“I could get used to this.” Chase sighed contentedly.
“I know what you mean,” Kale agreed.
“This trip is more my style, India kicked my ass.”
“Yeah, I think I’m still recovering,” said Kale. “But it was fun though, right?”
“Fun doesn’t really describe it but man, what an adventure!”
“Yeah.” Kale smiled. “This is different, almost perfect.”
Kale and Chase got engaged, became parents, and got married in the blink of an eye. Because of the unique situation they found themselves in with their son, and the fact they were both fulltime college students, there hadn’t been any time for a honeymoon. They’d resolved to do some traveling over the summer and Kale, who planned everything, surprised his husband by doing something spontaneous. He took a photography assignment from his mentor, Jeff Miller, and led his husband and their best friends on a three week adventure across the spine of India. Chase hit the nail on the head when he called it an adventure but this trip, their official honeymoon, was different, it was all about relaxing and being together.
They’d arrived in Paris a week earlier and after a few days in the French Capitol they took a train to Amsterdam. The main idea behind the trip was to be without limits, to go where their whim directed and just enjoy the time together in some of the most beautiful cities in the world. When Amsterdam didn’t agree with them, Kale got tickets on a Rhine cruise ship that would take them to Cologne and from there they planned to explore Germany.
“Almost perfect?” asked Chase as they relaxed on the sundeck and watched the world float by.
“I miss the kid,” Kale admitted.
“Me too but aren’t you the one who told me it was important for us to have time apart when I was crying at the airport?” Chase teased.
“Crying? More like bawling. You were making a scene,” Kale snorted. “And I stand by what I said but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the little rug-rat.”
“I know, I’m just giving you a hard time.” Chase grinned. “And you were right, time apart is healthy. Besides, you heard Linc on the phone; he’s having the time of his life with Uncle Jamie and Uncle Sean.”
“Thanks for reminding me.” Kale rolled his eyes. “I’d almost forgotten we left our precious child in the hands of my little brothers.”
Strictly speaking Linc was staying with grandma and grandpa Kirkwood during the week and with grandma and grandpa Dudley on the weekends because both of Chase’s parents worked. Kale’s mother was in charge but he knew there would be times his brothers would have to look after Linc while she was busy, it had happened a few times when they’d been on their Indian adventure. The boys called home every other day just to make sure everyone was ok.
“Awww, come on, Jamie’s come a long way since that first time they babysat,” said Chase. “And your mom said he and Sean were really helpful with Linc while we were in India.”
“Do I have to remind you about, ‘Fuck Goliath?”
“That was, well, we’ll call it a setback.” Chase laughed.
“I suppose it could have been worse. That incident only made us look like bad parents. The first time Sean and Jamie babysat I had to throw away my favorite button down.” Kale giggled.
“That wasn’t exactly their fault.”
The first time Kale and Chase brought Linc home they had to leave him with his uncles while they went to Chase’s house. Uncle Jamie and Uncle Sean didn’t know you couldn’t feed little boys cookies and Mountain Dew. The results weren’t pleasant.
“Since when are you Jamie’s staunch defender?”
“Oh I admit, I used to think he was a little Visigoth but he’s grown up a lot this last year.”
“That’s true, the last conversation I had with him he didn’t swear once.” Kale laughed. Jamie had a long history of letting his mouth get him into trouble.
“We’ve all gotta grow up sometime,” said Chase.
“You’re right and Sean’s been good for him,” Kale agreed.
“Yeah, and they’re so cute together.” Chase smiled. “I still can’t get over the resemblance.”
“You and me both,” Kale exclaimed. “When we were saying goodbye at the airport, everyone was hugging and stuff; I couldn’t tell which was which.”
“I’m glad that Linc has them,” said Chase. “I always wanted a big family with lots of aunties and uncles, and little cousins to play with. Now Linc can have the childhood I always wanted.”
“Oh, so that’s why you married me, not for me but for the extended family that came with me,” Kale teased.
“That and a few other things,” said Chase as he reached over and gave Kale’s butt a hard pinch.
“Ouch!” Kale yelped and jumped at the surprise.
“I love you.” Chase giggled, put his arms around Kale’s neck and kissed him.
“Love you more.” Kale grinned. “What would you say to continuing this conversation in our cabin?”
“I like the way you think,” said Chase.
They held hands and stole kisses as they made their way back to their cabin and an older woman they encountered in the hall commented, “You must be newlyweds.” The boys smiled, told her she’d guessed correctly and thanked her when she wished them a happy life together. Kale felt much more at ease with public displays of affection in Europe. No one looked at them cross-eyed when they held hands or kissed, no one cared. It was getting better at home, after all, they’d been able to get married and Kale was legally adopting Linc so there wouldn’t be any problems if something happened to Chase. That was progress, wasn’t it? Yes, things were getting better but there was still a long way to go.
When they reached their cabin the boys stumbled into the room and began to shed clothes. They kicked off their shoes, took off their t-shirts, helped each other out of their shorts and hopped on the bed in their undies. They rolled around, kissing and touching, enjoying the fact they didn’t have to whisper or hold back lest little ears overhear. Chase was kissing his way down Kale’s bypass scar when the phone rang.
There was no question they would stop to answer it. All of their friends knew they were out of the country and wouldn’t have expected to get a hold of them. As excited as he was to take this trip, Kale fully embraced parenthood and even adapted to it faster than Chase. He’d signed up for an international calling plan before they left because there was no way he was going to leave the country again without some sort of tether to their little boy. He’d missed Linc too much in India.
“Mom?” asked Kale when he picked up the phone. He hadn’t bothered to look at the caller ID.
“What? No, Kale, its Jeff Miller.”
Kale met Jeff Miller when Jeff shot him for his first modeling gig and since then he’d become a mentor to the budding photographer. Jeff looked at Kale’s portfolio, complimented him on his skill and offered advice on how to improve. They struck up a friendship and since then Jeff had shot Kale for a other ads and used him as his assistant during New York Fashion Week. They’d been working on a fine art project together when Jeff offered him the job shooting the Rickshaw Run for Sidetracked Magazine.
“Jeff, what’s up?” asked Kale. Jeff was one of his friends on Facebook, Kale had put out a detailed post about his honeymoon and didn’t think Jeff would be the type to call just to chit chat.
“I’m sorry to bother you on your honeymoon but I’m in something of a bind and I could really use your help,” said Jeff.
“Ok, uh, what can I do?”
“Der Spiegel hired me to shoot the President of Romania for a story they’re doing on the 25 year anniversary of the fall of communism. I’ve had a family emergency come up and I’m not going to be able to make the trip. Rule number one in photography is keep your clients happy if you want repeat business so I told them I’d get someone to take my place,” Jeff explained.
“Let me get this straight, you want me to shoot the President of Romania?”
“I know it’s a huge imposition but I wouldn’t ask if I weren’t in a jam.”
“I don’t know, Jeff, I mean I’m flattered but I’m traveling kind of light.”
“What are you shooting with?” asked Jeff. He knew that like any good photographer, Kale wouldn’t go far without a camera.
“I’ve got my d810 but I barely remembered to bring a tripod with me let alone any studio equipment.”
“That’s ok, I know a company in Berlin that will rent us the lighting equipment and overnight it to your hotel in Bucharest.”
“When would I need to be there? I’m on a river cruise at the moment and won’t get to Cologne until tomorrow night.”
“That’s fine; you don’t need to be there until Wednesday.”
“Alright.” Kale sighed. “Let me ask Chase.”
While Kale had been on the phone he and Chase had moved to a sitting position on the end of the bed. When Kale put the phone on the night stand and turned to face his husband, Chase slapped him upside the head.
“Ouch! What was that for?”
