And we're off! CJ just celebrated his sixteenth birthday, got a Jeep as a present from his fathers, and is about to fly to Sydney to spend his Christmas vacation in Australia. When outlining the cast of characters who would populate this story, I wanted to make the group diverse and decided to include a couple of men from other countries. One of them turned out to be an Aussie, giving me an excuse to send the boy to Oz.
I've been lucky to interact―in person or on line―with some incredible men from Australia. Their friendliness and warmth inspired me to visit their country a few years back. There I fell in love with the people I met, and the places I visited; I hope to return some day. In the meantime, CJ gets to experience some of what I did, and in the process he meets some people who'll play a big role in his life.
To all the Aussies I've ever met, I dedicate this book.
Saturday, 21 December 2013
"You can look, but you better not touch!" CJ's shout made Harley jerk his hand back, while Thiago snickered at his friends' antics. "Nah, just messing with you, bud. You can stroke it all you want."
"What the fuck, bruh?" Harley turned once again towards Brett's motorcycle, running his hand over the shark-nosed fairing, and smiled. "This tri-tone paint scheme was my favorite for the 2013 Custom Vehicle Operations models."
"What's that?" asked Thiago, snickering again. "Orange, gray, and pink?"
"Don't be a douche!" Harley's elbow missed Thiago's mid-section; the lanky black kid moved back just in time to avoid it. "For your information, the proper names are: Tribal Orange, Dark Slate, and Inferno. They're sooo much cooler than the special 110th Anniversary Edition Vintage Bronze, and Vintage Black the motor company used that model year."
"Harley, you never cease to amaze me. The shit you remember." CJ sipped from the steaming mug in his hand, shaking his head in disbelief. After the surprise birthday party at Rogo's the previous evening, his two best friends from school had spent the night at his house. They were up early this morning trying to figure out how to rearrange things in the garage, so he could fit his birthday present inside once they picked it up. "The dads prolly have breakfast ready, guys. Let's go eat."
"Did you know Cap's Road Glide was the first production Harley-Davidson equipped with Daymaker LED headlamps?" Harley glanced back at the motorcycle, longing in his expression. "And that they added a second two hundred watt amplifier to the sound system that year? And two extra speakers mounted on the saddlebag lids! Bruh, it even comes with its own eight gig Apple iPod Nano inside the―"
"HARLEY!" CJ and Thiago looked at each other after shouting in unison, bumped fists, and laughed.
"Homie, I think it's sick you know all this crap. But you're rattling it off so fast, CJ and I can't keep up." Thiago thumped the excited teen on the back for emphasis.
"Yeah, bud," added CJ. "I'll never remember all that stuff. I'm glad you know it, so you can teach me some of it. But you gotta feed it to me real slow." The boy opened the back door so his friends could step inside. CJ got a kick every time he walked in from the courtyard, realizing how strange access to the house was. After moving from Miami to the townhouse on Prospect Street in Georgetown at the beginning of summer, CJ had done some digging on the history of the place.
He discovered it had been built in 1850 and gone through major renovations a century later. The elevator was added, and the original, detached, one-car garage was expanded to the current three bays. The passageway connecting the garage to the house was enclosed―it ran behind the elevator shaft―providing direct access during inclement weather. A second doorway giving home access was added to the back wall, in front of the concrete tower enclosing the mechanical lift. When César and Brett purchased the place in 2010, they gutted much of the inside, creating wide open spaces, and extremely large bedrooms. They left the garage structure alone, except for giving it a fresh coat of paint, and installing modular shelving storage.
Their status as DINKs went through a radical change when their son came to live with them in Washington full-time. No longer young professionals with dual incomes and no kids; they now had teenagers in and out of their home at all times. They felt some changes were needed, and decided to tackle the one area which they had not bothered with before: the basement.
"Come on, guys." César motioned for the boys to take a seat at the breakfast bar, while Brett retrieved a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator. "You sit down too, Jarhead. We've got a lot to do today, and I don't want to be rushed later on."
"Sir, yes, sir!" replied Brett in his best military voice, before snapping off a sloppy salute.
"Thank you for inviting us to spend the night, sir." Thiago held his plate out for César, so the man could place slices of french toast on it. "I had a great time last night. It was a fantastic party. CJ's always so in control of everything, I loved being able to surprise him. "
"Me too," mumbled Harley, his mouth already stuffed full of food.
