Living in a Small Town

Chapter 3


"Umm, excuse me."  Everyone in Stan and Jude's house turned to see a woman standing at the door with a large plastic food container in her hands.  "Is the sheriff's sergeant here?"

"Yes, ma'am, " Jude called out.  "You look familiar…. Oh, you were Kaden's neighbor.  How are you doing ma'am?  Come on in," he told her.

"Oh no, I couldn't come in your nice house," she said bashfully.  "You don't want folks like me hanging around.  I just… well, I just wanted to bring over some cookies.  Kaden was always real fond of them when he'd come over and do chores for me.  I'm just so happy to hear that he's not burned up in that hellhole.  I'm sorry, I shouldn't talk like that around you nice folks."

"Rita Sue Evans, you get in this house like the man said," Flo called out. 

"Florence Ann Bonacci," Rita gasped.  "You remember me?"

"Of course I remember you, Rita Sue," Flo said as she wrapped an arm around Rita and pulled her into the house.  "How could I forget the only girl that ever thought the name Florence Ann Bonacci sounded pretty?  And you know perfectly well it's Florence Harris now."

"Just like out of an Italian picture book," Rita said with a shy smile.  "I didn't think you'd own up to knowing me after everything I've… well after everything."

"You got burned out completely didn't you, Rita Sue?" Flo asked gently.  "Have you got somewhere to stay?  Well, I guess you must if you managed to make cookies for little Kaden."

"I'm staying with Hester and Leon down the block for now," Rita said looking at the floor.  "They were the only folks that would have me.  Everything I had burned up in that idiot's fireball.  If there had been enough of him left, I would have spit on his carcass for that.  That fire even burnt down the marker for my dog's grave in the backyard.  Besides Kaden, that dog was the only friend I had for six years."

"Now, Rita, you should know better than that," Flo told her.

"Rita Sue, we all knew you wouldn't have done what you did if you weren't forced to by that deadbeat man you were with," Ida Mae added.

"HEY!" Emily blurted.  "Rita Sue, I got the perfect idea for how you can get back at that jerk, even with him dead and gone finally."

"How's that?"

"Well, that phone business you had for a while," Emily started.  "That had you working with a bunch of incoming phone lines, didn't it?"

"It was phone sex, Emily, you can say it," Rita said resignedly.  "I ain't proud of it, but I might as well own up to it as everybody in town knows I did it."

"Well, that's beside the point," Emily insisted.  "What it means is that you have a clear and pleasant voice and can handle a phone system with lots of incoming lines."

"I see where you're going with this, Emily," Dotty grinned.  "Rita, Dolly Morelle is retiring from the sheriff's office switchboard and dispatch office.  You've got the perfect qualifications to take her place."

"You want me to work in the sheriff's office?  Around all your husbands?" Rita Sue gasped.

"Why not?  None of us want the job," Flo said quickly.

"I see enough of my husband when he's home," Emily laughed.

"Do I need to tell your husbands what you're saying," Jim teased.

"Do I need to tell you where you'll be sleeping if you do," Ida Mae asked.

"No, dear," Jim answered quickly.  "Jude, let's get out of here while we still got skin."

"Right behind you, Jim," Jude said eagerly.  "Ladies, best wishes on the employment.  Ms. Rita, I will be happy to forward mine and Kaden's recommendations to the sheriff if you want the job.  That will also come with an invitation to the department wide Welcome Home party for Kaden.  I'm sure he'll be happy to see you here."

"I can't believe all of this," Rita Sue said as she swayed on her feet unsteadily.  Jim and Jude rushed forward to catch her, but she didn't fall.

"Rita Sue, you said you were staying with Hester and Leon, but are they feeding you?" Flo demanded.

"Long as I don't eat at the table or hang around with their kids."

"Hold up, if you can't be around the kids where EXACTLY are you staying?" Emily asked pointedly.

"In the shed out back."

"Like hell you are," Flo snapped.  "Rita Sue, you're coming home with me right now and you're going to eat a decent meal and sleep in my guest room until we get you working at the sheriff's office, and you get your own place again."

"You talk like I had insurance on that dump," Rita laughed bitterly.

"Well, don't you worry about that for now," Ida Mae told her.  "You go on home with Flo and rest up.  Me and the girls here will come by to see you after we get done painting Kaden's room."

"Oh, do you think it'd be all right if I just peeked in there?" Rita asked nervously.  "It's just, I saw the storage closet that… well, that they had him in once.  I just want to see where he's going to be living now."

"I'm sure the Sergeant and Stanley won't mind if you take a little peek," Ida Mae smiled.  "Of course, the room looks pretty bare right now.  They just got the new drywall up in there."

"Does it have a window?  He was always so fascinated by the windows at my place," Rita remembered fondly. 

"There are two windows in Kaden's room, side by side, facing the front yard." They all turned to see Stan at the front door. 

Sean squeezed by, ran over, and hugged his mother.  "Momma!  You should have been there.  Mr. Stan went into the store with me and when Callie Mae pulled her snooty routine with me, he started in yelling about disrespecting his personal chauffeur and how the manager would be hearing about this, and Callie Mae got all flustered and apologized to me.  Turns out she's had a crush on me for almost a year, but she didn't think I liked her because she caught me writing a love letter to Joann Turner, but I told her that I just did that for Kenny Hanson because he couldn't think of what to say to her.  Kenny might be my best friend, but he's about the shyest boy I ever heard of when it comes to girls."

