Mack smiled as Denny opened the door of the SUV for Danita and helped her down from the vehicle. Carter had explained to Denny what he knew about a person being transgender and clarified for the boy that while it would be a difficult adjustment for everyone—especially Donnie/Danita—in the beginning, it would help if Denny used the name Danita and referred to Danita as her.
“So, we’ll find her a counselor through Social Services, and I think it would be good for you to go with her a few times so you can begin to understand her transition, too. It’s not going to be easy for either of you because you’ve only known Donnie, but he’s… I mean, she’s always called herself Danita in her mind,” Carter had explained, slipping himself.
He saw the boy had been receptive to his suggestions, so he’d continued. “You’ll slip and call her Donnie, or you’ll refer to her as ‘he’ or ‘him’ in the beginning because it’s not foremost in your mind yet, but she’ll forgive you. Maybe just treat her as you would any girl you know from school until you’re more comfortable with this new side of Danita. You won’t get along all the time, but please try not to say hurtful things about what she’s going through when she pisses you off,” Carter had reaffirmed.
Denny had looked at Mack with a questioning eye, so he’d nodded in agreement. “I lived with two sisters growing up, so I know that’s not easy, but I think if you show her that you’re trying, it will mean a lot to her. She’ll forgive you if you forget sometimes, but I’m sure she’ll be happy you’re even attempting to understand. We’ll be right here for both of you, okay?” Mack had told him as he’d hugged the teen. It was a new thing for him as well, but a lot of things in Mack’s world were going to be new. He’d been trying to adjust to everything just as hard as Denny.
Carter stepped out of the hybrid and closed the door. When the fancy SUV Opie drove pulled up next to them, Denny hurried over and opened the door for Tasha. “Thank you, sweetie. You look quite handsome,” she told him as she straightened the tie of Opie’s that Denny was wearing. Mack could see the young man felt like he fit right in with the family, and that was all anyone could want.
It was a surprise that the Riggs family had wanted to accompany them to the Unitarian church in the more populous town of Ozark. Mack’s intention had been for Carter, Denny, Danita, and him to go that morning to check it out. Carter had explained the church to Tasha when they were shopping, and she was on board with accompanying them in a heartbeat to show positive support.
Opie appeared to be quite uneasy with all the changes in the works, but for some reason, the man seemed to be going along with things… silently. Mack noticed Carter’s older brother kept staring at Danita, but he didn’t say anything, which had Mack worried.
He walked up to Danita and offered his arm. “May I escort you inside, Miss Nash?” Mack teased as she slipped her hand through his arm and stopped moving.
“I’m scared. What if the people laugh or try to hurt me because I’m different?” Danita asked. The child was only thirteen, and it was a big, scary world. Mack understood the nerves very much because it would be his first step out of the closet, too. He wasn’t sure what to expect either.
Carter walked up and took her other hand, offering a sweet kiss on top of it. “I’d say if they know what’s good for them, they’ll be happy to know you. You look beautiful, and I like your hair,” he told Danita as he touched the ribbon Tasha had tied around her boyish cut.
“Tasha showed me a picture of this girl from a television show. Her hair is as short as mine, and she wears bows and stuff. I like it,” Danita told them, a glowing smile on the girl’s face.
Denny walked over and chuckled as he touched Carter’s arm. “We can’t beat up everybody. If they don’t like us, then we’ll figure out another place to worship. Mack wants to go, so we go. It’ll be fine,” the young man offered as he took his sister’s hand from Mack’s arm and placed it through his, proudly leading her inside.
The rest of the crew followed, including Paul, who had taken ahold of Mack’s hand. The former priest glanced behind him to see Opie Riggs still wasn’t exactly happy, but it appeared the man was trying to remain open-minded. Mack had a feeling his firecracker of a wife walking next to him had a lot to do with it.
They settled into a pew about midway toward the front, and when Mack saw Creighton Jones-Alonzo walk out in a suit with a bright smile, he took a deep breath and released it, not sure what to expect at all. “Good morning! It seems our Creator has seen fit to give us a break from the heat, and I’m grateful,” Creighton joked, which seemed to put the crowd at ease.
The rest of the service wasn’t as unfamiliar as Mack thought it might be. There were songs, and there were discussions. The family introduced themselves to the rest of the congregation, and after the closing prayer where Creighton thanked the Universe for the many blessings bestowed on them and asked for guidance to those who were still lost, the entire congregation offered an ‘Amen.‘
They noticed everyone hugged after the close of service, so they all did the same. Mack noticed Opie Riggs seemed entirely uncomfortable, but Carter, Denny, and Danita all appeared joyful. Paul was laughing with Danita as they thumb-wrestled, and Tasha was beaming as she observed her family.
