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As Galen pulled out of the driveway, Marc smiled as he said, "This is probably the nicest Christmas gathering my family has ever had."
"Seriously?" Christian asked incredulously.
"Last year Dad and Uncle Chuck got into a fistfight and the cops came and Mom was crying and... actually, now that I think about it, that was kind of fun." Jorry finished with a smile.
"And the year before that, half the family got food poisoning from Denise's 'Roast Duck with Walnut Stuffing'." Marc said with a queasy look.
"I was real lucky, I didn't have a chance to get sick. I threw up just from the taste of it." Nick said frankly.
"Yeah. I remember that the next day, Mom was sitting on the toilet and puking into a bucket and kept screaming for me to turn up the furnace." Jorry said with a chuckle in his voice.
"Yes. Christmas is always a special time for our family." Marc said with a wistful smile.
"Where's your sword? Did you forget it?" Jorry asked Christian suddenly.
"No. I put it in the trunk. I figured that it'd just be in the way with all of us crammed into the back seat." Christian said honestly.
"I don't feel crammed." Nick said frankly.
"Me either. This car is huge." Collin said with a smile.
"Yeah. It's great! I wish we had a car like this." Nick said excitedly.
* * * * *
After stopping for gas on the way out of town, Galen began the long drive home.
When Jorry noticed Christian's distant expression, he curiously asked, "What are you thinking about?"
"I was just remembering back there at Linda's house, I saw Collin looking out of your window..."
"My window?" Jorry interrupted.
"Yeah. The one you were hanging out beside when we got there. You seemed to like that place." Christian finished with a shrug.
"Oh, okay, yeah. So Collin was looking out the window, so what?" Jorry asked curiously.
"Well, when I was looking at him, that corny Shakespeare line went through my head. I know it sounds silly." Christian finished shyly.
"Which line?" Collin asked from the other side of the back seat.
"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." Christian said distantly.
"Well, actually, it was the North, and the only thing you can see out there is Aunt Linda's compost heap." Jorry said with a glance at Christian.
Collin didn't seem to hear Jorry's words as he said, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief, That thou her maid art far more fair than she:"
"Maid? Which one is the maid?" Jorry asked with a chuckle.
"Are you sure you really want to know that much about us?" Christian asked frankly.
Jorry looked at Christian beside him, then around his brother at Collin before answering, "Collin's the maid, he's got to be. I don't think you'd let someone else be the dude."
Christian gave a noncommittal shrug, then said in a lyrical voice, "Be not her maid, since she is envious; Her vestal livery is but sick and green And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. It is my lady, O, it is my love! O, that she knew she were!"
"Hey! You really know this stuff!" Jorry said in sudden realization.
"Yeah. It just stuck with me." Christian said simply.
"She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that? Her eye discourses; I will answer it. I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks: Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return." Collin said as he leaned around the pair of brothers to look at Christian lovingly.
Jorry turned toward Collin with surprise, but before he could say anything, Christian responded, "What if her eyes were there, they in her head? The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven Would through the airy region stream so bright That birds would sing and think it were not night. See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O, that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that cheek!"
"Aye, me." Nick said, obviously responding to Christian's words, then grinned at his brother sheepishly.
"You too?" Jorry asked his brother with surprise.
"She speaks: O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art As glorious to this night, being o'er my head As is a winged messenger of heaven Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds And sails upon the bosom of the air." Collin said with a wicked grin at Christian, then his gaze shifted to Jorry.
Christian followed his gaze and finally even Nick joined in.
With all eyes upon him, Jorry finally dropped his head in resignation and said, "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I'll no longer be a Capulet."
All the boys cheered and Marc was laughing and clapping from the front seat.
"I knew you knew it!" Christian said with a big grin at Jorry.
"Well. Yeah. But I just always thought it was a really stupid idea for the school to tell a bunch of teenagers to read a story about two kids who were in love and couldn't work it out any other way but to kill themselves. I mean, DUH! Way to teach some life skills, people!" Jorry groused.
"I usually don't get into romantic stuff, but for some reason, the Shakespeare, especially Romeo & Juliet, it stuck with me." Christian said frankly.
"I think I read it about six times before I really understood it, but something about it made me keep reading it over and over. I couldn't stop until I felt like I 'got it'." Collin said distantly.
"So you didn't read it for school?" Jorry asked cautiously.
"No. I think I saw a movie and kinda liked it, so I checked it out from the library and read it." Collin said frankly.
"You're weird!" Jorry said with an incredulous look at Collin.
"Does that mean that you're 'normal'?" Christian asked challengingly.
Jorry made a show of thinking about the question for a moment before saying, "Point taken."
* * * * *
As time passed by, the boys moved on to recounting the events of the evening as the adults sat silently and listened.
Every now and then, Galen would look over at Marc and see a loving and contented smile on his face. He concluded that all the turmoil of the recent hours was worth it to see Marc at peace.
"I'm glad you boys are getting to spend the night. I hope you have a good time." Marc said into the back seat.
"I never ever thought we'd get to stay overnight at your place, Uncle Marc. This is gonna be great!" Nick said happily.
"I'll do my best to make it entertaining." Marc said warmly.
"What's a orgy?" Nick asked curiously.
"What!?" Marc choked out.
"Mom says that you have orgies at your house every night and I don't know what that is." Nick explained calmly, then asked, "Are we gonna have one?"
Before Marc could think of an answer, Christian said, "An orgy is a naked party for grown ups. Dad and Uncle Galen don't do stuff like that, but your mom probably says that because she doesn't really know what it is that they do, so she just assumes that they're doing the worst thing she can imagine."
Nick was silent for a moment as he digested that information.
