You can't take yourself too seriously. Drink a beer, make some love, smoke a joint. Whatever gets you through. The important thing is that you live your life with no regrets, and have a kick ass time along the way.

Bruce Springsteen

Saturday, 21 June 2014

"Easy, Dad. Easy…" CJ attached one of the webbed straps hanging from the garage ceiling to Defiant's roof, while César disconnected the water and electrical connections for the rear windshield wiper. "Today's only the first day of summer. The hard top may not go back on until it gets cold, but I don't want to have problems when we replace it."

"Not my first rodeo, buddy," César replied, tucking the lines away. "You may not know this, but Papa had one of these suckers when we first met. I know what I'm doing."

"Famous last words!" Brett stood by the open garage door, holding a sweating bottle of Dos Equis Amber in each hand, water beads rolling off the glass in slow motion. "I know this is thirsty work so I brought you guys something cold to drink."

César looked at his husband and shook his head. "A bit early to start on the beer, Jarhead. Don't ya think?"

"Hey, in the immortal words of whomever, it's five o'clock somewhere." A smirking Brett handed one of the bottles over to his grinning spouse, before wiping his hand dry on his cargo shorts.

"Thanks, Papa. But I don't think I should be drinking beer right now. I'm taking my baby out once we finish here. And by the way, those are the words famously sung by Alan Jackson with an assist from Jimmy Buffett. I heard the song often enough when we went to the Keys in the boat." There was a mixture of emotions in CJ's voice and expression recalling times with his mother, step-father, and younger brother. Bright memories peeked out from behind a veil of darkness, which always threatened to consume him when recalling his previous life. He willed himself to focus on the better times, not allowing sadness to envelop him. He'd promised himself he'd concentrate on the happy occasions instead of the pain he'd experienced back in Miami.

"Beer ain't for you, dude." Brett turned around so CJ could see the soda can stuck in his back pocket. "Brought you a Dr. Pepper instead."

"And where are you going?" César asked, holding the beer bottle by its neck after taking a sip. "I thought we'd walk over someplace close and have lunch. Since your buddy will be here tonight, it'll be the last meal the three of us have alone."

"Just around the corner to the gas station. I want to check the air pressure and top off the tank since I won't be taking it out again until we leave." CJ stood back while popping the top of his soft drink, and giving his bright yellow Jeep an admiring glance. "Hey, when I get back from my trip I wanna take the doors off too. It shouldn't be hard and I can keep it like that while the weather's warm."

"We're going for a ride together as soon as you do!" Brett wiggled his eyebrows, making his husband grunt. "I haven't gone topless in ages. It'll be fun to hit some of the Virginia or Maryland back roads. Hey, I've got an idea. Maybe we can try mudding!"

"How did I get so lucky to have two teenagers living with me?" César groaned.

The nearest gas station to their place was located directly behind their house, on M Street, at the bottom of the hill. Reaching it was easy enough; all it took was a climb down the Exorcist Steps. But accessing it in a vehicle required driving down Prospect Street, turning right on 35th Street, and then again at the intersection with M.

The steps, the stone-clad retaining wall behind his home, and the large structure on the other side of the staircase, had been built in the late 1800s by a company operating a cable car system. They had dug out part of the rocky hill to provide access to the storage facility. His dads had been suitably impressed when CJ had shared the results of his research the previous summer, soon after permanently settling in his new home. He'd asked about the origins of the landmark―the steps had been featured in the William Peter Blatty book, The Exorcist, and in the film adaptation of it―and both fathers had drawn a blank. The teen spent time on the internet researching the subject and had even downloaded a few old pictures taken during the construction process. The Car Barn, as the building on the other side of the stairs was known, had originally been erected to house the trolley cars and was now part of Georgetown University. The shack where their house now stood had been demolished at the time and the current structure erected soon after.

* * *

"Not sure I could do it," Brett muttered while brushing his teeth, spraying toothpaste in the process.

"Stop making a mess, Jarhead," César said. "And what is it you don't think you could do?"

Brett rinsed his toothbrush under the open faucet, shook it off, and replaced it in its holder. He cupped his hands and allowed them to fill up before bringing them to his mouth. Running them over his face, while swishing the water between his cheeks, he threw a sideways glance at his husband. "Harley," he replied after spitting out into the sink.

