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"Yeah. Christian Nathaniel Stone." Christian said as he looked around the hallway of the hospital uncomfortably.
"Since you two have the same last name, do you think there's any chance that you're related?" Galen asked, directing his question more toward Marc than Christian.
Marc considered for a moment then said, "I really don't know. I guess it's possible."
"Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?" Collin asked with concern at Christian's wilted expression.
"No, I'll be fine. I guess I'm just tired." Christian said in a small voice that revealed his exhaustion.
"Right. This should just take a minute." Marc said, then went back to filling out the forms on the clipboard.
"Code Blue. ICU Four. Code Blue." Sounded over the public address system.
The woman who had brought the clipboard got a look of panic and quickly said, "Will you drop that off at the nurses station when you're finished?"
"Sure. It'll just..." Marc started to say as she rushed away.
There were about nine other people running down the hall and all of them funneled into one room, just about ten feet away.
"Do you think that's..." Galen began to ask, but was silenced by a glare from Marc.
"Galen, why don't you take the boys out to the car so they can relax? This could take a few minutes and there's no reason you should have to stand here and wait." Marc asked as he handed Galen the car keys.
"Sure thing." Galen said gently, then turned to face the boys and said, "Come on guys. Let's get some fresh air."
"I like that plan." Christian said with a small smile of relief.
Collin nodded his agreement and casually put an arm around Christian as they started to walk slowly down the hallway.
Galen gave Marc a look of question and received a serious nod as his response.
Galen nodded in return, then walked to catch up to the boys.
* * * * *
As soon as Christian was outside the entrance to the emergency room, he stopped and took in a long, slow breath.
"Is anything wrong?" Collin asked with concern.
Christian slowly smiled, then said, "No. But after being in that hospital, the fresh air is nice."
Collin took in a deep breath, then slowly released it before saying, "Yeah. I guess it is."
"The car is over this way." Galen said quietly, not wanting to disrupt the tranquil mood.
"Do we need to rush?" Christian asked as he looked at Galen curiously.
"No. I guess not."
Christian gave a little chuckle at Galen's expression, then said, "I just feel like a ton of weight's been lifted off of me. And now being out here in the fresh, night air... it's like freedom. I'd just like to take a minute to enjoy it."
Galen broke into a warm grin and said, "Then we can stand out here and enjoy it for as long as you want."
After a long, contemplative moment, Galen continued, "I guess I'm so used to running around, hurrying to work, hurrying home... I'm always hurrying... I wouldn't even think about stopping to enjoy the night air."
"Do you really have to work that hard all the time?" Collin asked his father with concern.
"No. Not all the time. I suppose that I just get caught up in the pace of everything and forget to let myself wind down."
"Are you going to have to work over Christmas?" Collin asked with an expression that was somewhere between cautious and poised for disappointment.
"Just tomorrow for half a day. After that, I'm off until the new year." Galen said happily.
When he saw Collin's reaction to the announcement, he was mildly surprised. But when he saw the same expression on Christian's face, it really brought the realization home.
Both his son and Christian actually wanted to spend time with him.
"Kewl." Collin said with a smile at his father.
"Oh dear, you boys weren't fighting were you?" An unfamiliar voice asked from behind them.
The trio turned as one to see an elderly woman looking at Christian with sympathy.
"Excuse me?" Galen asked the woman cautiously.
"My grandsons fight like cats and dogs. By the time they're your age, they'll probably be putting each other in the hospital too. You should be ashamed!" The woman said as she glared at Collin.
"But we weren't..." Collin began to say.
"Weasel bite." Christian said gravely before Collin could finish.
The woman's eyes went wide with shock at the strange words.
"It just came out of nowhere." Christian said as he made a show of caressing the bandage on his ear.
It took a moment for Collin to realize what Christian was doing, but as soon as he twigged to the fact, he quickly said, "It just about took his whole ear off. And I guess I must have hit him in the eye when I was trying to get it off him."
"It really wasn't his fault. He was trying to help me." Christian said in a whisper.
"My goodness." The old woman said in horror.
"But the doctor says I'm gonna be fine." Christian added, doing his best to look pitiful and wounded.
"That's not what happened." Galen said with a stern gaze at Christian.
Both boys looked at Galen with pleading expressions, silently asking him to play along.
"The doctor said you *might* be fine. We won't know for sure until the rabies tests come back." Galen said gravely.