"Thanks, Christian." Marc whispered sincerely.
Christian smiled in response, happy to know that Marc appreciated his help.
"It's really great that you and Uncle Marc can talk about stuff." Jorry said distantly.
"Huh?" Christian asked with confusion.
Jorry gave a slight shrug, then explained, "My dad would freak if we ever tried to talk to him about anything like orgies or... well, pretty much anything to do with sex. I just think that it's nice that you have someone to talk to about that stuff."
"Marc's your uncle, so you have someone, too." Collin interjected.
Jorry turned and looked at Collin uncertainly.
Christian nodded his agreement to Collin's words, then said, "I get where you're coming from. I could never talk to my mom or dad about anything serious. Mom would find some way to turn it around and make it about her and my dad... He'd just get pissed off. That's the way he deals with things, by getting mad and not really dealing with them."
"Jorry, if you or Nick ever have any questions, you can always come to me and ask. Even though talking about some of this stuff can be uncomfortable, I'd much rather talk to you about it than have you try to make judgements and decisions with incomplete or inaccurate information." Marc said into the back seat.
"What's so great about butt sex?" Nick asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"What?" Marc asked in surprise.
"I'm gay. I've got a boyfriend. We've never done anything but kiss each other, but someday we're going to want to do more. I heard that gay guys have butt sex. But that sounds gross to me." Nick said frankly.
"You said that if they had any questions that they could ask." Christian said past a barely restrained chuckle.
It took a moment for Marc to gather his wits, but finally he looked Nick in the eyes and said, "Butt sex is just one of the things that two men can do together, but it isn't the only thing or even the most important thing. If you and your boyfriend enjoy kissing, then you should do that. If, sometime later, you decide that you'd like to do something more, then you can try other things."
"Yeah. Just think about it like when you and your boyfriend are together, you're in a big gay cafeteria." Christian said with a smile at Marc, then turned to Nick and continued, "There's all kinds of things that you two can choose from. There's no right or wrong answer, it's all just choices."
"I'd like a big helping of sixty-nine with a side of kissing." Collin said with a grin at Christian.
"Coming right up!" Christian responded happily.
"So he doesn't have to do sex to my butt?" Nick asked slowly.
"No. Certainly not at your age, and maybe not ever. That's something for you and your boyfriend to decide together, and you don't have to decide right away or even anytime soon." Marc said gently.
"And remember, Nick." Galen said from the driver's side, drawing everyone's attention to him, "If there's something that you don't feel right about, you can always say 'no'. When it comes to your body, you're in charge."
Marc smiled at Galen, then looked into the back seat and said, "That's right. If your boyfriend wants to try butt sex and you don't want to, then tell him 'no'."
"Danny doesn't want to do that to me, he says that he's afraid that it will hurt me. I was the one who wanted to do it because if that's what gay guys do, then we should be doing it." Nick explained seriously.
Before Marc could respond to that, Christian said, "What gay guys do is love each other. How you show your love is up to you and your boyfriend. If all you ever decide to do is kiss and hug, you'll still be just as much in love as anyone else."
"Yes. And don't worry about what other people say. Most of them don't know what they're talking about anyway." Collin said frankly.
"Yeah. Like mom. She says all kinds of stuff that you know isn't right, but she says it like she knows that it's true." Jorry said seriously.
Nick smiled up at his brother, then gave him a firm hug.
"We're all here for you if you ever have any questions." Christian said with a smile at the scene.
"That's right. Even if you're just not sure about something, you can ask and we'll help you." Marc said with a smile that matched Christian's.
Nick snuggled into his brother's side and wore an expression of peace.
* * * * *
The excitement of the day seemed to have caught up to the boys. Jorry and Nick were loosely holding on to each other. They wore matching drowsy expressions as they each fought to stay awake.
Collin and Christian were sitting on opposite sides of the brothers, both silently watching as the scenery, shrouded in darkness, passed by outside the windows.
Christian looked ahead with interest when Galen slowed the car slightly.
The glow of the headlights fell on a solitary figure walking along the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere.
There was a spark of recognition and before he could even think, Christian called out, "Stop the car!"
"We're not going to be picking up a hitchhiker in the middle of the night." Galen said simply, but firmly.
"That's Joaquin! You know, from this morning when we got our hair cut!" Christian said urgently.
Galen thought for a moment, then pulled the car to the side of the road.
Before the car had come to a complete stop, Christian had his seat belt off and was opening the door.
"Joaquin! Is that you? Are you alright?" Christian called out as he ran down the side of the road.
Galen and Marc shared a worried look, but didn't voice their concerns.
* * * * *
"Who are you?" Joaquin asked hesitantly with a trace of fear in his voice as the teenager approached.
"My name is Christian. I saw you this morning when we were getting haircuts." Christian said as he stopped walking to look Joaquin in the eyes. The first thing that caught his attention was that Joaquin appeared to have either been beaten up or in a car accident.
After a moment, Joaquin reluctantly said, "I'm sorry but I don't remember you."
"That's okay." Christian said dismissively, then quietly asked, "Are you alright?"
"I've been better." Joaquin said with a weary chuckle, then at Christian's concerned gaze he said, "I'll be fine."
"I'm guessing that you need a ride, come on." Christian said as he motioned for Joaquin to walk with him to the car, then asked, "What happened?"
"It's kind of a long story. Let's just say that my big Christmas weekend ended before it began with me being thrown out of a moving car in the middle of nowhere." Joaquin said wearily and Christian noticed that he was walking with a limp.
"Bad boyfriend?" Christian asked sympathetically.
