Posted December 4, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART TEN – Franklin

Chapter 4: Finding Family

“This isn’t in the block of rooms I set aside for my guests,” I noticed as we got off the elevator on the V.I.P. floor of the Holiday Inn.

“How do you think I was able to talk my parents – our parents – into staying at the Drury Plaza in St. Louis?” Franklin asked. “It’s not that they’re pretentious or anything. I don’t want you to think we’re snobs, ’cause we’re not. Both Mom and Dad give generously of their time and money, and Dad does a lot of pro bono work. I wasn’t kidding about using money left by my gran to buy my camera equipment, either. I’m not allowed to spend money from my savings without permission, and I really caught a lot of flak for the stunt I pulled in St. Louis.

“It’s not like we’re extravagant in other ways, but I guess our parents see flying first class and staying in luxury suites in nicer hotels as an affordable luxury. I think maybe it’s a reaction to staying in youth hostels and the like when they were young. They actually considered switching to a better hotel, but then they discovered what you probably already knew, that there isn’t much to choose from in Omaha. Plus, upgrading to a suite made it less likely they’d offend you. Besides which, I think they like to keep their space from me. I don’t want to even think about what for,” Franklin concluded with a laugh. “Come, it’s time for you to meet our parents, for real this time.”

Franklin used his keycard to let us into their suite, where James could be seen hunched over his laptop at a desk just off the living room. “Mom! Dad! J.J. and Henry are here,” he announced as we made our way inside.

Seeing us standing just inside the doorway, James immediately closed his laptop, stood and approached us as Mora entered the living room from elsewhere in the suite. “J.J., Henry, you boys didn’t need to come up here with Franklin,” Mora said. “I assumed you’d just drop him off. He’s old enough to find his way on his own.” We didn’t make any effort to move, and I actually started to get tears in my eyes. “Is something wrong?”

Rather than answer her, I burst into tears and flung myself at her, engulfing her in my arms as she reflexively did the same with me. Even through the tears, I could see the puzzled look on James’ face, so I got myself under control, held Mora at arm’s length and looked into her eyes for an extended moment. I slowly let go and pulled away.

“I… I just found out from Franklin. You’re my parents.” The looks on Mora’s and James’ faces changed suddenly to one of shock as they seemed to be having trouble understanding what was happening.

“It was actually Henry who said that Franklin and I look like brothers,” I continued. “He noticed that we have the exact same eyes – not similar, but identical, that our faces are similar, as is our hair, even though Franklin’s is darker. Even our mannerisms and gestures are similar. It was at that point that Franklin lost it and blurted out that we really were brothers. Ironically, I’d just found out a short while ago from Jeff Barlow that he’d located my birth parents, so everything fell into place quickly.”

“Barlow promised us he would tell you, but he said it might not be for years,” James said, but then he stared at his younger son, as if to bore holes straight through to the back of his skull.

“You planned all of this, didn’t you,” he admonished Franklin. “You went on a search for your brother, and you found him and arranged for us to meet in direct violation of the no-contact clause. You could’ve cost us millions of dollars we don’t really have.”

“But I didn’t sign the no-contact agreement, Dad. You and Mom did. How could I be held responsible for something I didn’t sign?”

“As your parents, we’re responsible for your actions. We effectively signed on your behalf, and we could still be held responsible.”

“Since the no-contact agreement was largely intended to protect me, I would never hold you responsible; actually, I’m thrilled that Franklin found me. I’m in awe about how he used Facebook, of all things, to track me down. I can hardly find fault with the way he arranged to ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’,” I added as I made quote marks in the air. “I have to give Franklin a lot of credit for his inventiveness in finding out about me and arranging a way for us to meet, even though it may have been ill-conceived. I love that he and Henry became close friends as a result of my situation. It’s wonderful that my brother and my boyfriend – my future husband – are already good friends. It’ll be great to have such a close relationship among the three of us. I already see Franklin as my younger brother, so I already feel like I love him —”

“Really?” Franklin exclaimed. “You actually love me?”

“Of course, I love you,” I replied. “I think I already loved you even before I knew you were my brother. Now that I know, I love you the way only brothers can love each other.”