Christian nodded, then looked down at the ground sadly.
"Oh, I'm so sorry... I hope you'll be alright. I'll hold you in my prayers tonight." The elderly woman said sympathetically to Christian, then whispered to Collin, "Take good care of him."
"Thank you ma'am." Christian said in a whisper as he caressed his bandaged ear again.
"I will. Thank you." Collin said as he looked at Christian with sympathy.
The elderly woman looked at them a moment longer, then turned to walk into the hospital.
As soon as she was out of sight, Christian and Collin both broke into laughter.
As soon as he could catch his breath, Christian said, "Your dad is so cool!"
"Yeah. He is." Collin agreed as he looked at his father with admiration.
"I thought you guys were going to wait on me in the car." Marc said as he walked out of the hospital.
"We just stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the fresh air." Galen said with a secretive smile at the boys.
"Oh... are you about done?" Marc asked cautiously as he looked at the trio.
Galen and Collin both looked at Christian with question.
"Yeah. We're done." Christian said with a smile that seemed to be on the verge of breaking into a laugh.
"It's over this way." Galen said with a grin as he gestured casually toward the parking lot.
As the boys led the way, Galen looked at Marc with question.
'Later' Marc mouthed, then also began to walk.
* * * * *
"How's your head?" Collin asked quietly.
"No one's complained so far." Christian said automatically.
Christian broke into a smile and said, "It's fine. I guess those not-aspirin things kicked in. It doesn't hurt anymore."
Collin looked at his father and Marc who both seemed to be trying to hold in their chuckles.
Before Collin could give it too much thought, he spotted the car.
"There it is, the blue one." Collin said as he pointed.
Christian looked down the row of cars, then back at Collin with question.
"It's really awesome. Trust me." Collin said happily.
"It looks really old." Christian said reluctantly.
Collin moved closer to Christian's side and whispered, "Yeah. That's what I said too."
"Is it safe?" Christian asked in a tone that sounded concerned.
"Yep. It's as safe as being in a tank." Collin said with a grin.
* * * * *
"Do you want me to drive?" Galen asked as they approached the back of the car.
"No, that's alright. I'll drive." Marc said as he glanced at the boys.
"Are you sure?" Galen asked, not wanting Marc to feel like he was their chauffeur.
"I'll drive." Christian offered quickly, then looked from one man to the other with hope.
Galen and Marc turned simultaneously to stare at Christian, their expressions conveying the depth of their unified 'no'.
"Guess not." Christian said in a whisper to Collin at his side.
"How about this? You guys can wait here and I'll back the car out, then I'll slide over and Galen can drive us on our errands." Marc asked seriously.
"I like that plan." Galen said with a smile, then moved in to give Marc a quick kiss.
Collin and Christian shared a look, then Christian whispered, "It's kind of creepy when old people do it."
"Shh. Don't let them hear you say that. You wouldn't *believe* what I had to do so they'd be comfortable enough to kiss in front of me." Collin whispered in return.
Christian studied Collin's expression for a moment, then asked, "Tell me later?"
Collin nodded, then both boys were startled by the rumble of Marc starting the engine.
Car alarms started going off up and down the row of parked cars as Christian clutched his hands over his ears and winced with pain.
Collin guided him to stand aside as Marc slowly and carefully backed the car out of the narrow parking space.
* * * * *
"Are you okay? Does it hurt too much?" Collin asked with concern as he followed Christian into the back seat of the car.
Christian considered for a moment, then said, "No. It just hurt for a minute when the engine started because it was loud and all of a sudden. Now it doesn't hurt at all."
"Good. I don't want you to hurt." Collin said quietly as he fastened his seat belt.
Christian smiled at Collin and whispered, "It's been a long time since anyone's felt that way for me. Thanks."
"Anytime." Collin said with a weak smile as he tried to look past Christian's black eye and bandaged ear.
"Do we need to go anyplace else before the airport?" Galen asked as he settled into place in the driver's seat.
After a moment of silence, Galen continued, "Then here we go."
* * * * *
As soon as they got out of the parking lot, Galen expertly made his way to the nearest on-ramp to the I-4 interstate which was only a few blocks away.
Both boys were looking out the windows, silently watching the scenery pass them by, when the car suddenly accelerated.
The sound of the car's engine filled their ears as the feeling of the engine's vibration coursed through both their bodies.
Although neither boy realized it, both were wearing matching expressions of awe as the car accelerated onto the interstate.