"Wait a minute, you wrote that love letter to Joann Turner I found in Kenny's room?" Flo demanded.  "I should have known my boy couldn't be that bold with a girl, even in a letter," she sighed.

"Yes'm, he says he likes her, but every time he gets within ten feet of her, he just freezes up," Sean confirmed.  "I wrote the letter for him to help give him a jump start, so to speak.  So anyway, then Callie Mae giggled, and she told me she'd seen me driving the car now.  So, I kinda asked her out this Friday night, only I need to borrow the car, pleeeeeeeeeeease Momma?"

"Well of course you can use the car, son," Ida Mae smiled.  "Take her to the drive-in movie theater out on the highway.  But you're taking your little sister along with you."

"Aww, Momma, why?"

"Because if your little sister is in the back seat, you can't be," Jim told him.  "Now get your hormonal hind end out back with us and lay some brick instead of some chick."

"James Thurgood Hanson!" Ida Mae snarled.

"Now, Ida Mae, you didn't hear me right," Jim started.

"I best not hear you in my room tonight, either," Ida Mae responded.  "Of all the crude talk, and in front of all my friends.  I can't believe you.  Just go, you raunchy old dog, you.  And take that horny pup of yours with you."

"MOMMA!" the teenaged boy squealed as he blushed probably all the way to his toes.

"What? You heard your Daddy.  Get out there and work off some of that energy so I won't have to listen to your bedsprings tonight."

"Oh my God, just kill me now," the teen whined and ran out the back of the house.

"I am SO looking forward to this stage with Kaden," Jude said sarcastically.

"Oh, I didn't meet you earlier," Stan said as he finally noticed Rita Sue.  "I'm Stan Truesdale, Jude's husband."

"You've got a kind face," Rita Sue said as she stepped closer.  "I can just tell the two of you are going to take such good care of that little angel.  You won't ever meet a boy more willing to do any chores you can give him, just to get a soft word or a little treat from you.  He's so starved for good attention, that poor, sweet baby."

"Stan, Ms. Rita here lived next door to Kaden, and her home was destroyed in the fire the other night as well," Jude introduced.  "She also was the one to let us know that we needed to be looking for him.  Ma'am, as I recall, I was rather abrupt with you that night.  Please let me beg your pardon for that.  I was so shocked by the news that a child might have been in that fire that I forgot that you were being very cooperative and nice, even as your own home burned down in front of you.  I should not have been so gruff."

"You didn't talk to me in any way that I'm not used to," Rita Sue told him.  "You don't have to apologize for that."

"Yes, he does, and from the sound of it, a lot of other people should, too," Stan told her.  "Now, if you don't mind me saying so, you look a bit worn out.  Would you like a little something to eat?  Maybe you could take a short nap in our room while we work on the house?"

"How can you be so nice to me when you don't even know me?" the woman asked.

"When I was sitting at Kaden's bedside holding his hand the day after the fire, he talked in his sleep," Stan told them all.  "When he said the word Mom, he had a sad expression.  When he said father, his face showed fear.  But when he said Ms. Rita, all I saw was happiness.  He also mentioned someone named Blondie, and that brought the cutest little giggles."

"Blondie was my yellow Labrador that died last fall," Rita Sue explained.  "Little Kaden helped me bury him in the back yard.  They used to be such good playmates.  I'm pretty sure Kaden's no-account father poisoned him, but I won't ever tell Kaden that.  Blondie turned up dead one morning just a couple of days after he had tried to bite that dumb ass for trying to smack Kaden around in their back yard.  It would break that little boy's heart if he thought he was responsible for the death of that dog, even indirectly.  I'd always hoped to get a puppy from Blondie before I lost him, though."

"Rita Sue, you say Blondie was a yellow Labrador?" Emily asked her.  "Did he have a purple sparkly collar?"

"Yes, Kaden got it for him with the money he got from selling aluminum cans at the scrap metal place down by the landfill," Rita confirmed.

"Well, I have news that will cheer you up, honey," Emily grinned.  "Your Blondie bred my chocolate Lab, Nestle, at the end of the summer.  The girls insisted on naming her Nestle if she was a chocolate lab."  Everyone in the room snickered a bit before she continued.  "They weren't exactly old enough for the talk about why they shouldn't let her out in the back yard while she was in season.  Well, your Blondie broke into our back yard and had done the deed before I could get out there to stop him.  Nestle had six pups, right at the end of October.  There were five girls, three chocolates and two blacks, and there was one yellow lab boy.  The girls all went to good homes, but nobody seemed to want the boy, so I've still got him."

"Could I… oh but I don't have anywhere to keep a dog and even if I did, your kids are probably attached to him by now."

"You are staying in my guest room which has plenty of room for a dog bed," Flo corrected her.

"And my kids like the pup, but he's a little too rowdy for my girls," Emily smiled.  "They'll be happy that he is going to live with his other grandma as they insist on calling me around the dog."

"Well, I'll be," Rita Sue smiled.  "We're in-laws."

"Oh, wait till you see him, Rita Sue," Emily gushed.  "Johnny wanted to put him in one of those fancy dog shows because he's such a good looking dog."

"Well, my Blondie had the brains of a tree stump, but he was a gorgeous dog," Rita smiled.  "I thought about naming him after that blonde hunk that used to sell the fake butter on tv, but Fabio sounded too snooty for a dog with so little sense."

"Lands sakes, we forgot the painting," Ida Mae blurted.  Everyone walked back down the hall to Kaden's room only to find that Tom had finished the painting and was cleaning his brushes in the bathroom across the hall from the freshly painted room.

