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Chapter 24 – Wednesday

 

The alarm went off at 6:00AM to announce the beginning of our new day.  Tom and I crawled out of bed, took care of our morning bathroom needs and rinsed our mouths to clear away the morning breath. 

 

“Good morning, lover,” I whispered as I leaned in to give him a kiss.

 

“Mornin’ to you, too,” he grumbled and returned the kiss.

 

“Ooh, someone’s a grumpy bear this morning.  Are you like this every morning?”

 

“Only until I get some caffeine in me.”

 

“Well, you get dressed and I’ll get some ready for you, okay?”

 

“I’ll be there.”

 

I headed to kitchen, got the morning pot brewing and headed to wake the boys.  I went into T.J. and Mike’s room to find Mike’s head on T.J.’s shoulder and T.J.’s arm protectively wrapped around his younger brother.  I put a hand on each boy’s shoulder and gently shook to wake them up.  When their eyes were at half-mast, I said, “Breakfast in ten, get up and get dressed for school.”  I headed to the twins’ bedroom to find the covers tossed on the floor again and a jumble of arms and legs in the middle of the bed, hard little penises pointing towards the ceiling.  I reached in to shake them awake, only to have my arm grabbed by Alex and I was pulled onto the bed with them.  I extricated myself from the tangle and told them it was time to get dressed for school and come out for breakfast.

 

When I returned to the kitchen, Tom was working on his first cup already and I could see his eyes were much brighter now.  “Would you please go put some clothes on so I can leave the house this morning.  If you stay like that, I won’t want to go anywhere.”

 

“Nice to hear some cheer in your voice.  That caffeine works wonders on you.”  I turned and headed to the bedroom to find a pair of sweatpants.  When I got back to the kitchen again, I found four boys lined up on their stools ready for breakfast.  “Pop-Tarts sound okay this morning?”

 

“Sure, whatever,” Joey answered.

 

I pulled out the toaster, loaded it with four tarts and soon had one in front of each boy as I started round two in the toaster.  Tom had poured milk for them while I dealt with the tarts.  I turned to Tom and asked, “What about you?  You interested?”

 

“No, thanks.  I’ll stop at a Mel-O-Cream on my way through town and grab some donuts.”

 

“I shoulda’ known.  Cops and their donuts,” I laughed.

 

“Well, don’t expect that to stop when I’m done being a cop.  I can’t seem to stay away from the things.”

 

Pop-Tart round two was ready and I set each of the boys up with their second one.

 

“Well, I gotta scoot,” Tom started, “or I’ll be late.  You four have a good day at school and I’ll see you tonight.”

 

“Bye Uncle Tom,” Joey said. 

 

“Be careful out there,” added Alex.

 

“I’ll be careful, don’t worry.”  As he started to walk away, he wiggled his finger for me to follow him.  As we headed to the door, he said, “I hate to ask, but since Dylan and I came out in his car last night, I don’t have a car this morning.  Do you mind if I take yours so I can get to work?”

 

“Hell, I didn’t think about that.  Sure,” I said as I reached in my pocket to retrieve the keys.  I separated the Shelby key from the Flex key and handed it to Tom.  “I better call my insurance guy this morning and get you added on my policy.”

 

“Humph, haven’t even left the garage and already, you’re worried about me wreckin’ it.  I tell ya’, that’s love, that is.”

 

“Oh, don’t be such a smartass, Tom.  I’m not worried about you, it’s all the other idiots out there.”

 

“I know, Max, just yankin’ your chain.”

 

“If you’re not careful, you’ll be yankin’ your own chain, buddy.”

 

“Heaven forbid,” he mocked.  “Not that!”

 

“Get outta’ here and be safe, you hear me.”

 

“I hear ya’.  Thanks, Max, I love you.”

 

“Love you, too, you big goober.”  We gave each other a kiss and he turned for the garage.  “One more thing, hotrod, that car’s got a lot more power than you’re used to, try to keep it under a hundred.”

 

“Yes, Daddy,” he smirked.  “I’ll be good, I promise.”  And with that parting comment he was out the door.

 

I got back to the kitchen to find the plates and glasses rinsed and stacked in the sink and no boys.  I hollered, “Boys, coats, hats, gloves, backpacks, we gotta’ roll.”  Just as I finished, I spotted all four were coming down the hall, ready to go.  “Oh, sorry, I guess you’re waiting on me, aren’t you?”

 

“Yeah, dad, c’mon, we gotta’ roll,” T.J. parroted and laughed.