"Like that?" Galen asked with a grin into the rear view mirror.
Collin's mouth dropped open slightly, like he was going to answer, but no sound came out.
"That was the COOLEST thing EVER!" Christian said with amazement as the vibration of the engine coursed through his body.
Marc and Galen shared an amused look at his reaction.
Both boys broke into giggles as they enjoyed the feeling of the car's acceleration.
A feeling of good cheer and hope filled the car; hope that the coming holiday would be a wonderful experience for all of them.
* * * * *
"Oh shit." Christian exclaimed as he scrambled to get something out of his pocket.
"What's wrong?" Collin asked with immediate concern.
"My iPod." Christian said as he pulled the music player out of his pocket.
Marc turned around in his seat at the sound and a look of sympathy came over his face at the sight.
"I worked all last summer to earn the money to get this... it's the only thing that I ever bought for myself. It's all I have that's really mine." Christian said in a low voice as tears filled his eyes.
Collin looked at the broken device and felt his heart break at Christian's pain.
"Maybe it's not as bad as it looks." Marc said as he looked from one boy to the other.
"It's totaled." Christian said as his tears started to fall.
"Christian, let me have a look at it. Maybe it's something that can be repaired." Marc said as he held out his hand.
After a moment of indecision, Christian reluctantly handed the broken iPod over to Marc.
Collin scooted over slightly, as much as his seat belt would allow, and pulled Christian into a hug.
After a long silent moment, Marc finally said, "This is more Galen's area of expertise, but it looks like the damage is mostly cosmetic. There's a good chance that the internals can be salvaged."
"Really?" Christian asked in a tiny voice that betrayed a glimmer of hope.
Before Marc could answer, Galen guided the car off the freeway and everyone's attention turned to the entrance of the airport.
"Marc, would you mind taking Christian in to get his luggage? That'll give me a minute to look at it." Galen asked as he drove around the short term parking to find a spot to park.
"No problem." Marc said, then turned to look at Christian with question.
"Do you really think you can fix it?" Christian asked as he tried to meet Galen's eyes in the rear view mirror.
"I don't know yet." Galen said as he guided the car into a parking space, then continued, "Go get your luggage and I should be able to tell you when you get back."
As Christian and Collin were undoing their seat belts, Galen said, "Collin, would you stay here with me?"
"Oh, um, sure Dad." Collin said, then settled back into his seat.
* * * * *
Once Marc and Christian were out and away from the car, Collin leaned forward to look at what his father was doing and asked, "Do you think you can fix it?"
After a moment to examine the iPod and consider, Galen hesitantly answered, "I think that's going to depend on you."
Collin looked at his father with surprise.
"Did you bring your iPod with you?" Galen asked as he turned and looked into his son's eyes.
"Um, yeah. I mean, it's in my carry on bag, back at the house." Collin said as he looked at his father uncertainly.
"There's no way I'm going to be able to repair this broken display, but if the internals aren't too damaged, I should be able to repair this by swapping out the damaged parts. Will you be willing to sacrifice your iPod so I can repair his?" Galen asked his son gently.
Collin smiled as he said, "Yeah. You know I'm not much into music and stuff like that. But even if I was, it wouldn't matter. I'd do just about anything to make Christian happy."
Galen nodded that he had expected the answer, then said, "When we get back to the house, bring your iPod to me, then keep Christian occupied while I do my work."
"Thanks Dad." Collin said as he looked at his father with admiration.
"How are you doing?" Galen asked his son with concern.
Collin chuckled and said, "I don't really know. I was all nervous about coming here and seeing a new town and meeting Marc. Now that I'm here, the only thing I can even think about is Christian."
"Do you think you love him?" Galen asked his son cautiously.
After a moment to consider, Collin said, "Yeah. I think maybe I do. I'm just scared."
"What are you scared of?" Galen asked as he looked at his son in the dim lighting of the parking garage.
"I'm just scared that I may be feeling more for Christian than he feels for me." Collin said as he looked at his father with regret at saying the words.
Galen felt a moment of pride and relief to know that his son wasn't following his emotions blindly.
"Why do you think that is?" Galen asked gently, as a prompt for Collin to delve deeper into his feelings.
Collin considered the question for a moment before answering, "Well, the way that Christian and I met, you know, in the airport.... then we sat together on the plane. I just don't know if Christian would have done the same thing if it were someone besides me. I don't know if he really likes me or if I'm just... convenient."