"Now Stan, don't you worry, I won't leave a mess," Tom started.

"You finished it already," Stan marveled.

"Well, yeah, with everyone out there taking care of each other and everything else going on, I just came back here and knocked it out right quick," Tom told them.

"Oh, my goodness, it's little angel's favorite colors," Rita Sue gushed.  "It's so big and pretty, and those two windows.  Makes me wish I could be here to see his face when he sees it the first time.  He won't know what to do with this much space all for him."

"Well, I'm willing to bet good money that PittyPat will soon have it filled up with all the toys and games and everything else he looks twice at for the next five or six years," Ida Mae laughed.

"You think she'll stop then?" Flo asked with a teasing voice.

"Well, no, but by then he'll be making goo goo eyes at some girl… or boy, and even PittyPat can't make that happen for him by herself," Ida Mae laughed.

"Hold up, I just got my little boy and he's only in the second grade, so give me a little time before we start talking about him dating," Stan begged.

"You get about twenty seconds," Flo told him.  "At least that's how it will feel to you when he starts coming home with names doodled onto the corners of his homework assignments."

"I don't want him to grow up; he's so sweet and precious right now," Stan whined.

"Well, I'm sure PittyPat can tell you him growing up is a lot better than the alternative," Emily said sadly.

"Oh my God, I don't want to even imagine losing Kaden, ever," Stan gasped.

"Well, that's why you got most of this whole town backing you up and making sure what happened to Alex and Bobby Dale never happens in our town ever again.  Not to you, and not to your boy," Ida Mae said firmly.

"You got the whole sheriff's department supporting you, and if that ain't scary enough to frighten off any idiots, then our wives will," Jim told Stan and Jude.  "No disrespect meant to any of you ladies at all; in fact, I mean just the opposite.  I read one time about an ancient tribe of warrior women called Amazons that was supposed to be some of the fiercest fighters in the known world.  Well, those women never came up against what we in the force like to call the PittyPat Brigade.  I guarantee anybody fool enough to hurt any child, but especially Kaden now, well… they'd better pray that us with the badges get to them first."

"You've got that right, Jim," Flo agreed.  "Now, Tom, how soon can we arrange the furniture in here?"

"Best to give it overnight to let the paint dry a bit more," Tom advised.  "In the meantime, we can finish up that patio out back."

"Oh, Sergeant Truesdale, Stan, I wonder if I could do a little something with the furniture for Kaden?" Rita Sue asked. 

"You don't have to call me Sergeant when I'm off duty, Ms. Rita, just Jude will do fine," Jude replied.

"Well, if you insist, Just Jude," Rita Sue smirked.  "Of course that means you both should call me Rita Sue."

"What did you have in mind for the furniture, Rita Sue?" Stan asked her as Jude and several others laughed over her teasing of Jude.

"Well, Kaden was really fond of the daffodils and buttercups that I planted over Blondie's grave, so a few days ago, I had bought the boy some stickers of those flowers and I was planning to give them to him, but I forgot about it until I found them in my purse this morning.  My purse and this outfit I got on was all I managed to save from the fire.  I was thinking maybe I could put these stickers on the dresser and desk drawers for him.  See, he had helped me decorate a dresser in my house the same way a few weeks back and he just went on and on about how pretty it looked."

"Oh, that sounds like a wonderful idea, and I'll bet he will like it even more when he finds out that you are the one that did it for him," Jude walked over and hugged the woman.  "Thank you."

"Fiddlesticks, don't get all gushy on me," Rita scolded with a smile.  "I got enough wives in this town that hate me; I don't need to add your husband to the list."

"I promise I'm not worried about you and Jude," Stan grinned as he too hugged her.  "Now I'm curious about this patio and grill that I keep hearing about.  Jude and I were just planning a small, bricked spot just outside the door from the dining room to the back yard."

"Oh, it's long past that stage now," Jim laughed.  "You fellows better come take a look."

Everyone except Rita walked through the house and stepped out the back door.  They didn't step down onto the bricks that Jude and Stan had put down though.  There was now a covered deck all the way across the back of the house.

"Sean, I thought I told you to dig that bush out of there to make more room for the brick patio?" one of the men just finishing up the railing on the deck called out.

"Yeah, well it's probably a good thing I listen to Aunt PittyPat more than I listen to you, Mr. Ike," the boy called back.  "This here is a hydrangea bush that Aunt PittyPat gave a month before Alex disappeared to Old Lady Pettibone who used to own this house.  He's the one that planted it right here in this spot for her.  I don't want to explain why it ain't here anymore to Aunt PittyPat, do you?"

"Lord have mercy, I'd have been on desk duty for a month of Sundays," Ike sighed.  "I reckon it's a good thing you came over for sure, Sean."

"Sean, how is it you knew that, son?" Jim asked.

"Well, when me and Kenny took the job of mowing Aunt PittyPat and Uncle Willy's yard for them, she got to talking to us about all of her plants," the teen shrugged.  "She's got a story for every one of them, you know.  I paid special attention to the ones that had Alex in them because she would get to crying then.  She never once complained about me being all sweaty and stinky when I would hug her, either."

"You got a fine young man, there, Jim," Ike told the boy's father.  "That's the kind of boy that I hope my Callie Mae brings home someday."

"You're Callie Mae's Daddy?" the boy squeaked.

"I figured you knew that, son," Jim laughed.  "How many Simmons do you think there are in this town?"