"You're both welcome here anytime," replied Brett, biting into a crispy bacon strip. "Changing the subject: what was the song you were singing a bit earlier?"
Going by the boy's expression, Brett's question must have caught Thiago by surprise. "You heard me, Captain?"
"Certainly did. You have a beautiful voice."
"Thank you, sir. It was Ed Sheeran's I See Fire. The song's part of the soundtrack of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."
"Oh, man. I'd love to see him in concert. He toured with Taylor Swift this year but I couldn't get tickets. Mom and Dad didn't want to go. The guy looks funny with his round face and all that red hair." Harley took a momentary break from shoving food into his mouth. "Did you know he was the opening act for Snow Patrol last year? He keeps getting more and more famous. Maybe he'll tour on his own next year and we can all go see him."
"I'd be down with that," added CJ. "I'm sure the dads would take us. And Papa was right, Thiago. You sing great. You should do it more often."
"Thanks. I used to be in the choir at my old church. You know how black ministers are always big on music during the services?" Sadness slowly clouded the boy's features as he closed his eyes. "But then my brother died…"
* * *
"You can look, but you better not touch." CJ waved an admonishing finger at Harley as soon as they walked up to his Jeep.
"Ha… ha… ha…," replied Harley, returning CJ's gesture with a different finger. Thiago guffawed, while César and Brett looked at each other with confused expressions.
The previous evening Danno had told them he and Trip would be up and on the road early on Saturday morning; they were headed to Richmond to look at a car he was interested in buying. He'd given them the new code to enter the warehouse, so they could retrieve CJ's Jeep before leaving town in the early evening. The large structure, located on Twenty-Ninth Street, adjacent to Rogo's Bar & Grill, served double duty as the bar owner's home, and as storage space for his American muscle car collection.
"So, does this color have a special name too?" Thiago asked, standing beside the Wrangler, looking over at Harley.
"Detonator Yellow," replied a grinning Harley. The cheery expression on his face was in sharp contrast to the surprised one on the other four men.
"What? How the fuck you know that?" Brett's question made Harley giggle.
"Looked it up on my phone this morning, Cap. I took a picture of the VIN last night." Harley looked and sounded smug. "I'll email the link to CJ so he can have all the information on it."
"That was very smart of you, Harley," César told the boy. "I'm impressed."
"We're gonna need to get a storage rack for when the weather gets nice and you want to take off this top," said Brett. "We can rig one up by attaching some heavy-duty hooks to the rafters."
Harley tapped the black, hard upper shell of the vehicle a couple of times. "Did you guys know the most popular color for Wranglers is black? That, and dark green, and silver. This color is like an act of defiance."
"That's you, homie," interjected Thiago. He began mimicking the deep hollow voice of Darth Vader. "CJ, the defiant one."
"Fucking A! You're a genius, bud. That's the name of the Jeep!" CJ stuck his fist out for his two friends to bump, before also lowering the tone of his voice to a deep, rumbling bass. "Defiant!"
"Dope! Can't wait 'til we can ride Defiant, bruh. Hey. Let me text you this neat thing I found this morning. I think you might be using it to sign your emails from now on."
―― |_Jeep_| ――
"That's insane! Harley, I could kiss you." CJ held his phone out so his dads could see the small graphic on the screen. "Go ahead, Thiago. Kiss Harley for me."
"Fuck you, homes," replied Thiago, giving CJ a friendly shove.
"Let's get out of here, kids. I need to get home and finish packing. Brett will drive you home in the Jeep."
* * *
"You can look, but you better not touch." CJ placed the flat FedEx package against the outside wall of the garage, before stepping back inside to move additional pieces.
"What the fuck is that?" asked Brett, motioning for the boy to grab the other end of the bicycle, so they could hang it from the hooks they had screwed into the rafters.
"Your Christmas present," replied a grinning CJ.
"His Christmas present?" César wrestled another plastic storage bin onto one of the upper shelves. The boys had moved some stuff around earlier in the day. CJ and his dads were now finishing up the job, so the motorcycles could be parked along the back wall. "What is it doing out here, and what is it?"
"No, Dad. Your Christmas present. It's for both of you. It's out here so you guys wouldn't see it ahead of time. I bought it in Miami, when we went there for Thanksgiving weekend, and had them ship it up last week. You'll find out what it is as soon as we get done here."