"Collin." Galen said to his son to gain his full attention.
After a moment lost in his thoughts, Collin finally looked up into his father's eyes.
"I think maybe what you're feeling is something like 'it's too good to be true'. I know that I felt that with Marc and I think it's probably something that a lot of people have to deal with at the beginning of a relationship." Galen said, holding his son's gaze.
"So do you think Christian really likes me? You know, the way I like him?"
Galen looked at his son with regret and said, "I wish I could answer that, but I really don't know. This is something that the two of you are going to have to work out for yourselves. I'm sure that Christian has some doubts and worries too. It's natural when you're just starting out, and given the unlikely way that he came to be with us... it's probably even worse for him. Just take it slow and be sure of your feelings before you take any big steps."
Collin thought about his father's words, then slowly nodded that he understood.
"But even if he isn't feeling the same thing that you are, he's still a wonderful boy and I'm sure he'll be a good friend. Hold on to that." Galen said to his son, hoping that he was right.
Collin looked at his father with question.
"Some relationships work out. Some don't. Even if things don't work out exactly the way you want them to, I think Christian is a good person and will be a loyal friend. Make sure that no matter what else happens, that you never let that go. If you two can at least be friends... that's not so bad." Galen finished with a feeling that his words were inadequate.
"I'll try to remember that."
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Christian?" Marc asked gently.
"My head's not hurting at all now." Christian said as they approached the entrance of the airport.
"I'm glad to hear that, but what I was really asking is how you're doing with everything that's happened and all the sudden changes." Marc said as they continued to walk.
When the silence between them seem to have gone on too long, Marc glanced at Christian and found that he seemed to be lost in his thoughts.
* * * * *
Christian was still considering how he felt as he and Marc walked into the baggage claim area.
"Let's check over there." Marc said as he pointed at a pile of luggage by a door at the back of the large room.
Christian nodded, then said, "I don't know if it's because I'm so relieved about not having to stay with my dad or maybe everything just hasn't caught up to me yet, but right this minute, I don't feel anything... I mean, I feel like I'm okay."
"Just let me know if you're having any problems." Marc said gently as they stopped before the stack of unclaimed luggage.
"Thanks." Christian said uncomfortably, then pointed at the pile and said, "I think that brown one is mine."
As Marc took a step toward the luggage, an airport employee dressed in coveralls stepped out of the back room pushing a four wheeled cart.
"Did you need some help with something?" the young man asked as he looked at Marc appraisingly.
"Christian thinks that brown suitcase might be his." Marc said, then noticed that the young man's coveralls had a name patch that said 'Davey'.
"This is unclaimed luggage that's been here for a while. I'm here to take it to the lost and found." Davey said, sounding like he might not let Marc look at the suitcase.
"The police took me to the hospital before I could pick up my luggage. I just got out." Christian said as he took a step closer to Marc's side.
Davey gave Christian a sympathetic look, then cautiously said, "I could get in trouble for doing this. Only the customer service reps are supposed to give out lost and found."
"Does your suitcase have your name on it?" Marc asked Christian absently, as he considered what else they might have to go through to claim the luggage.
"Yeah. It should have one of those luggage tags from the airport. I remember filling it out." Christian said in a rush.
"Could you look to see if that brown suitcase has a tag with the name 'Christian Stone' on it?" Marc asked Davey in an urging tone.
"Yeah. I guess I can do that." Davey said and pulled the suitcase out of the stack of luggage.
"Yeah. 'Christian Stone', just like you said." Davey said as he handed the suitcase to Marc.
"Are you going to get in trouble for doing this?" Marc asked Davey with concern.
"Only if I get caught." Davey said with a nervous little chuckle.
"Well, thanks for taking care of us Davey. We left some people waiting in the car so we've got to go." Marc said, then noticed that Christian was holding out his hands, offering to carry the suitcase.
"Yeah. I've got to get back to work. Take care of yourself Christian." Davey said before turning to load the luggage onto the cart.
Christian noticed the look of concern in Marc's eyes before he turned to leave.
"What's bothering you?" Christian asked, suspecting that he knew what Marc was feeling, but not understanding why.
"I just hope he doesn't get into trouble for helping us." Marc said honestly as they walked.
"But you don't even know him." Christian said, hoping that Marc would explain why he was so concerned for a complete stranger.