“When you say, 'Shoot the President of Romania', I assume he means with your Nikon and not a sniper rifle, correct?”
“Well, yeah,” said Kale. Chase slapped him upside the head again. “Ouch! Would you quit that?”
“Do you really think I’d let you pass up and opportunity like that?”
“Do you want a fresh one?” asked Chase, brandishing his hand, threatening to smack him again.
“No.” Kale giggled.
“Then pick up that phone and tell the man you’ll do it. Two adventures in one summer.” Chase beamed. Kale smiled brightly and kissed him before picking up the phone.
“Ok…” Kale started.
“It’s alright.” Jeff laughed. “I heard your hubby. I’ll email you all the details, when you get it, reply with your social security number. Romanian security will do a quick background check on you and then we’re good to go.”
“Ok, will do.”
“I appreciate this, Kale. You’re really pulling my ass out of the fire on this one. I’ll have my assistant make all the arrangements, you guys just get to the airport in Cologne. We’ll take care of everything else.”
Kale thanked his mentor and then turned to Chase. He was lying back, propped up on his elbows and looking incredibly sexy in nothing but his black Calvin’s.
“So, where were we?” asked Kale, a wicked smirk spreading across his face.
“I thought I was about to get fucked,” said Chase, spreading his legs and flashing a naughty smirk of his own. Kale pounced on him and kissed him passionately as Chase pulled up his legs, hooked his toes in Kale’s waistband and pushed his underwear down.
“I love how limber you are.” Kale giggled.
“Shut up and take me,” said Chase lustily as he pulled Kale close and kissed him hard.
After making love Kale’s body was flooded with a new sense of excitement. His greatest wish was to be a professional photographer, like Jeff, and now he was on his second assignment, traveling to a foreign capital to shoot a world leader. Sometimes Kale thought he led a charmed life. Sure, he had a heart bypass at sixteen but since then it seemed like God or fate or whoever had been paying him back for it. So many good things had happened to him since that day it was impossible for him to chalk it all up to dumb luck.
As the sun was setting in Germany it was rising in America. Kale kissed Chase one last time and while Chase headed for the shower, Kale started making calls. His family and friends loved him as much as he loved them and he had to share his joy with them. He called his parents first and of course they were proud of him, he’d talked to his son who was far too young to understand what daddy was so excited about and then he’d called Alec and Sasha.
Alec and Sasha were more than friends, more than best friends, more than lovers. He didn’t really have a word to describe them and that was ok. One of the most important things he’d learned from Chase, from Alec and from Sasha, is that the heart has a way of communicating its wants and desires without words. Alec and Sasha were so excited for him they didn’t even bitch about being woken up at the crack of dawn.
“Ready for round two?” asked Chase once Kale finished his calls. He pulled the sheet away and straddled his husband.
“You just showered,” said Kale.
“Yeah, and it was so lonely in there,” Chase pouted. “Don’t you want me anymore?”
“Oh shut up.” Kale giggled and pulled Chase down on top of him. Chase was about to impale himself on Kale’s erection when the phone rang again. Kale was surprised to see Alec’s number on the screen having just hung up with him.
“Yes?” Kale answered seriously, expecting some flip reply from his partner in crime.
“Hey, Leafy,” Alec whispered.
“Why are you whispering?” asked Kale, instinctively whispering back.
“Cause, duh, I don’t want Sash to hear.”
“Of course.” Kale rolled his eyes. “What’s up?”
“So you’re going to Romania to shoot the president, that’ll be in the capitol, right?”
“That is where one usually finds a country’s leader.”
“And that’s Bookarrest, right?”
“Bucharest but yes, Alec, what’s going on?”
“I need you to do me a favor, actually, it’s for Sash,” said Alec.
“You’re in luck; I’m in a generous mood today.”
“Gee, thanks,” Alec snorted.
“Come on, you know I’d do anything for either of you so spill it,” said Kale.
“Sasha, his dad’s adopted him from Romania…”
“I always thought it was Russia,” Kale interrupted.
“No, Romania, from an orphanage in Bucharest.”
“Ok, my interest is now more than piqued. What’s this about?”
“Look, Sash loves his dad’s and Bobby more than anything but lately he’s been curious about his birth parents…”
“Sure, I can understand that.”
“He just wants to know what happened to them, are they ok, that kind of thing,” Alec explained. “I got his adoption paperwork from his dad’s and I’ve made some calls but you know me and authority figures…”
“Yeah, a picture is forming.” Kale snorted.
“Throw in a foreign language and I was totally fucked,” said Alec. “You guys going there though, its fate brother. If I email you a copy of the paperwork can you guys go by the orphanage, see if they’ll tell you anything?”
“Absolutely, but Alec, why did you wait until now, you know I would have helped you with this.”
“Dude, I know, you’re the best, but this is something I wanted to do special for Sash. I’ve gotten as far as I could and I need you now.”
“Consider it done.”
“Awesome, I owe you one.”
“No you don’t.”
“Don’t fight it, you know how I am,” said Alec and Kale could picture him grinning like a madman.
“Ok, thanks again. Kiss Chase for me?”
“Only if you kiss Sasha for me.”
“On the dick?” Alec giggled.
“I think we both know where our boys like to be kissed,” Kale snorted.
“Ok, later Captain Rim-Job!”
“Alec,” Kale rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“What did he say?” asked Chase.
“This,” said Kale as he pushed Chase back and lifted his legs to apply the promised kiss.
“Ohhh, I like the way that smartass thinks,” Chase cooed as Kale lapped at his most intimate opening.
The boys skipped dinner that night and spent their evening making love. After all, you can eat anytime but you only get one honeymoon. When they woke the next morning they wiled away the day on the ships observation deck, Chase reading a spy novel and enjoying the view while Kale captured the stunning German landscape with his prized Nikon. Chase loved to tease Kale and was fond of telling him, “If that camera and I were on a sinking ship and you could only save one of us, I have a strong feeling I’d be buried at sea.”
They reached Cologne just after 4pm and found a Mercedes and driver waiting for them when they disembarked.
“I’ll say this for Jeff,” said Chase as he climbed into the car, “he likes doing things first class.”
“Babe, it’s a Mercedes in Germany.”
“So did you notice how many of them were in the parking lot? It’s like getting picked up by a Chevy back home,” said Kale, an amused smile on his face.
“Hmmm, in that case do you think your mom would loan us her 'Chevy' next time we go out?”
“Ha, right, you know how much she loves that car,” said Kale. Then he pretended to pout, “Besides, we just got you a new car, don’t you like it?”
“I love it, it’s so spacious. You know what would be great?”
“If we drove it out to the ruins and you fucked me in it like you used too when you had the Beamer,” said Chase with a wicked grin.
“Chase,” Kale exclaimed as their driver tried to stifle a laugh.
“Oh God.” Chase blushed.
“You know how in India most people in the cities spoke English?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Chase.
“Same principal applies here.” Kale grinned.
Chase rolled his eyes and gave Kale a playful shove. Fortunately the ride to the airport was a brief one and though Chase wouldn’t make eye contact with the driver when he dropped them off at least he didn’t have to be embarrassed long.
While the ride to the airport might have been in luxury, the flight to Bucharest was not. Jeff’s assistant had booked the boys on a Meridiana flight and the planes the small Rome based airline used might as well have been Fiat’s of the sky. While neither Kale or Chase was exceedingly tall, both were cramped on the plane and were glad to stretch their legs when they landed.
Neither of the boys had ever traveled in Eastern Europe before, they knew next to nothing about Romania, and were stunned by the city that greeted them. As the taxi whisked them to their hotel they were dazzled by the bright lights of a city that rivaled Paris in its beauty. In fact, Paris was a perfect comparison considering the similar neoclassical architecture. Hell, Bucharest even boasted its own Arc de Triomphe or Arcul de Triumf in the local tongue.
