Ms. Whitcombe came by the Phoenix one afternoon to tell Louise some good news. The county judge had granted her divorce from Brad's father, as the not-so-good reverend had failed to appear to contest the ruling. On the subject of parental rights, she had politely informed her client that Elijah Daniels had lost his parental rights when he was sentenced to prison for child abuse and endangerment. It was a state law that anyone sentenced for those charges lost their role as parent of any and all minor children.
The only way that Elijah Daniels could get his rights over Brad reinstated was to get a state judge to overrule the guilty verdict and sentence handed down by the county judge. Furthermore, Elijah and his lawyer had to specifically ask for reinstatement of parental rights as part of the appeal. Elijah had failed to ask for this, and his lawyer had not included it. It was now too late to add the request to the appeal even if the preacher were to be made aware of the issue.
From the date that appeal was filed in the state court offices, Elijah Daniels had, from a legal point of view, been permanently removed from any control over, or obligation for, his former son. In fact, he would only be responsible for child support up until Brad was adopted by Robert, which was cleared to happen that afternoon if Louise agreed to it. The judge was, in fact, waiting for that event to take place. His wife was the special education teacher at Brad's school and she had been keeping up with the entire situation ever since the day of the fiasco in the English class.
Bambi shooed Louise, Brad, and Robert out of the Phoenix with the lawyer. "Bradley Jameson Daniels, I never want to see you again," she called out with a big smile. "Brad Kennedy is expected to be home for supper, though."
"Louise, are you sure that you want me to adopt Brad now? You don't want to wait until after the wedding?"
"No one is guaranteed a long and peaceful life, Robert. I could get hit by a car, shot during a holdup at the bank; any number of things could happen to me. I want to know without a doubt that Brad has a safe and loving home even if I'm not in it."
"Brad, what about…?"
"Dad, just drive us to the courthouse," Brad said, rolling his eyes in the backseat. "Sheesh, who knew it would be so hard just to get to be a legitimate kid with a mom and a dad?"
"BRADLEY JAMESON!" Louise scolded. Robert was no help as he was laughing so hard the car swerved on the street. "In the first place, that is NOT acceptable subject material for a joke. Secondly, please don't make your father laugh while he's driving, as apparently he can't do both at the same time."
"Louise," Robert whined and this time Brad laughed.
One hour later, Brad rang the doorbell on the theater's private entrance, which led to the apartment upstairs. Chris came downstairs in just a pair of gym shorts and opened the door. He reached out to grab Brad and hug him but was stopped by Brad's outstretched hand. "Hello, I don't believe we've been introduced. My name is Bradley Robertson Kennedy."
"Wait, what?" Chris mumbled sleepily. "I'm sorry I was taking a nap and… OH MY GOD! Brad, are you serious? Wait, I thought you guys were going to wait until after Mr. K and your mom got married. Doesn't she have to get divorced and take your dad's rights and stuff first?"
"Let me in, sexy, and I will explain it all," Brad smiled.
"You might want to lose some clothes on your way up," Chris told him.
"Umm… Chris, I'm not sure I want to… I mean, I do, totally, really, REALLY want to, but I don't think today is…."
"Brad!" Chris squeaked and blushed. "I just meant Dad hasn't gotten the a/c working in the apartment yet." By this time they were inside his bedroom and he looked over at Brad, blushed even more, and quickly looked away. "Did you mean it? That you umm… you really want to… with me?"
"Yes, I meant it," Brad confirmed while blushing himself. "I really like…. No, I love you, Chris. When I'm ready for that, I want it to be with you. It just can't be today, because Mom, Dad, and I are having family dinner at his house tonight. It's official now and stuff, he's my legal dad, and I'm going to stay there tonight in my room. I'm getting the room he used as a studio before he built the new studio in his back yard." He peeled off his shirt and wiped his brow. "Wow, you weren't kidding about that air conditioning. It's super-hot up here."
"It always is when you're here," Chris whispered.
"Awww, you're so sweet," Brad cooed and went over and kissed him on the cheek. "You know… just because I don't think I'm ready to go all the way yet, that doesn't mean we can't maybe have a little bit of fun before I have to go for dinner."
"Are you sure, Brad?"
"Well, I mean if you want to. I don't want to pressure… WHOA! I guess you do," Brad started, then blurted, then grinned as Chris yanked down his gym shorts, proving that was all he had on to begin with. It didn't take long for Brad's clothes to join Chris' on the floor.
Later that night, after a full family dinner to celebrate the event, and discuss the upcoming wedding, Ronnie followed Chris and Brad into Brad's new room in the Kennedy household. "Ok, you two, spill it," he blurted as soon as the door shut behind them. "You guys are as mushy as Trip and me on a good day, but tonight you've been over the top gooey." When he said the last word, Brad and Chris both snorted and started laughing while blushing profusely. "What did I say? What's so funny?"