After a long hesitant moment, Joaquin said, "He wasn't really my boyfriend. He was just some guy who I thought was kinda cute. I feel so stupid for even getting into the car with him. I really do know better."
Before Christian could say anything to reassure him, they had arrived at the car.
"Do you need a doctor?" Galen asked as soon as Joaquin was close enough that he could hear.
"No. I'm just scraped and bruised, but thanks." Joaquin said as he stopped outside the car door.
"Come on. We'll give you a ride back to Orlando." Galen said gently.
"Thanks. But I can't give you anything for gas. My wallet and my keys were stolen." Joaquin said in a pained and embarrassed voice, still standing outside the car door.
"It's okay, Joaquin. We don't want anything from you." Galen said with assurance.
"Okay. Thanks." Joaquin reluctantly said, then climbed into the rear passenger seat.
Marc opened the front passenger door and said, "Christian, you can sit up front with me."
Christian watched to be sure that Joaquin was able to get his injured body into the car without help, then walked forward and took the seat beside Marc.
* * * * *
"Were you in an accident?" Marc asked as Galen pulled back onto the road.
"No. I, um, met this guy and I thought he was nice..." Joaquin drifted off.
"From the look of you, I'm guessing he wasn't." Jorry said frankly.
"No. Not really." Joaquin said quietly.
"So what happened?" Marc asked with concern.
"He said that he lived outside of town. He just kept driving and driving. He drove us out here to the middle of nowhere, then he pulled a gun on me. After he robbed me, he told me to get out of the car... but he wouldn't stop. He said... he said that he was gonna shoot me if I didn't jump." Joaquin finished in a trembling voice and fought to hold back his tears.
"You need to call the police." Marc said as he took out his cell phone.
"No. I just want to go home and forget that this night ever happened." Joaquin said as a tear escaped down his cheek.
"If you don't report it, then what's to stop this guy from doing the same thing or even something worse to someone else? If you won't do it for yourself, do it for the next poor guy who falls for this guy's charm." Collin said from the other side of the back seat.
"Yeah. Okay." Joaquin whispered, then accepted the phone from Marc.
* * * * *
As Joaquin talked quietly on the phone to the police, everyone else in the car tried their best not to listen to his side of the conversation.
Collin and Christian shared a few long, loving looks as the sound of the car's engine filled their ears.
Finally, Joaquin mumbled, "Thank you." then handed the phone back to Marc.
"So what did the police say? Are they going to be able to get this guy?" Marc asked curiously.
"They didn't sound too hopeful." Joaquin said regretfully.
"You said that he took your keys. Do you have a landlord or someone who can let you in?" Marc asked with concern.
"Actually, the cop that I talked to said that since he has my wallet and keys, that it's probably not safe for me to stay at my place. They'll go in with me so I can get some stuff, but they said that I should stay with friends or family for a few days." Joaquin said shakily.
"Do you have anyone you can call?" Marc asked gently.
"No." Joaquin whispered sadly, then suddenly looked up and said, "Wait, um... Eric and Bobby would probably let me stay with them."
"Do you have their number?" Marc asked as he held his phone up.
"No. It's on my speed dial." Joaquin said regretfully.
"He got your phone, too?" Christian asked with concern.
"Yeah." Joaquin whispered.
"We'll be at the house soon and you can call from there." Christian said gently.
"Thanks for being so nice to me." Joaquin said as he looked up to meet Christian's eyes.
"It's just something that I learned from my Dad." Christian said warmly with a glance at Marc.
* * * * *
Marc looked with concern into the back seat and could see the emotions flitting across Joaquin's face as he thought about what had happened to him, and almost happened.
"Are you okay?" Marc asked gently.
Joaquin looked at Marc uncertainly for a moment, then quietly admitted, "I don't know."
"I promise that things will look better once you've had a few minutes to sit quietly and let things settle down." Marc said with concern.
"Marc's right. Once we get home, you can sit down for a few minutes and let the shock wear off before you make any important decisions." Galen said from his place in the driver's seat.
"I bet some of Marc's hot chocolate will make things better." Christian added seriously.
Marc gave a reluctant smile and said, "I don't know if my hot chocolate is up to this challenge."
"I have faith in your hot chocolate, Marc." Christian said with a grin, "I KNOW it'll make things better."
After listening to the playful banter, Joaquin seemed to be more at ease as they continued back toward Orlando.
* * * * *
"Home sweet home." Galen said as he pulled into the driveway.
"Nick fell asleep." Christian whispered.
"Jorry, do you think it would be best to wake him, or just carry him in and put him to bed?" Marc asked curiously.
"If you let him sleep now, he'll be up in the middle of the night. And let me tell you, if Nick's up, everyone's up. He doesn't know how to be quiet." Jorry said frankly.
"Wake him up, then." Marc said gently,
"Christian, do you want to help me get the things out of the trunk?" Galen asked hopefully.
"Sure, Uncle Galen." Christian said with a wide smile.
"Come on Nicky, wake up." Jorry said gently.
After a moment, Nick cracked open one eye to look at his brother.
"We're at Uncle Marc's house." Jorry said quietly.
Nick's eyes popped open, then he looked around to verify it for himself.
"Let's go inside. You guys are going to love our Christmas tree." Collin said as he got out on his side of the car.
Nick looked at Collin curiously as Jorry said, "It's a tree. How special can it be?"
"You'll see." Collin said with a grin, then fell into line behind his father as he walked toward the front of the house.
* * * * *
"Joaquin, I'm going to make that hot chocolate, like we were talking about earlier. Forgive me for saying so, but you look like you're on your last nerve. How about you take a few minutes to clean up, then spend some time in the living room with the boys. Once we've had our hot chocolate you can tackle the things that you need to do." Marc said quietly.