“What do you think?” asked Kale as he looked up at the Arc. It was less terrifying to take in the sights then concentrate on what the driver considered driving.
“Wow, this is incredible,” said Chase. “Did you know it would be like this?”
“No, when I think of Eastern Europe I think of that movie we watched on Netflix.”
“Yeah, that one,” said Kale.
“You’re such a dork.” Chase laughed.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Kale rolled his eyes.
When the boys got to the hotel they were informed that a delivery had been made earlier in the day and that the packages had been taken to the room prior to their arrival. As they entered they found the equipment Jeff had arranged sitting in a pile of fitted canvas bags. Kale threw his bag on the bed and started going through the equipment while Chase enjoyed the view of the parliament building from the floor to ceiling windows.
“Do you really know how to use all that crap?” Chase teased as Kale played with his lights.
“Yes, actually, come over here so I can teach you,” said Kale.
“Why?” asked Chase as he took a seat on the floor across from his husband.
“Because, one, I need you to help me carry all this crap tomorrow and two, when I emailed my information to Jeff so he could pass it on to Romanian security I gave him yours too. I thought you’d want to come with me.”
“Aw, you’re so full of shit,” Chase cooed.
“What? I am…”
“You just want me to come and keep track of all this shit so all you have to do is play with your camera,” Chase teased. “I knew you loved it more than me.”
“Oh whatever,” Kale grumped. Chase just laughed and kissed his cheek.
“It’s so easy to get a rise out of you,” said Chase.
“You know how to push my buttons.”
“True,” Chase agreed and kissed him again.
Before Kale knew it he was on his back with Chase on top of him as they made out. Chase deftly unfastened Kale’s belt and got his shorts open and his underwear tucked under his balls. Before Kale could object, not that he would have, he was in Chase’s mouth. He ran his hands through Chase’s silky blond hair while his husband blew him. When Chase had enough he sat up on his knees and stripped Kale from the waist down then pulled out his own cock. He leaned in to kiss Kale again as his erection made contact with Kale’s entrance.
“You know, you’ve been almost as bad on this trip as Alec was in India,” said Kale between kisses.
“You remember what happened when we got back from India?” asked Chase as he sucked on Kale’s neck and fished the lube out of his pocket without missing a beat.
“Lots of things,” said Kale with a subtle moan as Chase nipped at one of his sweet spots.
“Remember the rug-rat waking us up to go to church?”
“Kinda hard to forget that one after what happened,” said Kale.
“Trip was over and it was back to reality,” said Chase. He’d squirted some lube onto his finger and began to probe Kale’s opening as he spoke. “When we get home we’ve got the camping trip and then it’s back to school, swimming practice, and raising our little man. I’m storing up sex now for when I can’t have it later.”
“That’s a great idea,” Kale exclaimed. He spread his legs wider, giving Chase more access. “But don’t you want to get naked first?”
“Uh uh,” said Chase in a breathy voice as he removed his fingers and replaced them with the head of his cock. Kale was still in his socks and t-shirt and Chase had his pants and undies around his knees. “This is kinda hot.”
The next morning the boys slept in and after a quick breakfast headed out to find the orphanage their best friend and lover had been adopted from. Kale was nervous about his appointment to photograph the Romanian president that afternoon and figured focusing his mind on helping someone he loved as much as Sasha would be a great and worthwhile distraction.
They were staying at the prestigious Hotel Cismigiu which had a friendly, English speaking, concierge in the lobby who was pleased to help the boys with their search. Sasha had been adopted from the Uncle Nicolae Home for Boys, a throwback to the last communist dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu. The problem was that Sasha had been put up for adoption at a time when the country was still transitioning into a democracy and the name of the orphanage had been changed in an attempt to help purge Romania of the remnants of the brutal Ceausescu regime. They couldn’t just Google the orphanage because it no longer existed as it had when Sasha’s dads found him.
The concierge understood the situation perfectly and as it happened, he’d assisted many young Americans who had been adopted in the 90’s and returned to Romania in search of their roots. The orphanage was now known as the Bucharest Center for Families and was located at Number 4 Aleea Voda, Sector 6, just blocks from the hotel.
It was a beautiful day and they had time to kill so Kale and Chase decided to walk. That might not have been the best idea as the city of Bucharest had more in common with Paris then its architecture and famous Arc. It was a mishmash of twisting and turning streets full of dead ends and street signs that were as tongue tying as those they’d encountered in India. Just when they thought they’d never find their destination they turned a corner and found Aleea Voda by sheer dumb luck.
The orphanage looked like a beautiful place, at least from the outside. The façade was neoclassical in design, as so much of the city was, and looked like it had once been the home of some Romanian nobleman.
“This is it,” said Chase.
“I don’t know about you but I’m kind of excited,” said Kale.
“Me too, can you imagine what Sash will do if we’re able to find his parents?”
“Well, he’ll cry first…” Kale started.
“Oh, like you wouldn’t?”
“I’m not teasing, I’d bawl,” said Kale. “We have to find something we can take back to Alec. If it means that much to Sash then it means that much to me.”
“You know, if you ever wonder why I married you, it’s because of things like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a good heart, Kale, and when you love someone they’re the luckiest person in the world because no one is more loyal, loving or caring then you. You give that to me, our son, Alec, Sasha, our whole family, and that’s why I love you.”
“Wow, and all this time I thought it was because I had a hot ass.” Kale grinned.
“And then sometimes I wonder why I let you play with Alec, he’s such a bad influence.” Chase rolled his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” said Kale, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze. “What you said, that was really sweet. I just didn’t know what to say.”
“I forgive you,” said Chase, pecking him on the cheek. “Let’s go find some parents.”
The building’s foyer was not so grand as its façade, it was a small cramped space with a desk, a couple of chairs and little else. There were no windows, only the front door and a door leading from the anti-room into the environs beyond.
“Buna dimineata,” said the grandmotherly woman behind the desk, smiling over her half-glasses. “Va pot ajuta?”
“Um, English?” asked Kale. He’d gotten so used to people in Western Europe speaking English that he expected it everywhere. Romania was different. Children in Romanian, at least when this woman had been a child, were taught that the west was decadent and corrupt, not to study its languages.
“Ah, nu, nu.” She shook her head, no, no.
“Ok, now what?” Kale asked Chase.
“Hmmm, idea,” said Chase, as if a light bulb had gone off over his head. “Parlez-vous français?”
Both Kale and Chase had studied French for years but Chase was by far the better speaker.
“Chase, she’s not going to speak French. Her generation grew up being taught that the west-”
“Oui,” she smiled, “Puis-je vous adier?”
“Anything else you’d like to add?” Chase grinned at his husband.
“Nope, I’ll shut up now,” said Kale. Chase proceeded to state their business in his flawless French.
“Our friend, Alexander Antonescu was adopted from this orphanage in 1995. We’re trying to find information on his parents,” said Chase, producing a copy of the adoption paperwork and presenting it to the old woman.
“Antonescu?” she said as she pushed her glasses up her nose and examined the document.
She studied the paperwork for a second before thrusting the page back into Chase’s hand.
“No, what do you mean no?” asked Chase.
“No Antonescu. You go now, please,” she said.
“I thought you didn’t speak English?” Kale raised an eyebrow.
“No English, no Antonescu. You go now,” she said as she came around the desk to shoo them away like wayward pigeons. “Go, go.”
“But we…” Kale started but she’d backed them out the door.
“No Antonescu, you go,” she repeated as she shut and locked the door.
“What the hell was that?” Kale exclaimed.
“Rude much?” Chase exclaimed.