"I think we're done." Brett dug into his pocket, pulled out the keys to Defiant, and tossed them to CJ. "Your dad and I will move the Harleys. You can pull the Jeep in once we're done. Try not to run into anything."
"Funny, Papa." CJ had moved César's Cadillac Escalade, and Brett's Ford F-350 in and out of the garage often enough; backing his much shorter Wrangler into its spot wasn't a challenge at all. Once he'd done so, he turned off the ignition, and sat in the vehicle for a few moments―his face split in two by an ear to ear smile. "Can't wait to drive you for real, baby," said the boy, caressing the steering wheel, before stepping out of the vehicle. "Come on, dads. Let's go open your Christmas present."
"Are you all packed? César stood by the entrance to the house, watching the garage doors close. "I have your ticket and your passport, I'll give you those when we get ready to leave the house."
"Yeah, Dad. Bag's ready, I'll bring it down and put it by the door with yours. I need to throw all my electronics, and a few other small things in the backpack. That should take about five minutes max." CJ walked past the kitchen area, and placed the package he was carrying on the large dining room table. The custom made, three piece, wood and patinated bronze piece of furniture had been designed and built by an old friend of Brett's parents in Colorado―Scott Reuman, of Conundrum Designs. It sat in between the breakfast bar, and the living area at the front end of the townhouse, and it was mostly used when they had company for dinner.
"Can we open our present now, CJ? Can we? Can we? Pweeease?" Brett squealed, while clenching his fists in front of his chest, and repeatedly jumping.
"Damn, Jarhead! What are you? Six?"
"I'm this many," replied a smirking marine, holding up three fingers.
"Great, my dads are nuts!" CJ shook his head as he opened the package, removed the bubble wrap surrounding the object inside, and revealed a flat parcel covered in bright, red paper. "I hope you guys like it."
César smiled broadened after he tore off the decorative gift wrap to expose a framed photograph of two men embracing. The central focus of the image was their hands clasped together, fingers intertwined, held in front of the perfectly smooth torso of one of them. Both wore black leather wrist bands―ringed ones for the shorter man standing in front. The taller one's―covered with pyramid-shaped shiny metal studs―reached halfway up forearms dusted with dark hairs.
"It's gorgeous, CJ!" exclaimed César staring at the picture.
"Damn! Those dudes look hot!" Brett took a look at his son, pulled him close, and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
"You guys really like it? The photographer's name is Jeff Larson. I didn't get to meet him, but the lady who sold it to me, told me he used to live here in Washington. There were a bunch of others with these two guys in them, but I thought this one was the best."
* * *
"Okay, ready." CJ stomped down the stairs carrying his backpack. He promptly dropped it on the wood floor, and sat on the bottom step. "Let's go eat."
César looked at his son from the kitchen, where he was emptying the dishwasher. "You're not ready. You're barefoot."
"I ain't barefoot. I'm wearing socks," replied the boy. He reached for his PF Flyers, dark red canvas, high top sneakers, and slipped them on, leaving the laces untied. "All I needed to do was get my kicks on."
Brett stood by the front door to the house, shaking his head, while the conversation between his husband and their son went on. "I'm hungry, guys. Can we get a move on?"
"Yeah, Dad. Come on. Papa and I've been waiting for ages." The boy winked conspiratorially at Brett when he saw the marine shaking his head. "We're both starving!"
César had been a couple of steps behind the boy; he gently swatted both men on the back of the head as he walked past them. "Assholes!"
"Hey! Child abuse!" CJ scampered ahead of his dads, crossing Prospect Street, heading towards The Tombs. A favored spot for Georgetown University students, the pub was the go-to place for the men, sometimes functioning as a kitchen-away-from-home. Located less than fifty yards from their place, it was a convenient place for a meal. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and the good, casual food, ensured they kept coming back frequently.
"I'll give you child abuse," replied César, following his son down the stairs into the restaurant. "Damn, this place seems dark after the brightness outside. Let's sit at the bar, guys. It'll be quicker."
"The bar sounds good to me. I want a Reuben and a beer." Brett waved at the server and took a seat along the far end of the bar. "Hey, Avery. How are you, bud?"
"Good afternoon, Captain. I'm doing well." Avery was a graduate student at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service who'd become friendly with the family over the past few months. The short, well-built guy had taken a liking to CJ, and had offered to set him up with his girlfriend's younger sister. He didn't bat an eye when told the boy was fifteen and gay; instead, he started to work on convincing him how fantastic he would be in the diplomatic corps. And telling him there were two or three gay rowers he knew who might want to ask him out once he turned sixteen.
