Jean-Michel Assad met and adored Chay's mother. They were instantly good friends, but he was a little embarrassed to have her tend to him in his unofficially adopted son's place. Ma was unsure of what to do about that as, no matter what she said, the older man was just too ashamed to have his future daughter-in-law do his intimate personal care. Keagan came up with the suggestion of contacting Belle Lafayette's split apart, Candace. Candy was a certified nursing assistant who worked part-time while going to college to get her nursing degree.
As it turned out, Candace already took care of Jean-Michel during some of Farhan's breaks to go to the bakery and to teach classes at the university's English department. She wasn't aware of his new connection to the family, however, nor was the family aware that she was one of his caregivers. Once PawPaw found out, he of course got involved and soon Farhan had more time to be on campus for his students, and Candace got better pay and more hours with Jean-Michel, who was her favorite patient anyway.
Farhan was like a kid in a candy shop as he toured the Dixie Magic, rushing around trying to see everything he could as fast as he could, and then sneaking back to see his favorite spots again, as well as standing at the very edge of the areas still under construction, pouting because he couldn't get any closer. When the tour was over, he vowed to contact his friends in the university theater department and let them know about the venue for when performers and production crew were needed.
Sadly, Jean-Michel got worse rather quickly, as many AIDS patients did. There was talk of having him move to the AIDS hospice center in the old nunnery. He needed more care than Candy or any other of the nurse's aides could provide at that point. Chay and Keagan had gone with Ma and Farhan as they had toured the facility, and were shocked by what, or rather who, they saw there.
"Well, if it isn't Chicken Little himself," a far too familiar voice called out. Keagan turned and gasped as he saw Macon, the guy who had lured him to the fraternity house that night, lying in one of the beds.
"Macon, is that you?" the teen gasped.
"In the flesh, well, what's left of it anyway," the former frat boy smiled before coughing. "I found out that my parents were right after all. My partying and slutting around have caught up with me."
"I knew you were bad news for Keagan, but I would never have wished this on you," Chay said honestly.
"Pretty sure you would have if you'd really known me," Macon shrugged. "I deserve it, I guess. I did some pretty messed up stuff the last few years. I always thought I was having fun though. At least until that night. I was planning to screw you six ways from Sunday and then whore you out to the whole frat that night."
"We know," Chay growled.
"Something happened, though," Macon continued as if he was completely unaware of the threat from the baker. "I saw your face that night as you ran out the back door with the hero here. I'd seen lots of cute little chicken and even some hot twinks look at me in fear, just like you had when I started stripping you that night, but then I saw you look at him. It broke down a wall inside me somewhere, and I realized that no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I wanted that look of fear, what I had really wanted all along was for someone to look at me the way you looked at that man. I wanted someone to see me as their hero, the love of their life, the most important person in their world. I never had that. Hell, I never even had my parents look at me with love. And now, it's too late and I never will." He wiped tears from his face and then rolled over onto his side in his cot so they couldn't see his face. "If you're here for charity work, go do it somewhere else. I can't take seeing you right now. Please, just leave me here to die like I deserve."
Not knowing what else to do, Chay and Keagan did just that. They left Macon in his ward of the care facility and caught up with Farhan and Ma. Jean-Michel was brought to the facility a few days later, and two weeks after that, he left the mortal life with Farhan, Ma, Chay and Keagan all sitting at his bedside. "You marry this one son of my heart," he told Farhan as he was fading. "She is the keeper you were meant to find. Always you were impatient, so you marry first the trash, but now you have the treasure. And I get the grandsons so like my Nadir and myself," he added holding out a hand to Chay and Keagan. He looked right at Keagan when he said, "I wish I could have stayed to be the grand-père for your baby, but you will tell him of me, please?" He then looked over to the aisle of the ward nearby and smiled. "Nadir, you come back for me, you can't wait for me to go with you? I know you want to make sure the place will be made for me. Yes, Nadir, our Farhan knows we love him, but it is time to go now. Au revoir la famille. Je t'aime."
"Je t'aime, Maman," Farhan sobbed as he hugged the lifeless body of the man who had been his mother. "Now I know he is gone," he sniffled. "He hated it when I called him that. There is no wooden spoon aimed for my head." With that, he broke down in the arms of Ma. Chay and Keagan hugged them, and then stepped away to give Farhan some privacy.
