"Where's my David?" the thin older woman called out as she got out of the back of a taxi.
"We're married forty-five years and you ask for David first?" Zeyde Izzy pouted.
"You, I'll deal with later," the woman said. "Right now, I want to hold my David in my arms while I wonder how in the world I gave birth to such a nebbish as his father."
"Tzeitel, what could our son have done to…."
"BUBBE!" David squealed and ran to his grandmother from the front porch. "I thought Benji was coming too," he said as he leaned from one side to the other trying to see into the taxi.
"So, now that you're out of your little closet, which you were never in to begin with, you can't spare your bubbe two seconds to get a little Yiddish for kiss ("kush")?"
"Sorry, Bubbe," a very contrite David mumbled with a blush just before his grandmother started kissing all over his cheeks and crying. "Bubbe, Yiddish enough with the kissing ("genug mit di kising"). The guys are watching."
"Dude, my grandmother is a gypsy. You think I don't get kissed in front of God and everybody every chance she gets?" Robin teased.
"I'm sorry, my David, my little king, I'm just all verklempt now I have you in my arms again," the old woman told him as she kept hugging him.
"Tzeitel, come inside the house, we'll get you a coffee," Zeyde Izzy finally intervened as it looked like David was going to be smothered to death by his own grandmother.
"Yes, we should have coffee," Mrs. Levin nodded. "We can talk better over coffee," she kept on. "No coffee for you, Benjamin, we don't know what it would do with your medicine."
"Benji? Medicine? What happened to Benji?" David started panicking.
"I'm ok, Davey, it's not as bad as it looks," a dark-haired boy our age said as he got out of the taxi slowly and carefully.
"BENJI!" David screamed. Benjamin looked like he had gone a round in a boxing ring with the heavyweight champion of the world, even though he was so small he made me look like a jock. There was a black eye and a split lip that had stitches and there were bandages all over what wasn't covered by clothing. From the looks of it, there were bandages under the clothes in places, too.
"Come on inside folks, I guess this'll be a good time to try out that fancy little plastic cup coffee maker somebody made me come home with yesterday," Grampa Olly called out. "Mrs. Levin, it's an honor to have such a fine lady in my home, but I apologize for what you gonna see on some of them walls in there."
"My Mama and my Papa, they both have the numbers on their arms," Mrs. Levin said sadly. "I've seen hateful things written before. My Izzy calls you brother, you're family to me too. Family doesn't apologize for being hurt by such aYiddish crazy nobody ("meshugeneh nebbish")." To her husband she said, "I smell liquor on you, Itzahk Benjamin Levin. You didn't tell me you were drinking last night. Did you think of your blood pressure? Did you think of your heart?"
"I did think of my heart, Tzietel," Zeyde Izzy defended. "What I drank last night was Todorovik Šljivovica."
"You didn't. You couldn't. There is no more," his wife denied.
"There isn't any more, NOW," Zeyde Izzy shrugged. "We drank the last bottle to survive the war last night. But… the last of the Todorovik's is going to let Isaac bottle it and sell it with her family name."
"Not until he's out of jail, he won't," Mrs. Levin replied.
"What? Why is Isaac in jail?" Zeyde demanded.
"He nearly killed your son," she replied.
"Isaac and Shimon are best friends," Zeyde cried out. "I leave the family for one day and you all fall apart. Why on earth would Isaac try to hurt Shimon?"
"Because Shimon did this to Little Benjamin," Mrs. Levin answered as she waved her hand at the bandaged boy.
"My Shimon would never… Ah, but I see the truth in both your eyes. Benjamin, bubelah, come," Zeyde said as he held his arms open. "I would rather my own eyes and ears be taken than ever see or hear you hurt. You know this?"
"I know this, Zeyde," Benjamin nodded as he let the old man hug him gently. "It's that woman."
"I told Shimon if he had to marry out of the faith, he should at least pick a mensch, but no he goes for the gold digging…."
"Itzahk, you will not say those words in front of our grandchildren, even if they are true," his wife warned.
"Uncle Shimon did this when he found out last night that I love David," Benjamin whispered.
"Benji, I am…." David broke into sobs as he dropped to his knees beside his boyfriend. "Sorry…. So sorry," he gasped.