"That sounds good, but am I going to be in the way?" Joaquin asked uncertainly.
"Not at all. And if it turns out that you can't get in touch with anyone, or that no one can come and get you tonight for some reason, then you can stay here. We're already hosting a sleepover tonight so I promise that it won't be any extra trouble for us." Marc said honestly.
"Thank you." Joaquin said quietly.
"I'll show you where the bathroom is." Marc said with a gentle smile.
"Wait!" Collin called and ran past them and out of the living room.
Marc looked to Christian with question.
"Toilet seat cover." Christian said with a grin.
Marc nodded and chuckled at the response.
* * * * *
Christian walked to the Christmas tree and flipped the switch, then smiled as the tree came alive, giving off a warm red glow.
"I bet even Santa Claus doesn't have this much Christmas stuff." Nick said as he looked around the living room in wonder.
Jorry absently nodded as he seemed to be unable to look away from the Christmas tree.
"It's really beautiful." Joaquin said quietly as he looked around.
When Collin walked back into the living room, Marc walked to Joaquin's side and gently said, "I'll show you to the bathroom now, so you can get cleaned up."
It took a moment for the words to register, but finally Joaquin nodded and whispered, "Thanks."
"Is this how gay people decorate for Christmas?" Jorry finally asked, directing his question mostly toward Christian.
After a chuckle, Christian said, "No. I don't think so. Marc just loves Christmas and wants to celebrate it."
Jorry looked at the tree again with its unique configuration of ornaments, then back at Christian with question.
"Okay. Maybe that is a gay thing." Christian conceded shyly.
"Are these presents?" Nick asked carefully as he looked at the plain cardboard boxes on the floor by the tree.
"No. We didn't get to finish all the decorating." Collin said as he casually put an arm around Christian.
"Jorry looked around quickly, then asked, "You're going to decorate more?"
"Just a little bit." Christian said with a grin.
* * * * *
When the bathroom door closed, Joaquin stopped and took in a long slow shuddering breath.
Marc had been right, he felt like he was on the verge of losing it.
As he looked at himself in the mirror, the scraped and bruised face that looked back at him was almost that of a stranger.
As he stared, he wondered how he had gotten to this point.
He had a job and an apartment and, outwardly, seemed to be doing well. But in his personal life, he had been taking bigger and bigger risks. Tonight was a perfect example. He accepted a ride with a complete stranger, holding onto the slightest hope that this one might be 'the one'.
And one 'sperm of the moment' decision made by his overly hormonal sex deprived brain had nearly gotten him killed.
A knock on the door startled Joaquin out of his daze and he absently noticed that he was crying.
"I brought you some sweats in case you'd like to take a shower." Marc said through the door.
"I... um... thank you." Joaquin said timidly, then opened the bathroom door slightly.
"Just take as long as you need and try to feel better. I'll have some hot chocolate waiting for you when you're done." Marc said gently as he handed Joaquin some gray sweats.
"Thanks." Joaquin whispered and seemed to be fighting back his tears.
"Remember, you're safe now. No one here is going to hurt you." Marc said gently.
"I'll try." Joaquin said as he tried to force a smile onto his face.
Marc returned the smile, then left his guest to get cleaned up.
* * * * *
"How is he?" Galen asked as Marc walked into the living room.
"The same as anyone else who was robbed at gunpoint then forced to jump out of a moving car, I suppose." Marc said frankly.
"I can't even imagine how he must have felt." Galen said honestly.
"How are the boys?" Marc asked as he looked at the group of boys gathered, sitting on the floor in front of the tree.
"Jorry seems to have taken charge of the train set. If you want it set up any particular way, you'd probably better jump in there." Galen said with a smile.
"No. I'll be interested to see what they come up with." Marc said as he cuddled into Galen's side.
* * * * *
Galen and Marc sat quietly and watched the boys set up the train set.
Finally, Marc reluctantly said, "I'd better start the hot chocolate."
"Do you need any help?" Galen asked curiously.
"No. There's not much to do. Besides, I think it's best if one of us stay in here with the boys." Marc said honestly.
After a moment of thought, Galen said, "You know, I think I'd feel perfectly comfortable leaving the boys on their own. I think Collin and Christian are responsible enough that I wouldn't worry about them in the slightest."
"I think you're right" Marc said as he stood, then leaned in and added in a whisper, "But let's not tempt fate."
Galen smiled as he nodded his agreement.
* * * * *
Joaquin timidly walked into the living room wearing the gray sweats and with his hair still damp from the shower.
"How are you feeling, Joaquin?" Galen asked as he gestured to offer the young man a seat on the couch.
"Better." Joaquin said quietly.
"I'm glad to hear that. Why don't you relax? Marc should be in with the hot chocolate any minute now." Galen said warmly.
Joaquin nodded, then his attention seemed to be drawn to the group of boys gathered around the bottom of the Christmas tree.
Before Galen could say anything more, Marc walked into the room with a tray loaded down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate.
"Remember to be careful, it's hot." Marc cautioned as he placed the tray on the coffee table.
"Jorry, you're going to love this!" Christian said as he broke away from the group of boys to claim a mug for himself.
Collin was only a step behind Christian in making his way to get a steaming hot mug of chocolate.
"It's hot chocolate, what's the big deal?" Jorry asked as he approached the coffee table.
"It's not just hot chocolate, it's gay hot chocolate." Christian said with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
"Careful, Nicky. It's still pretty hot." Marc cautioned as he watched Nick pick up a mug.
When Jorry took his first tentative sip of the hot chocolate, everyone waited to see what his reaction was going to be.
