"CHAY!!!!!" Everyone on board the Dixie Magic could hear the screams before they even threw the lines to the dock. "Chay, where are you?"
"Ahh the exuberance of children," Miko teased with a laugh.
"Shut it, Miko," Chay growled. "And don't be crude when I introduce you, either, or I'll tell Ma, and Aunt Dixie."
The gangway was barely in place when two blonde blurs nearly broke it trying to get onto the paddle wheeler before the other one. It was clear that Claude and Keagan were about to injure themselves trying not to hug their men in public, so the four ducked into the nearest doorway on the ship as soon as they could. Each younger man instantly wrapped their arms around their older man tightly enough that the baker and the restauranteur thought they might need to be checked over for broken ribs. A throat being cleared behind them made the four separate quickly.
"So do I get introduced or do I have to do this myself?" Ma asked with a frown at her son.
"Chay, you didn't say you were bringing someone with you," Keagan said with a powerful blush.
"I wasn't sure how to bring it up," Chay shrugged with a blush of his own.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, son, but I would think the words, 'My mother will be with me' just might do the job," Ma snarked.
"Your mother?!" Keagan squeaked and jumped away from Chay. He recovered quickly though and as a testament to his courage, walked over to shake the woman's hand. "Hello Mrs. Anthony, it's an honor to meet you," Keagan said, nervously and formally. When he got near her, however, he squeaked in shock as she yanked him into a hug.
"You don't greet your mother-in-law with a handshake, little one," she told him as she squeezed him as tightly as he had hugged her son. "Now, I want you should call me Ma, but only if you want. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"Ma, we're not married," Chay said rolling his eyes.
"Yet," Ma scolded with a shake of her finger. "Besides, we're Lebanese. It wasn't that long ago that our people got married just by paying the father of the bride a few goats or pigs. The son of my loins has found the one to spend his life with," she suddenly said very loudly and then she made a shrill almost yodel sound that had Keagan squeaking in surprise again.
"What was that?" Claude asked from behind Cass, where he was not hiding at all.
"Ma just blessed my brother and his love," Miko explained as he entered the room. "It's a Lebanese tradition that I found out about when I brought Sandy home to meet her." He then glared at the two older men in the room. "A fine crew you two turned out to be. The first cute blondes you see, you forget all about docking procedures and disappear. I had to bring our honored guests on board by myself."
"Aunt Dixie, you didn't have to…. I know, you decide what you do, not me," Cass started and then corrected himself. "Prince Henri, welcome aboard the Dixie Magic," he added greeting his future grandfather-in-law.
"Did you think we wouldn't be here to greet our boys' new family members?" the old man asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Ok, seriously, we barely got the boat tied off and the whole crew disappears?" Sandy demanded as he walked into the room. "Oh family time, sorry I interrupted." He turned to leave but Aunt Dixie stopped him.
"I know you ain't going to walk out this room without giving me a chance to meet the young man my old friend, Captain Andy, calls the son he never had," she called out.
"Cap said that about me?" Sandy whispered in shock. "Oh my gosh that means you must be Queen Dixie," he gushed and then dropped to one knee in front of her with his head bowed.
"I'm just an old woman, not the Queen of England," Dixie laughed. "Get up off that floor. You know, now that you're here, you are really going to have to invite Andy over to meet your split apart. He'll be tickled pink you found yourself a river man."
"You are the queen my boys and your nephew have been telling me about?" Mama asked as she curtsied before Aunt Dixie. "I thank you from the bottom of a mother's heart for looking after my son while he was hiding from me."
"You raised a good man, and a fine baker," Aunt Dixie said as she embraced Chay's mother and kissed her on each cheek and on the forehead. "You are family as much as your son, dear lady."
"Thank you again," Mama smiled. "Now if no one objects, I've had enough of boats for a while. Get me onto some dry ground please."
"I insist we all go to my restaurant and have an early dinner, and everyone can get to know one another better," Cassius offered. "My treat for you all," he added.
"That is very generous of you, Prince Cassius, but I insist on paying for the meal," Henri said firmly. "It is my right and privilege to host the dinner for my grandson meeting his future in-laws. You know, as the family of the bride," he added with a teasing smile at Keagan who blushed intensely.
"PawPaw," the teen whined. "I am not a bride or a girl."
"I just tease you, Sunshine," the old man was still grinning as he came over and hugged the embarrassed young man. "Don't you worry you pretty little head, I know who and what you are, and I love you and couldn't be no more proud of you, no matter what. What more, I couldn't be no happier without busting something that I get to paid for two weddings for my grandbabies."
"I love you too, PawPaw," Keagan gushed as he hugged the old man.
"But PawPaw, we're both boys and Chay and Cass…. Well, we can't have weddings," Claude said in confusion.
"That waste of air that sired you wouldn't let you attend much of the family celebrations or you'd know that our people don't follow laws that are made by dark-hearted people without the powers or the vision to see that love don't care one little bit about whether it's legal or not," Henri explained. "You won't have the piece of paper that says you married like some other couples get, but there will be a ceremony for both of my grandsons. The House of Lafayette don't just shack up like… well, we just don't." He had corrected himself as he looked at the two ladies in the room.
"I would be delighted to meet my adorable son-in-law's family," Ma said as she had her hand kissed by Mr. Lafayette. She turned to Keag and smiled, "I always hoped to share my secret family recipes with my son's better half. I worried for years thinking that he and Miko would get together and I would never know who was the better half, since they're both so rotten."
"Why I can't believe such a fine upstanding young man like Chayton would ever do anything unseemly," PawPaw Henri smiled. "You must tell Dixie and I all the tales of his misspent youth."
"I wouldn't exactly call it a misspent youth," Chay defended himself.
"Did you tell your mother you were gay? No. Did you tell your best friend you were gay? No. Did you tell your father that you wanted to be a pastry chef instead of a boat engineer and river man? No. I love you, Chay, but you misspent your youth," Ma said pointedly. "Now I want off this boat and I want the famous Southern food my good friend Cassius has been telling me about when he wasn't pining for his boy toy. That's the word you all teased him and Chay about, isn't it?"
"You were pining for me?" Claude asked excitedly, but with a blush. "Awww… you big softie you."
"Well as everyone already knows I'm a big old marshmallow, how's our baby? Did he miss his Daddy?" Cass asked he lead Claude and the others out onto the deck of the boat.
"He got spoiled absolutely stupid by his Auntie Sunshine," Claude gushed. "Him and his sister Della. One look from their little eyes or a single, pitiful whine, and Pushover there would scoop them up and carry them everywhere."
"They're babies, I didn't want them to tumble down the stairs and get hurt or get lost and not be able to find us," Keag blurted. "And I told you to stop calling me Auntie Sunshine."
"Well, you're the one that started teaching Snag to call me Momma," Claude pouted.
"Just like you call me Momma for Della," Keag retorted. "If I'm Snag's Auntie Sunshine and Della's Momma then you're her Auntie Claudette."
"CLAUDETTE?!?" Claude shrieked. "I know you did not just go there," he growled and started chasing Keagan all around the decks of the boat. "Come back here you little snot, I am going to clobber you, little brother."
"My gracious me," Ma snorted. "You were right, Prince Cassius. If the hair were darker, it would be Chayton and Mikolaj all over again."
"Miko and I weren't that bad, were we, Ma?" Chay whined.
From the balcony above them, Claude's voice rang out, "Just exactly what do you mean by 'that bad' Chayton Anthony?"
Almost instantly, Keagan was beside the baker and apologizing profusely. "I'm sorry, Chay. I didn't mean to do anything I wasn't supposed to. I'll... I'll just go now." He ran off the boat and down the pier.
"You better get after him, Chayton, and you best not come back without him either," Claude snarled. "I won't need family powers to tear you apart if you don't make this right. He has had nightmares every night you were gone that you would dump him as soon as you got back. Now go, and you should know where he's going, too."
"How would I… Wait, he ran that way, didn't he?" Chay asked as he pointed up the river along the levee. "I do know where he's going." He took off running after his love as the rest of the family exited the boat.
"What's this about Sunshine having nightmares?" Henri demanded. "You ain't said not a word about this to me."
"He didn't want me to tell anyone," Claude confessed. "Every night it's been the same nightmare of Chay not wanting him anymore. Different reasons different nights, but the same outcome every time. He just can't believe that anyone would actually want him because he can't see his own worth to this world and everyone around him. I've been teasing him a lot with the kittens, because it seemed the only way to convince him that I am his big brother, and I'm never going to stop being his big brother, was to be a pain in the a… umm bu… err behind." He stammered the last word as he looked at the two women and his grandfather.
"You in college now, Claude, I think it a safe assumption you know the word ass," Aunt Dixie said with a tease in her voice.
"And if you were worried about me, I used to wipe Chay's and his," Ma said pointing at Miko. "I know a thing or two about butts myself."
"Ma, you can't tell strangers you used to wipe my butt," Miko whined.
"You were six months old," she frowned. "What? You want everyone should think you were some genius who could do it yourself at that age? Please."
"Have I told you today how much I love you as my mother-in-law?" Sandy laughed as he hugged the woman. "I love you, baby, but genius you're not," he snorted to Miko who was pouting. "Has he ever picked up his underwear from the bedroom floor by himself?"
"Sandy," Miko whined once again as his pout was joined by a blush.
"My Calvin always tell me he leave the step ins on the floor so I don't lose my way to the bed," Henri remembered with a melancholic smile. "As if I could ever not find my way to him."
"My condolences on your loss, Mr. Lafayette," Ma said as she hugged the man. "I know the loss of the one you love above all else as well. Although to be fair, my husband never made excuses for not doing anything around our home. He was a hard worker and a good provider to his dying day, but he was the slobbiest man I ever knew, at least until Chay and Miko got old enough to start making their own messes."
"Ma, please, not the story of the flooded bathroom again," Miko begged.
"Au contraire, mon ami," Henri laughed. "A flooded bathroom, I got to hear this told."
"Come to dinner, then," Cassius once again offered. "I will make sure we have the private dining room for the family privacy."