Clark's Story, page 1
The Making of A Man
Copyright 2013 by Diane Adams
First eBook publication: 2012
Cover design by Meredith Russell
Edited by Chris Quinton
Some people have a bucket list, that famous list of things to do before they die. Clark has a list too, and it can be summed up in a single word: Love. For Clark, love is what his friends, Alex and Jared, share. This is what he wants with Stevie.
Stevie holds his heart, but Clark struggles to convince her of his sincerity simply because she can't let go of her past enough to have faith to truly trust another. He is beset with jealousy over his best friends for the first time. Everything looks so easy for Alex and Jared while every step forward he takes with Stevie, seems to result in two steps back.
Frustrated and on the verge of defeat, Clark’s bitter hopelessness spills over into other parts of his life. Unable to abandon his dreams and move on, will Clark’s unconditional love for Stevie cost him everything?
All Rights Reserved:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer to peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
To My Readers.
This book is for you. It was your love for Alex and Jared, and your interest in their lives that gave me the courage to try something different. I hope you enjoy this intimate look at the lives of Clark and Stevie as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You are the best.
The authors acknowledge the trademarked status and owners of the following wordmarks used in this story:
Marks-A-Lot: Avery Dennison Corporation
Google: Google, Inc.
Cool Whip: Kraft Foods Global Brands, LLC
"So Beautiful" by Darren Hayes: Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Chapter 1 – Thanksgiving Plus
Chapter 2 – Back Home
Chapter 3 – If The World Were Perfect
Chapter 4 – Let Me See Your Scars
Chapter 5 – Getting Going
Chapter 6 – One Step Forward
Chapter 7 – Two Steps Back
Chapter 8 – Endless Days
Chapter 9 – That Hollowed Out Feeling
Chapter 10 – Harder Than Rough
Chapter 11 - Leaving
Chapter 12 – Giving Thanks
Chapter 13 – Worth It All
"I don't see why we can't have the kind of Thanksgiving dinner normal people have."
Clark didn't try to hide the smile his twelve-year-old daughter's complaint brought to his face. Clark and Stevie had shared Thanksgiving with Alex and Jared since they were just out of high school. Admittedly, not the in the most traditional way people celebrated the holiday, but Jared and Alex excelled at doing things different than most people.
Annie tossed him a cutting look. "Don't laugh at me, Daddy. It's rude." She continued covering the trays of deviled eggs spread out on the long counter in front of her.
Eight trays double stacked, twenty-four eggs in each one. Clark wondered if it would be enough, Annie's deviled eggs were popular. His mother started letting her help in the kitchen after Clark and Stevie had adopted her at the tender age of six.
"I'm not laughing, baby." Clark lied through his teeth. "You don't think we're normal?"
The slightly slanted, tawny colored eyes didn't belong in the face of a child, but the way they rolled at his question was one hundred percent preteen.
"Do you?" Annie snapped on the last lid and turned to face Clark, her expression defying him to lie. Her bobbed hair swung even with her jaw line. Golden brown, it shone in the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window.
Clark considered the annual Thanksgiving dinner they were preparing to attend at Alex and Jared's—the day of the holiday sans meat—as tradition, and Jared, demanded. Turkey came on the scene the day after, Thanksgiving Plus they all called it. Jared was a stickler for tradition, not popular mainstream type traditions but those created by life's experiences. Things that meant nothing to anyone outside their circle became treasured moments in the hands of Jared Douglas.
"We're better than normal." Clark winked at his daughter. "We're like normal-plus"
Annie giggled. "Daddy, you're silly."
She took off the apron she wore to work in the kitchen, sky blue with a rainbow embroidered on the top and the pocket. His mother had taught her to sew simple items the year before, and Annie had been embroidering for a couple years. Stevie called her a girl's girl, and it did seem Annie had the determination to master any task or talent traditionally considered female. When encouraged to stretch beyond those interests, she would laugh, shake her head, and remind them there were plenty of people around the house to do boy things. Considering she had four brothers it was hard to argue with her logic.
Clark watched her stack the carriers next to the huge bowl containing the salad Stevie had prepared earlier.
"Did you have fun making the eggs with Grammy yesterday?" Clark's mother, modern in every way, took an unfathomable delight in Annie's feminine ways and encouraged her at every turn.
Annie's smile lit her face and the sunlight spilling into the room dimmed.
"Yes! She made the cornbread pudding stuff, and she showed me how to get the mashed potatoes just right. I'm going to make them at Christmas."
Feigning disappointment, Clark gasped in horror. "No eggs?"
Annie's little girl giggle sounded like music to his ears. "Don't worry, Daddy. I'll make the eggs, too."
Clark's huge sigh of relief brought another peal of laughter. Annie's suddenly serious expression appeared like a cloud covering the sun.
"Daddy, when I was shopping with Grammy yesterday I saw Grammy Ross." Small white teeth worried her lower lip. Clark's heart gave a twinge of concern and he moved around the counter to stand beside his daughter.