After a moment to consider, Jorry finally said, "I guess mom is going to be having a hissy fit now, because I don't think I'll ever be able to drink straight hot chocolate again after having this."
Good natured chuckles went around the room and even Joaquin was smiling at the comment.
"It's just real hot chocolate, made the traditional way, on the stove, instead of an instant mix." Marc said quietly.
"I'm pretty sure I could come up with some really clever metaphor about gays and straights from that explanation, but I'm enjoying this too much to think about it." Jorry said before taking another appreciative sip of his hot chocolate.
Marc glanced at Joaquin to see how he was doing and noticed that he seemed to have his attention fixed on the nativity scene that was clumped together in the middle of the coffee table.
"We didn't have time to get everything completely set up when we put up the tree. Some things like the train set and the nativity scene were sort of put off until later." Marc quietly explained.
"And Marc was going to tell us about what it means instead of just setting it up, himself." Collin added helpfully.
"I just wanted to get my bible so we can be sure we're doing it the right way. I know where everything goes, but I don't think I remember all the details of the story." Marc said frankly.
Joaquin looked around the gathering, then quietly said, "I think I remember all of it. I wouldn't mind showing them... I mean, if that's okay."
Marc was surprised by the offer, but before he could formulate a response, Galen said, "I think that would be great."
"Let me get this tray out of your way, and you can tell the story whenever you're ready." Marc said as he picked up the empty tray and sat it on its edge beside the couch.
"Okay. Let's see." Joaquin said as he looked at the figurines, and finally found the one that he wanted.
"Back, a long time ago, there was this girl." Joaquin said as he held up the figure of Mary.
"She was a good girl. I mean, you know, one of those really really good people like you sometimes meet." Joaquin said as he placed her figurine on the table.
"Well, Mary was engaged to this guy named Joseph." Joaquin said as he held up another figurine, then continued, "He was a good guy and everyone was pretty happy about how things were going for them."
Joaquin sorted through the figurines, then picked up one with wings.
"So, that's how it was, then, all of a sudden, there was this magnificent bright light and an angel appeared to Mary. You can imagine how shocked she was to see that, but then he tells her that she's going to have a baby." Joaquin said frankly.
Marc smiled as he noticed that all four boys were sitting across from Joaquin and paying him their full attention.
"Well, Mary wasn't one to be back talking an angel, but she had to tell him that it was impossible for her to be pregnant because she wasn't married yet." Joaquin said seriously.
"Girls get pregnant all the time without getting married." Nick said slowly.
"Yeah. But you see, Mary was a virgin. She'd never had sex with Joseph or any other guy. Like I said before, she was a good girl, so she did like she was supposed to and didn't sleep with any guy so that her husband would be the first and only man to ever be with her." Joaquin said as he watched to see if Nick understood.
As Nick slowly nodded, Joaquin could see by the expression of his eyes that he really got the explanation.
"Okay, so the angel tells her that this baby of hers is going to be the Son of God." Joaquin said as he looked around at all the boys.
"Did she ask the angel if he was smoking crack?" Jorry finally asked.
Joaquin smiled, then said, "No. Because Mary was a good girl who had faith in God, she accepted the word of His messenger, the angel. I mean, that just kind of proves what kind of a good girl she was, because anyone else would have been freaking out and saying 'seriously?'. But not Mary. She was devout and faithful and put her trust in God."
"Wow." Nick said as he began to grasp what Joaquin was saying.
"Okay. So now we can skip a few months ahead. Mary and Joseph get married. There was this big complicated thing going on that really doesn't matter, but what it comes down to is that even though Mary was pregnant, you know, like, out to here." Joaquin said as he held a hand out before him, "Her and Joseph had to travel to this other town, called Bethlehem."
"When they got there, all the hotels and stuff were all filled up. I mean, it's not like they were homeless or anything. They had the money to get a room, but there just weren't any. So anyway, there they were in this town that they didn't live in with no place to stay. Finally, this one guy sees that Mary's just, like, miserable and tired and about two seconds from dropping that kid, so he tells them that, if they want, they can stay in his stable. I mean, yeah, it's not like being invited into the house, but at least it's a place with a roof and someplace where she can lay down."
Joaquin pushed a few of the figurines out of the way, then put the Mary and Joseph figures into the little stable.
"Okay, so remember that this was a stable. So it wasn't, like, really clean or sweet smelling or anything like that. There were cows and donkeys and lambs and probably some chickens there. So, that night in the barn with all the animals, Mary's baby was born. Since Mary and Joseph were far away from home, they didn't have anything for the baby, like a cradle or anything like that. So, when they put the baby down to sleep, they did the only thing that they could think to do and lined the animals' feedbox with straw. That feedbox was called a manger." Joaquin said as he placed the little tiny manger in front of the Mary and Joseph figurines.
All the boys were riveted as they listened to the story.
"Now, out in the country, way away from Bethlehem, there were these guys who were shepherds. That means that they were farmers who took care of sheep. Back then, the shepherds would take their sheep out to graze and stay with them to see that they were all okay and no wild animals attacked them. So, anyway, these shepherds were out there, taking care of their sheep, when all of a sudden an angel appears to them and just about scares them half to death. I mean, like, seriously. Who wouldn't be scared if that happened?" Joaquin said frankly, then continued, "The angel tells them to calm down, that he's not going to hurt them. He says that he's there to tell them some great news. He tells them that that night a child was born who would save the world. Well, the shepherds decide that they want to go and see this 'savior' for themselves."
"When they get to Bethlehem, they go and see the baby Jesus for themselves and are amazed by him. In fact, they're so amazed that they go off and start telling anyone who'll listen about the wonderful thing that they've seen, and praising God because everything was exactly as the angel had told them."