"David, get off the floor, your boyfriend can't reach you there," his grandmother scolded. "My brother, is there a room the boys can talk in?" she asked Grampa Olly.
"The room David slept in last night ought to do the trick," Grampa Olly smiled. "Just remember folks might need in that room in a bit to scrub them words off the wall."
"Grampa Olly, we wouldn't do nothing naughty in there," David protested with a neon blush.
"We wouldn't?" Benji asked. When David poked him in the said he corrected quickly. "Oh no, nothing naughty, no sir."
"Well, at least not until you're feeling better, Benjamin," Mrs. Levin winked.
"BUBBE!" David squealed and got even redder.
"What? You think we're so old we don't remember what it feels like to be in love at your age? You think we don't know what you get up to in your room with that schlub they hauled to the jail yesterday? Now you got a nice boy, a good-looking boy, and Jewish. If you don't get a little naughty, I'll be checking you aren't sick. Just remember he's hurt, and if you make him hurt worse, I'll make you hurt worse."
"How is it MY grandmother likes you better?" David pouted as he and Benji left the room.
"Now, do I get to meet my new grandsons or are they too good for kisses from their bubbe?" Mrs. Levin asked as she stared at Robin and me. We both stepped forward bashfully. "Well, it's clear to see who the gypsy is," she said as she kissed me on both cheeks.
"Actually, that would be me, Mrs. Levin," Robin squeaked nervously.
"You're playing tricks on an old woman, with that golden hair you're telling me you're the gypsy?"
"Yes, ma'am," I told her. "Robin looks a lot like his mom."
"So, even better, you have a fine Jewish name, Elijah, and you have fine Jewish looks, and you have excellent taste in men," she said with a grin as she started kissing all over Robin's face.
"I believe you were promised refreshments, Mrs. Levin," Grampa Olly said with a smile. "You sit a spell here in the parlor and get to know the boys and I'll fetch the coffee."
"Please, to my brother, it's Tzeitel, and thank you so much for the hospitality," Bubbe smiled at him. After he left the room she whispered to Robin and me, "In this heat, a nice glass tea would be better, but who am I to complain?"
A few minutes later, Grampa Olly came back in the room with a tray loaded with glasses of iced tea. "My apologies, ma'am, but I just hadn't quite figured out that fancy new coffee maker I just got yesterday and being as it's nigh on to 10:30 in the morning, I thought a nice cool glass of tea would be more settling."
"Such a gentleman, Mr. Raines," Bubbe said as she took the glass he offered her.
"Shucks, ma'am, you can just call me Olly," Grampa smiled back at her.
"But you don't call me Tzeitel," she pointed out.
"Well, ma'am that's mostly cause I'm not so sure I can get my mouth around such a beautiful name without messing it up, and I wouldn't insult such a cultured and refined lady as yourself for love or money," Grampa told her.
"Such a tongue. Itzahk, this man you should hire to write your advertisements," Bubbe said with a big smile. "So, for my new brother, you should call me what my born brother always did, may he rest in peace. For you my name is Tizzy."
"Izzy and Tizzy," I whispered. "That is so cute. I like Zeyde and Bubbe the best though. I can't believe how much family I have now. Dad and Daia, Baka and Grampa, Grandmother and Granddaddy, and Aunt Rose and Aunt Doris, and Uncle Ray and Uncle Smurf…." At that point, Robin snorted tea through his nose as he started giggling about my name for Todd the apothecary from the faire.
"Oh, it seems I have a lot of new family," Bubbe smiled excitedly. "We wanted the huge family, my Izzy and I, but we weren't blessed in such a way. Now it seems we failed raising the family we did get. To think my Shimon could beat a boychick like Little Benjamin. It's a good thing my parents, may they rest in peace, never lived to see the day. Their own grandson no better than the Nazis who locked them up along with all those nice boys with the pink triangles." She started crying again then, so Robin and I took the chance to slip out of the room and go upstairs to find David and Benji.
When we got to the top of the stairs, we saw the door still open to the room we had all slept in last night. "Davey, you slept in the bed with those two?? In your underwear? All of you? OMG how did you not just die? They are so cute," we heard Benji gushing.
"I know," Davey told him. "Even cuter in just the undies, too." He got serious then and added, "I am so sorry for being so stupid that I never realized I could have been with you instead of that putz."