“Oh, god, I feel the same way,” Franklin exclaimed as he flung himself at me, and we hugged each other tightly.

“You do realize that being the younger brother comes with the responsibility of preparing dinner for your older brother and his boyfriend, don’t you?” Henry quipped.

“I’d love to, but that might be a bit difficult during the school year, since HSMSE is a residential high school,” Franklin responded, “but I’m free on the weekends.”

“We’re pretty insistent that he spend his weekends with us unless he has a school function on the weekend,” James interjected, “and that arrangement should probably apply to you, too, in some way.” Then he looked at me more intently as tears came to his eyes. “I can’t believe that my son is standing right in front of me.”

As tears flooded my own eyes, our arms went around each other tightly as we hugged each other as if we were afraid that if we let go, the other might vanish. Eventually we did let go, and then it was Mora’s turn for us to hug.

“Now that I know you’re my son,” Mora sobbed, “I can see it in your eyes, which are just as I remember them and exactly the same as Franklin’s eyes. Your face and your gestures are indeed so similar, it’s surprising to me that we didn’t notice those things the moment we saw you, standing in line, let alone when you visited us in New York. I guess we’d just accepted that you were the brother of Franklin’s Facebook friend, that we refused to see what was right before our eyes. I’m in awe of what you’ve become in spite of what happened to you.”

“We have a lot to talk about,” James chimed in. “We have a lot to learn about each other. You’re not the two-year-old boy who was taken from us so long ago, but you’re our son, and we have legal, ethical and financial responsibilities to see to your welfare.”

Suddenly, it dawned on me that legally, the Walters could reassert their parental authority over me and possibly even force me to live with them, abiding by their rules. I’d been on my own for the past four years and during that time, had assumed complete responsibility for my own affairs. Now that I’d found them, I definitely wanted them to be a part of my life, but to go back to living as a child would be untenable, and it would mean that Henry and I would have to live apart, which wasn’t acceptable at all.

“If you’re suggesting that I live with you under your roof as your son and Franklin’s brother, I… I don’t think I can. I’ve been on my own too long, and I’ve been living the life of an adult, taking on adult responsibilities and fully supporting myself. I’d like to be a part of your lives and likewise, I’d like you guys to be a part of mine, but I have my own life and I can’t go back.”

Looking right into my eyes, James said, “At sixteen, you have the right to live independently, J.J., but unless you’re emancipated, CPS would still have the authority to ensure that you’re living situation is safe. Whether or not you live on your own as our son or as an emancipated minor is something we need to discuss, and that includes you too, Henry.”

“So what do we do now?” I asked. “There’s a lot to discuss, particularly regarding the fact that I’m not really J.J. Jeffries, but it’s who I’ve been for the past three years. The man I thought was my father told me my birthday was February 22, 2005, and I escaped after shooting him dead on what I thought was my thirteenth birthday when he tried to strangle me. Now, Franklin tells me my real name is David Benjamin Walters and I was born nine months later, on November 22, 2005, which means I was only twelve years old when I ran away, and I was still twelve years old when I forged a signature and sent for the birth certificate of a dead kid without a traceable family and with an active Social Security number. That’s how I became J.J. Jeffries.”

Shaking his head, James responded, “The more I learn about you, the more impressed I become.”

“You’ve been through a lot today,” Mora suggested. “Maybe we should do this another time.”

“I’m up for it if you guys are up for it,” I replied. “I’d really like to get this off my chest while I have the chance.”

“And I’d just as soon have something else to keep me occupied besides my father’s funeral,” Henry chimed in.

“J.J.… I’m going to continue to call you J.J. if you don’t mind,” James said. “The name David just doesn’t feel right after all these years. David was a little boy, and you’re already a man in every sense of the word. Let’s start with calling you J.J., and we’ll decide what to call each other after we’ve both filled in the gaps.”

“That sounds good to me,” I agreed. “I grew up with the name Adam, and even that doesn’t feel right anymore. For a time, I went by the name Simon. I think of myself as J.J. and would like to stick to that, at least for now. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep calling you guys James and Mora. It just doesn’t feel right yet to call you Mom and Dad. I think eventually it will feel right, but the last thing I want to do is to compare you to the man who kidnapped and abused me.”