"Okay. Now about this same time, there were these three guys from the East. They're called the wise men. If you think about what it means to be wise, you'll probably get a pretty good idea of what these guys were like. I mean, they weren't poor, they weren't uneducated, they weren't the kind of guys who'd run off and do stuff without a good reason. People who knew them, trusted in their judgement. On the night that Mary's baby was born, they saw a great light and, I guess because they were wise, they knew that it meant the birth of a great new king."
"They travelled and when they reached him, they left gifts of gold and other expensive stuff as a tribute to him. So I guess that means that shepherds who were just regular hard working men and the wise men who were rich and respected, all agreed that this child was the Son of God and the Saviour of the World." Joaquin said as he put the last few pieces of the nativity scene in place.
"Wow. Look at that." Nick said as he pointed to the set, now completely organized as it should be.
"You know, I've probably heard that story a hundred times, but I don't think I ever really understood it before." Jorry said as he looked at the nativity set with wonder.
"Thank you for telling us the story, Joaquin." Marc said warmly from Galen's side.
"Yeah. Thanks for letting me do it." Joaquin said shyly, then asked, "Do you think I could borrow your phone and a phone book? I really need to call Bobby and Eric before it gets too late."
"Of course, come with me to the kitchen, that way you can make your call in private." Marc said gently as he stood.
* * * * *
Once Marc and Joaquin were out of the room, Galen asked, "So how are things going with the train construction?"
"Good, I think. We've just about got all the track laid out." Christian said happily.
"Yeah. It just looks like we've got a lot more stuff than we'll need." Jorry added frankly.
"Well, knowing Marc, he probably has enough to set up three train sets." Galen said with a chuckle.
"If you want to finish that up, I can put away the empty boxes." Christian said as he walked back to the tree.
"Sure. Just give me a minute to see that I've got all the parts that I need." Jorry said as he hurried to Christian's side.
"Dad." Collin said as he walked to his father.
Galen looked up at Collin curiously.
Collin sat down beside his father and pulled him into a firm hug.
"What's this all about?" Galen asked gently as he returned the hug.
"Just because I love you." Collin said simply.
Galen held his son and whispered, "I love you, too."
* * * * *
"Were you able to get in touch with them?" Marc asked as Joaquin walked back into the living room.
"Yes. They should be here in a few minutes. They don't live that far away." Joaquin said quietly.
"How are you doing?" Galen asked with concern.
"I'm fine." Joaquin said automatically, then quietly added, "It's just, being here with a family... at Christmas... I've missed that. Thank you."
"No thanks are necessary. We're happy to have you here, I only wish that it were under better circumstances." Galen said honestly.
"Me, too." Joaquin whispered as his emotions threatened to spill over into tears.
"I think the boys are about to get the train set running. Why don't you take a seat so you can witness the maiden voyage." Galen said with a warm smile.
Joaquin nodded and took a seat on the couch.
* * * * *
Soft Christmas music filled the room as everyone watched the train dutifully chugging its way around the track at the bottom of the Christmas tree.
A knocking on the door jolted everyone out of their tranquil mood.
Galen went to answer the door as Joaquin stood and prepared to leave.
As soon as the two men entered the room with Galen, they walked directly to Joaquin and took turns giving him firm hugs that conveyed their concern for him.
Once Bobby and Eric seemed to have assured themselves that Joaquin was safe, Galen stood forward and said, "Bobby and Eric, I know you've already met our boys, but in case you don't remember their names, this is Christian and Collin."
Bobby looked both boys over, then said, "I must say that you're looking quite different from when I saw you this morning. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud you on your clothing choices. You two look fantastic."
"Thanks." Collin mumbled shyly as Christian nodded happily.
"And over here, we have Marc's nephews, Jorry and Nick." Galen said with a smile.
"My goodness, aren't you just adorable?" Bobby said with a grand smile.
"Nick is. I'm a teenager." Jorry said in a flat tone that didn't invite argument.
Bobby chuckled at the words and responded, "Of course."
"Please, come in and sit down. I know that you didn't come here to socialize, but please don't feel as though you have to rush off." Galen said honestly.
"As nice as that would be, I'm afraid that we will have to be going." Bobby said regretfully, then turned to Joaquin and said, "Joaquin, you've got to stop taking risks like this. Too many people care about what happens to you."
"No one cares about me." Joaquin responded, seemingly without thinking.
"Blanche, please!" Bobby huffed, "I can think of at least a dozen people who care about you very much. Granted, most of them are elderly women, but you can't deny that they adore you."
Joaquin seemed to be about to argue, when Eric interjected, "And since the day we met you, Bobby and I have cared for you like you were our son."
"Now you've done it." Bobby huffed as he looked up at Eric for a moment, then said, "You know, now he's going to want an allowance."
Before Eric could respond, Joaquin rushed in to pull both of them into a hug.
When the hug seemed to have gone on a little too long, Galen noticed that Joaquin seemed to be crying into Eric's shoulder.
"Let's give them a minute." Marc whispered.
Bobby must have heard, because he quickly said, "No. We really do need to be leaving. Please forgive us for intruding on your family."
"It's no intrusion. We're all just glad that Joaquin wasn't seriously hurt and that he has someone to take care of him." Galen said as he put a casual arm around Marc.
"And, if you haven't made other plans, all three of you would be welcome to have Christmas dinner with us." Marc added hopefully.
"Unfortunately, Eric and I have made other plans..." Bobby said regretfully.
"More like, we were ordered to attend." Eric muttered to his partner.
"How about you, Joaquin? It won't be anything fancy, but I know that the boys would love having you here... we all will." Marc asked hopefully.
