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               'What a bunch of CRAP!' He thought to himself as he walked.

How was he expected to do a science project being teamed up with the ditziest bottle-blonde cheerleader AND the dumbest mouth-breathing knuckle-dragging jock in the school?!

To top it off, both of them had 'extracurricular' commitments that made it impossible for them to meet, speak, or in any way coordinate their efforts. He knew, without a doubt, that he'd end up doing the entire project himself and that his two vapid, freakishly attractive, classmates would end up getting passing grades solely due to his efforts. Worse, he suspected that that was the teacher's plan, all along.

As he rounded the corner to his apartment, a chill ran up his spine.

His mom's car was in the driveway and the back hatch was popped open.

               'Oh, no. Not again.' He thought to himself as he slowly approached.

He cautiously entered the building, and as he was walking up the stairs he spotted his mother rushing out of their apartment with a box in her arms.

"Pack up your room. We've only got until the end of the night." She said as she hurried toward him.

               'Fuck!' He thought to himself.

               Then the more optimistic part of him interjected, 'At least I won't have to do that science project, now.'

* * * * *

Unfortunately, this wasn't unusual.

It had happened so many times before that he had lost count.

Every so often, things would go badly and they'd be forced to move, basically skipping out on their back rent, and finding a new place to live.

However, he usually had some indication that it was coming.

His mom would let it be known that she was having trouble meeting the bills that month or that they didn't have enough money to have both electricity AND food.

But this time there had been no warning.

Truth be told, recently he and his mother had been less and less communicative. And as he was growing older, he was becoming more independent. Although they lived together, they had been leading increasingly separate lives. They had reached a point where they could go for a week or more without speaking to each other.

After filling a box, more or less out of habit, he left his room to find his mother frantically throwing kitchen items into a cardboard box, going from cupboard to cupboard taking everything out and either packing it, or throwing it in the trash.

He knew better than to question her at this stage of their packing. He had made that mistake before. Nothing good would come of it.

Mostly on autopilot, he walked down the stairs and deposited his box in the back of the car, then walked back into the apartment building to fill another.

As the shock wore off, numbness took it's place.

His life was a series of frantic moves, made out of necessity.

There was no action, only reaction.

               'Do what needs to be done, because there's no other choice.'

The few possessions that he owned fitted easily into the boxes that he kept flattened under his bed... the bed that they would most likely be leaving behind. He had worked this puzzle so many times that he knew where each thing belonged, and in which box. He sometimes wondered why he even bothered unpacking them.

As he set another box aside, he walked to the closet and began to take down his hanging clothes. That took all of a minute. He didn't have much clothing, and what he did have was worn and outdated when they had bought them from whatever charity warehouse store they happened to be visiting that day.

Fortunately for him, distressed out-of-date fashion was all the rage, these days. So he didn't have the stigma of being out of place amongst his classmates. In fact, he dressed better than some of them, with their fashionably faded and strategically ripped clothing.

"Are you about finished?"

A sudden surge of emotions threatened to overwhelm him at the innocuous question. He wanted to burst into tears... or rage. However, he didn't have the luxury of being able to do either. He simply tamped down his emotions and called in return, "Yeah. Just about."

* * * * *

He had never had a father.

               'No big deal.'

But looking at the desperate way that they lived, he couldn't help but wonder how his life might have been different if his parents had decided to get married and live together.

It was a moot point.

He didn't even know his biological father's name. When, in his younger and more naive years, he had asked, his mother had either skillfully evaded his questions or, when pressed, would adamantly refuse to divulge any information at all.

It didn't matter.

Such idle speculation served no purpose.

               'It is what it is. Deal with what's in front of you.' He thought to himself.

As the car drove down the city streets, it occurred to him that he didn't know where they were going. Or if, in fact, they had any destination in mind. Would they be spending the night in some truck stop or roadside rest area? It wouldn't be the first time.

Despair welled up within him, threatening to overwhelm him, as he considered the absolute hopelessness of his life. He had no home, no foundation, no friends, no life to speak of, and no possibility of a future.

Just... reaction.

Like an animal in the wild, there was no thought for the future and no certainty of where his next meal would be coming from.

Only reaction.

Survival instinct.

               While he was looking out the car window as the dusk gave way to the night, the thought came unbidden, 'Am I even human at all?'

* * * * *

"Paul, there have been some things going on that I haven't told you about." His mother said, breaking the long, contemplative silence between them.

               'Since you haven't told me ANYTHING, I suppose that's true.' Paul thought bitterly.

"I guess there's no easy way to say this..." She trailed off anxiously.

               'Talk about an ominous lead in! Let me guess. You don't know where we're going? We don't even have enough money for dinner? Maybe you're taking me to sell me for medical experiments!'

               'Please, let it be the medical experiments! At least they'll probably feed me!'

"I'm getting married."



"I didn't want to tell you anything about it before now because it was... well, to be honest, it was just too good to be true. I didn't want to jinx it."


               'Hold on.'

               'Back up.'


"I really meant to sit you down and have a long talk with you about this, but things ended up not working out that way."

               '...no easy way to say this...'

               '...getting married...'

               'Then what? Did I miss something?'

"I mean, it's not like we 'have to' get married, not this day and age."


               'I'm pretty sure I missed something.'

               'Stop. Rewind. Play. Thank you for your patience...'

"But when he found out, he asked and, I don't know... it just seemed right!"

               'WARNING! - Vaguery reaching critical levels!'

               'Assumption overload imminent!'

               'Substantive input required! Substantive input required!'

"Found out what?" Paul was finally able to choke out.

Even as he said the words, they didn't seem to have any meaning.

               'Is there someone else in here with me, speaking for me?' Paul thought to himself.

               'Because, if there is, I'd appreciate it if you would tell me what the hell is going on!'

"In about six months, you're going to have a little brother or sister."




"Well, to be honest, you're going to be getting a brother a little bit before that."

               'Hold on.'

               'What was that thing after getting married?'

               'I'm sure I missed something important, there.'

"I mean, I'm not going to push you to accept him or treat him like your family, but I hope that you two will get along."

               '...getting married...'

               '...little brother or sister...'

               '...then, what was that next bit?'

"Like I said, I hadn't planned on things going like this, but the new property management company at the apartment complex isn't willing to work with me and I was kind of backed into a corner."

               'Um, yeah. I know how that feels.'

               'Now try it blindfolded... underwater.'

               'Then you'll be close to what I'm feeling, right now.'

"Where are we going?" Paul asked in a voice that trembled a little more than he would have liked.

               'Okay, that made sense.'

               'The words seemed to have come out in the right order and everything.'

               'I might actually get results with that one.'

"I was wanting to move more slowly, but when all this happened, it just made sense for us to move in together."

               'Whoah! Hold it, there. You're losing me again.'

               'Did I miss it when you said where?'

               'Or, for that matter, who?'

"I mean, we had sort of talked about it, but decided to wait until after you'd had time to adjust to the idea."


               'What idea?'

               'Hey! Don't hang this on me!'

"Everything's going to be fine. Everything's alright."



               '...sure it is.'

* * * * *

As they passed through the huge wrought iron gates, Paul immediately thought of a cemetery. Not that there were any grave stones or anything. It was just a big open, immaculately kept, grassy field with a paved road meandering, somewhat pointlessly up and over a rise. But, to Paul, it seemed that that was how they designed the driveways in graveyards. Well, in the movies, anyway.

As they crested the rise, Paul spotted the large grey edifice as it stood all alone, jutting up in the midst of a perfectly kept lawn... or football field... possibly a golf course? There were no other houses in view as far as the eye could see.



               'Isn't this what insane asylums look like?'

               'They put them out in the middle of nowhere so the crazies don't disturb anyone else!'

               'So far out...'

               'So remote...'

               'That no one can hear you scream...'

"He said that he'd leave the door open. Come inside. We'll come back out for our things, later." His mom said as she got out of the car.

Paul wasn't sure if he were really seeing what he was seeing.

               'Are we going to live in a museum?' He thought as they approached the building that seemed to get even larger and more foreboding, the closer they got to it.

               'People can't really live here, can they?'

               'I can't breathe.'

The biggest doors EVER!


               'Movie set?'



               'e. All of the above...'

As his mom pushed one of the massive doors open, there wasn't any low, ominous creaking sound to foreshadow the atrocities to come.

               'They'll probably edit that in during post production.'

               'It's essential.'

"They're probably in the parlor. I think it's down here." Paul's mom said as she set off down one of the dimly lit grey corridors in the enormous granite monstrosity.

               'If we're going to live here, I'm going to need a map.'

               'Or GPS.'

               '...and maybe a scooter.'

As his mom led the way into one of the rooms, she quietly asked, "Is your dad around?"

Paul walked in behind his mother and looked around to see who she was talking to. After a moment, he spotted a dark haired boy, about his same age, sitting on a couch.

"He asked me to wait in here for you, until you got here. He had a business call or something. He's in the study. He said that he'd be back in a minute." The boy responded casually.

"Paul, this is G. He's going to be your new brother." Paul's mom said, a little more cheerfully than seemed appropriate, under the circumstances.

The surprise on G's face was the first thing to reassure Paul all day.

At least there was someone who found the whole situation as ludicrous as he did.

               'I wonder if they told him ANYTHING about what's going on?' Paul asked himself.

G got up off the couch and walked toward Paul with an easygoing, friendly expression. His entire posture was casual and unassuming.

"You need any help carrying stuff in?" G asked in a voice that wasn't just friendly, but even seemed to be a little bit hopeful.

               'I don't know where I am.' Paul reminded himself.

               'I don't know what we're doing.'

               'I don't know who these people are.'

               'However, over the years I have learned some important life lessons. One of them being, when someone asks you that question, you ALWAYS answer...'

"Yes. Thank you."

* * * * *

G and Paul walked down the dimly lit, intimidatingly huge, grey featureless hallway and out through the massive doors.

Paul opened the hatchback of their car and fished out a box, then turned to find G, standing with his hands out, waiting to accept it.

Paul handed it to him, then took out another of his boxes before starting back toward the enormous doors.

"It'll be easier if we go this way." G said as he started off in another direction, toward the side of the house.

               'Since I don't have a map, I'll take your word for it.' Paul thought to himself as he followed.

"Is the rest of your stuff coming? Or are you going to have to go get another load?" G asked casually, as they walked.

"No. This is it." Paul answered timidly.

"Cool." G said simply, easily accepting his answer.


               'Not cool.'

               'Pathetic.' Paul thought with an ache in his heart, as he continued to follow.

"If you don't like it here, I can show you the guest rooms, but they're kind of... sterile." G said with a bit of distaste evident in his tone, then continued, "Check out my room, first, and see if you want to stay out here with me."

As he was saying that, Paul could see where G was leading him. Around the side of the house, there seemed to be another, smaller house, connected by a little... what do you call those things that connect a spaceship to the space station? Never mind. It was a little glassed in hallway that connected it to the main house.

G opened some white painted double doors (of normal size) with glass panes throughout. Unaccountably, they served to put Paul at ease. Seemingly, it was the contrast between them and the enormous doors on the 'museum' that did that.

However, when they stepped through the doors, any illusion of a quaint little country farmhouse was suddenly shocked away.

The room was RED. (Redrum! Redrum!)

Actually, it looked like red velvet was used throughout the room to give it an almost movie theater or carnival feel. There were brass accent pieces and gold fringe in places that served to break up the intimidating color.

The next things to draw Paul's attention were the old carnival posters, seemingly hung haphazardly around the room, but it only took Paul a moment to realize that they were strategically placed, made to look as though their placement was random and slightly askew.

The posters were of faded, evil looking, demented clowns and advertisements for various 'freak show' attractions.

After seeing the sterile, grey 'museumy' main house, the contrast was a bit overwhelming.

As the details of the room finally seemed to settle into his consciousness, Paul came to the sudden realization that G's room was AWESOME!

* * * * *

The area they first walked into seemed to be a living room or a lounge. It was filled with beanbag chairs, pillows, big puffy blankets and a variety of sofas. It looked as though a dozen people could easily settle into the space and chat comfortably.

"I didn't really think this through. I guess we can make it up as we go along. Just put your stuff anywhere and we'll work it out when we've got everything in." G said frankly.

Paul found an open spot behind one of the couches and put down his box.

G set his box beside Paul's, then led the way back to the deceptively innocent looking white double doors.

* * * * *

"Dad says that he pulled a few strings and that you'll be starting school with me tomorrow. So we won't be able to stay up too late." G said as they walked back toward the car.




               'My whole life gets turned upside down and inside out in one day and I don't even get a day off to adjust to it?'

* * * * *

Once all of Paul's things were brought inside, Paul looked around uncertainly.

"I've only got the one bed in here, but I hardly ever sleep in it. You can use it, if you want." G said frankly.

"Where do you sleep?" Paul asked curiously.

"Wherever I happen to be when I get sleepy. Usually on a couch or a beanbag, in front of the TV. Sometimes I crash on the couch in the living room, back in the house." G said casually.

"Where should I put my stuff?" Paul asked cautiously, feeling that he was intruding on G's personal space.

"There's a monster closet in the bedroom. You can put stuff in there if you want. I don't use even half of it." G said, then got up off the couch and led the way into the bedroom.

* * * * *

Done in much the same color scheme as the living room, the bedroom was it's own special variety of 'Dark Carnival'.

The twisted gold posts on the enormous four poster bed might be seen as gaudy in other circumstances, but they blended in perfectly with the red velvet and gold fringed tapestries and cords.

"It's over here." G said, drawing Paul's miniscule thread of attention.

When Paul looked into the closet, he was astounded by the fact that it was bigger than his bedroom had been at the apartment.

As G had said, the closet wasn't even close to half full. Paul not only had room for all his clothes in there, he could easily put all his worldly possessions in there... twice, without encroaching on G's space.

"I just thought of something. You seem pretty uptight. I'm not. If you can't handle being around me, just let me know and I'll help you move into a guest room in the house." G said seriously.

Paul looked at him with surprise at the statement, but appreciated G's honesty.

"I'm okay." Paul said sincerely.

G smiled at the reaction then, with a tilt of his head, indicated for Paul to follow him back into the living room.

* * * * *

Paul followed G's lead and ended up taking a seat on one of the couches.

"I've never been around someone as quiet as you before. It's actually kinda cool." G said with a smile.

Paul looked at him with a wide-eyed, inquisitive expression.

"I've never been the 'Alpha' before. So you're gonna have'ta be patient with me. I don't want to screw this up." G said honestly.



"Anyway, this is my house. No one comes in here unless I invite them. So I can walk around naked or just in my underwear, if I want. Is that going to freak you out or anything?" G asked seriously.

               'Okay. That kinda came outta left field.'

               'But, I guess that I've been around naked guys in the locker room in gym class and it never bothered me...'

               'Who am I kidding? I've nearly jerked my dick off thinking about the guys in the locker room!'

               'I probably shouldn't share that fact with G, or I might have to sleep in a guest room in the museum.'

"No. That's no problem." Paul said, and was proud of the fact that his voice didn't crack or sound too high or anything like that.

"Good." G said with a smile.

               'What the hell was that?'

               'He smiles at me and I start feeling all gooey inside?!'