“If she thinks she’s getting rid of us that easy she’s nuts,” said Kale as he banged on the door. “Hey, open up, we have business to discuss.”
“Come on, we just need five minutes,” Kale pleaded.
“Kale, she threw us out, she knows what we want she’s not going to open that door.”
“But she can’t just…” Kale started.
“But she did,” said Chase.
“So we just give up? Give up on Sash?”
“Hell no, we just have to think of something different.”
“Ok, what have you got?”
“Nothing yet,” said Chase. “And we don’t have time to do anything right now. We wasted too much time walking here, we’ve gotta get back to the hotel and change, it’s almost 1pm.”
“Shit,” Kale swore.
“It’ll be alright,” said Chase, putting an arm around his shoulders. “You’ll take the best picture of any Romanian president in the history of photography and while you’re doing that I’ll think of something.”
Two hours later the boys found themselves in a receiving room at the Palatul Parlmentului, Palace of Parliament. The massive building, seated atop Spring Hill in central Bucharest, was the largest civil administration building in the world and was as opulent as it was enormous. The marble floors and mahogany walls exuded power and Kale found it somewhat intimidating. After waiting half an hour a man in a western style suit stepped into the room and introduced himself.
“Hello, Mr. Kirkwood?”
“Yes, that’s me,” said Kale, standing on ceremony.
“I am Victor Preda, Chief of Staff to his excellency, President Korossy,” he said in flawless English as he extended his hand. “How do you do?”
“Very well, thank you,” said Kale. “This is my…assistant, Chase.”
The boys discussed it on their flight from Cologne and decided to keep the nature of their relationship to themselves while traveling in Romania. It’s not that they were ashamed by any means, far from it. They were in a country which hadn’t caught up to its western counterparts on homosexual equality and as they were visiting in an official capacity they decided discretion was best.
“I see, aren’t you a bit young for a photographer?” asked Mr. Preda, studying Kale’s youthful face.
“Perhaps but my portfolio speaks for itself,” said Kale. “They wouldn’t have sent me if I wasn’t qualified.”
“Of course.” Mr. Preda smiled. “President Korossy is extremely busy preparing to deliver his address on the anniversary of the fall of communism but he’s blocked out twenty minutes for the portrait. Will that be sufficient?”
“That will be fine,” Kale nodded.
“Very well gentlemen, if you would follow me please.”
Kale and Chase picked up their equipment and followed Mr. Preda down a long hall into an office full of secretaries then down another hall that ended at a door flanked by two large security men.
“This is President Korossy’s office,” said Mr. Preda opening the door to admit them. The room was covered in dark wood paneling, thick carpet and large windows covered in heavy drapes. Off to one corner as a large conference table and chairs but the room was dominated by an ornate desk that bore the crest of the Republic of Romania.
Kale didn’t like it. The room was as dark and oppressive as the communist regime that built it. He’d been sent to Bucharest to shoot a president who the briefing documents said was progressive, forward thinking, ready to lead his country into the new century, but the room originally built for Nicolae Ceausescu screamed dictator.
“Actually, sir, is there another location we might use?” asked Kale.
“No.” Mr. Preda smiled.
“Alright then, this will be perfect,” said Kale, remembering to always keep the client happy.
Mr. Preda stood off to the side while Chase set up the lights and Kale mounted his camera on the tripod. He took a couple of sample shots to get a feel for how things would look on camera and knew he’d have to boost his exposure to compensate for the dark room.
“Are you quite ready?” asked Mr. Preda.
“Yes sir, all set,” said Kale.
Mr. Preda nodded then stepped out of the room without a word. Kale and Chase traded a look but just as Chase was about to speak, Mr. Preda returned.
“Gentlemen, his excellency President Andre Korossy,” said Mr. Preda.
“Mr. President,” said Kale, shaking the man’s hand. He reminded Kale of the first time he’d seen his dad in his judge’s robe. Tall, well built, salt and pepper hair, gray eyes and a serious face.
President Korossy didn’t speak English so Mr. Preda translated the introductions and then Kale’s instructions for the shoot. The President sat behind his desk, in a chair that could better be described as a throne, and folded his hands on the blotter. Kale spent twenty minutes shooting from different angles and with different camera settings but picture after picture all he could think was 'Dictator'.
The president’s schedule was exact and as soon as the twenty minutes were up Mr. Preda instructed Kale and Chase to start breaking down their equipment. Normally the first thing Kale would do is remove his lens and pack up his camera in order to keep it safe but something inside him told him to keep the Nikon handy. As they broke down the lights under the watchful eyes of Mr. Preda, President Korossy stood and walked over to the window. He had his hands in his pockets, his shoulders were relaxed and his stern face melted into a neutral calm.
Kale caught the president out of the corner of his eye and it was as if something clicked inside him. The way the bright light was coming in through the window, the president’s stance, his expression, this image screamed confident leader looking into the radiance of his country’s future. Kale grabbed his camera and shot ten frames before the president saw him and turned to face him.
“Thank you Mr. President,” said Kale.
President Korossy and Mr. Preda traded a look and Kale noticed the confusion on their faces. He brought out his iPad and plugged his camera into it then showed them the pictures he’d taken. Their faces remained grim and impassive as he scrolled through the desk shots but the president cracked the slightest smile when Kale got to the shot he’d taken in front of the window. The president spoke in rapid Romanian, patted Kale on the shoulder and quietly left the room.
“He likes you, Mr. Kirkwood,” said Mr. Preda. Kale beamed.
With the lights packed up, Mr. Preda led the boys back to the lobby and shook their hands.
“President Korossy is very pleased with the session, he hopes you’ll suggest that picture you shot in front of the window to the publishers of Der Spiegel,” said Mr. Preda.
“I only submit my best work,” said Kale. “I won’t give them an option.”
“Excellent.” Mr. Preda smiled. “I hope you will enjoy the rest of your stay in our country. If there is anything this office can do for you while you are here, please do not hesitate to call me directly,” he said and handed Kale his business card.
“Thank you Mr. Preda. We…” Kale started.
“Actually, now that you mention it,” Chase interrupted. “There is something you could help us with.”
He took off his backpack and pulled out the file with Sasha’s paperwork. Chase quickly explained the situation and the events at the orphanage earlier in the day as Mr. Preda thumbed through the documents.
“May I keep this?” asked Mr. Preda.
“Sure, I have copies on my hard drive,” said Chase.
“Very good, I’ll see what I can find out.”
“That was quick thinking with the file,” said Kale, once they were in a cab back to their hotel.
“He said not to hesitate if we needed anything, right?”
“You were brilliant.” Kale smiled and patted his thigh.
“Hello,” Kale grumbled when he answered the phone at 7am the next morning.
Never a morning person to begin with, Kale had been up late the night before. After returning to the hotel he and Chase decided to go out for a celebratory dinner. Once they’d come back they made love again and after cleaning up Kale decided to call home to check on Linc and tell his parents about the photo shoot. He tore the room apart looking for his iPhone and came to the realization that it had been stolen by a pick pocket when a man had bumped into him on the walk back from dinner.
“Good morning, Mr. Kirkwood,” said Mr. Preda. “I tried calling your phone but failed to get an answer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Kale. “Unfortunately it was stolen last night.”
“That is most unfortunate. I hope it won’t spoil the memory of our country for you.”
“No, no,” said Kale. “Is there something I can do for you sir?”
“As it happens I am in the lobby of your hotel. I have some information regarding the file you gave me yesterday. May I come up?”
“Yes, of course, please,” Kale spluttered.
“Chase, wake up,” said Kale once he hung up.
“What’s up?” Chase yawned and stretched.
“Mr. Preda is here, he’s coming up,” said Kale.