Shuddering, James agreed. “Becoming a family again will take time, J.J., and although you may be sixteen, you’ve lived your life as an adult since you were twelve. It wouldn’t be right for us to expect you to go back to being a kid again, and as I said, at sixteen, you do have the right to live your life independently. However, we’re going to have to reconcile your assumed identity with your real one.”

“But won’t that mean admitting that I committed the Federal felony of identity theft?” I asked.

“Actually, we can do that without admitting guilt since you were a minor at the time,” James explained. “Killing your kidnapper is probably a much bigger issue, but I doubt that anyone would be interested in prosecuting what was obviously self-defense. We’ll talk about it, though.”

“Would you mind starting back at the very beginning and telling us what happened from what you can first remember, right up until now?” Mora asked.

“Maybe we should get some coffee, Dad,” Franklin suggested. “Real coffee and not the stuff you can brew in the room.”

“And we should get some food, too,” Mora added, “but not the stuff they serve at the casino. That food’s pretty nasty. Maybe we should order out for pizza.”

“Some of the stuff on the buffet isn’t bad if you know what to get and when to get it,” I chimed in. “However, pizza does sound better. Omaha actually has a real Little Italy downtown, and I’d put Orsi’s up against any pizzeria in Italy. They close at 8:00 on the weekend, so we have just enough time to place an order for pickup and maybe for delivery. Either way, they’re only five minutes away.

“Their pizzas are huge, so even a personal pizza is a lot for one person. A quarter sheet, with six slices, can easily feed two, and a half sheet is enough for the four of us. They also have goudarooni, which is a double-crusted, stuffed pizza with potato, onion and cheese. You can get that with hamburger, broccoli and hamburger, broccoli and spinach, or just spinach.”

“The goudarooni sounds like it might be a bit too much after all we had at the reception,” Mora said.

“Yeah, but I’m a teenager, after all,” Franklin countered. “You always say my stomach’s a bottomless pit.”

“That’s true,” James agreed, “and maybe with three teens, we should reconsider, but a traditional pizza is probably a better choice for Mora and me. Perhaps we should order a full sheet. Whatever we don’t finish tonight, you boys can take home with you.”

“How about this,” I suggested, “I’ll order a full-sheet combo, half with meat and half veggie. In addition, I’ll order a loaf of garlic bread and a dozen cannoli.” Orsi’s didn’t have online ordering, and seeing nodding heads all around, I dialed their number and placed the order. However, James grabbed the phone from me and insisted on putting it on his credit card.

“I’d better get dressed,” Mora said aloud, more to herself, I thought, so I countered with, “There’s no need to get dressed up, just for us.”

“Are you kidding?” she replied. “I couldn’t possibly eat pizza in my bathrobe.” She then disappeared into one of the bedrooms.

“One thing you’ll need to learn someday, or maybe not in your case,” James pointed out, “is that women always need to get ready no matter how casual or private an evening may be.”

“So I’ve been told,” I said.

“I guess I’d better change out of these clothes,” Franklin announced as he disappeared into the other bedroom, reemerging a few minutes later, shirtless, barefoot and wearing only cargo shorts. As if to add clarification, he said, “Shirts and pizza are a bad combination for me. Not even the homeless shelters want my shirts once they’re covered with stains from pizza sauce.”

“You never did learn to fold your pizza slices in half, the way real New Yorkers do,” James chided his younger son.

“I like to savor my pizza – not stuff my face with it like they do in a hot dog-eating contest.”

As we waited for Mora to finish getting ready and for the pizza to arrive, James said, “I’d ask you both to go out with us tomorrow, but perhaps that’s not something you’re ready to do so soon after losing your father. Would you be interested in going out with us tomorrow evening for dinner so we can continue our conversation and get to know each other a little better?”

“Would that be okay with you, Babe?” I asked my boyfriend.

“I’d like that,” Henry replied.

