan questioned emotionally.

"I'm sorry, but this time it's my turn to do the disappearing act," Randy said firmly and slightly bitterly.  He turned and left the room to go back upstairs, and Edan headed for the barn again.

"Well, that was an uplifting way to start the day," I said to the empty room.

"We have children here," Brendan quipped as he walked in with Derek and Ephraim.  "Spare us the sordid details of your kinky sex life, big brother."

"Speak for yourself," Derek scolded him.  "If someone is talking about sex, I'm all ears," he added with a mischievous grin.

"Where's any children?" Ephraim asked looking around.  The rest of us practically saw the light bulb go on over his head.  "HEY! I'm not a child!"

"You are all hormones," I told Derek.  "Maybe you should go back upstairs and take another shower… a cold one.  As for you," I said turning to Ephraim.  "Yes, you are a child, and I don't want you growing up any faster than you already are."

"If I never grow up, I'll never get to have real sex," Ephraim complained.

"You two are a bad influence," I fussed at the older boys playfully.

"We didn't have anything to do with it," Brendan protested.  "He was a pervert when he got here."

"Yeah, all we did was tell him it was ok to be who he was," Derek added.  "We didn't know we would be unleashing a hormone monster."

"It takes one to know one," Ephraim sneered as he stuck his tongue out at Derek.

"Well, he's got you there," I laughed.

"Is there going to be food here, or do I have to come in there and hose down all the horndogs?" Daniel called from the dining room.

"What hose are you going to use?" Ephraim yelled back.

"Ephraim!" I gasped.

"What?" he asked innocently.  "Pop started taking the sink apart last night."

"Oh," I sighed.  "I thought you were being… well, never mind."

"You two are entirely too sick," Daniel pointed at Derek and Ephraim as he joined us in the kitchen.

"What'd I do?" Derek exclaimed.

"You're his older brother, you should be setting a good example," Daniel explained.

"And you're the oldest brother, so where's your example?" I questioned teasingly. 

"Oh, he gave his example last  night in the shower," Ephraim giggled.  "Oh, yeah baby," he mimicked as Daniel's face flamed.

"I see the problem now," I announced.  "Ephraim, we're going to move your bed away from the bathroom wall."

"Aww, Dad," the boy pouted.

"You little creep, you've been listening to our showers?" Derek screeched.

"He wouldn't have to," Daniel pointed out.  "We can hear you guys from your bedroom with the doors shut between us," he explained to a blushing couple of teenagers.  "That reminds me, Ca… Dad.  Can I get a pair of those old fashioned ear phones that cover the whole side of your head?"

Derek and Brendan left the kitchen blushing as the rest of us laughed at them.  Ephraim suddenly got quiet and walked up to Daniel.  The older boy looked down and saw a tear in the corner of the younger boy's eye.  He immediately scooped Ephraim up into his arms, surprising both Ephraim and I.

"What's wrong, baby bro?" Daniel asked softly.

"I'm sorry," Ephraim sniffled quietly.

"What are you sorry for?" Daniel questioned.

"I just thought about what it must be like to be you," Ephraim told his oldest foster brother.  "You're the only person in the house like you.  All the rest of us are gay.  You have to hear and see us all the time.  I was like that before…."  His voice trailed off as Daniel practically crushed him in a hug.

"Baby bro, don't you ever apologize again for being who you are," Daniel told him firmly.  "I was just teasing about the earphones.  I'm a guy just like everyone else in this house.  That means I get horny just like everyone else.  I won't complain about hearing you guys, if you won't complain about hearing me.  Deal?"

"Deal," Ephraim agreed.  "But I'm not a baby.  I might have to accept being called a kid, but not a baby."  He hopped down from Daniel's arms and then looked back up at his big brother.  "I guess it would be ok if you call me that, as long as Derek doesn't hear you," he giggled.

I couldn't help thinking that Daniel was going to fit into the family just fine.  I was glad now that the boys talked me into taking the chance to open up to another young person.  I realized I was already dreading the day that he left our family.  Speaking of leaving, it was just then that Randy reappeared with his suitcases at the same time that Edan came back in from outside.

They embraced as they said their goodbyes, and I had no trouble with jealousy at all.  It was clear from Edan's body language that Randy was nothing more to him than a really close friend who was going away.  Randy on the other hand….  Well, I would try to have a talk with him on the way into town. 

I couldn't stand the sight of the pain in Randy's eyes as he looked at Edan.  He clearly hadn't faced his true feelings for Edan until he got here, and now he was leaving.  He had seen the life he could have had, and suddenly realized how much he wanted it after all.  Unfortunately, he also knew it was far too late.  He wept silently as we drove away from the farm.  He shook me off when I tried to speak, though.  It was one of the most depressing car rides I have ever experienced.

Author's Notes:

Well, I hate to give such a sad ending to a chapter right at Christmas, but it had to be done.  We don't always get happy endings in life.  Make the most of the happiness you have while you've got it.  Second chances are rare in life, and third chances even more incredible, so when they come along, grab on to them tightly and go for it with everything you've got.  Special thanks to a certain someone for giving me my third chance.

The next chapter is in the works now. While it will have some down points as well, the mood should begin to lift somewhat with big news for Derek and a surprise for the Walborn's.