"It's good to see you Mr. Abelló. CJ! My man! Have you come to your senses yet? Have you decided to apply to school here at Georgetown, attend the SFS, and join me at the State Department once you graduate?"
"Leave me alone, Avery. I'm only a sophomore. I've got some time to figure out where I'll go to school. Right now, I'm more interested in figuring out what I want for lunch."
"Okay, I have a Sam Adams, a Dos Equis Amber, and a Root Beer, correct?" Avery placed menus by each man as they nodded their ascent to his guess of beverages. "Wish all my customers were as consistent as the three of you. So, what brings you out today, gents? Celebrating the Winter Solstice?"
"Is that today?" asked César, reaching for the bottle the friendly young man had just placed by him. "I think you could say so. In a way, we're celebrating the opposite."
"Huh? You lost me." Avery crossed his arms and tilted his head slightly. The crisp, light-blue oxford, button-down shirt he wore under a white apron, strained over his muscular chest and shoulders. Like many of the staff at The Tombs, he had been part of the Georgetown Hoyas crew team. He often regaled CJ with funny anecdotes of his teammates' antics.
"We're flying off to Australia for a vacation. If today's the Winter Solstice here, it means it's the summer one in the Southern Hemisphere." CJ took a sip from his frosted mug. "Papa's going to teach me how to surf when we're down there."
"Wow! What a way to spend the Christmas break. I'm jealous." Avery folded the white towel in his hand in half, and began wiping down the bar. "Do you guys know what you want to order?"
"Brett said he wanted the District Reuben. I'll take the duck sausage sandwich, haven't had that in a long time. What about you, CJ?"
"The lobster pot pie. But fries instead of the mashed potatoes, okay?"
"Coming right up," replied Avery in a cheery tone.
CJ placed his elbows on the rounded edge of the polished wood bar, leaned forward a bit, and looked at his parents. "When are Randy and Ty getting in?"
"They arrive on the twenty-eighth," replied César. "I tried to convince them to stay longer, but Randy has to get back to Chicago for school. We'll miss them since they leave before we return home."
"So, we'll have plans for remodeling the basement when we get home?"
"I doubt it, CJ," answered Brett. "They said they'd measure and maybe free-hand draw some ideas. But they plan on talking to us again before they come up with something solid. Plus, with Natasha joining them for three days over New Year's, I'm sure they're going to be somewhat distracted."
"Ughhh, the house's gonna have girl cooties. I'm locking the door to my bedroom before we leave."
* * *
The flight from Washington arrived at Los Angeles International Airport just before 8:30 p.m. Their baggage had been checked through to Sydney, so the men left the terminal with only their carry-on luggage. Following the wide sidewalk running along the front of the horseshoe shaped airport, they made their way to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, where their Qantas flight would depart from. It meant having to navigate the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint once again, but they had two hours before the scheduled departure time, and were in no rush.
"This is so stupid," commented CJ. He pulled on his vivid crimson hoodie, over a blue-gray t-shirt with a vertical American flag―the red stripes made of incomplete paint-brush strokes― and retrieved his shoes and backpack from the tray on the conveyor belt. "Why can't they just let you walk directly from one terminal to the other?"
"Didn't you see the signs, mate?" asked JP, reaching for his bag. "There's a connector being built. But it won't be ready for two years."
"Lots of good that did us today!" CJ sat next to his dads and uncles on one of the benches placed a few yards past the TSA screening post, all of them slipping their shoes back on. "I'm hungry. Can we get something to eat?"
'You know they'll be serving us dinner on the plane soon after we take off, right?" asked Brett with raised eyebrows.
"Yeah. So?" replied the boy, hunching his shoulders. "We're losing an entire day when we cross the date line, I don't want to miss out on a meal."
"I'd go for a snack and a beer." Tom had been fairly quiet during most of the flight from the east coast. His comment made the other guys all turn to look at him. "I know we can get dehydrated during such a long flight, and that drinking booze ain't real smart, but I want to sleep most of the way to Sydney. It's gonna be a heck of a long day once we get there and I'd like to be rested."
"Why do you say that, Uncle Tom? Why do you think it's going to be a long day?"
"Because I'm gonna be dealing with JP's family as soon as we get to his house. Don't get me wrong, his parents were real nice when I met them several years ago. But still…"
"But still my ass, Potus. You getting scared of spending time with the in laws?" Brett thumped the larger guy on the arm, startling the cop. "Hell, dude, they can't be pissed at you. You finally made an honest man out of him by getting married!"
"That's just it, Jarhead. When we Skyped with them after the wedding, his mother didn't look too happy. I'm not sure they approve of me."
"Don't be an idiot, mate. Of course they approve of you. Mum was just upset we didn't tell them ahead of time so they could have flown to Washington to be with us."
"Pope's probably right, buddy." César placed an arm around Tom's shoulders and gave him a short, affectionate shake. "You should have seen the frosty expression on my mom's face, when Brett said hello to her right after we got to my parents' house in Miami, the day before Thanksgiving."
"Rosario Abelló's one scary woman when she's not happy." Brett exaggeratedly shook himself as he stepped over to their friend's other side and mirrored César's one armed hug. "Never piss off a Cuban mother, Potus. I was glad we weren't sleeping at their house. Would have had to keep an eye open all night."
"Oh, that's a big help," exclaimed Tom. "You forget I am sleeping at the Smith house while we're there. Want a roommate, CJ?"
"Sorry, Uncle Tom. I may need the room to myself. What if I meet a hunky Aussie and I want to―"
César was quick to grab CJ by the scruff of the neck and gently push him forward, ahead of the rest of their group. "CJ and I need a few of minutes alone, guys. There's a sandwich place by Michael Voltaggio we should check out. You go on ahead, we'll meet you there."
"What the fuck, Dad?" asked a surprised CJ as his father moved his hand down from his neck to his lower back, and steered him to the side of the terminal's walkway. "What did I do?"
"You've done nothing, buddy. But I hated when you and Brett were fighting, and I want to prevent it from happening again. Particularly during this trip. I'll have a talk with Papa later to make sure we're all on the same page."
"I was just kidding about meeting somebody―"
"Shut it, CJ." The tone of voice was friendly but firm. "You might have been kidding, but it could happen. I'm not stupid. When we land in Sydney, you'll already be sixteen. Both in Australia, and back home in Washington, you'll be legal. That doesn't mean you get a free pass to get laid any time you want, with anybody you think is hot. We've still got house rules. If―and I stress if―you meet a guy you might be interested in, we have to meet him. That means Papa and I. Preferably both of us. There will be no quickie sex. You got that?"
"Yeah," mumbled the kid, repeatedly shifting his gaze from his father's face to his shoes.
"I'm serious, CJ. No going to a bathroom for a BJ or anything of the sort. If you're going to mess around with somebody, we need to meet him. You'll have your own room the entire trip. Use it if something's going to happen. As soon as we get a chance, we're stopping somewhere and buying you condoms―"
"Ummm, I brought some with me, Dad." The small spot of dirt on the white tip of CJ's sneakers held his unwavering attention.
"Fuck! You are hoping to get lucky. Aren't you, you little shit?" The corners of César's mouth turned up slightly. "Okay. No strangers, no strange places, and always safe. End of lecture. Oh, and in case I've not said it lately, I love you. Let's go try out some high priced sandwiches."
* * *
"G'day." The jovial greeting came from a clean shaven man, with a deep cleft in his chin, and short, salt and pepper hair. He stood a few feet inside the door of the Qantas Boeing 747 wearing a dark suit and a white shirt. "Welcome aboard."
CJ, a step or two ahead of his dads and uncles, returned the smile. He held out his boarding pass, while staring at the man's wildly patterned necktie. His smile broadened when he realized there were boomerangs scattered all over the print. "Hi."
"You like the tie, mate?" asked the flight attendant while quickly scanning the boarding passes of the five men.
"Yeah, it's cool," replied the boy looking at the friendly face in front of him.
"You blokes all traveling together then?"
"Yeah, mate. I'm taking this bunch down to Oz, so they can see what a real beach looks like." JP's comment earned him an elbow to the side from his husband, and a chortle from the Qantas employee.
"Too right. Your seats are on the first section to your right, on the other side of the plane. I'm Blake, and I'll be working this section of the cabin today. Get settled in, and I'll see you all in a bit."
"Dibs on the window seat," called out CJ as he walked through the galley.
"I thought I had the window seat," replied Brett. "Isn't yours on the aisle in the center section?"
"In your dreams, Papa!"
"Struth, this is going to be a fun flight," said Blake as the group passed by him.