Once Ryan had led Ben and Dax out of Carson's bedroom, Deb immediately said, "There's a few things that I need to take care of right away. If anyone asks for me, let them know that I won't be long, but that I'm not to be disturbed."
Before Carson or Tommy could respond, Deb hurried out of the room.
"I've never seen anything freak Mom out before." Tommy muttered absently.
"That's not Mom freaked, that's Mom with the wheels turning. I bet that whatever she's doing that she says is so important... really is." Carson said as he looked at his brother.
After a moment to consider, Tommy nodded and said, "Yeah. I should've known better. Mom can handle just about anything."
Carson couldn't help but nod his agreement to his brother's statement.
* * * * *
After getting Oleksandr checked by the doctor, Ben made his way into the living room. He didn't really talk much to anyone. For the most part, he stood around, holding Oleksandr on his hip. But the feeling was somehow satisfying. Even without any interaction, he felt a part of everything that was going on.
When he saw Jay, Bug, and all the kids that had been with them come back into the living room, he felt a twinge of relief. None of them seemed to be nervous or upset, so the visit with Dr. Murten must not have gone too badly for them. He couldn't say that he was especially 'worried', but having an idea of what Jay's problem was made him feel a little sympathy for the boy and he was pleased to see that Jay was okay.
"Seeing as my daughter has seen fit to vanish, I suppose it's left to me to get everyone into the dining room. I'm sure you're all hungry by now. If you'll all make your way into the dining room, just over there, we can get started." Madelyn Murten said to the people in the living room.
Ben was one of the first to enter the dining room. He stopped just inside the door when he saw the size of the enormous room.
It took a moment for him to realize what he was seeing. At the far end of the room, he could see the doors of the bedrooms on the first floor of the big house.
Apparently, the wall between the dining room in the main house and the big house had been removed or folded away, or something, causing the two, already large, rooms to be combined into one incredibly massive room. And a third enormous table had been brought in to provide ample seating for everyone.
"Where do you want to sit, buddy?" Ben whispered to the boy in his arms.
Oleksandr considered for a moment, then released his grip with one hand and pointed to a place about halfway down the distance of the cavernous room.
"Sounds good to me." Ben said as he started to walk.
Dax was only a few steps behind, and also seemed to be in awe of the enormous space.
"Is this one alright?" Ben asked as he selected a chair at the center table.
"Yeah." Oleksandr whispered.
Ben pulled out the chair and automatically shifted Oleksandr around to sit on his lap.
Dax immediately followed and started to sit in the chair next to him when Oleksandr quietly asked, "Dax, would you sit there?"
Dax saw that Oleksandr was pointing to the next chair in the line and hesitantly said, "Sure, Olex. Whatever you want."
Once Dax was seated, Oleksandr slowly and carefully let go of Ben, then climbed down off his lap.
Ben held his breath as he watched Oleksandr climb onto the chair between him and Dax.
He didn't want to make a big deal of the action, but was fighting down tears as he realized that Oleksandr's choice to sit by himself was a very real indication that he was healing.
Oleksandr turned to Ben and quietly asked, "Don't leave me, okay?"
"I'll be right here for as long as you need me." Ben promised as one of the tears he had been fighting let loose down his cheek.
"Way to go, Olex." Dax said happily as he leaned over and gave Oleksandr a hug.
* * * * *
Just as he was leaving his office, the phone started ringing.
"Brown Residence. Ryan speaking."
After a moment of listening, Ryan quietly asked, "So what is happening there?"
"Oh, Yeah, really?"
"Think you could make it to Kettle Falls?"
"The sooner you can get here the better. I'll be sure to have everything set up for you."
"Hey, what are friends for? What about the others?"
"Tell them to come here, too."
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing you again, too."
As Ryan hung up the phone, he paused for a moment to take a deep breath and try to clear his mind.
Once he felt a little bit more stable, he hurried out of his office to join the family meal which was probably already in progress.
* * * * *
"Well, it seems that my daughter isn't the only one to have abdicated their responsibility today. My son-in-law has also seen fit to be absent while his guests sit down to their first meal together." Dr. Murten said to the people who were finding their seats.
"For those who haven't met me, my name is Fred Murten. Madelyn and I are Debra's parents, and it appears that we're your hosts, somewhat by default. Just so you know, I am a doctor, a general practitioner. Helping people gives me a purpose. Don't worry about feeling you're inconveniencing me at any time, this is what I do. So, please, come and see me if you have any medical concern, no matter how minor."
Ben was surprised to feel a hand on his arm.
He turned to see Oleksandr looking at him anxiously.
"How you doing, Buddy?" Ben asked gently.
"Okay. I just... I needed to feel that you were there." Oleksandr said timidly.
"That's fine. I'm going to stay right here until we're both ready to leave." Ben assured him.
Oleksandr nervously smiled as he continued to hold on to Ben's forearm.
* * * * *
"Do you want for me to go get Carson and remind him to eat?" Mikey asked his grandfather in a teasing tone.
Before Dr. Murten could answer, Deb strode into the room at a deliberate pace and emphatically said, "He's in the middle of something. I'm sure he'll come in on his own in a few minutes."
Max looked up at the sound of her voice and watched Deb carefully.
Mikey looked strangely at his mother and she noticed. "Sorry, I guess Carson's little production got to me more than I realized. I'm sure he will be in as soon as he's finished what he's working on."
She then turned her attention to the rest of the room and said, "As soon as everyone's seated, dinner will be served."
Those few who were still standing took that as their cue to move to the nearest unoccupied seat and claim it, looking to be something like an elaborate game of musical chairs.
"You didn't start without us did you?" A voice called from the doorway.
"I didn't know you were coming, but with as much food as we're about to set on the table, I should have known. Please come in, there's plenty of room." Deb said cheerfully, then said to the rest of the room, "Everyone, this is Karl. My boys call him Uncle Karl. And the young men with him are Jared and Seth."
Dax's eyes went wide as his mouth went dry at the sight of Jared. He had never, in all his life, seen such a vision of male perfection in the flesh.
Karl led his boys into the room and they filled in, where there were available seats.
"Sorry about that. I had to make some calls." Ryan said as he rushed into the room.
"It's fine. We haven't started yet." Deb assured her husband.
Ryan looked up and down the massive room for a moment, then quietly said, "I think we're all here, but with this many people, it would be easy to miss someone. Would you all please look around and see if anyone's been forgotten?"
"Karl, I'm glad you made it. We're going to have some things to talk about after dinner." Ryan said pleasantly.
After a few minutes to see if anyone had been forgotten, Ryan stood and said, "Before we begin, there's just one thing I want to be sure to let all of you know. You're welcome here. You are our guests. If there's anything you need to be more comfortable, please let me or one of my family know and we'll do our best to provide it for you."
Once he had seen that the message had been received, he continued, "It's our tradition that when we have guests, that we all have dinner together. Those of you in the big house and in the guest houses, all your kitchens have been fully stocked with food, so you can prepare breakfast and lunch for yourselves and spend time with your own families. But each night we will have prepared a meal for everyone, and you're all invited."
Mr. Crante and the maids each walked into the room pushing carts heavily laden with food.
Each one went to a different table and began to place the platters and bowls in the center.
"Go ahead and help yourselves. We don't stand on ceremony around here." Ryan said to the group, then suited actions to words as he took two slices of roast beef from the platter before him.
When Mr. Crante and the maids had finished unloading their carts of food, they left the dining room, and returned with even more.
All the guests were amazed by the amount of food being placed before them.
"How you doing?" Ben asked Oleksandr gently.
"Can I have some of that?" Oleksandr asked as he pointed to a large bowl of green beans that was well out of his reach.
"Sure, I'll get it for you." Ben said as he automatically stood and picked up Oleksandr's plate.
After he had put a decent sized portion of green beans on the plate, he turned back to find Oleksandr looking at him adoringly.
Ben was taken aback by the expression. The look in Oleksandr's eyes wasn't gratitude for helping him. It was, as if, by the simple act of putting food on Oleksandr's plate, Ben had just proved to Oleksandr that he loved him.
Without thought, Ben leaned in and gave Oleksandr a hug to express the emotions he didn't have words for.