“This time it’ll be my treat,” I insisted. “Let me see if I can get a reservation at Omaha’s oldest private club. The food’s excellent, and Applazon has a corporate membership there.” I hadn’t been back to the Field Club since Andy Jenkins, Jitendra Moorthy and Tim Cooper took me there nearly three years ago. However, being a division head had its perks, and one of those was the right to take guests to any of the private clubs, where Applazon had corporate membership, anywhere in the world.

Pulling my phone back out, I looked up the direct number from the corporate executive directory and called. I was connected right away to the corporate-event manager. “Good evening. This is Dr. J.J. Jeffries of Applazon. I’m sorry to ask for something on such short notice, but I was wondering if you have a private room available for a party of five for tomorrow night.”

“We’d be happy to accommodate you, Dr. Jeffries,” she answered. “Weren’t you here with some of the top brass, like, maybe three years ago?” she asked. “You were just a boy, but you spoke like an adult.”

“Wow, you have a good memory,” I responded. “Yeah, I was sixteen back then, but looked more like I was twelve. I’m nineteen now, but look more like I’m sixteen, and I’m the new head of artificial intelligence at Applazon’s New York headquarters.”

“An executive at nineteen,” she answered. “I’m impressed. When would you like to be seated?” she asked.

“Could we make it eight?” I asked.

“Keep in mind that on Sunday, we’re open only until 9:00, so the latest I can seat you is 7:00 PM.”

Turning from the phone, I asked James, “Is 7:00 PM too early for dinner?”

“It’s early for a New Yorker, but I doubt we’d find anything open in Omaha on a Sunday after 8:00 unless there are golden arches out front,” he answered.

Turning back to the phone, I said, “Seven will be fine.”

“I’ll see you then, Dr. Jeffries,” she replied

Looking up after ending the call, I said more to myself, “I’d better text Jitendra to clear it with him or, at least, to let him know. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for using the membership to entertain family.” I sent him a quick text explaining who I was with and requesting to take them to the Field Club. I got an answer back right away, telling me I could entertain the entire University of Nebraska football team if I wished. He then wished me luck. Jitendra might be my boss, but he’d really become a close friend, one of the few people I felt I could trust.

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The pizza arrived right at 8:00, and James tipped the delivery boy in cash with a twenty, which was an incredibly generous tip. Since the only beverages available were in the mini-bar fridge, he ordered a couple of pitchers of iced tea and a pitcher of beer from room service.

While we ate, I related my full story from the beginning, talking about my earliest memories of growing up in Indiana, my skipping middle school, and the bullying I experienced in high school. I spoke with reverence of the librarian who taught me how to access information online and set me up with a job tutoring middle school students. Franklin in particular thought it was ironic that I used Applazon gift cards to launder my assets, long before I started working for the company. I also touched a bit on my so-called father’s abuse of me without getting too much into the details, and of how he taught me how to paint houses and how the skills I learned from that literally saved my life later on.

The day I killed my kidnapper took more time than anything else to explain. It was a physically draining discussion in which James slipped into full lawyer mode and analyzed everything I did, step by step. At least it was beginning to become easier to talk about it thanks to my sessions with Henry. When we were done, he responded, “J.J., you acted in self-defense, but committed a crime when you attempted to cover it up and tampered with the crime scene. I know you had your concerns about getting a fair hearing in Jennings County, but you should have gone directly to the State Police, who actually had jurisdiction in the case because your house was on state-owned land.”

“But I didn’t know that,” I exclaimed.

“Better still, as the victim of a kidnapping across state lines, you could have gone to the FBI. The FBI had every right to usurp state and local authority, given that the murder victim was your kidnapper.”

“But I didn’t know I was kidnapped in the first place,” I interjected.

“Regardless, if you’d explained your concerns along with a request for a thorough crime-scene analysis to the State Police, they’d have had no choice but to do just that, in which case it would have been clear that your father was charging at you when you shot him. You’d have had an excellent chance of proving self-defense. Of course, at twelve you couldn’t have known that, and your local sheriff would have almost certainly taken advantage, regardless of whether or not he had jurisdiction. Plus, it is unclear the level of representation that the county would have provided you. County law enforcement in rural America tends to range from bad to horrible, so I understand your concerns.