               'Oh, shit! I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means!'


               'I want it to happen again.'


               'I am so screwed.'

"I guess I should also tell you that I was in kind of a relationship for a while. It's over now, but it just broke up, so someone might still say something about it and it could get weird and uncomfortable. I'll just say sorry in advance, in case that happens." G said regretfully.

               'I've never been dumped. So I don't know what that feels like.'

               'Of course, I've never been loved, either.'


               'I just want to see him smile again.'

"Are you okay?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Mostly, yeah. When they decided that they wanted to be a couple without me... I understood. I mean, it's not like I didn't see it coming. But it still hurt." G said honestly.

"They?" Paul asked hesitantly, wanting to confirm what he'd just heard.

"Yeah. A guy and a girl. We were a threesome for a while... for a few months, actually." G said, somewhat distantly.

"Are you gay?" Paul asked before he could catch himself. He knew that that was something that you never asked someone. He immediately regretted asking and wished that he could take it back.

"I guess that's up to you to decide." G answered him, and didn't seem to be the least bit rattled or offended by Paul asking the question.

Paul puzzled over G's response for a moment before he cautiously asked, "What?"

"It's your label and only you know what it means to you. I don't think of myself as gay. When I like someone and they like me back, we might decide to do stuff together, and some of that might end up being sex. It doesn't matter to me if it's guys or girls. Everyone just does what they enjoy and if things go right, we find things that we enjoy doing together."

               'Overload... Overload... Overload.'

               'An error has occurred. To continue: Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart.'

               'If you do this, you will lose any unsaved information in all open applications.'

               'Press any key to continue...'

"I've never had a girlfriend... or a boyfriend." Paul reluctantly admitted.

"Yeah. Well, I got an early start. I think most people our age haven't ever had the balls to try anything yet... at least, with someone else." G said simply.

Paul absently nodded.

"Have I freaked you out too much? Or do you still want to stay here?" G asked cautiously.

"I'll stay." Paul said absently. He didn't have to think about it. The decision had already been made.

"Good. I just got this really great classic anime that I've been wanting to check out. You wanna watch it with me until dinner's ready?" G asked hopefully.

"I should probably be unpacking." Paul said reluctantly.

"If we start unpacking now, we'll have to stop in the middle of it when dinner's ready. Besides, you look like you could use a break." G said honestly.

               'A break?'


               'At least.'

"Yeah. Okay." Paul said, then forced a smile at G to show his gratitude for the suggestion.

* * * * *

               'First, there was some gruesome bloody violence, for no particular reason.'

               'Next, this thing with tentacles was doing horrible, unspeakable things, again, for no reason that I could discern.'

               'Then, after the opening credits, we got to the freakishly big boobed schoolgirls piloting giant robots.'

               'That part actually seemed to make some kind of sense.'

               'Of course, I could be wrong about that.'

               'The way that the enormous cartoon boobs bounced and jiggled was strangely hypnotizing.'

"Boys, it's time for dinner." Paul's mom's voice called from the intercom.

"Good! I'm starving!" G said as he paused the video.

"Me, too." Paul said as he stood.

"Are you better?" G asked as he also stood and looked at Paul with concern.

"Yeah." Paul said with a smile, then continued, "It's funny, I already feel like I know you and I don't even know your real name."

"What makes you think my real name isn't G?"

"Is it?"

"No. My real name is Gwayne. The G was the only part of it worth saving." G finished with a grin.

"Good choice." Paul said, feeling unaccountably happy.

"C'mon. Food." G said as he led the way.

* * * * *

"Come on in, boys. It's on the table." Paul's mom said as she met them at the dining room door.

The amount of food on the table looked to be for more than four people, but Paul wasn't about to complain. And, from the look of it, neither was G. The layout seemed to be of restaurant quality and fit for any visiting dignitary. Everything looked absolutely perfect.

As Paul walked to the table and took a seat at one of the place settings, he looked around curiously.

There were no windows in the room, not that it would have mattered so late in the day at this time of year. But the lighting was such that it was focused entirely on the massive dining room table.

The rest of the room, with it's grey stone walls and colorless adornments, seemed to fade into the darkness, as though it didn't exist. It was almost like they were sitting there, suspended in a void, separated from space and time.

"Are we waiting for Dad?" G asked cautiously.

"He said he'd just be a minute." Paul's mom said as she also took her seat.

"Famous last words." G said with a roll of his eyes, but made no move to serve himself.

"Sorry. But with the wedding coming so soon, there are certain things that have to be done immediately." A man said as he walked briskly into the room. The man looked fairly average, with dark hair and dark eyes. He was kind of handsome, and there was no doubt that he was G's father. But the thing that caught Paul off guard was the deep rich tone of the man's voice. It seemed to be far lower than one would expect of someone of his modest size. The sound sent a chill right up Paul's spine.

"D, this is my son, Paul." Paul's mom said proudly.

Before either could respond, she continued, "Paul, this is my fiancee, D."



               'G's father is named D?'

"It's nice to meet you, Paul. I'm sorry we couldn't do this in a more relaxed manner, but circumstances conspired against us." D said frankly.

The deep rich tone of his voice caused another chill to run up Paul's spine, but he was finally able to say, "Yeah. They'll do that."

When D laughed, the sound left Paul feeling stunned. The laugh was rich and deep and unaccountably sent a tingle of something like fear coursing through Paul's body.

"Yes. They will." D finally said warmly.

"So, Dad, what's the big rush on the wedding, anyway?" G asked curiously.

Paul was glad that he did, because he wanted to know, as well, but felt intimidated and weak in D's commanding presence.

"Go ahead and eat." D said casually, then continued, "We've decided that the best way to do this is to have the wedding on Halloween. Since the family will be meeting anyway, it seems like the perfect time."

As Paul reached to serve himself, he noticed that his hand was slightly trembling.

He couldn't determine if it had anything to do with fear, hunger, or perhaps other influences of which he was not aware.

"So you're going to have the wedding 'there'?" G asked to be sure.

D nodded his confirmation, then said, "But that doesn't relieve us of the burden of composing a guest list."

"Yeah. Good luck with that." G said with a grin.

"No doubt, someone will be overlooked and feel slighted. But we can only do our best." D said in resignation.

"Is there anything you need for us to do?" G asked curiously.

"Actually, yes. The two of you are going to be taken out of school a few days in advance of the wedding to allow for travel time and for finalizing arrangements when we arrive. Taking that into account, you'll both need to be fitted for suits for the practice dinners and receptions and such, five, I should think. So you'll need to see to that early to give the tailor time to get the adjustments made." D said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "Of course, all plans and dates are still subject to change at this early stage of planning."

"Can't I just wear the suit I already have?" G asked hopefully.

"You'll need more than one suit. Besides, I doubt that you would be able to put yours on, much less look anywhere near presentable in it. Please, Son, humor me." D said with a hopeful look at G.

"Okay, but you have to remember this when I get married. No whining. Just do it." G warned his father.

"Yes. That sounds fair." D said with a smile that revealed his delight at the thought.

"Is there any way that we can invite Nazzy and Vinda to the wedding?" G asked hopefully.

"Isn't that going to be awkward?" D asked cautiously.

"Maybe, for a little bit, but they did what they felt like they had to do. Just because I was hurt by it doesn't mean that I don't understand. Besides, I'm really alright now, and I'd like to share something like this with them. Plus, they both like you, even if I weren't in the picture, they'd want to be there for you." G said honestly.

"I'll see to it that they're invited and, if they accept, I'll make arrangements for their airfare." D said with a smile of pride at his son.

               'Ex Boyfriend and ex girlfriend...'

               '...being invited to his father's wedding...'


"Airfare?" Paul asked cautiously.

"The wedding's going to be on our family estate in Scotland, near Altnaharra." D said frankly.

Paul didn't know how to respond to that and felt that he was on the verge of overloading again.

               'Mom's getting married...'

               '..to the deep voiced guy...'

               '...who, to be fair, seems really nice...'

               '...in Scotland?!'

"How much have you told Paul about the family?" D asked his son curiously.

"Nothing." G answered honestly.

"After dinner, would you mind?" D asked in a leading tone.

"Me? You're sure that you want me to do it?" G asked to confirm.

"I have faith in you." D said with a slightly menacing grin.

"Great! No pressure." G said with a roll of his eyes.

               'That can't be good.'

* * * * *

Following the dinner, Paul followed G back to his 'room', on the other side of the little glass hallway.

For some reason, that delighted Paul to no end.

               'Houston, we're leaving the mothership...'

"So, what's the big secret?" Paul asked when they were back in G's living room, sitting on one of the couches.

G looked uncomfortable and quietly said, "We're not like other people."

               'Wow! It's like I suddenly had a flashback of every sci-fi movie I've ever seen, like, all at once!'

Paul was surprised by the statement and cautiously asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

G let out a long sigh, then said, "It's complicated. Let's just say that my family... our family, is interesting."

"Interesting, like being good storytellers? Or interesting, like gathering on the full moon to drink the blood of virgins at midnight?" Paul asked cautiously, hoping that it would be taken as a joke... and that he hadn't inadvertently guessed right.

"Somewhere in between." G said gravely.

               'I'd be really pissed off at him right now if he weren't in so much turmoil about telling me.'


               'and so cute.'

               'Wait, where did that come from?'

               'Bad inner voice! Bad!'

"So, what? How is your family different?" Paul asked seriously, hoping that it would help G say what he needed to say.

"You know how every family has one person who's really freaky or eccentric?" G asked cautiously.

"Yeah. And if you don't know who it is in your family, then it's probably you." Paul said honestly.

               'He goes in with the joke!'

               'He shoots from center court!'

               'It looks good...'

               'It looks good...'



"Yeah, well... every person in our family is like that." G continued, as though he hadn't heard.

"Like how?" Paul asked cautiously. He could tell how this admission of... whatever it was, bothered G.

               'Oh, screw it! He is cute!'

               'He's freakin adorable!'

               'Sorry Inner Voice, you were right.'

"For example, Aunt Zennie is obsessed with ladybugs. Grandma Gruit believes that she's a witch, not like Wicca, but more Disneyish, like in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White." G said anxiously.



"Okay." Paul said hesitantly.

"Some of them don't seem to realize it, and the rest just accept it or even embrace it as part of who they are." G said urgently, as if willing Paul to understand.

               'Okay, freaky people. Weird family. I guess it happens.'

"What about you, G? What kind of weird thing do you have going on?" Paul asked curiously.

"Telling you's no fun. You have to figure that out for yourself." G said as his anxiety finally gave way and he broke into a smile.

               'Whoah! Was that a flirt?'

"Well, if I had to guess right now... Does it have anything to do with sex?" Paul asked speculatively.

               'The ball's in your court.'

"Which answer would make you feel better?" G asked, not betraying anything in his expression.

               'Nice return.'

"I'm not sure." Paul said honestly.

"Then don't worry about it." G said with a grin.

               'The point goes to G!'

               'I'm going to need to work on my game!'

               'He's good!'

"Why did your dad want you to tell me about this?" Paul asked cautiously, he still didn't understand what was so bad.

"I guess to give you some time to prepare. The whole family gets together on Halloween, so that's why they're rushing to have the wedding then. One at a time, the family's not too bad, but all at once... you might need to brace yourself."

               'The whole family gathers for Halloween...'

               'Yeah, nothing weird about that.'

"Is it really bad?" Paul asked carefully.

"Sometimes. I grew up with it and I know what to expect. But sometimes it's a little much, even for me." G said honestly.

"Well, all my life it's just been me and my mom. Even if your family's a bunch of eccentrics, I think it'll be nice to know what it's like to be part of a family, even for a little bit." Paul said sincerely and felt a little spark of fear at revealing so much to someone who was essentially a stranger.

               'Not cool.'

               'Some things shouldn't be said.'

               'Now G's going to think I'm just a needy little pathetic worm.'


               'I'm not. Am I?'

"As long as you don't look down on them and treat them like freaks, I'm pretty sure they'll love you." G said warmly. Paul was glad that G didn't capitalize on his vulnerability.

"I don't think I've ever looked down on anyone before." Paul said honestly.

               'It's hard to look down on people when you're wearing someone else's castoffs and you don't know if you'll be able to eat dinner.'

"I know you'll be great."

* * * * *

After their talk about the family had concluded, the two boys remained sitting on the couch, just thinking their own thoughts and content to be in good company.

"I need to unpack." Paul finally regretfully said.

"Why?" G asked as he turned his head slightly, to glance at Paul with one eye.

"So I can have my clothes for school tomorrow." Paul said unenthusiastically.

"We wear uniforms, you can wear one of mine. From the look of you, I think it'll fit." G said honestly.

"Uniforms?" Paul asked cautiously.

"It's not too bad. You get used to it."

"How old are you, anyway?" Paul asked curiously.

"Fifteen." G said simply.

"Me, too. Do you think we'll be in the same classes?" Paul asked as he turned in his seat, so he was facing G.

"Maybe. We have a lot of really small classes, so they'll probably put you in whichever one is smallest, each class period. Don't worry. It shouldn't be too bad." G said frankly.

"I've had to change schools a lot. So I'm not too worried. But is there anything I need to know about, you know, like bullies or gangs or... anything?" Paul asked with concern.

"It's a private school, so no gangs. As far as bullies... I've never really noticed a problem, but I've been going there forever. If anyone gives you any trouble, just let me know." G said as he turned to mirror Paul's position and look him in the eyes.

"I may be quiet, but I'm not helpless. I can fight my own battles." Paul assured him.

"I'm not planning to fight. But if you have a problem and you let me know, then maybe I can help. I know just about everyone and I can probably sort it out without anyone having to fight." G said honestly.

Paul thought that over for a moment, then smiled and said, "Yeah. Okay."

               'I don't know what to say, except... wow.'

               'I've changed schools so many times that I've become numb to it.'

               'But this... wow!'

"Wanna help me finish watching the anime? There's still a few episodes left." G asked hopefully.

"Sounds good." Paul said with a smile, then turned himself so that he could watch the big screen TV.

Paul's eyes finally drifted shut despite the barrage of bouncing, jiggling enormous boobs, giant robots fighting hand to hand, and the occasional panty shot.

* * * * *

Paul woke to the most glorious sensation.

He was surrounded in warmth and security. He was being tenderly held and he had the sensation of being cherished.

Then, another curious sensation jolted him fully awake. There were lips gently kissing his neck.

Equal parts arousal and fear caused him to flinch.

"Sorry." G whispered as he pulled away slightly.

Although Paul's mind was still more there than here, he was 'with it' enough to realize what was going on, his reaction, right at that moment, could set the course of their relationship forever after.

What he did in the next few seconds would determine whether they were friends, brothers or... something more.

               'Do the guy thing and act revolted.'

               'Do the friend thing and brush it off as nothing.'

               'Do the brother thing and make a joke about it.'

"That was a nice way to wake up." Paul said in a raspy, low voice.

G pulled back a little more to look Paul in the eyes, but said nothing. His only response was to smile timidly, then climb out of their warm little nest.

               'Right answer!'

* * * * *

"Get dressed. We need to go to breakfast." G said when he returned from the bathroom.

