Summer was in full swing when The Phoenix opened to the public. The three principals in the company had been unable to think of a name for the bookstore/bakery/coffeeshop until Trip had suggested calling the place The Phoenix as a tribute to the building and its staff starting a new life from the ashes of the horrors that had taken place. Brad's mother, aka General Sweets, was in charge of the kitchen, and Admiral Readmore, aka Bambi Phillips, was managing the bookstore part of the business. Ronnie was there as much as he was legally allowed to be, given his age. He spent most of his time helping Brad's mom in the bakery, while his boyfriend helped out by stocking the bookshelves. As it was summer break, Ron's other mom was also there a lot, as was Mr. Kennedy, both of them acting as security in the event of rowdy behavior or unwanted patronage from former church members. Brad, Chris, and Tora were working at the theater for Mr. Bassi.
There had been a small party to celebrate Ronald and Rose being officially adopted and getting their new last name. Ronnie sported an enormous name badge at the Phoenix, which proudly displayed his new full name: Ronald Geno Phillips. Ronnie had picked the new middle name himself and was quite proud of it. It was a salute to both of his new moms in that Geno was a typical Italian name for boys, plus, Geno was the name of the son of Bambi in the movie sequel which he had watched with his little sister. Of course, this also meant that whenever little Rose came to the shop, that she also had to have a name badge that displayed that she was Princess Rose Aurora Phillips. Rose had chosen her new middle name as well; hers based on the fact that she had just seen the movie Maleficent and just like Princess Aurora, she was saved and loved by a beautiful witch all dressed in black. Not even Chris' father or Mr. Kennedy had teased Ms. Phillips about the fact that she had gotten a little teary-eyed when the little girl had explained her name choice.
Brad thought that the summer was going by pretty uneventfully until his mom's phone rang one morning as she, Mr. Kennedy, and Brad were eating breakfast together at Phoenix. Brad didn't hear much of the conversation as he and Mr. Kennedy were talking at first, but when Mom came back to the table, they certainly noticed that something was up. She went to take a sip of coffee, but her hands shook so that she had to set the cup back down so as not to spill it on herself.
"Brad, sweetheart, that was our attorney, Ms. Whitcombe," she said quietly. "It seems that Elijah is being released from prison early due to an attack during a fight. He survived the attack, but Ralph Tasick apparently did not."
"They can't seriously be thinking that man deserves to be released from prison," Mr. Kennedy snapped.
"Apparently, the lawyer Elijah had for his defense has convinced a judge in the state capital to listen to an appeal based on the fact that the prison couldn't maintain his safety. It would seem this was not the first time Elijah has been… attacked. The state judge agreed that Elijah would be released from the state penitentiary for his health and safety. Once he has been discharged from the hospital, he will be set free on a bond that church members across the state raised for his defense while he waits for his new trial."
"How can any person who claims that their main motivation in life is love justify the harming… the deliberate, premeditated harming of innocent children?" Mr. Kennedy fumed. "Even before I knew his connection to you, love, I would die myself to protect Brad from anything or anyone intending him hurt. I love you every bit as much as any father should or can, son."
"Thanks, Dad," Brad said as he scooted his chair over to hug the man. "I love you too."
"I want this settled, Robert," Louise stated as she took her son's hand with one of hers and grabbed the hand of the man she loved with the other. "I want us married and Brad adopted by you before they release that troll of a man."
"Mom, you said he'll be free as soon as he gets out of the hospital," Brad started to say.
"Well, I didn't say that would be today, did I?" she smirked a bit. "I will skip the details because we are at a table with food, but… well, let's just say that Elijah had a rather full dance card while in prison, and he will be having some reconstructive surgery in a day or two, so we have about a week and a half before he gets out of the hospital." She gave her son a stern look at this point and then added, "On that note, you will take this one lesson from that man. When you and Chris take that particular step in your relationship, you WILL be thoroughly prepared and careful not to injure the receptive partner, whichever of you that happens to be."
"MOM! Can we please not discuss this in public at breakfast?" Brad squealed as he blushed all the way to the soles of his feet.
"Very well, son, but make no mistake, you and Chris will be having this discussion with Robert, Benny, and I, very soon."
"You plan for me to be in this discussion?" Robert asked, looking as uncomfortable suddenly as Brad did.
"You are his father now, unless you wish to call the whole thing off," Louise said with a mom look at the man sitting next to her at the table. "You knew when we met again that Brad and I are a package deal."
"And it is the best package I could ever hope to receive, I assure you both," Robert said as he wiped a tear from his eye. "I just didn't think…."
"Oh, you big softy you," Louise gushed as she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Of course, I want you to be his father. I wouldn't be asking you to adopt him if I didn't."
"Well, you both should know that I'm not asking you to be my Dad," Brad said firmly as he stood up. Robert and Louise both looked up at him in shock. "I've already claimed you. Paperwork doesn't mean a thing, in my opinion. You ARE my Dad. Now hurry up and make Mom an honest woman, so I'm not illegitimate." He turned and walked away, carrying his dishes to the kitchen.
"I know he did not just…." Louise spluttered.
"Didn't just act exactly like his mother?" Robert teased. "He sure did, and that's precisely why I love you both so very much." This time it was he that leaned over and kissed her, and not on the cheek either.
"OH EWW! Parental PDA!" Chris squealed when he walked into the room from outside. "I thought this was supposed to be a family-safe place. What if children came in here and saw this?"
"Yes, Admiral Sweets?"
"Shut up and go kiss your boyfriend so I can kiss mine in peace," Louise ordered.