"Baker Man, Chicken Little," Macon called out as they passed him in the hallway. "Word in here is that your friend, the old Frenchie, isn't going to make it much longer. I am sorry for your loss, really. I'm sorry for a lot of things, but none more than trying to mess up what you two have going on. I could have taken anyone else to that party, but I picked you, little chicklet, because you had him wanting you and I wanted to get there first. You guys have something I never had, could never have, won't ever have. I hated that. Take care of each other, OK. Go out there and prove not everyone like us is like me, OK? The world needs to know that. Not everyone is trash like me."
"If I had thought you were just trash, I would never have agreed to come to that party, Macon," Keagan told him quietly. "I wanted what I have with Chay, but I needed to know I wasn't the only one like me. You and your frat brothers showed me that, even if you went about it in the wrong way. So, thank you for at least confirming for me that there were other guys in the world that like guys. For that much, at least, you were my hero. The first openly gay guy I ever met."
"I know I set the bar pretty low," Macon laughed, "but I'm glad Baker Man here is your knight in shiny armor and pastry dough. If I'd met guys like you earlier… who knows? Go see your friend. Some of these dying fags need to know they're loved worse than I do."
"I don't think they do, actually," Chay said pointedly. "I can't tell you that I feel anything positive for you but thank you for telling us what you did. You can let the gossips in here know that the old Frenchie as you called him passed a few moments ago. He was my step-grandfather, and I don't believe for a moment that he went to a bad place in the afterlife. Maybe there's still a chance for you, too."
"Yeah, I wouldn't count on that, and neither do you, but thanks for saying it anyway." He made a shooing gesture and added, "Get out of here and live the long, boring, peaceful married life that we all wish we could."
The day of Keagan's birthday finally arrived. He had said that his birthday was on Thanksgiving Day, but that was really because he always celebrated it that day. The actual date of his birthday was four days before the holiday that year. Only a week had gone by since the memorial service for Jean-Michel. Keagan had insisted that the day not be any different than any other, so he was up bright and early working away in the bake shop. There was one noticeable difference though. Every time Ma looked at him, she would get teary. "I finally get my other son-in-law today; I'm so happy," she kept sobbing. The tears cleared up rather quickly when Officer Frank walked in looking very serious.
"You look upset about something, Officer Frank," Ma tried to soothe. "Sit down for a little rest and let us get you some coffee and a little treat."
"I'm afraid I'm here on official business this time, ma'am," the normally happy policeman said sternly. "Keagan Denys Guebert, you are not under arrest, but you are under orders to make contact with someone in the department. That is the official statement," he said before taking off his hat and sitting down at one of the tables. "You have made contact with me, so I can now tell you off the record that there doesn't seem to be a crime here. As near as I have been able to find out, some folks up in Monroe are trying to find our Little Chips here." Officer Frank had once caught Keagan sneaking a handful of flavored baking chips and has been calling him Little Chips ever since, much to Keagan's annoyance and embarrassment.
"Why would anyone up there be looking for me?" Keagan questioned. "There were only a few people that I was on good enough terms with to want to keep in contact with them, but the home makes that difficult, if not impossible."
"If it helps any, the records show that the initial request for contact originated with a hospital social worker," Officer Frank told everyone. "It seems that someone at the charity hospital up there needs to get in touch with you as soon as possible," he explained as he handed a slip of paper to Keagan.
"Well, I guess I will go call them now," the teen said with a shrug. He took the contact information upstairs to the living room so he could hear better. Officer Frank left, after getting his cafe au lait and beignets from Claude. Ma and Chay had followed Keagan up the stairs.
"Go on upstairs, Claude." Claude turned to see Mrs. Pernell grabbing an apron and walking behind the counter. "I was a waitress for 45 years, boy. I can handle this place long enough for you to be with your family and find out what is going on."
"Thank you, ma'am," he told her sincerely as he raced into the kitchen to follow his family. He got to the top of the stairs just in time to hear Keagan on the phone.
