The mood inside the sanctuary at Sanitaria Springs First United Methodist Church was a somber one as the mourners filed into the pews. The moment was particularly bitter for the Kirkwood’s and the Dudley’s. Their sons had been raised in the church, they’d been baptized there, celebrated holidays there, and belonged to the youth group. They’d shared happy, joyous times there but now…
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the lives of Kale Kirkwood, Chase Kirkwood, Alec Kutsenko and Sasha Buchanan,” Pastor Alan Miller began. “Four boys struck down at the very dawn of their manhood. Good, decent young men whose only fault was a sense of adventure that, unfortunately, led to their untimely end…”
Judge and Mrs. Kirkwood, Doctor and Mrs. Dudley, the Kutsenko’s and Sasha’s dads occupied the front pews. The wives were a mess, tears streaming down their cheeks, the husband’s tried to be strong for their spouses, but how do you keep a stiff upper lip when your son, your baby boy is suddenly just…gone? Between his grandmas sat Linc, a little boy now alone in the world who didn’t quite understand why Papa and Daddy weren’t coming home like they’d promised.
Behind the parents sat Lucien and Robin, sobbing in each other’s arms over the brother’s they’d lost. Austin was a wreck. Chase had saved his life, brought him into his family and gave him more love then he’d ever known. Austin didn’t know how to cope with his loss and Derek did everything he could to hold his boyfriend together. Sean and Jamie sat with them, struggling to hold back their tears, growing young men but still boy enough to think letting anyone see them cry might come off as a weakness.
“…as we depart here today let us take comfort in the certain knowledge that though their bodies were never found, our brothers spirits have found ever lasting peace in the gentle embrace of our Lord. Amen,” Pastor Alan concluded.
As the mourners began to file out of the church, Linc walked up to the altar and stood before the portraits placed their in remembrance of his parents. When Jamie saw him he stepped forward and rested a hand on his nephew’s shoulder.
“Come on little man, grandma and grandpa are waiting for you,” said Jamie.
“What happen to me now?” asked Linc, looking up into his uncles eyes.
“Don’t worry Linc, I’ll take care of you, I’ll teach you everything I know,” Jamie assured him.
“Kale. Kale. KALE!” Alec whispered.
“Snap out of it.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about what’s going to happen when this plan of yours goes up in flames,” said Kale.
“Have a little faith, will ya?”
“I do, a very little.” Kale sighed.
“Just follow my lead,” said Alec as he stepped around Queen and Country, revealing himself to the gunmen.
Kale wasn’t ready but he had no choice, he had to follow. Chase was in danger and as scared as he was, as little faith he had in Alec’s plan, he had to do something. The gunmen had their backs turned to Alec and Kale until Alec spoke out.
“Boy are we happy to see you guys,” Alec exclaimed. The gunmen rounded on them with their rifles up but if Alec was scared he didn’t show it. “I’m Alec Kutsenko with National Geographic Magazine, we were out here looking for some of India’s famous northern bandits for a cover story when we got separated from our guides. You haven’t seen any crazy British kids running around here, have you? You’d know if you saw them, they look like the same guy.”
“That’s your plan?” Kale asked through gritted teeth.
“Shut up and take some pictures,” Alec replied through equally gritted teeth.
Kale reached into the rickshaw to grab his camera, one of the gunmen followed his every move, keeping his weapon aimed at center mass. He brought his camera up and started shooting, grateful he had the flash off in case it scared the armed men and got him shot. The gunmen seemed agitated though and began speaking in rapid Hindi.
“Sorry about him,” Alec apologized with a big smile on his face. “It’s so hard to find good help these days.”
“What the hell are you guys doing?” Chase whispered but Kale didn’t dare reply.
“So, about those guides of ours?” asked Alec.
The gunmen conferred for a moment and then one of them poked Alec with the barrel of his gun.
“Whoa, easy now,” said Alec.
The man spoke though no one understood a word he said. He poked Alec again and then his fellows began to prod Kale, Chase and Sasha, herding them towards a pickup truck. The gunmen gestured with their weapons indicating they wanted the boys to climb in the back.
“You know, we really would appreciate a ride but we’ve got our own transportation and our guides…” Alec started but one of the men nudged him in the ribs with his weapon. “Or I could climb up on the truck, sure.”
