The gunman carried Zora to the barn and threw her onto the ground beside Melvin, Annie Mae, Pet and the others. Both of the boys struggled against the ropes that tied them down, but it was no use. They couldn't get free. Their captor just smiled at their useless efforts.
"Now you will all get to burn forever together," he snarled as he lit a torch and threw it into the hayloft, and then repeated the process in a couple of more places around the barn. "Give my regards to my dearly departed uncle when you get to hell, you godless perverts," he added as he walked out of the already blazing inferno with yet another lit torch. Dixon, Huey, and Mamee could only watch as he strode purposefully toward the house, knowing that Jessie would probably never have a chance.
They didn't count on one thing, however. When the Whatley house had been built, doors were made of solid material, very solid material. Jessie had finished reading the letter from Mamee's father and glanced out the window when he sniffed smoke in the air. He saw flames shooting out of the top of the barn.
"HEY!! The barn's on fire," he yelled as he ran down the stairs of the house. He barreled through the door to the kitchen just as the gunman, or at the moment torchman was coming the other way. Jessie never noticed the two thuds as he ran out the back door, first the heavy oak swinging door hitting the man in the head, and second that same man sinking unconscious to the floor.
When Jessie reached the barn, he saw the family tied up and helpless on the ground. He rushed to Dixon and tried to untie him, but couldn't manage it. He looked around quickly and found an old scythe hanging on the wall. He grabbed it and cautioned his boyfriend to stay very still. In one swipe the ropes fell away. He moved on to Mamee as Dixon grabbed another implement from the wall and cut away the ropes on Huey. Jessie helped the old woman out of the barn and immediately ran back in. Between the three boys, they managed to drag the others out, but not without everyone getting a little singed from burning embers landing on their skin and clothes.
Once they were all outside, they heard a scream from the house and looked up to see their attacker running out of the house. His body was engulfed in flames. The torch he had been carrying had obviously ignited his clothes. That didn't seem to stop him from trying to hurt the family still. He rushed at them still screaming.
Jessie, who was closest to the oncoming nightmare of burning flesh, ran at him and did a flying kick like he had learned from watching old kung fu movies. The would-be killer was thrown off balance and staggered backwards into the open door of the outhouse. The whole family was shocked by what happened next. Apparently all those years of not having proper ventilation had built up some powerful gases in the well of the outhouse. As the man fell backwards into it, those gases exploded with great force.
Dixon, Jessie and the family were once again rained down upon by burning matter, only this time it was even less desirable than the embers of the barn. There was the definite aroma of an outhouse in what was landing on them, along with the various parts of their attacker's body. The three boys didn't take time to think about that, however. They ran to the house. The kitchen was burning pretty badly at this point, but the flames hadn't spread to the rest of the house yet. Melvin and Zora were awake again by this time and rushed to help the boys. Melvin manned the old water pump in the yard as the younger generation ran buckets into the house. They had been doing this for a few minutes but were about to give up and let the house burn when they heard the sirens in the distance.
The volunteer fire department had responded to the smoke from the burning barn. The exhausted family quickly surrendered the job to the men and woman trained for it. With the tank of water they brought, the fire department soon had the blaze out. The barn was a complete loss as they had concentrated on the house, but no one cared about that. They were all too busy hugging one another and being glad that they were still alive, and they were all alive. The gunman had only knocked them out, even Pet, whom he had used ether to incapacitate.
They were treated by the paramedics for their burns, none of which were serious, but Melvin did get taken to the hospital to have his broken ankle set. Pet and Zora were taken as well so that the doctors could check them out for any lasting effects of their ordeal. Annie Mae refused to go and said she was just fine. Of course, Pet said the only reason she was going was so that she could make sure Melvin behaved himself and didn't flirt with any young nurses. He fussed at her for even thinking that he would look at another woman after coming so close to losing the most beautiful woman in the world. Pet was still crying and hugging him as the ambulance drove them away.
While they were gone, Jessie remembered the letter and the android frame he had found upstairs. He told Mamee about it and as soon as they were allowed to go in, he led them all up to Josiah's room. Mamee walked in and gasped as she saw the android's remains lying on the bed.
"Doug," she whispered. She crossed to the bed and reached out hesitantly to touch the robotic hand lying disconnected next to the arm that had once hugged her. She sat in a nearby chair as she read the letter from her father. When she finished she was weeping openly. "Doug can you ever forgive me?" she sobbed. "I should have broken that door open years ago. My father's been dead for over forty years. Why did I never open that door?"
"You weren't ready to," Huey whispered to her. "There's still a chance that he will forgive you."
"How can he?" the old woman sniffled. "He's gone."
"Don't you remember Danny from the hospital in Charleston?" Huey reminded her. "He was in this bad of shape or worse when Marc found him. He was able to be brought back. Maybe Doug can be as well."
"Why on earth would we want to bring that evil monster back?" Annie Mae hissed from the doorway. "We've had enough dealing with them murdering robots. Leave him be, I say. He should have burned up in that barn." She turned and stalked away angrily leaving the boys and Mamee speechless for a moment.
"Mamee, if you don't think we should bring him back…" Dixon began softly.