"I need to take a shower, first." Paul said as he unwillingly extricated himself from the blankets.

"We'll shower when we get back." G said simply, then added, "Food."

Paul smiled, and was relieved to find that his morning erection wasn't pitching too big a tent as he made his way past G and into the bathroom.

* * * * *

When they walked into the dining room, Paul was surprised to find that his mother had made a full, old fashioned, breakfast for them.

His surprise was short lived when he looked at the food laid out before them.

Although his mother wasn't a 'bad' cook, she had never exhibited any type of culinary artistry when it came to the presentation of their food.

               'Cook it up, slap it on a plate.'

Even though Paul couldn't remember his mother ever saying the words, her philosophy was clear enough to see in every meal that she served.

However, here, every little sausage link was placed on the serving platter with mathematical precision. The eggs were displayed with an artist's flare, and even had the tiniest dusting of paprika to add that hint of color that brought the entire plate to life, making it a feast for the eyes. Even the glass pitcher of orange juice, slightly fogged with the tiniest drops of condensation, was nothing short of perfect.

D walked into the room and directly to his place at the table.

"How are you boys doing this morning? Did you get enough sleep?" He asked as he unfolded his linen napkin and placed it on his lap.

"Yeah. We even woke up before the alarm." G said happily.

"You'll have a few extra minutes to get ready. I'll be driving you to school today." D said casually.

"What for?" G asked curiously.

"Well, I've already made all the arrangements for Paul to start school today, but I just thought I'd stop in to make sure that nothing was overlooked on his enrollment." D said frankly.

"Cool!" G said happily.

"Paul, I didn't think to ask earlier, do you have clothes for today?" D asked with concern.

"He can wear one of my uniforms. They should fit him." G answered for him.

"Remind me and we'll get him some of his own." D said seriously.

"I've got plenty. No rush." G said with a smile at his dad.

Although Paul was paying attention to what was being said, the majority of his attention was focused on the outrageously good food.

Suddenly, the thought came to him that what he was experiencing might not really be real.

The beautiful house, the loving family, the incredible food... they were all elements of the dreams that he had been having for longer than he could remember.

* * * * *

"I'll go first." G said as they exited the glass hallway and walked into G's 'room'.

               'How does one verify the existence of reality?'

               'And if reality isn't real, what do you do about it?'

               'And, come to think of it, what's so great about reality, anyway?'

"What?" Paul asked as he broke out of his thoughts.

"I'll shower first, if that's okay." G said more slowly.

"Oh, um. Yeah." Paul said with distraction.

               'Reality sucks.'

               'If life is but a dream, so what?'

               'It beats worrying about where your next meal is coming from, or if it's coming at all.'

"While I'm doing that, you can get your stuff together." G said as he led the way into the bedroom.

"Huh?" Paul asked in confusion.

               'I've got an adorable, cute, incredibly friendly guy here, who cares about me.'

               'And he's talking about showering.'

               'Screw reality! Dreams rule!'

"Underwear, socks... I mean, you can share mine, if you want. But either way, you can be getting that stuff together while I'm showering. It'll just take me a few minutes." G said as he started to peel off the clothes he had been wearing the previous day.

"Yeah. Right." Paul said nervously, then turned and hurried into the closet, where his boxes were stored.

* * * * *

After gathering everything he might need for a shower, Paul walked into the bedroom in time to see G emerging from the bathroom, naked as the day he was born.

G's body was long and lean. Although he was obviously still a teenager, not having gained the muscle definition of an adult, his body was still nothing to be ashamed of.

As Paul's gaze drifted lower, he concluded that G had nothing to be ashamed of there, either. While he might not have the most enormous 'equipment', it was of a decent size and, quite frankly, an absolute beauty.

When Paul realized what he was doing, standing and staring at G's naked body, he quickly looked into G's eyes and received a warm smile in return.

"I'm just... gonna... go now." Paul stammered.


"There's plenty of time." G assured him.

               'He used to have a boyfriend.'

               'So he's not gonna freak.'

               'And him knowing that I'm interested... not a bad thing.'

Something about G's tone served to put Paul at ease. Feeling considerably less anxious, Paul walked to the bathroom and took his shower.

* * * * *

G's bathroom was nothing short of luxurious.

Paul was used to putting up with the lo-flo showerheads that barely farted out enough misty water to get him wet. The rainshower showerhead in G's bathroom made the experience of showering a joy.

As Paul was about to walk out into the bedroom, where he had left his clothes, he started to wrap the towel around his waist. But before he could cinch the towel, he thought better of it and hung it back on the towel rack.

               'Come and get it!'

* * * * *

G looked up when Paul walked, naked, into the bedroom.

Paul was anxious about his probable reaction, but only slightly.

G broke into a grin, but said nothing. The look in his eyes was all that Paul needed. G obviously approved of what he was seeing. That was all that Paul needed to know.

               'Phase one: Complete.'

               'We've checked each other out. Everything passes inspection.'

               'Phase two: Begin.'

* * * * *

The sensation of wearing the school uniform wasn't uncomfortable as much as it was unfamiliar.

Also, Paul couldn't seem to relax into the notion that he wasn't wearing 'his' clothes.

"Do you have to work today?" G asked his father as he drove.

"There may be one or two things that I have to deal with. But I'll mostly be focused on the plans for the wedding." D said frankly.

"I guess it's good that you don't have to go to the office and work from nine to five each day." G said with a smile.

"It's good to be the boss." D said with a self-satisfied grin.

Paul couldn't help but chuckle at the statement, having a Mel Brooks moment.

"Paul, I should have thought to ask earlier, have you noticed needing anything?" D asked carefully.

It wasn't the question, itself, that triggered the emotional reaction. And it wasn't the situation, of being driven to school, although that probably contributed. But something about D's expression of concern made Paul want to burst into tears.

               'All I've got is the crap in the cardboard boxes.'

               'Still, right here, right now...'

               'I've got everything I need.'

               'More than I dreamed of, in fact.'

"I can't think of anything." Paul was finally able to quietly say.

D glanced at him in the rearview mirror and the warmth in his eyes made Paul have to fight to contain his tears all over again.

* * * * *

"Excuse me, I need to get my son enrolled." D said as they walked into the school's office.

"I'll be with you in just a moment." The woman behind the desk said absently, without even looking up from her work.

               'Same old routine.'



               'Eventually someone will get sick of looking at us and do the minimum required to pass us on to the next drone down the line.'

D's eyes went wide in surprise, then he took a small... incredibly small, phone out of his pocket and quickly dialed.

Paul wasn't surprised when he heard the ringing, but was curious when the ringing sound was that of a cell phone and came from one of the offices.

"Marsha. It's D. I'm here to enroll my son. Do you think you could see to it personally?" D asked seriously.

               'My son?!'

               'Not my step-son, not my girlfriend's son, not the creepy little guy who's perving on my son?'

               'It must be a dream.'

               'Please, don't ever let me wake up!'

A woman came rushing out of one of the offices, looking around frantically. When she spotted D, she quickly composed herself and hurried to help him.

Before she could speak, D calmly said, "Paul needs to be enrolled. I have a number of things that I need to attend to so, if you wouldn't mind terribly, could I just sign what I need to sign and pay what I need to pay to make it happen?"

               'If I were going to dream up a dad, he'd be just as cool as D.'

               'Truthfully, I couldn't have dreamed up someone as nice as him.'

               'No. Not just nice...'


The woman seemed to be flustered by the suggestion, but finally said, "I noticed his paperwork waiting this morning when we came in. But we're not in the habit of enrolling students mid-semester..."

"Do I look like I care?" D asked flatly.

               'Way to go D!'

               'Do it again!'

               'Do it again!'

That seemed to knock the wind out of her sails.

The woman, Marsha, took a slow breath to compose herself, then calmly said, "Why don't I get Paul placed in his classes? Then I can sort through his paperwork and see that he has everything he needs."

"Yes. Why don't you?" D said without expression.



               'That had to hurt!'

Marsha was stunned by his words for a moment, then she hurried away, back into her office.

Paul looked up at his step-father-to-be with wonder and a small amount of fear.

D smiled warmly at him and said, "After a certain point, there's no need to put up with self-important little bureaucrats. Commit your concern to the things that deserve it."

Paul slowly nodded, as if he understood what D were telling him.

               'I don't think I've ever been in awe, before.'

               'I didn't know it'd be this cool.'

"Here we go. I have a class schedule for Paul. Janice can walk Paul to his first class, so he can get started right away." Marsha said as she rushed up to them with a freshly printed piece of paper.

               'How very fast and efficient of you, Marsha. It's a shame that you couldn't have done that without D having to roast your ass over the fire.'

D glanced at the woman behind the desk, who was getting to her feet and absently said, "If she has the time."


               'No mercy!'

Marsha handed the sheet of paper to Janice, then looked at D to see if he needed anything further.

After a moment to look over the sheet of paper, Janice quietly said, "I'll take you to your first class."

               'Yeah. I can hardly wait.'

Paul glanced back as he was leaving the office to find D watching him, with an expression of warmth.

               'I never, ever ever ever want to wake up!'

* * * * *

The teacher in Paul's first period class obviously wasn't used to being interrupted, and certainly not by a new enrollment. But she seemed to take it in stride and indicated for Paul to take one of the unoccupied seats in the classroom.

As he listened to the lecture and tried to follow along with the examples on the whiteboard, Paul had no clue, whatsoever, what the woman was talking about.

He could tell that it was something vaguely resembling math or algebra, but it was so far beyond his understanding that he didn't even have a name for what it was.

* * * * *

The layout of the school was actually easy to follow and the numbering of the classrooms made logical sense, so Paul was able to follow his little class schedule without incident.

Unfortunately, that was the only thing that seemed to go his way.

As Paul moved from one class to another, he felt that he would need to understand a lot more about what they were talking about to even reach the level where he considered himself to be ignorant... at this point he was just plain stupid.

He didn't know the answers.

He didn't understand the questions.

The teachers could be up there speaking Kiswahili and he couldn't possibly have understood less of what they were talking about.

* * * * *

When it came time for lunch, Paul just followed the tide of students who all seemed to be headed in the same general direction. As he walked with his eyes cast down, he was feeling pretty disheartened.

"Paul! How's it going?" G asked happily as he approached.

"Not awesome." Paul said despairingly.

"What's wrong?" G asked with immediate concern.

"It's like being in kindergarten and trying to take college classes. That's how I felt today. I didn't understand anything." Paul said and was embarrassed to feel tears starting to well in his eyes.

Without hesitation, G pulled him into a hug and quietly said, "It's not that big of a deal. We'll get you a tutor to help you get caught up, then you'll be fine."

               'Mmmm. That's nice.'

"But what if I'm not smart enough to learn all this high level stuff?" Paul asked in a whisper.

               'Just keep holding me like this and I'll find a way to deal.'

"Don't even worry about that. Once you get all tooted, you'll be fine." G said with a grin.

"Tooted?" Paul asked as he fought to keep from smiling.

"Yeah, that's what a tutor does, he toots you. Once you're all tooted, you won't have any problems." G said confidently.

Paul couldn't help but laugh at the absurd reasoning and returned G's hug gratefully.

               'Sweet, warm, cute and funny!'

"Hey, guys!" G said happily.

Paul turned to see a boy and a girl, their same age, looking at them with surprise.

It was at that moment that Paul realized that he and G had been hugging, in the hallway, in front of everyone.

"Nazzy and Vinda, this is Paul." G said casually, as he turned to face them. Paul noticed that G kept one arm around him in a casual hug.

"Hi." Paul said cautiously.

"Remember? I told you about them." G said to Paul, seriously.

"Oh, yeah." Paul responded as he realized that they were G's former boy and girlfriend.

               'Hate them.'

               'They hurt G. They must be destroyed.'

               'But G doesn't seem to be angry with them, and they seem kinda nice.'

               'Okay. I'll let them live... for now.'

"Guys. This is Paul, his mom's going to marry my dad." G said frankly.

"Beth's his mom?" Nazzy asked with surprise.

Paul was shocked by the question and asked, "You know my mom?"

"Yeah. She's been dating D for a couple months, now. I was hoping that they'd end up together. D needs someone." Nazzy said frankly.

               'A couple months?! Where was I during all of this?'

               'Oh, yeah. Living my crap life and trying to get along at Ghetto High.'

               'I wonder what else Mom's been up to while I haven't been paying attention.'

"How are you doing, G?" Vinda asked into the silence that followed.

"I'm okay." G said honestly, then casually added, "By the way, I asked dad if he'd invite you to the wedding. He already said that he would and that he'd pay for your airfare if you say that you want to go."

"Is that going to be alright with you?" Vinda asked cautiously.

               'Thank you for asking.'

               'You may live.'

G smiled at the question, then said, "Well, it's not about me. I know you both really like my dad, so whether I'm okay with it or not, you should be there to celebrate this with him. But honestly, I had a nice little brooding fit for a few days, and now I'm fine."

               'G is so cool and so awesome!'

               'I don't think I've ever met anyone who was so incredibly cool about things.'

"Good." Nazzy said with a smile, then added, "Let's go ahead and eat."

"Right." G said with a grin, then urged Paul to walk with him, maintaining an arm around him, much like Nazzy and Vinda, who were walking in front of them.

               'So, this, whatever G and I have, it's not just going to be behind closed doors, where no one else can see it?'


               '...but good.'

* * * * *

Paul wasn't sure if it were something that Nazzy and Vinda had done, or if it were the fact that he had been seen with G, but for whatever reason, when Paul went to his first class after lunch, the difference was like day and night.

The classes weren't any easier for him to understand, but whereas before he had felt like an outsider trying to infiltrate a culture of which he had no knowledge, now he felt like he was a long lost relation being welcomed back into the fold.

No one had spoken one word to him all morning, but for the entire afternoon, people were walking up to him, introducing themselves, and offering him their help, should he have need of it.

The contrast was stark. The attention was a bit overwhelming... and somewhat intoxicating.

Paul had never been what you would call 'popular'. He supposed it was a side effect of his switching schools so often. Even so, he never really harbored a desire to be part of the 'in' crowd. The idea had never appealed to him. But now that he found himself in a situation where people seemed to notice his existence, he had to admit that he liked it.

* * * * *

"Are you up for a walk?" G asked as he approached Paul in the hallway.

"Yeah. I guess." Paul said with surprise at the strange question.

"There's a van that we can take to get a ride home. But on a day as nice as this, I feel like walking." G said happily.

Paul broke into a smile at G's infectious good mood and followed along.

* * * * *

When G had asked him if he were up for a walk, Paul had assumed that he meant emotionally or temperamentally, not physically.

It was a LONG walk.

Even so, there was a chill in the air which was invigorating and autumn was in full force, creating nearly breathtaking scenery.

When they finally arrived at the house and walked around to G's 'room', they were surprised to find a note taped to the double doors.

The note simply instructed them not to change clothes and come directly to the study.

G and Paul stopped long enough to deposit their backpacks, then hurried through the hallway into the main house.

* * * * *

"Where have you been?" D demanded as they walked in.

               'Uh, oh. He's not happy.'

               'It looks like now we get to see the dark side of D.'

               'I hope it's not too bad. I really want to keep on liking him.'