"My name is Keagan Guebert, and I was given this num…. Yes, I know Franky, I mean Frances…. Well, I live in New Orleans now…. OH MY GOD what happened to her? …. I will get there as fast as I can…. Yes, I will come to your office as soon as I get there. Thank you for letting me know." He hung up the phone and wiped tears from his eyes. "Chay, I have to…."
"Not alone you don't," the man said firmly as he grabbed Keagan and hugged him tightly.
"We'll mind the shop," Ma announced as she pointed to herself and Claude. "You just go take care of whatever this is."
"Franky, my closest friend from the home, is in the hospital, she's not going to make it much longer," Keagan sobbed. "She wants me there."
"I got the car waiting out back." Everyone turned to see PawPaw standing in the doorway. "Chay, I'ma need for you to drove some of the way. I can't do that long a trip no more." He saw the look on Keagan, Chay, and Ma's faces and added, "You don't think with the powers I got from my family I'm not going to know when I'm needed for one of my boys?"
"Boys, you go upstairs and pack for a couple of days, just in case," Ma ordered. Keagan nodded and headed upstairs, followed by his grandfather. Ma turned to her son and added, "Claude and I will take care of the shop. Let us know what happens, Chayton. I'm sure all the customers will understand if we close one day for a funeral. Keagan will need the whole family up there for that, you know he will."
"Yes, Ma, I'll call as soon as we know what's going on," Chay agreed before he too went upstairs.
"You won't have to close for a funeral." Claude and Ma turned to see Mrs. Pernell with her hands on her hips. "You get me someone that can cook most of the menu, and we'll be just fine."
"Already ahead of you, Mrs. Pernell," Cass announced as he walked up the stairs. "I know what's happened, and I can divide up the shifts of my pastry crew from the restaurant to cover over here. It'll give them advance training on the menus they'll be preparing on the boat once it opens."
"I'll start helping today, just to get back in the swing of things," Mrs. Pernell added. "Claude, get your hot little hiney up them stairs and help your brother pack. He's not going to want your grandpa helping him pack the underwear he wants for the first time he stays in a hotel with his husband. What? I'm old, not deaf, or blind. It might be a sad trip, but it will still be a night in a hotel together. Even if they don't do anything to seal the deal, they will at least cuddle, and Chipper will want to look good for Chay when they do. Now go sneak some naughty stuff into that suitcase like a good big brother." Claude closed his mouth, which had been hanging open, and ran for the stairs to go help his brother.
Less than thirty minutes later, PawPaw had the cruise control set on his Lincoln Town Car and the three of them were on Interstate 10 headed west. Within an hour they were on Interstate 55 headed north. "Why are we going to Mississippi to get to a town in Louisiana?" Keagan asked, confused.
"Highway travel get us there quicker than backroads with speed traps," PawPaw told him. "Don't you worry your sweet little head, Sunshine, you PawPaw not gonna get you lost." He squeezed Keagan's hand in reassurance and then looked into the rearview mirror at Chay. "You rest up so you can take your turn driving when we get to McComb. Once we been got to the hospital in Monroe, you boys stay there and find out what going on, and I'll find us somewhere for to stay the night, then I meet you back at the hospital."
"Thank you for doing this for us, PawPaw," Keagan said sincerely.
"No reason to thank me, I'm just doing my PawPaw job, and that tooking care of my grandson," the old man smiled. "I never think my whole life I get to do things like this for a grandbaby, now I got two of the best there is. I know this a serious thing you going to did, but I'm the happiest I ever been helping you like this."
A few hours later, in the middle of the afternoon, the car pulled up to the hospital where they needed to be. PawPaw had seen several hotels on their way to the hospital, so he assured them that he would be back very soon. Keagan walked in and gave his name at the information desk as well as the name of the person who had contacted him. A moment later a woman practically ran out of a nearby office, introducing herself as Marie who had spoken with Keagan on the phone. She looked at Chay and said, "Well, this changes things quite a bit. There's no way you were actually a resident at the home with…."
"I was the resident at the home," Keagan interrupted. "Chay is just here as my friend."