"Never you mind Annie Mae, boys," Mamee said determinedly. "I say as soon as we can we call little Doctor Marc and ask him about it. If we could bring Doug back, it would be nice to have someone besides that grouchy old woman with whom I can remember the good old days. Can you boys take him down and put him in the car. I hate the idea of putting a friend in the trunk, but I don't think it would be a very pleasant trip home if we don't."
"Yes ma'am," they all three agreed, partly because of Annie Mae, but also because in his present condition, Doug was just a little creepy. As they went downstairs, they saw a police car pulling up to the front of the house. When they got outside they discovered that the officer was bringing Melvin, Pet and Zora back from the hospital. He also wanted statements from them all.
"Why would this young man want to attack your family, Mrs. Wiggins?" the young deputy asked.
"My great grandson and his friend here are connected to Clan Short," Mamee answered. "He was acting under the direct orders of that terrible so-called church that has declared war on the clan."
The deputy looked at the boys as he grabbed his radio mic. "Sheriff, I got some of them Clan Short people out here that we're supposed to be watching for. They been attacked by a member of that psycho religious group just like over in Charleston."
"That sounds pretty serious, Layton, but it don't tell me where here is," the family heard a man's voice answer.
"Sorry Sheriff, I'm out at the Old Whatley place," Deputy Layton Miers reported.
"Now what in the world would them clan people be doing out on the old Whatley farm?" the sheriff asked.
"Well, they own the place, sheriff, I reckon they got a right to be on it," Layton answered somewhat sarcastically.
"When did they buy that place and why would they want a farm?" the sheriff returned. "And watch your tone, boy. Besides being the sheriff and therefore your boss, I'm also still your uncle. Show some respect."
"May I speak with the sheriff?" Mamee asked gently as she reached for the mic. The deputy shrugged and told the sheriff that the owner wanted to talk to him.
"Rayford Alexander Miers," Mamee said sternly into the mic. "Stop interfering with this young man trying to do his job correctly."
"Mrs. Wiggins, is that you?" The sheriff's voice sounded for all the world exactly like what he was at that moment; a schoolboy being scolded by his teacher.
"Yes, Rayford, this is Mrs. Wiggins," Mamee confirmed. "I am pleased to know that you still remember me."
"Nobody could ever forget you, Mrs. Wiggins," the man said, still sounding very nervous.
"No one, Rayford, the correct usage, please."
"Yes ma'am, sorry ma'am," the sheriff apologized. "I had no idea you were still….what I mean to say is I didn't realize that you…."
"Hadn't died?" Mamee finished for him.
"Yes'm…. I mean no ma'am," the sheriff stammered. Dixon, Jessie and Huey were all starting to giggle by this point. "I didn't know you were back in the area."
"I wanted to show my great grandson the family farm as well as insulate him against the attacks going on around the country involving his friends in Clan Short. In that respect I failed terribly, but he and his friend showed me that I was wrong to try to protect them. They are not as helpless as I am."
"I'm sure I can't imagine you ever being helpless, Mrs. Wiggins," the sheriff told her. "Mrs. Wiggins, with your permission, I would like to drive out your way and help provide further security to your family while you're here."
"That would be acceptable, Rayford," Mamee replied. "Could you perhaps bring something for us to eat? I'm afraid our kitchen was rendered unusable by the fire."
"Is that where the fire was?" the sheriff gasped. "I'll be out there as quickly as I can, Mrs. Wiggins."
"Thank you, Rayford," Mamee told the man. "I look forward to seeing how you've grown since you were in my class."
"Well, I have done that," the sheriff laughed. "Fourth grade was quite some time ago."
"I'll say it was," Deputy Layton laughed as he mimicked the sheriff's pot belly, making Dixon, Huey and Jesse laugh again.
"That is unkind, young man," Mamee told him with THE LOOK.
"Yes ma'am, sorry ma'am," the young deputy apologized just as his uncle had earlier.
"Boys, help Melvin, Pet and Zora into the house so they can rest," Mamee directed. "Deputy, I assume you will want to see the remains of the barn and the facility."
"The facility?" the young man questioned.
"I think she means the outhouse," Dixon explained as he walked over to Zora. Jessie was helping Melvin up the steps and Huey was insistently holding his mother's arm as she walked toward the house.
"Huey, I told you before I left for that hospital, I'm just fine," Pet was saying.
"Momma, please," Huey implored as he looked into her face.
"Well, I suppose it is rather helpful to have my strong brave son holding my arm," Pet replied softly as she stroked her son's cheek. "My son, the hero."
"I'm not the hero, Jessie is," Huey corrected.
"True enough, he saved all of us more than once today, but it wasn't him that ran into a burning barn to pull me out," Pet pointed out. "He was dragging your sister. You rescued me from them flames, son. If you weren't brave and strong, just like him and Dixon, you would have stayed out in the yard with your grandmomma. Speaking of Momma, where did she go off to, I wonder?"
"I believe I know," Mamee answered quietly. "I'll go get her."
Zora waved off any help getting into the house so that left Dixon able to show the deputy around behind the house to where the events of the day had occurred. The deputy took a number of pictures of the smoldering remains of the barn and the gaping chasm that had been the outhouse. When he was done he and Dixon turned to go back toward the house.
"Dixon, your great grandmother said that you were involved in Clan Short," Layton said quietly.
