LOVING:    Ringing True


Author:  lucel   

Loving Series:  The Beginning, All’s Well, Ringing True, First Christmas   Parallel Series:  Ray:  Trick and Treat

Characters: Ryan/Andrew, Ray/Nat, assorted others including politicians and entertainers

Implement:  Paddle

Warnings:  Angst, sex, fun, poetry, & politics

Dedication:  For Mel, because he didn’t want to miss something important… For Clawkit, Dash, Rusty, Stef, & everyone on list who encouraged this writing…


There was a kind of background murmur that made Ryan think of a crowded beach.  He wondered sleepily why he was dreaming about a beach… then he felt quite happy just to drift … away.  Next, he thought he heard cars honking and engines starting, stopping, and revving.  He started to shift inside the warmth of his bed only to realize that something heavy had him pinned right where he was.  He opened cautious blue eyes to morning sunlight slanting through partially closed drapes.  If he were looking out, he knew he would be looking down on the Eucalyptus trees standing just behind the Presidio Wall on what used to be San Francisco’s elegant Army post. 


Then with a thrill of pure happiness, Ryan realized the “dead weight” holding him in place was actually his young partner, Andrew, who always seemed to sleep comfortably in whatever weird position gave him the most contact with Ryan.  This morning Andrew was draped so that his head pillowed on Ryan’s chest, with Andrew’s arms reaching across Ryan’s body leaving their legs and feet completely tangled. When Ryan thought of what could have happened yesterday-- He reached to gather his sleeping partner impossibly closer…  Andrew had come to mean so much…  For Ryan, Andrew meant home and love… No matter how far Ryan flew as a senior pilot for one of the world’s largest airlines, he knew that for him, Andrew would always be the heart of his world.


And Ryan felt a chill shudder through his body as he thought how close he had come to losing everything yesterday at the airport.  A squad of terrorists had detonated a bomb at the entrance to the United Airlines Concourse and had taken over that section of the airport.  Ryan had been among the United Airlines employees taken hostage along with about 100 passengers.  As a senior pilot, he had been the ranking official among the hostages.  With the help of a level-headed British woman, he had been able to keep both hostages and their captors calm enough to negotiate the release of about 30 women and children. 


Desperate at the time to stay calm and keep his courage, Ryan could remember the horror of realizing that the terrorists were planning to kill the hostages, and that Ryan might not live to see his good-looking young partner again.  Then, just as he had been trying to organize some of the passengers for a rally against their captors, a great light burst overhead, and Ryan had been somehow certain that Andrew was involved. 


That light and the sound of hand to hand combat had galvanized the hostages into action.  They had been able to overcome their distracted guards, steal their weapons, and break into the main United concourse to hit the terrorists from the rear.  They had provided enough of a diversion to allow all of the Navy Seals to emerge from the shadowy runway area, enter the concourse, and complete their surprise attack to overcome the terrorists. 


Along with all the rest of the world, the terrorists had not expected that an armed force could possibly enter the airport from the waters of the San Francisco Bay itself.  The crack group of Seals had done just that using underwater scooters to pull them to shore through the strong currents of the Bay.


After all was in hand, Ryan had debriefed both his United Airlines superiors and the commanders of the combined city/military task force responding to the terrorist threat.  Ryan had been reeling with exhaustion by the time he had had a cursory check by paramedics.  Finally, two police cars had run him home-- to his Andrew.  There he had met the team who had gathered to support Andrew after he knew Ryan was in danger from the terrorist attack.  Ryan had been amazed by what had happened, but instinctively, he had trusted the strangers who had come to their aid.  He somehow knew that this special group would be important to him and to Andrew, to the life they were building together.


Ryan could feel Andrew begin to wake up.  He planted a kiss on top of Andrew’s dark curls; then caught his full lips as Andrew began to turn in his arms.  Ryan’s capable pilot’s hands cupped his partner’s nicely curved bottom cheeks pulling him close, allowing the smooth velvet of their morning hardness to slide against each other.  Andrew’s skin flushed with desire as he exhaled a breathy “Ryan” and reached for his partner.  His gray eyes still cloudy with sleep, he kissed Ryan’s chest and chin before again finding Ryan’s lips and welcoming his tongue. 


With a wave of tenderness Ryan still found amazing, Ryan breathed in the distinctive spicy scent he always associated with Andrew, tasted and touched him and was almost overwhelmed by the love he felt for his very special young man.  Then gently but insistently he rolled Andrew under him.  Blue eyes queried gray, and Andrew responded with a tender smile and a softly spoken “Please, Ry, yes!”


Ryan reached for lube and condom, handing the condom to Andrew.  “Put it on me,” he said, his voice low and sultry.  Andrew tore the packet open with his teeth; then unfurled the disk with hands that were trembling slightly with emotion and rising passion.


With his fingers, Ryan lubed his fully extended cock.  Lovingly, he lifted Andrew’s legs to his shoulders before opening Andrew’s rosy hole with first one, then two, and finally three fingers, circling and scissoring to stretch Andrew, reaching deep to tap his love spot  making him buck and groan with desire.


“Now, Ryan, please…Now!”  Andrew the sweet sleepyhead had become the wanton Renaissance angel, raging to feel his partner inside him. 


With a groan, Ryan pressed into Andrew’s sweet channel, knowing that for him, being with Andrew was home.  Quickly establishing a rhythm, the two men moved together to give each other the maximum of pleasure.  Ryan angled each plunge to hit Andrew’s prostate again and again. 


Finally Ryan reached between them for Andrew’s cock, sliding and tugging along the thick shaft, aided by Andrew’s dripping precum. With a concerted shout, they came within seconds of each other, and then all but passed out in each other’s arms.


Giving Andrew one more little squeeze, Ryan moved carefully to “his” side of the bed.  He reached for Andrew only to have Andrew take his hand first to shower it with kisses, then to clean it with careful licks, savoring the salty-sweet taste of himself on Ryan’s hand. 


Ryan watched with fascination.  Then he pulled Andrew to him with a soft growl that made Andrew giggle as he snuggled happily against his larger partner.  He felt new.  After the momentous events of the past few days, Andrew felt relieved and safe. 


Despite Ryan’s absence flying a long route to Japan/Hong Kong and back as Senior Pilot Captain for United Airlines, both Andrew and Ryan had been able to make special plans to celebrate their first anniversary:  they wanted to remember the night they met, the first night they spent together. 


Andrew, as a young musician enrolled in the prestigious College of Performing Arts and Music at San Francisco State University, had surprised Ryan by writing a song for him and performing it for their anniversary in the fabulous Oak Room of the venerable St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. 


Ryan had continued the surprises by taking Andrew for a romantic dinner and dancing at Julius Castle with its spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay.   The evening had ended at the very “in” Endup Club to celebrate with more dancing until the early morning hours. 


Andrew could still not quite believe what had happened at their quiet table overlooking the Bay just two nights ago.  They had finished eating a beautiful herb encrusted rack of lamb with all the trimmings accompanied by the special Mondavi red Ryan had selected.  They were waiting for the chocolate soufflés with raspberry Port sauce they had ordered earlier, and the wine captain was bringing over a chilled bottle of champagne to help them celebrate, courtesy of the management.  With a little puffing pop of the cork, the sparkling wine was open and poured with suitable ceremony for the anniversary couple. 


They toasted each other and took a sip. Then Ryan’s clear blue eyes held the shining gray of Andrew’s as Ryan retrieved something small from the security of an inner jacket pocket.  In his hand was a small red silk box which he offered to his young partner.


“Here, Andrew.  I thought we should wear these to celebrate our partnership.”  He gently put the box in his partner’s hand.  It was trembling slightly.  Ryan waited for Andrew to open the box. 


Almost forgetting to breathe, Andrew turned the box several times before getting the strength to open it.  His involuntary “Ohhh” was a gasp of delight. 


Nestled in the crimson silk were two platinum rings, slightly sculptured to curve the sides and polished to the brightness of liquid moonlight.  Except for the fact that one was larger than the other, they appeared to be identical.   


“Oh, Ryan,” Andrew breathed.  “They are exquisite.”  He set the box down on the table between them.  “Do you think we should wear them now?”  He looked hopeful, happy, and terrified all at once. 


With one dark curl falling down by his right eye, Andrew seemed to project an aura of danger despite the sleek respectability of his dress gray slacks and dark blue sport coat and the very rich dark gray silk of his tie.  To Ryan, Andrew had never looked more appealing or more fuckable.


“Yes, babe, I want us to put them on to commemorate our first anniversary.”  Ryan picked up the smaller ring.  Taking Andrew’s left hand in his, Ryan held the ring so Andrew could see the inner surface.  “Andrew, your ring is engraved to show that you are mine, that we belong together.  See it says ‘Ryan’s’ right here.” 


Sliding the ring on the fourth finger of Andrew’s left hand, Ryan said slowly, “Andrew, I love you, and I am proud of you.  Wear this ring always to show that you are my partner.”  With that he kissed Andrew’s ring clad finger then held his hand firmly.


Then Andrew picked up the larger ring for Ryan and looked at the inner surface.  It was engraved with ‘Andrew’s.’ Blushing and smiling, Andrew took Ryan’s left hand in his.  Beaming at his partner, Andrew carefully pushed the ring on the fourth finger of Ryan’s left hand saying in his clear singer’s voice, “Ryan, I love you, and I am proud of you, of us.  Wear this ring always to show that you are my partner.”  And following Ryan’s lead again, Andrew kissed Ryan’s ring and finger before looking up at Ryan, his passionate gray eyes bright with tears of real joy.


Ryan suddenly realized that the orchestra leader was looking his way, and he nodded to the man by previous arrangement.  Looking back at his handsome young partner, Ryan stood up to offer his hand, “Andrew, I believe that this is our dance…”  Blushing again, but ready to melt into Ryan’s arms, Andrew put his hand in Ryan’s and stood to dance, his eyes slightly shy and questioning as he looked around the room filled with diners… 


Ryan nodded to Andrew as he led him to the center of the polished dance floor.   Ryan pulled him close holding him securely with one hand at Andrew’s waist.  Then with Andrew slightly trembling in his arms, Ryan said softly, “Just relax and follow my lead, babe.  Try to concentrate on the words… I asked for this song for us…” 


After a lovely and lyrical orchestral introduction, the band singer began the song, and Ryan swept Andrew into the magic of the music created by George and Ira Gershwin:


It's very clear, our love is here to stay,
Not for a year, but ever and a day;
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go,

But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay:
Together we're going a long, long way.
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble;
They're only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.


The dance floor spotlight found them as Ryan was leading Andrew in a series of showy open spins.  When they came together, they moved with a concerted grace that bespoke their love.  Turning gracefully in the center of the floor, Ryan’s strong arms lifted his smaller partner in a flying gesture of pride and protection for the slighter brunet.  Then as the chorus ended for the second time, Ryan bent over Andrew to claim his lips for a kiss to end the dance.


Andrew felt his knees go weak just before he and Ryan again became aware of their surroundings.  Applause echoed through the room, and Andrew realized that the spotlight was still on him and his tall partner.  Blushing adorably, Andrew was thankful for Ryan’s strong arms supporting him, and he was thrilled to realize again that the special loving look in Ryan’s blue eyes was for him, that they were partners, committed to making a life together. 


The applause began to die down, and Ryan drew Andrew back to their table just as their waiter brought silver dome covered plates to them.  Lifting the covers with a flourish, their chocolate soufflés were revealed.  The tart raspberry sauce contrasted beautifully with the smooth bitter chocolate of the soufflé, and they knew as they took turns feeding each other that their special evening was perfect.  Ryan poured more champagne, and then toasted his young partner.  “Thank you for a wonderful year, a great song, and a real surprise.  I love you, Andrew…”  Ryan leaned forward to capture his partner’s full lips once again. 


“Mmmm.  Chocolate raspberry kisses…  I love you, too, Ryan.  This has been a perfect evening…”  Andrew couldn’t take his eyes away from his blond partner’s handsome face.  “I love our rings…thank you so much for bringing them for us.” 


Ryan smiled at his younger partner as he tweaked one of his dark curls.  “And it’s not over yet.  I know how much you love to dance so I also booked us a table over at The Endup for about half an hour from now.  I figure we have a lot to celebrate, and it won’t hurt to work off some of this meal either,” Ryan chuckled.  “Not all of us have a perfect metabolism, you know…” 


Andrew grinned, and touched Ryan playfully.  Then he noticed Ryan shaking his head in disbelief.  “What are you thinking?” Andrew asked.  “Why are you shaking your head?”


“I was just thinking how bad I felt at the beginning of this evening when I came home and found you weren’t there.  I thought all of my plans were going to go up in smoke… Then Gary called and took me to you, and everything became much better than I could have ever hoped…”  Ryan didn’t notice Andrew’s somewhat stricken look.  “This has been a wonderful, magical evening, Andrew, one we will remember…”  And Andrew had known that they would.




They danced, they made love, and they slept late.  Their anniversary had been perfect. Then Andrew had left for a grueling afternoon learning “The Fantasticks” in black box session for his performance class, and Ryan had headed for the airport to complete paperwork and file reports for his latest Japan/Hong Kong flights.  Andrew had worked hard, but had felt some nagging worry throughout the afternoon.  It was only when he was on his way home after class that he was hit with paralyzing and painful fear for Ryan.  His classmate, Nat, had helped him get home with more help from Nat’s partner, Ray, and Andrew’s bus driver friend, Joe. 


There they had discovered that Ryan was among hostages being held by terrorists at San Francisco International Airport.  Ray had held them all together along with Nat’s Aunt Miranda, and he had even marshaled them to focus as an ensemble to help Ryan and the hostages.  Andrew still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened, but he was quite sure that something had happened.  Maybe it was because Nat and his family were gypsies, or maybe there was something about Ray… 


And Ryan had come home, safe and unhurt, with police sirens clearing his way.  They were both very aware of what they had together, and they were just as aware that they could have easily lost it all… Somehow knowing that he and Ryan had another chance for happiness brought home to Andrew how necessary it was to be accountable and live honorably within their partnership.  Andrew took responsibility with Ryan for failing to live up to his promise to be there when the tall pilot came home from his long flight.  Ryan understood that this was Andrew’s attempt to make amends, and despite the harrowing demands of the day, Ryan somehow found the resolve and strength to give Andrew the punishment he needed.


And today was another day-- and it had already begun well.  Andrew stretched like a young cat and all but purred as he snuggled back into Ryan’s arms.  Ryan chuckled and enjoyed, knowing his superiors at the airline had told him to stay home today.  Though there did seem to be a lot of street noise for fairly early on a weekday morning.  It kept Ryan from falling back into sleep, and when Andrew planted a series of kisses on his neck and shoulder, Ryan knew Andrew was awake as well.


“Andrew, what time is it? Don’t you have classes this morning?”  The alarm was on Andrew’s side of the bed, since he seemed to have the most trouble waking up in the mornings.


“It’s almost nine o’clock, Ryan.  And no, I don’t have classes today, thank God!  I was planning to get started on a paper assignment, though, and to learn lines for ‘The Fantastiks,’ but there is no set time I need to begin.  No.”  Andrew was very definite.  “What I need today is to stay near you and to be sure you are all right.”


“Well, how about we hop in the shower, then I can get the coffee and juice while you throw some waffles and bacon together.  I’m starving.  I don’t think I had a chance to eat much yesterday.   There was too much going on.  And though I was able to work with Martha Jamison, who is a British nanny, to find rations for the hostages, somehow I never got around to eating anything myself…”


Ryan suddenly became aware that Andrew had grown very pale with tears running down his cheeks.  “Hey, calm down… I’m OK…Andrew, look-- I’m here.  I’m safe.”  Ryan sat up to draw his partner into his arms. 


“Oh, Ryan!  I was so worried and scared!” Andrew wailed.  “What if something had happened to you?”


“Well, nothing did! So don’t carry on so.  Come on let’s get going so we can have breakfast.”  Ryan stood up and tugged Andrew with him.  Soon they were dressed in jeans and tees and clattering downstairs to start their morning meal. 


Andrew detoured into the front hall to get the morning paper which was usually left on the front porch each morning.  Without thinking, Andrew turned the bolt and opened the door… to meet an explosion of flashbulbs popping, cameras whirring and clicking, microphones thrusting, and voices shouting:


“Where is Captain Williams?  Who are you? Is the captain OK? Is Captain Williams in there? This is his house, isn’t it?  How did he get the terrorists to let the women and kids go?  How did he know to lead the charge from the United Concourse when the Seals went into action?  LET US SPEAK TO CAPTAIN WILLIAMS!!”  The flashes of light and loud voices just went on and on.  At first, Andrew just stood frozen in the doorway; then he whirled around and slammed the door shut. He was shaking with shock, and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. 


Then he all but ran for the kitchen yelling “Ryan! Ryan!  There are hundreds of reporters outside the door, and they all want you!  What are we going to do?”  Andrew’s voice was shrill with shock and rising hysteria, and he was prancing up and down in agitation.


Ryan went to the window where he could look out and see the street and the front yard.  There was a sea of news trucks, media vans, and reporters of various sorts on what was usually a fairly quiet street.  Microphones had been taped to the grill work on their front porch.  It was easy to see why Andrew had been shocked. 


“Look, Andrew, try to relax.  I’ll go see what they want,” Ryan offered.  “Why don’t you start making the waffles.  I’ve already set the table.”


After giving Andrew a reassuring hug, Ryan loped down the hall to the front door.  Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.  Met with an even more clamorous reception than Andrew, Ryan tried to stand tall under the onslaught of noise and insistent voices.  It was almost all he could do not to bolt as had Andrew. 


The buffeting sound mixture of men, equipment, and vehicles was so intense that even Ryan started to feel his courage begin to slip. 


Then the front door nudged him a little as it opened again.  It opened just enough to let Andrew slip out onto the porch. Stepping forward, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Ryan.  Andrew winked at his taller partner and gave him a little nod in the direction of the crowd of newsmen. 


Suddenly Ryan felt ten feet tall!  With a quick smile for his intrepid partner, Ryan raised his hands in a calming gesture and spoke to the crowd with all the authority he could muster. 


“OK, OK.  Quiet!  Quiet!  Now what are you all doing here?  What do you want?  One at a time, now, one at a time…  OK you, sir, with the NBC Mic…”


“Captain Williams… it is Captain Williams, right?  And this is your house?” At Ryan’s nod, the man continued.  “And this young man is….”


Smoothly, Ryan slipped one arm around Andrew’s waist.  “Andrew Stewart-Williams is my partner.”  Cameras were whirring and lights were flashing.  “We’ve been committed for a year now.  He’s a musician and a student at San Francisco State.”


“Can you tell us about being held hostage? Did your partner know?  Did you feel the bomb?  And how did you convince the terrorists to let the women and children go?  How were you able to join the fight during the Navy Seal operation?  The United spokesman said you are a pilot-- why aren’t you flying?  What were you doing in the airport yesterday?  Give us something, sir, anything at all!” With that he thrust his microphone up toward Ryan and Andrew.


It quickly became fairly quiet; they all wanted to hear what Ryan had to say.  “I was at the airport making reports on my return from flight assignment to the Orient.  I heard a ‘whumping,’ crashing sound and the blast blew my office door open.  When I went out to the concourse to see what had happened, a gunman took me prisoner…  I was taken to see the leader.  I think it was because they could see from my uniform that I was a pilot, an official of sorts… they had a few other employees and about 100 passengers from a regional flight that had just landed… the terrorists were triumphant, but jumpy, and I could see that the passengers were terrified…  One or two had been wounded, and there seemed to be blood everywhere.” 


Ryan was tensing up just remembering.  Andrew touched Ryan’s hand in sympathy, and Ryan gave Andrew’s waist a little squeeze in appreciation.


“Well, how did they decide to let the women and children go… some of the hostages who were released said you were behind it?”  The man just kept pushing. 


With a little noncommittal shake of his head, Ryan continued.  “I asked if they would be making demands.  When the leader nodded, I told him he would have a better chance of getting what he wanted if he let the women and children go.  I pointed out that they were too frightened to be quiet, and there weren’t really enough adults to handle the children.  Finally, he agreed, and he put me to work getting them ready to leave the concourse.”


“What had to be done?”  The questioning continued, along with the filming and taping.


“Well, he wanted a list of who was being released, and since he wanted to wait an hour to do it, I thought we should organize something for everyone to eat.  I was allowed two helpers, and when I asked for volunteers, a stewardess, named Vickie James, and one of the passengers, a British woman named Martha Jamison, came forward.  I needed them because all the hostages were very nervous, almost hysterical.  I think Mrs. Jamison is a private nanny, and she was very good at calming people down…”


Just then two patrol cars drove up displaying lights, but without sirens.  They were followed by a United Airlines Limo.  Four policemen got out, conferred for a moment, then three of them started going around to the vehicles double parked up and down the street.  The third officer escorted two men with briefcases up to the porch, parting the crowd of newsmen to make a path.  “Captain Williams?” The man in the dark blue suit looked from Ryan to Andrew, and then settled on Ryan, who nodded.  “I’m Jerry Barnes, Chief Public Relations Officer for United, and this is my assistant, Jim Campbell.  We need to meet with you right away to help with all of this.”  He gestured to all the reporters still snapping pictures, filming, and recording.  “May we come in?”


Looking quickly at Andrew, who nodded, Ryan replied, “Yeah, sure.  I don’t think they’re finished with me yet… but my partner and I really don’t like facing all this without warning or preparation…”


“Or without breakfast!” Andrew just couldn’t help interjecting. His stomach had been rumbling.


“Let me help.”  With that Jerry joined the two men on the porch and turned to face the crowd.  “Captain Williams will meet with you all again at 11 o’clock this morning to make a statement and to answer any questions.  I understand the Mayor’s Office and United will also be making statements during the course of the day.   Please check with their offices for details.  Thank you.”  He turned toward the house and gestured for them all to go in. 


The policeman stayed on the bench in the hall, and Andrew offered to bring him some coffee, which he accepted.  The two men from United followed Ryan into the kitchen and were soon perched on stools at the kitchen island drinking coffees of their own.  Andrew quickly whipped up some scrambled eggs and toast for him and Ryan, with at least some regret for the more complicated waffle breakfast they had planned.  Ryan had the feeling that the officials were hesitant to begin, so he went straight to the point.


“What are you here to do?  How do we handle the press?  We really don’t want them bothering us or our neighbors.  What can be done?”  Ryan really wasn’t sure what would happen next.


“Well, Captain Williams,” Jerry began.


“Please.  I’m not on duty right now.  Call me ‘Ryan.’  Jerry looked a little as though he had swallowed a lemon. 


“Well, Ryan.  United is very pleased that no passengers or employees were killed yesterday, though some were wounded.  High management wants to thank you for your efforts.  We all think you are in line for some appreciation, and as we have anticipated, you are the center of a great deal of media attention, which should certainly reflect well on United.” 


Jim Campbell, Jerry’s assistant, had retrieved two folders from the briefcase he had brought.  He passed the first one to his boss saying, “Here is Captain Williams’ personnel folder.”  He caught Ryan’s quizzical expression, then said, “Ryan’s folder, I mean…”  He smiled somewhat nervously at Ryan.


“Ah, yes.”  Jerry read through it briefly as though checking something.  Then he looked up, at both Ryan and Andrew.  “Your file is excellent, and your career markers are outstanding.  Certainly by the time of your next revue in January, you would have had a two step increase with incentive pay. 


“Now we want to jump you four steps, effective yesterday, and there with be a danger pay bonus as well as a $10,000 Humanitarian Award.  We will announce this today.   Then, when you are ready, United will fly you and seven guests to the holiday destination of your choice with complimentary accommodation in one of United’s partner resort hotels.  How does that sound?”


Andrew jumped up to give Ryan a hug.  “Ryan, I’m so proud of you,” he said, his gray eyes almost as bright as his smile.  Ryan smiled back at his partner and reached for him.


“The recognition is great, but I don’t think I did anything more than any other person in the same situation would have done…”  He returned Andrew’s hug with a squeeze and draped one arm around his partner’s neck.  But when he looked back at Jerry, he could see there was something…  “What is it you’re not telling me?  There is something, I can tell…”  He waited.


“Well, Captain Williams, Ryan, I mean,” Jerry looked somewhat conflicted.  “United was concerned because your file shows your next of kin to be Andrew Stewart-Williams, your domestic partner.  And you live here together, is that right?” 


Andrew and Ryan looked at each other.  Jerry looked down at the file, flipping nervously from page to page. 


“Yes, of course.  Andrew and I are in a committed partnership.  And for the time being, while he is at the University, he is my dependent.  What are you getting at??  Why are you asking these questions, now?”  Ryan was beginning to get angry.


“Well, Ryan.  United has always had some difficulty as a corporation dealing with issues of gay partnership.  As you must know, for a long time the company did not recognize same sex partners as dependents.  United was even part of a lawsuit to invalidate San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Law.  Are you familiar with that?”  Jerry was looking steadily at Ryan, and avoiding Andrew’s intense gaze.


Ryan answered sharply.  “Yes.  That ordinance required any company doing business with the City of San Francisco to provide the same benefits for domestic partners as it provided for married spouses.  When United tried to fight it in court, a lot of us lobbied, signed petitions, and wrote to the Board of Directors demanding equal treatment.  Eventually we won.  And last year, I nominated Andrew as my domestic partner to share in all my company benefits.”


Jerry nodded and continued.  “I know.  Because United realized that recognizing domestic partners was the true wave of the future and going to be required by law, it became apparent that leading that particular social change would be to United’s advantage.  However…”  Jerry hesitated.


Ryan jumped in to demand, “However, what?  What is your point?”  Andrew was looking distressed.  His gaze moved from Jerry to Ryan and back again.  He had become quite pale.


“Well, it is certain that you will be under close scrutiny by the media as the ‘hero’ of the hour.  You will also be representing United Airlines as a model senior pilot.  Therefore, it has been suggested that you avoid mentioning that you are involved with a young man.  There is no reason for the general public to be aware of your sexual orientation or your lifestyle choices… especially as it could harm your career… and United’s image.”  The man paused again, the ugly insinuations left hanging, threatening… 


Ryan could not believe what he was hearing.  He was just getting ready to reply when Andrew suddenly exclaimed in a low pain-filled voice, “Ohh… Oh, No… No…” and tore out of the room and up the stairs.


Ryan’s cry of “Andrew, Andrew, stay…” carried him to the door.  He heard their bedroom door upstairs slam shut.  He turned back to the two men from United, his face a mask of cold fury.  “I will never be a party to anything like you suggest.  I would never agree to hiding who I am or that Andrew is my partner.  If United feels it has the right to ask me to do such a thing, then I will no longer work for United.  I am a pilot with an impeccable record.  I will have no trouble finding other employment.  What’s more, I know my rights, and my partner and I will sue if United persists in trying to dictate our private life!  I suggest you call your superiors and tell them so while I go upstairs to try to reassure my partner.”


Jerry was delighted at the degree of outrage his carefully worded “request” had inspired.  He had not wanted to do it from the beginning, but some of the older Board members had insisted that they at least give it a try.  He decided with a certain amount of private glee to move on to the second part of his instructions, to what he was supposed to do if his “suggestion” failed.  “Ryan, wait!” he said.  “Just hear me out…”  He waited for Ryan to turn back towards him in the doorway.  “Am I correct in understanding that you absolutely refuse to hide either your partner or your lifestyle, that you would leave United rather than do either of those things?”


Ryan all but growled, “Brother, you’ve got that right!  And all of those reporters out there are going to know exactly what you’ve been trying to do!”  Ryan was both angrier and a bit confused when Jerry started grinning big time and quickly got up and came to Ryan with his hand outstretched.


“Ryan, you don’t know how much I wanted you to throw that damned ‘suggestion’ back in my teeth!”  Jerry grabbed Ryan’s hand in a jubilant handshake that practically lifted Ryan off his feet.


“What in the world…  Jerry, you better explain yourself.  Have you gone nuts?”  Ryan looked at Jim, who was also grinning and laughing.  “Have you both gone nuts?”


Jerry stood back and looked at the tall blond with real approval.  He noted how Ryan stood straight and tall, how he was lean but still muscular and strong looking.  He remembered how impressed he had been when he had seen Ryan’s official pilot portrait:  full figure in the crisp midnight blue of a captain’s uniform complete with the gleaming gold buttons, insignia stripes, pilot’s wings, and peaked cap.  He was going to love ‘helping’ Ryan, and his younger partner was really good looking as well, and talented, a musician. 


“No, Ryan, we’re not ‘nuts’!  We were hoping you would do just what you did.  There is a certain old guard element of the Board that actually wanted to spin this situation away from ‘noticing’ that you are gay.  But most of us thought you had given us a perfect opportunity to show the quality of United Airlines employees-- along with the new, forward looking spirit of our company.  We want the world to see you as representative of the new United Airlines:  intelligent, well-educated, brave-- a modern hero-- and gay!  We made the suggestion as requested by some of the Board, but we also wanted to see if you would stand up for yourself and your partner-- and you did!”  Jerry was practically vibrating with the need to “sell” Ryan on the airlines’ point of view.


Ryan was feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the whole United Airlines scenario.  He thought about what he wanted to do, and he realized he needed to talk it over with his partner. 


“Look, Jerry,” said Ryan, “I’ll listen to what you guys have to say, but first I have to talk to Andrew.  Help yourselves to more coffee or anything else you might want…  This may take a few minutes…”




With that, Ryan hurried upstairs to find Andrew.  He found him behind the closed door of their bedroom looking out the window at the Eucalyptus trees.  From there, the “beach” sound of the news media below was muted.  Ryan walked over to his young partner.  “Andrew,” he said as he reached to put his hands on Andrew’s shoulders. 


Andrew flinched away and snarled, “Don’t touch me!”


Ryan’s reply was full of concern.  “Andrew!  What are you thinking?”  He turned towards the younger man.


“I’m thinking about how you listened to that guy and didn’t say word one to stop him.  You didn’t defend our partnership, and you didn’t speak up for me, for us.  All because of your precious career… After everything we’ve been through together over the past year and the last couple of days…”


Ryan could see that Andrew was working himself up into a real frenzy.  He tried again.  “Andrew if you had stayed to listen…”


“God damn you, Ryan,” Andrew’s voice rose into full screech mode.  “Damn you for a fucking pig-faced, swill-licking liar!  You said you were fucking proud of me.  I will not be a fucking sleazy shitty secret sitting in some crud filled closet.  You are just a bastard lying welsher. 

Andrew was a raging fury.  And Ryan knew he loved him even as he knew with a certain grim humor that he could not let this behavior pass unnoticed, even if he knew it was really Andrew’s fear and his history of insecurity that was speaking… that and all his time living on the street.


“Andrew.” There was a certain quality in the tone of Ryan’s voice that stopped Andrew cold in mid-screech.  “You have said too much.  Go to your corner and be silent.  Think about your responsibility to this partnership.” 


The intensity of Ryan’s cool blue gaze quenched Andrew’s fiery rebellion and compelled him to take position in “his” corner at the far end of their bedroom.  At this point Andrew was very pale, and the last thing he wanted to do was to continue the fight with his partner. 


His lower lip trembled as Andrew heard Ryan’s dreaded words.  “When I come back we will discuss your conclusions.”


Andrew hunched a little where he stood, feeling small and embarrassed.  Ryan went out shutting the door behind him.  He walked up and down in the hallway.  Then, he went in and out of the upstairs rooms, looked at the stairway, and finally sat down at the desk in the study.  He tilted back in the chair.  He leaned forward. He looked all around the room; then he shut his eyes.  He opened his eyes again to check his watch.  He steepled his fingers.  He looked at the wall clock.  He stood up; he sat down. 


Sometimes he thought that corner time was harder on him than on Andrew.  He always thought that he should have been able to avoid whatever situation had made corner time necessary.  He wanted life to be orderly:  if something in his world was out of kilter, he needed to do something to restore the balance, whether it was disciplining his young partner… cleaning up an inefficient flight plan… or going after terrorists.  


But too much order could also be dull and lonely.  Was it any wonder… he had to smile… that he fell in love with a cussing, passionate, untidy street musician… Ryan knew he would do anything in his power to protect Andrew, to love him, and to make sure he knew he was loved.  Andrew was his center.  Everything else followed from that.


Ryan looked at the clock again.  It had been 12 minutes.  He judged that was enough time to tone down this supercharged day. 


When Ryan came into the bedroom and shut the door, Andrew straightened up, but he did not look away from the corner.  Ryan went to their big double dresser and reached for the antique paddle that was enshrined on the central raised shelf. It was made from a slice of hand rubbed redwood burl that was meant to frame a hand mirror.  


Ryan and Andrew had found it on a weekend trip north to the redwoods.  When they noticed that the glass was missing, they had asked the old woodcarver running the burl shop to fill in for the mirror by tacking down a nice piece of leather.  Andrew hadn’t known whether to be pleased or to protest, but the wood was beautiful. 


As he sat down on the bed Ryan noticed that Andrew stiffened and clenched his fists and that he was trembling slightly.   Ryan wanted more than anything to take Andrew in his arms, to comfort him, and tell him how much he meant to him.  But first, Ryan had to be strong for him, somehow get them both through this so they could figure out how they were going to get through the trials ahead-- together, as they had first faced the newsmen. 


Finally, Ryan called.  “Andrew, come over here.”


Andrew came, his whole body expressing hurt and remorse.  His eyes were enormous. 


“Did you come to any conclusions during your corner time?  Do you know why you were there?  Do you know the answers to your own questions?  Talk to me, Andrew.”  Ryan’s voice was low, steady, and firm.


“I jumped to conclusions about what happened downstairs, and I let my fear carry me away.  I was swearing at you again-- but Ryan, you’re the last person I want to swear at-- it just seemed as though all my worst fears of losing you or somehow hurting you were coming true!”  Andrew was so appealing and earnest that Ryan opened his arms to him.  With a heartfelt sigh that seemed to come from his very toes, Andrew slid into his partner’s lap and rested his heavy head on Ryan’s broad shoulder.  They took strength from each other.


Finally, Andrew raised his head and asked, “You are going to paddle me, aren’t you… for doubting and for the swearing?”


“Yes. Please drop your jeans and briefs.”  Ryan helped him stand, and it was he who undid the button and zipper and helped Andrew lower his jeans to expose his firm young butt.  Trying to keep up his courage, Andrew lay down over his partner’s lap.  Though it was just last night that Ryan had spanked him for not being home as he said he would, there was no sign of that on his rear. 


Ryan picked up the paddle, and Andrew rolled slightly to look at his partner.  “Ryan, I’m sorry, I didn’t think…” 


Ryan held him securely as he brought the paddle up.  “I know, Babe, but you must.”  Ryan brought the paddle down with a distinct smack.  Andrew felt as though all the air had been driven from his body.  He tried to hold still as the next stroke landed.  He gasped and tears exploded, but there was no escape   Ryan held him firmly through eight more strokes, ten in all.  Andrew’s sobs were muffled by the soft duvet of their bed.  His bottom was a deep red where the redwood paddle had struck.


At last Ryan dropped the paddle and pulled Andrew up so he was once more resting on Ryan’s lap.  The quiet sobbing first slowed to hitches in Andrew’s breathing and then stopped.  Ryan rubbed and caressed his back, kissed the top of his head. 


After a few minutes, Ryan whispered, “Better now?”


Andrew nodded and then asked in a small voice, “What happens now?”


“Well, when I came upstairs to find you, I wanted to tell you what happened just after you left.  Naturally, I told them ‘no’ -- I told them I would quit before I would leave you out of my life.  Besides, they didn’t know it, but remember, we had already ‘introduced’ you to the press on the porch.”


Andrew blushed, and a wise little smile played over his full lips.  “I had forgotten that listening to that Jerry… Ryan, are they still down there?”  Andrew tensed a little.


“Yeah, they are.  Believe it or not they are waiting to help us.  Jerry and Jim want us to be together.  They are actually glad that I wouldn’t agree to covering up our partnership.  Now they are saying something about us being perfect to show how ‘modern’ United is!  They want to build an ad campaign around us… What do you think of that?”  Ryan reached to tilt Andrew’s head so he could look into the eyes he loved so much.


“I don’t like it much.  I want people to notice you for what you did or because you are an excellent pilot, and I don’t ever mind if people say good things about my music… But I don’t like the idea of being in the spotlight just because we are gay…”  Andrew was struggling to put his thoughts in words. 


“See?  That’s exactly what I was thinking.  That’s what I think we should tell them.  We won’t agree to seeking publicity or to be part of any ad campaigns, but we will be polite and respond-- together-- if we are asked to do anything relating to the terrorist attack.  Understand?  Do you agree?  That way we will be together as a family.”  Ryan felt he could face anything with Andrew by his side.  He needed to know that Andrew understood how important he was to Ryan.


“I do!  I do understand.  I’m sorry I ever doubted you. I just felt so bad to think that our partnership might be hurting you in some way…”  Andrew hugged his tall partner fiercely and reached up to claim his lips.


After a moment, Ryan said, “Let me put some cream on you to help with the heat.  Then I think we better go back downstairs, or at least I should if you’re not feeling up to it.”  Ryan reached for the soothing cream they kept in the nightstand drawer, and then began to smooth it gently over the red on Andrew’s bottom.  Though he was sore and felt somewhat drained, Andrew decided he should go downstairs with Ryan.  Ryan helped him rearrange his clothing and took a cool washcloth to his face.  A quick brush through his unruly curls, and Andrew felt ready.  They went downstairs.


They found Jerry and Jim in the dining room.  Jerry was on his cell phone, and Jim had spread out on the dining room table.  Both men nodded and smiled at Ryan and Andrew as they came in.  No one commented on the fact that Andrew’s eyes seemed a bit red and swollen.


Jerry hung up, and Ryan said, “So, we want to make it clear that we are not available or agreeable to participating in any kind of ad campaign. But we will do our best to respond to requests or questions relating to the attack.  And we will be doing this together.  Are we clear?”  Ryan’s direct blue gaze was unwavering. 


Jerry replied, “I get it-- well it was probably too much to hope for anyway!  But hey, I’ve just been talking to my office.  The mayor of San Francisco wants to congratulate you and the Seals for saving the hostages, especially without loss of life.  There are plans to make some presentations and cater a lunch in the Council Chambers, spouses and partners invited, of course.  And the CEO of United and his staff will be coming in later today. 


“We want to convene a meeting of all United Airlines employees in the area for an award ceremony and reception, maybe just at the end of work, say tomorrow around 5 pm.  How does that sound?”  Jerry was busy coordinating dates and times on a laptop computer that he had set up on the dining room table.


Ryan looked a bit taken aback, until he saw Andrew nod definitively with a big grin for his partner and eyes full of pride.  “It all seems a bit much, but I guess it will be all right.  I still think I didn’t do anything extraordinary, though…”  Ryan was calm, and still reluctant about being thrust into the limelight. 


“You know, Jerry,” Ryan continued, “if they are going to give so much credit to what I did, then they should also give credit to Vickie James, one of our United stewardesses, and to Martha Jamison, one of the passengers.  I think she was British.  Can you please pass that on to our superiors?”


“Yeah, I can do that, Ryan.  Just give me a minute, and I will call it in.”  Jerry finally finished whatever he was noting in the laptop. 


“Ryan, you have a computer here, don’t you?” Ryan nodded, and Jerry continued, “Could you please give me your email address so I can send you this draft for our press release?  We should have just enough time to edit it together and get it produced.” 


Ryan gave him the address, and then turned to his partner.  “Andrew, would you please run upstairs to the study and get the draft from the email, print four copies, and bring it down for all of us to review?”  With a nod, Andrew went back upstairs.


Jerry just had enough time to make the call to alert the United human resources department about the possibility of including the two women in the recognition ceremonies before Andrew was back with the copies.  After looking at the text, they decided that Jerry should make a short announcement, the printed version of the more detailed press release should be distributed, and then Jerry and Ryan would both take questions.  Since Mayor Oldham’s office would announce the recognition ceremonies at City Hall just before noon, they decided to discuss only what United was planning for the airlines’ reception late in the day. 


Since it was almost 11, Jerry suggested that Ryan and Andrew get ready for their scheduled meeting with the press.  Ryan and Andrew looked at each other, then at Jerry.


Andrew asked, “Is what we are wearing OK, or do we need to dress up?”  He was surprised at how calm he felt, though there were definitely some nerves in his stomach.  “And will I need to say anything?”


“Well, you’re at home, so the casual look is appropriate if you are comfortable with it.  You might want to replace the Tee shirts with something else, however.  Say a sweater or a sport shirt?  And colors are better than white… Remember they will probably be filming for TV.”


 Jerry smiled at their obvious reluctance.  “Don’t worry, you’ll both do fine.  And Andrew, they may not call on you for anything, but don’t be surprised if they do… just be natural, and everything will be OK.”


Ryan elected to wear a blue oxford cloth shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and Andrew chose a blue gray sweater with flecks of dark blue in the weave:  it made his eyes seem the color of smoke, and Ryan had once said it made him look intelligent. 


When they were ready, they went down to the front door, where they could hear the “beach” noise begin to swell again.   Ryan pulled Andrew into his arms for one last kiss.  “For luck,” Ryan said into Andrew’s ear.


And Andrew echoed, “For luck!”  Jerry just grinned at them.




When they stepped out on the porch, they were greeted once again with a wall of media noise.  Ryan and Andrew could see some of their neighbors at the edges of the crowd, and passersby had stopped to see what was making the commotion. 


Jerry called the group to attention; then he gave his background remarks and mentioned that Ryan and the Navy Seals involved were to be honored at an employee/United Partners’ reception in the meeting room at the airport Hilton at approximately 5 pm the next day.  Jim distributed copies of the press release, which had been duplicated and sent over by United.  Then Jerry called for questions.  The first was from a man in front.


“Tim Graham, BBC.  Captain Williams:  you mentioned a British passenger helping.  What is her name and what did she do?”


“Her name is Martha Jamison.  She volunteered to help with food for the passengers and terrorists.  She was also excellent with first aid and keeping the kids, even the adults, fairly calm.  I think she said she was a nanny by profession.”  Ryan found himself smiling as he remembered the lady. 


Tim Graham queried him on it.  “Why do you smile, captain?  Hers is a time honored profession…”


“Oh, I know.  I have nothing but respect for Ms. Jamison.  She treated me like a rather dim witted boy.  And she made me feel 10 feet tall when she told me I had done a good job just as she was leaving.  I won’t forget her…”  Ryan had to smile again.


“Do you know what happened to her?  Did she stay in San Francisco or did she continue on her travels?” 


“I’m sorry, I don’t know… Ok, next question.  This gentleman…”


“How did you know to join the Seals when they attacked?  Were you in touch with them?  Oh, I’m Jim Burnett of the Los Angeles Times.”


“I had been trying to see if there were any passengers with any experience of fighting or who would be willing to try to stop the terrorists from taking airplanes.  I had heard some of our captors saying they would have to ‘get rid of’ the hostages, and I wanted our lives to count for something, so our families could be proud,” Ryan’s eyes found Andrew’s, and Andrew’s arm went around his partner’s waist. 


“We all wanted to try to do as well as United Airlines Flight 93 did on September 11.  Anyway, most of us were willing to try.  When the flare or seeking light burst overhead, our two guards were startled enough that we were able to overpower them and move out into the concourse with their weapons.  There was something about having that light that encouraged us.  As it turned out we were in good time to help.”


“Madeline Burrows, KRON TV.  Captain Williams, I believe you introduced this young man as your partner, Andrew Stewart-Williams.  Do I have that right?”


“That’s right.  We had just celebrated our first anniversary together the day before all this happened.”


“Then let me ask you, Mr. Stewart-Williams, your reaction to this…”  Her question was cut short by the arrival of a sleek black Lincoln Towncar, one of the US government official cars from the Federal Building.  It was accompanied by a San Francisco Patrol Car with flashing red light. San Francisco’s mayor, Gary Oldham, got out accompanied by an older man carrying a briefcase.  They nodded and greeted the various media representatives as they made their way to the men on the porch.  The mayor made no move to stop the cameras and microphones from recording the proceedings. 


After introductions and shaking hands with Ryan and Andrew, Mayor Oldham turned so he could speak both to Ryan and Andrew and to the news men.  “Gentlemen (and women) of the press and Captain Williams and Mr. Stewart-Williams, I am here today to ask Captain Williams to lunch in the Council Chamber so we can honor him for his part in yesterday’s struggle with terrorists. 


“I am also here with Director Gerald Franks of San Francisco’s Federal Building.  San Francisco has been honored due to our concerted success in dealing with an act of terrorism at our airport.  The City has also been honored due to the heroism and leadership of one of our citizens.  Go ahead, Gerald.”  He nodded at the director of the Federal Building.


“Captain Williams, I have been instructed by White House Staff in the Office of the President to hand you and the mayor these invitations from President and Mrs. Bush for you and your spouses or escorts to attend a State Dinner for Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mrs. Blair of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland one week from today.


“Awards will be announced at that time to honor the City of San Francisco, the fighting squad of Navy Seals, and you, Captain Williams.  Furthermore, San Francisco’s own College of Performance Art and Music has also been requested to provide entertainment in the East Room after the State Dinner.  The performance is to be repeated at an Awards Presentation Gala the following night in the Opera House of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.” 


Director Franks passed the large embossed envelope over to a rather stunned Ryan and shook his hand vigorously.  Ryan just stared at the envelope. 


When one of the news men asked Ryan to open the invitation and hold it up, it was Andrew who took it from Ryan’s hand, pulled out the invitation card and passed it back… Responding to the urging, Ryan held it up so everyone could see the embossed gold of the Presidential Seal. 


Jerry was grinning as he called a halt to the proceedings, telling the media folk that they would be receiving more information as details became known and to be sure to get press passes for the airport Hilton reception.  Then he ushered the entire party back inside the house.


Andrew led the way for everyone to come into the living room, and he was soon serving drinks with the help of Jerry and Jim.  When everyone was seated and had been served, Mayor Oldham asked if anyone had any questions. 


Ryan muttered, “Well I have plenty, but I’m beginning to wish I had never even started to work in aviation… How can the White House be involved?  How can they bring us all there, for a State Dinner, no less?  I just can’t believe this came from President Bush; that he would want to honor me…” 


Gary Oldham chuckled.  “The White House knew as soon as the bomb went off yesterday, and since Tony Blair is in Washington for talks with the President, he probably knew as well.”


“Yes, and the Bush Administration needs something real and true just now,” interjected the director of San Francisco’s Federal Building.  “Something to distract people away from the difficulties in Iraq… Yes, I’d say a positive test of Homeland Security with a city to honor, along with civilian and military heroes, was made to order…”


“Yeah, except for one thing…”  Ryan had drawn Andrew down to sit next to him.  “Andrew and I have made it plain to Jerry here, that we are a couple, that we stay together.  What do you think the Bush White House will make of that??”


“Well, they all must know by now how San Franciscans view the matter,” said the young mayor with a rather impish grin, “after all the marriage licensing I promoted from City Hall!”  Noticing the rings Andrew and Ryan were wearing, Gary asked, “Did you guys participate in those festivities?”  He looked from Andrew to Ryan and back again.


Andrew blushed but answered quite steadily, “My partner and I were just getting to know each other at that time, sir.  So far we’ve kept our relationship very private, just between the two of us.” 


Everyone chuckled a bit at that, and the mayor said, “Well, I don’t think it’s going to stay very private for very much longer since your partner has brought the press to your door!  And please, while we are all meeting informally, call me Gary.  ‘Sir’ sounds like my father!” 


Just then the telephone rang.  Andrew jumped up to answer it in the kitchen.  A few minutes later Andrew was back, holding the telephone and almost incoherent with excitement and further shock. 


“Ryan!  Ryan,” he all but shouted.  “It’s… It’s Abby, Professor Lane’s assistant.  She… she says we all need to get to campus as soon as possible!”


Andrew looked so stunned and seemed so agitated, that Ryan stood up and went to him immediately.  “What’s wrong, Andrew, tell me,” he said, his calm authoritative voice and strong arm anchoring his more excitable partner. 


“She says we’re all going… going to the White House.”  Andrew was practically stuttering his news.


“Yes, I know.  The mayor has just told us.”  Ryan was wondering if all the excitement had affected Andrew in some way, that maybe he should lie down for a while to calm down.


“No, Ryan, no!  I don’t mean we are going, although of course, we are!  I mean my whole class is going!  We’re going to take ‘The Fantasticks’ to Washington!  And some of us will be performing separate Gala pieces as well… she wanted to know if I had any songs performance ready... Ryan!  I need to get my guitar and get to school! We have less than a week to prepare...”


The group was silent as they took in the full ramifications of Andrew’s news.  Then they all erupted into more excited talk, and the mayor spoke up, again. 


“Andrew.  I didn’t know that asking for entertainment from the San Francisco College of Performance Arts and Music meant that you would be involved:  how fitting.  Well, we can send you over to the university in one of the patrol cars.  I was going to suggest that we give both you and Ryan some extra security for the next few days… at least until all the excitement dies down.  If one of our officers takes you, he can use the siren to get you there faster.  How would that be??”


“That would be great,” said Andrew, who was beginning to breathe again.


“And if you call him when you are ready, he can bring you home again.”


“We would be grateful, Mr. Mayor,” said Ryan, and a special look passed between them.  Andrew raced upstairs to get his practice gear and dancing shoes as well as his guitar, music, and his ‘Fantasticks’ Libretto.  Soon he was downstairs again saying farewells. 


When he was finished, the mayor took him to the patrol officer in the front hall and left Andrew in his capable hands. Andrew ran back to his tall partner for a quick hug and the barest flick of a kiss.  Sending one more good-by and thank you floating over his shoulder, Andrew ran to follow the policeman as he led the way to one of the patrol cars near the curb.


Ryan watched him through the living room window marveling once again at all that had been set in motion by the events of yesterday.  The mayor came over to join him.


 “Call me Gary, Ryan, please.  Oh, and one more thing.  It’s my understanding that we may be using one of the Presidential airplanes for transportation, if one is available, or we may be flying in a special United Airlines plane.  In any case, it looks as though we will all be flying together on the day before the dinner.” 


“That’s right,” said Gerald Franks.  “And I have been included in the invitation list along with at least one person for each performer from the school.  It will be interesting to see so many San Franciscans at the Bush White House.  And I believe I saw that a block of rooms has been reserved for us at the Washington Hilton. 


“It is a real nod to our city to be brought to Washington, DC and included in the State Dinner for Prime Minister Blair,” he continued.  “Sometimes awards are made through the Federal Building in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office.  I guess it’s unusual to be honoring a city itself.”


“Yeah,” said Jerry, who could not stop grinning.  He knew he would be going to Washington, too, if only to see that all went smoothly for United.  He was in publicist heaven with all the positive activity around everyone connected with foiling the terrorist attack. 


“In fact,” Jerry was thinking out loud, “you could say that San Francisco saved one-- or maybe more-- other cities from becoming terrorist targets.  We deserve to be noticed!”


“Well, as pleasant as this discussion is, I’m afraid I have to get back to City Hall to get ready for an Awards Luncheon tomorrow and a trip to Washington, DC next week!”  The mayor looked at his friend, Gerald Franks.  “You want to ride in a patrol car with me back to City Plaza, Gerald?”


Franks also stood as he nodded.  They both shook hands with Ryan as they were leaving and the mayor said by way of farewell, “Try to just sit back and enjoy, Ryan.  Let us do all the work.  We are all really glad that the attack was essentially neutralized and contained.  We are grateful for what you did-- you deserve to be honored, and you are lucky to have such a fine young partner to stand by you.”


“That’s what I tell myself everyday, Mr. Mayor.” Ryan responded.  “Thanks for helping us.  I guess we’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”



After the two officials were gone, Ryan went in search of Jerry, who had returned to the work spread out on the dining room table.  Jerry greeted him with “I’ve just called our superiors at United, and they are ecstatic about the invitation to the White House.  The CEO of United Airlines has also received an invitation and of course, will be going.”


Ryan was full of questions. “Well, what do we have to do to get ready?  Will I have to make a speech or anything?  What will the dress be for the dinner and the program at the Kennedy Center?  Is the Kennedy Center an official meeting place or is it more like our Opera House, you know, for performances?  I haven’t actually ever been to Washington, D.C. before.”


Jerry was quick to answer.  “You may want to plan a few remarks for actually accepting your award at the Gala, you know, Academy Awards style.  I’ll check on the dress for dinner, but I am pretty certain it will be black tie.  You, of course, will wear the black tie version of your pilot’s uniform, which just adds a black tie and cummerbund with a dress shirt.  We will get you a new uniform tailored for the occasion, and you can wear it again for the Gala.  Otherwise, you should probably bring casual clothes, and maybe one dress suit.”


“That will be good.  And maybe something good for dancing… if we want to go out clubbing at night…  What about Andrew?  I guess he’ll need to get a tuxedo.  I don’t want him to be embarrassed about clothes!” Ryan was adamant.


“Don’t worry, Ryan.  We’ll find something for him.  And don’t forget, it looks as though he will also be tied up with the university performances.  Has he done much in the way of performing?  For an audience?” Jerry was hoping all the stress wasn’t going to upset the excitable Andrew too much.


“Well, he’s done some… he’s played with some bands, and with some groups who entertain tourists.  For our anniversary, he took over the Oak Room at the St. Francis, and they loved him.  He’s been getting some good recognition at school, too.  That’s why he’s part of the ‘Fantasticks’ ensemble.  He’s very talented.” Ryan couldn’t help boasting about him.


When Andrew arrived at the university building housing the small black box theater that was home to his ‘Fantasticks’ performance class, the first person he saw was his young gypsy classmate, Nat Pacheco.  He looked amazed when he recognized that Andrew was the one being delivered by patrol car.  Their friendship had just begun in class and during the harrowing hours when Andrew knew that Ryan was in danger. 


“Andrew, what’s up?  Is something wrong?  Why are you riding around with the police?  What do you think of this call from Professor Lane?”  Nat waited for his friend to walk with him into class.


“Nat!  How are you?  You’ll never guess what’s happened…or maybe that gypsy sense of yours will kick in and you will!”  Andrew remembered how much Nat’s mysterious insights had helped him when he was hurting for Ryan’s sake. 


“Well, I don’t know, so tell, tell.  What do you know that I don’t?  Is it something to do with why we are here?  I have the feeling somehow that all this drama is connected to you!”  Nat had been thinking of his friend in an “itchy” way.


“Ryan is going to be honored along with the Navy Seals and the City of San Francisco for fighting the terrorists-- and winning!  United Airlines is doing it, and the Mayor’s Office is too.  There were news people camping out in front of our house, and we just got an invitation from the White House to come to Washington, D.C. for a State Dinner.  There’s also going to be a Gala Awards Ceremony at the Kennedy Center!”


Nat was excited and thrilled for his new friend.  “That’s great, Andrew!  And you’ll be going, too, right?” 


“Yeah, but so will you!  To honor San Francisco, our school has been asked to provide after dinner entertainment in the East Room of the White House.  And whatever we do will be repeated as a Gala at the Kennedy Center the following night.” Andrew’s whole body seemed to be vibrating with excitement as they entered the building.


He continued, “Abby told me on the telephone the faculty have decided to play our ‘Fantasticks” and maybe add some polished performance pieces to round things out.  But we only have a week.  That’s why we’ve been called in-- so we can prepare.”  The two young men looked at each other… then they hurried!


Inside the class space the noise level was high.  Abby was ticking off attendance as students arrived for the unscheduled session.  Finally, all twelve of the students were there, and Professor Lane called the group to order.


“OK, now everyone slide on up to the front here, I’m not going to be shouting.”  Lane waited while the students moved closer to the front of the space. 


“It appears…” the professor waited for effect.  “It appears that we will be taking our ‘Fantasticks’ to the White House next week.”  There was an instant of silence-- then chaos as disbelieving voices at first refused to believe.  Finally, the professor bellowed, “QUIET!”


When everyone had calmed down, he continued.  “You all read about the terrorist attack on the airport yesterday, right?”  He heard a chorus of assent and saw heads nod in agreement.  “Well the White House has decided to honor San Francisco at a State Dinner for the UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, and we have been asked to perform after dinner in the East Room…” 


He allowed time for more comment, and then continued.  “We’ve already blocked the action, and it should be easy to nail down the music and lines.  When I found out we were going, I assigned parts based on what I saw here yesterday.  We will have a week to rehearse.  We’ll be playing first at the White House, followed the next night by a Gala Performance for the Awards Ceremony at the Kennedy Center.”  He gave his assistant his cast list to pass out, along with a general information sheet.


“Unfortunately, whoever is not cast will not travel unless you are selected for a Gala ensemble or solo spot.  If you would like to be considered, please see me after class.


“It is my understanding that we will travel in an official Presidential Airplane or United Airlines will provide a plane.  There will be room for each of you plus one guest, so make arrangements accordingly.  Any academic scheduling problems will be adjusted by the University President’s Office.  Please tell Abby if you need help with that. 


“Now, let’s get started.  I’ll give all cast members an hour to work on lines with a ‘buddy’ from the class.  After that, we’ll be rehearsing straight through with blocking, and then we’ll add the music and dancing.  If any of you want to discuss Gala acts, see me.”


The cast list finally came to Nat and Andrew, and they saw right away that Nat was not on it.  And Andrew had been selected but only as the Mute, which he thought he could do even with his limited stage experience.  They were just deciding to ask the professor about taking part in the Gala, when he came up to them.


“Nat, I didn’t cast you for any part, because I want you in charge of overall choreography, and I want you to plan to put together a flamenco act for our Gala.  Can you do it?” 


Nat replied, “Yes.  I can get Jeremy to play for me.  I often use a whip and a cape when I dance solo.  Maybe Andrew here could sing for me and join Jeremy with another guitar.”


“Hey, yeah, maybe if I put some of your gypsy rhythms into some of the street rock tunes I know, maybe we could come up with something new-- or rather two somethings old to get a modern meld.  It could be fun.” Andrew was intrigued enough that he didn’t worry about whether or not he was good enough.


“That sounds good, guys.”  Professor Lane made notes on his clipboard.  “Check back with me or Abby when you have something to show me.  And Andrew, your performance advisor-- Professor Greene, right?  Well, she told me she has heard you doing some lounge singing-- do you have anything prepared?  I was thinking one or two beautiful and sophisticated love songs would be a good foil for the elemental humor of ‘The Fantasticks’-- what do you think?” 


Andrew was a little shy about coming forward to do a solo spot in the Gala show, but it had felt really good to sing in the Oak Room for Ryan.  Maybe he could.


“I don’t have a lot of experience in formal settings, but I have sung and played guitar to a lot of different crowds…  How about some Gershwin?  And I have a love song I wrote myself.  I could play it for you when you have time…” 


“Great.  We’ll get together today or tomorrow.  Do you have someone who will be able to come to Washington with us?  Try to call today to be sure the dates are clear.   Get cracking!  We all have to be together for rehearsal in 40 minutes.”  With that he moved on to the next group of students needing his attention.


Nat broke out into a laugh.  “Oh, Andrew,” he wheezed with mirth.  “What’s he going to say when he realizes that your partner is the hero everyone is praising so much?  I want to be there when he finds out!”


Andrew tried to look miffed and ended up grinning instead.  “I guess it is pretty funny, at that.  But this thing is really turning our lives upside down.  You should have seen all the media outside of our house this morning.  And all of these award ceremonies-- I’m a little worried because we both will be so much in the spotlight.  And I’m not really sure what to expect at the White House-- Ryan says we’ll be doing everything together… As long as I’m with him… that’s all I need.” 


Andrew was looking at his ring again.  Nat thought it was wonderful.  “I know what you mean,” he said.  “I always feel I can do anything if Ray is with me, and that’s what he’s always telling me, as well… I wonder how he will feel about going to the White House with us…”


Andrew and Nat worked on music together until it was time to rehearse the musical, which went as well as could be expected.  More of the cast knew lines than didn’t, and Andrew enjoyed figuring out how to make his mute character a presence in the play.  He was kind of a visible stage manager, awkward but necessary as he managed or actually played the “sun,” the “moon,” and the “wall.”  And he was necessary to the progression of the two young people:  he had to act the part of all that would threaten or hurt in life.  With a rueful grin for his slightly younger ‘before-Ryan’ self, Andrew felt he had had some experience with that.


Nat was a dynamo with the dance, both in performing and in teaching others.  On the rare breaks from full-cast rehearsal, he and Andrew worked through some specific songs of gypsy Andalusia that Andrew might also chord on his guitar.  Then with Jeremy, another student guitarist, Andrew practiced singing and providing live music for Nat’s solo flamenco dance. 


In fact, Nat started teaching Andrew one of the songs during one of the first class breaks, which Nat insisted was the “right” or traditional way to pass on this particular song. It all had to do with gardens, rocks, and fiery first love.  Andrew thought it basically sounded like a wet cat yowling at the moon.  Nat had laughed, however, and told him he had a good ear for the sound. When Professor Lane heard them practicing, he told them to keep on, that it was in the Gala! 


Finally, they were able to go home, with commitments for rehearsal through the week right up to the day of departure for Washington.


The week flew by.  After the amazing first day, the reporters and media crews decamped from the front yard.  Ryan quietly insisted that a very gratified Andrew leave rehearsals to attend the mayor’s Award Ceremony at City Hall as well as the reception at the Airport Hilton. There, United Airlines came through on all the “appreciation” Jerry had outlined when he first talked to them. And it was at these events that Ryan made a point of keeping Andrew by his side and introducing him to colleagues and well-wishers alike as his partner.


After all they had been through together, Andrew especially appreciated the idea of United flying them and six friends somewhere for a small vacation.  Ryan was a little vague when discussing this “delightful prospect,” but he did say he “had a few ideas.” Andrew thought they might invite Nat and Ray and possibly Gary and Jimmie.  Ryan was not receptive to making plans, however, and Andrew wisely let the matter drop.  Ryan was not bearing up well as “the hero of the hour,” and Andrew knew that Ryan needed his support, that he needed him by his side by day and as a comforting presence by night.


Jerry made sure that Ryan was fitted for his new uniforms and that Andrew had a new tux which was tailored properly.  One evening when Andrew returned home from a long day of rehearsal, Jerry and Ryan were waiting for him in the dining room.  There two places were set with china, cutlery, and crystal from the Airport Hilton. 


Surveying the array of silverware and goblets, Andrew was sure every utensil known to man had been carefully laid out for use.  Before going into all of that, however, Jerry took them through an imaginary White House receiving line, and Jerry pointed out that President Bush should be addressed as Mr. President or Sir, and Prime Minister Blair should be Mr. Prime Minister or Sir.  Gentlemen in general should be addressed by title or as sir, and ladies should be addressed by title, by name, or as Ma’am.


 Then he and Ryan sat down to a goofy dinner served by Jerry. They used every one of the utensils and had fun deferring to each other as ‘Alphonse’ and ‘Alphonso’ with every other word.

“Please note, ‘Alphonse,’ that I already knew to drink the sherry with the soup and the champagne with dessert,” Andrew teased his ‘more sophisticated’ partner.  “And I knew what my ice cream spoon was.  It seems that I know my goblets and utensils.”


“Yeah, O wise ‘Alphonso’?  Just wait ‘til you’re sitting at one of those round tables with a group of glittering strangers.”  Ryan’s blue eyes were full of pride for his young partner, even as he teased him back.


 Jerry intervened.  “You both needed to remember to talk to the person to the right as well as the person to the left during dinner.  And you might not be sitting together, as couples are often separated during diplomatic dinners.”


“Oh, Jerry.” Andrew was a bit dismayed at that prospect.  “What will I do if I forget everything?  And I’m going to be jittery about the performance after dinner…”  Jerry could see that Andrew was beginning to work up to being really nervous.


“All you have to do is keep an eye on the host, for the table or for the evening, and keep thinking to yourself what can I do to make whoever is near me have fun and enjoy.”  Jerry had really begun to like both Ryan and Andrew, and he wanted to be sure they would be comfortable and have fun in Washington.  “If you do that, you can’t go wrong.”


In the end Jerry left satisfied that the couple would be able to handle the ‘delights’ of White House protocol.  And Ryan and Andrew cheered each other on by proving once again that they certainly already knew how to handle the delights of a winter’s night in their bedroom.


The big day came all too fast, and the special group of San Franciscans began to assemble in the VIP Lounge of the airport.  The White House had been able to send one of the President’s own Boeing 747-200B airplanes to bring the group of honorees to Washington. 


Laura Briggs from the Office of the White House Social Secretary was kept busy checking arrivals against the passenger list.  The Navy Seals were the first to arrive, then the group from United Airlines including Jerry and the CEO and his wife, then two groups of San Francisco State students including their guests, along with Professor Lane and his assistant, Abby. 


When Nat arrived with his partner, Ray, Professor Lane asked Nat if he knew how Andrew was getting to the airport, as he had not arrived to travel with the other students. 


Nat exchanged a mischievous look with his partner, and responded quite soberly, “No, sir, but I am sure he will be here with his partner in good time.”


Just then Laura announced that all present would board immediately and meet the rest of the group on the tarmac.  Despite the number of reporters and media technicians who were already set up to film and report on the departure, the group enjoyed approaching the big airplane with the Presidential Seal, and there were a number of personal cameras whirring to record the moment of boarding.  After all, if the President were on board, this plane would be Air Force One.


Just as everyone was getting ready to enter the plane, a convoy of Limos and patrol cars drove through a nearby gate and pulled up.  The first to get out was the mayor and his wife, then Gerald Franks, who was traveling alone as official US Government escort to the entire group. 


Then came Ryan, who was wearing one of his United Airlines uniforms because of the reporters and the official nature of the trip.  Andrew was last clutching his ever present backpack and his precious guitar.  He waved at Nat and Ray and his classmates, but stayed with his tall partner. 


When the mayor gestured for Ryan to join him in front of the reporters, Ryan made sure Andrew moved with him by putting his hand in the small of his partner’s back.  The mayor’s assistant brought over the Seal Commander and Professor Lane, who gave Andrew a somewhat quizzical look, which Nat enjoyed immensely. 


When a reporter asked the mayor to say a few words, he said, “We are all very pleased to be making this trip representing San Francisco.  We are proud of our city’s accomplishments, and we are proud of our heroes, both civilian and military.”


With that they all boarded the plane marveling to each other about the spacious seating, and the very comfortable fittings.  Soon they were airborne, with the Air Force crew in cheerful red vests working to make sure they were all comfortable and had everything needed.


As soon as the seatbelt signs went off, Andrew helped Ryan hang up his uniform coat so he could relax in a sweater.  Then Andrew suggested, “Ryan, I’d like you to meet Professor Lane.  I need to check in with him to see if we are working on anything during the flight.  And we should say hello to Ray and to Nat.” 


“O.K.  Lead the way, Babe,” he replied with a grin.  “I must say, I am enjoying being a guest on this airplane!”


Professor Lane was pleased to meet Ryan, and chuckled over not connecting Andrew with Captain Williams.  Then he gathered all the cast and performers to go into the conference room, which could be closed, to rehearse the music for the performance until it was time for the gourmet lunch service.


Ryan and Ray enjoyed the chance to get to know each other better.  They compared notes about living in and restoring “painted ladies” as the graceful houses built in San Francisco during the early 1900’s were called.  When Ryan was invited by the crew to view the cockpit, he was able to take Ray with him. 


The hours of flight passed quickly, and soon the group was enjoying the exciting sight of the Washington, D.C. Mall with the Capitol opposite the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the White House on the sides, and the Washington Memorial standing proudly in the middle. 





After landing at Andrews, Air Force Base, several big black government cars and a very comfortable bus took the entire group to the large and bustling Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue.  Registration was handled very efficiently in a small private meeting room.  While room assignments were made, Laura Briggs and another White House aide handed out schedules, invitation cards, tickets, and passes that would allow them to enter the White House and Kennedy Center as needed for the two events. 


In addition to the reception, dinner, entertainment, and dancing at the White House, there was also to be a reception at the Kennedy Center following the Gala.  Rehearsals for both venues had been scheduled for the morning at the place of that day’s performance, and a bus was scheduled for the performers.  By 4 p.m. the group began to disperse to their rooms with the evening free.


Ryan and Andrew agreed to meet Nat and Ray for a quick dinner at 7 p.m.  Consulting with the hotel concierge, they decided to take a taxi over to the Adams-Morgan where there were a plethora of ethnic restaurants, some with dancing, some with deejays, and some with live music. 


When they reached their room, Ryan and Andrew were pleased at the size and how comfortable it was.  Andrew dropped his backpack and jacket and kicked off his shoes before taking a flying leap for the king size bed.  Ryan was more careful to hang up his uniform coat and check to be sure that their luggage had been delivered including the garment bag holding his new uniforms and Andrew’s tuxedo, but he soon joined his young partner bouncing playfully on the bed. 


After some rather energetic cuddling, they both wanted just to rest for a while.  They were floating in that delicious drifting off stage, when the bedside phone rang.  Andrew answered since the phone was on his side of the bed.


After giving a rather sleepy “Hello,” Andrew heard a woman with a very British accent ask, “Is that Captain Williams?  I was told this was his room.”


“No, ma’am, this isn’t Captain Williams, but he is right here.  Would you like to speak to him?” Andrew made a face and stuck out his tongue at his partner.


“Please, if I may…” Ryan crossed his eyes as he took the phone which reduced Andrew to helpless giggles.


“This is Captain Williams.”  Ryan’s voice was all business, but he kept making ferocious faces as he launched an all out tickle attack on his hapless partner, who was desperately trying not to shriek.


“Captain!  I’m so glad I found you.” At the sound of the caller’s voice, Ryan froze and sat up to attention.


“Is that Martha Jamison?  I knew that you had gone on with your travels, but I didn’t know you were in Washington, D.C.  Is this where you live?  I thought that you lived and worked in London.”  Andrew, trying to catch his breath, was surprised at how quickly Ryan had come to attention and straightened up.


“Yes, luv, I do live in London, but I’m on duty here.  I care for the children of our Prime Minister, and as you know, he and the family are here visiting your President.  When I met you I was coming back from a quick trip to visit my sister and her family in Fresno.”


“Well, I hope you are all right.”


“As right as rain, luv.  And yourself?”


“I’m fine.  In fact I’m here because of our brush with terrorists:  there are awards…”  Ryan always had trouble talking about the awards.


“Yes, dear.  And I’m to get one myself, thanks to some “hero” pilot’s report!  What do you think of that?”


“I think you deserve it.  It will be great seeing you tomorrow.  Did you know that my partner, Andrew, will be performing in the entertainment?”


“No, I didn’t know that.  It will be nice to meet him after hearing you talk about him when we were together at the airport.  Well, I must hang up, duty calls.  I just wanted to let you know that we would soon see each other.  So, good-by, dear Captain Williams, and don’t tickle your Andrew past bearing.”  With that admonition, she hung up. 


At first Ryan was stunned.  Then he started laughing and made another lunge for his young partner.


Later, dressed in jeans and sweaters under their warm jackets, Ryan and Andrew met Nat and Ray in the lobby, which seemed to have miles of thick plush carpets, many large potted palms, and substantial cherry wood and brass defining the front desk. 


After a short taxi ride, they found themselves in the middle of the Adams-Morgan, where the lights and music had just begun to light up the trendy neighborhood with the international flavor.  They enjoyed walking around soaking up the atmosphere which mingled cultures and languages with exuberance and color. 


Then Nat started speaking with an attractive young woman telling fortunes for anyone who crossed her palm with silver.  She suddenly threw her arms around his neck and started speaking to him very fast in what could only be the gypsy vernacular, Rom. 


He laughed, kissed her cheek, and crossed her palm with silver.  “She says we will enjoy the food and the music at Café Citron, just two short blocks from here.  She herself will dance there soon.”


The café was small with a raised dance floor at the far end.  It was cheerful and “hot” in enthusiastic lemon and key-lime paint, with a humorous assortment of tables and chairs.  There were antique citrus posters on the walls and branches of fruit in vases.  On the advice of owner/dancer Celia, they ordered the ceviche, a mixture of lemon-marinated shrimp, red snapper chunks, tomatoes, onion, avocado, and jalapenos with tortillas and fruit on the side. 


They were just finishing when the music began.  A man walked on the stage and began to sing an old song from Andalusia.  The ‘cante’ started low and soft, then became more and more insistent until it demanded the guitar to join in, along with the castanets.  When the castanets began, Nat cried out, “Ole! Go, go!”


The young woman from the street suddenly arrived on the dance floor in a swirl of ruffles and fringe.  Nat started clapping, and soon everyone around their table was following the rhythm he set.  The young woman was energetic and good. She finished her ‘baile’ with a clean, classic pose. 


Andrew, Ryan, and Ray could see the hunger on Nat’s face.  Ray smiled his gentle smile and said, “Go ahead, Nat.  They will make room for you.”


Nat looked longingly at the musicians.  “Will you go with me, Andrew?  Maybe play guitar? maybe sing if you feel like it?  I think they would love to have us join them.”


Ryan said, “Go ahead, Andrew.  It will help you feel good about tomorrow.”  So, getting what he needed from Ryan’s clear confidence, Andrew stood up and followed Nat to the raised dance floor.


The guitarist had just begun a very lyrical plucked passage, in classic ‘toque’ form.  Nat jumped to the wood of the stage with a cat-like leap that continued into a fluid toe-heel movement that seemed to make his body ripple as though in heat.  At the same time, his total control and mesmerizing arm, hand, and finger movement suggested great strength and power.  In a heartbeat of time, in his everyday black boots and jeans, he had dominated the music and the room.


Andrew reached for what seemed to be a spare guitar, a very large gypsy instrument tuned loose with a twanging, rumbling action.  Catching the chords by following the other musician, he soon swooped into his own jangling rhythm as he followed the sweeping, thunderous leaps and steps Nat felt moved to use to convey his art, his heart, and his feelings.  With a nod for Andrew, Nat finished with a turning leap to a dramatic one-knee pose.  Since he and Andrew had practiced something similar for their Gala presentation, the music echoed the dancing flourish. 


The room erupted into applause, especially from the other musicians.  Nat didn’t want to do another turn, but when the musicians pressed, he told Andrew just to sing, and Nat started the song he had taught Andrew.  The room settled to quiet, as the sound of the mysterious song of shadows rose and swelled as sung by the two young men.  Then the gypsy guitars lifted it higher, and the young woman came back to dance the tragedy of love lost in shadows.


Ryan turned to share with Ray the poignancy of the music and pride for Nat and Andrew.  But Ray had tears streaming down his cheeks, which he dashed angrily away when he saw Ryan looking.  “Love gets lost in shadows, Ryan.  Love needs the light to thrive.”


Ryan reached over to touch Ray in friendly agreement and concern.  “Nat loves you Ray.  You can see it… We are both lucky.” 


Ray nodded his thanks, as he said, “Yes, we are.  I never forget.”

After that, they returned to the hotel and tried to get some sleep to get ready for their first big day.




All of the day leading up to the State Dinner was a blur of activity.  After breakfast, Laura Briggs and yet another White House aide met with the group to discuss the order of events for the dinner.

The evening would begin at 5:30 p.m. with the entire group meeting in the Hilton Lobby for the drive to the White House.  On arrival they would be admitted to the State Floor and would be received by President and Mrs. Bush and Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair in the Cross Hall of the White House. 


The guests would proceed into the State Dining Room to be seated at 13 round tables with a member of the Bush Administration serving as table host for each table.  One hundred and thirty guests would be seated.  In addition to the party from San Francisco, there would be a diverse representation of guests from across the country, including elected officials, cabinet members, community leaders, academicians, civic leaders, and diplomats.  When all guests were seated, the presidential party would enter.    


During dinner and the guest reception, the Marine Orchestra would play.  Strolling strings would play for dessert.  After award nominees were honored and appropriate remarks by the President and Prime Minister Blair’s response, all the San Francisco performers would be excused at that time to prepare for the after dinner entertainment. 


The San Francisco College of Performance Arts and Music would perform in the East Room.  Following the entertainment, the Marine Dance Band would perform for dancing there and in the Grand Foyer. 


Laura finished by saying that performers would leave for rehearsal at the White House in 20 minutes.  Everyone else would have a free day, possibly for sight-seeing.


Ryan and Ray decided to go to some of the museums of the Smithsonian while Andrew and Nat were in rehearsal.  Andrew agreed to call Ryan’s cell phone when they were released to see if there was anything they wanted to do together. 


The rehearsal did not go well, but Professor Lane worked them through every difficult spot until the show flowed at an easy pace.  Every time something went wrong, he would say as a kind of mantra “Terrible Rehearsal, Good Show.”  He said it so often, that finally everyone was saying it, chanting it, even singing it. 


At noon, they had a sandwich and salad spread that looked like manna from heaven to the ‘starving’ performers.  Finally, Professor Lane was satisfied with ‘The Fantasticks.’  Everyone not involved in one of the Gala acts was released. 


While Nat was going through his flamenco dance with Andrew and the other guitarist, Jeremy, a fairly large group of military musicians came in to the East Room.  They were members of the Marine Dance Band, who were also playing that evening.  Professor Lane wanted to try putting them together with Andrew for the two songs he was scheduled to sing.  


Andrew was nervous about singing with such a large group.  Professor Lane just said, “Don’t worry” and handed him the microphone.


The leader said, “The Gershwin?” 


At Andrew’s nod, he began the introduction.  Andrew missed his cue, and they had to start over.  Andrew was mortified, but the leader just grinned and said, “Look, don’t worry about us:  we’re here for you.  Just sing.  We’ll follow…”


And they did.  In fact everyone applauded at the end, which had not happened before.  Then Andrew thought he would have to go solo for the song he wrote called “Loving,” but to his surprise, Professor Lane had reproduced it in parts for the band.  Andrew couldn’t believe how rich and wonderful it sounded as played by the band, and he certainly had no trouble singing it.  When they finished, the leader and band members congratulated him on writing such a good song.  All the attention made him hopeful for the performance at the dinner and at the Gala.


Finally he and Nat were free to go back to the hotel to try to find Ryan and Ray or to rest.  As they drove from the White House back to the Hilton, Andrew and Nat were interested to see flags and bunting displayed all over Washington in honor of Tony Blair’s State Visit. 


As it happened Ryan and Ray were just returning from the Mall area as well, and they met in the lobby.  Ryan asked, “How did it go?”


Nat and Andrew shared an expressive look before Andrew replied.  “As the day went on, we all started chanting with Professor Lane ‘Terrible Rehearsal, Good Show.’”


Ray laughed and said, “That good, huh?”


Nat chuckled.  “We just worked through a few problems… but you should hear how well Andrew sang with all the Marine musicians!”


Then Andrew jumped in with praise for Nat.  “Just wait until you see what Nat does with his cape.  And there are some other good acts … Billy’s tap dance is terrific.”


Ryan was looking at his watch.  “What do you want to do now?  There’s only two hours until we have to meet here to go over to the White House.”  He could see that Andrew and Nat looked tired from all their hard work and the stress of the past week.


“Well, I don’t know about Nat, but I could use a hot soak if not a nap.  I just need to be still for a while.” As if to prove his point, Andrew yawned.


Nat hastened to agree.  “Yeah, me too… What you ‘yawned’-- a soak sounds especially good, and I want to make sure my ‘baile’ boots are well oiled and buffed to a shine.”



The time passed too quickly for a nap, and finally they were dressed in their evening finery.  Andrew could hardly believe how wonderful Ryan looked in his dress uniform, and Andrew certainly didn’t feel shabby in his new tux from Armani, either.  He felt lucky that his part in the program required no real costume change.  For ‘The Fantasticks’ he would wear a kind of smock over his tux, and the tux was perfect for singing his songs. 


“Andrew.  I wanted to say something to you before we go to the White House tonight.”  Ryan thought Andrew had never looked more beautiful than he did tonight in his new tuxedo.  All he wanted to do at that moment was to take Andrew in his arms and never let him go.  Ryan reached for his hands and drew the younger man closer.


“I want you to know that having you with me, especially tonight, is the most important thing in my life.  I love you, and I am proud of you.  I want to show the world how good we are together.  When people see us, I want them to know how real love looks.  People in the current administration, including the President, have made it plain that they don’t think highly of people like us… I want the world to look at us and know that they are wrong…


“I hope being at the White House tonight won’t make trouble for us, but just remember:  if anything disturbs or upsets you, just remember that I love you, and I am proud of us…”


And Andrew answered as Ryan pulled Andrew into his arms for a soul searing kiss, “I’ll remember, Ryan… and you know that I love you, too…” 


Eventually, they were forced to breathe.   Andrew looked up at his partner through a flirty flutter of eyelashes and said in very provocative tones, “Hero…”


Ryan laughed and claimed Andrew’s lips one more time with a muttered, “Brat!” as response. 


In the lobby, they just had time to wave at Nat and Ray looking elegant in their evening attire.  Then they were assigned to travel in the limo with Gary Oldham and his wife, the United Airlines CEO Glen Tilton and his wife, and Commander Jacobs of the Seal Unit.   During the short trip Ryan and the Oldhams traded information and accepted advice from the others on sightseeing.  They were all enthusiastic to learn that Andrew would be performing with the college in the after-dinner program.


Then after a short wait in the arriving car line, they were cleared through the check-point and allowed to join the other guests entering the White House.  Andrew was amused to note that Ryan’s tall good looks and distinctive uniform began to draw discreet attention almost immediately.  Andrew began to feel nervous, but he straightened up and held his head high when he felt Ryan’s comforting hand at the small of his back. 


Then they were in the Cross Hall and approaching the receiving line. 


“Names, please.” A protocol officer was there to present them to President Bush. 


“Captain Ryan Williams of United Airlines and partner, Mr. Andrew Stewart-Williams of San Francisco.” Ryan was very firm, holding the aide’s gaze until he nodded with a little smile for Andrew.


“Yes, sir,” he murmured.  Then they were in front of the President and the aide turned.


“Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, may I present Captain Ryan Williams of United Airlines and his partner, Mr. Andrew Stewart-Williams of San Francisco.”


“Good evening, Captain Williams, Mr. Stewart-Williams,” said Mrs. Bush as she took their hands in turn.  Her gown was silver and blue and designer made, but her friendly smile welcomed and put both men at ease. 


“Yes,” said President Bush as he shook their hands, “we are happy to see you here.  You did some good work, there in San Francisco, Captain.  May I call you Ryan?  It’s good to see Americans standing up to those terrorist thugs!”


“Yes, I heartily agree, Mr. President.”  Tony Blair held out his hand to Ryan, then Andrew. 


“Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs. Blair, may I present Captain Williams and Mr. Stewart-Williams.” President Bush was all affability and good will.


Ryan said as he shook hands, “Good Evening to you both.  Andrew is my life partner.” 


Mrs. Blair made a point of being especially warm in her greeting to Andrew and Ryan. “We have heard wonderful things about you both from our Mrs. Jamison.  She is being honored here tonight as well.  Perhaps you will see her.”


Andrew replied, “I look forward to meeting her.”


An aide ushered them on into the State Dining Room where another aide helped them find their seating on a special chart.  The round tables, each with ten gold chairs, looked rich and elegant with melon damask tablecloths glittering with gold plate and crystal and softened by center arrangements of peach and coral roses and candles.


Ryan found himself sitting at the table hosted by Vice President Cheney, with Mayor Gary Oldham, the Seal Commander Jacobs, and Senator Hillary Clinton, among others.  Andrew was one table over at the table hosted by the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.  He was tickled to recognize Sir Elton John and Jude Law already seated at the table along with a comfortable but stern looking woman.


Remembering Jerry’s advice about trying to make others feel comfortable, Andrew went up to the woman and introduced himself.  “Good evening, ma’am.  I’m Andrew Stewart-Williams.”  He smiled and nodded at the others around the table.


She smiled and stood to give him a small hug, which really surprised him.  “I’m very happy to meet you, Andrew.  I’m Martha Jamison.”


Andrew blushed and replied, “Hi!  Oh, Ryan has talked about you!”


“I’ll bet he has,” she laughed.  “You must recognize Sir Elton and Jude.”  Andrew nodded to each.  “And this is Secretary Chertoff,” Mrs. Jamison continued.


To his delight, Andrew saw that he was seated between Sir Elton John and Mrs. Jamison. 


“What brings you among us tonight, Mr. Stewart-Williams?” asked Secretary Chertoff. 


Andrew replied, “Two things actually.  I’m performing in the show my college is putting on in the East Room after dinner, and my partner, Captain Ryan Williams, is being honored with an award.”


There was a little silence.  Then Sir Elton jumped in to say, “Good for you, young Andrew, good for you.  What will you perform?”


With a special smile for his help, Andrew blushed a little more and said, “Well, I only play the Mute in ‘The Fantasticks,’ but I’ll also be performing on guitar and singing for my friend’s flamenco dance, and I will be singing some Gershwin and a song of my own with the Marine Dance Band.”


“That sounds great, Andrew,” said Jude Law enthusiastically.  “May I call you ‘Andrew’?  And will you call me ‘Jude’?” 


“Yes, of course.” Andrew was thrilled, and it showed.  “Are both of you in Washington just for this State Dinner, or are you working?”


“Funny you should ask,” chuckled Sir Elton.  “Mrs. Jamison is an old friend of mine, and I’m here to sing in the Gala tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center.”


“And I’m here to start a new film that is actually being partially shot here in the District of Columbia, so I’ll be here for a few months.  Did you know I actually started out playing The Boy in a British version of ‘The Fantasticks’?   And if Elton is singing, I’ll probably turn up at the Gala tomorrow night, as well!”


“My college will perform there, too.  I didn’t know other acts would join us there, but this has happened so fast…”


“What school is that, Andrew?” asked Mrs. Jamison.


“The San Francisco State University College of Performance Arts and Music.  We were asked to come to help honor San Francisco for beating off the terrorist attack at San Francisco Airport about a week ago.”


“One week?  You’ve had just one week to prepare?”  Sir Elton’s questions were gentle screeches of disbelief.


Finally all the guests had arrived and found their seats.  Everyone stood while the Bushes and the Blairs were escorted to the head table to the strains of “Hail to the Chief,” and the dinner began.


Mrs. Jamison passed around the embossed dinner menu:


Honey Mango Glazed Chicken

Spicy Vegetable “Noodles” with Herb Tuile


Grilled Salmon Fillet “Mignon”

Oven Seared Portobello Mushrooms with Tomato Shallot Fondue

Baby Vegetables and Balsamic Reduction


Marinated Fresh Mozzarella with Roasted Artichokes and Basil Tomatoes

Salad of Mache and Arugula with Lemon Oregano Dressing


“Strawberries and Cream” with Devonshire Sauce

Brandy Snaps Shortbread and Honey Nougat Chocolate Fudge


Wines:  Newton Chardonnay “Unfiltered” 1996, Swanson Sangiovese “Estate” 1995

Mumm Napa Valley “DVX” 1993



Despite his nerves, Andrew enjoyed the meal and the conversation at his table.  ‘Jude’ and ‘Sir Elton’ seemed to accept him as a fellow performer, and Mrs. Jamison made him feel that she was there to support him.  He also got the impression that Secretary Chertoff was glad he didn’t have to work too hard to keep his table happy and talking.


Finally, after the dessert had been served, a trumpet fanfare announced President Bush.  Rising at the head table, President Bush began, “Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair, on behalf of the American people, Laura and I are pleased to welcome you to the United States for this state visit.  We also want to invite you to join with us in honoring brave men and women who were successful at defeating a terrorist attack on the international airport at San Francisco. And we want to welcome the mayor and students of the City of San Francisco who are here representing their city.  Will all the honorees and students please stand.


“Prime Minister Blair and I will be officially awarding the honors tomorrow night at the Gala Festivities at the Kennedy Center.  Every Navy Seal will receive the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor.  Captain Ryan Williams and Ms. Vickie James will each receive a Congressional Gold Medal.  The City of San Francisco and all of the policemen and firemen who took part in the siege and action against terrorists with receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”


President Bush then passed the microphone to Prime Minister Blair.  “The British Government and the Crown also wish to honor the courage necessary to fight terrorists.  Captain Ryan Williams is to be awarded the rank of Knight Commander in the Order of the Bath and Vickie James will be awarded the rank of Companion.  Mrs. Martha Jamison, a citizen of the U.K., is awarded the rank of Dame Commander in the Order of St. Michael and St. George.  The Navy Seals, the firemen and policemen of San Francisco will receive citations and medals for conspicuous gallantry.”


After all the honorees were clearly identified, the President and Laura Bush and Prime Minister and Cherie Blair all stood to lead the enthusiastic applause.   Then an aide handed President Bush a small slip of paper. 


“I’m supposed to excuse anyone connected with our after-dinner program at this time.”  Chairs scraped and the student-performers hurried out, along with Professor Lane and his assistant. When they were gone, the President continued with his speech, stressing the friendship between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 


He stressed their common beliefs in democracy and the rights of man.  He noted that both countries were determined to defeat terrorists, to cut off their funding, to deny them sanctuary, and to bring them to justice; that there could be no compromise with this evil.


He said their final goal was to work together and with other nations to create a better world.


Prime Minister Blair responded with similar sentiments and thanks.  He continued, “I am also personally pleased to take part in the Awards Ceremonies tomorrow night with awards for heroism from the government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”


President Bush rose one last time to say, “Now I want to invite all of our guests into the East Room for the after-dinner entertainment put on by the young students from our brave city of San Francisco.”  With that the official party led the way into the East Room, which had been configured as a small theater complete with raised stage and curtain, a rather tattered one, with a scraggily “Fantasticks” hand painted on the front.


From the first poignant invitation for the audience to “Try to Remember the Kind of September When life was slow and oh, so mellow!” to the final love song/reprise, where The Girl tells The Boy “without you near me, I can’t see.  When you’re near me wonderful things come to be,” the audience, for all it’s sophisticated glitter was mesmerized.  By the end of the play with its makeshift props and scrambling actors, everyone realized right on cue that “without a hurt, the heart is hollow.” That love and true understanding are what gives life meaning. 


With the piano, harp, drums, and string bass playing for all they were worth to make the most noise possible, the young cast took their bows even as the stage was stripped bare behind them. 


Then Professor Lane stepped up to a floor microphone.  “Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair, Ladies and Gentlemen, the production of ‘The Fantasticks’ that you have just seen is the product of one of our performance classes.  Now individual students will perform in some of their specialties. 


First will be Nat Pacheco, well known in San Francisco for his flamenco dance styling.  His ‘baile’ is accompanied tonight by another student, Andrew Stewart-Williams, who will be singing ‘cante’ from Andalusia taught to him by Nat in gypsy tradition.  Mr. Stewart-Williams will also accompany on guitar.  He will be joined by guitarist Jeremy Rayburn.”


The room darkened, and a single spotlight shone on the center of the stage.  Off to the left at the rear of the audience Andrew’s soft but insistent voice could be heard moving through the darkness toward the light on the stage.  Softly his guitar joined his soaring voice, the sounds melding and becoming stronger with each note until Andrew mounted the stage to be joined by Jeremy.  Then from the dark at the back of the stage a slim figure in the darkest of reds hurtled in a flying leap to land precisely in the center of the spotlight. 


The young man’s classic pose showed to advantage the rich blood-red color of his costume and the form of the dancer.  With a snap, his large silk cape was unfurled.  With a stamp, his dancing boots began the incredible heel toe combinations that controlled and led the music. 


His cape moved effortlessly, a living flame of silk, haloing, enhancing, yet somehow threatening his slim body.  Then he let it lay as the music grew ever wilder, which he answered with his whip.


With flicks of his wrist, the braided leather flickered and snapped to punctuate the stamps and rhythmic pounding of his feet, until a series of whirling leaps and turns brought him to finish on one knee, the whip stretched before him on the circle of red that was the cape. 


Keeping up with Nat to the final crescendo that accompanied his final leaps, Andrew and Jeremy plucked one final chord as the stage went dark.  Andrew could hear Nat’s heavy breathing as he walked toward Nat in the silence.  Andrew helped his exhausted friend up, just as the lights came back up. 


Suddenly the audience stood up and were applauding and cheering the young performers.  As they withdrew, Professor Lane came back to the microphone. “We encourage tolerance and cultural exchange among our students.  Last night I understand Nat and Andrew joined in an impromptu performance at Café Citron in Adams-Morgan. 


“We will be seeing more of Andrew Stewart-Williams at the end of our program. Now it is my pleasure to introduce…”


Andrew and Nat passed into the “dressing room” hallway.  Ray had somehow managed to be there, and folded the tired Nat into his arms, then led him to a bench to rest before helping him to change back into his evening attire. 


While Ray took care of his partner, Abby came to help Andrew since he had taken off his tie, cummerbund, and jacket to accompany Nat.  She added a little powder to his stage make-up, and encouraged him to take a look at his hair, which was a shamble of dark curls.  He gave his hair a studied shake, and Abby pronounced it “Fine.”  For the zillionth time, she wondered why all the best looking guys had to be gay! 


Andrew stepped back to the entrance so he could listen for his cue.  He suddenly realized that he would be the last act-- he just hoped he could get through it.  He smiled when he thought of Ryan listening to the Gershwin song he had selected.  And he hoped Ryan would like his “Loving” song as well as he did accompanied by the Marine Dance Band. 


Andrew took a deep cleansing breath.  He just had to forget he was singing at the White House!  Finally he heard Professor Lane’s introduction for his set.


“For our last set, we are bringing back one of our talented students to sing with Washington’s own Marine Dance Band.  You saw him ‘shine’ as the Mute in ‘The Fantasticks,’ you thrilled to his ‘cante’ gypsy singing and flamenco-rock guitar, now please welcome Andrew Stewart-Williams in a romantic mood singing George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and his own composition entitled simply “Loving.”


The Marine Dance Band played through the introduction music as Andrew took the microphone and the stage.  In the romantic double spot, he looked ethereal and oddly young in his beautifully tailored tux.  He was graceful yet strong, with an independent appeal that somehow rang true.  It took Ryan’s breath away to think that this beautiful creature was his Andrew…


“Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to dedicate these songs to all the heroes who fight evil in the world every day, in big ways and small, but I especially dedicate them to my partner, Ryan.”  The music swelled again, and Andrew’s warm voice led the way in the mellow old song:


There’s a saying old says that love is blind.

Still we’re often told, seek and ye shall find.

So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had in mind,

Looking everywhere, haven’t found him yet--


He’s the big affair I cannot forget:

Only man I ever think of with regret.

I’d like to add his initial to my monogram.

Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?


There’s a somebody I’m longing to see,

I hope that he turns out to be

Someone who’ll watch over me.

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood,

But I know I could always be good for

Someone who’ll watch over me.


Although he may not be the man some

Folks think of as handsome,

To my heart he carries the key.

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed,

Follow my lead, oh, how I need

Someone to watch over me.



The last note died away, and then there was silence.  Finally the audience, stirred and the applause rang out.  The Marine Band leader in his dress blues and all the marines on stage clapped or tapped wood in approval.  Andrew looked quite stunned at the response, though he tried to bow and smile. He just couldn’t keep from blushing, which Ryan thought adorable, even as he was proud of his Andrew’s singing.


Finally the band leader raised his hands again and looked for Andrew’s nod.  The mood shifted to slightly funky blue, a more modern sound that was emphasized by the Marine Band.  Then Andrew sang the verses he knew so well:


Through shadows slowly shifting

I saw many lonely days;

Alone and lowly drifting--

Rain often on my ways.


No arms were there to hold me,

No fire burned to warm me.

No comfort could enfold me,

Just fear was there, to harm me.



Song whispered on air,

But I just couldn’t hear

’Till love’s steady care

Allayed all my fear.


Now Loving rules heart

And binds every tie,

No longer apart,

Our Loving flies high.


Love takes us higher--

As high as the sky--

Shines us with fire

And thunders on high.


The music swelled for the last verse, as the last lines repeated.  The applause started even before the last riff took the high notes down.   This time Andrew thought to share the applause with the band, and he shook hands with the leader. 


Finally President Bush stood.  “First, I want to thank the young artists for their wonderful performances.  Then, I want to thank Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair for being such good friends to the United States.  And I want to thank all of you for coming.  We will be leaving now, but the band will ‘play on’ for dancing.  Enjoy and God Bless.”


Then to strains of “Hail to the Chief” the Presidential Party left.


While the room was being rearranged for dancing, Ryan came up to Andrew.  Looking deep into his eyes, Ryan asked, “What did I ever do… to deserve you?” 


Blushing adorably, Andrew returned the question to Ryan.  “No, the question should be… how did I ever live without you?”


“Maybe if we dance,” said Ryan, “The answer will come to us.”


Andrew looked a little shocked.  “What, here? Do you think there would be any problems?”


“Honey,” Ryan drawled, “how could anyone give a problem to one of the heroes of the hour and one of the stars of the show?  And even if there were problems, it’s more important that we dance…”




“Yes, Brat?”


“After we dance…”




“We’ll have to do another show tomorrow.”


“Yes, I know.”


“Well, very soon…”




“I want you to take me back to the hotel and love me, fuck me… several times… but soon, so there’s plenty of time to sleep.”


Ryan laughed, and promised.


And so they did.  Several times.  With plenty of time left to sleep.


The End