He leaned against the surface. "Oh yeah? How is she?" Alex's mother tended to be a sore spot for him. Any mention of her filled him with anxiety.
Annie shrugged one small shoulder. "Okay, I guess. I asked if she was coming to have dinner with us. She said she made other plans, but to give Uncle A a hug. That's all." Annie dropped her gaze and laid the apron on the counter top. "Nothing major."
Clark reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear, and with a gentle finger lifted her chin until their eyes met once more. "It's not all. What's bothering you?"
"She never comes. Nana is there, and Grammy and Gramps. Gramps Ross always comes unless he's sick. But she never comes and she never sends Uncle J a hug."
Observations, but no questions. Clark sighed. Kids and their timing. Even prepared for this moment, it was difficult. The twins had noticed by the time they were eight And, unless there was a miracle, he'd have this conversation twice more in coming years.
Having nothing to do with Janet Ross would be his first choice and Stevie agreed with him. However, Alex and Jared did not. Janet had limited contact with Alex, never cutting him off completely, but she pretended Jared didn't exist. It infuriated friends of the couple.
"We won't be reduced to her level. And cutting her completely ou
Alex's words, tinged with resigned sadness that tore Clark's heart, made him want to hit something. He could argue, but faced with the fact that he and Stevie loaded up the kids twice a year and went to visit her mother at the mental institution, made any argument he made against having Janet Ross in his life a little lame.
The rules were never discussed, but Janet seemed to know instinctively where the boundaries lay. When they visited, she talked to the children about Alex, treated them with love, and never mentioned her feelings about homosexuals, or Jared. The strategy worked fine for the younger kids. When they got old enough to recognize the slight for what it was, things changed. The twins' feelings for her turned from love to tolerance, much as she exhibited towards Alex. Clark felt sure the same thing would soon happen with Annie.
"Well, angel, Grammy Ross doesn't think Alex and Jared should be together." He began the speech he'd prepared and committed to memory for the situation.
Annie turned out to be more intuitive than the boys, latching on to his meaning immediately. "Grammy Ross is one of those people?" She sounded horrified. "But Daddy, Uncle A and J have been together forever. Doesn't she care that they're in love?"
Clark pulled her into a tight hug and Annie buried her face in his chest. "No, she doesn't care. She thinks it's wrong."
Annie's thin arms squeezed hard around Clark's waist. "But she's his mom, doesn't that hurt?"
Clark had to regroup. Annie's reaction, so different from the twins' frank 'that's stupid' before they moved on to something else, left Clark speechless. He heard a sound in the doorway and looked up to see Stevie standing there, concern written on her face. He gave her a small, tight smile.
"It does hurt, Annie. But people don't always think about feelings when they have strong ideas about something. Uncle Alex thinks Grammy Ross can't help how she feels and he forgave her a long time ago. So did Uncle Jared. They are a little sad, but they still love her."
Annie pulled away, her little face fierce, hands fisted at her side. "Well I don't. I'll never forgive her and I'll never love her again. She's mean."
Clark ran a hand through his short hair.
Stevie gave him a sad glance and moved to wrap an arm around Annie's shoulders in a comforting hug. "It's okay, sweetie. It's fine for you to feel that way. Mommy and Daddy kind of feel that way, too, but we have to think about Uncle Alex and Uncle Jared. They are sad and hurt, and we have to try to make that easier for them, so we try our best to do what they want. It's very hard to forgive someone when they hurt people you love." She pressed a kiss to Annie's hair. "Now, it's almost time to leave, will you go get Jens? I think he fell asleep behind the door again. And blow the whistle for the twins, they're in the shop."
Annie nodded and sniffed, rubbing her face with the paper towel Clark handed her. She hurried away to do what her mother asked.
"That was unexpected." Stevie sighed, leaning into Clark's side. He wrapped his arm around her waist.
"Mom didn't tell me they saw Ms Ross yesterday." He couldn't keep the tight anger out of his voice.
Out of them all, he struggled the hardest to comply with Alex's request. Clark's eyes slid closed and he trembled against his wife. "I hate her, Stevie. I hate her so much. I try to be forgiving like Alex and Jared, but I just want to smash her face in. And now she's hurt Annie."
Stevie pressed a kiss against the pulse in Clark's neck. "Janet Ross is a lesson they need to learn. Our kids live in a little isolated world of love and acceptance. They hear about things—hate and prejudice—but they never see it firsthand. At least Grammy Ross is a lesson we know is coming and we're ready for it." She snuggled against his side, voice resigned. "Their first experience with hate would blindside them wherever it comes from. At least this way, we aren't caught off guard, too."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Um, yeah, not really buying that either, but thanks for trying."