"Oh well thank goodness, I was afraid we had a case of statutory…." her voice trailed off as she looked at Keagan. "I would say we still do though. You look younger than her. You don't even look old enough to…. I'm sorry I shouldn't have said that. But, my stars, babies having a baby."
"BABY!?!" Chay squeaked and sat heavily into a chair. "Nobody told me about a baby."
"Nobody told me either, Chay," Keagan answered remarkably calmly. "All I was told was that my best friend was dying and had asked for me."
"Yes, well given the circumstances, I can take you to see her now," the woman said a little coldly. "It's usually family only, but I suppose sharing a child qualifies you as family now. I can't guarantee she'll be awake, though. The baby was too large for her, and she is so tiny for her age to start with, well, it's a miracle she's hung in there this long, really. We'll be going up to the ICU to see her first and then I can take you to the nursery to see your son."
"I wasn't expecting to get a baby for my birthday today," Keagan mumbled in the elevator.
"Yes, well happy birthday," Marie snorted. "Fourteen now, are you?"
"Keagan is eighteen today, thank you very much," Chay practically snarled. "I must say I don't care much for your attitude, ma'am. Keagan has done nothing wrong and for you to treat him this way…."
"Nothing wrong? What do you call impregnating a fifteen-year-old girl? That's right, she is fifteen and she is dying because he couldn't keep it in his pants."
"I never had sex with anybody," Keagan asserted. "Franky and I were just friends, best friends, yes, but nothing more. I swear that. And she is sixteen now, not fifteen."
"Well, she named you as the father on her baby's birth certificate," the woman countered. "She insisted on it, and even threw a fit when your name was misspelled the first time."
"Oh my God," Keagan gasped. "He was doing it. I knew it. I freaking knew it. She would never admit to it, but…."
"What are you talking about, Keag?" Chay asked.
"I will talk to you and PawPaw about it later," the teen answered as he took deep calming breaths.
"Are you saying you are not the father of this baby?" the woman asked quickly. "A simple blood test should show…. If you aren't actually the father, of course, that will change everything."
"Oh, this boy is mine," Keagan said firmly. "I claim this boy with all my heart and soul. He will not have any association with that monster. I'll steal him out of here and run off with him if I have to."
"Let's hope it won't come to that, Keag," Chay agreed as he squeezed Keagan's shoulder, unable to touch him anywhere else without looking suspicious. Chay was told he had to wait in a sitting room down the hall from the intensive care unit, so he hugged Keagan one last time before the teen followed the woman down the hall.
"This is her room here," Marie said as she pushed open the door. Keagan nearly crumpled to the floor. He had never seen Franky look so terrible. Even though she was younger than him, she was always strong and defiant. She took out several bullies who had picked on him over his early years at the home. Her eyes opened slowly and then lit up as she saw him.
"You're here," she whispered. She tried to smile but ended up coughing instead. "You take the baby. He's your son. Didn't name him yet. Your job."
"He needs his mom, not me," Keagan denied and begged at the same time.
"You're more of a mother hen than I would ever be," Franky wheezed. "Your son, nobody else's. Swear it."
"I pinky swear and everything else," Keagan assured her. "I will never let him see that place or that man. I promise you Chay and I will always love him, and he will have my whole new family as his family."
Franky's arm shot out with amazing speed and strength to grab Keagan's wrist. "Who Chay? Swear to me you are done pretending to be straight. I want our baby raised by the real you."
"Franky!" Keagan gasped. "How did you…. When did… never mind. Yes, I'm done pretending, Miss Always-knows-my-secrets-before-I-tell-you. Chay is… well he will be my…. I can't call him husband, since we can't get legally married."
"Older than you." She didn't even attempt to make it sound like a question. She knew her friend better than he knew himself after all. "Dark hair." With each wheezed detail that was a little too on point for Keagan's comfort, he huffed a little more which told Franky she was exactly right, not that she didn't already know her Keag's type. "Good cook, too."
"No, smartypants, he is a lousy cook," Keagan sneered and stuck his tongue out at the girl in the bed.
"I am not going to tell you, because you already know everything, as usual," Keagan rolled his eyes and huffed, but went on to confess. "Yes, fine, he's the best pastry chef in the whole city, all right, and he owns his own bakery, which I will be taking over in a few weeks when he expands the business to a new location."