"What about the young Mr. Wilkinson?"

"Not sure I could spend all that time cooped up inside a car alone with him. He's gonna talk CJ to death. Those two were ready to leave tonight if we'd allowed it. I doubt they'll get much sleep."

"At least he'll keep our son awake." César dried his hands on the stark white towel he'd thrown over his shoulder, then used it to wipe the mess Brett had made on the mirror, before tossing it in with the dirty clothes in the hamper under the counter. "And the two of them seem to reach equilibrium whenever they're together. Harley hangs on to our boy's every word whenever they chat, not overwhelming him with his motor-mouth. And CJ gives him the chance to prattle on when his buddy gets excited. They're good for each other."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Have you noticed how CJ's been a lot livelier lately? He's so damn excited about this trip I think he might honestly be getting over all the drama that's surrounded him lately. I think all those chats with Dragon have really helped him. Ready for bed?"

Sunday, 22 June 2014

"This is going to be sick!" Harley's excitement was palpable as he turned the Harley-Davidson cap on his head backwards, before buckling up and rolling the passenger-side window open. This early in the day the temperature was cool so the boys kept their hoodies on and Defiant's roof up. "I think this is gonna be the best start to a summer vacation ever."

"Yeah, better than the last one for sure." CJ's reply was accompanied by slipping off his flip-flops and tossing them in the foot well behind him. They planned on driving in shifts and of course he'd called for the initial one; he wasn't about to set off on his first road trip without adults anywhere but behind the wheel. "Bye, dads. Love ya. Don't go back to sleep, we'll text you when we get there," he shouted out the window.

Because of the mess in the garage approach apron due to construction, CJ had left the Jeep parked on the side-patio brick courtyard after returning from the gas station the previous day. His fathers stood by the side of the car, coffee mugs in hand, waving goodbye.

"Drive safe, remember the rules, and have fun," shouted César, as the boys pulled out onto Prospect Street.

"Your dads are the frickin' best. You're so lucky. I can't believe Cap got you a new spare tire cover just for our trip."

"Yeah, they're pretty cool. Papa said having a USMC logo on the cover might keep me from getting a ticket since so many cops are vets. But he ain't as perfect as you make him out to be all the time."

"I know you guys had a big fight last year. But you haven't had any other problems with him. Have you?"

"Nah… He's behaved. But having to listen to his lame jokes all the time can be torture. Although the one he told yesterday at lunch was pretty good."

"Yeah? What was it?"

"You know those commercials on TV about dick pills? They always warn you to call a doctor if you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours. Papa said if he had a hard-on for that long, Dad would give him a standing ovation. I told him I was with him on that one. I'd be cheering if it happened to me."

They were on Canal Road headed north, having just passed by the Francis Scott Key Bridge on their way to Interstate 495. This early on a Sunday morning traffic was minimal and so were the associated noises. Harley's half-hearted chuckle seemed loud when compared to the sounds of the Potomac flowing by on their left; it surprised CJ who had been expecting his friend's usual uproarious laughter. He turned his head momentarily, giving his passenger a questioning look. The boy was staring at him, a troubled expression on his face. "CJ, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure, bud. Anything."

"Do you think…" The lanky boy looked down at his hands twisting the hem of his sweatshirt before shaking his head. "Nah, forget it."

"Come on, dude. What's up?"

"Crap," he replied nervously before seemingly making a decision. "Do you think I'm weird?"

"What? What are you talking about? You're no weirder than I am. Or weirder than any of our friends for that matter."

"No, I mean am I weird 'cause I'm not that interested in sex like you? Or like Thiago and Chipper? Do you think I'm weird 'cause I don't talk about girls all the time like the rest of you do?"

"Dude! You ain't weird. You're nuts! And for the record, I never talk about girls that way. Okay?"

"Yeah, my bad." Harley replied, giggling like a little kid. "I guess with you it's boys."

"Damn right! Don't you forget it and make sure nobody else does." CJ tried to make light of his buddy's concerns, using humor as a way of cheering the boy. He wanted this to be a week of enjoyment and having Harley doubt himself wasn't part of the plan. "I don't need girls starting to hit on me thinking they've got a chance. But I don't believe you're weird at all. Maybe you're gay and you need to start looking at men instead of women?"