"Yes sir," Dixon replied. "They rescued me from the hospital after my… the woman who kidnapped me as a baby attacked me and Jessie."
"Oh, I was just wondering…" Layton stammered. Dixon couldn't imagine what would make the deputy so nervous about talking to a kid. "I mean it's just that them church people said they were attacking the clan because of… well… I mean they said…They seemed to make out that a lot of the boys in the clan were…. Oh never mind. Just forget I said anything, ok?" The man started to hurry into the house, but Dixon stopped him by grabbing his arm and pulling him back onto the porch.
"You were wondering if it's true that a lot of the guys in the Clan are gay, weren't you?" Dixon asked the man.
"Yeah," the deputy answered while staring at the ground. "Don't let anyone know I asked that, though, especially the sheriff."
"Does he not like gays?" Dixon asked fearfully.
"I don't know how he feels about them," Layton answered honestly. "That's why I can't let him know…." His voice trailed away as he studied the floor of the porch even more intently.
"Deputy Miers, are you gay?" Dixon asked softly.
"Yeah," the man choked out. "I never wanted to be. I swear I tried to like girls, I really did."
"I'll bet you even went out with some to prove to yourself that you weren't gay, didn't you?" Dixon responded as he pulled the deputy to a seat on the steps.
"How did you know?" the man asked in surprise.
"I did the same thing," Dixon answered with a smile. "Her name is Priscilla, and she's the first girl that ever kissed me. That's how we figured out that I was gay."
"Maybe she just wasn't the right girl," Layton countered.
"It was gross," Dixon shuddered. "It was like kissing a sister or something. When I kissed Jessie, though…." The boy's voice faded into a sigh this time.
"That good, huh?" Layton teased.
"Way better than anything I had ever imagined," Dixon told him. "I knew when we kissed that I had found what I needed, even if I hadn't really known that I was looking for it yet."
"Well, I'm old enough to know that I'm looking for it, but I won't find it around here," Layton complained. "Everybody in this town knows everybody else, and there's no way to keep a secret like that. I'll just have to accept that I'm going to be a lonely old man."
"Now what in tarnation makes you say a thing like that, Layton?" The deputy and Dixon both looked up in surprise to see the sheriff standing in front of them with a woman. They were both holding boxes that had steam coming out of them. "Stand up and help me and your Aunt Sherri get these dishes in the house. The word spread and half the county wanted to fix food for Mrs. Wiggins."
"Who might you be, little one?" Sherri asked Dixon.
"I'm Dixon Wiggins."
"You must be that great grandson, I heard about," the sheriff said. "It's a pleasure to meet you, young'un." Dixon was starting to get a little irritated at being referred to by such demeaning terms, but he directed the couple into the house anyway.
"Now what were you saying you were looking for, Layton dear?" Sherri asked.
"Nothing, Aunt Sherri, nothing important," the deputy said as he nodded at Dixon and headed for the vehicles to retrieve more food.
Mamee found Annie Mae exactly where she expected. She walked quietly up behind her dearest friend as the woman stood over the grave her long dead twin sister. Mamee reached out and put an arm around the woman she regarded as a sister. When Annie Mae spoke, it was as if she knew what Mamee was thinking and feeling.
"We've been sisters in everything except blood since the day I was born, Amee," she whispered. "But there has never been nothing between us like there was with me and Bonnie. We was two halves of the same whole. When she died, part of me went with her."
"I know that, Annie," Mamee soothed. "I used to be fascinated by the fact that you two could seem to talk to one another without ever saying a word. It was like you could tell what the other one was thinking just by looking at each other."
"We could most of the time," Annie confessed. "That's why it was so hard to lose her. That's why I can't forgive Doug, and I never will. I will never be able to trust one of them machines again." She jerked away from Mamee and walked back toward the house in silence. Mamee followed her, shaking her head sadly.
When they got to the house, they found the sheriff and his wife unloading food from a truck in the driveway. Mamee walked up to the sheriff and stood there looking at him, searching his face for the boy she had once taught. When he looked up and saw her, she caught a glimpse of that child when he rigidly stood at attention and greeted her.
"Mrs. Wiggins, it is a pleasure to see you again," he said formally.
"Relax, Rayford, we are long past the student teacher relationship," Mamee smiled softly. "It is rewarding to see that you have not only done well for yourself, but that you have chosen a life of helping others."
"Yes ma'am," the man said as he did visibly relax a tiny bit. "I don't suppose you thought I would become a police officer when you were teaching me." He turned to look at his wife as he added, "I was a pretty self-centered snot when I was a young'un. Mrs. Wiggins taught me to think about the fact that others might not have the advantages I did."
"I knew there was a wonderful, giving person inside you, Rayford," Mamee told him.
"I should thank you, then," the man's wife said. "That was the year that Ray bought me a coat because my folks couldn't afford one for me. We became friends after that, and eventually grew to feel more than friendship. You are responsible for a lifetime of love and friendship that I might never have experienced otherwise."
"I'm very pleased to have had a part in your happiness, but I must apologize that I can't quite place your face," Mamee told the woman.
"Oh, I wasn't in your class," she smiled. "I lived just over the line and went to school over in Summerville."