Alec climbed into the bed of the truck then reached down to help Sasha and Chase. One of the men took Kale’s camera but returned it once he was in the back of the truck. The boys sat down and watched as the men lifted Queen and Country into the back of a second truck, then started the other rickshaws.
“And now we’re hostages,” said Kale.
“Yeah, so much for that plan,” said Alec.
“That was your big plan, bullshitting a bunch of armed men who don’t even speak our language?” Kale demanded.
“Hey I didn’t see you doing anything,” Alec retorted.
“I was thinking.”
“You were pissing your pants.”
“I’m not surprised you were confused, you’ve always gotten by on bullshit, it’s no wonder you got stabbed.”
“Hey,” said Chase.
“Guys, come on,” said Sasha.
“Fuck you Leafy,” said Alec, shoving Kale’s shoulder.
“Fuck you Alec, and for fucks sake, quit calling me Leafy!” Kale shoved him back.
“Make me, Leafy,” Alec shoved him again.
“Will you two stop it,” Sasha shouted. The gunmen didn’t like that, one of them banged on the tailgate with his weapon and the boys fell into silence. The man spoke and though they didn’t understand what he said, the meaning was clear - shut up.
The truck moved out then, followed by the two rickshaws and the second pickup. Kale and Alec sat with their arms folded over their chests glaring at each other like a pair of rams ready to butt heads.
“Will you assholes knock it off,” said Chase. “In case you haven’t noticed we’ve been taken hostage here.”
“He started it,” said Kale.
“At least I tried to do something,” Alec retorted.
“And failed,” Kale reminded him.
“Chase is right, you’re best friends, for fucks sake,” said Sasha.
Kale and Alec glared at each other again but slowly began to unclench.
“Do you think they got the triplet’s too?” asked Chase.
“I-I don’t know.” Kale sighed.
“What if they’re already dead?” asked Sasha.
“Don’t say that,” said Alec, “they’re not dead.”
“He’s right,” Kale reluctantly agreed. “If they killed the triplets or were going to kill us, they’d have done it then and there.”
“Oh God, Kale.” Chase sniffled. “What about Linc? I promised him we’d come home…”
“We will, we will,” said Kale, pulling his husband into his arms as Chase began to cry.
Alec took in the scene and pulled Sasha close to him.
“I’m sorry,” said Alec.
“Me too,” said Kale. “I was out of line, I was just thinking about Linc, too.”
“I get it,” said Alec.
“I shouldn’t have said what I said about you getting stabbed, I was way out of line.”
“You’re scared, it’s ok, you’ve got a lot to lose.”
The truck began to slow and the guys were able to make out the faint glow of a small village or camp. When the truck came to a stop, the group tensed up, they’d reached whatever destination the gunmen had planned, God knows what was going to happen now.
“Whatever happens, we stick together,” said Kale.
“Yeah man, all for one, one for all, and three for five,” said Alec, shooting Kale a grim wink.
The men came to the back of the truck and opened the tailgate. Kale stood up and put himself between the men and his husband and was surprised when one of them helped him down, then his friends. What kind of bandits were so well mannered, he began to wonder.
Kale didn’t have long to think, he felt the barrel of a rifle press into his back and realized they were being herded towards a low slung building. There was light glowing in the door and as Kale approached it he started to shiver and knew it wasn’t from the rain.
“About bloody time you lot showed up,” said Jim Brewer, an impish smile playing across his handsome face.
“What the hell?” asked Kale, taken a back.
“What’s going on?” said Sasha.
The triplets were sitting next to a warm fire with several other men. The gunmen who had brought the Americans sat their rifles by the door and began chattering with their comrades, soon they were all laughing. It was like watching a game of charades as one of them mimicked Kale taking pictures.
“Old Betty threw a tire,” said Marcus. “The bolt was stripped; we couldn’t raise you on the radio so we set out on foot.”
“The rain got worse and we realized we were hopelessly lost,” said Liam, picking up his brother’s train of thought.
“That’s when we ran into Raja,” said Jim, clapping the man next to him on the back. He was different from the other natives, he wore a freshly pressed khaki shirt with several insignia, a neatly trimmed beard and a friendly smile.
“I am Raja Balasubramanian, the local sheriff,” he said as he stood and shook hands with the American’s. His English was perfect, if you closed your eyes and listened he sounded like an Oxford Don. “You’ll have to excuse my men, they don’t speak English. I hope they did not frighten you.”