"It doesn't matter if I know him or not. He went out of his way to help us, so that kind of makes him our friend."
"Yeah. I guess so." Christian said as he thought about Marc's different way of dealing with people.
He knew that in the same situation, his dad would have screamed and cursed until he got his way. And his mom would have gone to Davey's boss and whined, playing the role of the victim, until she got what she wanted.
As they approached the main exit, Marc quietly asked, "Are you still feeling okay?"
"Yeah. I'm really fine." Christian said, still not quite sure he understood the way Marc seemed to care about the people around him.
* * * * *
"That didn't take too long." Galen said as Marc climbed into the passenger seat of the car.
Before Marc could respond, Christian quickly asked, "Do you think you'll be able to fix my iPod?"
"Yeah. I can't be sure without my test equipment but from what I can see here, I think so." Galen said with a gentle smile at the boy.
"Thank you Mister... um... I'm sorry, I forgot your name." Christian finished in an embarrassed mumble.
"Anderson. But I'd really prefer it if you'd call me Galen."
Christian considered for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "Could I call you something like Uncle Galen? It would just feel wrong for me to call you by your first name since you're old and stuff."
"I'd really like that, Christian." Galen said with a gentle smile, knowing that Christian was trying to be respectful in his own bumbling way.
"Thanks for trying to fix my iPod, Uncle Galen. Just let me know if there's anything I can do to make it up to you." Christian said in a small voice that indicated that he wasn't comfortable or at all used to being grateful to anyone.
"Well, there is one thing I can think of..." Galen said as he turned in his seat to look Christian in the eyes.
Before Christian could ask, Galen continued, "...try to relax and have a Merry Christmas."
Christian broke into a smile and said, "Okay. I'll really try."
Galen smiled at the answer so sincerely spoken, then started the car.
* * * * *
"There's a convenience store about a block from the airport. If you'll stop in there, we can get Christian's non-aspirin pain reliever." Marc said from the passenger seat.
"You're the navigator." Galen said with a grin as he drove slowly through the airport parking lot.
"I am? Then I guess I'd better start planning our *next* stop." Marc said cheerfully, then turned toward the back seat and asked, "Are you guys hungry for anything in particular?"
Collin noticed that Christian was also waiting for him to answer.
"I'm hungry, but not for anything special." Collin said apologetically.
"How about you Christian? What sounds good to you?" Marc asked casually.
"Well. I was kind of thinking that maybe a Dairy Queen burger would be pretty good about now." Christian said cautiously.
"That will work out fine. There's a Dairy Queen on the way home." Marc said with a smile.
"Um, no there isn't." Galen said cautiously, then glanced at Marc with question.
"Sure there is, you just need to get off the freeway one exit sooner. Then it's right on the way." Marc said cheerfully, then at Galen's incredulous look, he continued, "I'm the navigator, trust me."
Collin and Christian both giggled at the conversation.
Marc glanced at the boys in the back seat and broke into a grin.
"This will just take a minute, then we'll be on our way to Dairy Queen." Marc said as Galen guided the car into the convenience store parking lot.
Galen set the parking brake, but left the motor running.
After Marc had hurried out of the car, Galen turned in his seat and asked, "How are you guys doing?"
"I'm good." Collin said immediately, then looked at Christian with question.
"I'm fine. But it's kind of strange to have you guys asking me all the time." Christian said, looking from Collin to Galen timidly. He felt that even though he was being honest, by saying the words he was being ungrateful for their concern.
"Well, if you'll promise to tell us if you're not feeling well, we'll try to fight the urge to ask." Galen said, not sounding offended at all.
"Yeah. Okay. If it starts hurting, I'll tell you right away." Christian said reluctantly, but was relieved that he hadn't upset Galen or Collin.
"Well, then we'll try to ask you about... half as much. How's that?" Galen asked with a grin.
Christian was surprised for a moment, but then saw the humor in what Galen was saying and said, "It's a deal."
The car door opening stopped further conversation.
* * * * *
"We would have been better off stopping at the grocery store. I can't believe the prices in there." Marc said as he handed a box of non-aspirin pain reliever to Christian.
"I have some money. I can pay you back." Christian said quietly as he looked at the box, trying to find the price tag.
Marc was so surprised by the offer that he couldn't think of what to say.
"When we told the judge that we'd be willing to take care of you, that included things like aspirins. You don't have to pay us back now or ever." Galen said firmly.