Just then Deputy Miers walked up to the sheriff and his wife. Dixon was with him, and both man and boy looked somewhat nervous, but determined. Dixon remained quiet as the deputy asked to speak with his aunt and uncle.
"Since my own parents died, you two have been my stand-in parents, and I'm very grateful to you both for everything you've done for me since I came to live with you in high school."
"Why do I find myself expecting to hear a 'but' in this conversation?" the sheriff asked.
"No sir, nothing like that," Layton told him. "I just have a confession that I need to make."
"Layton, you know you can tell us anything," Mrs. Miers told him.
"Son, nothing will ever make us feel any different about you," Ray told his late brother's only child.
"Don't say that until you hear what I have to say," Layton warned them. "Uncle Ray, Aunt Sherri, I'm gay."
"So?" Sherri told him.
"Your point is?" Ray added.
"What?" Layton sputtered.
"Don't you think the family knew about that years ago?" Sherri asked him. "Your parents suspected that before they were killed in that car wreck, and they discussed it with us as soon as they began to think that you might be that way."
"You knew? All this time I have been scared to say anything, and you knew all along," Layton mumbled.
"Well, there's no reason to be upset about it," Ray laughed at his nephew. "I would think after spending this much time in the closet, you'd be glad to get this reaction."
"That is the right term isn't it, Layton, in the closet?" Sherri asked.
"Yes ma'am that's the right phrase," Dixon answered for the deputy, who seemed to be incapable of speech at that moment.
"Layton, I feel like I should apologize to you now," Ray said seriously. "For me and for my brother. Between the two of us, we managed to fail to give you the home life you needed to feel safe and secure enough to talk to us about this until now. I always took it for granted that you knew how I felt about you, but I should have said it more often and more clearly. I love you, Layton, for everything about who you are. You are a man that I am proud to have a nephew, proud to have as a son, and proud to have as a deputy."
Layton fell into the arms of the man in front of him. As they embraced, Sherri wiped her eyes, as did Mamee. Mamee took Dixon by the arm and led him back into the house to give the family some private time. When they got inside, she sat in one of the chairs in the living room and pulled the boy into her lap.
"I think you had something to do with him choosing to say something to them now, didn't you?" she questioned the boy.
"I just talked to him, that's all, Mamee," Dixon replied. "I told him how I felt keeping everything bottled up inside me for a while until everything came out on its own. I told him what happened to me and Jessie that day. I guess maybe he decided that it's better to come out to your family on your terms instead of someone else's."
"He decided that all on his own, did he?" Mamee asked the boy with a warm and mischievous grin. "I think my little D might have helped more than he thinks or wants to admit, and I'm very proud of you for doing it. You helped that family face something that they needed to air out. They will be closer now, and you had a lot to do with that."
"I didn't do anything but talk to him a little bit and listen to him a little more," Dixon blushed.
"Sometimes that's all it takes to make a really big difference, Dixon," Mamee replied as she hugged him tightly. As she did, they both heard his stomach growl. They both giggled a little as she shoved him off her lap. "Well, I see where I rank. Let's feed that monster before it breaks out and eats us all."
"Mamee," the boy complained with a red-faced smile of his own.
The Miers' joined them inside after a few minutes. It was clear that their private time had been rather emotional. All three of them had tear tracks on their faces.
"Which one of you boys is Dixon?" the sheriff asked as he walked into the room.
"I am," Dixon replied, quickly swallowing the mouthful of pot roast he had just engulfed. He stood up nervously and walked up to the sheriff. He couldn't help his eyes bulging a bit as he looked at the huge gun on the man's hip.
"I want to thank you for whatever you said to this lunkhead nephew of mine to finally convince him to talk to us," the man said as he knelt in front of Dixon. "I was beginning to think that he would never get up the guts to tell us how he felt."
"I didn't do that much," Dixon denied with a blush. "I just talked a little about me, and then listened to him talk about himself."
"Well, I've been trying that for ten years now, but you managed to get it to work," Ray smiled. He held out his hand to Dixon. "Thank you sir, for giving me a new relationship with the only boy I have ever called son, even if he is my nephew."
"You're welcome," Dixon blushed again as he shook the man's hand.
"I won't settle for a handshake," Sherri announced as she grabbed Dixon and planted a great big kiss on his cheek.
"Now Sherri, let the boy alone," Ray scolded with a wink. "If he blushes much more, his face will set the house on fire all over again." The whole group laughed as Dixon rushed back to his seat and started eating again. "Now where is Jessie?" the sheriff asked as he stood up. Jessie quickly gulped down a sip of tea and then went to stand in front of the sheriff. "I hear you are quite the hero today, young man."
"I just did what had to be done," Jessie mumbled. "I wasn't a hero. I was scared to death the whole time."
"Don't ever think that you don't feel fear if you're a hero," the sheriff told him. "That's what makes people heroes, young'un. They're scared, but they still do what they've got to do, even if it means that they might get hurt in the process."
"But I didn't know anybody was in the barn when I looked out the window and saw it burning," Jessie told them all. "I didn't find out about that until I got out there."
"Why did you go out there, though?" Melvin asked. "Was you just going out to watch it burn, or was you going to try to do something about it?"
"Well, I was going to do something, I guess, but I thought you guys would be out there helping me and telling me what to do."