 

“Be right back.”  I pulled on a shirt and shoes in the bedroom, grabbed my coat and we headed to the garage.  Once the boys were loaded up and belted, I headed to the end of the drive to wait for the bus.  As the bus was coming up the road, we got out of the car and I gave each boy a hug and reminded them, “Have a good day and learn something new.”  They all moaned as they climbed on and took their seats.  When the bus was out of sight, I returned to the house and headed to my study to see what I had to deal with today.

 

The first thing I found was the envelope containing the pieces of the twins’ parent’s, waiting for repair.  I hopped on the internet and did a search for photo repair services in the area.  After finding a few with good reviews, I started making my calls.  The first two places showed no interest in attempting the project, but I hit pay dirt on my third call.

 

“Ed Clark Photography, this is Ed,” he answered.

 

“Good morning, Ed.  My name is Max Sanders, how are you today.”

 

“I’m doing well, Max, how about yourself?”

 

“I’ve had better days, but I’m hoping you can help make this one better for me.”

 

“Tell me how I can do that.”

 

“I’m in the process of adopting two boys who lost their parents four years ago.  The last thing they had of their parents was a photo of them and, unfortunately, their former foster-parents tore the thing to shreds and the boys are quite upset, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

 

“That’s horrible.  How many pieces are we talking about?”

 

“50-75, Ed.  I haven’t actually tried to count them.  Do you think there’s any way you can repair something with that much damage?”

 

“I’ll be honest with you, Max, I’ve never tried.  Not with that much damage, anyway.  Usually the worst we deal with is scratches or water damage.”

 

“Well, hell.”

 

“Hold on, Max, I didn’t say I wasn’t willing to try.  I obviously can’t promise results but I’m more than willing to give it a shot.”

 

“You’re a lifesaver, Ed.  When can I bring it in?”

 

“Let me check my schedule, hang on.”  He returned a minute later, “Okay, I have a couple coming in at 10:00 for a portrait shoot and that usually takes about half an hour.  That’s all I had scheduled today, so any time after that should be just fine.”

 

“Is the address I found on the internet current?”

 

“My studio’s in Sherman.  Is that the one you have.”

 

“It is.  Thanks, Ed, I’ll see you about 10:30.”

 

I next called my insurance agent to get Tom added to my policies.  That only took ten minutes and I found out I needed his driver’s license number to complete the process.  I let them know I would have Tom call to give it to them.

 

Since I had a few spare hours, I grabbed a new book from the study and curled up by the fireplace to read for a while.  The ding of the drive sensor roused me from a stupor 45 minutes later and I shook my head to clear the fog.  I suddenly remembered my contractor, John, was coming out this morning to discuss the shelter at the end of the drive.  Fortunately, I hadn’t undressed when the boys left so I grabbed my coat and keys and zipped out to meet him.  When I arrived, John was already out of his truck and looking at areas he thought would be good to place the shelter.

 

“Hey, John,” I called as I got of the car, “Sorry I wasn’t waiting for you.  It slipped my mind that you were coming this morning.”

 

“No problems, Max.  I just got here.  I was just about to call and let you know I was here.”

 

“I know, the drive sensor announced your arrival.”

 

“Forgot you had that.”  We shook hands and John asked, “So where you thinking, north or south side of the drive?”

 

“I think the north will be best.  As I recall, the main power feed back to the house runs down the south side and there’s not a lot of room over there to begin with.”

 

“North side it is, then.  I sure don’t want to worry about the power line.  Is the fence over here your west property line?”

 

“It’s about five feet this side of it.  The line itself is about the middle of the ditch.  I was thinking we should leave about eight feet clear between the fence and the shelter.  What do you think?”

 

“That sounds good, Max, that way we have some extra room to work in.  You want the trees cleared out eight feet all around also?”

 

“I think so.  My lawn guy can have it mowed quickly when does the rest of the property.”

 

“Great, let me show what I drew up as a plan and tell me if it looks good to you.”  He pulled his case out of the truck and pulled out a small stack of paper, then handed it to me.  I looked through the pages, making mental notes as I went.  “So, what do you think, Max.  That what you’re looking for.”

 

“Just about perfect, John but let’s make a couple quick changes.  Let’s move the door to the east wall and center the window in the south wall instead of having both on the same one.”

 

“Easy change to make.  You want the door centered or set in one of the corners?”

 

“I think the south corner of the east wall with the hinges to the left side so it swings in against the wall.  That leaves the rest of the inside open space.  I’ll probably put some fold-up chairs inside so the boys will be able to sit while they wait.  We’ll need to make the window tall enough they can see outside while they’re sitting.”

 

“Sounds good to me.  Anything else?”