"Are you sure?" Christian asked in a small voice.
"Completely sure. Now if my navigator is ready, we're off to Dairy Queen." Galen finished with a questioning look at Marc.
"Yeah. Ready when you are." Marc said absently as he fastened his safety belt.
"You guys be thinking about what you want to order because I'm planning to drive through." Galen said as he started backing the car out of the convenience store parking lot.
* * * * *
Everyone in the car was ravenous by the time they reached the house.
The smell of the food in the carry-out bags was absolutely heavenly.
"I can't believe how hungry I am right now. Back in the hospital I was feeling like I'd never want to eat again." Christian said as he got out of the car, carrying two bags of food.
"Well, we bought extra so everyone should be able to eat their fill." Marc said with a smile at Christian as he walked toward the house.
"Hey. This place is nice." Christian said as he stopped for a moment to check out his surroundings.
Collin looked around, surprised that he hadn't even noticed when he had arrived earlier in the day.
The house was a neat little place and looked like it had been recently painted.
The lawn was nicely trimmed, but not overly so. It just looked like someone took the time to keep it nice and neat.
"Christian, if you don't mind we'll have our dinner, then come back out and get your luggage." Marc asked as he unlocked the front door.
"Sounds good to me." Christian said as he followed Marc inside.
"Collin." Galen said, stopping his son before he could go into the house.
"If you'll get me your iPod now, I'll take it up to the study with Christian's so I can get to work after we eat." Galen said in a whisper.
"Yeah. Thanks." Collin said, then rushed past his father into the house.
* * * * *
"Do you have enough drinks?" Galen asked from the kitchen doorway.
"The boys each got a milkshake, but I could use a coke." Marc said as he and Christian unpacked the food from the carry-out bags.
"Be right back." Galen said, then stepped back into the hall.
"Here it is." Collin whispered as he handed his father his iPod.
"Go out to the garage and get two cans of coke from the fridge while I put these up in the study. I'll meet you back here." Galen said in a low, conspiratorial voice.
Collin nodded, then hurried down the hall to the doorway that led to the garage.
* * * * *
Just as Galen was coming to the bottom of the stairs, Collin appeared with two cans of coke in his hands.
"Ready to eat?" Galen asked his son with a smile.
"Sure." Collin said happily and was surprised to feel his father put an arm around his shoulders to guide him into the kitchen.
Even though Collin had always known that his father loved him, physical displays of affection like a hug, had been few and far between.
* * * * *
"You guys didn't start without us did you?" Galen asked with a smile as they walked into the kitchen.
"No. We just finished laying it out. But if you'd been a minute later..." Marc trailed off in a teasing tone.
"Well, we're here now. So let's eat." Galen said as he took his seat at the table.
Collin sat the cans of coke next to his father, then took the only vacant seat which was obviously his because it had his milkshake.
"Dig in!" Galen said as he began to unwrap his burger.
Christian was happy to see that his surrogate family were behaving so casually.
When he met Galen and Marc, his first impression from the way they dressed was that these guys must have some money and that would mean that they were probably stuck up. But after being around them for a while, Christian was starting to feel more at ease. They were just regular people.
"We should go to Dairy Queen more often. I had forgotten how good their food is." Marc said in a contented voice.
"Yeah. This really is good." Galen said as he was enjoying the food. Even though the burgers were excellent, he knew that they were even better because he was enjoying them with his son.
Collin and Christian both agreed with what was being said, but their mouths were too full to say anything to that effect.
* * * * *
"I guess I don't need to offer to help you with the dishes tonight." Galen said as he started clearing away the evidence of his meal.
"No. Not unless the dinner you were going to make needs to be cleaned up." Marc said as he looked around.
"Oh yeah. It's still in the oven." Galen said as he slowly stood.
"What's going on?" Christian asked as he stuffed his food wrappers into a paper bag.
"Dad was making dinner for us when the police called Marc." Collin said frankly.
"Oh. I'm sorry if I messed up your plans." Christian said quietly.
Galen pulled a casserole dish out of the oven and stared at the contents with a sour expression.
"From the look of it, you might have saved us." Marc whispered to Christian, then pointed at the dish in Galen's hands.
"Do you think there's any way to save it?" Galen asked cautiously.
"It would help if I knew what it was." Marc said slowly, not wanting to sound overly critical of Galen's attempt at cooking.
"It's something like chicken stew with canned biscuits on top. They're supposed to make a crust." Galen said as he looked at the pale pile of goo.
