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Chapter 38 – Big Changes Coming

 

The boys were most certainly enjoying a before meal swim, as were Tom, Bill and Estelle, and not a one of them was wearing a swim suit.  Tom was the first to see I’d returned and he started laughing at the look of surprise showing on my face.

 

“Hey, everyone, supper’s here.  Let’s go eat!” he yelled.  Resounding cheers filled the shelter as naked people started climbing from pool and heading to the table to grab towels and dry themselves.

 

“Y’all havin’ some fun without me?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, dad, we’re having a blast,” Alex answered.

 

“I’m glad.  You five run through the shower really quick and then get the table set for supper, please.”  After they headed to the house, I turned to Tom and said, “In the words of Dylan, ‘What the hell, Tom.  Can’t you keep clothes on anybody out there?’”

 

“Um, guess not, babe.  Sorry?”

 

“Looks like I need a bit more careful when I tell visitors to make themselves comfortable,” I chuckled.

 

“Sorry, Max,” Bill started, “I wanted to go for a swim and it sounded like a good idea to the boys, but since we didn’t bring suits with us, we decided to let it all hang out.  Hope that’s not a problem.”

 

“Not at all, Bill,” I replied.  “As we like to say around here, ‘when in Rome’.  Will we be getting dressed for supper, or will I be joining the crowd?”

 

“Your house, Max, your rules,” Estelle answered.  “Whatever you feel is appropriate.  But, it seems kind of silly for the rest of us to get dressed.  It’d be much easier if you joined us than the other way around.”

 

“Now that they’ve gotten nude with y’all, I can tell you right now, the boys will not come back from their showers with anything on, so who am I to buck the trend?  Let me go get comfortable and we can get the food out.  We’ll probably need to nuke the chicken and potatoes a couple minutes to warm it back up.”

 

“I’ll take care of that, Max,” Estelle volunteered.  “Do you have a serving platter to use once it’s been warmed?”

 

“Of course.  In the cabinet above and to the left of the stove.  You’ll find bowls for the potatoes and gravy in there, too, along with some baskets for the biscuits.”  I turned to Tom and said, “C’mon, big guy, let’s get this show on the road.”

 

The four of us headed into the house and while Tom and I headed to the bedroom, Bill and Estelle headed towards the kitchen to start getting things ready for our supper.  After closing the bedroom door, I started to undress and asked, “Okay, man, what’s the big idea?  You wanna’ tell me what happened after I left?”

 

“Hey, it wasn’t me.  It was all dad.”

 

“Yeah, right, explain it to me, so it makes sense.”

 

“Well, after you and your mom left, dad asked the boys if they were having a good time being a family together.  When they all said they were, then, the old man asked ‘em if they liked being nudists.  You coulda’ heard a pin drop.  Joey answered him with ‘we ain’t s’posed to talk ‘bout that’, then looked to me for confirmation.  I was caught off guard by dad’s question and just shrugged my shoulders.  Then dad says, ‘Well I want to try out the pool, who’s with me?’  Everything just kinda snowballed from there,” he chuckled.

 

“So, you’re blaming your dad for this, huh?”

 

“I swear, Max, ask him yourself if you don’t believe me.”

 

“I just might do that, ya’ big goof.  Come here.”  Tom crept closer, unsure what I wanted.  When he was close enough, I wrapped my arms around him for a hug, gave him a quick kiss, and said, “I love you, Tom Wright.  And I’m pretty sure I love your parents, too.  They’ve come a long way in five years, haven’t they?” I concluded, holding him at arm’s length.

 

“I love you, too, Max.  And, yes, they have.  From being disgusted with who I am to swimming nude together, that’s definitely a l-o-o-o-ng way to travel in a short period of time.  I never dreamed it would happen, but I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.”

 

“Me too, bubba, me too.  Let’s join the others and stake our claim to some chicken before it’s all gone.”  We headed to the kitchen, arms wrapped around each other, to help finish getting everything ready only to find it was all done and on the table waiting for us.  “Now that’s some service, folks.  Thanks.”

 

“Well, you supplied it, Max,” Estelle replied.  “Seems like the least we could do was get it on the table.  Let’s chow down.”

 

“Did you have any problems finding everything you needed in the kitchen?” I asked as we took our seats.

 

“Not a bit.  Your kitchen is very well organized, much as I would have done,” Estelle replied.  “The only thing that took me a few minutes to find was the honey.  Can’t have biscuits without honey, can we.  I finally found it in the cabinet over the stove.  Why do you keep it up there?”

 

“I’ve discovered over the years, that the heat from cooking helps keep it from crystalizing quite as quickly.  I still need to occasionally give it in a warm bath, but not near as much as I used to.”