“Your men?” asked Kale.
“My deputies, yes,” said Raja.
“We thought they were bandits,” said Alec.
“I apologize for that,” said Raja. “We are a very poor community, we cannot afford proper uniforms.”
“Raja here is the real deal,” said Jim, “He’s a Sandhurst man.”
“Sandhurst?” asked Chase.
“British version of West Point,” said Kale.
“What are you doing here?” asked Sasha.
“I was a soldier for many years,” said Raja. “I served with a UN peacekeeping force while conditions here in my village deteriorated. When my parents were killed by bandits I decided to come home and do what I could to help.”
“It’s lucky for us we ran into him,” said Liam.
“Yes,” Raja agreed. “Perhaps you were uninformed when you made your decision to leave the main road but, you are deep in bandit country. This is a very dangerous place, especially at night. Had my men not found you, I’m not sure there would have been anything to find by morning.”
“Holy shit.” Alec whistled.
“But fear not my friends, you’re safe here,” said Raja. “Come, warm yourselves by the fire, my wife will bring food.”
“Thank you,” said Kale, shaking his hand again.
“We’ve been looking at the map,” said Jim. Once the Americans were seated he spread it out on a rough wooden table. “We’re way off the beaten path, miles from where we need to be.”
“The road we were on, it’s not even on this map,” Liam added.
“How did we end up here?” asked Kale. “The side road was clearly marked.”
“I’m not sure,” said Jim, “But there’s good news too. Raja says there’s a supply truck coming tomorrow evening. After they unload and the driver rests up, we’ll load up the rickshaws and he’ll take us as far as Jaipur.”
“That far?” Kale exclaimed.
“We’ll make up enough time, we should catch up to the leaders,” said Jim.
“Thank you,” said Kale, turning his attention to Raja.
“Think nothing of it my friends,” said Raja. “I understand you are a photographer for a magazine. This 'Rickshaw Run' brings in a lot of money to our region. I hope that when you return to America you will tell them what warm and friendly people we are and encourage more young people like yourselves to pay us a visit.”
“I’m not writing the story but, I’ll make sure and get some good shots.” Kale promised.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, do they not?” asked Raja.
“That they do.” Kale smiled.
“In that case, you have had a long day, eat, drink and rest,” said Raja, as his wife appeared with a basket of fresh nan, curried goat and two jugs each of tea and water. “Please consider our humble village your home.”
The boys thanked Raja for his hospitality, thanked his wife, thanked his men, thanked everyone they encountered. They ate heartily, blessed their good fortune and after they finished one of Raja’s men brought them their bags from the rickshaws. They changed into clean, dry clothes, and spread out on the floor of the hut to sleep by the fire.
Kale wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when he woke in the dark room. The fire had burned down to embers but the storm had passed and soft moonlight filtered through the windows. The moonlight bathed Chase’s face in its silvery glow and Kale watched him sleep for a few moments thinking about what might have been. He’d been scared to death when he’d seen Raja’s men with their guns on his husband and he was glad he’d been with Alec and Sasha, drawing strength from his friends, taking courage in the knowledge that everything would be ok because he wasn’t alone, his friends were there with him.
He hadn’t acted like a friend though. He knew it was the strain of the situation, seeing his husband in danger, but he’d been most unkind to Alec and saying sorry simply wasn’t enough. It was then that Kale noticed Alec wasn’t there. Sasha lay there alone, curled up in the fetal position, slightly shivering as the blanket had slipped down to his waist in the cold night.
Kale kissed Chase on the forehead, then got up and tucked him under the covers. He crossed over to Sasha, pulled the blanket’s up around him and kissed his forehead too. It was then that he set out in search of Alec. Kale pulled on his boots and stepped outside. They were far from any big cities and the light pollution they brought with them and, as he stepped out into the cold night, Kale couldn’t remember ever having seen so many stars.
“Hey kiddo,” said Alec.
Kale turned to find him sitting on a bench outside the low slung building.
“You’re barely a year older than me,” Kale reminded him as he took a seat beside him. “What’s this kiddo stuff?”
“Well, you don’t like Leafy anymore…” Alec trailed off.