"What am I missing here?" Ike asked.

"Ike, you think Friday night would be too soon for Callie Mae to have Sean here over to your house?" Ida Mae snickered.

"So, you two finally made the connection, did you?  Lord knows I've heard your name around my house long enough," Ike said with a relieved sigh.  "Land's sakes, I didn't think you two would ever fess up to each other."

"Well, you can thank Mr. Stan for it happening when it did today," Sean admitted.  He then told Callie Mae's father about the trip to the grocery store earlier. 

"Well, sounds to me like you got a friend here with a good head on his shoulders for helping a boy out," Ike told the teenager.  "Thanks to the both of you, maybe I'll finally get some peace in my own house for a bit."

"Stan, do you think you can work your miracles on Kenny, too?" Flo asked with a laugh.  "I'm going to die of old age before I see that boy on his first date if it's left up to him."

"Ma, I'm not that bad." Most everyone jumped at the voice from beneath their feet under the new deck.

"Kenneth Duane Hanson, is that you under there?" Flo called out.  The boy crawled out from under the deck, pushing a small stack of paving bricks in front of him. 

"Well, yeah it's me, Ma," Kenny huffed as he stood up.  "You didn't think Sean would do yard work by himself did you?"

"What in the world are you doing rooting around under the deck?" Flo asked him.

"Well, it'd be a waste to have all these bricks the sergeant and Mr. Stan put down hiding away under here, so I figured to dig them out and use them with the new ones," the teen explained.  "Now, Sean, I was thinking if we take some of these that are more like bricks and stand them up on end in a ring around the hydrangea, it'll help stop the dirt from washing away, and grass from spreading too.  It should look nice, too."

"Kenny just took right over when he got here with Sean this morning," Ike told Flo and the others.  "He's got a real eye for this kind of stuff, I've gotta say."

"I don't plan to just mow yards the rest of my life, you know," Kenny shrugged.  "Aunt PittyPat's been talking to me, too.  She watched how I took care of the plants in her front yard, and even made some new flowerbeds for her.  She says if I study better in some of my classes, someday I could be a landscape architect instead of just a yard boy."

"Well, what I want to know is if we're double dating, me and Callie Mae and you and Joann?" Sean pushed.

"Oh, no, I wouldn't want to get in your way with Callie Mae," Kenny mumbled.  "I got some more pavers to dig out," he said quickly and dove back under the deck.

"Flo, could you help me in the kitchen for a moment?" Jude asked suddenly.  "I think everyone here could use a nice glass of iced tea, don't you?"

"I can take care of that," Stan offered.

"No, I'll go with him, dear, you stay out here so you can show the men folk any more plants you want to keep," Flo said quickly.  As soon as she and Jude were in the kitchen alone, she turned to him.  "You think my boy is your kind of people, too, don't you?  I don't mean that quite the way it sounded.  I'm sorry, I'm just worried about him that's all."

"It's ok, I've heard and seen enough today to know that you didn't mean anything negative," Jude assured her.  "You're right, though.  I have a suspicion.  Tell me, when did you find that letter in your son's room?"

"Just this morning, actually," Flo told him.  "Why?  Is that important?"

"It might be," Jude shrugged.  "I think it could be important that the letter was written apparently some time ago, and he still hasn't done anything with it.  But he could still be straight and just very painfully shy.  If you would like, Stan and I can make some excuse to keep him here after everyone leaves and we can talk to him.  Just talk, I promise you."

"Don't be stupid, I know you wouldn't mess with my little pimple faced boy when you've got a hottie like Stan to bed," Flo scoffed.  "I can see it in both of your eyes when you two look at each other.  There isn't anybody on God's green earth going to come between the two of you.  But if you guys can maybe help him figure out how to find another boy, I'll be powerful grateful.  I don't care who he's with as long as he's happy with them.  His Daddy will tell you the same thing.  Jessie's thought about asking for a transfer to the night shift, just so he could talk to you about this.  We've both been wondering about Kenny for a while."

"I can't guarantee anything but know that Stan and I will be happy to help him any way that we can," Jude assured her.  "Now, you'd better show me how to make tea since I volunteered for it."

"You don't know…. No, of course you don't," Flo sighed.  "Alpha male lawmen," she grumped.  "Just sit down over there out of the way.  You're lucky I like you so much, and that Stan keeps a sensible kitchen."

"Ever since I looked into Kaden's eyes yesterday morning, I have been feeling like the luckiest man on the planet, or at least this town anyway," Jude admitted.  "Everyone expects gay guys to be so different, but I have the same dreams that any of the other guys on the force have.  I want a comfortable home, a job where I am making a difference, and a loving family.  Up until three days ago, I knew I had the job, and I thought Stan was it for the family, but we're both learning differently now."

"Now stop making me emotional, or I'll lose count on the sugar, and we'll have syrup instead of tea," Flo scolded as she wiped her eyes. 

"I thought that's what folks down here in the South drank, anyway," Jude said with a smirk.

"You foul sacrilege talking Yankee, you, get out of here before I hunt up a wooden spoon to crack your head with," Flo snarled but he could see she was fighting a smile.  "Get on out there and tell them the tea will be ready in a little bit.  Go take your shirt off and get all sweaty in front of your husband.  If he fits in with us ladies as well as I think he will, you really will be a lucky man tonight."

"Ms. Flo," Jude gasped and blushed.

"Hmm, I must be right, then," she smirked.  "Well, what are you waiting for?  Go on out there and do as you're told."

"Yes, ma'am," he grinned and hurried out of the kitchen before she really did look for a wooden spoon, or worse said something else even more embarrassing.

"I have been exiled from the kitchen to tell all you good folks that the tea will be ready in, and I quote, a little bit," Jude announced when he rejoined everyone in the back yard. 

"Exiled, huh?" Ida Mae questioned.  "What did you say or do?"

"I might possibly have impugned the honor and grand tradition of Southern Iced Tea," Jude confessed with a blush.

"You didn't," Emily snickered.

"He's a Yankee, ain't he?" Dotty asked.  "And a city slicker to boot.  It's a wonder Flo didn't skin him alive."

"There were threats of grievous bodily harm from wooden spoons," Jude told them with a pout.  "Stan, she was mean to me," he pouted even more. 

"I'll kiss your wounded feelings better later, love," Stan said rolling his eyes.  "Honestly, what were you thinking insulting one of the foundations of the culture?  See, I'm getting to really like the tea around here.  The extra sugar gives that extra burst of energy to deal with the heat."

"Honey, this is only the end of May, you ain't seen heat yet," Emily laughed.

"Wait a minute, didn't you guys move here a year ago?" Dotty questioned.

"No, ma'am," Kenny answered.  "The sergeant and Mr. Stan first visited town last October, the week before Halloween.  They officially moved here the first of November, and on the sixth of November they moved into this house."

"Kenny, my goodness, are you sure you want to be a landscape architect?" Dotty asked.  "It sounds more like you're after a job as a detective."

"Oh, no, ma'am," the teen denied.  "It's just… umm… you know… new people and… stuff.  It's interesting."

"Well, Kenny how about you and I get to work laying these bricks like you suggested," Jude asked as he peeled his tee shirt off over his head.

"Merciful heavens," Ida Mae gasped.  "Stanley, how is it you ever get out of the bed?" she whispered, but the ladies all heard, and giggled.  Kenny, on the other hand, dropped the paving stone he was carrying on his foot.

"Kenny, darling, you gotta be more careful," his mother called out, as she stepped out carrying a tray of glasses of iced tea.  "Are you all right, son?" 

"I'm fine, Momma," he said quickly.  "I better get the other stones out of the… I mean out from under the… Yeah, I'll just get them now."  He practically dove underneath the deck.

"Jude, you do what you gotta do, but I think we just got our answer," Flo said as she turned to the other ladies and started whispering.  They all nodded, and, in a few moments, everyone had made their excuses to leave, with the men stating which of them would return to work more tomorrow.

"Sean, come drive me home," Ida Mae called out.  "I need to fix your dinner and rest a bit before I make your Daddy's breakfast."

"You can drive, Momma," Sean offered.  "I can stay here and help Kenny and the Truesdales, and then walk home."

"I can't believe it," Ida Mae called out.  "Alert the media, the boy is turning down a chance to drive the car.  Now don't you back talk me; you are going to drive me home, and we'll talk about the rules for you dating Callie Mae."  The boy groaned as he followed his mother to the car.

"Should I come home now, Momma?" Kenny asked.

"No, you stay and talk landscaping with the Truesdales for a bit," Flo called out.  "Oh, but you be extra quiet coming in tonight.  We're going to have a house guest for a little while and she might be sleeping when you get home."

Soon everyone but Kenny, Stan, and Jude were gone.  "You know, Stan, I was thinking with this fabulous deck all the way across the back of the house now, we should check into getting a hot tub for out here.  Wouldn't that be awesome?  We could put French doors in where those windows are in our room, and then we'd be able to just walk right out of our bedroom and hop in the tub.  I could wear that white speedo you like so much.  You know the one that gets see through when it's wet."

"Jude," Stan hissed.  "There is a child present."

"Oh, he doesn't mind us talking like this, do you, Kenny?" Jude asked.

"Oh… gosh… umm… no sir.  You just… umm… pretend I'm not even here.  I'll uhm…. I'll work over here around the hydrangea."

"I don't want you working on the hydrangea, Kenny," Jude told him.  "Can't you think of something better to do?  Like maybe ask us what it's like being gay?  Or how did we know we were?"

"You know?" the teen squeaked.  Then he blurted, "OHMYGOD!  Is this where you throw me over the deck railing and take turns doing me in the butt?"

"KENNY!" Stan gasped.  "We most certainly will do no such thing.  You are underage and you are the son of friends of ours."

"I knew it," Kenny deflated.  "I'm too ugly to be gay, huh?"

"Kenny, there is no such thing as too ugly to be gay," Jude told him as he put his shirt back on.  "You are a great looking young man and I swear to you that there is someone out there that will be more than happy to share intimate moments with you.  It won't be us, though, ok, buddy?"

"But I wouldn't tell my folks, not ever," Kenny pleaded.  "You guys are so gorgeous and I promise I would never, ever say anything to anyone."

"That wouldn't make it right, Kenny," Stan said as he hugged the teen.  "You want your first time to be with someone that loves you, not someone that would just use you."

"I do?" Kenny asked in disbelief.  He then sighed.  "Yeah, I guess you're right.  I wanted it to be with Sean, but he couldn't be any straighter if he was a power line pole."

"He does seem to have it pretty bad for Callie Mae," Stan agreed.  "Does he know you wanted to do stuff with him?"

"No way, I could never tell my best friend since we were born, 'Hey I want to suck your dick off, is that ok?'  He wouldn't take that so good, plus he wouldn't do it. Then he'd probably beat me up."