When Ben finally released the boy, he sat and saw that Dax was watching him. The expression that Dax wore told Ben that the young teenager understood exactly what he was feeling.
* * * * *
Carson rolled into the room and around the tables, automatically going to the place where his family was already seated.
There was a place already set for him that didn't have a chair.
"Is everything alright?" Bug asked as he watched Carson carefully.
After a moment to consider, Carson looked around the room and said, "I was on the underground Net just now and, I heard an announcement about the stuff that's going on. It's nothing we don't already know except for one thing."
Carson paused and looked around at all the people in the dining room before continuing, "Basically, what it said is that people need to fight what's happening, but they also need to protect themselves. If it turns out that they're in a position where they can't fight... then they should go to Kettle Falls, Washington."
"Holy Shit!" Bug exclaimed.
"Seriously? They're telling people to come here?" Ken asked as he looked around.
"Tommy, I know that you've been making plans to take care of... refugees... I guess. What do you think?" Ryan asked as his mind seemed to be racing.
"I don't know... I've got a lot of stuff going on, and so far, there haven't been any problems. But... I don't know... I mean, how many people are we talking about?" Tommy asked in a small voice as he looked around.
"Thousands... at least." Karl said absently.
"Yes. But not all at once." Deb interjected. "Tommy's done a great job of preparing for the first wave, but all of us need to commit to doing all that we can to help these people, or this could easily end up being a nightmare of disease and starvation."
Everyone around the table was silent in shock at the blunt prediction, but also knew that as harsh as it seemed, it could very well come to fruition.
"So, Tommy, tell us again about what you've been doing, so everyone knows what's going on." Ryan encouraged his son.
"Um, yeah. Okay... I did some checking on Carson's computer and accidentally found some stuff that told me that things might get really really bad. So, just to be on the safe side, I called Uncle Karl and showed him what I found, and he said that he'd get the campground ready for full occupancy. I called, well, pretty much anyplace in Kettle Falls or Colville that rented rooms and told them that we were going to have a conference and to be ready for all their rooms to be rented out, and that all of them should be treated as our special guests. That doesn't mean that they'll stay for free, but if anyone has any problems, the management will contact us instead of kicking them out or calling the cops or whatever." Tommy said in a rush.
Karl jumped in as Tommy took a breath. "I also made a few calls about the new community development and, it took some doing, and it's not going to be cheap, but by this time Friday, every one of those 1,200 vacant homes will have all the utilities turned on and be ready for occupancy."
Tommy nodded, then said, "Which leaves us with the problem of feeding so many people."
Everyone around the tables had been looking from Tommy to Karl as they spoke and couldn't think of a thing to add to their conversation.
"We've contracted with a food distributor out of Idaho to deliver several truckloads of food to the factory warehouse. Since the factory hasn't started production, it's an ideal space, except for the fact that there's no refrigeration. So far, we've only ordered dry goods. We figure that when the trucks start arriving... probably tomorrow morning, that we'll unload them and store as much as we can as quickly as possible. When the warehouse is full, then we'll have the truckers drop their trailers." Karl said seriously.
"And I've got an order in with a produce supplier in Oregon. He's waiting for my call, and as soon as Monday, he can have a truckload of fresh produce on the way to us, and another arriving every other day. I figure that since we don't have a place to store it, that we'll do something like a farmer's market and let everyone take it home as soon as it arrives." Tommy said as he looked around.
"Why can't you get the produce locally?" Ryan asked curiously.
"Because it's cheaper this way. I did some checking and it would have been the same produce, but just with the local supplier's costs tacked on the top." Tommy said honestly.
"Who's paying for all of this?" Reginald asked cautiously.
"Right now, I am." Ryan said frankly. "I'm financing this initial outlay of cash to prepare for something that we believe is coming. If I'm wrong, well, it looks like me and my children... and maybe even my grandchildren, won't have to go shopping for dry goods for the rest of our lives."
There was a little chuckle at the statement.
After a moment, Ryan continued, "If what we anticipate does happen, and it's looking more and more likely that it will, then a few of my business partners and I are going to establish a charitable trust to handle the finances. Accounting isn't my forte, but I have business associates who can make sure that every dollar donated will be put to good use."
"If you've got all these campgrounds and houses and rooms to rent... why are we staying here with you?" Bug asked curiously.
"Honestly, because no one had even considered anything about the campgrounds or the vacant housing before you contacted Carson." Ryan said frankly.
"And because you guys saw it coming, we need you here where the plans are being made." Carson took up where his father left off, in almost exactly the same tone of voice. There was no doubt in that moment that they were father and son and in tune with each other.
There was a lull in the conversation, so Deb looked around and asked, "Does anyone have any questions for us?"
"Yes." Doris Teeter said nervously, then seemed to regret having spoken.
Deb smiled at her and nodded her encouragement.
Doris responded with a nervous smile, then quietly said, "Marcus and I talked to our daughter on the phone, just after we arrived. I didn't realize the scale of what was going on, I thought it was just something to do with Orlando... anyway, I didn't think it would be a problem to invite them to visit..."
"I don't see any reason why it would be a problem. In fact, I'm sure we could even find a place for them if they'd like to stay for the weekend." Deb said pleasantly.
"The Teeters are staying in a guest house, so they would probably have enough room for their family to stay with them, if that's what they wanted." Tommy said seriously.
"Oh, that works out perfectly." Deb said with a smile, then looked back at Doris and continued, "When you talk to your daughter, you be sure to tell her that she's invited to visit here as often, and for as long as she wants."
"Thank you. I will." Doris said in wide eyed surprise.
Deb smiled at the reaction, then went back to enjoying her dinner.
* * * * *
"Dad, I was thinking about it and, since Carson's accident, none of us has really used the playroom. Would you mind if we put some beds up there?" Tommy asked his father more or less casually.
"Why? Are we running short of space? Is someone doing without a room?" Ryan asked with concern.
"Sort of. Mikey wanted to have someone share his room, so I put Ty in with him. But I was thinking that, if Ty ends up wanting his own room, you know, to have some privacy, he could have the playroom." Tommy explained.
"What about Carson's old room?" Ryan asked slowly.
Tommy immediately shook his head, then said, "No. That's Carson's."
"All my stuff is in my new room. It's stupid to have a big empty bedroom upstairs when there's someone needing a place to sleep." Carson said frankly.
"I've got a place to sleep." Ty spoke up. "Tommy showed me the bunk bed in Mikey's room. It's probably as nice as any bed I've slept in my whole life."
Tommy looked down the table and smiled at Ty, then said, "I promised you that if you weren't comfortable staying with Mikey for any reason, that I'd find you another place. That's all this is."
Ty nodded that he accepted the answer, then turned his attention to the last of the food on his plate.
* * * * *
As Carson was eating, his cell phone suddenly started ringing. He normally would have turned his phone off during dinner, but with the way things were going, he didn't want to take that chance.
It took him two rings to get the thing out of his pocket and opened. Finally he said, "Brown residence. Carson speaking."
People all around the dining room were watching as Carson listened.
"He's expecting your call. Just a minute." Carson said, then hit the 'flash' button on the phone.
"Would you hand that down to Dax?" Carson asked as he leaned forward and scooted his open phone across the table to Hank.
Hank looked up and down the table until he spotted Dax, at the next table over.
The phone was passed from person to person until it finally ended up in Dax's hand.
"Push 'flash'" Carson said when he saw Dax's look of confusion.
Dax pushed the button, then put the phone to his ear.
There was a spark of excitement in his eyes, then he quickly said, "Father Doherty?"
Zane, who hadn't really been paying attention, looked up suddenly.
"What? Yeah, I'm fine. Everyone's fine. There's just some big stuff going on and you really need to get out of Chicago." Dax said quickly.
Zane got up and hurried around the table to be at Dax's side.
"That's good, but... you need to be careful. We've heard some stuff. The cops are stopping people on the main roads. And if any of you are on Ashwood's list, they'll arrest you." Dax said seriously.
Zane tried to wait patiently, but couldn't help bouncing a little with anticipation.
"The list has all kinds of people on it. Liberals, gays, people who contributed to Bryce's campaign... anyone they think will put up a fight. They're trying to take them out of action before they can organize and do anything." Dax explained, trying to convey the urgency in his voice.