 

“This is going to sound stupid, but I want the siding on it to match the cedar I have on the house and I think a metal roof.  Between those two things, it should be pretty maintenance free.  The only other thing would be a push-button lock for the door.  I know the boys can easily memorize five or six numbers and then I don’t have to worry about lost keys.”

 

“Music to my ears, Max, because everything you want is just jacking up the price,” he laughed.

 

“I know, but I want it solid and make sure it lasts for 15 or more years with minimal upkeep.”

 

“Oh, it’ll be solid all right and probably be sitting here long after you’re gone.  We’ll frame the walls and get the exterior sheathing on ‘em, spray in the foam insulation, then sheath the inside.  I assume you wanting something decent on the inside.  Do you want us to paint the inside?  And if so, what color?”

 

“That wouldn’t hurt, John, and I think just plain white or an off-white would be fine.  Two more things I’d like done is to have the heater on a timer so it runs as automatically as possible.  That way it won’t be running the battery down when nobody’s in it.  The other thing I’d like done is to tie a push button into the driveway sensor so the boys can let me know when they get here.  That way I’m not just sitting down here waiting forever.  Either of those sound like problems?”

 

“The timer doesn’t.  We can install that with the heater, no problem, but the dinger button’s a little trickier.  I’ll have to get someone out here to locate the sensor first.  Once it’s located, we’ll have to dig down to it to tie the button into the system.”

 

“I can make it even easier for you, John.”  I led him to a tree on the south side of the drive and pointed to a small gray box hidden behind it.  “That box contains the circuits for the sensor.  The wire to the house was buried in the same trench with the power line.  You should be able to tie in there without have to do any locating or digging.”

 

“Max, you’re a smart man.  That was damn good planning.”

 

“Thanks, but you really need the tell the sensor folks.  They set it up this way in case I ever had any problems with the thing.  They were making it easier for themselves if they ever had to do a repair.”

 

“Well, I think about covers everything except for getting the trees cleared out.  If my tree guy would show up, we can let him know the area to be cleared.”

 

“Speak of the devil, John, I think he just pulled up,” I said as a truck pulled up with the name Abe’s Tree Service painted on the side.

 

“About time, I was starting to think he got lost.”  Two men got out of the truck and joined John and me.

 

“Morning, John, how ya’ doing today?” the driver asked.

 

“Finer than frog’s hair, Justin, How ‘bout yourself?  Besides bein’ late, that is?”

 

“Sorry, John, Willy’s car wouldn’t start this morning and I had to run by his house to pick him up, so it’s all his fault.”

 

“No worries, Justin, just messin’ with ya’.  I want you to meet Max Sanders, the owner of the property.”

 

“Good morning, Max.  Understand you need some trees removed and stumps ground.  Tell me where and we’ll get started.”

 

“Morning to you, too, Justin.  Judging by the business name on your truck, I assumed your name would be Abe.”

 

“Long story, Max and I’m sure you don’t want to hear it.”

 

“Okay, then.  Well, John and I have selected a spot right over there,” I said, pointing in the general direction to the area to be cleared.  We walked over to the spot.  “John’s gonna’ be putting an 8’ X 8’ shelter here for my boys to use while they wait for the bus in the mornings.  I want eight feet cleared on each side of the building, so we need an area of 24’ by 24’, coming east from that fence and north from this side of the drive.  Think you can handle that?”

 

“That’s a pretty big spot to clear in a day, but most of these don’t look too big, so, yeah, I think we can get it all done today.”

 

“My only concern is I need to leave in about half an hour, so I can’t have any trees over the drive for a while.  Once I’m gone, I probably won’t be back until later this afternoon, after 3:00 or so.”

 

“Not a problem, it’ll take a while to get going anyway and when we do, the first few are pretty small.  We should be able to drop ‘em right along the edge of the drive and keep ‘em outta your way.”

 

“Great, I’ll get out of your way and let you get started.”  I turned to John and signaled him to follow me.  We walked to my car and I asked, “You need any money now for materials to get started?”

 

“Nah,” he answered, “I can handle this and we’ll settle up when we’re done.”

 

“If you change your mind, let me know.”

 

“Will do, Max, thanks.  I think I got all the info I need.  I’ll call the lumber yard as soon I get back to my office to get everything ordered.  We’ll be able to start on the walls in the shop tomorrow morning and two of my guys will be out about 9:00 in the morning to start compacting dirt and settin’ the forms for the slab.”

 

“Perfect, John.  You have any problems, call me.”  I hopped in the Flex and headed back to the house. I saw John talking to Justin in the rearview mirror as I pulled away.

 

When the time came, I grabbed the envelope with the shredded picture in it and headed to Sherman to meet with Ed.  I was hoping he would be able to pull off a bit of photographic magic.  True to his word, Justin had kept the drive open, so I didn’t have any problems getting out of the drive.  I waved to Justin and Willy as I rolled by.  It was about a 40-minute drive to Ed’s studio and I arrived at quarter to 11:00.  When I entered the studio, I saw Ed was still working with the couple from their shoot, so I browsed the studio admiring his work. 

 

When the couple finally left, Ed turned to me, “You must be Max.  Nice to meet you,” he said as he extended his hand.

 

I shook his hand while saying, “That’s me, good to meet you, too.  I hope you can help me.”

 

“Well, bring it over here and let’s see what we’re dealing with.”  We walked over to the counter and I emptied the envelope’s contents onto the glass.  “Oh, my, they really did a number on this.  However, it looks like they used a pair of scissors or a knife on it instead of just ripping it.  That should make it a bit easier to achieve a good result.  Let’s get all the pieces flipped over.”

 

We spent a minute turning pieces over and arranging them a bit to create an edge.  There was a small logo in the bottom right-hand corner piece of the border.  “This picture is one of mine,” Ed exclaimed, “That’s my logo there.”  Then, Ed’s hand flew out, grabbed a stray piece of the picture and pulled it up close to his nose.  He stared at the fragment for a moment, then looked at me with a strange look of concern.  “Can I ask the name of the boys this picture belongs to?”

 

“Sure,” I said, “they’re Joey and Alex Allison.  I have no idea what the parent’s names are, though.”

 

“No problem, I’ll be right back.”  True to his word, Ed returned in a few minutes carrying his laptop and a CD-ROM disk.  He set the laptop on the counter and inserted the disk.  In a few moments, we were looking at a screen full of thumbnails.  Ed double-clicked one and it opened full screen.  “I bet this is the picture we have in pieces before us.”  On the screen were a handsome young man and woman and I could see the resemblance to both boys in their parents.

 

“My god, Ed, how did you figure that out so quickly?”

 

“Well, my logo on the corner was the first clue.  But, when I saw this,” he continued, holding the piece he’d grabbed in front of my face, “I recognized this locket.  The name just wouldn’t come to me.”

 

“I’m guessing we don’t have to put the rest of the puzzle together then, do we?”

 

“Nope.  I can reprint the picture from the original on the disc.  I’m so glad I started storing my work on CDs.  It makes reprints a piece of cake.”

 

“When was this picture taken, Ed?”

 

He squinted at the screen and replied, “The date on the file is a little over four years ago.  Why?”

 

“Well, the boy’s parents were killed in an auto accident right about the same time.  These may very well be the last pictures ever taken of them.”

 

“Oh, my god!”

 

“Well, since you have the original, how soon can I get the reprint?”

 

“Do you have an hour?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Get comfy in one of the chairs over there and I’ll get it going for you right now.  How big do you want it?”

 

“Well, the original’s an 8” X10”, so I think the same size would be fine.  Can we look at the other pictures real quick?  I may want to get some more.”

 

“Sure.”  We continued scrolling through all the pictures on the disk and found an excellent outdoor shot of Mr. and Mrs. Allison, along with two young boys standing in front of them.  “Oh, my, I’d forgotten the boys were with them that day, but now that I see them, I remember them all too well.”

 

“Let me guess, they were a handful, weren’t they?”

 

“You know it.  Those two were all over the place.  It was all the parents could do to get them to stand still for this shot.  I’m just glad they weren’t wearing white that day ‘cause they sure wouldn’t have stayed that way.”  Ed laughed at the memory and I laughed with him.

 

“I can tell you that they haven’t changed a bit.  Tell you what Ed, why don’t you give me a 16” X 20” of this picture also, and a 5” X 7” of each of the others?”

 

“I’ll be happy to do it, Max.  It’ll take a little longer, though.”

 

“No rush, Ed.  Do you have some frames for the two bigger pictures?”

 

“Of course, I do.  Let me get the prints running and I can show you what I have.  We can pick the frames you want and I’ll have the pictures in them as soon as they’re done printing.”  Ed disappeared into his office and returned shortly with a couple different brochures showing the different frames he stocked.  “Okay, the printer’s running and here’s something to see the frames.”  I perused the selection and settled on two different ones.  I selected a rather basic frame for the picture of their parents alone and a slightly more ornate one for the family photo.  I hoped the boys would like my choices. 

 

As Ed promised, the pictures were all printed, framed and ready to go in an hour and a half.  “What’s the damages, Ed?” I asked.

 

“No charge, Max.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Exactly what I said, Max, no charge.”

 

“You can’t do that.  I expected to pay for these when I walked in here and I’m not walking out without doing so.  So, give me a total or get ready for a long-term guest.”

 

“Consider it my gift to the boys in congratulations for being adopted.  They’ve been through so much, losing their parents at such a young age, it’s the least I can do.  I’m giving you a copy of the CD, too, and you have my permission to reprint any picture on it.”

 

“I appreciate the thought, but that’s not how I work, Ed.  I expect to pay my share wherever I go.  If you don’t want to keep the money yourself, donate it to a good cause, but I am paying you for these.”

 

“Oh, fine.  I know a good charity that can always make good use of some cash.”  Ed gave me a total for the frames and pictures and I gave him cash as payment so he could do what he wanted with it.

 

“Now that that’s all settled, I want to ask another question.  The adoption process is supposed to be finalized in about five or six months and I’d like to get some new family pictures taken when it happens.  Are you interested?”

 

“You bet.  I’d love to see those two monkeys again.  They probably won’t remember me, but I’d still consider it an honor to commemorate the happy occasion.”

 

“That’d be great, Ed.  If it’s okay with the court, I’d like to get some pictures taken during the final hearing and have some more taken at my house at the party afterwards.  That won’t be a problem, will it?”

 

“I don’t know if the court will allow cameras inside, especially juvenile court, but we can sure ask.  The worst they can do is say no.  The party afterward is no problem.  Where’s it going to be?”

 

“At our home on the other side of Springfield.  As we get closer and I have an actual date, I’ll let you know we can firm up arrangements then.  Sound good to you?”

 

“Perfect, Max.  I’ll look forward to it.”

 

“I’m glad the first two places I talked to weren’t interested in helping and I called you.  I’d promised Alex and Joey I’d get the picture fixed, but I didn’t have a clue how I was going to be able to follow through on the promise.  You’ve saved my ass.”

 

“Glad I could help.  Those are lucky young boys to be with you.  Congratulations.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you in a few months.”

 

I grabbed the pictures and headed for home, stopping in Springfield for lunch on the way.  Since I had a little extra time before I needed to be home to collect the boys when they got off the bus, I also ran by Walmart real quick to pick an assortment of animated movies I thought the boys would enjoy.  After picking out 10 movies with assistance from the department manager, I headed for home, pulled in the drive and waited for the bus.  Justin and Willy were still clearing the area for shelter, but it looked like they were close to being done.  It was a short wait again today and the bus showed up just a few minutes later.  The boys climbed in the car chattering about their day as I waved to Carl.

 

“What’s going on here, dad?” T.J. asked.

 

“Just a little something,” I deflected.  “Don’t worry about it.  Good day, guys?  Any homework tonight?”

 

“Weird day, Dad,” Joey responded.

 

“What happened?”

 

“Mr. Thomas wasn’t here and we had a substitute.”

 

“Was he sick?  You do know even teachers get sick sometimes, don’t you?”

 

“Sure,” said Alex, “We’ve had subs before, but they’ve always told us the regular teacher was sick.”

 

“They didn’t say anything this time except Mr. Thomas wasn’t gonna’ be there today and they made it sound like the sub is gonna’ be here a while,” Joey added.

 

“And we really like him.  He was cool and one of the best teacher’s we’ve had.”

 

“Well, let me see what I can find out in a little bit.  What about you other two?”

 

“Nothin’ for me,” T.J. answered.

 

“Me neither,” Mike added sullenly.

 

“Well, it looks like you have the night off for other things, then,” I said as I pulled in the garage.  “Maybe we can have that talk I mentioned last night.”

 

“Oh, man, do we have to?” Alex whined.

 

“Yeah, I think we do.  Come on, let’s get inside and you can have a snack.”

 

That got them moving.  I knew they’d be distracted for a few minutes as they put their things in their rooms and got comfortable, which would give me time to get the new pictures stashed in the study.  I really wanted to give them to Joey and Alex now, but thought I should wait until Tom was home so he could part of it, also.  After stashing the pictures in the study, I went to my room and got undressed, then headed to the kitchen to set up snacks for the boys.  When I arrived, the four were already waiting at the counter with expectant looks on their faces.  Today’s snack was apple slices again with milk.

 

“Boys, I need to make a couple phone calls.  Can you amuse yourselves for a bit?”

 

“Sure thing, dad,” T.J. answered.

 

“Great, I’ll be back shortly.” 

 

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