"I'm not sure we should tell you," Chris said as he looked over at Brad. "It is really private."
"We don't have to tell details, but this is Ronnie," Brad shrugged. "I'm ok if he and Trip know about it, but nobody else should know. Besides, I had Ronnie's on my leg before I had yours."
"Yeah, I try not to think about that, thank you very much," Chris pouted. "I'm not mad about it, just kind of disappointed, I guess."
"Well, his was on my jeans," Brad offered. "Yours was still the first other person's on my skin."
"OH MY GOD! YOU GUYS DID IT!" Ronnie shrieked.
"Will you shut up?" Brad hissed. "We didn't do 'IT' we just… you know… with our hands."
"Oh my God, you didn't? You did? Was it awesome?" Ronnie babbled. "Oh, wait, don't tell me anymore. Like you guys said, this is private and none of my business, and I wouldn't blab details to you guys if me and Trip did anything, but I'd probably tell you that we did, like you guys just told me, and I'm so freaking happy for you. Seriously, dudes, this is… wow." He finally shut up and just hugged them both tightly. "You totally didn't have to tell me anything, but you did, and I'm…. This means so much to me. I really know you guys have forgiven me for everything I did now, and we're really friends now besides being family now too. I just…." His voice faded out again as he sat down on the bed and started crying.
"You didn't ever think you would be this happy, did you?" Brad asked softly as he sat beside Ronnie and hugged him tightly as he wept.
"How did you know that's what I was thinking?" Ronnie snuffled.
"Because I'm in the same boat, man," Brad told him. "I never dreamed that it was possible to be this happy, much less think I would ever it feel it." He started crying too, as he and Ronnie just held each other.
Neither of them had noticed Chris leave the room quietly, but they knew when he walked back in a moment later because all five parents came with him. "See, this is a job for parents," he told the adults. "I know we're supposed to be growing up and getting independent, but when my two best friends are feeling amazed at the fact that they are so happy with their families, well, that's a time for family cuddles."
"I've raised a very smart young man," Benny smiled and hugged Chris as the others grabbed their respective kids for hugs.
"How about you three have a sleepover here with me tonight?" Mr. Kennedy suggested. "You, too, Benny. Tonight can be my stag night, before the wedding."
"You want three teenage boys at your stag party?" Chris asked. "I thought stag parties had strippers and stuff?"
"Not my kind of thing, I assure you," Mr. Kennedy smiled. "I would never do anything that I would regret telling Louise about, and definitely nothing that I would have to keep secret from her. Real men who are truly in love don't need those stupid hormonal orgies to celebrate the end of their freedom, because they know that the happiest part of their life is just beginning."
"Would it be ok if, no, never mind, I shouldn't ask," Ronnie stammered.
"Fawn, would you please call your son's boyfriend, so that he can attend my stag party?" Mr. Kennedy said with a smile.
"You're awesome, Uncle Robbie," Ronnie gushed as he hugged the man.
"You told your son to call me that, didn't you, Fawn?" Mr. Kennedy demanded.
"Oh, but, Robbie, you were so good at it," the normally stern-faced woman teased with a smile. "I think you should show everyone. You won a contest for it in college."
"Yes, and college was several years ago, now," the man pointed out.
"What's she talking about, Dad?" Brad asked in confusion. "What did you win in college? I bet it was an art prize."
"Actually, it was a dance contest," Mr. Kennedy admitted.
"Robert, don't tell me… you did the robot?" Louise squealed and giggled.
"I did, and I came in first prize, so there. Stick that in your pipe and blow bubbles with it."
"I don't need a pipe to blow bubbles; I just need a wand, 'cause I'm a fairy princess."
"Dude, did your parents just both check out of reality?" Chris whispered.
"No, Chris, we haven't taken leave of our senses," Mr. Kennedy assured them all. "We were just proving to each other that we remember the very first time we met in elementary school. I callously insulted Louise because I was a typical girl hating little boy. Louise informed me that she was not a girl, she was a fairy princess. You truly are, my dear," he said, lifting Louise's hand and kissing it. "You enchanted my heart that day, and it has been yours ever since. I became Wiccan so that I could learn to cast spells as you did on me every time I saw you. I went into art so that I could make the world as beautiful for others as it was and is whenever I am in your presence. Finally, I became a teacher because I hoped that someday I would be able to be an encouragement to a kid from a troubled home, just like you were for me."
"Robert, please, I just ate," Ms. Phillips complained and walked out of the room. "Such mush."
"Don't let her fool you," Aunt Bambi smiled, as she stood to follow her wife, taking a handful of napkins with her. "She recites sonnets to me from memory."
"I knew she had a soft fluffy side all along," Mr. Kennedy smiled. "Otherwise, she really would have killed me for using her as a model to paint Louise."