"We decided to walk home. Have you been out there? It's beautiful!" G said seriously.

D's serious mood gave way to a smile and he quietly admitted, "I suppose it is."



               'That's it?'

               'I've seen kids get beat black and blue for a whole lot less.'

               'G answers your question and you're fine with it?'

               'I need some time to deal with this new concept.'

"What did you need us for?" G asked curiously.

"While I was making plans for our trip, Beth mentioned that she and Paul don't have passports. So I pulled a few strings and I have someone waiting to take their passport photos so we can get them rushed. We need to be going." D said as he stood from behind his desk.

"You don't have a passport?" G asked Paul in surprise.

               'Give me a break! We were lucky if Mom had enough money for gas to get to work!'

               'Trips outside the country never really came up as a possibility.'

               'Not even in my wildest dreams.'

"I've never needed one." Paul finally responded.

From the expression on G's face, such a thing was nearly inconceivable to him.

               'We're from two different worlds.'

               'Do we have enough in common to make things work?'

               'Will we care enough to try?'

"We can talk about it in the car." D said as he hurried past them.

"What about dinner? We're starving." G said quickly as he followed.

               'Okay. We do have things in common.'

               'And G isn't hung up on the rich and poor thing.'

               'I need to learn not to be touchy about it.'

               'We come from different worlds.'

               'So what?'

               'I mean, what fun would it be if we were exactly the same?'

"We'll pick something up in town." D said over his shoulder, then called into the lounge as he passed, "Beth! They're here! We're leaving!"

"On my way!" Paul's mother called as she hurried to join the group that was walking briskly toward the enormous front doors.

* * * * *

"I suppose that while we're out, we'd better go ahead and buy the things that we'll be needing for the trip. You'll need a variety of warm clothes to endure the climate on the Scottish highlands." D said frankly as he drove.

"It's not like we're going to be hiking to get there." G said frankly.

               'Scottish highlands...'

               'Oh. My. God!'

               'This is going to be amazing!'

"No. But you still need to take the dank weather into account. Even inside, it's best to wear a few extra layers." D countered.

G reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"Would you mind taking Paul to buy his things? You know what he'll need." D asked his son hopefully.

               'Buy things for Paul?'

               'Like some big charity case?!'

               'Hold on...'

               'Don't be touchy about it.'

               'They're not saying that they need to buy poor little Paul new clothes because he doesn't have anything decent to wear.'

               'We're going someplace cold. They're going to buy me warmer clothes. It's just that simple.'


"Yeah. No problem. And I was wanting to pick up an OVA to go with that classic anime series that I just bought." G said with a grin.

               'G, if I didn't love you before...'

               'Oh crap! No, I didn't mean that!'


               'I didn't.'



"Those things will rot your mind." D said in a tone of long suffering.

"Most things that are fun will do that." G said in his defense.

Rather than respond, D glanced at Paul in the rearview mirror and asked, "How was your first day of school?"



               'What was the question?'

"He's going to need a tutor." G said seriously.

"Oh? Is something wrong?" D asked with concern.

"Only that he's expected to already know stuff that he's never been taught before." G said frankly.

"I'll make arrangements for that. You're both going to be out of school all next week, so I'll set it up for as soon as we get back." D said seriously.

               'Just like that?'

               'No screaming or threats about grades, just... Oh, I'll get you some help with that...'

               'Freakin amazing!'

"You can hang in there for two more days, can't you?" G asked Paul casually.

Paul thought about how the second half of his day had gone, then quietly responded, "Yeah. I think I'll be alright."

"Good." D said with satisfaction, then thought to ask, "Paul. Adoption. Yes? No? Maybe?"

"Huh?" Paul asked in surprise.

               'I think I missed a whole lot of something there.'

               'I mean, did someone just bump the fast forward button and skip us into a whole new conversation without me noticing?'


"We can't do anything until after the wedding, but be thinking about it. Would you like to be adopted? Would you like to have your name changed? Let me know." D said seriously.

G broke into laughter at Paul's flummoxed expression.


"Way to go, Dad! Skip the foreplay and go right for the goal!" G said in delight.

"It's worked for me, so far." D said, then glanced lovingly at Beth, at his side.

"Ewww! I did not need that mental image." G said with a grimace.

"You're the one who brought up 'foreplay'." D said in his defense.

G thought about it for a moment, then turned to Paul and said, "I was hungry, until he said that."


* * * * *

The stop at the photographer's took only a few minutes. Apparently, D had been able to arrange everything in advance and all they had to do was sit for the actual pictures.

From there, they went immediately to a nice restaurant. After all their rushing around, it was nice to be able to stop and catch their breath for a little while.

There was a little casual conversation before G finally asked his father, "Where did you two meet? You never said."

"Three, no, I guess it was four months ago, now, Beth and I noticed that we seemed to take lunch at the same time and since we both tended to sit at the lunch counter, more often than not, we'd be seated next to each other. We started talking. And one thing led to another..." D finished with a shrug.

"So Meg Ryan's right? It can happen just like that?" G asked with surprise.

               'A Meg Ryan reference?'

               'Does G, perhaps, have some viewing habits that don't revolve around big boobed schoolgirls and giant robots?'

               'Then again, I don't know what Meg Ryan's been up to in the last few years...'

D and Beth broke into laughter at the same time at the question.

When their food arrived, the conversation turned to more general topics.

The shopping that followed was like a whirlwind.

The register totals were numbers that were beyond Paul's comprehension, but each time, G simply handed over his credit card as though it were an everyday happening.

Beyond that, Paul was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what they purchased. He didn't have any idea of where they were going to put it all.

Finally, he concluded that D's car must be able to defy the laws of physics, because somehow, everything ended up fitting neatly into the trunk... or boot, as D referred to it.

As they were heading back to the house, Paul once again found himself questioning reality.

He had never before in his life had the experience of going into a store and being able to buy anything that caught his eye. Of course, he couldn't overcome a lifetime of conditioning, so he didn't really make any frivolous purchases. But, even so, being able to select the clothing and shoes that he wanted without regard to price was something beyond his wildest dreams.

G did have to nudge Paul a few times to get what he wanted rather than the cheapest option available. But, for the most part, Paul selected the things that he needed for the trip, picking out the color and style that he really wanted.

* * * * *

When they got back to the house, Paul was surprised to find that G had, indeed, bought the OVA that he had told his father about. It turned out that the DVD was a continuation of the classic anime that they had watched the previous evening.

At one point during the video, G shifted around on the couch and ended up with his head on Paul's lap.

It was totally innocent and Paul supposed that G might not even be aware of what he was doing, he was just trying to find a comfortable position.

After a moment to consider, Paul rested back, as his hand absently stroked G's hair.

More gore. More tentacles. More giant robots fighting. And, of course, more big boobed schoolgirls.

               'Like the song says "Sweet Dreams are made of this..."'

* * * * *

The next morning, Paul and G woke, had breakfast, took their showers, then caught a ride in the van to school.

For whatever reason, Paul didn't feel the same anxiety that he had the day before about not understanding the lessons. Instead, he listened intently to the material that was being presented and started to get a sense of what they were studying... except the math. He still didn't have the first clue as to what that was about.

At lunch, he once again met up with G, Nazzy and Vinda. Where their lunch the previous day had been slightly tense, today it was as relaxed as if the four of them had been best friends forever.

The remainder of the school day flew by, as Paul began to relax around his new classmates and started forming relationships with them.

As they walked out of the school and started walking toward the van that would take them home, G spotted his dad's car.

* * * * *

As soon as they got into the car, G cautiously asked, "What's going on, Dad?"

"The three of us need to get fitted for suits." D said as he pulled away from the school.

"Ungh. I was trying to forget about that." G groaned.

               'I wonder if it's any more difficult than buying a pair of new pants...'

               'Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever had new pants... just used pants that were new to me.'

               'Oh, well. How bad could it be?'

"Do you think I'll ever hear the end of it if your great grandmother sees you at the wedding looking less than respectable?" D asked frankly.

"I suppose not. But I don't have to like it." G reluctantly agreed.

"I'm not asking you to like it. I'm just asking you to do it." D said frankly.

"It's a deal." G said, then let out a long sigh of resignation.

"Are you okay, Paul?" D asked with concern.

"I've never done anything like this before. Is there anything I need to know?" Paul asked cautiously.

"No. Just stand still while your measurements are taken. That's about it." D said frankly.

"Yeah. But first you try on about a dozen or so suits that all look just about the same to find the ones that you're going to get." G groused.

"I'm sure it'll go faster if you're not insisting that you want to be a cowboy." D said with a barely contained smile at his son.

Paul leaned over in his seat to look at G, in the front passenger seat, with question.

"That's not going to be a problem, this time." G quietly assured his father.

Paul settled back into his seat with a warm smile at the thought.

               'G as a cowboy...'

               '...I bet that would be glorious.'

* * * * *

Getting the suits fitted wasn't as bad as G had let on.

It was worse.

They were in the tailor's shop for hours.

D insisted that they try on ALL the available selections, many of them, multiple times.

It wasn't until the end of it all that the tailor thought to mention that he couldn't guarantee that he'd have all the suits altered by the following Monday.

For a moment, Paul thought D was going to lose his cool. But instead, D calmly told the tailor that he would pay an extra one thousand dollars, over and above the price of the suits if, and only if, ALL the suits were ready to pick up Monday afternoon.

The dollar signs that appeared in the tailor's eyes were evidence that the suits would be ready and waiting for them.

* * * * *

As they left the tailor's shop, all three of them were tired, irritable and quite hungry.

"Can we stop for something?" G whined on the way to the car.

"What are you hungry for?" D asked in a less than enthusiastic voice.

"I don't care. Anything." G said in frustration.

"How about you, Paul? What sounds good to you?" D asked with a half-hearted attempt at a smile in his direction.

"Pizza." Paul answered immediately.

               'Wait. Do rich people eat pizza?'

               'Do they even know what it is?'

               'Well, if I'm going to expose them to one thing from my culture, this is a pretty good one.'

D seemed to consider as he climbed into the driver's seat, then turned to his son and asked, "Is that okay with you?"

"Anything." G reiterated.

"Pizza it is!" D said as he started the car.

* * * * *

When they arrived at the restaurant, Paul was surprised that it wasn't one of the fast food pizza chains. It was, in fact, an old fashioned, sit-down, Italian restaurant.

"Have we been here before?" G asked as they got out of the car.

"I don't think you have, but I've eaten here a few times." D said as he led the way.

Before they reached the front door, Paul caught the scent of something delicious. His stomach let out a loud growl to announce that it had also noticed.

"Mr. D! How good to see you again! Come, I have your usual table." The host said happily and immediately ushered them through the moderately busy restaurant to a secluded booth.

"A few times?" G asked his father curiously.

"Maybe more than a few." D said with a guilty smile.

* * * * *

The pizza was nothing short of perfection.

Paul ate until he was sure that he was going to explode. And, even then, he wished that he could eat more. It was just that good.

"I feel like I could sleep for a week." G groaned as they slowly walked toward the car.

"You've just got one more day of school, then you're going to be off for an entire week." D said as he opened his car door.

"Right." G said unenthusiastically.

"And don't forget that you're going to need to get your homework from all your classes, so you won't be behind when we get back." D said frankly.

"Ungh!" G said as he dropped into the passenger seat.

"Paul... I don't know what to say in your case. I think we'll just get you sorted out when we get back." D said frankly.

"I think I'll just take my school books with me so I can try to get caught up to where they are in my classes." Paul said thoughtfully, then added, "Except in math. I can't even figure out the first page of the book. I'm going to need help on that."

"Like I said, we'll work on getting you a tutor when we get back. But maybe, until then, you could get G to help you. He's always been good at math. Maybe he'll be able to explain things to you." D said honestly.

"We can try." Paul said uncertainly, not wanting to commit G to doing something that he might not want to do.

* * * * *

"How are you doing?" Paul asked, as they finally walked into G's room.

"Okay, I guess. I just hate doing boring stuff like that." G said as he walked directly to his bedroom, shedding his school uniform along the way.

"Well, that should be it, shouldn't it? I mean, that was the last really boring thing that we're supposed to do, right?" Paul asked hopefully.

"No. There are probably going to be lots of really boring things, one after another, before this whole wedding thing is done." G said frankly.

Paul froze in place when he realized that G wasn't stopping his undressing.

"I'm not mad at you." G said as he turned to face Paul, then continued, "I'm not mad at anyone, really. I just... it puts me in a bad mood."

"Yeah. I get that." Paul said slowly as he watched G take off his underwear.

"Thanks." G said with a smile, then glanced down at his naked body before looking back at Paul and asking, "Care to join me?"

Paul nearly broke into laughter at the casually asked question, but was able to hold it back and instead answered, "Yeah. Okay."

* * * * *

Paul was nervous at first, but in time, he more or less forgot about his nudity as he focused more and more of his attention on the horrible Japanese cartoon that G had put in the player.

It was ghastly. And not in a gory or exciting way. The animation was annoyingly bad, the story made no sense at all, the dialogue was idiotic and it seemed to go on and on from one embarrassingly bad episode to the next.

As Paul felt himself drifting into sleep, he had to admit that he kind of missed the big boobed schoolgirls and their giant robots.

* * * * *

"Good morning." G said softly, causing Paul to open his eyes.

"Good morning." Paul said with a smile.

"You know, if we kissed right now, things might get kinda weird between us." G said frankly.


               'I'm awake!'

               'I guess the ball's in my court.'

"I'm the uptight one. I think that if I were going to get weird about things, I would have done it by now." Paul said honestly.

               'That was a nice, respectable return.'

               'If I'm going to keep using tennis metaphors, I really should learn more about the game.'

"You've been close a few times, haven't you?" G asked with a smile.

"A few." Paul admitted.

"So it's okay?" G asked cautiously.

"Just, if it does get weird for a little bit, don't give up on me. Okay? It doesn't have anything to do with how I feel about you." Paul asked hopefully.

"What does it have to do with?" G asked curiously.

"How I feel about me, maybe... I don't know." Paul said honestly, then added, "I just don't want you to think that if I'm acting strange that I'm actually thinking 'Ewww gross!'"

"Yeah. Okay." G quietly agreed.

After a moment of staring into each other's eyes, Paul quietly asked, "Are you going to do it or not?"

"I guess I'd better." G said with a grin, then moved in to give Paul a delicate, gentle kiss.

A sudden blaring beeping sounded as soon as their lips met.

"What?! Do you have a virgin alarm?" G asked as he backed away.

Paul broke into laughter at the question.

G climbed over the back of the couch and turned off the alarm clock.

"We'd better get dressed and get in to breakfast." G said regretfully.

"This, first." Paul said as he climbed over the couch, then pulled G into a firm kiss.

* * * * *

After breakfast, G and Paul had their showers... separately... but each enjoyed the view when the other came out of the bathroom.

The fact of the matter was that they were on a somewhat strict timetable and didn't have time to do more than look.

At school, the morning passed without incident, the only thing on Paul's mind the entire time was the sensation of that kiss.

When the lunch bell finally sounded, Paul automatically went to the cafeteria where he knew that he would find G, Nazzy and Vinda.

As Paul walked into the cafeteria, there was a sudden roar of 'Surprise!'.

Yes, he was, in fact, surprised. He was pretty sure that his heart might have skipped a beat or two.

               'What does a heart attack feel like?'

               'What were the symptoms, again?'

Then he was uncertain if the surprise had been intended for him.

He looked around, there was no one behind him, and everyone seemed to be focused on him.

Nazzy walked up to stand beside him, then said, "Paul. I'm sorry it took us a few days to put this together, but we just wanted to welcome you. Everyone! This is Paul, he's G's new brother. If you haven't talked to him yet, make sure you introduce yourselves!"

Just that moment, Paul would have been quite content to crawl under the nearest table and die.

"C'mon. We got you cake." Nazzy said with a grin at him, then led him by the arm over to the table where Vinda and G were sitting.

"Surprise." G said with a grin.

"Did you know about this?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Vinda told me about it during second period." G said frankly.

Before Paul could question further, he was approached by a series of people welcoming him to the school.

* * * * *

Afternoon, after school, dinner... they all flew by.

Paul was riding the high of having a truly good day.

"It's nice to see you happy, like this." G said as they sat on the couch.

"I'm not used to feeling this way. How can I keep this feeling?" Paul asked curiously.

"Short answer, you can't. Life is full of hills and valleys. You just seem to have found a pretty nice mountaintop, today." G said with a grin.

"I'm scared that I'm going to wake up and find out that this was all a dream." Paul said honestly.

               'There, I did it. If this is really a dream, then saying so will probably cause it to all come crashing down...'

               'Is it too late to take it back?'

"Well, if that happens, then I guess that when you wake up you'll just have to work to make it a reality." G said warmly.

"How do you do it? You seem to be happy pretty much all the time." Paul asked curiously.

"Wasn't that you who was with me yesterday, at the tailor's shop?" G asked cautiously.

Paul laughed, then said, "That would have made anyone miserable, even the perpetually happy G."

The smile fell off G's face, and Paul noticed.

"What's wrong?" Paul asked curiously.

"A smile doesn't always mean that you're happy. Sometimes it's there to hide that you aren't." G said quietly.

After a moment to consider that, Paul quietly asked, "Wanna talk?"

"No. Not really." G answered honestly.

"Wanna kiss?" Paul asked with an impish grin.

"Who's the alpha, here?" G asked with the beginning of a smile.

"You are. Without a doubt." Paul said before hooking an arm around G and pulling him close.

"Okay. Just so we're clear on that." G said before giving up his resistance.

               'Dream or not, just as long as we get to keep on doing this, I'm fine with it.'

* * * * *

Although both boys might have been willing to do more, they were also equally uncertain if doing too much, too soon might damage or destroy their developing relationship.

In the end, they did nothing more than kiss. However, when they went to sleep that night, they did sleep cuddled together.

* * * * *

"It's Saturday. What are we supposed to do today?" Paul asked curiously, as he stroked G's head, which was laying on his chest.

"Whatever we want, mostly." G said frankly.

"Mostly?" Paul asked curiously.

"Dad might have something planned, especially with us leaving next week. But I don't think he's said anything to me about it." G said honestly.

"Let me out. I need to pee." Paul said as he started to sit up.

"Kiss first." G said with a grin.

Paul obliged with a quick kiss, then hurried to get off the couch.

* * * * *

"So, Dad, do you have any big plans for today?" G asked, once they were all seated around the dining room table.

"I have about a thousand little odd and end things that I need to get put in order before I leave." D said honestly.

"I meant, do you have any plans for us?" G asked frankly.

"Not a plan, so much, but if you wanted to, we could go out and play with the trains this afternoon." D said with a smile.

"We haven't done that for a while, and Paul hasn't seen them yet. Yeah. Let's do that." G said happily.

"What do you guys say we do that after lunch?" D asked with an honest smile.

"Yeah. We'll be there." G said confidently.

Paul watched the exchange silently. Although he hadn't ever personally played with anything like model cars or trains, he'd seen them before. He never could figure out what anyone could find to enjoy about them.

"Did you boys remember to get all your school work for while you'll be gone?" Beth asked curiously.

"I got mine." G said simply.

"I'm still not to the point where I'm able to do the lessons that they're assigning, right now. But I brought my books so that I can maybe get closer to being caught up before we get back." Paul said seriously.

"I've already talked to the school and they know that I'm going to be hiring a tutor for Paul, so they'll be willing to be flexible until he's had a chance to catch up." D interjected.

"Paul, just be sure to let us know if you need anything, alright?" Beth asked her son gently.

"I will." Paul assured her.

               'It's weird. It's not them yelling at me, telling me that I need to get better grades, or else. It's me, saying that I'm going to handle it and them offering their help and support.'

               'I think this is beyond any dream that I could have come up with...'

               '...an alternate reality, maybe?'

* * * * *

At lunch, both father and son seemed to be excited by the prospect of playing with their trains, which increasingly baffled Paul. He was happy enough to tag along, if nothing else, to enjoy their enjoyment. But he fully expected that after a few minutes that he would probably be bored.

"You're going to love this." G said as he led the way out the back door of the house (which happened to be normally sized), and across the expanse of wide open lawn.

"Where are we going?" Paul asked curiously.

               'Down the rabbit hole?'

               'Through the looking glass?'

               'Note to self: Beware the Red Queen.'

"It's right over there, that out building." D said as he pointed.

The building was just coming into view, having been on the other side of a slight rise.

"How big is this place, anyway?" Paul asked as he looked around.

"Just over a thousand acres." D said casually.

Paul didn't have any way of responding to that because the scale of it was too immense for him to really comprehend.

* * * * *

When they walked into the building, it took a moment for Paul's eyes to adjust to the much dimmer light. But when his eyes finally did adjust, he had to blink his eyes to confirm what he was seeing.


Real, full sized, trains.

On tracks.

"These are steam engines. One of these days, when we can spare the time, we'll go ahead and fire one up for you and take it out for a spin." D said cheerfully.

"A spin?" Paul asked in astonishment.

"Yeah, this track runs all the way out to the lake at the far side of the property." G said happily.

"Lake." Paul parroted.

"Hey, Dad. Is it okay if I fire mine up?" G asked hopefully.

"That's fine. But remember that you have to stay out here with it until the pressure's down to a safe level. You can't just walk off and leave it." D said firmly.

"I won't." G promised, then turned to Paul and quickly said, "Come on!"

Paul glanced at D uncertainly, then walked to follow G across the large building to the far side of the second steam locomotive.

               'Their train set is made up of real trains.'

               'Real, actual trains...'

               'Just how freakin rich are these people?!'

* * * * *

By the time Paul joined him, G was already working to get a fire started.

"What is it?" Paul asked cautiously.

To him, it looked like a church's pipe organ and one of the steam locomotives had sex... and this thing, whatever it was, was the resulting offspring.

"It's a calliope. It's real! Dad bought it for me and we restored it." G said proudly.

"What do you need for me to do?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Give me a minute to get the fire started, then you can start handing me firewood. Mine's woodburning, instead of coal." G explained.

               'Yeah, because burning coal in your pipe organ would just be silly.'

* * * * *

When G said that he was ready, Paul brought him pieces of wood so that G could feed them into the base of a large cannister which looked something like a primitive water heater. And, from what little Paul knew about steam engines, that's probably what it was.

G kept checking the gauges of the thing until he finally announced, "It's ready!"

"Ready for what?" Paul asked cautiously.

G flashed him a huge grin, then ran around to the other side of the wagon and opened a panel to reveal something like a piano keyboard.

Before Paul could do much more than register the fact, G began to play.

The first steam whistle to go off nearly made Paul jump out of his skin and pee his pants simultaneously. He had never in his life heard such a loud noise.

When the next whistle went off, in a different pitch, Paul realized that what G was playing was a legitimate musical instrument, albeit, an insanely loud one.

As he listened, Paul flashed back on the 'Dark Carnival' motif in G's room and thought that the calliope fit in with it perfectly (and loudly).

When G finally finished, he walked to Paul and said... something.

"Huh?" Paul screamed in response.

G rolled his eyes, then said something else.

"Huh?" Paul screamed again.

It was only then that G realized that Paul wasn't kidding.

G chewed his lower lip for a moment as he considered what he should do, then took off running, to the other side of the building.

"Huh?" Paul called after him.

               'If this were a dream, that would've woken me up. No doubt.'

               'So, I guess that's settled.'

* * * * *

"How are you doing, Paul?" D asked with concern.

"It's still ringing, but I can hear you now." Paul said honestly.

"Next time, he'll have to move the calliope outside before playing it. Even without the noise problem, depending on which way the wind is blowing we can get smoked out of here." D said honestly.

"He's not mad at me, is he?" Paul asked cautiously.

D chuckled, then said, "He's probably worried that you're mad at him... for destroying your eardrums."

"No. I'm glad that he shared that with me. Just, next time, I'll have to remember to wear earplugs or something." Paul said honestly.

"I'll see to it that we have some on hand before the next time." D assured him.

"Thanks for taking me out here and showing me this." Paul said sincerely.

"Remember, next time, I'm going to get you to help me fire it up. We're going to take this thing for a spin." D said happily.

"Yeah. Sounds good." Paul said with a smile, then added, "I'd better get back to G before he thinks that I'm mad at him or something."

               'Even if my mom weren't going to marry him, I'd still want him to be my... I don't know if I'll ever be able to call him that.'

               'But if I were ever going to call anyone that, I would want it to be him.'

* * * * *

As they walked into the living room of G's 'room', G quietly asked, "Are your ears still ringing?"

"Yeah. But it's better than it was. Don't worry about it." Paul said with a smile.

"I'm sorry. Okay?" G asked anxiously.

"Okay." Paul said with a reassuring smile, then moved in to give G a firm kiss.

The kiss didn't last that long, but the hug that accompanied it continued on and on.

"I'm okay. Really." Paul quietly soothed.

"I never want to hurt people." G said as he enjoyed the hug.

"You bring joy into the life of everyone who knows you." Paul said softly.

"Maybe you don't know the real me." G said in almost a whisper.

"And maybe I do." Paul countered gently.

               'I could stay like this forever.'

* * * * *

That night was more about comfort than passion.

There was the occasional kiss, but mostly holding each other through the next animated series that G wanted to share with Paul.

This one was better than the last one. Not great, but better.

* * * * *

After waking, the boys went to the main house to find breakfast on the dining room table, along with a note, telling them that D and Beth were going out for the day.

Paul looked at the food on the dining room table, all of it still piping hot, and wondered, not for the first time, who had prepared it.

"That's cool." G finally said, then asked, "What do you want to do today?"

"I don't know. What sounds good to you?" Paul asked in return.

"Let's get naked and watch videos." G said with a smile.

"We did that a couple nights ago." Paul said cautiously, not sure if he were missing something.

"Yeah. And it was nice, wasn't it? Wanna do that again? All day?" G finished with a smile.

Paul thought about it for a moment, then said, "Yeah, that actually sounds kinda great."

G smiled with accomplishment, then tucked into his meal.

* * * * *

For as tranquil as Sunday had been, Monday came as something of a rude shock.

Since they would be leaving for the airport early on Tuesday morning, all their packing and preparations would need to be taken care of that day.

At breakfast, D reminded the boys that they would need to go to the tailor's shop later in the day to pick up their suits.

Beth then added that she was going to need to stop by the bridal shop for her wedding dress.

That caught Paul by surprise.

Although he had intellectually known that his mother was getting married in less than a week, somehow the reality of it didn't kick in until she talked about her wedding dress.

* * * * *

Paul and G weren't too worried about needing to pack for the trip until it actually came time to do it. That's when they came to the realization that Paul didn't have ANY actual luggage.

For all the times Paul had moved from apartment to apartment, he had always done so using cardboard boxes and plastic bags.

As soon as the discovery was made, they returned to the main house and Beth realized that she, too, had no luggage, whatsoever.

Although D suggested that Beth drive the boys into town to get the luggage and that G use his credit card to pay for it, Beth was kind enough to point out that D needed to be present to try on his new suits at the tailor's shop.

With that decided, everyone went to work, doing as much as they could, within the constraints of their individual circumstances, until it was time to go into town.

* * * * *

Along with getting the luggage and picking up the suits and the wedding dress, G also suggested that they take a moment to buy a few 'comfortable' things to wear during their trip. At first the adults resisted the idea, but G finally won them over by reminding them about how long they would be traveling, not only in the air, but also waiting in one airport after another, for their connecting flights to depart. It's miserable enough to have to do it at all, but it's that much worse when you have things binding, chafing, riding up, falling down or refusing to stay fastened.

When they got back to the house, it was a mad dash to get everything done that they needed to before the end of the night.

As soon as the last suitcase was packed and put on the stack by the front door, the boys collapsed on the couch, in front of the TV. Something was playing, something animated, for certain, an anime, most likely, but Paul was too exhausted to even pay attention to it.

Both Paul and G automatically snuggled together and almost immediately fell into a restful, and much needed, sleep.

* * * * *

They were up well before sunrise, but due to all their hard work the night before, they had time to enjoy a delicious and satisfying breakfast before having to load the car and leave for the airport.

Once again, Paul wondered who had prepared their wonderful meal, and very nearly asked, but when D started outlining their proposed arrangements for the day, it slipped his mind.

* * * * *

Paul was nervous.

Although he wouldn't admit it to anyone else, since he had never flown before, he didn't know how he was going to handle the experience.

The first flight was, by far, the most terrifying.

Part of that was the fact that it was his first flight.

But to compound the anxiety, they were taking a commuter flight to a larger, regional airport. The little two-engine mosquito of a plane seemed to jump and drop, tip and tilt, for no apparent reason.

When he first got onto the plane, Paul was very careful to school his expression and not divulge just how scared he was.

By the time they landed, he didn't care who knew, and he wanted to kiss the solid, unmoving ground beneath his feet to celebrate their landing.

The wait time between the commuter and the commercial passenger jet wasn't terribly long. The parents had time to sip some coffee and the boys were each able to enjoy an insanely sweet, hot, gooey cinnamon roll that was similar in size and weight to a newborn baby.

* * * * *

By the time they landed at the next airport, Paul was more or less a seasoned traveler.

Of course, it could be that the amount of sugar he ingested at the previous airport was enough to nearly put him into a coma. Either way, Paul's anxiety was nearly gone and he was able to relax enough that he fell asleep for part of the flight.

It didn't hurt that they were traveling first class, so they didn't have to suffer some of the discomfort that other passengers, farther back in the plane, might be experiencing.

At this airport, they stopped for a while to have a nice relaxed early lunch, mainly because they had two and a half hours before their next flight was supposed to take off.

Paul was beginning to understand what G had meant about traveling being miserable. But he had to admit that it would be that much more so if he were wearing uncomfortable clothes.

* * * * *

As they started their trans-atlantic flight, Paul took one of his schoolbooks out of his carry-on luggage. The boredom of travel had finally driven him to it.

The seven hour flight from New York to London provided Paul plenty of time to work his way through several subjects and begin to get a foundational understanding of the classes that he was enrolled in.

At one point, about three hours in, G even borrowed one of his class books, just for something to do.

Of course, all schoolwork was temporarily suspended when the inflight movie started. It turned out to be a comic book superhero movie, as so many were of late. But the best part about it was that neither Paul nor G had seen it before.

It wasn't exactly the same as anime, but it was closer than Paul would have expected.

* * * * *

When their flight arrived in England, it was well after dark and late, at least according to the local time.

That was perfectly fine with Paul.

Even though he had done very little in the way of physical activity that day, he felt as though he could easily sleep for a week.

D had already arranged everything, so their limo driver was waiting for them and very skillfully and professionally attended to their luggage.

* * * * *

Paul was surprised that when they got into the back of the limousine, that there was a picnic basket waiting for them, filled nearly to overflowing with all kinds of delectable treats.

As the limo ride wore on, Paul better understood why the food had been provided. They kept driving and driving, for nearly two hours, before finally arriving at their hotel. If the driver hadn't provided the basket of food, all of them might well have withered away to nothing.

* * * * *

The hotel room was posh, no doubt.

The staff were courteous and accommodating.

Paul and G couldn't really find anything wrong with it, except... that they had been given separate rooms.

So, that night, as tired as they were from traveling, and as nice and comfortable as their beds were, neither of them slept worth a damn.

* * * * *

Beth was full of good cheer the next morning, nearly 'glowing'. D was happy to see that she was happy. The boys... not so much.

Neither slept well. Neither was in a good mood. And they both gave the same blank disbelieving stares at D when he announced that they were going to spend the day touring London. With looks alone, they questioned D's fitness as a father, his sanity, and his value as a human being.

Nonetheless, they dutifully carried on with preparing. They had breakfast in the hotel, then piled into the limousine to see the sights.

Paul's mood brightened as he began to get into the spirit of the occasion. It took longer for G to come around, but as he watched Paul's childish wonder grow, he warmed to the experience.

They visited the Tower of London, saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and St. Paul's Cathedral, and even witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

As the day drew to a close, they were all well and truly exhausted, but in a good way.

* * * * *

Paul had just finished climbing into bed when he heard a light tapping on his door.

"Come in." He said quietly, hoping beyond hope that it was G.

There was a long quiet moment, then the door opened just enough for G to peek inside.

"Is it okay if I come in?" G asked uncertainly.

               'Silly question.'

"Yeah. Of course." Paul said with a smile.

"I'm not... I mean, I don't need people. I'm okay being alone..." G said with difficulty.

               'G being uncertain is a rare sight.'

               'I'm honored that he trusted me enough to allow me to see it.'

Paul tried to restrain his smile as he said, "Why don't you climb in here with me and tell me about it."

"Okay. Yeah." G said with a grin.

* * * * *

The wakeup the next morning was rude and unwelcomed.

Regardless of their activities in the previous days, the fact of the matter was, it was just too flippin early.

As each of them dragged their zombified selves down to the restaurant to have breakfast, it was apparent that none of them wanted to be up, right then.

"We have to catch an early flight. There should be a car waiting for us when we arrive, and that will take us to Darroch Castle." D explained between sips of coffee.

"Castle, as in, a real authentic castle?" Paul asked to confirm.

"It's been our family home for... a while, now. My parents and grandparents live there, to oversee the place. And one day, when we're ready to retire, your mother and I might end up moving there, too." D finished with a smile at his bride-to-be.

"Really? That's your family home? You don't sound Irish." Paul said in confusion.

               'What's that look for?'

               'Did I say something wrong?'

"Scottish... there's a difference." D said with a wince, then continued, "Our family's from Darroch, but I was born and raised in the states, just like G was. We return to the Scottish highlands every so often, as we are able, to visit with family and restore the sense of having a foundation, of knowing where we came from."

"Must be nice." Paul said under his breath and flashed a dark look at his mother.

               'Yeah. I'm looking at you.'

               'Even if you won't tell me about my dad, what about my grandparents or other family? It's not possible that we just sprang into existence out of nothing.'

               'I want a foundation, too. I deserve it!'

"Us sitting here, sipping coffee, isn't getting us any closer to Darroch." D said, not sounding to be much more enthusiastic than the others around the table.

* * * * *

Both boys were asleep before the limousine had left London, which was for the best.

Beth and D talked quietly about their plans and occasionally one or the other of them would stop and look with pride at their sleeping boys.

* * * * *

"You can't be serious. We're flying on that?" G asked when he got out of the limousine.

"Unless you can think of a better way for us to get there." D told his son frankly.

Paul alternated between pale white and pale green at the sight of the small plane.

               'Oh crap!'

               'Not again!'

               'Please don't make me!'

"This made more sense than flying commercial. I chartered this flight so that we could transport all of our luggage and not be restricted by anyone else's timetable." D said seriously, then a look of question came over his face before he continued, "Why am I explaining this to you? Just get on the plane."

G rolled his eyes, then started walking to do as he was told.

"Is this thing safe?" Paul asked nervously.

"Yes. I promise." D said with a warm smile at the frightened boy.

               'Okay. This once. But if you get me killed, I'm never going to trust you again!'

Paul tried to gather his courage, then followed G toward the small plane.

* * * * *

The flight was no more or less harrowing than the commuter flight had been on Tuesday. The prop engine plane seemed to jump and drop, pitch and yaw to the whims of the winds. Paul's gasps of fright and white knuckled grip on the armrests might have been funny in other circumstances, but G was unable to find any humor in the situation. About a half hour into their flight, G finally gave up his concerns about the probable reaction from the parents and leaned in to give Paul a reassuring kiss and cuddle him.

Paul's mother was a little bit surprised by the development, but D simply took gentle hold of her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

It turned out that G's kiss was all that Paul needed to break him out of the cycle of fear that he'd been trapped in. G had essentially 'blown his mind' which, under the circumstances, turned out to be a good thing.

* * * * *

"I don't remember this airport. How far is it from here?" G asked his father as they got off the plane.

"I don't know in miles, but I'm estimating two to three hours by car." D said frankly as he watched their luggage being unloaded.

"That's a lot faster than usual. We should get there while it's still light out." G said thoughtfully.

"That's my hope." D said with a smile at his son, then quietly asked, "About you and Paul... are you two..."

"Are we what, Dad?" G asked impatiently.

"Getting in too deep?" D asked with concern.

G thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "Yeah. It looks that way."

"Remember, that I'm here if you need me." D said as he looked his son in the eyes.

G smiled at his father's reaction, then responded, "I know. Thanks."

* * * * *

"G has heard this before, but it won't hurt for him to hear it again." D said, then paused, since their driver seemed determined to find every pothole in northern Scotland.

               'That doesn't sound like something good.'

"Where we'll be visiting is kind of remote..."

"...kind of." G chuckled at the understatement.

               'Well, we've been driving for about half an hour and haven't seen another living soul. If this isn't remote, I'm afraid of what is.'

"It's a fourteenth century castle but, not to worry, it has been outfitted with a few of the 'conveniences' of the modern age." D said with a grin at G, then continued, "What I wanted to warn you about is, don't go off on your own. The Scottish highlands are strangely deceptive. It's incredibly easy to become disoriented and lost. And the weather is wholly unforgiving. Even when you're following a path or staying within sight of the castle, it's possible that a sudden mist or storm will come up and leave you with no points of reference for you to get yourself back to safety."

"If this were one of those old black and white horror movies, this is where he'd be warning us about the ghosts." Paul said to G with a grin.

               'Yeah. So I've watched a lot of black and white horror movies. We couldn't afford cable.'

D smiled at the comment, then said, "The ghosts are family. You don't have to worry about them."

               'Was it just me, or did he say that a little bit too seriously?'

"What about Nazzy and Vinda?" G asked suddenly.

"What about them?" D asked cautiously.

"Where are they? I thought you were going to invite them to the wedding!" G asked anxiously.

"You're only just thinking of this now?" D asked incredulously.

"I've had a lot on my mind." G said defensively, then asked, "Are they coming?"

"I made all the arrangements for them. Nazareth and Ravindra should arrive tomorrow afternoon or early evening. That will give them a chance to rest before the wedding ceremony." D said frankly.

"Oh, good. I just know that they really wanted to be here to see you get married." G quietly explained.

"Don't worry. Everything's been taken care of." D said confidently.

Paul was only marginally aware of the conversation. His attention kept being drawn to the breathtaking countryside outside his window.

* * * * *

Before long, both the boys were fast asleep as their drive continued on and on.

Beth and D sat, holding hands and watching their boys sleep. There were many things that needed to be done, and many more that needed to be discussed. But in that peaceful moment, neither wanted to do anything to disrupt the tranquility that they were feeling.

* * * * *

"Boys, we're here." D said gently, not wanting to wake the boys too abruptly.

"Already?" G asked sleepily.

"Check your stomach, I'm sure that it's not saying 'Already?'." D said fondly.

"I think it's still asleep." G said groggily.

"Paul?" Beth asked gently.

"Five more minutes." Paul grumbled.

D smiled at the response, then said, slightly louder than necessary, "Welcome to Darroch Castle."

Paul's eyes opened suddenly and he looked around with excitement.

In his wildest dreams, Paul couldn't have imagined a more picturesque location. It truly was a fourteenth century castle, nestled in amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

               'Oh my freakin God! A real castle! Not a movie set or a reproduction, but a real castle!'

"G, would you take everyone inside while I show the driver where to put the luggage?" D asked his son hopefully.

"Yeah! C'mon! I want you to meet Grandma and Grandpa!" G said with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.

Paul smiled at his happiness and followed along.

               'It makes me happy to see him happy.'

               'Is that too syrupy?'

               'I don't care. It's true.'

"I'll be in in just a moment." D assured his bride-to-be, then gave her a kiss before going to attend to the driver.

* * * * *

As Paul walked through the dim corridors, the thought came to him that the castle wasn't really all that different from the 'museum' back home. The walls were made of rougher stone than the smooth polished granite, but the overall effect was just about the same.

"Grandma!" G said joyfully as he ran into the great hall. The room was enormous and Paul couldn't help but flash back, yet again, to the old black and white horror movies.

"G! We didn't expect you this early. You've grown like a weed, you have." G's grandmother said with delight as G hugged her.

"D said that he was going to try that new airstrip that they opened earlier this year. It seems to have shaved a few hours off the travel time." An older gentleman said as he approached.

"Grandpa!" G said happily and immediately switched his hug.

Beth and Paul were watching the scene before them unfold with matching smiles.

               'This must be what he was like when he was five years old.'

"Mom, Dad, I'd like for you to meet my fiancee, Beth and her son, Paul." D said as he walked into the room.

"Well! Look at you! Aren't you a pretty little thing. And I hear that you'll be havin a wee baby soon." D's mother said warmly.

"Yes, Ma'am. In about six months." Beth said timidly.

"Beth, Paul, may I introduce my parents, my father, J and my mother, B."

"You're kidding!" Paul blurted out in astonishment.

               'Oops! Mouth, you're not supposed to start working until I tell you to.'

               'But still, G's grandparents and D's parents are J and B?'

               'Well, I guess that means that there's only twenty-two members of the family left for me to meet.'

"That's short for Jason and Beatrice." B said with a grin at him.

"Jay and Bea... Okay, I guess." Paul said reluctantly, not quite willing to accept it fully.

               'That makes sense, Jason is J, Beatrice is B, Gwayne is G... so what's D's real name?'

"Your grandmother is taking a nap, right now. You'll be able to visit with her, later." D's father, J said with a smile.

At Paul's look of confusion, G explained, "He was talking to Dad about my great-grandma, Grandma Gruit."

"We'll have time enough to catch up on things. Just now you probably need to be resting up after your long trip. Come along, let me show you to your rooms. Everything should be ready." B fussed.

"Thanks, Mom." D said warmly as he followed behind her.

* * * * *

"I hope you boys won't be minding if we put you in a room together. We've got the whole family showing up in the next day or two." B asked as she slowly led the way up an enormous staircase.

"That'll be fine, Grandma." G said as he fought to restrain his smile.

               'Yeah. We'll find some way to make it work.'

The place was big, huge in fact, and there was no doubt that the castle was, indeed, centuries old. But Paul couldn't help but notice that it was also immaculately clean.

"Boys, once we've been shown to our rooms, I'm going to need your help carrying up the bags." D said seriously.

"Okay, Dad." G answered easily.

"It's just down here. We even have electricity in this wing, now." B said happily.

"Dad's really getting the place fixed up." D said in an impressed tone.

"He's doing his best to make this old place functional. We don't have a lot of the new-fangled conveniences, but we have what's important." B said, then walked to a massive, nearly twelve foot tall, door and lifted the latch before forcing the door open with her shoulder. She fumbled just inside the door and turned on the light switch before stepping aside to allow everyone else to enter.

"It's beautiful." Beth gasped as she walked into the room.

Paul had another horror movie flashback as he cautiously scanned his surroundings.

"I'm glad you think so, dear. This will be your room." B said warmly.

"Thank you. I love it." Beth said excitedly.

"Boys, your room will be just across the hall." B said as she turned back toward the door.

"When's dinner? Paul and I are hungry." G asked hopefully.

"Well, you've just missed lunch and dinner's not for quite a while. When you're done helping your father with the luggage, why don't you come to the sitting room and I'll have a snack all laid out for you." B said warmly.

"Thanks, Grandma!" G said happily, then gave her another hug.

While he was doing that, Paul walked across the hall and lifted the heavy, cast iron latch on the door.

He did as B had done and pushed the door with his shoulder to open it. The weight of the door was nearly as astonishing as it's size.

The huge double doors back at the 'museum' didn't even compare.

He was surprised when he walked into the pitch black room. It took him a moment to remember to feel beside the door for the light switch.

When the lights came on, they revealed a very tidy, very elegant room. All that was missing was Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and, of course, Bela Lugosi.

"Come on. Let's help Dad so we can eat." G said quickly from the doorway.

"Right behind you." Paul said as he turned to follow.

* * * * *

Paul had the sense that the luggage had gotten heavier since they had packed it. He also came to the realization that high ceilings meant more stairs. Those two things combined assured that when they finally found their way to the sitting room for their meal, that they were well and truly hungry.

"I thought I'd find you here." D said as he walked into the sitting room with Beth at his side.

"This is where the food is." G said unrepentantly.

Paul might have smiled at that if his mouth didn't already have a prior commitment.

"Beth and I need to go into town before it gets too late. Would you care to go with?" D asked casually, letting it be known with his expression that he didn't have a preference in the matter.

G looked at Paul and received a shrug in response.

"I think we've traveled enough for a while. We'll stay here." G said for both of them.

"Try to stay out of trouble." D said to his son with a smile.

"You know me." G said with a grin.

"That's why I said try." D responded, then turned to leave.

* * * * *

"Do you want to go exploring?" G asked Paul with a grin.

"What? Like where?" Paul asked cautiously.

               'Didn't D say something, just a little bit ago, about not getting into trouble?'

"I don't know. Let's see if we can find any secret rooms or a dungeon or anything like that. How often do you get to explore a castle?" G implored.

               'Interesting point.'

"Haven't you been here a bunch of times?" Paul asked curiously.

"Yeah. But whenever I was here before, Dad thought that I was 'too young' to be left unattended. Now that I'm finally old enough, I want to check things out!" G said hopefully.