“Then there was the fact that your father wasn’t really your father, which could’ve easily been proven, and there was no birth certificate, and your age had been misrepresented. You couldn’t have known any of that. You did the best you could under the circumstances, and although you were a genius – a senior in high school no less – you were just twelve years old, with the maturity and experience of a pre-teen. Even if you were to confess to premeditated murder, no D.A. would touch the case with a twenty-foot pole. However, should someone ever try to grandstand by taking this to trial now, I’ll get you the best juvenile criminal defense attorneys in the world to represent you, and you’ll walk away from it, along with a ton of cash from the countersuit we’ll file against them. Now let’s hear about your escape from Indiana.”

That led to another hour of intense storytelling on my part and discussion on the part of my parents and my brother. It was utterly exhausting. Franklin was amazed at how I orchestrated my escape from the authorities in Missouri and that I managed to find work and an offer of a roof over my head, right away. I told about how Andy, Jitendra and Tim had approached me and extracted a full disclosure of my history and then put me in charge of overseeing the development of the new server design. I retold the events that led up to and followed the explosion, the effect of the pandemic on our server business and my two years of globe-trotting, during which I developed the design for the next generation of servers. I wasn’t at liberty to discuss any of the innovations for which patent applications had not yet been submitted, but I was able to describe the basic concepts as well as the myriad patents I already had. I concluded with a brief overview of the new interest in auto racing and the super­conducting motor design, much of which came from Henry.

“Well, J.J., and you, too, Henry, now you’re getting into my area of specialization,” James responded. “It sounds like Applazon has treated you well, but as your father and as a corporate attorney, I think we should sit down and go over your contracts and the details of your employment. I’ll contact Jenkins and Barlow when we get back to New York and see if we can arrange a meeting to discuss what’s best for your future.”

“You know Andy and Jeff?” I asked.

“I do,” James said. “I’ve often represented the interests of their competitors, but we’ve always been respectful of each other. In any case, we’ll talk soon.”

The three of us boys ate more of the pizza than I’d anticipated, while James and Mora were more sensible and ate two slices each. Henry and I each had four slices and Franklin managed to finish off an entire quarter sheet of six slices; only god knew where he found the room. Additionally, we ate half the loaf of the garlic bread, which was irresistible. Even though we were all stuffed to the gills, no one objected when I opened the box of cannoli. As we ate them as dessert, I asked the Walters to tell me their history, about which I knew almost nothing.

“We both grew up in the New York area,” Mora began. “I grew up in Greenpoint, in a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, and James grew up in Riverdale, an affluent section in the Bronx. We both got admission to Stuyvesant, which is an elite, public high school in Manhattan. Admission is by exam, and it’s highly competitive —”

“We’re familiar with Stuyvesant,” I interrupted. “You live right by it.”

“We do now, but the school was in the old building on Fifteenth Street when we met,” Mora explained. “Stuyvesant didn’t move to the new building until just after we graduated.

“And now that we live right by it and our son scored high enough on the exam to get in,” James interrupted, “he chose to go to HSMSE instead?”

“But HSMSE is a much better school for engineering, Dad,” Franklin countered, “and it’s harder to get into ’cause they only take a hundred students per year compared to Stuyvesant’s seven hundred.”

“We know that, and we’re very proud of you,” Mora said. “Anyway, getting back to our story, James and I met at Stuyvesant on the first day of our freshman year, and we hated each other. I thought James was one of the most conceited, snobbish boys I’d ever met.”

“That was because we talk a bit differently in Riverdale from the way you do in Brooklyn,” James countered. “We consider it more sophisticated. It’s you who are the stuck-up ones, thinking it’s snobbish. In any case, it was evident we were both smart, and the reason we probably disliked each other so intensely was that we were constantly competing against each other. We were rivals – for grades, activities and sometimes even friends.”

“It didn’t have to be that way,” Mora interrupted. “Most of our friends wanted to be friends with both of us. It was you who expected our friends to choose sides.”