"Yes, ma'am," the teen grinned and ran for the kitchen.
Moments later, another teen squealed in horror at the public display of affection. "Oh gross. Nobody said I would have to watch old people porn to work here."
"RONALD!" Bambi and Fawn Phillips both scolded. "Kitchen duties now, young man," Bambi ordered.
"Robert Kennedy! If I'm not allowed to make out with my wife during her business hours, then neither are you."
"Funny that you should call her my wife already, Fawn, dear," Robert responded to Ms. Phillips with a smile.
"Neither of you seems to be complaining," Bambi observed. "What's wrong with this picture?"
"Well, I'm just trying to figure out how you can be a maid of honor on both sides at the same time," Louise told her business partner with a smile.
"What do you mean? Both sides of what? Wait… Maid of honor? OHHHHH! Are you two official now?" Bambi squealed excitedly.
"We will be if my sister in all but blood will agree to officiate for our hand fasting," Robert said as he smiled at his best friend.
"Robert, you and Louise… I'm touched that you…. Oh damn it, get over here and hug me, you two."
"Mom, Dad, you broke my favorite teacher," Brad complained as he stood in the doorway of the kitchen. "Don't worry, Miss Switch. Your secret is safe with me. I'll never tell a soul you have a fluffy side."
"Robert, that boy is picking up dangerous habits of yours, and he isn't even your child yet," Ms. Phillips growled.
"He says he is, Fawn," Robert answered proudly. "I was informed that he has already claimed me and that the paperwork is completely unnecessary in his mind."
"It may be unnecessary in his mind, but it isn't in court," Louise stated decisively. "I want this all done asap. That bigoted, judgmental, hateful monster will never have any say-so over my son or me again."
"What's happened?" Bambi asked as she pulled up a chair to the table where Robert and Louise were sitting. Her wife had already taken the other seat. "You said you want this done quickly, so I know something happened. Please tell me that this is because there's a bundle of joy involved, because otherwise…."
"What?!? No, Bambi, I am NOT pregnant, thank you very much," Louise gasped in a scandalized voice.
"Aww, here I was getting all excited about being a big brother," Brad teased as he too pulled up a chair to join the adults. "No, Aunt Bambi, it's actually because of my sperm donor getting out of jail."
"We just received a call from our attorney as well," Fawn Phillips confirmed. "Ronald took the news quite well, considering everything his donor put him through. Rose surprised us the most, however. She simply asked if that was all we needed to tell her and then asked if she could go to her friend Angela's house to sunbathe by their pool."
"The Porter's got a pool?" Robert asked. "I didn't realize he was doing so well as an accountant in such a small town."
"Their pool is inflatable and only 18 inches deep," Bambi informed him with a laugh. "But for Angela and Rose, it might as well be the Riviera itself."
"See, I thought I would miss this living in a small town, but I am happy to have been mistaken," Linda Archer said as she and Trip walked into the Phoenix. "You go to the best eatery in town, and you are guaranteed to see the best people. Good morning, ladies and gentleman," she added with a smile.
"Good morning, Ms. Bambi," Trip greeted. "Hello, Ms. Fawn. How are Ronnie and Rose doing?"
"If you think I'm mourning that jerk, I'm going to have to disappoint you," Ronnie said as he walked out of the kitchen and into his boyfriend's arms.
"The only way you could disappoint me is if you were letting this make you feel guilty in some way," Trip said seriously. "I know you still blame yourself for a lot of the things that happened, but, angel, you didn't get him killed. You didn't make him act the way he did to get him into prison. It was his choice to abuse you. It was his fault he was in prison, not yours."
"Well spoken, son," Ms. Phillips said with a smile. "We tried to tell him that, of course, but he's already reached that age where he doesn't always listen to his mothers."
"He's grown up so fast," Bambi added with a twinkle in her eye. "It seems like just a few weeks ago we were bringing him home from the hospital."
"HAHA, Mom. That was a couple of weeks ago," Ronnie said while rolling his eyes as everyone else in the room laughed.
"Seriously, Ronald, it is perfectly understandable for you to be upset over what has happened," Ms. Phillips said as she walked over to join Trip and Ronnie's hug. "He may not be your father anymore, but you did once think of him that way and the fact that he is dead now…. Well, you are allowed to feel how you feel about that. We just want you to know that you can talk to any of us in this room about how you are feeling, so that it does not overwhelm you, or cause you undue stress."
"Mostly right now I just feel guilty, but not about him getting killed," Ronnie said quietly. "I feel guilty because when you first told me what had happened my first thought was that I was glad he was dead. I shouldn't be glad when someone dies, not even him."
"Normally I would agree with you, Ronald. However, given what you have been through because of that man and his religion, I think you are justified in feeling some relief and yes, even happiness, that he is gone from this plane of existence, never to harm you again," Ms. Phillips said.
"Yeah, it's just too bad your sperm donor couldn't have taken mine with him," Brad said as he gave Ronnie a bro hug. "Sorry if that upsets you, Mom."
"Actually, Brad, I was thinking the same thing," she smiled back. "It would be nice to be free of him for good, but we will be soon anyway. As part of my divorce proceedings, I have asked Ms. Whitcombe to not only sue for sole custody, but to go for complete removal of his parental rights. That will clear the way for Robert to marry me and adopt you."
Halfway across the state at that very moment, a former pastor lay in a hospital bed on his stomach growling, "God's vengeance shall be done. They will be smitten from the land utterly as the wicked were destroyed from the Holy Land by God's chosen people."