 

“Well, I’ll have to try that myself.  I love my honey, but hate the way it slowly turns to a solid, although that occasional little bit of grit doesn’t much bother me.” Bill commented.

 

The rest of dinner finished quietly except for the occasional slurp of someone licking their fingers.  When everyone was full, the boys got busy cleaning the table while I took care of the trash and chicken bones.  When everything was cleaned up and put away, I asked the boys if they want to watch some TV for a bit before going to bed.  They took off for the theater and I tuned the satellite to some crazy-ass cartoon on Nickelodeon, then headed back out to join Tom and his parents by the fireplace.  I was looking forward to visiting without the added stress of my father hanging around, being the grumpy old bastard he is.

 

“Anybody want a cup of coffee or something else before I sit?”

 

“Mom, dad?” Tom asked as he looked to them.  After receiving nods from both, he turned back to me and answered, “Looks like 3 here, babe.”

 

“Be right back, folks.”  I pulled out a serving tray that would let me to carry 4 cups, cream and sugar, filled each cup and headed back to the living room.  “Here we go.  Hope you like it.”

 

After I sat in my favorite chair next to Tom, I said, “I’m glad you two came up today.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know my soon-to-be in-laws.  Sorry for the drama earlier, but dad needs to figure this out on his own.”

 

“No worries, Max,” Bill answered.  “Like I said earlier, when Tom first let us know he was gay, we were in the same place your dad is right now.”

 

“If you don’t mind me asking, how long did it take you to change your point of view?”

 

“Almost a year, Max.  It wasn’t a fun time for us, or for Tom, we know.  Our church friends still think we abandoned them, but we weren’t going to disown our son just to stay with the church.  For us, he’s way more important.  I know it’s not like that for all families with gay children, but that’s what seemed to be the best for us.  I just wish it could work out like that for everyone.”

 

“And if we had let him go, we wouldn’t have met you, your mom, or those sweet boys you’re adopting,” Estelle added.  “And we finally get be grandparents,” she giggled.  “That really reinforces we made the right decision.”

 

“See, Max,” Tom started with a grin, “just like I told you the other day, it’s all about the grandkids.  No concern for me at all.”

 

“Son,” Bill started seriously, with a frown on his face, “It’s not too late for us to change our minds, you know.”

 

“Whoa, dad, just kiddin’.  Don’t want to go there again.  It took way too long for us to get where we are to even think about backtrackin’.”

 

“I’m just givin’ ya’ some grief Tom.  I do believe it’s our turn,” Bill answered with a smile.

 

“Fair enough, dad.”

 

“So, Max, how much property do you have out here?” Bill asked.

 

“Just over 18 acres.  The northwest corner had been sold off before I bought the rest of it or I’d have and even 20.  Why?”

 

“Well, Estelle and I have been thinking of moving to the area so we could be closer with Tom.  Now that you two are together and have the boys with you, it only makes sense to try and find some property close by where we could build a house.”

 

“What!?  You’ve never said anything about moving,” Tom exclaimed.

 

“Well, like I said, we’d just been thinking about it, but now seems like a good time to get serious in making that decision.  You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”

 

“Not at all.  I’m just surprised you’d consider leaving Grafton,” Tom answered.

 

“What about you, Max?  What do you think of the idea?” Estelle asked.

 

“I don’t know if my thoughts really count, Estelle.  Not on this, anyway.  But, since you asked me, I think it would be wonderful to have you closer.  Especially considering the state of my relationship with my parents right now.  I’m sure the boys would love having you closer, also.”

 

“I was hoping you’d say that, Max.  So, here’s the big question for you.”  Bill took a deep breath before continuing, “Would you consider selling Estelle and me a few acres of your property?  If we’re going to do it, we’d like to be a close as we can to our family.”

 

“Whoa, Bill, don’t you think might be a bit too close?” I asked.

 

“Not really, not if we selected an area closer to the road.  We wouldn’t want to be right outside your back door, you know.  One of things we need to consider with selecting any location to live is that it’s close enough to town where we can shop and such, but not so close that we’re forced to abandon our lifestyle.  The one thing we don’t want to have to do is start wearing clothes at home.  I think your little garden of Eden here is the perfect location for us to consider.  If you’ll have us, that is?”

 

I looked to Tom and asked, “What do you think, big guy?  You want your mom and dad out here with us?”

 

“Gee, I don’t know,” he replied with a sly wink.  “I mean, they are my parents, and I love ‘em and all that, but I just don’t know if I want ‘em quite that close.” 