"Nah, I'm pretty sure I'm not gay. I mean, I can tell when a guy's good looking like you. But I don't have any interest in seeing you naked more than I already have. Or doing anything with you. I'm pretty sure I'm into girls of the female persuasion."

"You're being redundant, Harley," CJ tried not to laugh but it was almost impossible to hold it in. "Fine, I won't hold it against you. I still don't think you're weird. We're all different and have different urges. Just 'cause you're not too interested in sex right now doesn't mean that won't change or that you're strange. You might be a little different than other teenagers, but there's nothing wrong with being different. Hell, if there was I'd be in trouble. You realize I'm the only gay one in our group? One out of four right now. Soon to be one out of six when Bradley and Patrick join us."

About two hours after they'd left Georgetown, as his fathers had requested and CJ had promised to do, they stopped at a gas station off I-70 outside Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania. They filled the tank, used the restroom, and bought something to drink. Within fifteen minutes they were back on the road with Harley at the wheel. They had spent the first segment of their trip talking and by the end CJ thought he'd allayed the concerns his buddy had about his lack of interest in sex.

"Are we ready for some music?" CJ asked, imitating the NFL's tag line for their TV broadcasts of football games. Up until they had stopped, the radio had been tuned to National Public Radio, with the volume kept fairly low. CJ was now addicted to Morning Edition as much as his father.

"Hell, yeah!" Harley replied. "What you wanna listen to?"

CJ had his phone in hand. He'd texted his dads once they were back on the interstate to let them know their progress. They might have ignored his warning and gone back to bed, considering how early in the morning the boys had departed, but he was planning on bombarding them with messages during the entire vacation. He wanted to ensure his dads wouldn't worry and would have no excuse to question any future road trips he might want to take. He connected the phone to the USB port on the Jeep's radio and turned up the volume before hitting play. "I did a whole playlist yesterday afternoon before you came over. My dads have so many damn oldies it was hard to decide. This is perfect considering where we're going."

Halfway through "The Heart of Rock and Roll" by Huey Lewis and the News, both boys were bouncing on their seats, singing along at maximum volume, even though neither one knew all the words to the song. They ended up doing the same with several other popular songs from the past; music they might have heard a few times, but weren't entirely familiar with.

"Is this what your dads play at home?" Harley asked at one point.

"Kinda. The dads play all sort of stuff. From classical to gospel and everything in between. Not a lot of country, but my step-dad used to listen to that all the time so I know a bunch of those songs. Papa likes the Beach Boys and anything from Motown. I think it's what he listened to growing up in Southern Cal, surfing all the time. Not sure why, though. All that shit's from before he was born."

"Yeah, my dad plays really old music all the time too. And he screams at me if I'm listening to Hip-Hop without my earphones on. Why do you think I have them around my neck all the time?"

"Hip-Hop ain't played at my place either, even though Dad mixes it up a lot more. But whenever a Bruce Springsteen song comes on, he starts belting out the words at the top of his lungs. I think he knows the lyrics to every damn song the guy's ever recorded. Springsteen's pretty good for being an ancient dude. I've started liking him too. Hell, I end up singing right with him to some of the songs. What about your parents? What type of music do they like best?"

"Mom likes the crap Adele sings. She drives me nuts with those stupid songs and others like that. Dad's more the rocker type. He listens to a lot of hard rock. Oh and he goes nuts over Reggae!"

"Yeh, mon. I like me da Reggae too," CJ replied in a bad Jamaican patois. "We listen to dat shit all da time in da Keys, mon. That and Jimmy Buffett," he added, returning to his normal voice. "No matter where you go down there, they play the stuff all the time. Oh! Dad also plays songs in Spanish sometimes. I think he listened to it growing up in Puerto Rico and then in Miami. The kinda stuff my grandparents like. But even older than they are."

Sometime before they reached Pittsburgh, the sun had risen sufficiently to burn off the few remaining wisps of fog they'd encountered earlier. The day promised to be warm and clear. Ever the explorer, CJ directed his buddy to temporarily exit the interstate as they neared the city's downtown. He wanted to stop at Point State Park for a few minutes to snap off pictures in front of the giant fountain he'd read about. The triangular spit of land was located at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers which then flowed together on towards the Mississippi as the Ohio River.