Mack stepped out of the line to leave the church and walked over to where Opie Riggs had used a side exit to escape greeting the minister and his husband. “You okay?”
He saw the cold stare from the man, and Mack felt guilty for even suggesting they attend the service. “I don’t understand it. I’ve only ever… I went to Catholic school for grade, high, and college. I don’t get this shit,” Opie complained.
Mack exhaled. “Yeah, I can see how difficult it must be for you, but I’m in the position where my religion doesn’t want me. I’m not their ideal example of someone who wants to help his fellow humans, so I’m not allowed to worship the way I’ve done my whole life. I can be a liar and deny myself, go back to the church and live something other than my truth, but then I have to live without Carter.
“You don’t have to embrace it, Opie. You and your family are still welcomed into the Catholic church. You’ve done everything your faith expects of you, so you have nothing to worry about. You didn’t go to prison with Carter. You don’t have to go to church with him if he decides he likes it and wants to continue. This was just a test drive,” Mack explained.
Opie turned to look at him and pointed to Danita. “And, what’s that?”
Mack touched Opie’s arm to stop him. “That is a transgendered girl. That is a child of God who was born in the wrong body. It’s not easy for us to reconcile it in our minds because it’s nothing we’ve ever considered or been exposed to in the past, but it’s a real thing. Our Catholic upbringing doesn’t allow us to believe this child was created in the image of God as the scriptures tell us, but that doesn’t make her not real, Opie,” Mack attempted to clarify.
Seeing the man still remained skeptical, Mack continued. “Our religious upbringing teaches us that anything outside of canon law is unnatural. Homosexuality, transgender, mental health issues. Children who were born with autism or any other disability used to be thought possessed by demons, Opie. We know better now, but can you imagine the persecution a child with autism would have suffered back then because of the difficulties associated with the disorder?
“The suicide rate is high among transgendered teens, as I’ve come to learn while doing a little research. Denny told me he stopped Donnie from slitting his wrists one time. Imagine what a waste of a precious life that would have been,” Mack stated quietly as Danita and Paul talked about going swimming and held hands as they made their way to the vehicles.
Opie looked at Mack and shook his head. “This is a lot to take on, you know?”
The former priest nodded. “Every good thing that’s different takes work and understanding. I’ve been hiding from being me for years, and the fact I don’t have to hide anymore, and I get your brother to boot? Those are blessings I never imagined I’d receive. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, Opie, even if it’s as different as this situation in front of you right now.”
It was then Mack had an idea. “Do you like to camp?” he asked.
“Yeah, I do. Carter and I used to go camping with some friends of our parents when we were younger. We had great times back then. Do you?” Opie asked, seeming a little surprise.
“My family used to camp all the time when we were younger It was the cheapest way for my father to give all of us a vacation. Next weekend, are you busy? We can go down to the lake. They have furnished cabins, and I’ll call my dad and brothers to come down. I’ll see if my mom and sisters are free, and they can get to know Tasha and Danita better. Don’t write off the Nash kids until you get to know them better, Opie. If you can, put yourself in…” Mack started to suggest when Denny Nash walked up.
“You guys ready to go?” Denny asked.
Mack turned to see Tasha and Danita were speaking with Creighton and Manuel. They were all laughing and looked quite happy. Danita had a radiant smile as Mack observed her.
He nodded to Denny and glanced at Opie. “There’s no clock on this. You don’t have to do anything you’d prefer not to do. They’re safe now, and that’s all that matters.”
Mack touched Denny’s shoulder and led him toward the hybrid. “You ever been camping?”
Things had been going along well between Carter, Denny, Danita, and Mack. The Nash kids went with Mack to Sacred Heart to help him pack up things at the church while Tasha did the research to find out the requirements to homeschool them so the kids could catch up on their studies.
Part of the reason they’d concluded they should homeschool the kids was because Denny and Danita were woefully behind the learning curve, based on the discussions he and Tasha had with them over the long weekend.
The rest of the reason was that Danita was newly acclimating to her gender acceptance, and they didn’t think the backward public school was the best place for her to attend at the time. They had agreed to share the teaching responsibilities, and Mack was actually excited to get things started the next week.
Carter was in Cape Girardeau to visit his parole officer that afternoon, having helped them at the church that morning. When he went home to change and shower, Carter had taken Danita with him because it was a half-day at school and Tasha promised to work with Danita that afternoon on an aptitude assessment test she’d found on the internet so they could evaluate her level of education.
Mack knew it was good for Danita to spend time with Tasha because she needed a woman who was compassionate enough to teach her things women knew and help her with her transition. She needed someone who could answer questions neither Mack nor Carter could comprehend being asked.