"Well, you're probably right about nothing sexual happening, but I think you also might be wrong about losing him as your friend," Jude told him.  "He seems to accept us just fine.  Even straight though, you never know what he might be willing to do with you if you don't talk about with him."

"Yeah, well, you didn't use to get baths with him when you were both little, or sleep in the same bed with him on sleepovers for pretty much your whole life," Kenny pointed out.  "I guess you're right though, he might not totally dump me as a friend over it."

"I seriously doubt that he would," Stan assured him.  "And if he is your best friend, doesn't he deserve to know the real you?"

"Being gay isn't the only reason you never gave that love letter to Joann, is it?" Jude asked.

"How do you guys know about the….  Who am I kidding?  In this town, it shouldn't surprise me that everyone knows everything, even the hot new gay Daddies down the street."

"Jude, he called us Daddies," Stan gasped in horror.  "I thought I was still a twink."

"Sorry, Mr. Stan, but twinks don't have kids of their own," Kenny told him with a smirk.

"I feel old now," Stan pouted.

"Not that old," Kenny defended.  "I mean you definitely still count as a DILF."

"Kenny, how do you know that term?" Stan gasped, scandalized.

"There's this thing called the Internet," Kenny snorted.

"Well, if that's what you're learning from the Internet, you'd better always make sure you clear browser history," Jude cautioned.  "That is not the sort of information your mother needs to see when she tries to look up a recipe for beef steak."  Kenny and Stan both choked at that mental image.  "There are age limits for things on the Internet for a reason, Kenny.  We, your parents and us, too, want you to be safe and explore things at your pace when you're ready.  Not when some pervert finds you and drags you off to this town's version of Lookout Point and you come home with an STD or worse."

"But until you guys moved here, there weren't any other gay guys in town," Kenny pouted.  "All my friends at school are losing their virginity now and I still haven't even had a first kiss."

"Kenny, I know it seems that way now, but I promise you will find someone someday," Jude told him.

"I didn't think there were any other gay guys in my school either," Stan assured him.  "Then one day this guy showed up at my job and tricked me into admitting I liked him just so I would go out with him."

"You tricked him?  But you're a cop," Kenny protested.  Stan and Jude told their story once again and when they were done, Kenny was grinning.  "Aww, that's kind of sweet in a 'oh my god you totally stalked each other' kind of way."

"Ok, there was a bit of stalking there," Stan conceded.  "But the point is we found each other.  You'll find someone, too.  I promise."

"Yeah, with my luck, I'll be waiting until Kaden's grown up," the teen pouted.

"Ok, for the record, if Kaden is gay and you haven't found anyone by the time he's allowed to date in thirty years, I will have no problem with you going out with my son," Jude offered.

"Thirty years?  Yikes, poor kid's got a rough time ahead with you for a Daddy," Kenny teased.  "To be fair, when I was his age, Kenny and I were sitting in my room talking about who we would marry when we grew up and graduated from high school.  My Daddy was in the hall, and he walked in and told me that not only could I not get married, but there wouldn't even be any dating of anyone until I was 57 years old at least, and he had been dead for no less than five years."

"Oh, no, no, no," Stan tutted.  "No way is Kaden waiting until after I'm dead to date.  I want my veto rights.  He might wind up with one of those braindead morons that claim to be gay and Republican at the same time.  I mean get real, that's like being an African American member of the KKK."  Jude and Kenny both snorted and nodded.

"Now seriously, Kenny, you won't ever get sex here, or anything even mildly inappropriate, but you will always find four willing ears if you need to talk or four willing shoulders if you want to cry, and always four willing arms to support you any way we can," Jude told the teen.  "We've been through it, buddy, and you'll get through it, too."

"It does help a bit having role models," Kenny admitted.  He grinned then, and added, "I'll even stop sneaking over here at night and filming you guys in your bedroom."

"Kenny," Jude growled.

"You been filming us, huh?  What colors are in our bedroom?"  At the boy's blank look, Stan added, "You know the bedspread and carpet, the walls, the pillows.  What colors did we use for everything?"

"OH, the pride flag colors of course, like all normal gay guys," Kenny said dismissively.  He saw their looks and heard their snickers.  "What?  You did, right?  I mean don't all gay guys put rainbows on everything?"

"Kenny, kiddo, do you see any pride flags around the yard anywhere?"

"Well, no."

"Come on inside, my young friend," Stan smiled.  "Jude, shall we take him to the bedroom?"

"Hey, wait a minute!  I thought you guys said there wouldn't be any sex stuff?" Kenny blurted suddenly nervously.

"Oh, but you seemed so eager for it earlier," Stan teased as he pulled the squirming teen down the hallway.  "I promise this won't hurt a bit."  He opened the door and watched Kenny's face.

"DUDE! Has my mom seen that bedspread?  She's going to shi… err… crap herself when she does.  Oh… wait a minute.  Where's the rainbow stuff?"

"There is one thing in this whole room that is rainbow colored," Jude said as he joined them in the room.  He walked over to the far side of the bed and picked up a plushy monkey that was rainbow striped.  "I won this for Stan at a carnival during our freshman year of college.  Hey, Stan, I was thinking…."

"Of course, we can give it to our son now," Stan smiled.  "I was planning to grab it before we go back to Momma's for dinner."

"Oh, dinner," Jude gasped.  "What time is it?"

"Aunt PittyPat always does dinner at 6pm sharp," Kenny informed them.

"Jude, it's five after six now," Stan looked over horrified.

"Well, so much for positive role models," Kenny said as he walked out of the bedroom.  "You guys are toast.  Been nice knowing you."

"Oh no you don't, Kenny," Jude ordered.  "You're our alibi.  You just got invited to dinner at the Truesdale house."

"Jude, we can't invite him to dinner at someone else's house," Stan scolded.

"Well, to be fair, Aunt PittyPat wouldn't care," Kenny told them.  "She'll still fuss at all of us for being late though.  Get a move on, guys.  The later she waits, the madder she'll get.  But don't worry, I'll turn on the waterworks and explain how I made you guys late talking gay stuff with me.  Once I come out to her, she'll forget how late we were."

"I have a bad feeling about this," Stan said.

"Come on, Han Solo, let's go face the music," Jude told him.

"Seriously, though, about that bedspread…."

"Yes, your mother has seen it and I believe the way Ida Mae put it was 'she busted a gut'," Stan told the teen as they got into the car.

"Hey, if I'm riding in the back of your patrol car, don't I get frisked?" Kenny teased.

"No," Jude told him pointedly.  "Nothing inappropriate, remember?  Besides, you seemed to be singing a different tune when Stan was dragging you practically kicking and screaming into the bedroom.  Make up your mind already, kid."

"Well…. It's just that my dick wants it for sure, my heart wants to save it for Mr. Right, and my brain thinks both of them have good and bad points," Kenny admitted.

"Welcome to adolescence, Kenny," Stan smiled.  "Nothing makes much sense, and you're perpetually horny but scared to do anything about it except jerk off."

"You said jerk off," Kenny giggled.

"Do you call it something else?" Stan questioned in confusion.

"No, I just didn't expect you to… like just say it… out loud like that in front of me," Kenny told him.

"We will always tell it to you, forgive the word, straight," Jude said with a shrug.

"I will not forgive that word, you foul mouthed brute you," Stan gasped in melodramatic shock.  "We are gay.  We NEVER go straight.  We go gaily forward."

"A pox upon me for my ill manners, my queen," Jude said sarcastically.

"I know you did not just call me a queen," Stan pouted for real this time.  "Kenny, did you hear him?"

"Sorry, Mr. Stan, but I gotta side with the sarge on this one," Kenny shrugged.  "If the tiara fits…."

"How rude," Stan pouted more.  "I would never wear a tiara.  It would clash with my pearl necklace."

All three of them were still laughing when they pulled into the driveway of the elder Truesdales.  "Well, I'm glad to see you boys are in such a good mood to eat burned barbecued pork roast," PittyPat said as she met them on the front porch.  "Hello, Kenneth, dear.  How's your family?"

"Everyone's fine, Aunt PittyPat," Kenny said as he ran up the steps and hugged the older woman.  "Please don't be too mad at the sarge and Mr. Stan.  They were talking to me about… well about stuff."

"So, you finally came out of the closet, did you?  About time if you ask me," she told him as his mouth dropped open in surprise.  "Get in the house and wash up, boys.   We have to go back and see Kaden after dinner."

As the three males walked down the hallway to wash their hands before dinner, Kenny stalled to peek into a specific room, and because he did, so did Stan and Jude.  When they reached the dinner table, Kenny coughed, blushed, and then spoke up.  "You know, Aunt PittyPat, if you're going to be fixing up a certain room for either the Sarge and Stan, or for their kid, I would be happy to help out with the redecoration by taking some of those posters off your hands."

"Well, that's mighty thoughtful of you, Kenny, but I already showed Kat some pictures of his new room here and he told me not to change anything," the old woman smiled.  "No, he called the room ubersweet, whatever that means, and wants it just the way it is."

"Oh, I totally agree, I was just sort of… well, it's ok.  I'm actually happier that he didn't change the room, I think."

"Kenny, if you want posters of hot guys on your walls, put some up there," Jude told the teen.  "Your mother will understand, I assure you."

"Mom knows?"

"So does your father," Jude answered.  "They have been waiting for you to talk to them about this, but finally gave in today and asked Stan and I to help things along a bit."

"They aren't mad or disappointed?" the teen asked nervously.

"Kenneth, your daddy was willing to ask me today if he could get a transfer to the night shift, just so he could talk to Jude here and hopefully get to understand you better," the sheriff announced.  "I told him to be patient and things would work out.  I was planning to come up with some way for you and the boys here to get to know each other, but I see I am behind the times already."

"Yeah, I was over there today helping with the back yard," Kenny explained.  "Oh, Aunt PittyPat, don't you worry about Alex's hydrangea.  Me and Sean made sure none of the old guys ripped it out, and we are going to be working the patio around it to protect it."

"Thank you, Kenny," the old woman said as she wiped a tear.  "I wasn't going to say anything since it is Jude and Stan's house now, but I will admit it is a relief to my mind knowing that it's going to be safe after all."

"More than safe, Momma," Stan assured her.  "We will hire the best lawn care boys in town to take care of it for us all.  Assuming you have the time for another yard to care for, Kenny."

"Well, I'll have to check with Sean since he and Callie are finally going to be getting together, but I'll still come over to take care of the hydrangea even if I don't have the time for the whole yard."

"That sounds like a fine plan," Stan smiled.

After dinner was over, everyone loaded up into Aunt PittyPat's minivan and headed for the hospital again.  Kenny was supposed to be dropped off at his home on their way, but the sheriff somehow forgot the boy all the way at the back of the minivan because he was so quiet. "Land sakes, Willy, are you starting to go senile on me?" Aunt PittyPat asked her husband.

"Well, now it's not my fault that he was so quiet back there that I forgot him," the sheriff defended himself.  "I'm not used to quiet passengers behind me. They're usually either screaming and cussing or wailing and crying."

"It's ok, Aunt PittyPat," the boy in question told her. "I can walk from here, it's just a block or two from here anyway.  It's a good thing I came along though.  You all forgot about this guy too," he added, holding up the plush monkey.

"Would you like to come in and meet Kaden?" Stan asked. "You could give him the monkey yourself."

"Oh, no, I wouldn't want to intrude, plus he should get home before he has to meet too many folks. Let him be a bit more comfortable," the teen explained.  "Besides, this little monkey is something special to you and Sarge, so your little guy should know that and not get confused thinking I'm the one that gave it to him. He needs this to come from the two of you, so that you guys can tell him how special it is," he added. 

"I hope when Kaden is ready to start dating, he finds someone as wonderful as you, Ken," Stan told the now embarrassed teen.  "Thank you."

"Sure thing, Momma Stan," Kenny replied with a grin, using the term he had overheard Jude use for his husband at one point.

"Kenny, let me ask you a couple of questions," Stan said suddenly before the young man could leave.  "Between the sheriff and his wife, who would you say is the real boss, the one to never piss off?"

"Oh, Aunt PittyPat for sure," the boy answered quickly.

"Ok, same question for your parents," Stan prompted.

"Momma, definitely," Kenny said even faster this time.

"What about the Hanson's?"

"Mrs. Ida Mae, no doubt about that."

"Are you seeing a pattern here, Ken?  Do I need to ask what you think will happen if I hear any of the teenagers in town teasing me about being Momma Stan?"

"No, sir," Ken gulped and paled.

"Stay on my good side, Ken," Stan smiled.  "You're already there, just don't screw it up."

"Yes, sir, I mean no, sir," Ken stammered.  "I'm sorry."

"I can live with the name as long as it is intended in the right way," Stan told him.  "I stopped being a doormat for other people to walk on a long time ago, and I'm not going to start back up now."

"I hear anybody dissing you or your family, they will answer to me and Sean," Ken told him seriously.  "We both know how to kill, thanks to our dads, and I know how to turn a body into fertilizer without a trace."

"You don't really, do you?"

"Well, no sir, but as long as the other kids at school don't know that I don't get picked on either," the teen said with a wink.

"I really do like you, Ken," Stan laughed. He ruffled the teen's hair and gave him a one arm hug around the shoulders before Ken left headed for his home.  He followed the rest of his family into the hospital and down the hallway to Kaden's room.

Janie was introduced to her new cousins whom she was instructed to call Uncle Jude and Uncle Stan.  Jude tried to tell her that she could call Stan Auntie Stan, but that got him smacked by Stan, Momma, and Aunt Ellie.  Janie and Kaden both giggled when he tried to protest/whine to Poppa but didn't get the response he wanted.

"Don't come slinking over here to me, licking your wounds, son.  We got a saying for that kind of stupidity around these parts, Jude.  You stepped in that cow patty with both feet." The children's giggles quickly disappeared, and they made noises of disgust at that mental image, along with the older ladies in the room.

"Kaden, we have something for you," Stan said as he walked up and handed the rainbow striped monkey to the boy.  "This is a very special friend who wants to live with you," Stan said as he sat on the edge of the bed beside his son.  "Your Daddy won him for me by playing a game at a fair several years ago, and this monkey told me that he has been waiting a long time for his very own little boy to love him and cuddle him, even though he's a monkey and not a teddy bear.  He wants to cuddle you, too.  He can give you hugs all night.  Watch this."  Stan carefully wrapped the monkey's long arms and legs around and around Kaden's tiny arm and then matched up the Velcro on the monkey paws so he would stay attached.  "When you're well enough, he'll hug your chest but for now he can hug your arm."

"You're giving me your monkey for a teddy bear?" Kaden asked as tears ran down his cheeks.  "I never had my very own teddy bear of any kind.  I love him for being my firstest monkey teddy, and he's so pretty with all the colors on his stripey pajamas.  Could I maybe get some stripy pajamas like his, Momma Stan?  Thank you so much for letting him be my monkey now.  What's his name?"

"He's been waiting for you to give him one," Jude told the boy.

"I think his name is Stonewall Jude Stanley Alexander Truesdale," Kaden said firmly.  "But we can call him Stoney 'cause that's shorter. Oh, he's so cool," the boy gushed.  "Look Janie!  Now you can have your teddy back.  Thank you for letting me borrow it so I didn't have bad dreams."

"Well, like I told Granny and Pops, you needed Mr. Cuddles more than I did," the little girl said as she snuggled her plush once again. "I'm glad you got your own now though. What's the monkey's name?"

"We never gave him one," Stan told the kids.  "That's your job, Kaden."

"I want to call him Stonewall, because that was your name before you got dopted with me."

"I think that's a great name for him," Jude told his son with a smile.

Janie and her grandmother left soon after, and eventually the sheriff and his wife also went home.  Stan and Jude both chose to stay with their son that night, with Jude insisting that Stan could take the chair that folded out into a very small cot like bed while he sat up and watched over them both.  The male nurse medical student brought in a recliner for Jude at some point during the night so that the entire family managed to get some sleep.