 

“Fine, son, just be an ass,” Estelle said with venom.

 

“Chill, ma, I’m just kidding,” Tom laughed.  “If you want to move up here, I think that would be great.  We could make up for some of the time we’ve lost the last couple of years and I’d love that.  You have to deal with Max on the land, though.”

 

“So, Max, what do you think?” Bill asked.

 

“I like it, Bill.  I think it would be great for you and Estelle to be closer.  Are you sure you want to live out here in the middle of nowhere, though?”

 

“We live there now, Max,” Estelle answered.  “Besides, like Bill said, we’d have to find somewhere that won’t infringe on us being nude at home.  We sure can’t live where we’d only have a fence separating us from our neighbors.  That just wouldn’t work for us.  We need trees and fresh air.”

 

“There’s certainly plenty of that out here.  And I’m sure we can work something out.  I have several walking trails I’ve cut through all the woods around the area where this house sits.  When it’s warmer out, you can come back up and we can walk those trails and help find you a nice spot for your new home.”

 

“That sounds great, Max,” Bill responded.  “With luck, we could get the place built and moved into before snow flies this fall.”

 

“And I have the perfect guy to build it for you.  His name is John Hasara.  I’ve worked with him before and he does quality work.  In fact, he’s going to be redoing the rooms in the house for the boys and Tom’s new office.  I’ll give you his information so you can get in touch with him and get working on a design.”

 

“Excellent, Max.  I love it when a plan comes together.”

 

“Wait, dad, you planned this?”

 

“Just a little bit, son.  The basic ‘moving to the area’ part was pretty much decided already.  The ‘where’ part hadn’t been considered until we saw this place.  Once Estelle and I saw how secluded it was, we hoped we could talk you two into it.  If that hadn’t worked out, we’d start looking for other spots close by.  As luck would have it, we don’t have to do that now.”

 

“This will be great,” Tom said.  “I can’t wait for you to be living here.”

 

“I’m glad, son.  We’re looking forward to it also,” Bill said.  He then turned to Estelle and said, “Well, dear, I think it’s time we get our clothes back on and hit the road.  We’ve got a bit of a drive before us before we can go to bed.”

 

“You aren’t gonna’ get out of here without saying goodbye to the boys, let me get ‘em.”

 

“Oh, we wouldn’t have dreamed of it, Max,” Estelle said.

 

“It’s time for them to get into bed anyway.  Tomorrow is still a school day, last time I checked.”  I headed to the theater to retrieve the fantastic five and they took off to give hugs goodbye while I shut everything down for the night.  By the time I returned, the hugs were wrapping up and Bill and Estelle were about to go to our bedroom to get dressed.

 

“Did your parents tell ‘em the news?” I whispered in Tom’s ear.

 

“Not yet.”  Tom waved his dad over to us and asked, “Are you going to tell them about you moving up here?” he asked his dad.

 

“I thought maybe you two would want to think about it some more before we did, you know, just in case you change your minds about selling us a couple acres,” Bill whispered back in reply.

 

“it’s a done deal, Bill.  Go ahead and tell ‘em.  They’ll go to sleep extra happy tonight.”

 

“If you insist,” he replied with a smile.  Bill walked back and stood by Estelle.  “Boys, sit down for a minute.  We have something we want to tell you.”  The boys looked puzzled but sat on the couch together while Tom and I stood behind them and covered our ears in expectation of the cheering that was about to commence.

 

“We had a great time meeting, visiting and swimming with you today and we want you to know we’re going to be spending a whole lot more time with all of you in the near future.”

 

“Watchu’ talkin’ ‘bout, grampa?” T.J. asked.

 

“After taking to your dads, they’ve agreed to sell us some of the property here for us to build a house on and move into.”

 

“WOO-HOO!”  “ALL RIGHT!”  “WHEN!”  Tom and I had been right to cover our ears.

 

“We’ll be back up the next couple months for birthdays and such, and one of those times, we’ll walk some of the trails and see what we can find.  Once we find the right location, then we’ll have to have the house built.  If things move along smoothly, we’ll be able to get moved in this fall before winter hits.”

 

“That’s great, grandma and grampa.  We can’t wait,” Alex said.

 

“Will we be able to help you move in?” Joey asked.

 

“Of course, you will.  We’re old people, boys, and we’ll need all the help we can get.”

 

“Tom knows a good moving crew,” I laughed.

 

“Thanks for that kind thought, Max,” Estelle replied, “but I think we’ll find our own crew, if you don’t mind.  Not sayin’ we don’t trust Vinnie, but we’d rather pick someone we know,” she laughed.