“Shit,” Chase swore.
The boys jumped out of bed and quickly threw on their pajamas. Chase was just messing up the bed he hadn’t slept in to keep up their cover when Mr. Preda knocked on the door.
“Good morning?” said Kale when he answered. “Please, come in.”
Mr. Preda breezed into the room and took note of the two unmade beds. “Do you always make your husband sleep alone?”
“How did you know?” asked Kale, his eyes wide in surprise.
“You think our security services are so feeble that we would not find your marital status when performing your background check?”
“No, I, we,” Kale spluttered.
“Relax Mr. Kirkwood, you are in the company of a fellow traveler.” Mr. Preda smiled.
“We thought it best to keep it secret so as to avoid any problems,” Kale explained.
“Prudence is always wise,” said Mr. Preda.
“So, you’re gay?” asked Chase.
“I trust that’s information you’ll keep to yourselves?”
“Of course,” said Chase.
“I’m proud of my country,” said Mr. Preda. “I was born in at a time where men were sent to the gulag for the 'crime' of homosexuality. We still have a long way to go but we are making progress.”
“You said you had some information on Sasha?” Kale reminded him.
“Yes, it’s most fortunate you’ve come here. If you are able to get the boy out, take him to America, he’ll be much better off,” said Mr. Preda.
“Boy? No, no there must be some confusion. Our friend was adopted twenty years ago,” said Kale. “We’re looking for his parents.”
“I’m afraid young Mr. Antonescu’s parents are dead, killed in a traffic accident four years ago,” said Mr. Preda. “But, I was able to find his brother, Nikolai.”
“What?” Kale and Chase exclaimed.
“You did not know?”
“Mr. Preda, we came looking for our friend’s parents. You’re saying he has a brother?” asked Chase.
“Yes, Nikolai Antonescu, age fourteen years,” said Mr. Preda.
“That’s incredible,” said Kale.
“As I said, it’s most fortunate for the boy that you are here. If you could get him to America…”
“Yeah, you said he’d be better off,” said Chase. “I got the impression there was more to that statement then reuniting him with his brother.”
“Your assumption is correct,” said Mr. Preda with a sigh. “The boy was once a resident of the orphanage you visited yesterday. I suspect the matron recognized the name and that’s why she sent you away.”
“But, why?” asked Chase.
“You have to understand that the orphanages are run by the church, not state social services,” said Mr. Preda. “According to the file on Nikolai he was removed from Bucharest to Sinaia out in the countryside. Boys there have been placed there because they have displayed homosexual tendencies and the clergy wish to separate them so they may not spread their 'affliction' to the other children.”
“You’re kidding, right?” asked Kale.
“I wish that I were,” said Mr. Preda. “There have been reports of abuse in such facilities and…”
“Can’t you do something about it?” asked Chase.
“We are investigating but given the public opinion of homosexuals it’s slow going. As I said, we have a lot of progress yet to make. What will you do to help this boy?”
“I - we - didn’t come here expecting to find a situation like this,” said Kale. “We have to communicate with our friends back home.”
“Would you like to see him?”
“Yes, absolutely,” said Chase.
“There is a train bound for Sinaia departing at 9am. If you hurry my driver and I can drop you at the station,” said Mr. Preda.
“Kale, what are you doing?” asked Chase. The first thing Kale did after Mr. Preda said he’d wait in the lobby while they got ready was pick up the phone.
“Calling Alec,” said Kale.
“You know the number?” Chase giggled.
“Of course I do, its 607…um…shit,” Kale swore. Kale had owned a cell phone almost his entire life, why memorize a number when it was in your phone? “Why didn’t you bring yours?”
“Because we didn’t want to pay for two international plans,” Chase reminded him. “I wasn’t going to haul it around like a paperweight the whole time.”
“Jesus, Chase,” said Kale, hanging out the phone. “This is huge! I can’t put this in an email. How do we explain this?”
“Let’s go see the boy, see what he’s like so we can tell Sash about him. We’ll cut our trip short and have Alec pick us up at the airport,” said Chase. “We’ll tell him there and he can tell Sash what we’ve found when we get home.”
“Ok, I guess that’s a start,” said Kale.
“Let’s hurry up and get dressed. I can’t wait to meet this kid,” said Chase.
Given Mr. Preda’s high ranking position in the Romanian government, Kale and Chase weren’t surprised to find themselves in a chauffeur driven Mercedes. Their host pointed out the sights as his driver wound his way through the city but all Kale could think was, “Wow, Sasha has a brother.”
He wondered how his friend would react to the news. Kale was ashamed of himself for how he’d behaved when Sean first came into his life. He’d been so angry at his dad for cheating on his mother that he'd let it consume him. He hadn’t been overtly mean to Sean but he hadn’t been warm either. He hadn’t gotten to know Sean as well as he would have liked to, being away at school and all, but he found him to be a sweet kid. He made a note to work on that when he got home. He’d have a couple weeks before he and his family returned to Ithaca, he’d spend some of that time making sure his little brother knew he had a big brother that loved him.
Sasha would be different, Kale knew that. Sash was always kind, he never let things phase him and finding a brother would be a happy event for him. Kale envied his friend in that regard. What Chase said was true, when Kale loved someone he gave them his loyalty, love, and care, but Sasha? He was the type who gave those things to everyone he met while Kale had to let them get through his walls first.
“Here we are,” said Mr. Preda, as they pulled up to the train station.
“Thank you Mr. Preda, I can’t tell you how much this will mean to our friend,” said Kale.
“Think nothing of it, Mr. Kirkwood. Helping this boy, it does my soul good too.”
“Sir, there’s one thing I’m worried about,” said Chase. “What if we get to Sinaia and run into the same problem we had yesterday? What if they turn us away?”
“Ah, I almost forgot,” said Mr. Preda. He shook his head, produced an envelope from his inside pocket and handed it to Chase. “The church may run the orphanages but they are still financed by the state. That should ensure you don’t have any trouble.”
“Holy shit,” said Chase as he examined the contents of the envelope and handed it to Kale.
“Whoa,” said Kale.
Inside the envelope was a letter of introduction for Kale and Chase on the presidential letterhead signed by President Andre Korossy himself.
“You’ll find that will open many doors for you,” said Mr. Preda with a smile. “But if you still meet with resistance, call me.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” said Kale.
“Get Nikolai Antonescu to America. See to it that his family loves him and gives him a good home and your debt will be repaid,” said Mr. Preda.
The boys shook his hand one last time, said their goodbyes and climbed out of the car. They boarded their train right on time.
“Kale, I’ve been thinking,” said Chase as the train steamed into Sinaia.
“Me too,” said Kale. They’d both been quiet on the trip, each running the events of the morning through their minds.
“No, I mean, I’ve been thinking about, well, what should we tell Nikolai when we meet him?”
“Well, that’s simple enough, we’re friends of his brother, we’ve come to see about getting him out…”
“Kale, I know we’ve found ourselves on something of an adventure here but you can’t think of this as you and me racing to the rescue,” said Chase.
“We have to get this information to Sasha first. He and Alec aren’t in any position to adopt a kid right now, they don’t have your resources…”
“Our resources,” Kale interrupted.
“What I’m getting at is we don’t know what they’ll be able to do.”
“Sash’s dad’s will step up or maybe Alec’s parents. Lu will be going off to college soon, they’ve got room…”
“Yeah, all that is true but we just don’t know,” said Chase.
“So what are you saying?”
“I think the worst thing we could do is give him false hope. If we go in there and tell him we’ve come on behalf of his brother to get him to America, Kale, it’ll break his heart if it doesn’t happen.”
“I know, the people in our lives are incredible, amazing even, but they aren’t all powerful. Let’s get the information into their hands and let them do what they have to do, ok?”