“I like it fine.” Kale sighed and rested his head on Alec’s shoulder. Alec took the hint and put his arm around him. “I’m sorry I was such a dick tonight.”
“It’s ok, I was a dick too,” said Alec, then he kissed the top of Kale’s head.
“I love ya, you know?” asked Kale.
“Course I do,” said Alec. He kissed Kale’s lips, a peck at first then a lingering kiss.
Kale knew they were breaking the rules but didn’t let that stop him. He felt bad about what he’d said to Alec and kissing him, it communicated more than words could and he needed Alec to know how he felt. He put his arms around Alec, parted his lips and invited his tongue into his mouth. They kissed passionately until it was time to come up for air.
“So we’re good then?” asked Alec.
“Yeah.” Kale giggled then snuggled up to Alec.
“Do you ever think about what it would be like if we were a couple? You know if you’d never met Chase, I’d never met Sasha and we somehow ended up together?”
“I think we got a glimpse of that tonight.” Kale giggled. “We’d have great sex but the moment the shit hit the fan we’d probably kill each other.”
“We were meant for Sash and Chase; we still get great sex and no one’s at risk of getting sent up on a murder wrap.” Alec chuckled.
They sat quietly for a few moments, enjoying the quiet, keeping each other warm with their body heat.
“I love Sasha,” said Alec. “I can’t wait to marry him.”
“I know, you think you’re close now, just wait, marriage makes it so much more intense.”
“He mean’s the world to me but...I love you too,” said Alec.
“I know, I…”
“I love you,” said Alec. He caressed Kale’s cheek and then kissed him again. “I love you and Chase like I love Sasha and sometimes I wonder if we’re making a mistake with our rules.”
“The rules exist to keep us all safe, to ensure trust and…”
“If we all love and respect each other why do we need to be together to ensure trust?” asked Alec. “Why can’t we just be together when inspiration strikes?”
“I’m not just talking about getting laid,” said Alec. “There are just times when I’m with you and you’ll do something cute and I just…”
“I think I know what you mean.”
“Sash would explain it better.” Alec sighed.
“You express yourself just fine,” Kale assured him. “But have you talked to Sasha about this?”
“A little but, the thought wasn’t fully formed.”
“So what’s the thought?”
“You and Chase, you guys are like Sasha, I can be with you and just, you know, be. I think maybe it’s time to consider some changes in our status.”
“Alec, we have Linc and…”
“I love that little guy.” Alec smiled in the dark.
“I know you do and he loves his Uncle Alec but, he just lost his mom and Chase and I have a duty to him, to provide him with a safe and stable home,” said Kale.
“You guys are incredible with him. It’s so awesome the way you guys stepped up and took him in. He could have been just another lost kid thrown into the foster system but you guys, you knew what needed to be done and you did the right thing.”
“Thanks.” Kale blushed, he wasn’t used to Alec being so open about his feelings. It took a lot to bring them to the surface but it had been that kind of day.
“I respect the hell out of you guys. I don’t want to change our relationship, I just want to make it more casual. I want to make the intimate times more…natural.”
“I understand, Alec, I really do, and I think it’s something we all need to sit down and talk about but let’s save it for when we get home, ok?”
“Sure, I wasn’t suggesting we…
“It’s ok,” Kale hushed him and gave him a last kiss.
“We better get back to bed,” Alec stood and pulled Kale up with him.
“Yeah,” Kale agreed. They took a couple of steps toward the door when Kale stopped. “Alec, this was the right choice, coming here, doing this trip. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things and I meant what I said, let’s talk about all this when we get back to the Springs.”
“It’s a date,” said Alec and then the two of them rejoined their sleeping mates.
The next morning the boys found out how small the village really was. There couldn’t have been more than thirty of the low slung mud buildings with their thatched roofs. There were pens for livestock, a well and very little else. The people were happy in their simple lives. Kale spent the morning shooting village life and got some of his best shots of the trip.
After lunch the boys gathered around Queen and Country to try and figure out a way to remove the bolt and repair the tire. While Alec, Sasha and the Brewer’s focused on the wounded rickshaw, Chase took Kale’s hand and led him into the woods and up a small hill that over looked the village.
“This is the first chance I’ve had to be alone with you in weeks.” Chase smiled, put his arms around his husband’s neck and kissed him.
“I know, I’ve missed you,” said Kale, hugging him tight. “I’ve got something to tell you though.”
“Uh oh, what have you and Alec done now?” Chase grinned.
“How did you know…”
“Because, every time you think you’re in trouble it’s because you and your partner in crime are up to something.”
“We made out a little last night.” Kale sighed.
“We just kissed.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, I swear.”
“Kale, you don’t have to get all upset and come confess your sins to me every time you kiss him. I think it’s sweet that you care enough about me to think you have to but, I know you love Alec and he loves you and I know where your heart is,” said Chase, “With me.”
“I know, it’s just, the rules…”
“Maybe it’s time to change the rules a little,” Chase interrupted as he took Kale’s hand and stroked the back of it with his thumb.
“That’s what Alec said.”
“Yeah? What else did he say?”
“When we started the rules were designed to protect our relationships, protect our trust, but he said if we love and trust each other, why do we need a rule to ensure it,” said Kale.
“He makes a good point,” said Chase.
“You’d really be ok with that? If he fucked me while you and Sasha were off taking, I don’t know, an underwater basket weaving class or something?”
“Kale, underwater basket weaving is so 2012.” Chase rolled his eyes.
“Chase…” Kale whined.
“Would you be comfortable if Sasha fucked me on the way back from underwater basket weaving?” Chase grinned and stroked Kale’s cheek.
“I don’t know.” Kale sighed and took Chase’s hand again. “I trust you, I trust Sash, it’s just, Chase, we have a son now. What if you decided you didn’t need me anymore…”
“Hey,” said Chase, taking Kale’s face in his hands and staring into his big blue eyes. “Whatever I do or don’t do with Sasha, I am hopelessly, madly in love with you. You’ll always be Linc’s daddy, do you understand?”
“Tell me you understand that, Kale.”
“I do, I understand.”
“Good because I mean every word of it.”
“Thanks.” Kale smiled and gave him a kiss.
“Now, let’s get these pants down.” Chase grinned as he opened Kale’s belt and pulled his cargo pants down.
“Chase,” Kale giggled.
“I brought you out here for a little alone time.” Chase wiggled his eyebrows seductively.
“It’s broad daylight!”
“Yeah, Kale, the sun kind of gave that away.” Chase snickered as he pulled his own pants down.
“What if someone sees us?”
“You fuck me,” said Chase as he groped his husband, “I’ll keep an eye on the village.”
“When did you get so adventurous?”
“Says the guy who handcuffed Alec to the bed and organized a gang bang.” Chase laughed.
“That was in a hotel…”
“Would you shut up and fuck me already?”
“As you wish,” Kale laughed and pulled Chase’s underwear down.
“That’s more like it,” Chase groaned when Kale entered him.
Kale was always giddy after making love to Chase. When they finished, and pulled up their pants, he started giggling.
“Something funny?” Chase smiled.
“That was kind of fun, we should do it outside more often.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Chase. “I think when we get home…”
Their conversation was interrupted when a gunshot cracked the afternoon’s quiet.
“What the fuck was that?” Kale exclaimed.
“You don’t think…”
“Raja said this was bandit country…
“Shit, come on,” said Chase as he sprinted down the hill.
The boys ran flat out, they were panting when they reached the village and found their friends where they’d left them, gathered around Queen and Country.
“What’s wrong with you two?” asked Alec.
“Yeah, you look like you’ve seen a ghost or something,” Sasha added.
“We heard a gunshot,” said Kale. “We thought there might be trouble...”
“Nah mate, just a little auto repair,” said Jim.
“What?” asked Kale and Chase in unison.
“We couldn’t get the lug nut off with any tools so, Madesh here, did it with his rifle,” said Jim, nodding at the man with the AK-47.
“He shot it off?” Chase exclaimed.
“On the first shot,” said Alec.
“I guess it beats waiting around for Indian Triple A,” said Kale.
“It would be a very long wait,” Raja laughed as he arrived and caught the tail end of the conversation. “The supply truck has arrived, my friends, would you be so good as to help us unload it?”
The boys quickly agreed, after all, it was the least they could do to repay the village for its hospitality. It was a hot day so t-shirts came off as the boys began taking boxes from the truck to the rustic warehouse next to the hut they’d slept in. When the truck was empty they loaded the rickshaws and as night fell, the villagers laid out a feast.
The arrival of their monthly supplies was always cause for celebration and that night the boys enjoyed the food, dancing and music with their new friends. Kale got more great pictures but his friends made sure he put the camera down and got in on the act with everyone else. When the party was over, the boys returned to their hut and when dawn broke, Raja roused them and helped them load their bags into the truck.
“I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for us,” said Kale, speaking for the group.
“I’m sure that if I were in your village and found myself in such dire straits, you would do the same for me,” said Raja.
“Absolutely,” said Kale. “If you ever find yourself in New York…
“Or the UK,” Liam added.
“Look us up,” Kale finished.
“I will do that but now, my friends, you must go. Good luck on your journey.”
The boys shook hands with Raja one last time and then hopped in the back of the truck. The huddled near the back and watched as Raja and the village grew smaller then vanished around a corner.
“Next stop, Jaipur,” said Jim.
It was so loud in the back of the truck there really was no opportunity for conversation. Kale put his arm around Chase and snuggled close, each of them contemplating the future and what it might hold for them. Kale still wasn’t sure how he felt about altering the rules and it weighed heavily on his mind. They weren’t talking about simply fucking whenever they wanted, changing the rules meant truly opening their relationship.
It took all day to reach the city of Jaipur and Kale was no closer to a decision then when they’d departed. It was something they’d have to discuss among them and see where their hearts led. As they unloaded the rickshaws and checked into their hotel, Kale realized that their journey was almost at an end. With the help of Raja’s truck driver they’d made up considerable time and distance and as long as their luck held they’d reach the finish line in a few days.
The next morning the combined team of Brits and Yanks set out at dawn. Kale had shot thousands of pictures along the route but as they neared the end of the line he became more selective. He spent less time shooting and more time enjoying the trip with his friends.
It was smooth sailing from Jaipur and they made excellent time reaching Jodhpur in just two days. They overnighted in Jodhpur and set out early, eager to reach the finish line at Jaisalmer, just a day and a half away. They drove all day but in the late afternoon it started to rain again. It was a light drizzle at first but the further west they traveled the harder the rain came down slowing the progress of the rickshaws.
The boys found themselves in a full on monsoon as night fell and given what had happened the last time they’d ventured out after dark and in rough weather they began looking for a place to hold up for the night. There were no hotels, no towns, no friendly villagers this time, they ended up parking on the side of the road, hauling their gear inside and hunkering down in a ramshackle hut missing one of its walls.
There was excitement in the air when the boys woke the next morning. The storm had slowed them down but the sun was shining now and if all went according to plan they would reach the finish line in time for dinner. Kale and Chase shrugged into their packs and as they made their way to Holiday Road they learned they’d parked the rickshaw just a bit too close to the road.
They were just yards away from Holiday Road when a truck appeared out of nowhere and smashed into the rickshaw, the vehicle splattered against the trucks grill as if it were a particularly large bug, leaving nothing but broken bits behind. The seven boys stood in stunned silence for a few seconds before Kale screamed out, “FUCK!”
“Bloody hell,” said Jim.
“Anyone remember that scene in Christmas Vacation where the tree caught fire and Clark lost it?” asked Alec nodding his head at Kale.
“Fuck!” Kale shouted again. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fucking fuck!”
“Kale, it’s alright,” said Chase. “No one got hurt, you’ve got your cameras, its just…”
“Fuck! I’ve had it with this fucking country,” Kale swore. “Is there any fucking thing it hasn’t thrown at us?”
“Kale, it’s just a rickshaw…” Chase started.
“We’ve come so fucking far,” Kale swore and started to get choked up.
“Aw,” said Chase, pulling him into a hug. “You got attached, huh?”
“Stupid little piece of shit kart,” Kale sniffled. “It brought us nearly three thousand miles. It was part of the team…”
“I know, I feel bad too,” Chase soothed him. “But we’re almost there, we’re so close, we’ve gotta go just a little farther.”
“I’m ok,” said Kale, standing up straight and wiping his eyes on the back of his hand.
“Um, guy’s, we have a bit of a problem,” said Jim.
Kale and Chase turned to find everyone huddled around Queen and Country. The engine hatch was open and everyone examined the interior.
“What’s the matter?” asked Kale.
“She wouldn’t start so I popped the boot,” said Jim. “The storm clogged the engine with mud, now it’s all dried and the engine’s seized up.”
“Is there anything we can do?” asked Chase.
“I’m afraid she’s dead, mate,” said Jim.
“Alec, is the Truckster starting?” asked Kale.
“Yeah, she fired right up.”
“You lot head for the finish line,” said Jim. “We’ll camp here and when you get to Jaisalmer you can send someone back for us.”
“No,” said Kale. “We’re not leaving anyone behind. We’ll tow you.”
“With the four of you crammed into Family Truckster it’s going to cut down on your speed and power. Towing us, mate, we’d be crawling along.”
“I don’t care,” said Kale. “We finish this together.”
“Leafy’s right,” said Alec. “No one gets left behind.”
“I think its bloody good luck we ran into you lot at the airport,” Jim smiled.
The boys rigged a tow rope from Family Truckster to Queen and Country and set out on the final leg of their journey. It was slow going as they traveled at a snail’s pace but the boys were encouraged as other teams dashing for the finish line honked, cheered their support and urged them on as they passed. They’d planned to arrive in Jaisalmer at 4pm but where still miles from the city as the sun began to set.
“Should we pull over and rest up for the night?” asked Alec.
“No,” Kale shook his head emphatically. “We’re almost there, this ends tonight.”
“He’s right, we’re almost home,” said Sasha.
They pressed on through the night and as the hour grew later Alec found himself alone behind the wheel as the other’s slept. As he reflected on the journey he realized how much he’d grown in the past three weeks. He was ready to take his relationship with the men in his life to a new level and he’d finally put the nightmare of his stabbing behind him. It was almost 3am when he beheld an awesome sight and pulled over to wake the others.
“What is it?” Kale yawned.
“Guys look,” said Alec.
They were parked on a hill and below them the sprawling city of Jaisalmer glowed below them.
“We made it,” said Alec.
“Holy shit,” Kale exclaimed and ran a hand over his face.
There was a lot of hugging and even a few tears as the boys celebrated their victory over the Rickshaw Run. They’d made it, they’d come so far, endured so much but they’d made it.
Once everyone calmed down they climbed back into their rickshaws. It took them another hour to reach the finish line but next month’s cover of Sidetracked would feature a picture of four Americans and three identical Brits with their Rickshaws in front of a large status board. The Griswold’s may have finished in last place but they’d finished.
Two days later the boys said goodbye to their British friends but no one was really sad about it. They’d come so far together, seen so much, everyone knew they were bonded for life and with the help of the internet, Skype and Facebook, they’d stay in touch. Kale, Chase, Alec and Sasha were exhausted from their journey and were so happy to be returning home that even Alec was able to sleep on the long flight home.
They reached Kennedy airport at 5pm on Saturday and took a cab to Grand Central Station where they caught a train bound for Binghamton. When their train arrived the weary travelers were greeted by their parents and brothers, all of their friends, but no reunion was sweeter than that of father’s with their son.
“Daddy, Papa,” Linc exclaimed as he broke from his grandparents and ran to his father’s.
“Buddy,” Chase exclaimed as he scooped the little boy into his arms and hugged him tight. “I missed you so much!”
“I miss you to papa, I miss you daddy,” said Linc as Kale joined his husband and son in a group hug.
It was late and the Kirkwood’s, Dudley’s, Kutsenko’s and Buchannan’s quickly ushered their son’s out to the waiting cars. As Kale loaded the last of he and Chase’s bags into his dad’s SUV, Alec tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey,” said Alec.
“Thank you,” said Alec, enveloping his best friend in a bear hug. “Thank you for thinking of this and dragging us along. This has been the best time.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you guys,” said Kale. “I’d be lost without the three of you.”
“So well have that talk soon?”
“Let’s rest up a few days, maybe take the guy’s somewhere nice this weekend and then we’ll talk,” said Kale.
“Sounds like a plan.” Alec smiled, hugged his best friend one last time and trotted over to his parents and brother.
“Up, daddy wake up,” said Linc as he shook Kale’s shoulder.
“What is it kiddo?” asked Kale with a heavy yawn.
They hadn’t even been back from India for 12 hours and it was already time to return to the daily grind. Their adventure was truly over, jetlag could wait, it was time to go back to being fulltime parents.
“Get up daddy, time for church,” said Linc.
“It’s Sunday. Grandma says we get up and go to church on Sunday.” Linc stomped his foot.
“Honey, daddy and papa are really tired. We’ll go next week, ok?” Kale made a mental note to thank his mother for that. He’d been raised in the church but he wasn’t a fanatic about it, he didn’t feel the need to be there every Sunday.
“But daddy,” Linc whined and pushed out his bottom lip.
Kale blinked the remains of sleep from his eyes and took in his son. The little blond boy stood there in his puppy dog pajamas looking so disappointed.
“How about if I get you dressed and you go with Grandma?”
“I want you and papa to come with me, I miss you,” said Linc sweetly.
There was no arguing with that, Kale knew he had to go. He let out a sigh then rolled over to wake Chase.
“Chase, get up,” said Kale, shaking his shoulder.
“Uh,” Chase groaned.
“Come on,” said Kale, shaking him harder.
“Go away mom,” Chase grumbled and waved his arm in the air as if trying to push his mother away.
“Babe, come on, it’s me, get up,” Kale insisted.
“What?” Chase snapped as he sat up.
“Time for church papa,” Linc smiled brightly.
“Ugh, can’t we go next week?”
“Fraid not,” said Kale. “I already tried negotiating, we lost. We’re committed now.”
Chase groaned but he quickly came to the same conclusion. They’d been away for three weeks, their son missed them, and if he wanted them to come to church with him, well, that’s what they were going to do.
It turned out that while Kale and Chase had been in India, Linc had accompanied his grandparents to church and had fallen in love with the children’s group. His Grandma Dudley gave him a book of Bible stories that had belonged to his papa and Linc had someone read one to him each night before bed. Kale could live with the Bible stories, if nothing else they taught good morals and, thankfully, they weren’t in French.
Kale and Chase were both heavily jetlagged so they rode to church with Kale’s parents. Robin drove the Wonder Twins and the Kirkwood family joined the Dudley’s in their usual pews. Kale nodded off several times and his mother had to nudge him in the ribs to wake him for the children’s moment.
“AH, what?” Kale exclaimed, drawing chuckles from nearby parishioners.
“Children’s moment,” Evelyn whispered.
In the Methodist Church, a portion of the service is dedicated to children. The pastor’s wife usually read them a story and then took them away for Sunday school before the sermon.
“You and papa come, daddy,” said Linc, holding out his hands to his parents.
Kale and Chase walked their son to the front of the sanctuary and sat with the children of the congregation and some of the other parents. Most of the kids came up on their own but some of the little ones were shy, not Linc though. He made his daddy and papa come to the front with him because he thought it was neat he had two daddies and wanted to show them off.
“Good morning little ones,” Mrs. Miller smiled as she took a seat among the children. “Today we’re going to learn the story of David and Goliath…”
“I know this one,” Linc whispered to his parents. “Uncle Jamie reads to me last week.”
“Ok bud, pay attention.” Chase smiled.
Kale had trouble staying awake through the story he’d heard a million times, that is until Mrs. Miller got to the part where David asks the king for permission to fight the giant.
“…and the king said, “But you’re just a child and so small,” said Mrs. Miller. “And do you know what David said to the king?”
“Ah, fuck Goliath!” Linc shouted.
The congregation gasped and Kale’s eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his head.
“I, uh, we’re sorry,” said Chase, as he stood and picked up Linc. He and Kale started leading him down from the altar.
“But papa, the story not done yet,” Linc protested.
“Where did you learn that?” asked Chase.
“Uncle Jamie reads me the story,” said Linc.
“I might have known,” said Kale, glaring at his little brother as they made their way to the pews.
“Uh oh,” said Jamie as he slouched low in his seat. His parents and the Dudley’s turned in their pews to glare at him.
Sean face-palmed, Robin rolled his eyes and both of them smacked Jamie upside the head. Kale glared at Jamie but then his face cracked into a smile and he started to laugh. Jamie raised an eyebrow at him and Kale just laughed harder. He laughed so hard it was almost uncontrollable and soon the congregation was laughing with him. The entire sanctuary was filled with laughter.
“It’s finally happened, you’ve cracked,” said Chase. “What are you laughing at?”
“I was so stupid. I thought that India was the end, our last adventure,” said Kale as he took Linc from him, kissed the little boys cheek and gestured at the pews. “But how could that be when this is our family?”
Chase laughed then too, he understood completely.