"Maybe someday you could actually paint her to make up for it, Dad," Brad suggested.
"A marvelous idea, son," the man agreed enthusiastically. "I'm pretty sure I do owe her that much by now."
A week later, everyone was gathered at a small park just outside of town for Louise and Robert's wedding, which Chris had described as 'a Wiccan hand fasting with a legal side note.' Robert and Benny were the only adults amused by his humor. Chris was proudly ushering people to seats, as were Ronnie and Trip. All three boys wore matching metallic talismans made by Robert and blessed by Fawn, indicating that they were the ushers for the ceremony.
Robert was waiting near the edge of the ceremonial circle on one side with Fawn Phillips, who vehemently threatened the lives and wellbeing of any one stupid enough to refer to her as the best man. On the other side of the space, inside a small tent, Brad held his mother's arm as they waited behind Bambi Phillips who was serving as her witness, rather than maid of honor. Their cue to step forward never came, though. A harsh voice suddenly disrupted the beautiful afternoon.
"WHERE ARE THE HARLOT AND THE FAGGOT?"
Brad peeked out from their concealed spot just in time to see Trip confront the former pastor. "Nobody here would answer to that crap, so you're going to have to be a little more specific who you're looking for and why you're here."
"Trip, that's…" Ronnie began as he stepped between his boyfriend and the man waving a gun around. A gunshot rang out, stopping Ronnie's voice and starting a lot of others screaming. Brad didn't see what happened to Ronnie because of all the people jumping up and running for cover. He did see Trip fall after another gunshot rang out. Chris had been about halfway to the front of the seating area showing someone to their chair, but Brad lost sight of him when another voice drew his attention.
"What is the meaning of this?" Robert Kennedy's voice echoed through the park as he stepped out to face the ex-husband of his bride. Two quick gunshots later, and the art teacher was on the ground.
"ROBERT!" Louise screamed and ran toward him.
"MOM!" Brad called out and lunged after her. He knocked her to the ground just as another two gunshots rang out. Horrible pain exploded all through his tummy. He blacked out as he landed on top of his mother on the ground.
"The iniquitous must perish before the righteous hand of God," Elijah Daniels bellowed as he aimed his gun at Chris' back. "Those who spread sin must die."
"You first," Trip yelled out as he hit the reverend in the back of the head with his titanium leg. "Next time you shoot a kid in the leg, you judgmental, bigoted son of a bitch, make sure it's not his fake leg, idiot."
Elijah staggered and stumbled a moment but then drew up the arm with the gun about to fire at Trip a second time. He never got that chance, though. As it turned out, the deputy sheriff that had been so nice to Brad and his mom the night the whole mess had gone down at the church was a member of the coven. He had just arrived at the wedding site in time to hear the screaming and the gunshots. He fired once, hitting Elijah in the leg. As the man fell, he turned his gun toward the deputy. A second shot from the lawman and the preacher was sure never to harm anyone else ever again.
"Somebody help me!" Louise screamed. "Robert, Brad, stay with me, guys. Don't you dare both leave me at the same time!" She tried to reach out to her intended husband, but Brad's growth spurt had hit and he was larger than his mother now. Being unconscious on her back had effectively stopped Louise from reaching Robert who was still several feet away.
"BRAD!" Chris bellowed as he ran up the aisle between the seats to kneel beside his boyfriend and Louise.
"Rescue teams are on the way," Ms. Phillips called out. "Robert Kennedy, you asshole, you owe me a painting that is actually of me. Don't think you are getting out of it this easily."
"You think this is easy?" Robert gasped. "Who else is hurt, and how badly?"
"Robert, don't talk, just breathe," Ms. Phillips told him as she knelt beside him.
"He only got my arm, Fawn," Robert informed her. "I won't die unless I bleed to death." Ms. Phillips quickly ripped strips of cloth from her pants legs and then tied the tourniquet above his wounds. "Where are… LOUISE! BRAD!"
"I'm not hurt, Robert, but Brad… someone, help Chris with Brad, please."
Chris was crying and holding his hands over the hole in Brad's side. He had ripped his shirt and was pressing it to the wound to try and at least slow the bleeding. "Mom, you gotta lay still; I can't tell where he's been hurt inside. It might have gotten his spine. Miss Switch, you need to check on Ronnie; he was the first one shot."
"RONNIE!" Bambi and Fawn Phillips both screamed and ran to the back of the seating area where Trip and Ronnie had been when the shooting began.
"Mom, I'm fine," Ronnie called out. "My usher talisman thingy is a little bent out of shape, though." He held up the metal disc that he had around his neck, which matched the ones that Trip and Brad were wearing. Cradled into the now-folded metal was the bullet that had been intended for his chest. That didn't stop him from being kissed all over his face and group hugged by his Mom, Mum, Rosie, and Trip.