"OOOO I am so telling your bubbe you said that word," Benji giggled.
"You do and I'll tell her I learned it from you," David snapped back with a giggle of his own.
"Hey, can you guys teach us more dirty words that our parents won't know?" I asked as I walked into the room with them.
"Dad and Daia and Baka might not know them, but Aunt Doris probably does, and she would totally rat us out over it," Robin pointed out as he joined me and we both sat on the bed next to Davey and Benji.
"Oh, and you guys are totally cute too, you know," I told them. "Benji, you have the curliest, most gorgeous hair I have ever seen."
"I thought you liked my hair," Robin pouted melodramatically.
"I do, my prince, I do," I assured him. "Yours is the sexiest hair in the world."
"That's better," he snarked with a playfully arrogant smirk. "I've got curly hair too, you know. It's just that you're the only one that gets to see it."
"Seriously? You streaked across the faire grounds buck naked," I reminded him. "Everyone saw your curlies."
"You ran through a fair ground naked?" Benji gasped and blushed intensely.
"Well, Frodo was hurt, and I was afraid they would take him to the hospital without me if I took too long to get dressed," Robin explained. "I didn't think about who might see me, I just had to get back to Frodo as fast as I could."
"Awwww that's so sweet," Benji cooed.
"Yeah it was," I agreed and leaned over to kiss Robin on the cheek. Just then Grampa Olly called us from downstairs.
"Boys, the cleaning crew is here, best put your clothes back on quick like, you hear?"
"GRAMPA!" we all four squealed as we became four stop signs in record time.
"What you boys hollering for? I just used the one sure fire way to make sure you was listening," Grampa Olly laughed as we all trooped down the stairs. "I tell you I know you all up to something, and you all come running down here to deny it. Whether you was or not, ain't the point. Getting you down here was, and it work like charm just like it always did with my son."
"Well played, my brother," Zeyde smiled.
"Are you sure you're not a little Jewish? You play the guilt trip like a pro," Bubbe laughed.
"Shucks, Tizzy, that weren't Jewish, that was just being a parent that still remembers how to be a kid," Grampa snorted. "These boys ain't thought up nothing in that room that I wouldn't have tried when I was their age, if I'd had me a girl up there with me that is. The way I see it, a boy is a boy is a boy them first few years of puberty. Ain't none of them thinking with their brains first, gay, straight, or otherwise."
"We don't have to take this kind of abuse," Robin pouted melodramatically. "Away with me, my knights of the Square Bed, our adventure awaits anon."
"Who's what's waiting where?" Benji asked he was dragged out of the room by Robin and Davey. I started to follow them, but turned to run back into the living room and hug each of my new grandparents and tell them how much I loved them.
Bubbe didn't let me go when I got to her. "Here now, what's the waterworks?" she asked as she wiped the tears from my cheeks.
"I don't know," I mumbled bashfully. "I guess…. I mean…. My mom told me she loved fairly often, but she always took Fath… his side of things, so I didn't believe her until it was too late. I don't want to ever make that mistake again. From now on, the people that love me, and that I love back will always know that I do. I won't tell another person that I love them for the first time while I'm staring at them in a coffin." I sort of broke down then and kind of fell apart. I sobbed in Bubbe's arms until I fell asleep, I guess, because the next thing I knew, I was in her lap in a great big wooden rocking chair and she was singing a Yiddish lullaby to me as she held me. Well I knew she was singing, I found out what she was singing later. "I'm sorry, Bubbe. I didn't mean to…."
"Feh, do you hear me kvetching about holding my grandson? No. I'm an old Jewish woman, if I've got something to say, trust me you'll know. Ask my Izzy. He'll tell you." She grinned and imitated her husband's voice. "Oy vey, my Tizzy, nothing but kvetching night and day, never a moment's peace." When she had me giggling, she smiled down at me and kissed my forehead. "There, that's the face I should see on my grandson. Now, you and I should probably get out of this room, because the cleaners have come by twice already and I shooed them away. My boychick needed Bubbe, not a scrubbing pad with the bleach. Now we go see they did a good job, right? Of course, right. Bubbe is always right, just ask my Izzy. He knows."
"Yes, your Izzy knows," Zeyde smiled at us as he walked into the room. "Is our Elijah all better now? What am I saying? Of course, our Elijah's better. How could he not be after sleeping in my Tizzy's arms? Best place to sleep in the world."
"I love you, too, Izzy," Bubbe said with a blush and a smile. "So, what's been happening while I've been taking care of our Elijah? Did you talk with Isaac and that nebbish son of yours?"
"I talked with Isaac," Zeyde answered. "He'll be down here tonight on the plane with his Frayda and Zondal. I couldn't speak to the meshugeneh because he wasted his one phone call to demand that Hiram bail him out. He forgot that Hiram has a gay son, too. Hiram says he's not doing bubkes for such a man."
"Hiram is a good man," Bubbe said with a nod. "Your cleaners, they've done a good job on our brother's house?"
"Yes, they just wait for this room, but they were afraid to come knock again," Zeyde said with a bit of a smirk.
"One old lady they're so afraid of? Some cleaners they must be," Bubbe snorted.
"One beautiful queen and three brave knights standing guard," Robin corrected as he looked into the room from the doorway. "We have sworn our oath to protect our fair queen and noble prince of the forest from all invaders, friend or foe, with our very lives if need be."
"Yeah, what he said," Benji piped up from behind him in the hall.
I looked up at Robin and started giggling. I couldn't help it. He had a t-shirt on over his clothes that must have belonged to someone even bigger than Grampa Olly. It hung nearly to his knees and would have looked like a house dress for a woman if he hadn't cinched it in at the waist with a wide leather belt that was so long it was tied on him rather than buckled. Into the belt, he had tucked a seamstress' yard stick like it was a sword. I stopped laughing when something occurred to me though. "You made poor Benji stand in the hall with all those bandages and injuries?" I asked as I ran to the door, only to stop and start laughing again.
"What standing? I got the best seat in the whole world," Benji grinned at me as he was perched on Davey's right thigh, as the other boy knelt on the floor with his left knee on the ground. Davey's head was leaning on Benji's shoulder and his arms were around the curly headed boy's waist, protectively and possessively.
"Robin gets his prince, I get mine," Davey said softly with a dopey, dreamy smile.
"Is it safe to work on that room yet," a strange voice asked. We all turned to see an older teen boy in a hideous yellow one-piece coverall uniform standing a few feet away. "It's just that there's a really nice old man around here somewhere that's paying us by the hour, and I don't want to charge him for just standing around, you know?"
"You are an honest and hardworking young man," Zeyde said with a smile as he stepped into the hallway with us. "Tell me. Why are you working for the cleaning company?"
"My boy… my friend's mother owns the business and they needed the extra crew for this job."
"You don't work for your boyfriend's family all the time? What else do you do? Ever worked in a department store?" Zeyde asked.
"No, I tried to get other work this summer, but nobody would hire me cause I didn't have experience. His mom only hired me because she said if I was going to distract Jimmy all summer, the least I could do is distract him while we both worked," the teen answered with a blush. "I didn't mean to let it slip that he's my boyfriend. Please don't fire his mom because of me and my big mouth."
"AHEM!" Robin coughed loudly to get his attention and then kissed me right on the mouth in front of God and everybody.
"Hey, if they get to kiss so do I," I heard Benji demand from somewhere. I wasn't sure where anyone but Robin and I were at that point.
"Oh, well, I guess that won't be such a problem after all," the teen laughed. "You guys are all cute together. Jimmy! Jimmy you gotta come meet these guys proper."
"Mom said we're not to bother the little brats down this ha… Oh… Wow. Mom didn't mention that part."
"Brodric Jameson Cummings, I did NOT call those boys little brats," a woman's voice scolded as it came closer. "OH…. AWWWWW and I thought you two were adorable together. Oh, this is so precious."
"MOM?!? You know?"
"How could a decent mother not know her son is gay? Besides, you didn't think the Integrity Chapter would let two teenage boys show up without getting parental approval, did you?" At their sheepish shrugs she rolled her eyes. "I hope you four are smarter than these idiots," she said with obviously faked exasperation. "Now, I didn't see you before, so that means you were the one in the room," she told me as she stepped up closer. "Are you feeling better now?"
"Yes, ma'am," I agreed with a bit of a blush.
"Oh, you're such a cutie," she grinned and patted my cheek. "Oh, and I recognize you now that I get a good look at you. I was visiting Trinity's Church Library the day your mother was laid to rest. Well that explains why you needed some private time with your grandmother."
"I'm really sorry if I delayed your work," I told her bashfully.
"Fiddlesticks," she fussed. "It just gave these two horndogs a chance to sneak into a closet upstairs and try to suck each other's tonsils out."
"Logan, the cat is out of the bag now. Can you please stop calling me Mrs. C now that we all know I'm practically your mother in law?"
"Can this day get any worse?" the teen named Jimmy moaned as he hid his face in his hands.
"Up to your usual melodramatics, I see, Mr. Cummings."
"Aunt Doris!" Robin and I both yelled and rushed to hug her.
"Why exactly am I seeing my math teacher almost as much this summer as I did last year in school?" Logan whined.
"The fates have smiled upon you, Mr. Groen," Aunt Doris said dryly. She looked down at us and smiled. "Well this isn't how I intended for you to meet the other young couple from our Integrity Chapter, but Robin and Elijah, meet Jimmy Cummings and Logan Groen. Jimmy, Logan, this is Robin Keane and Elijah…."
"Rowland," I said before she could say the other name. "I will be using my mother's name from now on."
"Yes, perfectly understandable and quite nice," Aunt Doris smiled as she hugged me.
"Wait, your name is Cummings and yours is Groen?" Robin asked the teens.
"Yeah, yeah, we've heard all the jokes, dude," Logan said with a roll of his eyes.
"Personally, we think we are uniquely blessed for future success," Jimmy grinned. "We are going to study the Hospitality Industry in college and work as event planners. How can you go wrong with a come and go party set up by Cummings and Groens?"
"Amazingly, and disturbingly, you may have a very good selling point there, boys," Aunt Doris told them. "It's sad how easily manipulated the general public is by a well-planned gimmick."
"The gimmick has to be followed up with integrity, honesty, and dependability, though," Zeyde told them. "In the meantime, I happen to know that Levin's here in town needs a new Floor Clerk in the Young Men's Department, and it would help if the clerk was a young man himself. The old guys aren't…. What was the word you used, David? Oh yes, relatable."
"Yeah, if the salesclerk is making disapproving faces at the clothes he is trying to sell, it is sort of counterproductive," Benji announced.
"Hmm, maybe I've been taking the wrong boy with me on these store visits," Zeyde mused.
"I love you, Zeyde, but I never wanted to take over the stores," Davey said with a blush. "I want to focus on my art and photography. I don't mind working in the Ad Department or something, but I'm just not cut out for running the show. Benji, he's the businessman."
"Well, I suppose a grandson in law is just as good an heir as a grandson," Zeyde chuckled. "It's still in the family."
"If you don't mind, ma'am," I spoke up to Jimmy's mom. "I really need to help you clean this mess, and if this is the last room, I want to do it."
"Now, Lijah, I done told you, ain't none of this down to you. What that man and his gang of haters did had nothing to do with a sweet boy like you," Grampa Olly told me.
"Mr. Raines is right, cutie," Jimmy's mom said as she patted my shoulder. "You let me handle this and you spend time with your family here that loves you the way a young man should be."
"Does that mean we get a break to feel the love too?" Jimmy asked hopefully.
"You get to feel the love of your family, son," the woman smiled. "Being as I'm your mother, and this is how I spend my time and make my living to support you, you get to help me work."
"I figured you would say that," Jimmy pouted. "Well, come on, Logan, back to earning our college tuition."
"Logan, tomorrow, you go to Levin's and tell them I sent you," Zeyde said as he turned to walk away. "And remind the Store Manager to tell you about our Employee Scholarship Program for college."
"Yeah, but who do I say sent me?" Logan whispered after Zeyde was gone.
"Oh, you just tell them that Mr. Levin and his grandson both recommended you for the job," Davey grinned as he followed his grandparents down the hall and out onto the porch.
"Mr. Levin? Like THE Mr. Levin?" Logan gasped.
"That would be him," I confirmed with a smile. "But don't call him that to his face. He says his father was Mr. Levin."
"Wow… just wow," Logan mumbled as he stepped into the room and started work with his boyfriend.