The mid-morning warmth encouraged the boys to take down Defiant's soft top, and while Harley secured loose items in the back to prevent them from flying out, CJ texted an update on their progress to his fathers. He promptly received a text from Brett reminding him to apply sunscreen. When they stopped for gas a few minutes later, both boys took off their t-shirts and rode the rest of the way to their destination for the day half-naked, enjoying the weather.

Two hours later, CJ stopped the Jeep in front of the hotel entrance. The boys pulled on their previously discarded shirts, slipped into their flip-flops, and stepped outside, each carrying their backpacks. They were somewhat red from the sun, their hair was windswept and stuck out in different directions, and they smelled of sunscreen and dried perspiration. CJ had one more bag in the back, while his buddy had two―he was spending the entire summer vacation in Wisconsin and had packed accordingly. Handing the keys to the valet parking attendant, while Harley repositioned the hat he'd removed earlier to prevent it from flying off his head, CJ let the young man know they were checking in before striding towards the entrance of The Westin Cleveland Downtown.

"I'm hungry," Harley said as they exited the revolving doors.

"I could eat too," CJ replied. "How about I check us in, we drop our stuff off in the room, and then go find a place to grab a bite. I'm sure there's a Maccas or Hungry Jack's around here somewhere."

"A what?" Harley asked, sounding confused.

"He, he, he. A McDonald's or a Burger King, doofus. That's what they call them in Australia and I'm practicing, trying to get ready."


"Yeah… I don't know where that comes from, but Hungry Jack's is the real name for the home of the Whopper there. Their logos are the same."

While Harley stared around at the lobby, CJ approached the front desk. An overweight middle-aged woman, with her hair pulled into a severe bun, and wearing too much makeup stared at him over the rim of glasses perched half-way up her nose. "May I help you, young man?" she asked in a not too friendly tone.

"Yes, ma'am. We'd like to check in, please." CJ gave her his best smile as he reached in his pocket for his money clip.

"I'm sorry but we have nothing available. There's a large convention in town starting tomorrow and we're entirely booked. Plus you should know this is not an inexpensive place to stay. Maybe you could try your luck at the Motel 6?"

"Then I guess it's a good thing we have a reservation." CJ had been taken aback by her tone and the fact she had not bothered to greet him properly or check her computer terminal before being so dismissive. He suspected his and Harley's age and appearance may have had something to do with it.

"You, you do?" she stuttered in a surprised tone.

"Yes, ma'am. It's under Abelló. César M. Abelló. A, B, E, double L, O." CJ was cordial and polite, the way his dad had often told him to be when confronted with sub-par services or comments by hospitality industry employees. But his father had also taught him to stand his ground and not accept mediocrity in services he was paying for. "I requested an upper-level room with two beds. I also noted we'd be checking in early when I made the reservations. I certainly hope it won't be a problem." He punctuated his last comment by placing his driver's license and his American Express card side by side on the granite counter top.

The woman wrinkled her nose and stared wide-eyed at the card in front of her. "Let me check my computer. Is this your credit card?"

"It has my name and signature on it, ma'am. And they match my license, so I guess it is," CJ replied in a snarky tone. He was starting to become irritated and took a deep breath to calm himself. In case the woman was oblivious to his mood, it also served to hint at his annoyance.

"Ah, yes. Here it is," she finally said, sounding miffed. She once again glanced at the boys over the rim of her glasses, a touch of contempt in her voice. "Do either you or your friend have any luggage? Or is everything you have in those rucksacks?"

"Not quite, ma'am. The luggage is in our car, which we left outside with the valet service. Would you be so kind to have it sent up? And don't forget to add the parking charges to my bill." That should take care of her little quip about the place being expensive, CJ thought. A few minutes later he handed his sidekick a key card as they headed to the elevator.

"What was that all about?" Harley asked. "She didn't look or sound very friendly."

"She wasn't, and I'll make a note of it when I fill out the review card for this place." CJ looked back over his shoulder at the woman who was staring after them. He smiled, waved at her, and then turned towards his friend. "I think she's on the rag."