"We was out there all right," Pet pointed out. "We'd a been out for good if you hadn't come to save us."
"You came into that burning building like an angel sweeping in at the last moment," Mamee observed.
"I was sitting there thinking that I would never see you again," Dixon said quietly. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes. "Then I thought about the fact that it was all my fault again. All of the people that I cared about were about to die because of me. It was just like when my mom attacked us at your house in Arkansas."
"This wasn't your fault, Dixie, and neither was what happened to us then," Jessie told him quickly. "If I hadn't made moves on you, you wouldn't have gotten in trouble, and neither would the rest of the family. I should move to a deserted island or something. Everybody I love winds up getting killed because of me. I got my parents killed and now this the second time someone has tried to kill Dixon, and it's all my fault." Jessie suddenly ran out of the room and down the steps of the porch. Without waiting, Dixon took off after him.
"I'll keep an eye on them," Layton announced as he too ran out the door.
"Sherri and I talked it over on the way out here and we decided that it just ain't… I mean it isn't right for you folks to stay in this old place tonight, especially after that fire today," Ray told the rest of the family. "When the boys get back, we'll be escorting you all back into town where you all have rooms at the Dorchester Inn. That way you are safer from any further attention from anyone that might still mean you harm, but you will also have modern conveniences as well. That last note being added just on the basis of the fact that you don't even have an outhouse here anymore," the man said with a smile.
Outside, Dixon caught up with Jessie and grabbed him by the arm, stopping him from running. Jessie struggled at first trying to get free so that he could go on, but Dixon held firm without saying a word. He finally simply whispered the words "I love you, Jessie." Jessie sobbed and fell into his boyfriend's arms. They were in that position when Layton caught up with them.
"Boys, you both need to know that neither of you are responsible for what happened in Arkansas or here today," the deputy told them. "Your being gay didn't make them hate you. Your being in love didn't make them attack you. They hated you for their own reasons, and hurt you for those same reasons. Those reasons aren't anything to do with you two. We may never know what caused them to feel the way they did, or to do what they did. What I do know is that you two have something wonderful in each other and you're both fortunate enough to have realized it. Don't let someone else's stupidity and hatred destroy what you have. I have to be honest, I'm jealous as hell of you two. I have waited since I was your age to find what you have now, and I still don't have it. Don't waste love when you have found it so soon, with so much life ahead of you."
"You make it sound like you're old," Jessie snickered a little. "You'll find someone. If my rotten brother found a boy to love him and his smelly feet and his snoring, you should have no trouble."
"I'm going to tell him you said that," Dixon laughed.
"Do you really think we'll ever get to see them again?" Jessie asked seriously.
"Mamee promised us that we would," Dixon replied confidently.
"From what I've heard of Mrs. Wiggins, if she says it, you can bank on it," Layton added. "Now why don't we get back to her, so we can get you boys into town? The sheriff called and got rooms for you all at the Dorchester Inn for tonight so you won't have to stay out here."
"You mean we get a real bathroom?" Dixon asked excitedly.
"Do we get our own room, or are we sharing with the grownups?" Jessie asked.
"All of the couples have a private room, and Mrs. Wiggins and Mrs. Parker are sharing a room, as are Huey and his sister," Layton explained.
"Poor Huey," Dixon giggled.
"EEUCH!" Jessie shuddered.
"Girls aren't that bad," Layton laughed.
"Are you sure you're gay?" Jessie asked him. The three of them were laughing when they got back to the house. Jessie pulled Dixon back just as they got to the porch, though. "Hey it just hit me," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. "He said we get our own hotel room." He accentuated his words with a wink.
Dixon ran into the house and yelled, "Let's get this show on the road, people! I'm really tired and want a bath and a bed."
"Oh please," Huey sighed dramatically. "You just want the bed."
"You're just jealous because you're sharing a room with your sister," Dixon retorted as he stuck his tongue out at Huey.
"I'm what?" Huey cried out. "No, no, no. I am not sleeping in a hotel room with Creepella DeVille."
"What did you just call me, you little twerp?" Zora exclaimed as she charged at him. Huey yelled out and ran outside calling for his mother.
Once they got to the hotel, Dixon and Jessie hugged everyone in the family before they all went to their rooms. Huey and Zora were still complaining about having to share a room with each other. Huey had begged all the way to the hotel to share the room with Dixon and Jessie, but both boys knew they wanted privacy tonight. They had almost lost each other again today and needed some quality alone time to process their feelings.
When they got into the room, Dixon and Jessie saw that rather than the two double beds they were expecting, there was one enormous king sized bed in the middle of the room and an extra large bathtub in the corner of the room. They both wondered about the reason behind putting the bathtub in the front room, especially after they went to the bathroom and saw another regular tub in there. Jessie said not to worry about it, that there would probably be some reason for it. Dixon looked at it for several minutes and a smile began to spread across his face.
"Let's use it tonight instead of taking a shower," he blurted.
"Why would you want to take a bath like a little kid?" Jessie asked him.
"Because we could take a bath together in a tub that big," Dixon pointed out.
"I hadn't thought of that," Jessie admitted. "That sounds like it could be fun," he added with a grin that matched his boyfriend's. Dixon turned the water on as Jessie started to strip down, and as he stood up, felt his own clothes being removed.