"Get that gurney down front, guys," the deputy yelled out as the paramedics arrived. "Kid down up there, and it looks pretty bad."
"Brad?" Ronnie questioned, and his moms could only nod their heads.
"That sack of shit," Ronnie yelled, and before anyone could stop him, he ran over and kicked the deceased gunman repeatedly right between the legs as he ranted. "You said I was going to hell for being gay! I'll bet you're there now. How do you like it? HUH? Say hello to my father while you're there asshole." Fawn managed to pull him away while looking at the deputy, who just shrugged.
"I didn't see anything happen to the perpetrator's remains," he said with a smile.
"Clear the way!" the paramedics yelled as they rushed through the crowd with Brad on the stretcher. One of them was on his radio, instructing the hospital, "You'd better have Life Flight standing by. Vitals are fading fast."
"It's official now; I am now legitimately your kid," Brad smiled up at Robert as the man walked beside the teen's wheelchair to leave the hospital.
"I thought we handled that when I adopted you," Robert smiled.
"That was just papers," Brad dismissed. "Now it's real. People can look at me and say I have my mom's eyes and my dad's kidney."
"Bradley Robertson Kennedy, that is not funny," his mom fumed over his head as she pushed the wheelchair.
"It is a little bit, dear," Robert snickered. "In fact, I think I'm rather pleased with that thought. Brad is organically my son as well as emotionally now."
"Well, there might be one upside to the whole thing," Louise said thoughtfully. "Elijah's family had this weird genetic trait where they all get kidney stones in their twenties. It was just the way things worked for them. Males and females alike, some had more than others, but this might mean that Brad is spared that pain."
"We can certainly hope," Robert agreed. "Nothing like that in my family history."
"I'm just glad you were a match, Robert," Louise whispered. "When they told me that I couldn't give him one of mine because I had early stages of diabetes, I thought I would lose him."
"I know you would have given me one if you could, Mom," Brad smiled as he reached back to pat one of her hands. "Just like you now know for sure that I will gladly take a bullet for you."
"Now, son, we were almost to the door," Robert complained as he had to grab a sobbing Louise.
"Did you set Mom off again?" Chris asked as he walked into the hospital lobby.
"All I said was that now she knows I would take a bullet for her," Brad shrugged.
"Males," Ms. Phillips growled as she joined them. "Bambi, help Robert get Louise into the van, please. I will assist Christopher with Bradley. Christopher, you open the door and get inside. I will lift Bradley up to you, and you will then help pull him onto the seat from my arms."
"Aunt Fawn, you can't put your hands under my butt," Brad squeaked and blushed.
"Would you prefer if Bambi did it?" the woman asked primly. "She has, after all, seen it all before."
"No fair, you promised not to tease me about that," Brad pouted.
"If you will recall, Bradley, my vow was only to not tease you in public," she reminded him as she scooped him up. "I told you I would continue to do so in private."
"The entry of the hospital is public," Brad countered.
"No one overheard what I said, however, so it was private," the woman said matter-of-factly.
"No buts, just get yours in this seat beside me, Brad," Chris smiled. "These hospital folks have had their last looks at you. I'm going to take care of you from now on."
"Were you worried I would fall the hot orderly that gave me my sponge baths?" Brad asked.
"What hot orderly? You said you had all old lady nurses?"
"I did," Brad confirmed. "Even if I hadn't, though, nobody is better than my hero."
"I'm not the hero," Chris mumbled. "Trip and the deputy, they…."
"Trip did what you told him to do," Brad said as he leaned against Chris and wrapped both his arms around his boyfriend's right one. "He told me when he came to the hospital to see me after I finally woke up."
"I thought it would work better," Chris said with a shrug. "I thought the titanium would knock him out."
"Chris, Elijah had a much harder head than that," Louise told him from the seat behind them in the van. "Now you two, hush and cuddle so Robert and I can, too."
"Mom, I don't want to hear that kind of stuff," Brad groaned.
"Hey, we're allowed, son," Robert told him. "We're still on our honeymoon."
"Yeah, I still say it's the only wedding where the bride pushed the guy giving her away down the aisle," Brad grinned.
"Yeah, and you were both wearing gowns," Chris added. "Sorry, shutting up and never mentioning the gown thing again," he quickly stated when he saw the look Brad gave him.
"And this is why I married a woman," Ms. Phillips called out from the driver's seat.
No, they didn't all live happily ever after, but they did live much happier than they had before and for quite a long time.
Author's Note: I seriously thought about ending the chapter at the point where the emergency response team is hauling Brad out of the park. I did. I freely admit to having some evil author genes floating around in my head with my characters. When I realized this was the end of the story, however, I decided there wasn't enough of an epilogue to hold over as a chapter of its own. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading Expanding Horizons as I have writing it. Peace out, and laissez les bon temps roullez!