Unable to wait any longer, Zane put a hand on Dax's shoulder, to let him know that he was there.
Dax brushed the hand away as he said, "You said that you're leaving. Do you know where you're going?"
Zane was bouncing again, and was contemplating just snatching the phone out of Dax's hand.
"Kettle Falls, Washington. That's where we are... hold on. Zane looks like he's about to wet himself. Here, talk to him before he explodes." Dax was able to say before Zane took the phone.
"Dad? Is that really you?" Zane asked quickly, and Dax could see the tears already sliding down his cheeks.
Zane turned and started walking for the door as he said, "I love you, Dad. I don't remember if I said it before we left. I love you."
Silence filled the room as Zane walked into the hallway to complete his call in private.
* * * * *
When the silence seemed to have stretched on too long, Deb decided to try and spark up conversation by talking to the person across from her.
"I'm sorry that I haven't had the chance to get to know everyone, yet. Things have been sort of crazy, as you've seen. I'm Debra Brown."
"That's quite alright. My name is Geraldine Shoupe, although my grandsons Bug and Lawrence have most people calling me Oma."
Deb smiled warmly at the woman and asked, "Who are your grandsons?"
"My grandson Lawrence is here next to me with his boyfriend, Roris. My other grandson, Bug, is at the end of the table between his boyfriends, the twins, Ken and Kev."
Deb looked at Lawrence and was surprised at how handsome the young man was, then she looked down the table at Bug. Finally, she said, "You have some very handsome grandchildren, you must be very proud."
"They're the joy of my life." Oma Shoupe said tenderly.
"I'm sure we're going to get along well. With you being able to accept your grandsons' sexual orientations, it shows me that you're a person of admirable character." Deb said with a smile at the elderly woman.
"I came to my understanding later in life. I was never really unaccepting of gays, but you have to understand that when I was your age, if someone had thought that I endorsed homosexuality, I would have been dragged to the town square and burned as a witch." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"How old are you?" Walter asked from Reginald's side.
"Not that old, but I was raised in Ohio... they can be a little backward." Oma Shoupe said as she looked at the man.
"I've been to Ohio, briefly... I understand." Walter said with a sympathetic smile.
The maids walked into the room and started clearing away the empty dinner plates as Mr. Crante pushed a cart of already plated desserts into the room.
"It looks like it's time for dessert. We should have something for everyone. Just take what you like." Deb said to the room.
Once the maids had cleared the plates away, they returned with a cart of desserts each.
* * * * *
While people were making their dessert selections, Zane walked back into the room and directly to Carson.
"Thank you." Zane said quietly as he handed Carson his phone.
"How is Father Doherty?" Brother Jacques asked anxiously.
Zane turned to him and gave a reluctant smile before answering, "He said that he's fine and that he's already on his way out of Chicago. He wasn't sure where the bus was supposed to be going, but he's going to try to get here."
"That's good news. So what's got you so worried?" Brother Jacques asked cautiously.
"When I was talking to him, I heard a siren. He said that the bus was being pulled over." Zane said as he took his seat, next to Brother Jacques.
Silence fell over the gathering except for the sounds of desserts being handed out.
* * * * *
"Forgive me for asking, but who is Father Doherty?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"My father." Zane answered immediately.
Ryan looked at Zane with confusion.
Ben smiled at the expression, and decided that he should explain.
"Father Doherty is a priest who worked at a rescue mission in Chicago. As far as we can tell, a long time ago, before he joined the priesthood, he was in love with Zane's mom. They never married and she never told him that she was pregnant, so eventually he became a priest and has been working to help people ever since. When everything started going crazy in Orlando and all my family were heading for the hills... literally... I decided that it was the perfect time to go get Zane and try to find his father." Ben said pleasantly, then stopped to marvel at the fact that it had only been two days since he and Zane had met each other face to face.
Brother Jacques noticed Ben's distraction and decided to take up the narrative. "These guys showed up at our rescue mission looking for Father Doherty, just when we were trying to figure out where we were going to go, since the mission was being closed. Father Doherty was reassigned, but all the kids that we've been taking care of were just supposed to be thrown out into the street."
"Officially, we were supposed to take them to Child and Family services, but it ends up being the same thing." Ken interjected.
Brother Jacques nodded, then continued, "We knew we had to take care of the kids, but we didn't have any idea of where to go. I mean, there's a lot of sick people out there that get their jollies out of hurting people. All they need is an excuse, to give them permission. A kid being too swishy or gentle or who's obviously attracted to the wrong gender, that's all they need."
Brother Jacques seemed to be getting choked up, so Kev continued on for him, "When Ben and Zane showed up. We told them all of this and, like magic, Zane says he knows someone who can probably help."
Zane smiled, he honestly hadn't seen his contribution being that important.
"I guess you know the rest. Zane contacted Studmffn... and here we are!" Ben finished with a smile.
"I'm so glad that Carson was able to help. I think that he did a very good thing in bringing you here." Ryan said as he looked from Ben to Zane.
"Well, we're really happy to be away from Chicago, but from what Carson's said, there might actually be stuff that we can do to help. If there's really any way we can help you, to help people, then we're glad that he brought us here, too." Ben finished with a smile at Carson.
"I remember Carson telling us that there were two groups. How did the other one come to be with us?" Deb asked as she looked around the room.
"Bug is the one who needs to tell you." Oma Shoupe said as she looked down the table at her grandson.
All those who knew Bug, looked at him expectantly.
Bug looked around, then down at his empty dessert plate without saying a word.
Bax got up from his chair and walked to Bug's side and whispered to him.
Bug shook his head, but Bax kept on prodding until Bug finally whispered something in return.
Bax looked around and said, "Bug doesn't want to say it in front of everybody, because he's afraid he'll say it wrong... and because he says 'fuck' a lot."
Bug heard a few chuckles and decided that, as much as he didn't want to, that he should go ahead and tell their hosts why he and his family were there.
"I guess it started when I was walking home from school. I had to stop at the store to get something for dinner, because we were out of pretty much everything. When I came out of the store, two young guys..." Bug paused, then pointed at Bax and Ro before continuing, "These two. They stopped me outside the store and asked me if I would give them some food."
Curious looks went around the table, but no one spoke.
"I would have, but I didn't really have anything they could eat without cooking it. I was in a pretty bad mood from school and, well, I guess I wasn't too nice to them, but still, I invited the guys to come to my place and have dinner with me and my family." Bug said thoughtfully.
"The way he swore and with his long hair, I didn't know if we went to his house, if anyone was ever gonna see us alive again." Bax added seriously.
Before Bug could respond, Ro added, "But we hadn't had any real food since the CPS kicked us out of the group home. We were so hungry... there wasn't anything else we could do."
Reginald was sitting next to Ro and put an arm around him to comfort him.
"Yeah. So, I made us dinner, then Oma Shoupe told us what had happened to President Bryce. That got me to thinking about what else might happen and I decided to check on some things... I guess I can talk about it here. I wanted to check on the underground Net to see how bad things really were." Bug said distantly.
"Yeah. And he was also gonna fix it so Ro could talk to his dads." Bax interjected.
Bug smiled at Bax and reached an arm out, pulling him into a hug before continuing, "When I realized what was going on around the country, I got worried. But when I saw what was going on around Orlando, I got scared. I'd heard about the government having lists of people and there was no way that me and my whole family weren't on those lists. When the shit hit the fan... um, sorry... when things went bad, I figured they'd be on our doorstep first thing, day one."
Everyone was riveted to Bug's telling of the story.
"That's when I called Studmffn and asked for help. I didn't really know if there was anything he could do, but I was out of other options. I hoped that he might at least be able to put me in touch with someone who could do something to get us out of there." Bug said honestly.
"I'm glad you called. From the little time that we've worked together, I can already tell that you're going to be a great help... in fact, you already have been. You need to show me how you were able to re-establish that video feed when everything was blocked." Carson finished with a smile.
"Fuck! That was nothing." Bug chuckled, then realized what he'd said and sighed, "Shit! I almost made it without saying it."
Several laughs sounded around the room, then Ryan said, "If we're all done with dinner, might I suggest that we adjourn to the living room. I think with all the traveling and dramatic events of the day that all of us could do with a relaxing evening."
"Of course, we have the great outdoors available for the younger ones who might like to go out and play, and if you're needing some time to be alone and process all of what you've been through today, you all have rooms where you can go and relax, if you'd rather." Deb added as she looked around at her guests.
"If we go in there, will there be coffee?" Jeremy asked playfully, with Hank at his side.
"I think that can be arranged." Ryan said with a chuckle.
"That's all I'm needing." Jeremy said as he stood, then offered his hand to help Hank to stand.
Everyone watched the couple walk out of the room, then others slowly started to rise.
* * * * *
"You got a problem?" Bug asked when he noticed that Bax was watching him.
"No. Do you?" Bax asked in return.
"What do you mean?" Bug asked cautiously.
"Are you alright? I know you didn't want to talk and stuff, but out of everyone from Orlando, you were the one who knew what was going on." Bax said frankly.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks for giving me a push. It was the right thing to do." Bug slowly admitted.
"So, we're okay?" Bax asked hopefully.
"We're good. Why don't you go hang out with Ro and Max and have some fun?" Bug suggested with a grin.
Bax gave Bug a long, considering look, then said, "Okay. Just remember, I got your back, Bug."
"I'll remember." Bug said as he fought to maintain a serious expression.
* * * * *
"We had a talk with Bug, earlier." Reginald said gently.
Ro looked up at him uncertainly. He couldn't begin to imagine what Bug might have said to them or how they'd react.
"He pointed out to us that you're growing up." Walter said softly.
Ro hesitantly nodded in agreement.
"We love you, Ronan. Please, don't ever doubt that. We weren't ever trying to embarrass you or keep you from joining in with your friends, we were just trying to protect you... well, at least the you that you were before you left." Reginald said gently.
"It's okay, Pop. I still love both of you. You just pissed me off." Ro said frankly.
"Although I think your friend Bug is a very wise young man, that doesn't mean that it's acceptable to talk like him." Walter said sternly.
Ro seemed to be about to respond, then really thought about what he was going to say.
Both his parents watched and waited.
"If you really REALLY think it's that big of a deal, I'll try not to use that language. But I'd really like it if, when it's just us, if I could say what I'm feeling." Ro said with a little frustration under his words.
"How so?" Walter asked curiously.
"I'd like to be able to tell you about the bitch at the CPS who threw us out on the street and kept all our stuff. I'd like to be able to complain to you about the asshole in the White House who makes it so I can't live with my dads. I don't want to talk that way all the time, but sometimes those are the words that say what I mean." Ro said with tears of frustration welling in his eyes at his inability to articulate what was burning inside him.
Reginald and Walter shared a long look. It was Reginald who gave a slight nod, signaling for Walter to make the decision.
"Very well, Ronan. Although I don't normally approve of such language, I won't scold you if you should occasionally use it in our company, when you're trying to express yourself. But if I find out that you're swearing around other people, I will be very disappointed." Walter finished sternly.
Ro thought about it, then asked, "How about if I don't swear louder or more than the people who are around me? Would that be okay?"
Reginald and Walter shared another look before Walter said, "I think that sounds fair."
"Thanks. I love you. Both of you." Ro said as he rushed forward and pulled both his fathers into tight hugs.
"Bug said that if we wanted to hang out, now would probably be a good time." Bax said hesitantly as he approached.
"Is that okay?" Ro asked his parents hopefully.
"Yes. But if you're going to be leaving this part of the house, let us know where you're going to be." Walter said seriously.
"I will. I promise." Ro said happily before rushing away to join Bax.
"We just gave him permission to swear in front of us." Reginald said with a sideways look at his partner.
"We either did something very good, or very bad, just now. I suppose that only time will tell." Walter said in resignation, then put an arm around Reginald's shoulders to hold him in a loose hug.
* * * * *
When Ro and Bax finally found Max, they felt immediate sympathy for her.
She was with Lucas and Gordon, and obviously bored half out of her mind.
"Would it be okay if Max hung out with us for a while?" Bax asked as he approached.
"What will you be doing?" Lucas asked cautiously.
"Hanging out." Bax responded immediately.
Lucas seemed to consider for a moment before breaking into a smile.
"Would you like to go with your friends and have a good time?" Lucas asked her in a slow, steady voice.
Max slowly nodded.
"Then come here." Lucas said as he leaned down and pulled her into a quick hug.
"We'll be right here if you need us for anything." Lucas whispered to her, then released the hug as he stood.
"Have fun." Gordon said as he also hugged the young girl.
"Great! Come on! I want to check this place out!" Bax said as he dashed away.
Ro and Max followed along with huge smiles on their faces.
* * * * *
As Bug and the twins were walking around the living room, Oma Shoupe called out, "Bug! Could you come over here for a moment?"
Bug turned and saw Oma Shoupe and Dr. Murten sitting in some comfortable chairs.
"Fred and I got onto the topic of medications and I was wondering if you would be able to tell him what medications I've been taking. You've been taking care of it for so long that I've honestly lost track of what all of it is." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"I don't think I could remember it all, either. But I've got it all written down. Give me a second and I'll get it for you." Bug said before hurrying away. Ken and Kev were only a step behind as they followed him.
"He's such a good boy. I'm so blessed to have him watching after me in my twilight years." Oma Shoupe said in an adoring voice.
"Geraldine, you wouldn't believe some of what I've seen as a doctor. You're right, you've been incredibly blessed." Dr. Murten said frankly, then his expression turned curious as he looked away.
Oma Shoupe followed his gaze and found him watching a thin young man with hands that were trembling uncontrollably.
"I don't recall seeing anyone his age with a condition like that before. What causes that?" Oma Shoupe asked curiously.
"I can think of a few things..." Dr. Murten said thoughtfully.
"Such as?" Oma Shoupe encouraged.
"I would very much like to examine him to find out. From the way he's dressed, I'd feel safe in saying that he probably hasn't received any but the most rudimentary medical care. There's a better than average possibility that I might be able to do something to help him." Dr. Murten said speculatively.
"I don't know if it's within your area of expertise, but my grandson Lawrence..." Oma Shoupe began before she was cut off.
"Here you go. I made copies of all of Oma Shoupe's prescriptions, not that you can really read the doctor's handwriting. There's also a list that I made that tells you which medications she needs to take at which time." Bug said as he handed over a large zip-lock bag.
Dr. Murten opened the bag and was impressed at Bug's foresight and organization.
He looked over the list carefully, then began to go through the bag and look at the copies of all the different prescriptions.
Finally, he looked up from the paperwork and said, "This is an insane amount of medication for any one person to be taking. Geraldine, if you would allow me, I would like very much to give you an examination and draw some blood so that we can determine how many of these drugs you can do without."
"That's very generous of you Fred, but with being moved all the way across the country and being in an unfamiliar place... there's so much that's going on that's out of my control, I can't promise that I'd be able to keep an appointment." Oma Shoupe said regretfully.
"Then why don't we do it now? I have everything I need in Ryan's office." Dr. Murten said as he stood.
"Now? Right this minute?" Oma Shoupe asked with surprise.
"Yes. That's the now I was thinking of. I promise, it won't take more than a few minutes." Dr. Murten said with a smile.
"Yes. Well... alright then." Oma Shoupe said in an overwhelmed voice, then held on to Dr. Murten's arm as he led her out of the room.
* * * * *
"Want to hang out here for a while?" Ken asked as he looked around at all the activity in the living room.
"Yeah. I think so. Have you noticed that no one seems to mind that the three of us are a couple?" Bug asked curiously.
"The kind of people who would have a problem with it, are the same kind of people who would freak out on us being gay." Kev said frankly.
"I guess that's right." Bug said as he sat down on the middle cushion of a couch.
As he expected, Ken and Kev sat next to him on opposite sides.
He didn't know what it was about the feeling of being surrounded by them that made him feel so good, but he found that he couldn't get enough of it.
"Bug! Me and Ro and Max want to have a sleepover tonight! Is that okay?" Bax asked as he rushed up to the couch.
Bug looked at Ken, who had a slightly disappointed look on his face, then he turned to look at Kev who had a look of indecision.
Even so, Bug was about to give his permission when a stray thought popped up in his mind.
He recalled that while they were touring the big house, Tommy had mentioned that he could find another place for the boys if Bug and the twins wanted some privacy.
"I have an idea, but I need to check on something. Come on." Bug said, then got up off the couch and hurried away with three kids in tow.
* * * * *
"Do you want to talk about it?" Lazlo asked Jay hesitantly, not entirely sure if he wanted to talk about it himself.
"No. Talking about it doesn't do any good." Jay said honestly.
"I just... I don't know what to do to make it better." Lazlo said quietly.
"I don't know either. Maybe there isn't anything you can do." Jay said frankly.
"I never... I mean, no one ever hurt me... not like they hurt you." Lazlo muttered and couldn't seem to meet Jay's eyes.
"I'm glad to hear that." Jay said gently.
"But I want to understand, so that way maybe I'd know what you need." Lazlo said in frustration.
"No, Lazlo. I don't want you to understand. I want you to be carefree and happy and seeing the world as a wonderful place of safety and security, where nothing bad could ever happen to you." Jay said seriously.
"But they stuck their dicks in your butt! You shouldn't have to remember that alone. You should have someone to help you, who knows what it's like. You should be able to forget. I mean, now you're here where it's safe and you don't have to worry about anything like that ever happening to you again." Lazlo urged him to understand.
"It probably is going to happen again. Hopefully, not the hurting part. But probably the rest. I'm gay." Jay said frankly.
Lazlo's eyes went wide at the admission and he couldn't think of anything to say.
Jay watched Lazlo's reaction and his heart fell.
Finally, he quietly said, "I see. You wanted a brother and a friend. Not a GAY brother or a GAY friend."
Lazlo couldn't think of any response as Jay hurried past some people and out of his sight.
It took a few seconds for everything to sink in, but when it finally did, Lazlo started walking to the other side of the room, searching for his fathers.
* * * * *
"Tommy!" Bug said as he finally found who he was looking for.
"Bug. How is everything?" Tommy asked as he looked up from his tablet computer.
"Pretty good, but do you remember when you said that you could find a place for Bax if we needed?" Bug asked hopefully.
"Yeah. In fact, I cleared that with my dad at dinner. How about I take you guys up to the game room and see what you think about that?" Tommy asked cheerfully.
"That sounds pretty good to me. Do you guys want to go check it out?" Bug asked the children surrounding him.
Bax, Ro and Max all seemed to be excited by the idea and happily followed along as Tommy led them up to the second floor, then on up to the third.
"This place is HUGE!" Bug said loudly, mostly to see if the sound of it echoed.
It did, slightly.
"You got Foosball!" Ro said as he ran to the foosball table.
"And air hockey, too!" Bax said with glee.
"Guys! Check out these video games! I think they got ALL of em!" Max said as she ran to the video game system.
Tommy chuckled and said, "What we have up here are the games that Mikey and I haven't taken down to our rooms to play. There are still plenty of them here, but if there's one you want to play and you can't find it, check with either me or Mikey and we'll probably have it.
"You got ping pong, pool, and even a basketball hoop! You guys must almost live up here!" Bax said in amazement.
"We used to. But after Carson's accident, we didn't want to be up here without him. Ever since then, Mikey and I have kind of stuck to our rooms, or done stuff downstairs where Carson could join in, or even just watch if he wasn't feeling up to it." Tommy said quietly.
"Well, this is still a great place. What do you guys think? Would you like to sleep up here tonight?" Bug asked with a smile.
"Yeah! That sounds AWESOME!" Bax crowed.
"It'll be like camping out at an amusement park." Max chuckled.
"Then I'd say it's settled. If you guys want, you can come with me and I'll get you some sleeping bags and pillows." Tommy said cheerfully.
Bug smiled as he watched the energetic children happily follow Tommy to the stairway.
* * * * *
"It looks like we're going to have a 'kid-free' night tonight." Bug said as he approached the couch with a leer.
Ken chuckled as Bug retook the spot on the couch between them.
"What's funny?" Bug asked with an affectionate smile at Ken.
"Just the way you said 'kid-free', it sounds like we're an old married couple." Ken laughed.
Bug smiled at the words, then quietly said, "You know, that sounds nice. I think I might like to grow old with you guys."
Ken was surprised by the words, but also incredibly moved by them.
"I'd like that, too." Kev said as he draped himself over Bug's right side and started to nuzzle his ear.
"Yeah." Ken said as he moved to Bug's left.
* * * * *
Since dinner, Carson had stayed mostly to himself. His legs were starting to ache and he knew that he should probably take some pain medication and go to bed, but getting to spend time with all these new, wildly different people, kept him sitting there, people watching, enjoying all their life and energy.
A sound caught his attention and off to his left, almost out of his range of vision, he could barely see a boy close to his own age, sitting against the wall, crying.
He didn't know who the boy was, although he recalled seeing him at various times through the day.
Regardless, Carson couldn't sit idly by and allow the boy to suffer without at least trying to help.
"You wanna talk about it?" Carson asked as he wheeled close to the boy's side.
"No. I said too much already." The boy whimpered.
"Okay. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. I'm Carson, by the way." Carson said gently.
"Yeah. I know." The boy said as he looked up at Carson with watery blue eyes.
The boy had slightly shaggy wheat blond hair and a smattering of freckles across his nose. Carson was shocked to realize that this unknown boy was nothing short of adorable.
"Oh! Sorry... I'm Jay." The boy finally said, jarring Carson out of his mental wandering.
"Is that an initial or short for something?" Carson asked curiously.
"Short for Jayson, Jayson Kale." Jay said simply.
"If you tell me what's wrong, Jay, maybe I can do something to help." Carson said gently.
"I doubt it." Jay said in a defeated tone, then continued, "I just came out to the only person who's been really nice to me since I've been here and he... well, I think maybe he hates me now."
"If he hates you for being gay, then he'd better find himself a new place to live. My parents won't put up with that in our house." Carson said seriously.
"No! Don't do that. Lazlo's a really great, really sweet guy. He's had a beautiful life and never been hurt or used or betrayed by anyone. It's not his fault that he doesn't know how to deal with someone who's as messed up as me." Jay said urgently.
Carson was silent for a moment, then quietly said, "I won't say anything to anyone about it. That's all I can promise."
"Thank you. He's a really good guy, I swear." Jay said earnestly.
"Sitting on the floor can't be comfortable for you. My room is right over there. If you want, we can go in and sit down and talk about whatever you want... and not talk about whatever you don't want." Carson finished with a smile.
Jay looked up at the boy in the wheelchair and finally said, "Yeah. Okay."
* * * * *
As soon as Bug saw Oma Shoupe and Dr. Murten walking into the room, he was off the couch and running to her side.
"How are you? Is everything alright?" Bug asked quickly.
"Everything's fine. In fact, Fred's already decided to take me off of two of my medications." Oma Shoupe said happily.
"They were completely redundant with the other medications that she was taking. And considering the possible side effects, they might very well be the reason that Geraldine has such a problem with weakness." Dr. Murten said as he and Bug helped Oma Shoupe settle into a well cushioned chair.
"As soon as I get her blood work back, I'm going to see about taking her off a few more of those medications and adjusting the dosages of the remaining ones. I'm frankly surprised that she's been able to be up and functioning normally with such a variety of potent drugs in her system." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"I did my best to take care of her." Bug said as he felt his heart sinking, knowing that he had failed to take proper care of his Oma.
"For some doctors, it's a calling. They want to make you well. For others, it's a business. They want to make you sick. Because, if you're not sick, they don't make money. And the drug companies like to 'encourage' such doctors to use their products, in other words, to prescribe unnecessary medications to suffering people to relieve them and their insurance companies of large amounts of money." Dr. Murten said bitterly.
"I don't know what else I could have done." Bug said quietly.
"Not a thing. You made the best choices you could with the information that was available to you." Dr. Murten said gently, then his attention seemed to wander to someone at the next set of chairs.
Bug looked from Dr. Murten to Brother Jacques and wondered what was up with that.
* * * * *
"Sir, may I speak with you for a moment?" Walt asked as he approached Ryan.
"Certainly. What can I do for you?" Ryan asked cautiously, taken aback by the man's forceful demeanor.
"I've been thinking about it since your son showed us that video. If you wouldn't have any objection, I'd like to take a look at the security around here." Walt said seriously.
"May I ask why?" Ryan asked slowly.
"If people all over the country are going to be coming here hoping to find a safe place to stay, it hangs a target on us. Where do you think Ashwood's going to send his goons to hurt us where it hurts most? Right here." Walt said firmly.
"Well, our security is handled by KF Security, and I've been impressed with their work thus far. But I understand your concern. All our security equipment is in the small room under the stairs. The paperwork explaining it all is in there, too, if you'd like to see it." Ryan said as he gestured toward the staircase.
"Yes. I'd sleep a lot better if I had some idea of the precautions that are being taken." Walt said frankly.
"I take it that you've had some experience with such things." Ryan said as he opened the door to the small room.
Walt tried to restrain a grin as he answered, "Some."
* * * * *
Mr. Montgomery saw the Americans approaching and greeted them. "Well, hello. I be a bit surprized ta see you so soon."
The Scoutmaster said "We have enough room to carry all of you. We are traveling North to a place called Kettle Falls. It's in Washington State, so much nearer to Canada. I'm not exactly sure where it is, but I do know there is a large Boy Scout Camp there that would be able to support our camping there. Our biggest problem is carrying your equipment."
"Well, laddie, we don' have much. Each of us has a wee pack that we used on the trail, but the tents and the rest were supplied by the camp." Mr. Montgomery explained.
The leaders shook hands. "Okay, that sounds good then. Okay, we are leaving as soon as we eat lunch. We'll see if the kitchen here can get us food for our trip. It'd be nice to know we have a good start on our journey. The plan is to drive straight through. The bus might make it on its gas, but we will try to gas-up about half way if we can."
"Aye that sounds good. I can help with the drivin'. I run the train from Edinburgh ta London so I can stay alert for the drive." Mr. Montgomery said peacefully.
* * * * *
"He looks happy. I don't want to bother him." Bug said as Oma Shoupe urged him on.
"Given the way things are, we may not have a chance like this again. I trust Dr. Murten and I think that if there is anything that can be done to help Lawrence, he'll be able to tell us what it is." Oma Shoupe said seriously.
"You're right. It's just that after waiting all this time for him to finally find someone to make him happy, I don't want to do anything to take away one minute from him." Bug relented as he walked to stand beside the couch where Lawrence and Roris were snuggled together in front of the enormous big screen TV. Although a movie was playing in front of them, it was obvious that neither of them were paying it the slightest bit of attention.
"Guys, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Oma Shoupe has just seen a doctor that seems like he's really going to be able to help her a lot. She was thinking that it would be really good if he had a look at Lawrence, and maybe Roris, too, if he wanted." Bug said uncertainly.
Roris muttered something to Lawrence that Bug couldn't begin to understand, then Lawrence looked up and asked, "Do we have to do it right now?"
"No. But you don't want to put it off for too long. There's no way we can know how long we're going to be here or what other things are going to happen. You really need to grab a chance like this when it comes along because you don't know when, or if, you'll have another one." Bug said urgently.
Lawrence listened to Roris for a moment, then said, "I don't like doctors, but Roris says that it sounds like a really good idea. I'll go and see your doctor, as long as he doesn't mind if Roris comes with me. He understands stuff that I don't and if I have to decide anything, I want Roris to be there to help me."
"That sounds fair, Lor. We'll talk to the doctor and let you know when he has time to see you." Bug said with a tender smile at his brother.
Bug could tell that all that Lawrence wanted to do at that moment was devote his full attention to Roris, so he guided Oma Shoupe and the twins to walk away.
* * * * *
"Excuse me. I really don't mean to pry into your private affairs, but as I said at dinner, I'm a doctor. I couldn't help but notice your condition and wondered if there's anything I can do to be of help." Dr. Murten said to Brother Jacques cautiously.
Zane held a little more closely to Brother Jacques' side, either to comfort or protect him.
"I don't know if there's anything you can do for me." Brother Jacques said regretfully, then continued, "I used to use drugs, the hard kind. When I went into rehab, the tremor started and I've had it ever since. The doctor at the rehab said that it might get better on its own, but it never did. It just got worse."
"Have you seen a doctor about it since?" Dr. Murten asked cautiously.
"No. Someone like me can't see a doctor unless it's a matter of life and death... sometimes not even then." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"Well, then. I can't make any promises, but I can't see that there'd be any harm in me examining you. It's possible that I might be able to find some way to reduce the tremors." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"That'd be great." Brother Jacques said with a smile, then the smile fell away as he cautiously added, "But you should know, before you do anything, that I'm HIV positive."
"I've had nearly twenty years of experience with HIV cases and I'm up-to-date on the latest treatments. I'd like to draw some blood when I examine you to get an idea of where you stand, but otherwise, I don't see it being an issue."
Brother Jacques smiled at the doctor's casual reaction and said, "I hope it's as easy as you're making it sound. Just let me know when you want to see me."
"How about right now? I've already got some blood work that I need to have sent in. If I can collect yours right away, I can send it off in the morning." Dr. Murten said pleasantly.
"Okay. Let's do it." Brother Jacques said with a smile as he urged Zane to walk with him and follow the doctor out of the room.
* * * * *
Ben was sitting in front of the big screen TV in the living room, not even knowing what movie he was supposedly watching. All his attention was on the little boy at his side, sitting less than a foot away.
Oleksandr had once again chosen to sit by himself, but was also constantly looking back to make sure that Ben was there, within arm's reach.
As if on cue, Oleksandr turned and looked at Ben, verifying his presence.
Ben just smiled at him and watched as Oleksandr turned his attention back to the movie in front of him.
* * * * *
The twins had gotten the idea that they wanted to check on the mission kids, just to make sure that everyone was alright.
Bug thought that was a good idea and followed along as they roamed around the room.
They finally spotted Jamiah, sitting by himself, watching the big TV.
"How are you doing, Jamiah?" Ken asked the boy curiously.
"Fine." Jamiah said in a non-committal tone.
"There's quite a few other kids your age around here. Would you like for us to introduce you so that they might invite you to join in with what they're doing?" Kev asked gently.
"No. I think I just want to sit here for a while. I've never seen this movie before." Jamiah said frankly, and from the tone of his voice, it seemed that he was being sincere.
"Okay. We'll leave you alone. We just wanted to be sure that you weren't feeling left out." Ken said with concern.
"Nope. Just chillin'." Jamiah said with a small grin.
"Got it." Ken chuckled, then thought to ask, "Do you know where Loquicia is, right now?"
"Over there with the girls." Jamiah said as he pointed without looking.
It didn't escape anyone's notice that Jamiah didn't even have to think about it. He knew EXACTLY where his sister was, and who she was with.
"Thanks. Enjoy your movie." Ken said before walking away.
* * * * *
Ben noticed that Dax seemed to be distracted and finally caught him following Jared with his eyes.
"Go talk to him." Ben encouraged.
"I couldn't do that. Just look at him!"
"I'm not saying that you should hit on him, but... it wouldn't hurt to introduce yourself so he'll know that you exist." Ben said seriously.
"I couldn't..." Dax muttered, then turned his attention to the TV.
* * * * *
"I think I screwed up, bad." Lazlo said as he approached his fathers, then nearly tackled them as he broke into tears.
"What's wrong?" Gordon asked as he held his son firmly.
"I was talking to Jay, and... and... I don't know what happened. We were talking and everything was okay, and then Jay told me he was gay and... I don't know what I did, but now he thinks I hate him." Lazlo blurted out before breaking into sobs again.
"I'm sure that Jay doesn't think that." Lucas told his son soothingly.
"I don't know why I was so stupid. I mean, I got two gay dads! I don't care if he's gay, I really don't! But when he told me, I just... froze." Lazlo said despondently.
"Lazlo, you were surprised. There's absolutely nothing in the world wrong with that." Lucas said as he rubbed small circles on Lazlo's back, trying to soothe him.
"Where is Jay now?" Gordon asked as he looked around.
"I don't know. He ran off when I acted like such a big dork." Lazlo said sadly.
"I'm sure that after he has a few minutes to stop and think about it, that he'll realize that he just blindsided you and that your reaction wasn't disapproval." Gordon said gently.
"He hates me, now." Lazlo said before burying his face in Lucas' shoulder.
"I bet he doesn't." Gordon said with a grin.
Lazlo remained in Lucas' embrace and didn't give any reaction.
"I bet you a package of Twizzlers that Jay isn't mad at you at all." Gordon persisted.
"Cherry ones? Not those black kind?" Lazlo asked as he peeked one eye out to look at Gordon.
"I'll give you one pack of cherry Twizzlers if I'm wrong." Gordon said with a smile.
Lazlo thought about it for a moment, then said, "He must not be mad at me, because I never win when I bet with you."
"There you go." Gordon laughed as he ruffled Lazlo's hair.
* * * * *
Bug, Ken and Kev walked to where Jamiah had pointed and found Loquicia, Misti and Annie surrounding Madelyn Murten.
All the girls seemed to be enthralled by the grandmotherly woman who was paying attention just to them.
Bug and the twins didn't have any desire to intrude on their conversation and only watched for a moment before moving on.
* * * * *
Carson and Jay had been talking quietly about fairly general things since going into Carson's room.
Jay had told about his school and about the different families that he'd been placed with the past few years, but never said a word about his own family.
For his part, Carson had told Jay, in very general terms, about the accident and how he ended up in a wheelchair, but he made sure to leave out the part about the pain and about how the doctors still weren't sure if he would ever be able to walk again.
Suddenly, a teenage voice sounded, it seemed, from nowhere. "Carson. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I've just received a report... hold on... updating..."
Carson backed his wheelchair away from the bed where Jay was sitting and made his way to the computer alcove.
"Carson, according to my reports seventy-three... eighty... by all reports, one hundred percent of the country east of the Mississippi river has been blacked out." Dizzy said seriously.
"Wait! What?" Carson asked as he locked his wheelchair into place.
"All electricity and communications have ceased east of the Mississippi." Dizzy said firmly.
"War mode." Carson said firmly, then added, "Show me."
Jay stood from the bed and walked up behind Carson, in awe of the technological display he was seeing.
"This was NOT a cascading failure. It was an intentional shutdown." Dizzy said as all eight screens in front of Carson filled with information.
"Can you still get a message to Alvin?" Carson asked absently as he studied the screens.
"Yes. Their location seems to be unaffected." Dizzy immediately replied.
"Compress everything and send it to them. They probably already know about all this, but it won't hurt to pass on what we know." Carson said seriously.
"All files have been sent." Dizzy said a moment later.
Carson slowly looked over the screens, then quietly said, "It seems like that's it, at least, for now. I'd better let everyone know what's going on. But, Dizzy, you call me on my cell phone if anything new happens."
"You got it, boss." Dizzy answered immediately.
Carson undocked his chair from the computer alcove and noticed Jay watching him in awe.
"You're amazing." Jay whispered in wonder.
Carson felt a tingle run down his spine and settle in his groin.
He felt a blush in his cheeks as he shyly responded, "Thanks."
* * * * *
As Carson wheeled his way into the living room, he noticed that Jay was hanging back, almost hiding in his bedroom doorway.
He looked around and realized that most, if not all, of the people that had attended dinner were talking in small groups around the living room or watching the movie on the TV.
He slowly made his way to his previous place, beside the television, then called out, "Everyone! Can I have your attention for just a minute?"
The looks of anxiety directed at him told him that everyone was expecting something really bad.
"Listen, I don't have a lot of information to share, but I thought you'd like to be kept up-to-date on what's going on." Carson said as he felt a wave of nervousness from speaking in front of so many people.
"What is it? What happened now?" Ben asked anxiously.
"Like I said, I don't have a lot of details. But according to everything that I've seen on the Internet, about half the country just went dark. First reports are that it's a massive blackout, but the strange thing is that it's not only electricity, it's also all the land lines, which work on a completely different system." Carson said seriously.
"How 'massive' is massive?" Bug asked cautiously.
"I can't be sure yet, but right now it looks like everything east of the Mississippi." Carson said frankly.
"I bet this is why we couldn't get through to Chicago." Ken said speculatively.
"They were fixing it so that ALL the communications would be down." Kev continued the thought.
"I told you all that I know. There's still a chance that all of this is something natural or accidental." Carson hurried to explain.
"Roris says 'Fat chance'." Lawrence said from his place, cuddled at Roris' side.
"I need to get back to my room in case anything else happens. I just thought everyone would want to know." Carson said regretfully, wishing that he had more information to give them.
When he got back to his bedroom, he noticed that Jay was still standing there, looking at him uncertainly.
"Would you like to keep me company?" Carson asked him and was surprised to feel his heart beating a mile a minute.
Jay broke into a radiant smile and his eyes sparkled with delight at the offer.
Seeing that light come on in Jay's eyes made Carson feel ten feet tall. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was someone's 'special' person.
* * * * *
Ro, Max and Bax rushed into the living room from the hallway and immediately went to the group of girls surrounding Madelyn.
Bug was curious and watched from a distance for a moment, then decided to go over to investigate.
"What's up, guys?" Bug asked casually.
"There's so much great stuff upstairs, we thought we'd let everyone else know it's up there. It's stupid for people to be hanging around down here when we've got stuff that we can do." Bax said frankly.
Bug smiled at the logic and couldn't help but agree.
"You make sure that everyone lets their parents know where they'll be before they go up." Bug said in a warning tone.
"Oh. Yeah. I didn't think of that." Bax said slowly, then immediately cheered up and happily said, "Okay!"
"Go have fun." Bug chuckled as he went back to the couch where the twins were waiting for him.
* * * * *
"I can't even imagine Chicago being blacked out. It must be insane there." Dax said quietly to Ben.
"There's a good chance that you can still get through to your dad on his sat-phone, if you want to check on him." Ben said honestly.
Dax shook his head and said, "I'd rather not call him until I have something to say... I mean, like new stuff, that he doesn't already know."
"I'm sure that your dad won't mind getting a call from you, just to see how he's doing." Ben said honestly.
"I don't know. Maybe not, but I want my dad to know that he can count on me. That I won't freak out about every little thing. I've never really done anything to make him proud, the last thing I need is for him to see me as some sniveling little fairy who calls his daddy over every little thing."
Ben pulled Dax into a hug and quietly said, "You do whatever you feel is right. But just realize that you can talk to me about anything and I won't judge you like that."
Dax chuckled as he returned the hug and quietly said, "Yeah, I already figured that out."
* * * * *
Ryan and Walt walked into Carson's room to find him ensconced in, what looked like, a very close and personal conversation with a boy that Ryan hadn't met.
When Carson noticed, he pulled back from the boy and a scarlet blush rose up his cheeks.
"I just wanted to let you know that the last of the KF Transport planes has safely landed and that all their people are accounted for. None of them were in the eastern United States when the blackout happened." Ryan said slowly.
"Thanks. I've been keeping an eye on the KF planes, but I kind of got distracted by other things." Carson said shyly.
Ryan arched an eyebrow, then looked at the boy sitting on Carson's bed curiously.
"I mean, like the thing in Texas and the blackout." Carson hurried to explain.
"Of course." Ryan said with a slight, knowing smile.
"Dad, this is Jay. He's from Kansas City." Carson said formally, hoping to divert his father's train of thought.
"It's nice to meet you, Jay. Boys, this man's name is Walt. He works for KF Transport and also seems to be quite knowledgeable about security." Ryan said, matching his son's formal tone.
"I was about to..." Carson began to say when a stab of pain in his right thigh hit him so hard that it knocked the breath out of him.
"What's wrong?" Ryan asked as he hurried to his son's side.
It took a moment for Carson to fight past the pain, but he finally said through gritted teeth, "I've been sitting too long, and my legs don't like it."
"Let me get your pain pills, then you're going to bed." Ryan said firmly.
There were about a thousand different things that Carson wanted to do, but at that moment he didn't have the will to argue with his father.
A touch on his hand made Carson look up and he found that Jay was holding his hand, trying to comfort him.
"Thanks." Carson said gratefully, although he could feel tears running down his cheeks.
"Is there anything I can do?" Jay asked in a whisper.
Before Carson could answer, his father walked into the room and said, "I thought you had more pain pills than this, we need to refill your prescription, you wouldn't want to have to do without."
Rather than reply, Carson just took the pills that his father handed him, then washed them down with the provided glass of water.
"Do you need my help getting ready for bed?" Ryan asked as he looked into Carson's eyes.
"No. I can do it." Carson assured him.
"Call me if it gets too bad." Ryan told his son gently, then leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek.
Carson watched as his father and Walt walked out of the room, then looked over at Jay who was watching him uncertainly.
"Do you want me to go, too?" Jay asked hesitantly.
"No." Carson answered immediately, then continued more slowly, "If you wouldn't mind, I think it'd be really great if you'd stay with me until the medication kicks in."
"Okay. You just tell me when I need to leave." Jay said softly.
"I'm going to change now. I'll only be gone a minute." Carson said and waited for Jay's nod before going to the bathroom.
* * * * *
"If you all will excuse us, I think Doris and I are going to call it an early night." Marcus said as he stood.
"It's barely past seven o'clock." Madelyn protested. She had been enjoying their company since the girls had gone upstairs to play.
"Yes. In this time zone." Marcus agreed.
"Besides, we want to call our daughter before it's too late and invite them to visit for the weekend." Doris added with a shy smile.
"Your granddaughter sounds like an angel. Be sure that you track me down and introduce me when she arrives." Madelyn said warmly.
"She'll love you. I know she will." Doris said happily, then waved at everyone else before following her husband out of the room.
"Here I was thinking it was my age catching up with me, but it is getting late, isn't it?" Oma Shoupe asked as she looked at Bug.
Before Bug could react, Lawrence was at her side, offering to help her to stand.
"I need to get their meds." Bug whispered to his couch mates before also standing.
* * * * *
Gordon was holding Lazlo gently, and the boy was drifting in a place that was not quite awake when Lucas saw Jay step out of a room and quietly close the door behind him.
Lucas carefully got up without alerting Lazlo and hurried to talk to Jay.
"How are you doing?" Lucas asked as he approached.
"Fine." Jay said cautiously.
"Lazlo came to us and was really worried that you were upset with him." Lucas said frankly.
"Oh, no. I'm not mad. I just told him something and... it didn't go well." Jay said uncomfortably.
"Then, will you talk to him? He's going to be a wreck for as long as he thinks that he's upset you." Lucas said honestly.
"Yeah." Jay said, although it was obvious that he'd rather not.
"Jay's here." Gordon said as he saw Lucas and Jay approaching.
Lazlo sprang to full wakefulness in an instant.
"Gordon was right. He's not mad at you." Lucas said simply.
"Are you really not?" Lazlo asked Jay hopefully.
"No. I'm not mad." Jay confirmed.
"Good, because I don't care that you're gay. I've got two gay fathers, so why would I care about that? I was just surprised, but I still want you to be my brother and my friend." Lazlo said with certainty.
Jay couldn't help but chuckle before responding, "No doubt about it. We're going to be great brothers."
"It looks like the gathering is breaking up, so what would you guys think about heading up to our rooms?" Lucas asked cheerfully.
"Yeah. You wanna come to my room?" Lazlo asked happily.
"I'll go get the girls." Gordon said with a loving smile at Lucas.
Jay gave one last concerned look at Carson's door before following Lucas and Lazlo out of the room.
* * * * *
As the evening progressed, more and more people left the gathering and returned to their rooms.
As Ty crawled into the bunk bed in Mikey's room, he realized that he didn't feel the least bit sleepy.
"Can I ask you something?" Mikey asked quietly.
"Sure. I guess so." Ty responded warily.
"The way you are, you know, all... swishy and femmy... is that something you do? Or is that something that just happens and you can't help it?"
Ty was surprised by the blunt question, but did his best to answer honestly and without offense.
"Mostly, it happens by itself. Sometimes I can tone it down or ramp it up if I want to. But if I don't think about it, it's just the way I am."
"I can't imagine being that way. But I think that if I was, I'd probably hate myself."
"I do, sometimes." Ty said honestly.
"I didn't say that right. I don't hate you." Mikey hurried to explain.
"Don't worry about it, Mikey." Ty said seriously, then gave a weary sigh before adding, "Trust me, I know what hate sounds like."
"Is that why you're so angry all the time?" Mikey asked curiously.
"Maybe. There's other stuff, too." Ty said reluctantly.
After a long contemplative silence, Mikey quietly said, "I don't hate you."
Ty smiled as he responded, "I didn't think you did."
"I just thought it was important that I tell you. I don't really understand about being gay and... you know, like you are. I can't imagine what it feels like to be you. But I don't hate you for being you." Mikey said with difficulty.
"Thanks Mikey." Ty said in a choked up whisper.
"Goodnight, Ty." Mikey said softly.
"Goodnight." Ty responded, then turned on his side.
Ty wasn't sure how he felt about everything that had happened the past few days or about the place that he found himself in. But he had a feeling that he had made as close to a friend as he ever had.
* * * * *
Bax, Max and Ro were in their sleeping bags in the enormous playroom, settling in for sleep.
When they had been quiet for a few minutes, Max cautiously asked, "Did you notice anything weird about that lady, Debra?"
"Is she the one that all the girls were hanging around?" Ro asked curiously.
"No, that's Mrs. Murten. Debra is Tommy and Mikey's mother." Max said seriously.
"Oh, yeah. I know who you're talking about. But I didn't notice anything weird about her." Bax said thoughtfully.
"I was watching her at dinner, when she said that thing about being bothered by the stuff that Carson showed us... she was lying." Max said slowly.
"How do you know?" Ro asked curiously.
"I just do. I watched her at dinner and she was watching everyone. It was like she was memorizing every little detail about all of us." Max said firmly.
"Yeah, so? It's her house. Maybe she's just wanting to be sure that everyone's happy." Ro said casually.
"No. It's something else." Max said with certainty.
"Like what?" Bax asked curiously.
"Well, I've been thinking about it since dinner, about what she could really be up to and there's only one thing that makes sense."
"What's that?" Ro asked cautiously.
"She's a ninja."
TO BE CONTINUED...
It is getting confusing for me, since I am now co-writing some of the chapters with MM, so if you would please forgive me if I get confused and say editor's notes when I am supposed to say co-author's notes, I would appreciate it.
I don't know for sure, but I think Jay and Carson are starting to find each other very interesting.
I'm glad that Lazlo and Jay have come to an understanding and got past the fear that the other one might hate them.
As weird as it seems, I think Lazlo might be the most well adjusted kid on the property. Well, Mikey seems pretty level headed, too, and for that matter, so does Tommy.
But, then, both Tommy and Mikey are pretty worried about Carson and how he is coping.
Ben and Bug are both kind of take charge people, and in one way or another, each of them has a family to care for.
I also have a feeling that Oma Shoupe has been tremendously over medicated by her previous doctors.
I am glad Dr. Murten let Bug know that he hadn't done anything wrong. Bug was only working on the information that he had, and he had no reason to mistrust the Doctor.
In case you haven't realized it, I am not commenting on things in any particular order, this time. I am mentioning things as I think of them. Let's just say that keeping things in the right order is not at all easy when you are editing lots of stories which are all over the map in terms of when they are occurring, not to mention that there are different things happening in several different time zones. I am not complaining, though. It keeps my mind sharp or, at least as sharp as it can be kept.
I am ready for the next exciting chapter of this and all the other interesting stories.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Well, it should just be editor's notes but Darryl already used that. Jeez.
Oma is defiantly over-medicated. That can easily happen when you see several doctors for different conditions. If you can get one doctor be in charge of all your medications. I got my dad to do that and he went from twelve different medications to just five. His Doc said he was taking drugs to treat side-effects of other drugs. We need medications but you can get too much of a good thing.
I'm not sure how MultiMapper & Darryl are able to keep all these groups straight, but I am impressed and enjoying it tremendously. I think I'm going to need a chair that locks into the computer like Carson has. Just think what chapters will be like when Father Doherty arrives with the whole caravan from Chicago and another busload of Scouts and the Boy's Brigade. From Ryan's call it looks like even more than that will be coming. Wow!
I think I'll rest up so I'll be ready for the next exciting chapter.