* * *

"Damn! The building's frickin' insane!" Harley exclaimed, gazing up at the triangular glass façade of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

"I know, right?" CJ sounded almost giddy. He'd read up on the museum on Wikipedia and was armed with all sorts of information about it and its architecture. "Selfie time. We'll do one with both of us and then we can trade off taking pictures of each other. And I'm gonna want to walk around so I can take some from every angle."

"Sure thing. This looks awesome, I wonder who built it."

"I have no idea who actually built it, but the architect was Pei."

"As in Pay Pal?"

"No, you dork," CJ replied while rolling his eyes. "The guy's name was I. M. Pei. Spelled P, E, I."

"Who the hell is he and how do you know this?"

CJ had to stop walking for a moment, he was laughing too hard at the way the question was asked. "I. M. Pei was one of the great architects of the last century. A Chinese-American, I know he designed the building 'cause I read about it when we figured out we were stopping here in Cleveland overnight. And I know about him because he also designed one of the high rises in Downtown Miami. It's this really cool building with a rounded side which gets lit up at night in different colors. You can always pick it out when they show the city's skyline on TV during games."

"Oh… He did a good job with this one. It rocks."

"I'm sure he'd be happy to know you approve, bud." The sarcasm in CJ's voice was light and Harley didn't seem to even notice.

"So, what else did you read about this place? Where should we start?"

"Let's take the escalator and go check out the Pink Floyd wall. Maybe we'll get lucky and the giant thing on it will tell us to eat our meat or we get no pudding."

"Hey! I know that song. The Wall's an album my dad plays."

The exhibit dedicated to the British band's rock opera album had been designed and built with the assistance of one of the band members. The boys discovered it was a recreation of the stage set they'd used during the related tour performance in Berlin and included a moving, inflatable character representing the teacher mentioned in the recording.

The boys spent the afternoon exploring the myriad of displays within the building. They concentrated most of their time at the exhibit honoring the 2014 inductees. CJ paid particular attention to The E Street Band because of their connection with Bruce Springsteen, while Harley seemed intent on studying every detail of the make-up and outfits of glam band KISS.

"Bruh, this is what we need to do for Halloween this year. You, me, Thiago, and Chipper. How sick would that be? There's four of them and four of us―"



"There'll be six of us. You're forgetting Brad and Patrick will be at Walls next term. Plus they're gonna be my next door neighbors. We gotta include them in whatever we do."

Their final stop right before closing time was at the gift shop where both bought a few trinkets and CJ left with another shirt for his collection. On the way to the museum they'd noticed several national chain restaurants and picked one they knew would have sports showing on a multitude of TVs. They gorged on burgers, onion rings, and chocolate cake while watching the World Cup match between the United States and Portugal. CJ went to sleep with the chants of, "I believe that we will win" and "U S A" reverberating in his head.

* * *

"I'm gonna kill the little motherfucker when I see him next." The effect of Brett's harsh words and stern tone was negated by the burst of laughter which followed it.

"Not sure what your plans are"―said César, shaking his head in disbelief―"but I'm turning my phone off. You know he's playing us, right?"

"Yeah, texts every two hours, LIKE CLOCKWORK."

"And now a call to let us know they're crashing 'cause they want to get an early start. Talk about taking lessons to heart. I think he's still unsure we're gonna let him fly to Sydney by himself―"

"And he's following our instructions to the letter so we have no excuse not to allow it." Brett finished his husband's comment and put his hand up for a high-five from César.

"I'll tell him to cool it tomorrow night. But I'm glad he's acting devilish, while making sure he follows the rules."


"It means we have the pre-New York City CJ back. The one who listened and paid attention without losing his capability for innocent mischief. The one we temporarily lost to the attack of two barbarians. Maybe the darkness is receding. You know that old line about there being no Renaissance without the Dark Ages?"

"Don't go getting all philosophical on me, okay? Let's just hope all his mischief is innocent."

"Dream on, Jarhead. He's sixteen!"

"Going on thirty…"

Monday, 23 June 2014

The following morning, CJ and Harley were on the road not quite at sunrise, as they had when leaving Washington, but still early enough to notice the heavy commuter traffic headed into Cleveland. They were traveling west on I-80, still in Ohio, when they passed the exit ramp for I-75.

"Bruh, did you see that sign?" Harley asked, twisting around in his seat.

"The one for seventy-five?" CJ asked in return.

"Yeah, the north bound lanes said it was the way to Ann Arbor. Too bad we don't know anyone there. If Autumn had already moved, we could have stopped by and checked out the Michigan campus."

"I do know someone else in Ann Arbor. But I think he'd freak out if we tried to stop by and visit."


"Oh, this guy named Mann Ramblings. He's an author I've traded e-mails with. He writes gay themed science fiction stories and posts them online. They're awesome. You should try him out. I think you'll like him."

"Is there butt sex involved?"

CJ laughed at his friend's comment, typical of Harley to come out with something from left field. "Yeah, some. But it's not all about sex. The stories are really good."

Before leaving the hotel, CJ had once again texted his dads, letting them know they were getting on the road. Even though he knew César and Brett were first at the airport and then in the air on their way to San Diego, he repeated the process every two hours when he and Harley stopped for breaks and to switch drivers.

"Damn, it stinks," CJ complained, partially covering his nose and breathing through his mouth. "What the fuck is it?"

"Gary, Indiana," Harley replied, pinching his own nose between thumb and index finger. "It always smells horrible whenever I've driven through here. Best thing to do is get out of the area. Which reminds me, we're burning daylight, bruh. Now keep your foot hard on the pedal, son, never mind them brakes. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Put that hammer down and give it hell. You drive, I'll keep an eye out for Smokey."

CJ couldn't stop laughing after Harley's comment. "Dude, you sound just like Cletus." After their museum visit, the long dinner watching the game, and showers which left the hotel bathroom steamy, the boys had settled in for a night of watching movies on TV. Both had woken up quoting lines from Smokey and The Bandit. "I wonder why they couldn't sell Coors east of the Mississippi back then?"

"Dad told me it was because they always sold it cold when I first watched the movie with him a couple of years ago. Doesn't make sense to me they could ship anywhere in the West but not cross the river."

Past Gary, the highway followed the contour of Lake Michigan, curving northward on its approach to Chicago. "Okay, bud. Time to earn your keep. I need instructions from the GPS. I'm not sure what the exit number is and what the turns are after it," CJ said once the skyline of the city could be seen in the distance.

"I thought you'd been here before. How come you don't know the way?" Harley asked, retrieving his phone from atop the dashboard.

"We barely drove when I came to visit last fall. And not this way at all. The only times we got near the interstate was on the way from and to the airport. But it should be easy. I think it's only a couple of turns once we exit."

CJ's guess was correct and when they reached Newport Avenue, the boys were able to find a parking spot two doors down from Ty and Randy's place. They slipped on their flip-flops and stepped to the sidewalk with CJ leading the way.

"Is someone gonna be here?" Harley asked.

"Should be, I told them we'd be arriving around this time. Doesn't matter though. If they aren't, I'll call them and use the hidden key."

Before they had climbed the front steps, the front door opened and his cousin stepped outside, arms stretched wide open. "Welcome to Chicago, kids."

"Thanks, cuz," CJ said, reaching up to give the taller man a hug. "Good to see you, man. What are you doing here?"

"I'm the welcoming committee."

"Hey, Randy. Remember me? I'm Harley."

"I know exactly who you are. Sure heard enough about you. But we've never met in person. I'm Rod, the good looking twin."

CJ was leaning against the bay window pane, chuckling but not saying a word. He found the look of confusion on his friend's face extremely amusing.

"Oops, sorry about that. How the hell can you tell them apart?" Harley asked, staring at CJ.

"I don't know. No, seriously, I really mean that." He added, noticing the skeptical look on his friend's face. "I just sort of can. Hey, Rod, wanna give us a hand? I want to put the top up and unload most of the luggage. I think we can keep your extra suitcase in the back," he said, looking at Harley. "We can cover it with the blanket my dads threw in there."

"Bring it in," Rod said. "Better safe than sorry. If you don't need it, we can just leave it in the hallway by the stairs overnight. Oh, and, Harley, It's easy to tell me and Randy apart. I'm the better looking one. Plus my dick's bigger."

"Dream on, straight boy," CJ said. "We all know with all things being equal, gay men have larger penises." He knew it was bullshit, he'd seen Harley naked and knew the boy carried a fucking baseball bat between his legs, but it was too easy an opening to pass up.

Once inside the brownstone, CJ was surprised to discover there was no longer a tenant living on the first floor and the doors previously barring access to the upper floors had been removed. "When did this happen?" he asked.

"Last month, when their tenant's lease expired and the guy moved out. They're making a couple of changes and then plan on moving down here while they make a few modifications on the second floor."

"This is a lot of space for just the two of them, isn't it? CJ asked.

"Yeah, but they started talking about it after they broke it off from Natasha." Rod's reply was in reference to the girl his brother and his brother's boyfriend had shared for a few months. "They want the third floor as guest bedrooms. They might list it on Air BNB and make a little money renting it out now and then. Abuelo and Abuela will probably stay here some when they visit. And they did mention you. We all hope you're a regular and frequent visitor to Chicago."

"Great!" CJ replied. "Now I've got a place in New York and another one in Chicago. Much better than staying in a hotel."

"So where are your brother and his boyfriend?" Harley asked. The three men had been walking through the first floor of the house which CJ had never seen before.

"They'll be here before we have to leave," Rod replied. "But they're not sleeping here tonight. I am."

"How come?" CJ asked.

"They're staying with the 'rents. They have to go make a presentation to a prospective client tomorrow. Dad wanted them at his place so they could take one car and leave early."

* * *

Randy and Tyler stopped by their place after leaving work to say hello to the visitors and to pick up clothes for their meeting the next day. Since the boys were spending the night in Boystown, CJ called his aunt and uncle to say hello and promised he'd see them next time he was in Chicago.

"Hey, guys, we have a little time left before we need to head out. Since neither one of you will be able to buy drinks because of your age, wanna get high before we go?" Rod's smile and hand rubbing seemed to be contagious.

"Hell, yeah," CJ said, his vigorous nodding calling to mind a bobbing head doll. "Let me text my dads first. Before I get too stoned."

"Frickin' A!" Harley added. "You might not want to tell your dads we're getting high."

"I won't. But I think they'd be okay with it, as long as we're hanging out with Rod and we don't plan on driving anywhere."

The three young men spent the fifteen minute walk to Wrigley Field joking and laughing―obviously buzzed from the joint they'd shared. "I'm starving. Can't wait to get a couple of dogs and some Cracker Jacks," Harley said as they approached the friendly confines of the oldest Major Leagues ballpark in the National League.

"Munchies already?" Rod asked.

"Nah… That's Harley's normal condition." CJ affectionately threw an arm over his friend's shoulders and gave him a bro-hug. "Ain't that right, bud? I still can't believe you've never been here. I took a tour last trip and the place rocks. It's gonna be sick to actually catch a game."

The Cincinnati Reds were in town for the start of a three game series and the diehard home team followers were out in force. Their beloved Cubbies had a losing record and the season had not yet reached the halfway point―the All-Star Game was almost a month away. But they came anyway. Their infectious enthusiasm created a vibe even a casual fan was caught up in. CJ, whose only experience up to the point had been with brand new Marlins Park in Miami and Nationals Park in Washington, couldn't get enough of the atmosphere at the old park.

"Beah heah! Ice… cold… beeer… Beah heah!" a vendor sang out. "Peanuts, get… your… peanuts…," another one exhorted. The cacophony of sounds, the enticing aromas of grilled meats wafting in the air, the sight of the iconic ivy-covered outfield walls, and the feel of the old ramparts covered in countless layers of paint had CJ in sensory overload. He couldn't wipe the idiotic grin from his face.

By the time the seventh inning stretch rolled around, the effects of the spliff the guys had smoked were but a memory. The three-quarters-full ballpark rocked to the standing rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." CJ and Harley sang with gusto, swaying side to side with arms around each other, culminating their performance by fist bumping and high-fiving everyone seated around them.

"Damn!" CJ groused as they were jostled by the crowd after the game had ended and everyone headed for the exits. "I can't believe they lost. Wait 'til next year!"

"How about wait until tomorrow night," Rod said. "We play the Reds again then."

"What, evah," the giddy boy replied. "You better get ready, cuz. I see another losing season for your team. The Cubs are riding their usual downbound train."

Mr. Rambling's stories may be found here: Mann Ramblings