 

“Well, boys, we need to get dressed and hit the road,” Bill said.  “But, we’ll be back up next Thursday night for your birthday party, Joey and Alex.  You all be good, you hear me?”

 

“Yes, grampa,” they all moaned.

 

Bill and Estelle headed to our bedroom to retrieve their clothes and Tom and I began herding the boys towards their bedrooms.

 

As we turned into T.J., Mike and Andy’s room, I said, “Andy, I’m sorry, but you’re gonna’ have to bunk with T.J. and Mike or the twins until we can get these rooms redone.  Are you okay with that?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, we’ll be all right.  If they get too wild, I’ll come find you or pops and we can do something else.”

 

“Good, I’m glad you’re okay with the temporary arrangements.  Once we get the rooms all redone, if you still want to sleep in the spare bedroom, it’s all yours.”

 

“Thanks, dad.”

 

Tom and I tucked the three boys in and gave them good night kisses on their foreheads, then headed to the twins’ room after turning out the light.  Joey and Alex were just coming out of the bathroom after brushing their teeth and we helped them with the covers as they climbed in bed.  After planting a kiss on each forehead and saying I love you and getting the same back from the boys, we headed back to the living room to say goodbye to Tom’s parents.

 

“Mom, Dad, thanks so much for coming up today.  I had a great time, and so did the boys.”

 

“We did too, son,” Estelle replied.  “Max, it was wonderful to meet the man who’s captured our son’s heart, too, and we are going to be very proud having you as a member of the family.  Those sweet boys, too.”

 

“I feel the same way Estelle and Bill.  When you come back for the twins’ birthday, you’ll get to meet my sister Lee and her husband Carl.”

 

“If they’re anything like you, Max, I’m sure we’ll love them as well,” Bill said.  “I really hope you aren’t upset about us being nude with the boys.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it.  With you two moving up here, it was obviously going to happen at some point, might as well be now rather than later.”

 

“That’s good to hear.  I worried about it at first, but Tom said it’d be okay.  Will there be a dress code for the party next Thursday?”

 

“Very likely, my sister’s not real comfortable with nudity, especially in mixed company, and my mom and Carol will be here also, so I think we’d best remain dressed.  Don’t like it much, but that’s just how it is sometimes.”

 

“We make the same concession in our house when we have certain guests, Max.  It’s the price we pay for not living a so-called normal life.”

 

“You two be careful on the way home.  We want you to be able to come back next week.  Call and let me know when you’re there, will you?”

 

“Yes, son,” Estelle replied.  “We’ll call so you can stop worrying,” she added as she rolled her eyes. 

 

“Thanks, I love you guys,” Tom said as he gave his parents hugs goodbye. 

 

“Oh, and one more thing, young man, I told you so.”

 

“Thanks, ma, I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” Tom said as he smiled at his mother’s comment.

 

I hugged Estelle, shook hands with Bill, then opened the door and we waved goodbye as they headed down the walk to their car. 

 

After closing the door and heading to sit by the fireplace, I commented, “Well, that was a fun day, wasn’t it?  Too bad my dad had to ruin it by being such a raving lunatic.  I do love your parents, though, and I look forward to them moving up here.”

 

“Don’t worry about your dad, babe.  We’ll deal with it.  And I can’t wait for mom and dad move here, either.”

 

“So, you didn’t know your parents were nudists until today, huh?” I asked as we sat down.  “Bet that was a bit of shock.”

 

“You have no idea, Max.  I haven’t seen my dad naked since I was a little kid, and I’ve never seen mom that way.  Not that I can remember, anyway.  It was pretty weird at first today, but once we got in the pool, it was no big deal.  And after you got home, like mom said, it seemed pretty silly for us to get dressed then.  What would have been the point?”

 

“Well, it would have saved me some embarrassment, especially when you compare my body to yours and your dad’s.  I really don’t measure up to either one of you.”

 

“Max, will you please get over that.  I’ve told you that you’re perfect in every way.  I love all of you just the way you are.”

 

“Thanks for that, Tom.  I’ve spent a long time dealing with feelings of inadequacy.  That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve stayed alone as long as I have.  And I promise I’ll try to get over it, but old habits die hard.”

 

“Not if I have anything to say about ‘em, they don’t,” he responded while lasciviously licking his lips.  I had no comeback for that except to laugh.  “Besides, not all guys can have the privilege of being blessed like me and dad.  Some of you lesser mortals had to draw the short straw,” he laughed.

 

“Thought you were tryin’ to make me feel better, smart-ass.  All that effort, gone, just like that,” I said as I snapped my fingers.

 

“I’m sorry, Max, I’ll make it up to you later, okay?”