"Knew you'd go for a man that was good with food," Franky laughed, but it turned into a cough. "Love you, bro. Tell baby Mama loved him." Those were her last words and Keagan was hustled into the hallway as nurses and doctors rushed into the room. It was no use, though. Franky was gone.
"Let me take you to the nursery, now, sweetie," the social worker said quietly. "Keagan, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. That baby really was not sired by you, was it?" At the determined look he gave her, she quickly continued. "Don't you worry. It goes no further."
Keagan gently touched her arm with his hand. He looked into her eyes as she gasped for a moment. "I trust you. No, I am not the sperm donor of Franky's child."
"I felt something when you touched me," the woman whispered. "Like nothing I have ever felt before, but like I was being scanned or read or something." Keagan gave the tiniest of nods and shrugs as if asking what she would do about the whole situation. "I trust you now too, Keagan. If I had to describe what I just felt, it would be like the touch of an angel. I don't mean to embarrass you," she added quickly. "I will never tell a soul for several reasons. First of all, because of what I overheard from that room. She might as well have called you brother. If it weren't for her passing, I would have sworn I was watching my brother and me the way you two snarked at each other right to the end. You might not have been her lover, but it was clear you were her family, even if there isn't any paperwork to prove that. Second, you and she both hinted at someone else who is the fath… I mean the sperm donor. It's something I have suspected for a while now, but again I have no proof of that, either. Lastly, I heard something about you and that man in the waiting room. Now, don't panic over that either. I have a brother who is…. Well, I can't say he is a lot like you, but I think if he had ever met someone like you, maybe he would have settled down some. I haven't heard from Macon in a long time, but I always loved my little brother more than either of us knew when we were together. I guess having him disappear from my life made me realize that."
"Macon?" Keagan said with a blink. "Please, tell me his last name is not…."
"Gerard," she and Keagan both said at the same time, and then they both gasped.
"You need to get to New Orleans as soon as you can," Keagan told her. "Macon doesn't have much time left. I haven't seen him for a couple of weeks, but he's in the AIDS hospice center. He and I don't exactly have the best history, and do NOT mention his name in front of Chay."
"I will take care of your paperwork today and take the rest of the week off," she sobbed as she hugged Keagan tightly.
"Keag, is everything…. How is…. She's gone, isn't she?" Chay asked as he rushed up to them in the hallway. The social worker released him, and Keagan spun into Chay's arms, sobbing himself.
"Let's get you two to the nursery," the woman sniffled as she wiped her tears. "I know a little boy who needs to meet his Daddy and Papa," she added quietly so no one heard but the two of them.
"Mon Dieu, it time for the bébé so soon?" Keagan let go of Chay and wrapped his arms around his PawPaw. "Oh, child, we been got here too late for you friend?" Henri asked softly.
"They were able to speak," Marie said softly. "Are you another friend of Keagan's?"
"I'm his PawPaw, I adopt him when he get to Nawlins," Henri answered, and then introduced himself.
"Well, Mr. Lafayette, I'm afraid that young Frances passed just moments ago," Marie explained. "Her body was not quite ready for childbirth, especially a baby so large. I was just about to take these two to the nursery so they could meet their son. Keagan here is already on the birth certificate as the father and the hospital will not be looking any further into things in this case than that. I will make sure that these two gentlemen leave here with their son."
"Their son?" Henri questioned in a whisper.
"What the hospital doesn't need to know, they will never learn from me," Marie vowed. "Now come along, gentlemen. If I'm not very much mistaken, it's very near feeding time for a little angel, so perhaps the new fathers can help with that."
A few moments later, Keagan was in a small room near the nursery being taught how to hold and feed his son. Chay was watching closely as well but wasn't officially being taught. PawPaw was down the hallway using the payphone to let everyone in New Orleans know what had happened. He returned to Keagan with lots of messages of love and support, and one specific message for Chay from Cassius. "The Crown Prince order me to said this cause he knowed I don't talk so crude if he don't," Henri complained. "Cassius say to told you most men get the baby after the honeymoon not before." Keagan and Chay both turned bright red and swore to limit their son's time around his naughty Uncle Cassie.