“Yeah, as usual you’re right.” Kale sighed. “So what should we tell him, you obviously have some idea.”
“I think, well, we came here as journalists, so you could shoot the president. Why don’t we stick to that story, tell him we’re reporters doing a story on Romanian orphans? That way we can ask him questions without making him suspicious.”
“You know, everyone thinks I’m the big planner but you’re the one that works out all the details.”
“Bullshit, I just think better on my feet.” Chase laughed.
The town of Sinaia is located north of Bucharest in the mountainous region of the Prahova River Valley. The scenic landscape dominated by the rugged mountains and Pelisor Castle was a popular tourist attraction and a retreat for the elite during the communist era. When Kale and Chase disembarked from their train they found a cab and before they knew it they were standing in front of the orphanage.
“Yes, can I help you?” asked the stern young man they found behind the desk when they walked in. His English was excellent.
“We’d like to see Nikolai Antonescu,” said Kale.
“We’re reporters from America and…” Chase started.
“No, absolutely not,” said the young man.
“I was afraid of that,” said Kale, as he produced President Korossy’s letter and handed it over.
The young man examined the letter and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He looked up at Kale and Chase, his jaw hanging open.
“I, uh, just a moment please,” he said as he handed the letter back. He turned and practically ran down the hall.
“I guess it pays to have friends in high places,” said Chase.
“Yeah,” Kale agreed.
The young man returned a moment later with an older gentleman dressed in a black cassock and collar, the father superior. He spoke to the young man in Romanian, who then returned to the depths of the orphanage.
“Good morning, I’m Father Gregory,” he said. His accent reminded Kale of Dracula, the way he way he was portrayed in old films. “I understand you wish to see our young Niki?”
“That’s right, we have a few questions for him,” said Kale.
“We’re doing a story on American-Romanian adoption,” said Chase. “We wanted to get the perspective of a Romanian child and a friend suggested Nikolai.”
“There are orphanages in Bucharest,” said Father Gregory.
“If you’d like to contact the president’s office…” Kale started but Chase placed a hand on his forearm to still him.
“We’re killing two birds with one stone,” said Chase. “We’d like to see Pelisor Castle while we’re here.”
“As you wish,” said Father Gregory. “This way please.”
They followed the father superior down the hall and came to a room that looked like a small classroom. The inner wall had windows halfway up and they spied the boy sitting at a table with his arms folded, his eyes down cast as he chewed nervously on his thumbnail. Nikolai and Sasha weren’t dead ringers like the Kirkwood twins but the resemblance was uncanny. His hair was a rich brown, his eyes were blue, his skin pale and his body slender.
“Niki, these men have come to speak with you,” said Father Gregory, as he led the boys into the room. “American journalists want to know about the life of our orphans.”
Nikolai glanced up nervously but when his eyes caught sight of Kale they popped open and he jumped to his feet, “Alexander?”
“Uh, what?” said Kale, caught off guard.
“Niki,” said Chase. “My name is Chase Kirkwood and this is Kale, we’d like to speak with you if that’s ok?”
The boy’s expression darkened and he slumped down in his seat.
“Does he understand me?” asked Chase.
“Niki speaks passible English,” said Father Gregory. “Niki, the man asked you a question.”
“Yes Father,” said Niki, sullenly nipping at his thumbnail again. “I will speak with you.”
“Can we speak to him alone?” asked Kale while Chase took a seat across from the boy. Kale eyeballed Father Gregory suspiciously for a moment; he looked like a man who had something to hide. Kale could see he wanted to stay and that was unacceptable. “Should I contact the president’s office? Perhaps the Arch Bishop?” Kale bluffed.
“Very well, I will leave you, but please bear in mind that lunch will be served soon and the boy must eat,” said Father Gregory, then he turned and walked away, his cassock billowing in the drafty hall.
Kale quickly pulled the tripod and camera from his bag. Once he had them set up he attached a lens and for the first time in the two years he’d owned his d810 he used the video function. He made sure the camera was focused on Niki then took the chair next to Chase.
“Your name is being Kale?” asked Niki.
“That’s right.” Kale smiled.
“This is vegetable, yes?” asked Niki, his face clouding in confusion.
“Um, well, yes.” Kale blushed.
“Who is naming son after cousin of lettuce?” asked Niki.
“I, well, I’m not sure where my parents got the name,” said Kale, his cheeks turning a little pink.
“Americans.” Niki shook his head in wonder rather than dismay. Americans were fascinating, they did the strangest things.
“Niki, when we came in you called him Alexander. Who is Alexander?” asked Chase.
“He is big brother, adopted to America before my birthing,” said Niki, fidgeting in his seat. “I am seeing you are Americans when you come in. He is having dark hair and eyes color like mine. I am hoping is brother come to take me to America.”
Kale and Chase traded a look. Kale wanted to cry. What Niki said hit him right in the heart.
“Do you know why Alexander was put up for adoption?” asked Chase.
“Is poor times for momma and papa because of used to be communists. Ceausescu is falling but jobs do not come Romania for long times. Momma and papa give Alexander to rich Americans for happy life,” Niki explained.
“So you never knew him?” asked Chase, though he already knew the answer. Sasha had been a baby when he’d come to America and Niki was six years younger than his brother but Chase wanted to hear his story.
“No, no, never,” said Niki. “I am birthed later when times better so I stay with momma and papa.”
“What happened to momma and papa?”
“They have how you say, accident de masina,” said Niki, his face clouding as he struggled with his English. “You know, vroom, vroom, honk, honk?”
“Yes! Car accident, they are having car accident,” said Niki.
“What happened to you then?”
“I am orphan so go orphanage.”
“Why did you come here?” asked Kale, giving Chase a break from the questioning.
Niki’s head snapped up and he looked around nervously for Father Gregory.
“It’s ok, Niki,” said Chase, reaching out and patting his hand. “No one will know but us.”
“What of camera?” asked Niki, nodding at the Nikon on its tripod.
“That’s just to help me out,” said Kale, feeling bad for lying to the boy. “You know reporters; I’ll watch the video later so I don’t have to take notes.”
Niki bit his lip and eyed him suspiciously but after a moment’s pause he continued.
“They are saying Niki is bad boy,” he said, hanging his head in embarrassment.
“Who said that?” asked Chase.
“Sisters of church.”
“Why did they say you were bad?” asked Kale.
Niki looked down at his feet, his pale skin tinged pink. Chase had to pat his hand reassuringly before he spoke again.
“In orphanage we have bed mates. Older boys sleep with younger boy to make warmth in cold. Bed mate, he, he makes hand sex to me. I does not stop him. Punished,” said Niki.
“Punished how?” asked Kale, his voice catching in his throat.
“Father Gregory is very nice man,” said Niki.
“Niki, it’s alright, you can tell us,” said Chase. “I know you don’t know us, I know it’s hard to trust people, especially strangers, but you can trust us.”
“Sometimes orphans are beaten as remember not do bad things,” Niki sniffled.
That was enough personal stuff for the moment. Niki’s story was so incredibly sad it threatened to bring both Kale and Chase to tears. After the boy's embarrassing admission, Chase turned the conversation to happier subjects. Niki liked to play soccer, he loved American music and TV, and though he’d told them about the occasional beatings he received he seemed to like Father Gregory. Kale chalked that up to Stockholm Syndrome; a condition where a victim comes to express sympathy for their abuser.
“I can ask question please?” asked Niki after an hour or so.
“Sure, anything you want,” said Chase.
“Many orphans Romania. Why speak me? I not special.”
“Special enough.” Kale smiled.
“Niki, we have to get going so that you can eat your lunch,” said Chase, remembering Father Gregory’s admonishment. “Is there anything else you’d like to say or tell us?”
“America is very big land, yes?”
“That’s right,” said Chase.
“Millions,” said Chase.
The boy let out a sigh and hung his head for a second before making a request. “He is probably having American name now but if ever meet Alexander, tell him of me?”
“You have my word,” said Kale. “I’ll tell Alexander all about you.”
“Thank you, is good,” said Niki.
Kale and Chase couldn’t get out of the orphanage fast enough. After Niki left the room to go eat his lunch, Father Gregory tried to escort them out but they left him behind least they take a swing at the son of a bitch. Both of them had tears streaming down their cheeks as they made the short walk back to the center of town.
“Are you ok?” asked Chase.
“No,” said Kale, shaking his head. “That poor kid, some fucker touches him and they punish him for it? Beat him for it? We’ve gotta get him the fuck out of there.”
“I know, I know,” Chase agreed as Kale pulled his iPad out of his bag. “What are you doing?”
“Emailing Alec for his number,” said Kale.
“Good idea, I’m going to see if they have a room at that hotel over there,” said Chase nodding across the square. “I don’t want to leave town until we have some kind of plan and we need a base of operations.”
“Yeah, go,” Kale agreed.
Twenty minutes later the boys were in a room at the local inn. Fortunately Kale had caught Alec as he was checking his morning email. After a quick note explaining the lost phone, Alec replied with his number.
“What’s going on?” asked Alec. He could tell from the urgency of Kale’s email that something was afoot. “Did you find out something about Sasha’s parents?”
“Alec, are you sitting down?” asked Kale.
“Yeah, you’re freaking me out, Leafy, what’s going on?”
“Listen, I’ve got some bad news,” Kale started. “Sasha’ parents, they were killed in a car accident about four years ago…”
“Ah shit,” Alec swore. “Shit, shit, shit, I was so hoping you’d find them, that’d he’d be able to at least, I don’t know…I can’t believe they’re dead.”
“Yes, that part really sucks and I’m sorry for it but it’s not all bad news,” Kale continued. “Alec, Sasha has a brother.”
“Evidently he was born a few years after Sasha. The economy had improved here and the Antonescu’s were able to keep him,” Kale explained.
“You’re sure about this? It’s not a clerical mistake or anything like that? When I tell Sash I wanna be damned sure.”
“Alec, Chase and I met him not half an hour ago,” said Kale.
“Oh my God,” said Alec, for once at a loss for words.
“Listen, it’s not all great news though,” said Kale. “Romania on the whole is still pretty homophobic, the boy, his name is Nikolai by the way, had an incident with another boy at the orphanage in Bucharest so they sent him to an orphanage in Sinaia as punishment. It’s where they store gay boys so they don’t infect the other children if you can believe that shit.”
“Jesus, and I thought Arkansas was bad,” Alec scoffed. “Kale, we gotta get him out of there.”
“I know, and Chase and I are in a prime position to help, I’ll explain that later, but I had to talk to you first. What should we do?”
“I don’t want to tell Sash yet,” said Alec. “I want to see what we can do first.”
“I agree, better to give him good news then tell him we’ve found his brother but he’s trapped in homophobe hell,” said Kale.
“Ok, I need to talk to Sash’s dads,” said Alec. “Can you give me an hour?”
“Yes, but remember, we’re burning daylight here,” said Kale, “You’ve gotta act fast.”
“I’m already out the door,” said Alec, Kale could hear the sound of Alec’s keys jingling in the background.
“Alright, listen, I shot a video of the boy, Chase and I did sort of an interview with him. Watch it with Sasha’s dads. I’ll call you in one hour.”
“Should we synchronize our watches?” Alec chuckled.
“Just move your ass Kutsenko.” Kale rolled his eyes.
“What now?” asked Chase, when Kale hung up.
“I’m calling Mr. Preda,” said Kale. “You have his card?”
“Here,” said Chase handing it over.
Kale got Mr. Preda’s secretary on the second ring but it took a few minutes to get the man on the phone thanks to the language barrier.
“Mr. Kirkwood, I trust everything went well in Sinaia?” asked Mr. Preda.
“Yes and no,” said Kale, then he explained the situation.
“I was afraid of something like that.” Mr. Preda sighed. “What are you doing about it?”
“We called our friend back home,” said Kale. “He’s meeting with Alexander’s adoptive parents as we speak. I wanted to reach out to you and see if you can help us get Nikolai out of the country if they’re willing to take him?”
“It’s complicated but, the short answer is yes. The wheels of government seem to move rather quickly when the president’s signature is on the orders,” said Mr. Preda. “The adoptive parents would have to make a formal request for adoption through your State Department and our Foreign Ministry. As it happens your ambassador is a tennis chum of mine. If you call me back with a verbal agreement to take the boy for the prospective parents, I’ll handle the rest.”
“That’s great,” Kale exclaimed, “Thank you sir.”
“Act quickly Mr. Kirkwood,” said Mr. Preda as the line clicked off.
“We’re in business,” said Kale. Chase grinned.
Kale’s iPad beeped indicating a new message. He opened the tablet and found a note from Alec:
I’m with Sasha’s dads, we just watched the video. Holy shit! Can you meet us on Skype?
Kale replied in the affirmative and a few minutes later he was looking at Alec and Sasha’s parents. Alec was in a t-shirt and gym shorts, the Buchanan’s in their pajamas, it was still before dawn in New York.
“Uh, morning Mr. and, er, Mr. Buchanan,” said Kale.
“Kale, my God,” said Sasha’s dad. “We just watched the video you sent.”
“What do you guy’s think?” asked Kale, cutting to the chase.
“He looks so much like our baby,” said Sasha’s other dad as he dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.
“You’ll have to excuse Sasha’s mom.” Mr. Buchanan smiled. “We’re a little shocked to say the least.”
“I can understand that, sir, and I know this is happening pretty fast but what do you guys want to do about Niki?”
“We’ll do anything we can to get him out,” said Mr. Buchanan. “Even if he wasn’t our Sasha’s natural brother, my God, they’re beating that poor boy…”
“What would you say if I told you Chase and I might be able to bring him home with us?”
“That would be wonderful but we’ve been through this process before. It took us months to bring Sasha home,” said Mr. Buchanan.
“I don’t know if Alec told you but the whole reason Chase and I came to Romania was so I could shoot President Korossy for a magazine cover…” Kale started.
“Everyone knows about your fancy job, Leafy,” Alec grinned.
“Hey if it wasn’t for my fancy job we wouldn’t have found out about Niki,” Kale retorted.
“Right but it was my idea to look for Sasha’s family in the first place,” said Alec.
“Guys, can we focus here?” asked Mr. Buchanan.
“Right, sorry,” said Kale. “The point I was trying to make is we’ve made a key alley in President Korossy’s chief of staff. He helped us find Niki and I called him while I was waiting to hear back from Alec. He can grease the wheels here and with the State Department.”
“What do we need to do?” asked Mr. Buchanan.
“Mr. Preda said you need to send a formal request for adoption to the State Department and the Romanian Foreign Ministry. Get me a letter stating your intent and I’ll send it to the president’s office the moment I get it.”
“Alright, Kale, you’ll have it within the hour,” said Mr. Buchanan. “How do we get a hold of you?”
“Chase and I are holed up in a hotel here in Sinaia,” said Kale. He gave Mr. Buchanan the number for their room and made sure he had the correct email address.
Once Kale logged off the computer he called Mr. Preda back and set things in motion. Less than an hour later Kale had the Buchanan’s letter of intent, he forwarded it to Mr. Preda and an hour after that the phone rang on the nightstand.
“Hello?” Chase answered, putting the phone on speaker.
“You’ve got both of us, sir,” said Kale, recognizing the government official’s voice.
“I need you to go to the train station now. There is a train leaving for Bucharest in half an hour and I want you to be on it,” said Mr. Preda.
“Why, what’s happening?” asked Chase.
“I’ve spoken with my friend, the ambassador, we’re moving quickly to get Nikolai a visa,” said Mr. Preda. “I’ve dispatched a social worker to the orphanage to collect the boy. They’ll meet you at the train station and release the boy to your custody.”
“Are you sure, sir, we’re so close, we can go and…” Kale started.
“No, I don’t want you going back there,” said Mr. Preda. “I don’t want anyone from the church getting in our way here. Let me handle it, meet the boy at the station and get back to the capitol.”
“Yes sir, we’re leaving now,” said Kale.
“Should we call Alec?” asked Chase as Kale hung up.
“No time,” said Kale, checking his watch. “If we want to make that train we’ve gotta get a move on. I’ll email him once we board and call him when we get back to Bucharest.”
The boys barely stopped to thank the inn keeper for the use of the room and all but ran to the train station. Kale bought three tickets for the train to Bucharest then he and Chase paced nervously until a harried looking woman, in the drab sort of outfit common to social workers around the world, showed up dragging a frightened Niki behind her.
“It’s ok,” said Chase, reading the expression on Niki’s face and pulling him in for a reassuring hug. He led Niki away, leaving Kale to work with the language barrier and sign the paperwork the social worker presented him.
Kale made it aboard the train just as the whistle blew and found Chase in a private compartment trying to console Niki.
“Hey Niki, what’s the matter?” asked Kale.
“I scared,” said Niki, his voice hitching in his throat. “I good boy, I have not done any bad things, please…”
“Hey, we’re not going to hurt you,” said Kale, leaning in and putting a friendly hand on the boy’s back.
“I do no understand. Father Gregory says to me must leave orphanage, then social woman comes and take me away. I not allowed bring anything. Is like when I leave Bucharest for come here.”
“I guess things are moving so fast no one had the time to explain things to him,” said Chase.
“Niki, look, we’ll tell you everything that’s going on but first you need to relax. No one is going to hurt you, I swear it,” said Kale. “Ok?”
“Y-yes, I understand,” said Niki, wiping his eyes on the back of his sleeve.
“It’s all right,” said Chase. He was still holding the boy and ran a soothing hand up and down his back.
“I ok,” said Niki, straightening up in his seat. “What is happen now?”
“Well for starters,” said Kale, a big smile spreading across his face. “We weren’t entirely honest with you.”
Niki’s face broke into a mask of confusion.
“Niki, we’re not reporters,” said Chase.
“Niki, we are friends of Alexander’s,” said Kale.
“No, but, you say not know of Alexander, you ask questions for me that…”
“I’m sorry about that,” Kale replied. “We didn’t know if we’d be able to help you and we didn’t want to get your hopes up just to hurt your feelings later on. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I, yes I think I understand.” Niki nodded his head. “You take me to Alexander?”
“Well we haven’t exactly spoken to him yet,” said Kale.
“Now I no understand again,” said Niki, shaking his head.
“It’s a long story, Niki,” said Chase, “but the short version is your brother, we call him Sasha…”
“Yes, Sasha, is small for Alexander,” Niki interrupted.
“Right well, Sasha, he has a boyfriend who…”
“Boyfriend? Sasha is bad like me?”
“There’s nothing bad about Sash, or you,” said Kale. “It’s different in America.”
“Different, yes,” said Niki excitedly.
“Yes,” said Kale, then he leaned in to kiss Chase gently on the lips to show the boy he was among his kind.
“I am thinking mind is broken,” said Niki, shaking his head in surprise.
Kale laughed and tussled the boy’s hair.
“Alec, that’s Sasha’s boyfriend,” Chase continued, “Spoke with the couple that adopted Sasha. They want to adopt you too.”
“You mean, I go America with you?”
“We’re working on it, kiddo.” Kale beamed.
Kale and Chase were surprised to find Mr. Preda and his driver waiting for them when they arrived in Bucharest just after 6pm. Mr. Preda smiled and shook hands with everyone, he was almost as excited to meet the boy as Kale and Chase had been. Kale understood, what they were doing, helping a boy like themselves, a gay boy who had no one else to help him, it was a good feeling and Mr. Preda wanted to be a part of it.
It took three days for the paper work to make it through the foreign adoption bureaucracy but that was light speed compared to the usual six months to a year most families had to wait. It truly was good to have friends in high places.
Kale and Chase spent the three days getting to know Niki and found him to be as delightful as his brother who they loved with all their hearts. It was hard to think about what they were doing and not tear up. They were about to give Sasha the greatest gift that could be given, new life, a lost loved one. For Kale and Chase the feeling was almost as sweet as the first time a tiny blond boy put his little arms around their necks and called them daddy.
When the big day came, Niki packed his things, a few items of clothing Kale had picked up for him so he’d have something to wear while the paperwork was processed, into his backpack. He boarded a plane for the first time in his life, the ticket a gift from a country that was no longer his home.
“Leafy!” Alec exclaimed when Kale came through customs at Kennedy International. Niki, being a foreign national, had to go through a more detailed inspection and Chase was helping him with that.
“Hey man,” said Kale, hugging him tightly.
“Aw, you missed me.” Alec chuckled. “Where’s Chase?”
“Putting the finishing touches on 'operation righteous cowboy lightning',” said Kale, rolling his eyes at the name Alec had attached to their actions. “Makes me feel like James Bond.”
“To bad you’re more like Austin Powers.” Alec giggled.
“Why, because I make you horny?” Kale shot back.
Alec stopped in mid giggle. Kale had changed during their trip to India. He’d come a long way from the scared boy Alec first met at Columbia High but something during the India trip had torn down another one of Kale’s walls. He was getting really good with the zingers.
“Well played, Leafy, well played.”
“Where’s Sash?” asked Kale.
“Parking the car. I told him if he didn’t drop me off first I was going to jump,” said Alec.
“He still doesn’t know?”
“Nope, me and his dads have kept it quiet. They’re waiting for us back in the Springs. I feel like the stork bringing them a new baby.” Alec laughed.
“I don’t know how you’ve sat on this for three days. I’d never be able to keep a secret like this,” said Kale.
“Oh it’s been tough,” said Alec, “but you know how I love my surprises.”
“Hi Kale.” Sasha smiled brightly as he walked up and embraced Kale warmly. “Good trip?”
“It was something else, that’s for sure,” said Kale.
“I’m so proud of you.” Sasha beamed. “First the Rickshaw Run now you’re photographing world leaders. You’re gonna go far kid.”
“Thanks.” Kale smiled.
“So, where’s my bestie?”
“He’s just…” Kale started.
“Hi Sash,” said Chase.
The three friends turned at the sound of Chase’s voice and there he stood, blond and beautiful as always, a handsome dark haired boy at his side.
“Chase,” Sasha exclaimed. He took a few steps towards his friend when he noticed the nervous looking young man beside him. He stopped in his tracks and brought his hand up to his quivering lips. Always a quick study, the family resemblance wasn’t lost on him.
“It’s ok, go ahead,” said Chase, giving the boy a gentle nudge.
“Alexander?” asked the boy as he stepped forward.
Sasha nodded his head as his lips continued to quiver. “W-who are you?”
“I am Niki.”
“Sasha, Niki is your brother,” said Chase.
Sasha looked into the boys eyes and knew his friend was telling the truth. He hugged Niki, pulling him closer as they both began to sob. Kale looked to his husband and then his best friend as he felt a tear slide down his cheek. There wasn’t a dry eye among them.