When he lifted the Tabernacle from its place on the altar, Mack carried it back to the Sacristy where he and Carter had moved an old table so they would be able to wrap things and label them. Denny walked over with a large sheet off the roll of bubble wrap they’d purchased at the packing store, popping a few bubbles on the way while laughing.
“You can take a sheet home for later. Now, I have an odd question,” Mack asked as he picked up the Tabernacle and allowed Denny to place the wrap on the table.
The boy nodded, so Mack continued. “Why did you and Donnie steal this and try to pawn it?”
Denny chuckled a bit. “Yeah, I guess Danita shouldn’t be blamed for the shit… stuff Donnie and I did in the past. Anyway, it looked like it was gold, and I hoped if we could sell it, we could get enough money to get bus tickets to go to Kentucky or somewhere and maybe work on a farm or somethin’.
“I knew if we’d stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Nash, Donnie was gonna find a way to run or kill hisself. We needed a plan, just like we’re gonna need a new one because Opie ain’t gonna let Tasha adopt us and you guys don’t want us forever. The walls are thin in that apartment, and we heard you talking the other night. We also heard what else you were doin’.”
“What are we going to do if Tasha can’t talk Opie into adoption? I know she wants them, but Opie has a say, too. The State won’t let us have them long-term, I’m sure. I’m still on fucking parole, Mack.” Carter’s voice had been shaky, which wasn’t anything Mack had heard from the ever-confident man.
“If they don’t want to adopt them, we can’t force them, Carter. We’re not ready for kids… we are just getting started ourselves. If the adoption doesn’t work out, we’ll work with Stefani to find them a good home. There has to be someone who would be willing to take them in, I’m sure. We have to have faith it will work out.
“Anyway, we’re almost done with packing up Sacred Heart. The window guy is coming on Friday before we go camping. I don’t want to wait anymore, Carter,” Mack had whispered, cognizant of their young guests across the apartment.
The two of them had been facing each other in Carter’s bed, and Mack had come to the end of his patience regarding his attraction to Carter. He’d wanted him badly. Carter had reached up and had tucked Seamus’ hair behind his left ear. After everything that had gone down recently, Carter had begged him not to get it cut again because it was sexy, and Mack had gladly complied.
“Baby, until you have completed all of your paperwork, we’re not going to commit that sin, but I know one we can commit if you’d like to give it a try?” Carter had teased as he’d sucked Mack’s index finger into his mouth.
“I’ve only done the one thing we did in the shower. I haven’t done that other thing or that thing,” Mack had confessed.
Carter had smirked. “That other thing is my specialty, but we’ll wait to do it. After the camping trip, we’ll see if Opie and Tash can keep the boys… keep Denny and Danita overnight, and I’ll show you a good time with that thing.”
Mack had nodded and had kissed Carter’s soft lips, which had quickly grown into a passionate tangle of tongues as hands had wandered and had touched places Mack hadn’t realized could be so exciting. Carter had gently bitten his nipple, and the electric shock that had skittered over his chest had been the real surprise.
The two men had continued to tease each other, and Mack had learned that there was a spot near Carter’s hip bone that had been extremely sensitive. After teasing it for a few minutes, Carter had flipped him onto his back before he’d engulfed his cock in one graceful move.
Mack had pushed him off and sat up. “I want to do it to you this time,” he’d whispered, having remembered the blowjob Carter had given him on Sunday morning.
Carter had kissed him gently and had pulled away, having offered a look into those blue-green eyes that had made Mack even harder. “You know, we can do it at the same time. It’s pretty fun from what I remember during my single days. You up for it?” Carter had whispered as he pulled Mack into his arms and had kissed him again.
After swirling tongues, Carter had rolled them again, so Mack had been on hands and knees before Carter had swung around and had slipped under Mack’s elevated torso, sliding the man’s hard cock into his mouth which had brought a loud yelp out of Mack.
Just as he’d been starting to move slowly in and out of Carter’s mouth, Mack had felt a gentle hand on the back of his head that had shoved him down toward the hard cock that had been waiting for him. He’d balanced on his left hand and had lifted Carter’s thick member. Mack had tentatively licked the head just as Carter had pulled him down by the ass and had sunk his cock further into that moist, pink mouth.
He’d held onto Mack by his hips, and when a slick finger had slid down the trench between his ass cheeks, Mack had nearly bit down on the tip as the finger breached his rear entrance, which had been another new sensation that had stimulated nerves Mack had never considered would send his synapses into overdrive. The overwhelming feeling of it all had sent him over the edge very quickly.