"Are you sure?" Joaquin asked uncertainly.
"Of course! In fact, I'm planning a big breakfast at around eight on Christmas morning. There will be food enough for everyone, so you'd be welcome to attend and then you could just plan to spend the entire day. If you don't make it to breakfast, then you can just stop by whenever you like and stay as long as you want."
"Thanks." Joaquin whispered.
"Yes, thank you." Eric said gratefully. "It would tear us apart if we had to think of Joaquin being alone on Christmas. We'd invite him to go with us, but the almighty Agnes, himself, has commanded..."
"Don't start, love." Bobby interrupted, then added, "We need to be going."
"It was a pleasure meeting all of you. Thank you again for helping Joaquin." Bobby said as he and Eric started toward the door with Joaquin held protectively between them.
"We'll see you on Christmas." Marc called after them hopefully.
Joaquin turned back and gave Marc a slight smile and a nod before continuing outside with Eric and Bobby.
* * * * *
When Galen returned from walking Bobby, Eric and Joaquin to the door, he walked up to Christian and pulled him into a quick hug.
After a moment, Galen released him and said, "I think you did a really good thing tonight."
Christian looked at Galen with confusion, obviously not knowing what he was talking about.
"Who knows what would have happened to Joaquin tonight if you hadn't spotted him. I'm really proud of you." Galen said frankly.
Christian seemed to be at a loss for words, so he stepped forward and buried his face in Galen's shoulder as he hugged him firmly.
* * * * *
A tranquil mood seemed to have fallen over the living room as everyone watched the train running around and around its little set of tracks.
The mood was shattered by a knocking on the door.
"I've got it." Marc said before Galen could get up from the couch.
Galen watched as Marc left the room and tried to think of who might be visiting them so late in the evening.
* * * * *
"Hi Nolan. How are you doing?" Marc asked as he gestured for his older brother to come into the house.
Marc could tell from Nolan's expression and his posture that he was more or less sober now.
"I brought some pajamas and a change of clothes for the boys... Ruthie also wanted me to check on them." Nolan said timidly.
"Come on in. The boys are in the living room, they just finished setting up the train under the Christmas tree." Marc said as he ushered Nolan deeper into the house.
Nolan looked into the living room for a long moment, then backed away without announcing his presence to his sons.
"I was just about to make some coffee if you'd like some." Marc said cautiously.
"Ruthie is expecting me." Nolan said reluctantly.
"If you have a minute, I'd really like to talk to you. It's kind of important." Marc said seriously.
After a long hesitant moment, Nolan finally nodded his agreement.
Marc stepped into the living room doorway and found Galen's inquiring gaze fixed on him. With a tentative movement of his hand, he gestured to get Galen to follow him.
* * * * *
"Nolan, you need to get help. You're on the verge of losing everything." Marc said without prelude as he went about the business of making coffee.
After a moment, Nolan slowly nodded, then said, "The funny thing is, I can't seem to make myself believe that that's a bad thing."
Marc and Galen were stunned by the comment.
"Each day when I leave for work, I think about how easy it would be to just... go, and keep going... and never come back." Nolan said distantly.
After a long silence, Galen finally asked, "Why don't you?"
"Habit, I suppose." Nolan finally said with a shrug.
"What about the kids?" Marc asked gently.
"What about them?" Nolan asked wearily. "Do you really think that they're better off with me in their lives?"
"I can't answer that." Marc admitted reluctantly, then added, "But it seems to me that Jorry has had to grow up a lot, taking on the role of protector and 'father' for his little brother. He deserves better."
"You don't know what it's like, being married to Ruthie." Nolan said as he looked Marc in the eyes.
"Thank God." Galen muttered.
"You know, we had to get married. I wasn't ready. I never wanted it. But I'd knocked her up so I did what I had to do." Nolan said quietly, appearing not to have heard Galen's comment.
"Really?" Marc asked curiously, then heard the last few gurgles as the coffee maker finished.
"I was a horny teenager and my little sister's friend had a crush on me. What guy's going to turn down some pussy when it's practically being thrown at him?" Nolan asked frankly, then looked from Galen to Marc before saying, "Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to."
"So you didn't love her?" Marc asked with concern as he carried a cup of coffee to Nolan and placed it before him.
Nolan snorted in amusement, then said, "I didn't even like her. She was just convenient. But then she got pregnant and I was stuck, so I married her."
"But then she had the miscarriage." Marc whispered as he took his seat.
"Yeah. There's no way I could have divorced her then. Even I'm not that heartless." Nolan said with a weary shake of his head.
"But finally Jorry came along." Marc said gently, seemingly to change the subject.
Nolan gave a slight smile, then said, "We'd gotten to where we'd have sex about once every year or so. It surprised the hell out of me when Ruthie turned up pregnant, but I was happy, too. It was like, after all this time, I was finally going to get my reward for all the hell I'd gone through with getting married in the first place."
"So what happened?" Galen asked curiously.
Nolan gave a little shrug, then said, "It was kinda fun for awhile, being a father, having a son. But she was there, all the time. It was like she was jealous of Jorry. Anytime I gave him attention, she was there, wedging herself between us, trying to be sure that all our attention was only on her. She wanted to be the center of everything."
"So you finally gave up trying." Galen said quietly.
"Giving Ruthie what she wants is usually the best way to keep the peace. Well, except that what she wants is constantly changing and that sometimes she wants completely opposite things at the same time." Nolan said frankly.
"Women are sometimes that way." Galen said with a nod.
Nolan took a sip of his coffee, then distantly said, "If I had it to do all over again, maybe I'd be gay. I remember when I used to hang out with the guys. We had fun. We could talk and joke and just be ourselves. No one ever demanded anything. It was all just... easy."