He laughed with Stevie just as Alexander and Jared, nicknamed Xander and Jay to keep everyone sane, barreled in through the laundry room. The fourteen-year-old boys, the first of Clark and Stevie's five children, were four years old when the couple began fostering them. They had gone to meet little Alexander not long after being approved as foster parents. A surprise awaited them in the form of a twin brother no one warned them about because child services planned to foster them separately. The small boys had huddled together, watching Clark and Stevie through wide scared eyes. After seeing the way the children clung together it seemed anticlimactic to learn that young Alex's twin was named Jared, making it that much harder to leave him behind. The twins' case worker had been beside herself with delight when they requested to foster both boys. Two years later the young woman had been their staunchest supporter when they filed to adopt.
When Xander and Jay were eight Annie came into their lives, a bright cheerful six-year-old who'd been in the system since birth. Foster children often got shifted from home to home in an effort to make room for them all, but when Annie landed in the Johnson household on her sixth birthday, sans front teeth and eager to be a part of a family, Clark and Stevie never let her go. They adopted Annie before her seventh birthday.
Kels—Kellsey—had been the first child they took in as an infant. He joined their family at only a few months old, given up by a young mother who wanted and tried to keep him, but couldn't provide adequate care for him. The open adoption ensured Kels' mother received a yearly update. Stevie faithfully kept a journal for her, filled with pictures. His birth mother moved out of state, but a gift always arrived for him in the mail, accompanied with a thank you note soon after Stevie sent the update.
Clark and Stevie adopted little Jens at birth. He came to them as a struggling, scrawny crack baby. Offered the chance to foster him first and allow the state to pay for his extensive medical care, Clark and Stevie refused, anxious to give the sick infant the security of his own home. Under their loving care, Jensen had grown into a chubby, dimpled two-year-old with the odd habit of napping behind open doors. Their home bursting with children of all ages, Clark thought they were done, but he noticed Stevie watching a tow-headed little girl in the mall with a familiar expression on her face. He expected any day for her to suggest they had room for one more. He thought they probably did. Annie would love a sister.
His heart aching with love for his wife, Clark pressed a kiss against her temple.
"Is it time to go?" the boys demanded in unison.
Annie appeared from the living room, balancing Jens on her hip and holding the hand of five-year-old Kels.
Stevie looked at their children and turned to Clark, eyes shining. "I love Thanksgiving."
"Why's that?" Xander demanded, though he was more interested in the food than conversation. "Ow!" He glared at Annie, who had smacked him when he tried to pry open one of the egg containers.
Clark moved between the battling siblings. "Because it was on a Thanksgiving, many moons ago, I won your mom's heart." Clark winked at the kids and the older boys groaned.
"Dad, we really don't have time for all that mushy stuff. It's time to load the car." Jay tossed his hair out of his face. His light hair and pale skin were a contrast to Xander's swarthier complexion and dark hair. Despite their differences in looks, their temperaments made them like two peas in a pod. They put words into action. Grabbing dishes, they hurried out to load the back of the SUV. Clark bemoaned the gas usage in the thing, but with such a big family, they didn't have much choice when it came to transportation. At least they didn't own a mini-van.
Stevie moved to take the baby. "Clark, help the boys. Annie and I will get the little kids' gear and load them in the car."
Clark's family had the routine of loading up to go somewhere down pat, and before long, Stevie was settled in the passenge
"You know what?" Annie asked as they backed out of the drive way.
"What, baby?" Clark caught her gaze briefly in the rearview mirror.
"I was thinking. I'm still mad at Grammy Ross, but it's sad, too. It must be really lonely being so mean."
"From the mouths of babes." Stevie whispered.
Clark swallowed hard and focused on driving. Not once had he tried to imagine how Janet Ross might be affected by her own behavior. For the first time, he had a glimmer of understanding why Alex could forgive her.
But he still wanted to punch her face.
* * * *
"We're here!" Stevie called out, her family crowding through the back door, hurrying through the mud room into Alex and Jared's huge kitchen.
Coming in the door landed them beside a kitchen fully enclosed with long expanses of counter space. At the far end of the room, just beyond the cabinets lay the formal dining area where the table had been expanded to its full length, seating sixteen. Stevie had no idea where Alex and Jared kept the extra chairs and extensions for the table since, without the extra leaves, it normally seated eight. No doubt Alex had designed some secret cubby and Jared had built it with one hand tied behind his back, during a fifteen minute break from work while he whistled show tunes. She shook her head, amused at her thoughts, herding the smallest children out of the path of the older ones.
A family room lay to the right of the dining area. A huge TV took up one wall, a fireplace directly under it, already lit and adding a cozy ambiance to the room. The overstuffed furniture arranged in front of it made a cozy place to watch a movie or hold a conversation. Behind that grouping, things got more active with smaller chairs and huge ottomans encouraging game play. Beyond those lay a foosball game and air hockey table. The back wall contained floor to ceiling shelves filled with books. Sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks were tucked in with architect books and carpentry manuals.