“Yes, god, yes,” Mack had gasped around the large cock in his mouth as he’d felt the tingling down his spine as his testicles had drawn closer to the point he hadn’t been able to hold back from the pleasure his body had been begging to experience. When Mack had been with Giancarlo, all they’d done had been mutual hand jobs, and Mack had believed it to be the most astonishing experience he’d ever had… until the moment he’d felt Carter Riggs release in his mouth.
He’d been surprised at the taste of Carter’s essence. Mack wouldn’t have said it was bad, but it certainly hadn’t been like an ice cream sundae. Carter had been moaning as Mack had swallowed around the head of the man’s long cock, and it had been a beautiful sound. Giving pleasure had turned out to be as pleasing as receiving it had been, which hadn’t been something Mack had actually expected to learn.
Mack had fallen onto his side, trying like hell to catch his breath. Carter had chuckled before he’d pulled him up to the head of the bed and had settled Mack onto his broad chest, stroking his hair. “It’s not that, but it wasn’t bad, was it?”
“Oh, fuck no,” the former priest had said out loud, having brought a laugh from both of them at his unanticipated choice of words. They’d held each other tightly before they’d fallen asleep, both of them having had grins on their sleepy faces.
“I’m sorry you heard all of that, Denny. It must be weird for you, right?” Mack asked, trying to be empathetic to the boy’s situation.
When Denny laughed, Mack was caught off guard a bit. “I’m not sure what Do… Danita thought about it, but I thought it was kinda sweet. I mean, aside from the part where you’re trying to figure out what to do with us when Opie and Tasha don’t want us.
“I’m surprised you two are a couple because you’re really different, but then, on some things, you’re the same. I guess it’s okay,” the boy told him as they continued wrapping and placing things into large shipping boxes.
Mack was about to reach for a statue of the Virgin Mother when Denny touched his arm. “Look, I can’t blame you guys for not wantin’ to keep us. Hell, you don’t know each other too well, and you don’t know if you’ll even last. The pressure of havin’ two… a boy and a girl livin’ with you might be tough. There’s a lot of shit pilin’ up for you, so if Tasha and Opie don’t want us, you don’t need to worry about it.
“I’ll take care of me and Danita, though she might have to go back to bein’ Donnie ‘cause there ain’t many people understanding enough to take on a trans girl. That’s why I told him to wait to change until we were older. It’ll be fine,” Denny had attempted to assure Mack as he tore off another piece of bubble wrap and placed it on the table for the former priest to use for the statue.
After that, there wasn’t much discussion. The two of them took breaks and drank plenty of water because it was still hot in the church. Just as the last label was put on the final box, they both heard the slamming of a vehicle door. “Guys? Where are you?”
“Back here!” Mack called out to Carter. When the handsome man walked into the area behind the altar, he had a big smile Mack wasn’t expecting. Denny Nash walked out the back door to leave them alone, which worried Mack a bit.
“How did it go with meeting your parole officer?” he asked after Carter walked further into the room.
“She’s nice. I explained to her about what happened here, and she’s willing to allow me to help with the work at Unitarian Church. It seems they’re on the registry of approved charities where I can complete my hours. I called Reverend Alonzo while I was at her office, and he said they were doing work with painting and landscaping outside the building, so it looked less like an abandoned library, and Mrs. Norville agreed. She actually lives near the church, so she’ll stop by there to check on me. You’re going to help around the place as well, right?” Carter asked him.
Mack nodded and motioned his head toward the church office. Once they were inside, he leaned against Father Kozlow’s old desk. “They heard us the other night, Denny and Danita,” he quietly informed.
Carter walked over and leaned against the desk next to him. “You mean when we were having sex?”
Mack sighed. “Yeah, they heard that, but they heard the part where we said if Tash and Opie don’t adopt them we’ll try to find them a good place because we’re not going to be able to keep them. Denny told me they’d find their own place to live if it came to that. We fucked it up, Carter.”
Carter reached out to take Mack’s left hand, kissing it. “We’re not gonna let them do that, are we? I could move into Opie’s spare room, and you could keep them as foster kids. Once I get off parole, we can try to adopt them. I’ll have to find a job, but I’m not particular, Mack. What do you think?”
Mack reached out to pull Carter into his arms and hold him tight. “I think if that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we do. I can’t let them be hurt any more than they’ve already been hurt. We can make this work, Carter. We love each other, and we should have faith in God,” Mack whispered as he pulled his lover’s head down and kissed his cheek.
“Yes, we do. We’ll work it all out because I have faith in us,” Carter teased as he slapped Mack on the ass, bringing a chuckle from both of them. Their foundation was new and still a bit shaky, but it was becoming stronger every day. Eventually, it would be rock solid.
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