"Trust me, Nolan. Being gay doesn't make your life easy." Marc said frankly.
"But if you enjoy hanging out with the guys, you can still do that." Galen added quietly.
Nolan shook his head as he said, "Ruth would only make my life miserable... I mean, even more miserable."
Marc nodded that he could accept that reasoning.
"It's sounding more and more like a divorce might be the best thing for all of you." Galen said honestly.
"I need to hold it together for the kids. They deserve to have two parents." Nolan said distantly. The words sounded like they had lost all meaning and were just mindlessly being repeated like a chant or a mantra.
"Step back and look, Nolan. It's broken. It's not working, the way it is. Whether you divorce or not, something needs to change. That's what your kids deserve. Something better." Galen said seriously.
Nolan looked at Galen with surprise at the frank words.
Galen smiled in understanding, then said, "My situation wasn't all that different from yours. I was in a loveless marriage, going through the motions. One day, there was a 'wake-up' call and I realized that it didn't have to be that way. Even though I was right there, doing what I thought I was supposed to, for all intents and purposes, my son was growing up without a father. Once I realized that, I took steps to improve my life. I worked toward being fulfilled and being happy with myself. After I did that, things with Collin just fell into place."
Nolan nodded thoughtfully.
"What I'm really trying to say is that you seem to be focused on what you should do and what's best for the kids. By trying to do for everyone else, no one is happy. Be yourself. Do what it takes to be happy with who you are. That's the best thing you can do for everyone." Galen said imploringly.
Nolan thought for a moment, then looked at Marc and asked, "What about you, little brother? While we're on the subject, do you have any words of wisdom?"
"I was just going to say, 'Get sober and grow a pair'. But I think Galen's idea sounds better." Marc said with a smile at his brother.
Nolan weakly smiled, then said, "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I think you're both right; it's time for a change."
The warble of a cellphone stopped further conversation.
Nolan looked at the display, then dropped it back into his pocket without answering it. "Thanks for watching the boys. It's probably best that they won't be at home tonight."
"They can stay for as long as they need to." Marc said reassuringly.
"After you and Ruth have had your talk, if you need a place to spend the night; we've got one." Galen said frankly.
Marc smiled at Galen, obviously happy that he had made the offer.
Nolan stood slowly, seeming to be at a loss for words.
Marc and Galen also stood, waiting for his reaction.
Without warning, Nolan pulled his youngest brother into a firm hug.
"You're the first one in... years..." Nolan started to say, then began again. "It's been years since anyone's cared anything about me."
"All of us care, Nolan. And we'd help if you'd let us." Marc said gently.
Nolan pulled out of the hug, then held out his hand to Galen.
After shaking the offered hand, Galen said, "If you ever need to talk, you know where to find us."
Nolan looked Galen in the eyes and nodded.
"Good." Galen said sincerely, then walked with Nolan and Marc to the door.
* * * * *
"It's getting late. Have you boys considered what you'd like to do about sleeping arrangements?" Marc asked as he walked into the living room with Galen at his side.
"I was thinking that, if you wouldn't mind it, we could do it like a real sleepover and all of us sleep in the living room." Collin said hopefully.
"Does anyone have a problem with that?" Marc asked as he looked around the room.
"Maybe I should..." Jorry said frankly, then clarified, "You know, sleeping with three gay guys. But for some reason, I'm really okay with it."
"Collin, why don't you come with me and I'll show you where I keep the extra blankets. After that, I'll leave it to you guys to figure out how you want to do it." Marc said with a smile.
"Thanks, Uncle Marc. You're the best." Nick said happily.
"I'm glad you think so, Nicky." Marc said warmly, then gestured for Collin to follow him out of the room.
* * * * *
Once the boys had finished making their 'nest', they were all settled in, feeling peaceful and relaxed.
"I like it here. It's weird how everyone's always so happy." Nick said distantly.
"Yeah. It's the same for me. My dad and mom hate each other so much that I think it spills over into everything else in their lives." Christian said frankly.
"I hope I'm never like that." Nick said honestly.
"I don't think you have to worry about that, Nick. Jorry wouldn't ever let that happen to you." Collin said warmly.
"That's right. I'd kick your scrawny little butt from here to next Tuesday if you tried it." Jorry said firmly.
"I know you would." Nick giggled, then quietly added, "Thanks."
Everyone drifted on a wave of contentment after that until each of the boys finally fell into a deep and restful sleep.
Well, it seems that perhaps things might just get better for Jorry and Nick. Maybe Nolan will finally take some sort of stand with Ruth.
If he finally does leave the rotten, self centered excuse for a woman, He, at least has a chance to improve the situation that he and the boys are in.
I strongly suspect that there isn't any judge who would give that bitch custody of the boys, so most likely, Nolan would probably get both boys, if he can just get himself sober and show people that he can stay that way.
Things sometimes have a way of turning out for the best, and since I suspect we know a Judge who really cares about the wellbeing of kids, that things could be settled in whatever way it takes, to make that happen.
Galen and Mark would both testify on his behalf, and maybe so would the kids.
It was really great that Christian recognised Joaquin and insisted that they stop and pick him up.
I think Joaquin might actually realise that there really are people who care about him.
His story telling was really special. It seems that he really understood the story, and he was able to tell it in such a way that it made sense to the boys.
I could really use a nice cup of that GAY hot chocolate.
I can hardly wait for Christmas day to arrive.
As i have said many times, I really love this story.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
I would like to give special thanks, once again, to D&B for offering suggestions in this and other chapters of this story. Just when I think I've got it all figured out, they come up with something that I never thought of.