               'I'm not sure if this is the way to get your father to see you as being mature enough to be trusted.'

"Yeah. Two teenagers exploring a fourteenth century castle on their own... what could go wrong?" Paul asked with a smile.

* * * * *

"Maybe it used to be a dungeon." G said as they looked around the basement room that they had discovered.

"Yeah. And maybe the castle was attacked by washers and dryers and this is where your family chose to imprison them." Paul retorted.

"Shut up." G grumbled, then led the way out of the room.

Paul smiled at the reaction as he followed, enjoying their exploration.

* * * * *

"No dungeon, no dragons, not even a troll. What a letdown." G said when they returned to their room.

"Actually, I'm kinda okay with not finding any of those things." Paul said honestly.

"Yeah. Still, I grew up remembering this place with all the rooms that I couldn't explore. I've been dreaming about that stuff all my life. Now I'm here and... I guess it's disappointing." G said frankly.

"I guess at some point you have to give up on magic." Paul said regretfully as he sat heavily on the bed.

"I wouldn't go that far." G said as he sat beside Paul.

"What would you like to do, now?" Paul asked curiously. There wasn't any innuendo behind the words, just a simple, honest question.

After a moment to consider, G finally admitted, "A nap sounds really good right now."

"That's all I needed to hear." Paul said as he kicked off his shoes then scooted over on the bed.

A moment later G was snuggled in at his side.

As they were both drifting to sleep, G whispered, "All of this is magic."

* * * * *

Paul was awakened with a kiss.

"Just like in the fairy tales." Paul thought as he opened his eyes.

"Did you have a good sleep?" G asked with a lazy smile.

"Wonderful. And waking up like that was even better." Paul said happily.

"I was thinking that maybe, if it's not dark already, we could go exploring outside." G said hopefully.

               'I'm pretty sure I remember D saying something like, to not do exactly the thing you're talking about doing.'

"Your dad sounded kinda serious when he said that stuff about us not leaving the castle." Paul said anxiously.

"Our dad. And that's not what I was talking about. There's a courtyard inside the castle walls where we can go without having to worry about getting lost." G explained.

               'I can work with that.'

Paul thought for a moment, then broke into a smile before saying, "Yeah. That sounds good."

"We'd better hurry. It's not going to be light for much longer." G said as he stood.

It took a little effort for Paul to get up from the incredibly comfortable bed, but he was eventually able to catch up to G in the hallway.

* * * * *

"Toad!" G said happily as they walked into the great hall.

Paul was puzzled by the exclamation.

G ran across the room and hugged a small boy that Paul hadn't noticed.

"Paul, this is my cousin... our cousin, Toad." G said happily as he finally released the smaller boy from his hug.

               'Are you sure it's not T?'

               'No, of course not. That would be silly.'

As much as Paul wanted to ask about the name, he held his curiosity in check and simply said, "Hi, Toad."

The boy appeared to be about eight or nine years old and had the same dark hair as G's, although a little longer and somewhat wavy.

The boy looked at Paul, then slowly closed his large, dark eyes then, just as slowly, reopened them.

               'Well, he's not exactly a hookah smoking caterpillar, but I think we're almost in that neighborhood.'

"Are your parents here?" G asked as he looked around.

Toad slowly looked upward, then turned his gaze back toward G.

"Yeah. They're probably tired from traveling. I'm glad you're here. Paul and I were about to go out to the courtyard to explore. Do you want to come with us?" G asked hopefully.

Toad slowly closed and reopened his eyes again, apparently in response to G's question.

               'The kid communicates with eye movements?'

               'Curiouser and curiouser.'

"Okay. You're probably tired, too. Maybe next time." G said with a smile, then moved in to give the boy another enthusiastic hug.

"I love you, Toad. Remember that." G said quietly, before releasing the boy.

Before Paul could formulate anything to say, G turned to him and quickly said, "C'mon. Let's go."

* * * * *

"Can't Toad speak?" Paul asked as they walked through nondescript corridors.

"Yeah. He can talk if he wants to, he just doesn't like to, sometimes." G answered casually.

G seemed to like the boy and accepted him just the way he was. Paul supposed that that was all he really needed to know. Besides, G had warned him that the people he'd be meeting might be a little... peculiar.

* * * * *

It seemed as though the courtyard led to another part of the castle that was no longer being used.

Not only was it getting too dark for them to do much more than a cursory inspection from the outside, but it was getting bitterly cold, too.

By the time they got back inside the house, Paul was incredibly grateful that they had taken the time to buy new warm clothes for their trip. Although he had been cold before, Paul couldn't remember ever having experienced what he would call 'bone chilling' cold.

* * * * *

By the time dinner was served, Paul was beginning to wonder about what kind of family his mom was marrying into. Upon entering the dining room, Paul had been introduced to Toad's parents, Kathryn and Horst, or 'Kat' and 'Horse' as they liked to be called.

Then, of course, there was Grandma Gruit. G hadn't been exaggerating about her in the slightest. She was thin and elegant with a permanent look of disdain etched on her face. When she spoke, it was with the greatest care and Paul couldn't help but get the sense that she was carefully choosing her words in an attempt to conceal her nefarious plans. She wasn't rude or threatening in any way, but one thing was for sure. Never, ever, under any circumstances, would he accept an apple from that woman.

The food that was served was a bit... old world, for Paul's unrefined tastes. It wasn't bad. He had no doubt that it was perfectly prepared in every detail. It's just that the style of food wasn't something that he was accustomed to.

Through the course of dinner, J and B kept the conversation going, filling people in about the goings on of absent relatives.

Paul couldn't force himself to pay attention to the talk about people that he had never met.

At one point during the meal, Paul looked across the table and found Toad smiling at him.

When Toad noticed, he immediately turned his attention back to his eating.

But Paul caught, in that one small glimpse of a smile, why G liked the boy so much.

* * * * *

"What do you think is taking your... our... them so long?" Paul asked G quietly as they went up the stairs.

"I think they went to town to get all their wedding stuff set up. I don't have any idea of what all is included in that, but it probably takes a while." G said frankly.

"I guess so." Paul said noncommittally.

"And there are some people in town who don't actually like us much. So that could slow them down." G added thoughtfully.

"Are we talking torches and pitchforks?" Paul asked cautiously as he stopped outside their bedroom door.

               'Unfortunately, that mental image came to me a bit too easily.'

"More like trying to screw us out of our land and our money. I really don't know too much about that but Dad keeps up to date on it. You can ask him about it sometime if you want." G said as he lifted the latch and shouldered the door open.

"No. I guess I'm just nervous." Paul said as he followed G into the room.

"Is the weirdness getting to you, too much?" G asked with concern.

               'Bing. Bing. Bing. Got it in one! Tell him what he's won, Johnny!'

"A little, maybe. I mean, I like your family. Everyone's been really nice. But you were right, those people aren't normal." Paul said frankly.

"From what I've seen of it, normal's not all it's cracked up to be." G said frankly.

Paul considered that for a moment before nodding his agreement.

               'I grew up normal.'

               'Every day of my life, so far, has been normal.'

               'So I can say with some certainty, normal sucks.'

"And just so you know, you're doing fine. You're a little bit quiet, but I think everyone understands that. Just get to know them and pretty soon you'll see that most of them are alright." G said reassuringly.

               'I'm glad to know that I'm passing.'

               'Wait. What?'

"Most of them?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Well, yeah. Uncle Pear is kind of a douchebag. And if I ever shook hands with Cousin Teek, I'd be sure to count my fingers when I got my hand back. But besides them, I think everyone's pretty decent." G said thoughtfully.

               'Good to know.'

               'Filed for future reference.'

"What about Grandma Gruit? Do you think she'd ever really hurt anyone?" Paul asked carefully.

"Yeah. But only if they gave her a reason to. Otherwise, she just polishes her mirrors and makes her potions, just like any other grandma." G said with a smile.

Paul wanted to laugh, but found that he couldn't.

* * * * *

Despite the nap in the car and another one in the afternoon, both boys were tired enough to fall asleep before their parents had arrived back at the castle.

The next morning, the boys woke to find that they were still dressed in their clothes from the day before.

"Where's the bathroom?" Paul asked curiously as he looked around the room.

"I don't know. I guess we'll have to go exploring to find out." G said as he sat up in bed.

               'You don't know? Aren't you supposed to be the fountain of all knowledge?'

               'Fountain... Don't think about the water... trickling, tinkling, splashing...'

               'Oh crap!'

"I'm okay with exploring, after I've used the bathroom." Paul said honestly.

"I don't know where the bathroom is in this wing of the house. I haven't stayed here before. But if you really have to go, right now, then you can just use the bathroom downstairs." G said simply.

               'Here are our choices, we either run, right now. Or we can wait a minute and float down there.'

"Yeah." Paul said as he slipped on his shoes.

"Hold up. I gotta go, too." G said quickly.

* * * * *

After their business was taken care of, G and Paul returned to the wing of the house where their bedroom was located, and did eventually find a very nice bathroom at the end of the hall. They didn't know how practical it was, considering that it was the only bathroom for seven bedrooms, but supposed that considering the alternative, it wasn't too bad.

They enjoyed a nice breakfast with Grandma B and Grandma Gruit, although Paul was careful not to leave his plate unattended in Grandma Gruit's presence, even for an instant. It's not that he didn't trust G's assessment of her, but he felt that it was best to err on the side of caution.

After breakfast, they decided to attempt another exploration of the ruins at the far side of the courtyard. However, about five minutes in, the frigid cold convinced them that the ruins were perfectly fine left undisturbed.

It wasn't until just before lunch that they caught up with their parents. Both boys were surprised to be told that they were expected at a practice ceremony in the great hall, promptly at five. When they inquired further, they were told that it was going to be a plainclothes run-through of the ceremony to get everyone's placement and cues sorted out before the actual ceremony the following night.

Neither boy complained, and although they wouldn't admit it to each other, both of them were kind of excited about being included in the ceremony.

* * * * *

With all the eccentricities of G's family, lunch was surprisingly unremarkable. People were laughing and talking and sometimes talking over each other. Everyone in the family that Paul had met, so far, attended the lunch as well as a few that he hadn't. It turned out that with so many people carrying on so many different conversations, that he didn't get the opportunity to be introduced. That actually suited him just fine.

At one point during the meal, Paul caught Toad smiling at him again and he automatically smiled back. This time, Toad continued to stare at him for a moment longer before shyly looking away.

The arrival of Nazzy and Vinda after lunch was something of a surprise to Paul. He had actually forgotten that they would be coming. But once the surprise had worn off, he was genuinely happy to see them. Not only were they people that he at least had something in common with, in that they went to the same school and were also his own age, but most importantly, they weren't part of the family, so it didn't feel like it was just him against everyone else.

Paul and G helped Nazzy and Vinda take their things up to their room, while doing so, everyone gave a dramatic retelling about their experiences while traveling.

When they went down to the great hall together, it was nearing time for the wedding rehearsal. Nazzy and Vinda weren't taking part in the ceremony, but they were asked to sit back where the guests would be and let them know if they could see and hear well enough.

Paul was mostly just standing around, waiting to be told what to do. When that time finally came, he didn't like what he was told.

"You want me to walk up the aisle and drop flower petals?" Paul asked incredulously.

               'Flower child?'

               'Do you want me to wear a ringlet of flowers in my hair and sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when I get there, too?'

               'Damn it, Mom. I'm fifteen!'

"Well, D is going to have G serve as his best man, and I wanted you included in the wedding, too." His mother explained.

"Mom. I'm giving you away. I don't care what the ceremony says about it, I'm your family, that's my job. If you need someone to throw flower petals, why not ask Toad. I bet he'd do a good job." Paul said firmly.

Beth looked at D for a moment with uncertainty, then finally asked, "Would you like to walk me up the aisle, too?"

"Yeah. I'd like that." Paul said with a smile.

               'Whew! Crisis averted.'

               'Sorry, Toad.'

               'I'll find a way to make it up to you.'

"Do you want me to ask Toad for you?" G asked his father quietly.

"No. Let's just skip the flower petals. Just my luck, someone would slip and fall on them and break their neck on our special day." D said honestly.

"Maybe he could be the ring bearer." G suggested carefully.

"If he eats it, you're going to be grounded... forever." D said firmly.

"Toad will probably be happier just watching the wedding, anyway." G said quietly.

* * * * *

Once everyone's roles were defined, all of them took their places.

"Where's Uncle Neese?" D asked as he looked around.

"He probably fell asleep, again." B said in frustration as she went to look for him.

"Maybe we should have someone else perform the ceremony." D said anxiously.

"Great-great-Uncle Neese is the oldest member of the family. Unless he declines, it's his rightful honor." J said seriously.

"Is he a minister or something?" Paul asked his mother quietly.

"We had the legal wedding before a judge, yesterday, when we were in town. We'll be having the wedding ceremony tomorrow night." D explained.

"And you don't have to have any special certification or anything to perform the ceremony." Beth added simply.

"I found him." B said as she helped an extremely elderly man into the room.

"Are you alright, Uncle Neese? We don't have to do this right now if you're not feeling up to it." D said frankly.

"I'm feeling fine, I just went to the kitchen because I wanted a pickle." Uncle Neese said as he tottered along, toward the front of the room.

"Okay, everyone, take your places! To begin, Uncle Neese will already be up here to officiate..."

* * * * *

"Way to go, Paul!" Nazzy said as soon as the practice ceremony was over.

"Yeah. Way to speak your mind!" Vinda added happily.

As G approached, he didn't say a word, but the look in his eyes told Paul everything he needed to know. Knowing that G was proud of him made his world feel complete.

"So, did someone say something about us having food after this thing? I'm starving." Nazzy asked seriously.

"Yeah. It's probably already on the table. This way." G said as he led the way.

* * * * *

Paul, G, Nazzy and Vinda stayed up later than any of them really needed to, but it was refreshing to have some lighthearted fun among a group of friends.

It was a somewhat unfamiliar thing for Paul, given his previous circumstances, and that night he decided that he very much would like to become used to it.

* * * * *

Paul woke with G curled into his side and felt that the world was honestly a beautiful place to be.

Although his stepfather-to-be appeared to have more money than God, the money played such a small part in their daily lives that it really wasn't a consideration. The way that D accepted him and seemed to care for him filled a void that Paul had carried all of his life.

Then there was G. Paul couldn't deny his feelings any longer. He was in love. But the strange thing was that after meeting Nazzy and Vinda and hearing about their former relationship with G, Paul had come to the realization that his relationship with G wasn't the center of his world. If something happened that they didn't work out for some reason, Paul would be sad, of course, but in time, he would be fine. And, hopefully, they would be able to maintain some sort of friendship as G, Nazzy and Vinda had done.

Finally, there was G's family. There was no doubt that the people were crazy as bedbugs. But they were all so nice and accepting of him, a total stranger, and welcomed him into their family. It would be the height of ingratitude for him to do less than accept every crazy insane last one of them.

"You're thinking loud enough to wake the dead." G mumbled into Paul's chest.

"I was just thinking about how much I like your family." Paul said as he began stroking G's hair.

"Our family. Go back to sleep." G said as he snuggled in a little tighter.