"I can take my own clothes off, you know," Dixon protested unconvincingly.
"I know," Jessie told him. "You weren't doing it though. I don't mind helping."
"I don't mind either," Dixon purred.
Jessie got into the big tub first. Dixon climbed in and rather than sit at the opposite side, slid in between his lover's legs with his back against Jessie's chest. Both boys sighed contentedly.
"I thought I was going to lose you again today," Jessie said quietly as they relaxed in their embrace. "I couldn't live without you, Dixie. I wouldn't want to. I love my brother, but if he and I never get to see each other again, I could go on, as long as I never lose you."
"I feel the same way," Dixon purred. He rolled over so that his chest was rubbing Jesse's stomach. He looked up into the loving eyes of his beautiful boyfriend as a tear rolled down his cheek. "You risked your life to save me today. You really are my hero, again."
"I didn't do so good the first time," Jessie said sadly. Dixon reached up and ran his hand down the other boy's cheek.
"I'm not complaining," Dixon told him. "It's like they said about the Clan. Sometimes bad things have to happen so that good things can. If we hadn't been hurt by my mom, we wouldn't have been rescued by the clan. We would never have found Mamee and the rest of the family."
"We wouldn't have been attacked again today," Jessie pointed out.
"You wouldn't have had the chance to charge in like my knight in shining armor, and rescue me, and carry me off to a bathtub built for two," Dixon smiled seductively as he began to move in the water. His boyfriend gasped and put his arms out along the sides of the giant tub. Suddenly the water around them began churning as the Jacuzzi jets kicked on. Dixon and Jessie both jumped in surprise and then began to laugh.
"It's a hot tub," Jessie announced with a giggle.
"We should have known," Dixon returned. "I'd never seen one before, though, had you?"
"Not in a bedroom, but the swim team at the college had a bigger one that they used in the physical therapy room after some of their meets."
"You saw those college boys in the locker room?" Dixon asked him. "You were in there when they were… changing... and naked?"
"Yeah," Jessie said matter of factly.
"You saw college guys without any clothes on?" Dixon asked again.
"Well, yeah," Jessie repeated. "So?"
"You didn't take me into the locker room when we went to that meet," Dixon pouted. "Does that mean you get to look but I don't?"
"No that means that neither one of us looks anymore," Jessie told him. "I didn't want any of those college guys. I wanted you." He leaned forward and kissed Dixon on the nose. "I still want you." Another kiss. "I only want you." One more kiss, this time on the lips. "Forever and Always." That time Dixon kissed him.
"I like the sound of that," Dixon grinned.
The next morning Dixon woke up rather early with an urgent need to go to the bathroom. He eased out of bed as quickly as he could without waking Jessie and then ran into the other room. When he came out, he stopped dead still as he looked at the bed. Jessie was lying on the bed, on his back, and had kicked the covers off the bed entirely. His body was totally exposed and it was apparent he was having a really good dream.
"Mmmm…Dixie," he moaned in his sleep. His arm moved to the other side of the bed and when he didn't find his lover, his eyes popped open. He sat up quickly and looked around, but smiled when he saw Dixon in the doorway to the bathroom. "Wow!" he gasped as he looked down at his boyfriend's naked body.
Dixon followed his lover's gaze down his own body and he too gasped in surprise. "Frankenweenie is alive!" he exclaimed. He stuck his arms out stiffly in front of himself and did his best impersonation of a monster walk toward the bed with his brand new working appendage leading the way.
The rest of the family had finished breakfast and was discussing who should go and knock on their door to hurry them up when Dixon and Jessie finally walked into the dining room of the hotel. The loving family naturally picked on them for their tardiness, but it was Huey that noticed something different about the young couple.
"I don't know what it is, but there's been some kind of change," he observed aloud as he stared pointedly at the two boys. Both blushed profusely, but Dixon's face was practically radioactive. "You're online, aren't you?" Huey exclaimed suddenly. The face grew even redder and worse still when Jesse responded.
"He sure is," the boy grinned from ear to ear despite his embarrassment. "Everything works just fine now."
"Jessie!" Dixon whispered.
"That is such wonderful news boys," Mamee told them. "We're all very happy for you."
"We best disconnect that intercom all together when we get home," Melvin said with a wink.
"We'll be lucky to sleep even without it knowing those two," Annie Mae teased.
"Now, you two leave them boys be," Pet scolded. "They's no different than any other couple in love, except for being young enough to keep going all night. Oh lordy, we really won't get any sleep will we?"
"We're going to go wait in the car," Jessie announced as he dragged his equally redfaced companion out the door to the laughs of their family.
"You guys are mean," Dixon called out as the door shut behind them.
"You don't suppose we did go a little too far?" Melvin asked.
"They'll live through it," Zora said still snickering.
"They didn't go to the car anyway," Huey announced as he looked out the window. "They're headed back to their room."
"Oh good gracious," Annie Mae said as she rolled her eyes. "We'll never get home if they get started again."
"As much as I would like to let them have their well deserved fun," Mamee agreed. "I think you had better go catch them, Huey. We do have a lot to do today before we head back home. I want to see about getting a crew out to start reconstruction and remodeling of the farm."