Pausing for a bit, James admitted, “You’re right. You’re always right. I was young and immature, and I let our rivalry get in the way.” Then he turned back to me. “At the start of our senior year, one of our teachers paired us up as lab partners —”

“I think he did it deliberately,” Mora interrupted. “He was trying to get us to bury the hatchet.”

“In retrospect, I think you’re right,” James agreed, “but at the time I thought he was doing it to be mean to us – mean to me. In any case, I had a chip on my shoulder from day one and pretty much objected to anything Mora thought we should do – and vice versa. The fireworks were memorable until the teacher told us he was going to hold us both in detention every day after school unless we learned to cooperate. It only took one afternoon in detention for us to decide we had no choice but to get along.”

“The thing was that once James stopped acting like he was so full of himself, he actually turned out to be a nice guy. He was charming, in fact,” Mora said.

“As was Mora,” James agreed. “The more time we spent together after school on our lab reports, the more time we wanted to spend after school with each other. I’d never had a girlfriend before, and I could still get away with telling myself she was just a classmate, a lab partner and a friend when we went out for pizza or hit the food bar at one of the delis, but I genuinely enjoyed spending time with her.

“He’d have never gotten the courage to ask me out, though,” Mora continued the story, “so I screwed up my courage and asked him to see a movie with me —”

Fried Green Tomatoes,” James chimed in. “What a great movie! What a clever way to dispose of the evidence —”

“By eating the victim,” Franklin interrupted.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Very,” James answered, “although Franklin really shouldn’t have told you just in case you ever decided to read the book or rent the movie. The movie’s a story within a story, with an elderly nursing-home resident in the modern-day retelling events from the 1920s. All through the movie, there are flashbacks that show the making of a southern barbecue, stirring and stirring the sauce over an open fire. Only at the end do we learn what – actually, who – is in the barbecue. The sheriff himself unknowingly participates in destroying the evidence.”

“Damn, that’s gross,” Henry chimed in.

“Yeah, but it was very, very clever,” James related.

“You shouldn’t have taken Dad to a movie with a legal theme if you wanted to make out with him, Mom,” Franklin suggested.

“On the contrary, Franklin, I was looking at the bigger picture, and Fried Green Tomatoes was the perfect movie to make your dad realize we had common interests and tastes. The making-out came later,” Mora explained.

“So, we started dating in earnest and fell hard for each other,” James continued. “We both had good grades and decent SAT scores, so it was likely we could get into any school, but when we both got acceptance letters from NYU, we decided to stay in New York. We continued to live at home, saving our money for what was to come. I decided on pursuing law, and Mora decided on medicine. We both got into Columbia, which is one of the top universities in the world for both, but it’s Ivy League and very expensive. With our parents’ income, we didn’t qualify for financial assistance. Our parents were affluent enough to live in New York in good neighborhoods and to pay for four years of school at NYU, but both families had only budgeted for undergraduate degrees, figuring we could front the cost of graduate or professional school ourselves.

“Being the practical sort of fellow I was, I figured we might as well get married,” James went on. “That way we could get enough gift money to maybe cover the cost of tuition and books.”

“Was that the only reason?” Mora asked.

“Well, being head over heels might have had something to do with it, too,” James responded. “So, we got married in the late spring just after graduation and ended up using our gift money to honeymoon in Europe. It’s funny to think back on how we stayed in youth hostels and pensions with a shared bath down the hall. So different from the way we travel now. So, we returned to the States and moved into my parents’ attic, which they renovated for us into a separate apartment with its own outside entrance. As you may be aware, medical school’s four grueling years and law school’s three, so I finished my studies at Columbia a year before Mora finished hers. I was very fortunate to get a clerkship with Judge Lindenmeyer in the Second Circuit Court in Manhattan. The only thing more prestigious would have been a clerkship with the Supreme Court itself, but it meant I could stay in Manhattan. It was an excellent experience and helped me to get a position with one of the top law firms in the U.S. as an associate in the corporate-law division.”