"Our family." Paul whispered as he closed his eyes.

* * * * *

There were about a million things that needed to be done to prepare for a wedding. And all of them appeared to be being done by people rushing in different directions.

"Watching them, rushing around like that, makes me tired." Vinda said with a sigh.

"You'd better not let them hear you say that or they'll put you to work." G said frankly.

"You know, I'm going to spend one of my weekend days here with you and the other on flights trying to get back home in time for school." Vinda said with a glance at him.

"Are you sorry you came?" G asked, quite seriously.

"No. I really want to be here. I'm just saying that I'm going to be wiped out when I get back." Vinda said frankly.

"When are we going back?" Paul asked curiously.

"I don't think Dad ever said. We might want to check with him about that." G said thoughtfully.

"Nah. What fun would that be? Let it be a surprise." Paul said with a grin.

"Um, you've got an excuse and a tutor. I'm going to have to make up whatever I missed." G said frankly.

Paul turned to Nazzy and Vinda before saying, "He's always so serious."

"Cold cuts for lunch! Make sure you eat your fill, dinner is the reception following the ceremony." B called out as she rushed across the room, carrying a potted plant.

Nazzy glanced at Vinda and extended his elbow as he asked, "Shall we?"

Vinda broke into a grin and placed a hand on the elbow as she said, "We shall."

G and Paul both chuckled at the performance as Nazzy and Vinda slowly walked away, with regal bearing befitting a reigning monarch.

G smiled at Paul as he quirked an eyebrow, then raised his elbow.

Paul grinned at him then followed Vinda's example and allowed G to escort him into an elegant, refined, cold cut lunch.

* * * * *

The frenetic activity before lunch was nothing compared to what followed.

People that Paul had never seen before kept appearing and all of them seemed determined that theirs was the most important job in the entire wedding.

"C'mon. It's time for us to get into our suits." G said, snapping Paul out of his mental wandering.

"It's still over an hour away." Paul said distractedly.

"Yeah, but we have to get naked, then get dressed. If we go, right now, we might be able to work one more step into that process." G said urgently.

Paul broke into a smile, then said, "Let's hurry."

               'That's why I love him.'

               'Yeah. I said it. I love him.'

               'Hopefully, soon, I'll find a way to say it aloud.'

* * * * *

In the short time that Paul and G had been 'together', they hadn't ever really been together. They got naked, they kissed, they snuggled... and the next thing they knew, they were waking up.

When they got up to their room, both of them shed their clothes almost before the door was closed.

"Who did that?" Paul suddenly asked, when he saw that their suits had been laid out on the bed for them.

"Dunno." G said before moving in to give Paul a long, firm kiss.

Any further questions fled Paul's mind as he became lost in the sensation of long naked kiss.

Thanks to their recent period of celibacy, both were exceptionally ready to take things to another level. So, as things arose, they were dealt with in short order. Admittedly, things were a bit awkward. But with luck, they were going to have the opportunity to perfect their technique in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

* * * * *

               'Seven bedrooms.'

               'One bathroom.'


               'It doesn't sound all that crazy, until you take into account that all the people in all seven bedrooms are trying to get ready to attend a wedding... at the same time.'

Paul had rediscovered his nervousness before making his way downstairs.

People were still milling around, still gathering, so Paul had time to collect himself.

It wasn't as though he were the one getting married, after all.

In fact, all he had to do was walk his mother up the aisle and stand aside. It's not like he had any words to memorize or anything to do.

"Are you ready?" G asked as he approached.

"Yeah. I think so. Have you got the ring?" Paul asked carefully.

"Yes. Dad's asked me, like, six times already." G said with a slight roll of his eyes.

"Look at this! It looks like you're having an old fashioned Halloween wedding! I guess my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail!" A woman said theatrically as she entered the room. She was wearing a burgundy colored full length gown that was covered with glittery jewels.

"Oh, shit!" G gasped when he saw the woman.

"What's wrong? Who's that?" Paul asked with concern.

               'The woman didn't look strange... comparatively.'

               'She did seem to have an excessive amount of jewelry of all varieties, but... again... if you looked at the rest of the guests in attendance, she wasn't even a blip on the weird-o-meter.'

"That's my mom."

"I hope you don't mind, but I let myself in." The woman said as she sauntered into the room. Truth be told, as tight as the dress appeared to be, her choices were probably to either elegantly saunter, or inelegantly shuffle.

"You're not welcome here, M. You know that." Grandpa J said as he stepped forward.

               'Wait. Hold it right there.'

"Your mom's name is M? Seriously?" Paul asked incredulously.

"Shhh... watch." G said anxiously.

Grandpa J stepped forward, presumably to show her to the door.

"Get away from me, you... insect!" M spat with disgust, then popped open a paper fan that she'd been holding and fanned it once in his direction.

Paul couldn't believe his eyes when J was blown off his feet and thrown back nearly the length of the great hall.

At the same time, a rather... abundant woman stepped forward as did D's mother, Grandma B.

"It doesn't have to be like this, M. You can just leave." B tried to reason with her.

"I can just leave." M repeated in a mocking tone, then angrily said, "Tried that. Didn't work. Thought I'd try something else."

M swished her fan in B's direction, but two little kids... or something... flew threw the air in the blink of an eye and got in the way.

Both of them were hit by a gust of wind and blown back. But B was unharmed, being shielded as she was whisked away by the woman wearing red with black polka dots.

Paul couldn't help but glance back at the two little girls, not only to see if they were hurt, but also to try and determine what the hell they were.

As both little girls impacted the far wall, Paul realized that they both had wings. Then, in an instant, they were perfectly normal looking, full grown women.

"What's going on here?" Paul asked disbelievingly.

"We're witches." G answered absently, focusing most of his attention on his mother.

"Come on! I thought you'd put up more of a fight than this! I brought something for all of you. And once every last one of you is dead and forgotten, then I can finally get on with my life." M said, drawing Paul's attention forward again.

A skirmish line, of sorts, had formed. Paul didn't know most of the people, and some had so drastically transformed that he couldn't make out who they were.

A black swarm gathered in the air behind M, and it looked for a moment like it might simply consume her. But instead, M waved her paper fan in that direction and the cloud of insects dispersed. A moment later, the robust woman wearing red with black polka dots lay sprawled on the floor.

"Aunt Zennie!" G gasped in horror.

"Rot! Wither! And Burn!" Grandma Gruit shrieked as she set fire to a little doll that she was holding.

"Oh, please!" M scoffed, then absently flicked her fan in Grandma Gruit's direction. In an instant, Grandma Gruit was flying across the room. Fortunately, for her at least, she landed on three other people.

A swarm of bats seemed to come from all directions at once. M was able to repel them, but not with as much ease as she'd been able to dispel the other attacks.

"That's better. What else have you got?" M asked with a maniacal grin.

Both of Toad's parents rushed at M from opposite directions. Toad's father, Horse, seemed to have increased his body mass by about half, and all of it was muscle. On M's other side, Kat had transformed into some sort of werecat creature that was primarily fangs and claws.

M took a step back and with one broad swipe of her fan, both attacks were immediately repelled.

"STOP!!!" A child's voice bellowed, then the unmistakable sound of... well... puke.

Paul turned in time to see Toad being rushed away by some of the adults. He looked a little different, like he had thicker, bumpier skin. But he appeared to be unharmed.

"You little monster!" M howled in disgust. Apparently, Toad had been able to projectile vomit on her from about twenty feet away.

"Why are you doing this, M? There's nothing left between us. There's no reason for this." D said as he stepped forward.

"You!" M screeched in rage, "You stole my life! And I'll get it back when you're dead!"

"Yeah. That makes sense." D said dubiously, then made a casual gesture toward the folding chairs. Immediately, about a dozen of the chairs seemed to come alive and all of them started scampering toward M, almost like spiders, closing in on their prey.

"No. No. I can't have that." M said as she used her fan to blow the chairs away.

"M... Emmaline, listen to me. You need help. We can get you help." D said in a voice that was trying to sound calm and patient.

"I DON'T WANT YOUR HELP!!" M exploded in fury, then took out a small dagger and started making slashing movements in D's direction.

Cuts started appearing on his chest and forearms, although he was at least ten feet away.

"Don't hurt him!" Nazzy screamed as a transparent humanoid figure rose up through the stone floor, as though it had no substance. But as soon as the zombie's feet were above ground, it became fully solid and started moving toward M.

A strange sound drew Paul's attention and he saw Vinda reading from a small book. Chanting, actually. Even as she spoke the words, a misty form was coming into being before her.

"Looks like you've brought in some new blood." M said as she looked from Nazzy to Vinda. First she took hold of a talisman from around her neck and held it in the direction of the zombie. As soon as she did, the zombie dropped to the ground and stopped moving. Next, she took a ward off her belt, and waving it in Vinda's direction, dispelled the spirit before it was fully formed.

"Fortunately, I know what to do with blood." M said with a smile of self-satisfaction.

"Cheesy, Mom!" G said from Paul's side in a bored tone.

Paul turned to look at G and was shocked to see that G's face seemed to be painted, like a clown... a dangerous, nightmarish, clown.

"Oh, baby. Don't be mad at Mummy. I'll be done with this in just a minute, and then we'll be able to start our new life together."

"Um, no." G said, then made a grand lifting gesture with his hands.

As he did, flames started to rise up all around M.

"I should have known..." M said in a tone of long suffering as she took another amulet from around her neck, this one looking like a little crystal ball. She waved the little crystal dramatically as she said, "Clear from my sight that which is unreal." In the space of a heartbeat, all the flames had disappeared.

"Kids..." M said dramatically, then turned suddenly and thrust the dagger in G's direction, or she would have if two small demonic imps weren't biting into her arm and twisting, like dogs with a chew toy.

"Get off of me!" M screamed as she tried to swipe her fan at them. Although the fan did have some slight effect, it didn't convince them to stop what they were doing.

"Whoever's the summoner, she's vulnerable to demons! Summon more!" Great-great-Uncle Neese called out urgently.

"That's all I can do! I haven't summoned anything in fifteen years." Beth called in return.

"Mom?!" Paul asked in surprise.

"We'll talk later." Beth said as she kept her attention on M, who was slowly gaining the advantage over her imps.

"Demons! Of all the things..." M said in frustration as she finally got the second demon to release.

A barrage of ladybugs, animated chairs and a table, another zombie (perhaps the same zombie, hard to tell), and a ghostly wraith all moved in to attack M simultaneously.

"I don't think so!" M said as she used a broad swipe of her fan to clear all her attackers away in one move.

"Now, let's start with you." M said as she turned her attention toward Beth. "I can't have you summoning anymore demons, can I?"

"No." D said as he hurried to shield Beth with his own body.

"We won't let you hurt her." G said as he moved to his father's side.

"Fine." M said with a shrug. "I'll just kill you all, then."

In that moment, Paul saw the people he loved, gathered together, bravely facing their extermination.

Rage rose up from deep within him.

It was a rage filled with everything he always wanted but could never have.

That rage was brought forth, into physical being, as everything good in his life, everything worth living for, was now being threatened.

It was time for him to take action.

A howl from the depths of hell flowed out of his mouth as the earth started shaking and flames started rising from different points around the room.

"STOP HER!" A deep voice growled and Paul was surprised to find that it was his.

"Yes, master." Another voice responded, with sickening clarity.

Then a demonic entity rose up from a fiery pit that had appeared in the floor and grabbed M from behind.

Paul knew that the demon had been summoned by him and would follow his orders. Uncertain of what to do next, he turned to look at G with question.

When Paul tried to take a step, he realized that it wasn't that simple. It appeared that he would have to learn how to walk on hooves.

"What should I do with her?" Paul asked G uncertainly and was once again surprised by the deep gravelly tone of his own voice.

"Oh, baby. You know that mummy was only kidding, don't you? I would never ever hurt my iddle widdle baby." M told her son in baby talk.

"Go to hell." G said with disgust.

"You heard him." Paul said to his demon.

"Summoned, I come to serve. It will be as you say." The demon said reverently, then descended into the flaming pit he had emerged from, carrying M with him as she kicked and screamed, all the way down.

As soon as the demon was out of sight, the floor returned to it's normal appearance.

"Paul... Wow. I mean... Wow." G said in amazement.

"How do I stop... this?" Paul asked cautiously.

"Just put it back where you got it from. Remember what it was like coming out, and just put it right back in there." G said confidently.

Paul looked at his claw-like hands, then reached up and felt the horns on his head, trying to remember the feelings he had felt.

"How is this even possible? Even a witch, born with a natural talent for summoning, can't call up a demon on their first try. It takes years of practice." D said in amazement.

"Paul probably has the summoning talent because of me. It runs in my family." Beth said nervously.

"Even so..." D said with a shake of his head.

"Add to that... You see, Paul's father..." Beth said reluctantly.

"What about him? Who is he?" Paul asked firmly.

"I can't tell you his name. You might accidently summon him. Trust me, you REALLY don't want that." Beth implored him to understand.

"My father is a demon?" Paul asked in surprise.

"Yes. And that's why my family didn't want to have anything to do with me... with us. I'm a summoner who summoned, and became pregnant by, a demon." Beth said honestly.

"I can see why a family of summoners might have a problem with that." D said frankly.

"When I found out that I was pregnant, I made sure to banish him back to the demon realm before I lost my ability to do so." Beth continued to explain.

"Hey, I tell you what." D said as he put an arm around Beth and pulled her into a gentle hug.

"What?" She asked cautiously.

"I'm willing to overlook your ex if you're willing to overlook mine." D said hopefully.

Beth looked at D with surprise, then broke into a smile as she said, "We have a deal."

"So, you still wanna get married, then?" D asked hopefully.

"Absolutely." Beth said warmly.

* * * * *

It took a while for everyone to get things in order again.

Remarkably, no one was seriously injured.

There were a few bumps and bruises, but nothing that would impede the ceremony.

Several people made a point of telling Toad what a brave and wonderful thing he had done. That's when Toad's parents revealed that Toad's vomit attack on M was toxic and would have disabled her, if it had had enough time for the neurotoxin to take effect.

* * * * *

As the music played, Paul walked his mother up the aisle, in his bare feet and what was left of his shredded suit.

After he presented his mother to her intended, he stepped back and looked past D to find G looking back at him.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this couple in matrimony. Do you, Elizabeth Hiller, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" Uncle Neese asked solemnly.

"I do."

"Do you, Aloysius Darroch take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

"I do."

"I now pronounce you man and wife." Uncle Neese said happily.

A cheer rose up from all assembled as the couple kissed.

* * * * *

"Aloysius? How did he get 'D' from Aloysius?" Paul asked G quietly.

"I kept the 'G' in my name because that's all that was worth saving." G said in a leading tone.

"Okay, I get it. If nothing's usable in the first name, you skip to the last." Paul said with a chuckle.

"Yep." G said with a grin, then rhetorically asked, "Half-demon, huh?"

"Yeah. It looks that way." Paul said frankly.

"I guess that's the end of me being the Alpha." G said regretfully.

"No. You'll always be my Alpha." Paul said firmly.


"Forever." Paul said with certainty, then sealed it with a kiss.

And They All Lived Happily Ever After