"Oh, a pot pie. Well, I don't think there's any way we can salvage this since it's been heated but not fully cooked. But if it had been allowed to cook all the way, I bet it would have been great." Marc finished with a smile.
"Really?" Galen asked hesitantly.
"I wouldn't lie to you, not even to spare your feelings." Marc said as he looked Galen in the eyes.
"Yeah. I knew that. I guess I'm just insecure about my cooking and needed to hear it." Galen said timidly as he looked at Marc with love.
"Just scrape that into the garbage and fill the pan with water so it can soak. After that, I think it would be a good time to have that talk with the boys." Marc said seriously.
"Wow. This sounds like something that's gonna suck." Christian said honestly.
"I'll try not to make it too bad. Let's go in the living room where we can be comfortable." Marc said as he led the way out of the room.
"I'll be right in." Galen said to the boys, then watched as they left.
* * * * *
"First of all, you aren't in trouble." Marc said, then looked at both boys to see that they had received the message.
"But since you boys have said that you're sexually active, Galen and I feel that it's important that you understand some things about relationships." Marc said with difficulty.
Galen rushed into the room, still drying his hands on a dish towel and asked, "What did I miss."
"Not in trouble." Christian said frankly.
"Need to understand relationships." Collin said in exactly the same tone.
Galen smiled at the boys and said, "Thanks."
"Between Galen and I, we've had a variety of experiences and probably made every mistake that you can possibly make in a relationship. Hopefully hearing about the mistakes we made will keep you from doing the same things someday." Marc said carefully.
Colin and Christian shared a look of dread, then devoted their full attention to Marc.
"When I was about your age..."
* * * * *
Both boys sat and stared at the door that Marc and Galen had just walked through.
They had been sitting for nearly an hour listening to one relationship horror story after another.
"I can't believe my dad stayed with mom for as long as he did. It sounds like he was in hell." Collin said in a bewildered tone. He just couldn't believe that he had been so oblivious and had missed everything that was going on around him.
Christian slowly shook his head, not disagreeing, but just in amazement at what the two men had been through before meeting each other.
"I don't want to go through that." Collin finally said as he turned to look at Christian.
"I was just thinking the same thing." Christian said reluctantly.
"How can we keep from making their mistakes?" Collin asked quietly.
"From the way it sounded to me, every time they thought they were in love, everything went to shit." Christian said frankly.
Collin thought back through the stories they had just been told and slowly nodded.
"So no matter what happens. We can't be boyfriends. We can't fall in love." Christian said firmly.
Collin wanted to protest the statement, but given the weight of the evidence just presented to them, he reluctantly began to agree when a thought came to him.
"Can we still have sex?"
Christian considered for a moment, then smiled as he said, "Yeah. I think we can do that."
"Good." Collin said with relief.
"I think we'll be fine doing everything else, just as long as we don't love each other." Christian said seriously.
"Okay." Collin said cautiously, then remembered his father's words from earlier, and continued, "As long as we can at least be friends... that's not so bad."
Christian smiled at the words and said, "Yeah. Friends."
"Do you want to go talk to the old guys and let them know we're okay?" Collin asked with a smile.
"Sure. Let's go." Christian said, then leaned close to Collin's ear and whispered, "I don't love you."
Collin froze in shock at the words. He felt a physical sensation, like he'd been stabbed in the chest. He reluctantly turned to look at Christian, and was about to speak when he noticed the warmth in Christian's eyes.
In a flash of insight, he understood.
Collin slowly put one arm around Christian's shoulders and gave him a gentle hug, then whispered, "I don't love you too."
Editor's Notes: It's a sad commentary on life to realize that what the boys got out of the mistakes that the "old guys" made was 'not to fall in love', or so it would seem, yet the way they said they didn't love each other, I have to wonder.
I wonder what condition that person in the emergency room was in, and I wonder who it possibly could have been, and what would possibly have made Marc go check him out. Do you suppose there might have been a connection?
I am guessing that Galen is pretty good at micro electronics. I hope he can fix the Ipod without too much trouble. I also hope he will find another one for Collin, before too long.
I think the boys are going to be alright now, and just maybe their relationship will blossom and grow as they learn more about each other and begin to open up to each other. I also hope that Marc and Galen will tell the boys that falling in love was not what caused the problems, but thinking they were in love, when they really weren't, was.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher