"Let's hurry." RJ said as he ran to the front door of the trailer.
"I need to call Gramma Noon and let her know we're here so she won't worry." Loi said timidly.
RJ opened the door and hurried inside.
"Come on, the phone's over here." William said and led Loi into the trailer.
Vincent took the opportunity to walk around and get a better look at the place.
"Why do you have a carburetor in your sink?" Vincent asked when he entered the kitchen.
"Because if you leave it on the floor, it'll ruin the carpet." William said with a roll of his eyes. Although he didn't finish with a 'Duh!', it was certainly implied.
"Of course." Vincent said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Hi, Gramma Noon? We're over at RJ's house. I didn't want you to worry." Loi said quickly.
"Yeah. Everything's fine... I will... I love you, too. Goodbye." Loi said and hung up the phone.
"It must be nice to have a grandma like that. Our Grandma Parker died a long time ago. Our Grandma Easton kinda divorced us when mom divorced dad," William finished quietly.
"Guys, the computer's back here." RJ said from the hallway.
Vincent, Loi and William all walked back through the trailer to one of two bedrooms.
"Wow. This is a lot like my room back on the Yorktown." Vincent said as he looked at the bunk beds.
"Really?" RJ asked with surprise.
"Yeah. Except we don't have a desk or a computer like you do. Just the beds and some cabinets to keep our stuff in." Vincent said seriously.
"You and Lawrence?" Loi asked cautiously.
"No. Lawrence lives here on Earth. Darin and I share quarters on the Yorktown." Vincent said with a smile at his cousin, then added, "We've adopted each other as brothers, you know, unofficially."
"It'll be a couple minutes." RJ said from in front of the computer as he turned it on.
William stood beside the computer and said, "Behold, the Dell-asaurus as it awakens from it's slumber."
"We probably have time to pop popcorn while it boots up." RJ said with irritation.
"We have time to grow popcorn." William said as he watched the startup progress bar... not progressing.
"Are the speakers and microphone hooked up?" Vincent asked as he squeezed past William to get closer to the computer.
"Yeah, I just have to turn the speakers on." RJ said as he reached behind the monitor.
"Even the computers at school aren't this slow, and they're ancient." William said sourly.
"It's almost done, Willy. Quit your bitching." RJ said over his shoulder.
William watched for a moment as the login window appeared in the middle of the screen.
"Finally!" He said dramatically.
RJ typed in his username and password, then stood from the chair so Vincent could take his place.
"Okay. This should just take a minute." Vincent said as he waited for the desktop to be ready to use.
"The Dell-asaurus doesn't do anything in just a minute." William said frankly.
Vincent watched as the desktop icons appeared, one by one in slow motion and couldn't help but agree with William's assessment.
"Here we go." Vincent said as he opened a browser window and began to type.
"Whoa, look at him go." William said with wide eyes.
"I work at a computer all day. You should see me on a control console." Vincent said with a smile as he quickly initiated a download.
"What are you putting on the computer?" RJ asked cautiously.
"Something that works a little bit better than a browser." Vincent said with a smile as he opened the application.
A moment later a green circle appeared in the middle of the screen and a computerized female voice said, "Welcome to the Clan Short Network. Please identify."
"Vincent Winters." Vincent said very precisely.
"Komen... K'Leth Ag!" Vincent said firmly.
"Welcome Vincent. What can I do for you today?" The computerized voice asked in a friendly tone.
"I need to speak with Cory or Sean." Vincent said casually.
"They are both in Australia and are taking no calls at the moment. But if it is an emergency I can send them a message." The computer said seriously.
"No. It's not an emergency. Are Adam or Gabe available?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.
"Adam is currently logged in at Camp Little Eagle, would you like me to connect you?" The computer asked in a friendly voice.
"Yes. Thank you." Vincent said with a smile.
"That is so cool." RJ said in obvious wonder. "That computer completely understands what you're saying."
"Yeah. I have the voice set to the Starfleet standard voice right now. But if I wanted, I could set it to sound like Mickey Mouse or Jessica Rabbit." Vincent said with a smile.
"That would be awesome." RJ said as he watched the screen with boyish delight.
"This is Adam, what can I do for you Vincent?" Adam's voice asked over the computer's speakers.
"I've made some new friends and I kind of need your help." Vincent said seriously.
"Is this the kind of help that I should gather a team for?" Adam asked with immediate concern.
"Oh no. It's nothing like that. These guys are interested in going to the Starfleet Academy someday and their school isn't teaching them anything that will help them. They aren't even allowed to take Vulcan language classes unless they're on the honor roll." Vincent said firmly.
"That sucks. Is the computer you're using theirs?" Adam asked seriously.
"Yeah. That's why I called you this way instead of on my communicator. Is there anything you can do to help them?" Vincent asked in a professional tone.
"Just a second... I need to see if their computer can handle... Damn! Um... Okay, got it... Tell RJ that his security sucks and he needs to hide his porn a little better." Adam said seriously.
"What?" RJ gasped as he flushed with embarrassment.
"Two words dude. 'Fire Wall'." Adam said seriously.
"Don't worry about it RJ, we'll get you set up." Vincent said assuringly.
"Yeah, and with some cuter guys. Where did you find these skanks?" Adam asked sourly.
"Back off the porn, Adam. Help us with the Vulcan language lessons." Vincent said firmly.
"You're gay?" William asked his brother in shock.
"I... Um..." RJ said as his face blushed nearly purple.
"So what if he is? Are you going to hate him? Are you going to call him names and make fun of him? Are you going to want to stop being his brother?" Vincent asked seriously.
"I... I don't know." William said in a confused voice.
"RJ. It doesn't matter. Whether you're gay or straight I'll feel exactly the same way about you. Some of my best friends and some of my family are gay. The rest aren't. You know what? I love them all exactly the same." Vincent said as he looked RJ in the eyes, then said again, "It doesn't matter."
"I... I..." RJ said as his eyes filled with tears.
"Shhh. You don't have to say anything right now." Vincent said gently. "Just breathe and calm down for a few seconds. When you're feeling better we can talk about it... or not. Whatever you want."
RJ stared at Vincent for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.
"Guys, I'm really sorry about that. When Vincent said that you were his friends, I kind of just figured that he already knew. Especially since you let him use your computer with your porn right there in the 'My Pictures' folder."
"Can you do anything about the Vulcan Language lessons?" Vincent asked with a shake of his head.
"Yeah. I can do better than that. I'm installing a slave copy of the Starfleet Sim that links to the Clan Short mainframe. You'll be able to practice on all the starship stations in a 'real time' scenario with whoever else is online at the time. You'll also be able to access the Vulcan Language lessons through the ship's computer in the sim." Adam said seriously.
"I didn't know you could do that." Vincent said with a smile.
"You've been away for a while. Oh yeah, RJ, I've maxxed out your security and cleaned out an unbelievable amount of crap in your cache. You need to set it to defrag before you go to bed tonight. That thing must be moving like a snail with cramps having its files shredded and scattered all over the hard drive." Adam said seriously.
"Oh, um, yeah. Okay." RJ said absently.
"Thanks for setting them up Adam. I think RJ may need to sit down." Vincent said with concern at RJ's expression.
"Yeah. Hey RJ, I'm really sorry I did that to you. I swear that I never would have done that on purpose." Adam said seriously.
"I think he'll be okay Adam. There's three of us here to help him get back together." Vincent said from Loi's side.
"Yeah. Well, call me if there's anything I can do." Adam said slowly.
"Sure thing. Winters out." Vincent said and disconnected the transmission.
"RJ? Are you okay?" William asked quietly.
"I... I don't know." RJ said distantly.
"Help me get him on the bed. He looks like he may pass out." Vincent said seriously.
Loi, William and Vincent guided RJ to the bottom bunk and coaxed him to lay down.
"I don't want to be gay." RJ said as tears welled in his eyes.
"I know." Vincent said sympathetically. "Some people still think it's a choice. Do you think anyone would choose to feel like this?"
RJ shook his head, only marginally aware of what Vincent was saying.
"You know what?" Vincent asked softly, trying to draw RJ's minuscule thread of attention.
After a moment, RJ turned his head to look at Vincent curiously.
"I'm still here." Vincent said with a smile.
At RJ's confused look, Vincent continued, "I found out that you're gay and I didn't run away. I didn't call you names or threaten to kick your ass."
"Thanks." RJ whispered as he gave Vincent a pained smile.
"I'm still here too." William said as he cautiously sat on the edge of RJ's bed.
"Thanks Willy." RJ said with a smile that conveyed his appreciation far more than his words.
"It's not that bad RJ. Like I said, I know a lot of gay people and they're just like everyone else except for what they like to do in the bedroom." Vincent said seriously.
"You don't understand, Vincent. You get to travel all over the Universe and meet all kinds of different people. RJ is stuck here with people who will hate him if they find out how he is." Loi said with a look of concern at RJ, then hesitantly whispered, "How we are."
Vincent could clearly see the terror in Loi's eyes at making his thinly veiled admission.
"I'm still here, cousin." Vincent said as he stood and pulled Loi into a one armed hug from the side.
"I'm glad." Loi said as he gratefully returned the hug.
"Guys, that program that I just put on your computer links you directly into the main computer at Clan Short Headquarters." Vincent said as he turned his attention to RJ and Willy.
"If anything happens, if anyone gives you trouble, even if you just need someone to talk to, get on that computer and talk to them." Vincent said seriously.
"Can you do that for me, too?" Loi asked hopefully.
"Sure thing, cousin. I'll make sure you're all set up before I have to leave." Vincent said with a smile at him.
"If you ever need to, you could come over here and use ours. Since we're both..." RJ trailed off.
"Gay." Vincent said seriously. "For such a little word, it sure is hard to say it at first."
"Yeah." RJ whispered.
"I don't know if you guys have ever heard anything about Clan Short, but their job, the only reason they exist, is to help kids who need it." Vincent said seriously. "If any of you guys get into trouble, I won't be close enough to do anything to help you. But the Clan will be."
"What are you worried about happening?" RJ asked cautiously.
"You could probably answer that better than I could. I don't live here. I have no idea how open or closed minded the people around here are." Vincent said frankly.
"So, if we need something, we can just get on the computer and tell them that we need help?" RJ asked uncertainly.
"That's all you need to do." Vincent said honestly.
"I think you'd better call them, RJ." Willy said from in front of the computer.
"Why? What's wrong?" RJ asked with concern.
"That Adam guy is right. These guys are really skanky." Willy said as he moved through a slideshow of pictures.
"Willy. Please don't look at those." RJ pleaded in a pained voice.
"I don't think you need to worry about that." Willy said honestly as he closed the image viewer.
"Are you feeling better?" Vincent asked RJ with concern.
"I don't know. I guess." RJ said in an overwhelmed tone of voice.
"Well, just try to remember that there are three people right here, right now, who know. And we're all okay with it. No one hates you or wants to hurt you for being gay." Vincent said gently.
"Could you stop saying that word?" RJ pleaded.
"I tell you what. I won't say it anymore than I have to. Okay?" Vincent asked with a look of understanding in his eyes.
"Thanks." RJ said quietly.
"But not talking about it isn't going to make things better for you. I'm only going to be here for a few days, and before I leave, I want to do as much as I can to make sure that you guys are going to be alright." Vincent said seriously.
"Why?" William asked curiously.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "I used to hate gay people and try to hurt them. Now... I guess some of it is me trying to make up for that. But it's also because now I can see how much it hurts the people that I love. Some of them are gay. And it really hurts me to see them hurt."
William stared at him blankly.
Vincent smiled at his expression and said, "I want to help you because it's the right thing to do."
William seemed to be able to accept that answer.
"So, what do we do now?" Loi asked quietly.
"I don't know." Vincent said reluctantly, then continued, "You and RJ just admitted that you're gay. So I guess the next thing is to figure out what that means in your lives. I mean, the whole world isn't suddenly going to change, but the way you see yourselves fitting into it might."
"What if dad finds out." RJ asked his brother in a whisper.
"What if you tell him?" Vincent asked before William could respond.
RJ looked at Vincent with wide, terrified eyes.
"I'm not saying that you have to. I'm just saying that, you know, if someone came up to me and told me, I'd have a whole lot more respect for them than if I found out and they never told me." Vincent said seriously.
"What do you think he'd do?" RJ asked his brother anxiously.
William looked down at the floor and was lost in thought for a moment before he finally said, "You remember when grandpa used to talk about fags and stuff?"
RJ nodded slowly.
"Dad said that grandpa was all wrong... actually 'full of shit' is what he said." William said carefully. "As far as I know, that's all he ever said about it."
"Your dad seems like a really good guy. I think he could handle it." Vincent said seriously, then added, "Like I said before, I'm not going to be here very long. I'm not telling you what to do, but if you tell him while I'm here, I can try to make sure that everything turns out okay."
"What can you do?" William asked cautiously.
"First of all, if he has trouble dealing with it, Daddy Joe can help him figure things out. He's really good with stuff like that." Vincent said honestly, then added, "And if your dad hits you or throws you out... I don't think he will, but if he does, then I can call the Clan and they'll make sure that you have a safe place."
"You mean that I'd have to leave my dad?" RJ asked with wide eyes.
"I don't think that will happen. But if you were ever in any danger, then yes. You might have to leave for a while until your dad calmed down and had time to deal with things." Vincent said regretfully.
"I need to think about it." RJ whispered.
"Good idea. The only reason I'm telling you any of this is so that you'll think about it. You don't 'have to' do anything. It's completely up to you, just decide what kind of life you want to have and what will make you happy. I think all of us will do whatever we can to make it happen for you." Vincent said honestly.
"I guess I need to think about it, too." Loi said quietly.
"Yeah. And no matter what you decide, I'll do my best to help you." Vincent said sincerely.
"Even if I decide not to tell anyone?" Loi asked cautiously.
"If that's what you decide to do, I'll stand by you. I won't push you to do anything you're not comfortable doing." Vincent said as he looked Loi in the eyes.
"You're missing your show." RJ said to his brother.
William looked at the clock, then said, "Missed, you mean."
"Was it something important?" Vincent asked curiously.
William picked up a deck of cards from the top of his dresser, then held up a card as he said 'Yu-Gi-Oh'."
"I don't know what that is." Vincent said cautiously.
"It's a cartoon that was made from a card game... or maybe the card game was made from the cartoon. Whatever, Willy's been trying to teach me to play it but I can't understand how it works." RJ said frankly.
As Willy started shuffling the cards, Loi reluctantly said, "My grandpa and my Mom will be home soon. I'd better go."
Vincent looked around, then said, "Yeah. It sounds like the rain stopped, so now would probably be a good time."
"We'll go with you, since Dad's still over there." William said as he fell into line.
* * * * *
"You boys didn't get too wet did you?" June asked as the boys walked into the trailer.
"No. We were right in front of their trailer when it started raining." Vincent said with a smile.
"Are you boys okay?" Robby asked hesitantly, sensing that something was wrong with his sons.
"Vincent." Joe said to get his attention and motioned for him to come.
Vincent walked before Joe who was sitting on the couch and was pulled into a hug.
"What have you guys been up to?" Joe asked cautiously at Vincent's reluctant expression.
Vincent glanced over and noticed a determined look in RJ's eyes, so he just whispered, "Watch."
"Dad... I'm, uh..." RJ stammered.
Robby sat forward on the couch, waiting for what RJ had to tell him.
"...gay." RJ finished in a little squeak.
"It's okay, son. I've known for a long time." Robby said seriously, then added, "Thank you for telling me."
"How long?" RJ asked in a whisper.
"I probably knew before you did. You were always way more interested in looking at guys than girls. Anytime we went anywhere you always checked out the guys, especially their butts." Robby said frankly.
RJ's eyes went wide in astonishment.
"And you should really find a better place to keep your porn, I mean, the 'My Pictures' folder? You might as well have put them on the desktop." Robby said frankly.
"You went through my computer?" RJ asked in horror.
"Excuse me? Whose computer is it? It's the only computer in the house and your brother and I like to use it, too. It just seems that in your mind it became your own personal property." Robby said seriously.
"But you went through my stuff." RJ said in a wounded tone.
"RJ, I wasn't snooping, you left the computer logged in under your password. Hell, you left the 'My Pictures' folder minimized. You know what? It doesn't matter. We're getting away from the point here. You're gay and I love you. I think we can save the rest of this discussion until we get home. Agreed?" Robby asked seriously.
RJ slowly nodded, then took a hesitant step toward his father.
Robby stood and pulled his oldest son into a hug.
"I'm sorry you all had to see this. It's been a long time coming and it just happened tonight." Robby said quietly as he held his son.
"That's fine, Robby. It was great to see a father react the way he should." Joe said with a smile.
"That's right. And I think someone should mention just how much courage it took for RJ to walk in here and tell his father something he might not want to hear." June said, then turned to Joe and continued, "Instead of running away from his problems and cutting himself off from his family."
"How are you handling this, Willy?" Robby asked as he continued to hold RJ in his arms.
"I... um... I think I'm okay with it. Vincent explained some stuff to me so I think it's going to be fine." William said with difficulty.
"Come here." Robby said with a smile.
William walked slowly to his father and brother and was pulled into the family hug.
"Is dinner ready yet?" Malcolm asked as he walked out of the kitchen, followed by Lawrence.
"Not yet. When your mom and your grandfather get home we're all going to go out to dinner." June said with a happy smile.
"Them, too?" Malcolm asked cautiously when he spotted Robby, RJ and Willy.
"That sounds like an invitation to me. What do you boys say? Would you like to go out to eat with us?" June asked warmly.
"You can't! They're mean to Loi. They make him cry." Malcolm said firmly.
Vincent walked over to Lawrence and quietly asked, "Can you help me get him into the other room so we can talk?"
Lawrence nodded, then turned to Malcolm and said, "Why don't we show Vincent your room and all the games you have. Maybe he'll find something he'll like to play with you?"
Vincent nodded at Malcolm hopefully.
"Guys, I'm going to explain things to Malcolm. Give me a couple minutes, then you can come in and prove to him that I'm not lying." Vincent finished with a smile.
"Do you want me to go with you now?" Loi asked cautiously.
"Let me talk to him for a minute, first." Vincent said seriously.
Loi looked at Robby, RJ and William who had just taken a seat on the couch, then nodded his agreement to Vincent.
"I'm ready when you are cousin." Vincent said with a smile at Malcolm.
Malcolm looked at Vincent cautiously, then turned to lead the way.
Vincent glanced back into the living room in time to see Loi take the seat next to RJ on the couch.
* * * * *
"Malcolm, has anyone ever lied to you?" Vincent asked seriously as soon as they entered the room.
"Yeah, sure." Malcolm answered hesitantly.
"So you know how it feels to trust someone and find out that all the stuff they told you was wrong. Right?" Vincent asked seriously.
"Yeah, I guess." Malcolm said slowly.
"Well, RJ and William's grandfather told them some really mean lies about anyone who doesn't look like them. They were living with him for a year, and that whole time he told them all those things over and over until they finally believed him." Vincent said carefully.
"You mean he told them that Vietnamese people are bad?" Malcolm asked hesitantly.
"That's right. I don't know all the stuff he told them, but that was one of the things." Vincent said seriously.
"So that's why they're mean to Loi and make him cry?" Malcolm asked cautiously.
"That's right. But today we had a chance to talk to RJ and William and we got them to see that Loi isn't a bad person like they were told. We talked to them and after a while, they really listened." Vincent said as he looked Malcolm in the eyes.
"So they're not going to be mean to Loi anymore and try to beat him up?" Malcolm asked thoughtfully.
"That's right. And I think that Loi and RJ are starting to become friends. Once they talked, they found out that they have some stuff in common. So maybe, if they're lucky, they'll become really good friends." Vincent said and glanced at Lawrence who had been listening.
"What can I do?" Malcolm asked quietly.
"Just give Willy and RJ a chance. It's like a great big do-over. If you're nice to them and give them a chance to be nice to you, maybe you can be their friend, too." Vincent finished with a smile.
"But they're way older than me." Malcolm said in a small voice.
Vincent shook his head and said, "I have friends of all ages. Some of them are a lot older than me."
Lawrence put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and said, "I'm your friend Malcolm and I'm older."
Malcolm's serious expression transformed into a smile as he looked at Lawrence.
"Right. And I found out that William has Yu-Gi-Oh cards and he's been looking for someone to play with." Vincent said with a crafty smile.
"REALLY!? I've got a starter deck and three booster packs but Loi never wanted to learn how to play it with me!" Malcolm said joyfully.
"Really. I bet if you asked, William would like to play." Vincent said with a warm smile.
A knock on the door interrupted any further conversation.
Lawrence opened the door a crack to see who it was, then opened it to allow RJ, Loi and William to enter.
"Did Vincent explain everything?" Loi asked quietly.
"Yeah. He said that RJ and William were mean because their grandpa lied to them and now they're going to be nice." Malcolm said in a ramble.
"Yeah. Something like that." RJ mumbled shyly.
"And he said that William likes to play Yu-Gi-Oh and needs someone to play it with him." Malcolm finished with a big smile at William.
"Yeah. I never really learned to play because I didn't have anyone to play with." William said hesitantly.
"I can show you. I've played it at lunch at school a few times so I know all the rules. It's really easy." Malcolm said happily.
"If you wanted, you could grab your deck and we could go over to my place and play." William said with the beginning of a smile.
"We'll be having dinner in just a little bit. You probably wouldn't have time to play very much before it was time to go." Loi said quietly.
There was a brief moment of silence, then Malcolm was assaulted with inspiration and said, "Then I could show you how to lay out the cards and tell you about the rules now so we can start playing as soon as we get back from dinner."
"Yeah. Okay." William said with a smile, drawn into Malcolm's enthusiasm.
"Let's leave these guys to figure out their game." Vincent said with a happy little smile.
RJ, Loi and Lawrence filed out of the room as Vincent watched Malcolm pull out his deck of cards and lay out a paper playing field in the middle of the floor.
* * * * *
"I'm Lawrence. Malcolm and Loi are my cousins." Lawrence said shyly.
"I'm RJ, that stands for Robert Junior, and that was my brother Willy." RJ said quietly.
"This is my brother Vincent." Lawrence said happily as Vincent also entered the kitchen.
"Do you guys want to do something until it's time to go eat?" RJ asked uncertainly.
"There's not really time to do anything. Maybe we could just talk." Loi said shyly.
Vincent took the lead and walked to the kitchen table and took a seat.
"Works for me." Lawrence said happily and took the seat beside his brother.
"What do you want to talk about?" RJ asked as he sat at the table.
"Well, why don't we tell about ourselves? Loi is my cousin and I don't even know his last name." Vincent said honestly.
Everyone at the table shared a look, then Loi hesitantly said, "I'm Loi Tran, I'm fifteen and Malcolm Bowers is my half brother, we have the same mom."
Vincent smiled and said, "I'm Vincent Winters and I'm nine. Lawrence is my half brother, we have the same mom, too."
Lawrence smiled at his brother and said, "That doesn't leave too much for me to say. I'm Lawrence Winters, I'm fifteen and have the same mom as Vincent, but my dad is out there in the living room talking to RJ's dad."
"Well, I'm Robert Parker Junior, after my dad. I'm fifteen too and Willy is my brother, he's twelve." RJ said, then glanced at Loi with a smile.
Lawrence noticed the look and glanced at Vincent with question.
Vincent smiled and nodded.
"Are you guys telepathic or something?" RJ asked as he noticed the exchange.
Vincent giggled and said, "It doesn't take a telepath to figure out that look you two just shared."
Lawrence nodded his agreement.
"So it's not a problem for you?" Loi asked Lawrence cautiously.
Lawrence smiled and pulled out his wallet. After a moment of flipping through the pictures he found one of Deacon and Billy.
"That's my boyfriend and his brother." Lawrence said happily as he scooted the picture across the table for Loi and RJ to see.
After a moment of looking, RJ suddenly said, "Dude! Do you know who that guy is?"
"The Underwear Guy?" Lawrence asked with a smile.
"You're dating 'The Underwear Guy'?" Loi asked in wonder.
"No. His brother. But he's just as cute." Lawrence said happily.
After another moment of looking at the picture, RJ said, "Yeah, he is."
Loi nodded his agreement.
"So it looks like you three have a lot of stuff in common. I bet you'd like to talk about that stuff." Vincent said happily as he stood.
"You can stay and talk with us if you want. We don't need to talk about it now." Lawrence said quickly.
"Loi and RJ both just said that they were gay for the very first time today. That means that they probably have a lot of questions that you could answer for them since you're an experienced 'Butt Pirate'." Vincent finished with a mischievous grin at his brother.
Loi and RJ broke into laughter at Vincent's choice of words.
"Okay Vince, you're probably right. Thanks." Lawrence said with a smile at his brother.
"Yeah, thanks cousin. For all of it." Loi said quickly.
"I'm just glad to see you guys happy. You probably don't have much time before dinner, so you'd better get to talking." Vincent said as he walked out of the kitchen.
* * * * *
Vincent walked into the living room and took a seat beside Joe on the couch.
"How are things going son?" Joe asked as he gave Vincent a casual hug.
"Fine. Lawrence is talking with Loi and RJ in the kitchen and Malcolm and William are learning to play a game in the bedroom." Vincent said as he snuggled into Joe's side.
"Are you feeling left out?" Joe asked with concern.
"No. I could be in there if I wanted to, but I wanted to see what you're doing." Vincent said seriously.
"Oh, I was just telling Mom and Robby about when I went to the academy and about my job on the Yorktown." Joe said happily.
"Your Dad seems to have had an interesting life." June said with a smile at the sight of Joe holding his son.
"Yeah. Daddy Joe, it's okay if you want to tell them about my stuff too. I've had enough kid time." Vincent said seriously.
June and Robby looked at Joe with interest.
"Are you sure?" Joe asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. It's like lying if I don't tell them and I don't want that." Vincent said seriously.
"You got it, champ." Joe said and gave Vincent a quick squeeze.
"What's he talking about Joey?" Robby asked curiously.
"Well, Vincent was accepted into the Starfleet mentoring program a few months ago and has been living on my ship and serving in Deflector Control with me." Joe said with a happy smile.
"Really?" Robby asked with wonder.
"Yeah. I'm a Petty Officer, Second Class. But I'm going to take my officer's exam in two days. Well, maybe. I'm still waiting for them to say if I can." Vincent finished anxiously.
"But... you can't be old enough... You're what? Thirteen? Fourteen?" Robby said in wonder.
"I'm nine." Vincent said timidly.
"You've seen how Vincent can take charge of a situation. He's been studying for this exam for almost the entire time. I think he has what it takes." Joe said frankly.
June thought about the statement for a moment, then said, "If the way he straightened out your boys is any indication, he's going to be a fine officer."
"I guess so. But, it's just hard to believe. He's not even old enough to shave or start dating and he's going to be in charge of people." Robby said quietly.
"I'm already married. My wife, T'Lani, is on Vulcan right now at the Vulcan Academy of Science trying to get her final certification as a Healer. By the time we leave for our next mission, she might be a doctor." Vincent finished with a proud smile.
"Your wife... A doctor... On Vulcan?" Robby said in an overwhelmed voice.
"What kind of name is T'Lani anyway?" June asked curiously.
"T'Lani is a Vulcan. Hold on." Vincent said quickly and ran back into the kitchen.
"Is he serious Joey?" Robby asked in wonder.
"Oh yeah. You're not the only one with kids who pose a challenge." Joe said frankly.
"Here Grandma Joe, this is a picture of me and my wife." Vincent said as he handed his data padd to his grandmother.
"Isn't she lovely... what's this you're wearing? Pajamas?" June asked as she studied the picture.
"No. That's my Vulcan Ceremonial wedding clothes. This picture was taken after our bonding ceremony." Vincent said proudly.
"How long ago was this? You look like a child in this picture?" June asked cautiously.
"I was still nine. That was less than three months ago... I had a growth spurt since then... or two." Vincent added timidly.
"How did you manage to get married to a Vulcan? Wait... that didn't come out right. I didn't mean to say that like it was something bad." Robby hurried to explain.
"It's okay. I know what you meant. When my parents died, I was adopted by a Vulcan clan. So that makes me a Vulcan citizen and a member of the house of Surak. The elders of my Vulcan family and T'Lani's family thought we would be a logical couple so they arranged our marriage." Vincent said with a happy smile.
"After you said that you were okay with it." Joe interjected.
"Yeah. T'Lani is great. I can't think of anyone else in the universe that I'd want to be married to." Vincent said happily.
"Well you certainly do look happy." June said contentedly as she handed the padd back to him.
Vincent took the padd to Robby and said, "We really are. T'Lani thought she was going to have to wait for another year or two to get her Healer's certification, but since the Yorktown is going to be in dock for a while to get refit, she has time to do it now... well, maybe. She's there, but it's not for sure that she'll have time to finish her training before the Yorktown leaves again."
"Your wife is really beautiful. I can tell just from your expressions in this picture how much you both love each other." Robby said with a dreamy sad expression.
The front door opening interrupted any further conversation.
"George. Joe's here and this is Robby Parker from the other side of the trailer park. He and Joe went to high school together." June said as she got up from her chair to walk to her husband.
"How you doing Joe?" George asked as he handed his lunch box to his wife, then gave her a quick kiss.
"Just fine. I'm sorry I was away so long." Joe finished quietly.
"You don't need to apologize, I understand. Your life crumbled all around you and you needed to start over." George said as he went to the recliner that June had been sitting in and took a seat.
"Yeah. Thanks, Dad." Joe said timidly.
"It's nice to meet you Mr. Parker. I don't recall Joe bringing you around when you were in high school." George said thoughtfully.
"No sir. We weren't really close friends, we just kind of knew each other." Robby said uncomfortably.
"That's right. I think we were in school from kindergarten on through high school but we've probably talked to each other more tonight than we did in all those years." Joe said with a smile.
"That's the way it is sometimes... and who is this?" George asked with a smile at Vincent.
"This is my youngest son, Vincent." Joe said happily.
"Oh, so I get another grandson. This is turning out to be a wonderful day. What do you have to say for yourself Vincent?" George asked with a smile.
"Hi." Vincent said shyly as he looked at his grandfather.
"Chatty little fellow, isn't he?" George said with a loving smile.
"Just wait until he gets to know you." Joe said with a secretive grin.
"Do you know who he looks like?" Vincent asked as he looked at his grandfather carefully.
Joe and his mother shared a hesitant look and simultaneously prayed that the words 'Eleanor Roosevelt' weren't about to come out of Vincent's mouth.
"Grandpa Joe looks just like Lawrence... In the face I mean." Vincent said in wonder.
Joe and June both let out matching breaths of relief as George asked, "Lawrence? Your Lawrence?"
"Lawrence, come in and meet your grandfather." Joe called into the kitchen.
A moment later Lawrence hesitantly walked into the room.
Robby looked from Lawrence to George and said, "I can see the family resemblance. He's the spitting image."
Lawrence looked at Robby with question, then at his Grandfather again.
"He's got the Bowers genes, that's for sure." June said with a smile.
"Is it about time for dinner? I'm hungry." Malcolm said as he walked into the living room, followed by William, RJ and Loi.
"Just about. Temmy will be home any minute, then we'll leave." June said warmly.
"We're going out?" George asked curiously.
"Yes, dear. Even if I had something to fix for this many people, where would we put them?" June said firmly.
"If you say so. It's been awhile since we went out, hasn't it?" George asked speculatively.
"We haven't been out since Loi's birthday. We're long overdue." June said with a smile at her husband.
"Whose car is that in the driveway?" A timid feminine voice asked from the doorway.
"Am I blocking you?" Joe asked as he stood.
"Temmy, this is..." June began to say when she noticed that Temmy was staring, wide eyed at Joe.
"Catch her." Joe said quickly.
Loi ran to his mother's side and caught her as she began to fall unconscious.
A moment later, RJ was at her other side helping Loi to keep her upright.
"Here, sit her down here." Robby said as he stood from the couch.
Loi and RJ carefully walked Temmy to the couch and got her seated.
"Malcolm, get your mother a glass of sweet tea." June said quickly.
After a moment for the words to register, Malcolm hurried into the kitchen to get the tea for his mother.
"Isaac?" Temmy asked in a small voice as she looked at Joe with astonishment.
"No Temmy, this is Isaac's brother Joe. They always did look a lot alike." June said quietly.
Temmy blinked, then accepted a glass of tea from her youngest son.
After taking a small drink, Temmy took a cleansing breath, then said, "I'm sorry, I just wasn't expecting..."
"Temmy, it's my fault. I never thought to mention that Joe looked so much like his brother." June said regretfully.
"It's fine, June. I was just surprised." Temmy said, then looked around the room at all the different people curiously.
"Temmy Bowers, this is your brother-in-law, Joe Bowers and his son Vincent." June said carefully.
"Vincent Winters." Vincent said with a gentle smile at the delicate Vietnamese woman.
"Lawrence, come over here and meet your Aunt Temmy." June said to the cluster of boys in the kitchen doorway.
"Hi." Lawrence said shyly as he emerged from the group.
Temmy looked at George and giggled, "I could pick him out of a crowd as being your grandson."
"The Bowers genes do like to show through." George said proudly.
"Next we have Robby Parker and his boys RJ and William." June said and pointed to each as she said their names.
"Parker? Are these the ones..." Temmy trailed off and looked at Loi with concern.
"Yeah. But we talked and everything is fine now." Loi said quietly.
"I'm really sorry that I hurt Loi and I promise that it's not going to happen anymore." RJ said reassuringly.
"Good." Temmy whispered.
"Now that that's been said, what do you all say if we pile into the cars and go have dinner?" June said, trying to inject some cheer into the suddenly somber gathering.
"Just a minute." Loi said as he squatted to be at his mother's eye level.
June looked at Joe and Robby with a hesitant expression of question.
"I'm gay." Loi said firmly.
Temmy stared at her son with disbelief then started to shake her head.
"Yes mom. I really am." Loi said as he held his mother's gaze.
"It's my fault, isn't it? It's because I couldn't find you a father..." Temmy trailed off as tears started to glide down her cheeks.
"Mom, it's no one's fault. You're acting like being gay is a disease. It's not. I knew I was gay before Poppa Isaac died." Loi said in a shaky voice as he felt tears forming in his own eyes.
"Temmy. The boy is growing up. He just took another step toward being a man by telling you this. You should be happy that he's becoming his own person." George said firmly.
"But... He'll never get married... He'll never have children..." Temmy said as her tears continued to flow.
"Says who?" Vincent said from Joe's side.
Temmy looked down the couch at Vincent with question.
"I know lots of gay couples who have kids. Some adopted them, some had surrogate mothers for them. And a lot of those couples are married." Vincent said seriously.
"Mom. I love you and I'd do anything to make you happy. But I can't change who I am. The most I could do is lie to you and pretend to be something that I'm not. I don't think you really want me to do that." Loi said with tears falling down his cheeks.
"But... you have so much trouble already with people picking on you... now this, too." Temmy said in anguish.
"Please don't worry, Mrs. Bowers, I'm going to protect him." RJ said as he walked to Loi's side.
Temmy looked at RJ with question.
"We're both gay and I'll make sure nobody picks on him." RJ said as he gently put his hand on Loi's shoulder.
Loi stood and the hand dropped away.
Temmy looked from Loi to RJ, then said, "You did this to him."
Vincent stood from Joe's side and walked to stand beside Loi and RJ.
"If you need to blame someone then blame me. Loi and RJ didn't do anything wrong. If I hadn't come to visit today then they would both still be lying about who they are and hiding, both of them feeling alone and ashamed. You can blame me for this if you want to, but don't expect me to say I'm sorry because I'm not." Vincent said firmly.
"At ease, Champ." Joe said quietly.
Temmy looked up at her son for a moment and saw a new expression there, a confidence that he had never possessed before.
"Temmy, if you need some time to deal with this, Loi would be welcome to stay at our place for a while." Robby said from his place standing beside the couch.
"You're okay with this?" Temmy asked him in confusion.
"Yes. I'm fine. But I've had years to think about it and decide how I really feel. It looks like this is hitting you from out of nowhere. Loi and Malcolm would be welcomed to stay over at my place if you need time to think things through without distraction." Robby said with concern.
Temmy looked at the three boys lined up in front of her, then around the room at everyone watching for her reaction.
"No. I'll be fine... I may need some time to decide how I feel about everything, but the boys don't need to leave for me to be able to do that." Temmy said, then stood to face her oldest son.
"I love you. I don't understand about being gay, but I love you." She said as she looked him in the eyes.
"Thanks, mom. I knew that." Loi said with a happy smile.
Temmy pulled her son into a hug, then looked to RJ who was still at his side.
"Remember what you said. You promised to protect him." Temmy said seriously.
"I will. I swear it." RJ said firmly.
Temmy nodded, then kissed Loi on the cheek.
"Does that mean we can eat now?" Malcolm asked hopefully.
A round of chuckles spread around the room at the question.
"Yes. I think that's what it means." George said and pulled Malcolm into a quick hug.
"Do you want to ride with us Robby?" Joe asked with a smile.
"Sure. If you have enough room." Robby said cautiously.
"We can take someone with us. We have plenty." George said as he got up from his chair and walked for the door.
"Okay kids, it looks like you get your choice of who you're going to ride with." Joe said with a smile.
"Loi, do you want to come with me and my dad?" RJ asked hopefully.
Loi nodded shyly.
"Hey Willy, do you want to ride with me and my mom?" Malcolm asked happily.
"Sure." William said cautiously.
"What about you Vincent?" Joe asked gently.
"I'll ride with Grandma and Grandpa Joe." Vincent said with a smile, then thought to ask, "Do you want to ride with us, too, Lawrence?"
"Yeah." Lawrence said as he walked to Vincent's side.
"I'll need to back out so you can get out." Temmy said to Joe as she walked out the front door. Malcolm and William followed immediately behind her.
"That's fine. I'll back out too then follow Mom and Dad to wherever we're going." Joe said with a smile. Robby, RJ and Loi followed Joe to his rental car.
Vincent got a look of confusion when he spotted the car he would be travelling in.
"We're going in a hearse?" Vincent asked cautiously.
George chuckled as he locked the trailer door, then said, "That's not a hearse. It's a station wagon."
"What's the difference?" Vincent asked as he looked into the car through the window.
"It has a back seat that you can sit up in." June said with a smile as she automatically went to the passenger side of the station wagon.
There wasn't usually much of a family resemblance between Vincent and Lawrence. But in this circumstance, it was easy to see one, since both of them were in the back seat of the station wagon, wearing nearly identical smiles.
Once again I find myself sitting here with my eyes leaking a bit.
MultiMapper has a habit of putting things in his stories that cause that to happen, and it is a wonderful thing.
It seems as though there have been a lot of happy things happening in the last few chapters, which is not a bad thing at all. These events have been waiting to happen for quite some time now. Or at least some of them, I can't say they were all set in stone beforehand, but I am pretty sure that at least some of them were. I have a funny feeling that there may be a few recruits for Starfleet Academy in the not too distant future.
Again, I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher