There was a new faculty member in the Department of Theater, replacing Emmaline Walker, who left at the conclusion of the previous year to accept a position elsewhere. This person was named Elaine Marissa Shepherd, but every time she was introduced she told those she met to call her Puppy. Puppy was a newly minted Ph.D. from UCLA, with a dissertation on plays which had been banned on the regular stage, and produced only in so-called experimental or untraditional venues. She was born in Los Angeles on 31 May 1985. She actually came from a fairly conventional background, with a father, Donald P. Shepherd, who had done very well in marketing, and a mother, Lorraine Stephens Shepherd, who was a successful trial lawyer. Puppy arrived with an impressive list of publications and letters of reference. Everyone knew she was sort of way out, but she was more than anyone counted on.
The first the Todds knew about her was when Brandon Dowling told them of her interview back in the early spring semester. She came across then as funny and even outrageous, but also very well credentialed. It was probably the degree from UCLA which gave her the edge over the other candidates. Then, she arrived in Clifton. Puppy rented a house in the Brentwood area, and signed up her children for school prior to opening on August 17, but no one in the Department saw her until the following day, when there were faculty meetings. That morning, at the University Faculty meeting, when she was introduced, she stood and waved to all the others. She was hard to miss. Puppy was dressed in a kimono type dress of black background but garish figure decorations, some of which were pretty near pornographic.
A week later, after Brandon Dowling returned from the FEI Championships, he made her acquaintance once again. Brandon invited her to the Faculty Club, where he introduced her to his friends at the regular group table. She came into the dining room on Brandon’s arm, and immediately began performing for the table, making comments on the various colleagues as she was introduced to them. Zip observed her with amusement, and later thanked Brandon for brightening his day. He told Brandon he needed comic relief, and Puppy had also provided it at the University faculty meeting. He was glad to meet her in person when Brandon brought her to the Faculty Club. She was outrageous, but not vicious. She loved making comments bordering on the pornographic, like her costume, but she did not really insult anyone or denigrate anyone else’s field of expertise. Having done her homework, she knew Brandon was gay, and that his partner was named Christopher Todd, so when she was introduced to Zip by Brandon as his father-in-law, she actually blinked.
“You’re ...” she stammered.
“I’m Chris’s father,” Zip said.
“And a full Professor of Linguistics, and an internationally known scholar who’s just returned from conferences in Africa and Asia,” Brandon added, amused to see his outrageous colleague stumped.
She recovered well. “Congratulations,” she said, leaving it open as to whether that was for his conferences, his professorial status, his position as the father of Brandon’s partner, or the only person that day to have caused her to pause in her romp through the faculty. But the handshake was warm and friendly.
Over the next few days, Brandon and others learned more about their new colleague. The thing which was most talked about is that Puppy was never married, but had five children. While this was not immediately known, each of the five had a different father. She considered that she was being inclusive by fucking and having children by men of all backgrounds, so she had a child by a Caucasian father, by a black father, by an Oriental father, by an Asiatic Indian father, and by a Hispanic father. When she confided this to Brandon, she also lamented that in a place like Clifton, she would have no opportunity to continue her pattern by having a child by an American Indian.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Brandon teased. “There’s Professor Greywolf in the History Department. He’s a Lakota Indian. And he has relatives here in town. And then, there’s Dusty Littleshield. He’s not at the University, but he is a member of the Shoshone people.”
“You’re kidding!” she exclaimed.
“You’ve got to introduce me,” she insisted.
“Okay, but go easy on them. The two I mentioned are both married men,” Brandon grinned.
Over the next few weeks, Puppy became more acquainted with Clifton, and the University became more acquainted with her. She confessed to Brandon, who evidently had been chosen as her father confessor, that Clifton was not such a dismal backwater as she had feared.
“If you had such a negative picture of us, why did you come here?” Brandon asked.
Puppy blushed. “Because of you.”
“Yeah. I’m about the same age you are. Until I was in high school, you were my model, my hero,” she said, then added the name, “Barry,” the name of the character Brandon had played on his television series.
He blushed. “Oh, no!”
“Afraid so. I wouldn’t admit it to anyone but you, but I was a Barry groupie when I was, oh, about ten to thirteen,” Puppy related. “When I found that you were a member of the Department here, even as an adjunct, I simply could not resist. And by the way, why are you only an adjunct. Don’t those idiots in charge recognize your genius?”
Brandon laughed. “That’s my choice. I have other interests these days.”
“Your, ah, friend, Chris?” She asked hesitantly.
Brandon smiled. “Chris does take up a lot of my time. I’ll introduce you. But he’s not the only thing. I’ve taken to horses, especially American Saddlebreds, and my in-laws own a horse farm. I spend a lot of time there. And then, there’s Brandon’s Boys.”
“Your boys? But I thought ....” Puppy stumbled.
“Ah ha! Not as impervious to surprise as you like to pretend. Okay, this is a Tuesday, and they are awaiting us for dinner,” Brandon invited her.
“I’d love to, I guess,” she joked, “but I have obligations of my own.”
“Yes. I have five children, ranging in age from sixteen to two,” Puppy said.
“You don’t look old enough to have a sixteen year old,” Brandon gallantly responded.
She grinned. “I started early.”
“Okay, how about if the whole crew came to dinner?”
“Nope. Are you walking or driving?” Brandon asked.
“Walking. I did not need a car in L.A., and I haven’t got around to getting one here,” Puppy said.
“You will definitely need one in Clifton,” Brandon said. “Okay, come with me.”
Brandon and Puppy walked rapidly across campus and to the garage behind Brandon’s Boys, where he got out a Ford Flex, a vehicle with lots of space for transporting many boys. On the way, he called someone called Aunt Barbara and told her there would be an adult and five children added to the dinner party, and that he would be having dinner with the boys as well. They drove to the house rented by Puppy in Brentwood, where Brandon was introduced to five children who were awaiting their mother’s return. These were: Brandon Barry Shepherd (named for guess who), born 9 July 1999, who was all white; Maya Marissa Shepherd, born 7 August 2001, who obviously had a black father; Anissa Pearl Shepherd, born 19 March 2004, daughter of a Chinese father; Vijay Roy Shepherd, born 19 January 2007, son of a father with a background in India; and finally Celestina Marguerita Shepherd, born 21 April 2013, whose father was Hispanic, in her case of Mexican ancestry.
“Missed a few years there, didn’t you?” Brandon teased.
She hit him.
They all piled in the car, and Brandon drove them back to Brandon’s Boys. They all went in the back door, and were met with complete chaos, in the persons of Oliver Ballard, Clarence Brooke, Joe Chavez, Mike Grice, Bert Anders, Daniel Marlow, Bobby Ferguson, Freddy Foster, Raman Gillespie, and Tom Baird, the ten boys currently living at Brandon’s Boys. Aunt Barbara immediately called for quiet, so the boys and the guests could be introduced. The boys, in practiced drill, introduced themselves by name and age. Then Puppy introduced her children and herself.
“But what are all you boys doing here?” she asked.
“We live here,” Freddy Foster said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
But more explanation was required. Once again, in order by age, the ten gave a brief account of how they ended up at Brandon’s Boys, and what it was like living there, with complains about starting school and mucking out stables, the latter of which drew laughter from the other boys.
Puppy was impressed. Then came the real surprise. The back door opened again, and in came Chris and Chris.
“Hi. You must be Puppy. Brandon texted me you would be here. Aunt Luisa is ticked, so you had better stop next door before leaving. I’m Chris. You’ve got almost as many kids as we do. Puppy is a really cool name. This is our son, Chris.” Chris in usual fashion overwhelmed his guest.
Little Chris just grinned at his dad’s ways, and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Chris, too, but I don’t talk as much as my dad.”
All this left Puppy dazed. They did not have much time before Aunt Barbara announced dinner, so the Shepherds were sent to wash their hands, and everyone gathered in the dining room or the kitchen. A hearty meal, intended for energetic boys, was served, with the youngest Shepherd getting something special sent over by Aunt Luisa.
It was only after dinner, when Brandon convinced Puppy her children would be safe under the eye of Aunt Barbara, and he led her next door, that she could really get any more information. She and Brandon were served coffee and Bourbon by Aunt Luisa, who let Brandon know she thought the adults, at least, should have been fed by her. The two settled in the front parlor.
“This is overwhelming. Do I understand rightly that you have taken in all those boys?” Puppy asked.
“Well, sort of. They all needed help, and since I can offer it, I did. Chris helps, even if he is a lot to take at first meeting. He’s the horse person par excellence, and really helps the boys out on the Farm. And we have Aunt Barbara over there, who is helped during the day by Aunt Anne to keep the place in order. The boys try, but they are boys. And we have a Board,” Brandon explained.
“A Board?” Puppy asked, still somewhat dazed.
“Yeah. We’re a city approved foster home or group home, so we have to have a board to kind of run things. There’s me and Chris, of course, and Aunt Barbara, who is a certified foster parent, too. Then there’s Lamar, my brother-in-law, and Anjali, the lawyer, and Ben, the psychologist, and Nathan, the policeman,” he rather unhelpfully informed her.
“Brandon, that’s no help at all. All first names, and then why is your brother-in-law on the Board. And how do you have brothers-in-law? Gay marriages are not legal in this state are they?” she pulled him back to earth.
“Sorry. I guess I’m kind of spacy today. Okay, no, gay marriages are not legal in Kentucky. Someday, maybe. But Chris and I regard ourselves as truly married, and we did have a commitment ceremony. And Lamar is Chris’s older brother, and he’s a priest,” Brandon filled in.
“A priest? As in Catholic?” Puppy queried.
“Oh, yeah. All of us here are Catholic. Your background research is not as thorough as you thought, I guess. But to continue, Anjali is Anjali Pennington, law partner in Pennington, Pennington, and Rafferty, and our legal advisor, to make sure we do things by the book. Let’s see, who did I mention next? Doesn’t matter, I guess. Ben is Benedict Spalding, a psychologist with Greywolf, Spalding, Armistead, and Carter. And ....”
“Wait. Greywolf? Is that the same family as the Lakota Indian you were telling me about?” Puppy demanded.
“Jessica is a Barnett by birth, but she’s married to Justin Greywolf, who is a member of the History faculty, and a Lakota Indian. Justin has a brother, Cyprian, who is in charge of the stables out at Madison Forest, and he has lots of kids and grandkids. There was a third brother, Nate, but he was killed in the Marines,” Brandon filled her in.
“More horses. I see I’ll have to learn to ride to get along in Clifton,” Puppy said.
“It would sure go a long way with my mother-in-law. She’s the owner of Todd Farm, and a real enthusiast as far as the horses are concerned,” Brandon noted.
“Mother-in-law? Is she ...? Oh, just tell me,” Puppy surrendered.
Brandon chuckled. “Okay. Sandy Todd is the original as far as our group is concerned. She is the heiress of a farm in Jouett County, about an hour from here, which has been in her family for well over two hundred years. She established it as a horse farm, and is an acknowledged leader in the Saddlebred area. She is married to Dr. Bradley W. Todd, who you met at lunch.”
“The black professor of something or another who is going to Japan,” Puppy thought she remembered.
“Yes. He’s called Zip in the family. Zip’s field is linguistics, but since we’re a small institution, we don’t have a separate Linguistics Department, so he’s in English. And he’s not going to Japan, he’s just back from Japan. He’s black, or at least half black, but Sandy is white. That upsets some folks, but not you, I’m guessing,” Brandon said.
“No way. I find it encouraging,” she responded.
“Zip and Sandy have ... well, it kind of depends. They have five children of their own, with Chris being the youngest. Then, there is DeShawn, who is Zip’s son from an earlier relationship, and there is Hettie, who is adopted. The oldest of the biological children is Lamar, or, to give him his full due, the Rev. Bradley Lamar Todd, who is Pastor at St. Martin de Porres parish here in town, and a member of our Board. Then there is Ana. That’s Anastasia. She’s a musician, and married to Peter Hoff, a lawyer. Then comes Tony, who is something of a local planner and doer, with the impressive sounding title of Second Vice-President of Todd Properties, Inc.,” Brandon grinned. “He’s married to Bryce, and they have a dozen children.”
“A dozen!” Puppy exclaimed.
“Yep. You’ll get to know them. After Tony comes Helen. She’s a professional dancer, and co-owner of Miss Terry’s Dance Studio. She’s married to Lars Henrikson, who is an engineer with a local architecture firm. Then comes Chris. He spends most of his time on the Farm, and has won just about every prize going, especially in dressage.
“DeShawn Quinlan is Zip’s son. Evidently, Zip impregnated a woman before he left Halifax to come here, and never knew it. Then, when he was, like, 18, DeShawn showed up. He looks a lot like a darker Zip, so the kids recognized the relationship before either of them did. That guy is so damn stubborn, he will not accept anything from me, or even from his father, unless his wife can convince him it’s for the kids. He works at the physical therapy place over near the hospital.
“Then, there Hettie. They brought her back from Houston,” Brandon said, sticking to the public version of her origins. “She is about as stubborn as DeShawn, but it comes out in different ways. For example, she’s still in high school, and is pregnant for the third time. And that’s the Todd family into which I was adopted when I fell for Chris,” Brandon wound down.
“That’s quite a story,” Puppy said. “I don’t recall how we got onto the Todds, though. Oh, wait. Yes I do. You were telling me about the people on the board for your group home. Did we cover all of them?”
“Um, let’s see: Lamar, Anjali, Ben. Oh, yeah, there’s Nathan,” Brandon added.
“The policeman. Why a policeman?” Puppy asked.
“Well, most of the boys had some negative encounters with the police while they were on the streets, so we kind of figured this would give them a different perspective. And it’s good for our relations with the city authorities. Besides, Nathan is a good guy. He brought one of the boys to us. That was Gene Hillebrand. He’s graduated now, not only from high school, but from the University. He got his degree this past May. If your kids attend Brentwood Academy, they may have him for a teacher. That reminds me, you asked about Lamar back there. Lamar has sent three boys to us, including Clarence and Freddy, who you met this evening,” Brandon said.
Puppy laughed. “You do go off on tangents about all your people here. Or are you trying to avoid talking about the policeman?”
“No, not at all. Okay. Nathan Winter is a cousin of Zip. You may have noticed that Zip is formally Bradley W. Todd. The W is for Winter. He was originally named Bradley Winter, but when he married Sandy, he said there was no father’s name on his birth certificate, and Sandy had such a long and distinguished lineage with the Todds, that he would take her name,” Brandon related one of his favorite stories.
“That’s wonderful. I love that. But you’re still avoiding the policeman. Do I understand then that Nathan is a black man?” Puppy drew him back.
“Oh, yeah. Yes, Nathan is definitely black. He’s much blacker than Zip, so I suspect that he’s much more pure African. Remember, I said Zip was only half black. Still, I think Nathan has at least one white ancestor. But he’s in SAR with a black one,” Brandon rambled more than usual.
“SAR? What’s that?” Puppy asked.
“Sons of the American Revolution. It’s the male equivalent of DAR,” Brandon answered.
She wrinkled her nose at that.
“Now, now. Don’t be prejudiced. Both organizations do a lot of good. I’m a member of the SAR chapter, too, and so are Lamar, Ben, and Nathan. And Zip, of course,” Brandon admonished her.
“How can these black men be members of a hoity-toity group like that? And if I understood you, Zip ... Dr. Todd ... has no father on his birth certificate. That does not fit my image of the DAR,” Puppy said.
“Maybe your image needs adjusting,” Brandon replied. “Anyway, Zip is something of a computer whiz, and Sandy is also big with genealogy. They discovered that Zip and most of his relatives are descended from a guy called Theodore Dodd, who was a free black who lived in Philadelphia at the time of the American Revolution, and who fought in the war. Dr. McCoy in the History Department had Zip come and talk to his class on the American Revolution, so they would know that blacks were involved. Anyway, Zip and Nathan are cousins, and both are descended from Theodore Dodd, and thus are qualified for SAR.
“Nathan came here from St. Louis, but he’s been here since his freshman year. I’m not sure exactly how old he is now, but older than me. He’s supposedly in line to be captain of the local precinct when Captain Hernandez steps down in a year or so. So, he comes to visit my boys from time to time, and talks to them about various laws and city departments and the like,” Brandon concluded.
“And how is this group house of yours financed?” Puppy asked.
“Oh, I take care of that,” Brandon replied. “It’s my major contribution, I guess, since I can’t pray for them, or analyze them, or cure them, or keep them out of jail,” he laughed.
“Do you mean to tell me you cover all the expanses of this home for ten boys?” she asked in surprise.
“Well, yeah. It’s not all that much.”
“How can you afford that?” she persisted.
“Well, you do remember what I did before I moved to Clifton to be with Chris. I did pretty well in the acting business. And then, my dad was in international finance, and he left me a bundle when he died,” Brandon reported.
“And besides, my partner is a very generous person,” Chris said. He had just come in to tell Brandon their son was getting ready for bed, and expected his good night hug.
“Okay, bring him on,” Brandon invited.
Without waiting for more, young Chris ran from the doorway, and leapt into Brandon’s lap. They exchanged hugs, and Chris was told to be a good boy, and go to sleep without causing any trouble. He promised, said goodnight to Puppy, and went out with his other dad.
Puppy sighed. “Okay, tell me about you and Chris and the boy. There are more stories here than I would every have expected.”
“Well, we won’t go into my sordid past in L.A., but I kind of knew I was gay from the time I hit puberty. Of course, I could not admit that and still be a teen idol, so I was deep in the closet. I met Chris when we both happened to be on a cruise back in May of ‘99, and we met, and everything just clicked. So, when I turned 18, I decided I did not want the tinseltown life any more, so I came here, went to the University, bought this house, and settled down with Chris. We had a commitment ceremony. We can’t call it a marriage, because of opposition from both the Church and the state, but we think of it as much the same thing.
“So, after a while, Chris got what we call his ‘Big Idea.’ That was little Chris. He’s actually my son, but Chris’s sister, Helen, agreed to be the mother. She and Chris were always close, so there is something of the Todds, even if not directly of Chris, in the boy. He’s wonderful. A real joy. And he’s going to give me heart failure before my next birthday,” Brandon sighed.
Puppy laughed. “Remember, I have five of them. I know what you mean about that. But that’s another remarkable story. Remarkable that two gay men want to raise a child of their own, and remarkable that Chris’s sister cooperated in this.”
“The Todds are wonderful. I love them to death,” Brandon said, “but they are definitely not conventional, even if Sandy is a past Regent of the DAR chapter,” he poked fun at Puppy.
“And neither are you. I said early on that I came to Clifton because of you, but there is so much more to you than I ever realized. I think I’m going to like it here. But,” she sighed, “it’s getting late. My kids have school in the morning, and so do I. But I still want to hear more about the priest, and all the references to Catholics I’m picking up.”
“Any time,” Brandon offered.
But by then it was getting late, so they went back to Brandon’s Boys, to find little Celestina sound asleep, watched over by Aunt Barbara, and her brother Vijay, refusing to admit he was sleepy, but about to fall over. But the older kids were busy with the game box in the rec room, where they fit right in with a passel of Brandon’s boys.
“Mom, this place is cool. Can we come back here tomorrow?” Maya asked.
“I’m sure we’ll be invited back soon, but we have a lot to do tomorrow,” Puppy put off her daughter. “Gather your things. It’s time to go home now.”
That resulted in a lot of ‘aw mom’s, and an invitation from several boys to drop in any time. When everyone was gathered up, they got back in the Ford, and Brandon drove them back to their home in Brentwood.