"It's high time you done something with that old place," Annie Mae told her. "Now are you finally going to put modern plumbing in the house?"
"Yes, it is time that the Whatley farm was made livable again," Mamee said firmly. "There is a lot of work to be done on it to get it there, though."
Huey was somewhat disappointed to find that Jessie and Dixon were cleaning their room when he got there. He had hoped to catch them in some compromising situation, not for the voyeur possibilities, but more for the fact that it would provide more ammunition to tease them with later. He did give them a familiar lecture that they had already heard several times from his mother.
"You guys don't have to do all the cleaning up for yourselves anymore," the teen told them. "You have to get used to the idea that there are people that get paid to do some of this stuff for you."
"We're not doing everything," Jessie told him. "We just wanted to rinse out the Jacuzzi and take the sheets off the bed."
"You had a Jacuzzi?" Huey pouted. "I had to share a room with Creepella Deville and her fumigation feet and you get a Jacuzzi suite. Life is so not fair."
When the three of them rejoined the family, it was Huey that was getting teased about having to share space with his sister. This got the family started on him, except for Zora who glared at the two younger boys. They gulped and sat down quickly assuming their innocent faces as if that would save them. It wouldn't have if it hadn't been for the fact that Deputy Layton walked in at that moment.
"Good morning everyone," he greeted cheerfully. "I trust everyone slept peacefully last night."
"Everyone except those two," Zora answered, pointing at Jessie and Dixon. "They were too busy putting the rabbits to shame." That started the blushing and teasing all over again.
"The sheriff and I talked things over last night at some length while we were on guard duty outside the hotel here," Layton announced when the conversation finally turned serious again. "We think it best that your family have someone with experience at high speed pursuit and defensive tactics to go back home with you at least until this situation with the FCC has been resolved completely."
"Deputy Miers, that is very kind of both you and Rayford," Mamee began. "But won't that take you away from your duties here? It could be some time before this so called church is brought to justice for these heinous attacks."
"Well, ma'am, to be totally honest, it won't take me away from that much," Layton informed them. "You see, the other thing that happened last night is that I resigned from the sheriff's department. I can't be who I really am in this town. I'm ready to move on with my life and find out what else there is out there for a guy like me."
"I think you'll find that your life is what you make of it, young man," Mamee told him. "However, I do agree that I would feel much safer with you around for a while. Besides, I've been telling Melvin for a couple of years now that he shouldn't have to drive all the time. With his broken ankle, he finally has to listen. I welcome you into my family, Layton."
"I can help you find the gay bars in town," Huey told the man.
"And just what do you know about any bars, gay or otherwise, Langston Hughes Washington?" Pet demanded.
"Busted!" Jessie giggled.
"The Internet, Mom, I swear," Huey sputtered. "I've just been to their websites, that's all."
"That better be all," Melvin warned the teen. "I catch you hanging around them places in person and your little butt gonna be too sore to do anything with some man, you hear me, son?"
"Yes sir," Huey squeaked.
"You do know you're too young even to go to some of those websites?" Layton asked.
"Just what I need, a live in policeman," Huey mumbled.
"Apparently it is what you need," Annie Mae scolded. "You got no business going to grownup places like that even if it's just on that computer of yours. You need to spend more time out in that yard working off some of that energy."
"You know, you could act as an undercover agent on the Internet," Layton mused aloud. "You would make great bait to catch some of the predators that are stalking kids online."
"That sounds dangerous," Mamee observed.
"Not at all," Layton told them. "He would strictly interact over the Internet. He could set up a rendezvous and police would be waiting to catch the bad guys. There would never be any direct threat to him at all."
"I could do that," Huey agreed.
"We'll think about it," Pet said pointedly. "I think we've got enough to do today with cleaning the farmhouse up, especially after the fire."
"Yes, you have a point," Layton agreed. "Would you like to go back out there now?"
"The sooner we get there, the longer we have to work on it," Annie Mae said firmly.
"That's what I was afraid of," Zora moaned. The three boys all agreed with her, but everyone loaded up and returned to the farmhouse anyway.
Once they got there, the menfolk were put to work ripping out the burned cabinets and wall panels in the kitchen. The women went through the rest of the house, cleaning the accumulated cobwebs and dust. Sherri Miers once again showed up with food for a late lunch for them. The family was just about to get back to work when a little boy with long darkish blonde hair suddenly appeared in the middle of the living room.
"Hi everybody," he said cheerfully. "I'm Levi and I'm here because you are all invited to Clan Headquarters for a meeting."
"How did you get here?" Layton asked the boy.
"Mikyvys transport," Levi answered simply. "The same way I will take you guys back to Orlando."
"I didn't hear a ship land," Zora said as she looked out the closest window.
"I don't need a ship," Levi giggled. "Are you guys ready to go?"
"You mean right now?" Dixon asked.
"Of course now," Levi said. "The meeting will start in just a few minutes. The good seats are going fast, so you'd better hurry."
"I'm not going anywhere," Annie Mae insisted. "I don't want anything to do with them robot loving crazy kids." She turned and walked up the stairs and everyone heard a door slam shut.
"She didn't really mean that the way it sounded," Mamee apologized.
"Yes she did, but she doesn't really feel that way," Levi answered. "She's still mad about something that happened a long time ago. When she finds the answers she needs to hear, she'll be fine again. Does anyone else want to stay here?"