“The thing was that I still had to do a three-year residency in internal medicine,” Mora continued, “and since I’d decided to go into cardiology, a three- or four-year fellowship after that. Residency positions are awarded through a nationwide matching program, and since we had no control over where I’d end up, I interviewed for positions in places where the law firm had offices with active corporate-law divisions. We could have stayed in New York, but I really wanted to do my fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, which is the top-rated program in the country. Theirs is a four-year program, with half of it spent on a research project that’s the equivalent of a dissertation. Graduating from the Cleveland Clinic can catapult you to a top academic position at a top university. There’s sometimes a hometown advantage for getting into a top fellowship program by doing your residence in the same institution, so I ranked the Cleveland Clinic as my top choice. As it turned out, I matched there, and I subsequently got into the cardiology fellowship program as well.”

“Which she would have anyway,” James chimed in. “She would have been a prime pick no matter where she’d did her residency. She graduated at the top of her class, was a member of AOA, which is an honor society open only to the top medical students, and she got the highest score in the nation on the Internal Medicine Board exam.” The sense of pride was evident in James’ voice.

“However, I couldn’t have known any of that when I applied for the Internal Medicine Match, nor for fellowship programs,” Mora countered. “I wasn’t taking any chances. Anyway, we settled into Cleveland, and our lives seemed all set until I got pregnant toward the end of the third year of my fellowship. Not that we didn’t want you, J.J., nor didn’t we plan to have children, but I’d planned to finish my fellowship first. You were born two days before Thanksgiving in 2005. I still had over a year and a half left in the fellowship. I took a month of maternity leave, which was the maximum that was allowed, and then James took two months of paternity leave, and then we arranged for childcare while we returned to pursuing our careers. I’d sworn I’d never do that. By the time Franklin came along, we could afford to hire a nanny, but we just didn’t have the resources earlier.

“I won some big cases early on in my career,” James resumed. “Cleveland isn’t New York, but it’s not a small country town, either, and I was an associate at one of the most prestigious law firms in America, while Mora completed her residency and then her cardiology fellowship. My early successes propelled me into a fast track to partnership. The plan had always been to transfer to the New York office while still an associate, but then I was offered a junior-partnership position with the same firm in their Cincinnati office, and it was an offer that was too good to pass up. As a junior partner in a regional office, I’d have an inside track when it came to becoming a senior partner in the New York office.”

“So, we moved to Cincinnati, and I took a position as a junior-faculty member at the University of Cincinnati,” Mora continued. “We actually ended up liking Cincinnati a lot, but after living there just over a year, you disappeared without a trace. You were just over two-and-a-half years old. We couldn’t leave Cincinnati while there was any hope of finding you. We just couldn’t. We simply weren’t about to leave Cincinnati while there was even a glimmer of hope for finding you, and besides, I was already pregnant with Franklin.”

Noticing that Henry was nodding off, I looked at the clock radio on the desk and discovered that it was already after midnight! Where had the time gone? “Guys, it’s already after midnight and poor Henry’s falling asleep —”

“I am not!” my boyfriend interrupted.

“Of course not,” I responded. “You just show your excitement and rapt attention by closing your eyes.”

“Well, it has been a long day,” James agreed, and then Franklin started to snore, as if to emphasize the point. “Why don’t we pick this up tomorrow at dinner?” he suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” I agreed. “Shall we pick you up at quarter of seven?” I asked.

“Do you still have the Tesla?” Franklin asked, and I nodded my head. “Can the three of us all fit in your back seat?”

“I’ll ask my brother Rob if I can borrow his Mustang Mach-E for the evening,” I replied.

“Is that the all-wheel-drive performance model?” Franklin asked.

“You haven’t met Rob yet, but it’s his fiancé, Sam, who’s the car nut, actually. She wouldn’t let him consider getting anything else. ’Course it had to be an electric, not just because I had a Tesla or because it’s better for the environment, but because she’s an electrician.”

“Really!” Franklin exclaimed.

“Yeah, that’s how they met,” I explained. “She was doing contract work in the data center. As she explained, Rob was the first man she’d ever met who didn’t give her shit just because she was a woman.”

“I’ve never seen Rob so happy,” Henry chimed in. “Sam’s great. I already feel like she’s my sister.”

“That’s cool,” Franklin responded. Then after a pause, he said, “I can’t wait to ride in the Mustang.” The boy was positively drooling.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.