"Me and Melvin will stay here and keep working," Pet announced. "His ankle probably ain't up to a trip that long anyway."
"Oh it wouldn't be a long trip, but his ankle is no problem," Levi answered. He closed his eyes for a second and when he opened them, he looked directly at Melvin.
"It don't hurt," Melvin said in wonder. He stood up and jumped around the room on his foot. "It ain't broke after all. I told you I didn't need to go see them fool doctors. Lot they knew."
"It was broken, in three places, not just the two that the doctors found," Levi corrected. "I fixed it for you. You can go now if you want to."
"I think I'll stay here with Pet and her momma," Melvin answered. "Thank you, little one."
"You're welcome," Levi grinned. "Everybody else ready to go? Good." Before they had time to blink, Mamee, Layton, Dixon, Jesse, Huey, and Zora found themselves in a large auditorium full of people of all ages.
"Mercy sakes," Mamee whispered. "I never knew there was this many folks in this Clan of yours, boys. We may need a bigger hall for that party we're going to throw when we have our family all together again. Something about twice this size should do."
"Mamee!" Dixon gasped. "Bigger than this is bigger than some of the towns I've lived in. I don't know enough people to fill up a room that big."
"Well, you know enough to fill this one up," Huey pointed out.
"I don't know all of these people," Dixon replied.
"You will soon," some unidentified boy said with a grin as he ran by.
"Mercy sakes," Mamee repeated.
"Ditto," Jessie mumbled as he looked around the room that was quickly filling up with people.
Donald sighed as he took his cell phone out of his pocket. There were several reasons he would prefer not to make this call. He didn't feel he should call in favors from his son's friends to begin with. He also didn't like the fact that he hadn't been able to make this case without help. That he didn't mind quite as much, because there were extenuating circumstances in that regard. This town just didn't want to admit that their police force was corrupt. They were even less inclined to openly confess that a gay guy might not be the monster pedophile they had been taught to believe he was. Finally and most importantly, he hated to bother the Clan when they had just been through so much.
He knew from his talks with his son, J.R. that the casualties to the Clan had been heavy yesterday. A lot of innocent folks, most of them children, had died horribly all because of the hatred some people had for people that were different from them. That pain would be hard to overcome for the adults involved, but it had to be even more difficult for these boys who had to perform like adults, yet were still children inside where that pain would also reside for a long time to come.
"Clan Short Headquarters, this is Tommy," a young voice said very formally. "How may we help you?"
"My name is Donald Leggette, I'm J.R.'s father," Donald replied.
"Well, hello your honor," the boy answered as his voice suddenly became much, much less formal. "Ya'll want me to run J.R. down and get him on the phone?"
"No, don't bother J.R. I'm sure he's busy," Donald told him. "I just need to make a formal request for assistance."
"Well that's a horse from another pasture altogether," Tommy said. "What sort of help are ya'll needing? No more attacks from that da… I mean that so-called church is it?"
"No, nothing like that, son," Donald sighed with relief, both for himself and the boy at the other end of this conversation; neither one of them seemed ready for any more of that sort of drama. "I have a court trial Tuesday morning for Jessie's big brother and his partner, Philip. I need to have a Vulcan trained telepath there if I have any chance of winning the case, much less cleaning up some of the corruption in this town."
"Ya'll hold the phone for just a couple of shakes of a cow's tail, Judge," Tommy responded. "HEY SETH!!!" the boy yelled. Donald moaned as he jerked the phone away from his ear, but he was smiling as he thought of the many times that J.R. had done the same thing when he had called home to talk to Margie. He quickly returned the phone when he heard a new voice on the line.
"Judge Leggette, I am Seth Metronome, lead coordinator, CIC," the slightly older sounding, but still young man introduced. "I have been contacted by Kyle and he assures me that someone will be there to handle the situation on Tuesday. Is there any other way that we can be of help in the meantime, your honor?"
"Well, now that you mention it, there is one other thing," Donald began.
"All you have to do is name it, Judge," Seth told him.
"That's it right there," Donald said quickly. "Names. Mine is Donald, or Uncle Don to everyone in the clan. No more of this your honor stuff unless I'm in the courtroom. Can you spread that word for me, Seth?" There was a good natured laugh at the other end.
"I think we can arrange that, Uncle Don."
"Good," Donald said with a smile. "By the way, feel free to find J.R. in a very public place and tell him that his Mommy and Daddy miss him very much and can't wait to get home to him."
"Are you sure you want that done in a public place, Uncle Don?" Seth questioned.
"Very public, and embellish as you see fit," Donald confirmed. "He deserves a little bit of a reminder that we had to call him to find out that he was alright."
"Gotcha, Uncle Don," Seth laughed. "One very public parental reminder to be delivered Clan style."
"Sounds great," Donald laughed as well. "He'll love it."
"I'm sure he will," Seth giggled. "I look forward to meeting you in person, Uncle Don."
"Count on it as soon as I am free here," Donald promised. "I think my son has found an excellent extended family to be part of, and I am just as happy as he is to be included as well."
"We are honored and fortunate to have you and your family as part of ours," Seth told him sincerely. "Goodbye for now, Uncle Don."