 

“Damn right, you will.”

 

“One thing I think I’ll have to do with mom and dad being around more is to join the hairless club.  As if it wasn’t enough of a surprise to discover they’re closet nudists, but to see them both naked and hairless blew my socks off.  Well, it would have if I’d still had my socks on.  Now, I kinda understand how T.J. felt being the only guy in the house with an intact foreskin.  I definitely feel out of place being the only person with hair.”

 

“I can help you with that if you’d like.  I do have a bit of practice at it.”

 

“So, I’ve noticed.  Maybe later, babe.  I need to think about it some more before I actually do it.”

 

“No pressure, Tom.  And if you do it and decide you don’t like it, it’ll grow back.”

 

“I know that, goofball.  Just not quite sure I’m ready to return to a hairless state.”

 

“I admit, it’s not for everyone.  It took me several shaves before I began to be really comfortable with how it looks.  It feels great and I loved that part immediately, but the appearance part takes some getting used to.”

 

“I don’t know about you, Max, but I think I could use a shower and some sleep,” Tom said as he stood, stretched and yawned.

 

“I’m with ya’, bubba.  Dealing with dad has wiped me out.  Lead the way.”  I held out a hand which he grabbed and helped pull me to my feet.  We took a shower together, dried off and just before we climbed into bed, the phone rang.  Caller ID showed it was his mom or dad calling, so Tom answered the phone while I slipped under the covers.  Once he heard his parents were home safe and thanked them for calling, Tom slipped under the covers with me, taking a turn to hold me tonight as we fell asleep.  I feel so safe and content when he does that.

 

Damn that alarm!  6:00 freakin’ AM.  Every damn day.  Ah, the life of being a parent.  I wouldn’t trade these early mornings for anything, though.  I headed to the other end of the house to get the boys moving in the right direction, then headed back to roust sleeping beauty.  If I have to get up this early every day, then so does he, by god.  We are in this together, after all.

 

I met the boys in the kitchen for a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage and Tom joined us shortly, filling his coffee mug and taking a sip before saying anything to anybody.

 

“Morning, Max, boys.  Is everybody ready for another fun-filled day?”

 

“Andy and I are, pops,” Mike answered.

 

“That true Andy?” I asked.

 

“You bet, we wanna’ see if Mark and Billy have new haircuts yet.”

 

“Are we drawing stitches today?”

 

“Please!!” the boys yelled. 

 

“Come on, big guy, grab a pencil and get busy.  I’ll help as soon as the food’s cooked.”  Tom pulled a couple of the makeup pencils from the drawer and got started drawing on Andy’s head and after I had plates in front of the fantastic five, I picked up mine and started working on Alex’s noggin.  10 minutes later, our art class was over and the boys were ready for the world.  “Hey, Tom you want to take ‘em out to meet the bus this morning so I can call John and see when he might be out?”

 

“Sure, why not?”

 

“Thanks.”  The boys headed to their rooms to get their things and I called after them, “Oh, no you don’t, you little scoundrels.  You got on the bus yesterday and I didn’t get hugs from anyone.  Get your buns back here.”  They turned around and trudged their way back to me, looking like they were being forced to walk the plank.  I accepted a hug from each of them and gave them one back, reminding them to be good and learn something new today.  The responses ran the gamut from a cheery “you bet, dad” to a surly “whatever”.  Tom met them in the garage to meet the bus and after he pulled out, I called John.

 

“Morning, John, Max here.  Just checking on when you might be out today to verify measurements.  I want to make sure we don’t miss you if we need to go anywhere.”

 

“On my way right now, Max.  Should be there in about 15 minutes.”

 

“Thanks, we’ll see you when you get here.”  I had just taken my chair by the fireplace and opened my book when Tom came back in.  “John says he’ll be here in about 15 minutes.”

 

“Great,” Tom said.  “it’ll be nice to get that out of the way so we can relax after yesterday’s excitement.”

 

“I agree.  What are we gonna’ do with ourselves after John leaves?”

 

“I can think of a few things that will kill some time,” he answered as he wiggled his eyebrows at me, and I rewarded him with a laugh for the effort.

 

“I thought maybe you might want to call Malcom this morning, start making some basic arrangements.”

 

“Hey, that’s a good idea.  I’ll get his info and we can do that right after John’s gone.”  Tom headed to the study to retrieve his sheet of info and came back to sit with me and read while we waited for John.  True to his word as usual, the drive sensor announced John’s arrival almost exactly 15 minutes after I talked to him. 

 

I met him at the door and let him in, asking, “How are you this bright and beautiful day, John.”

 

“Finer than frog’s hair, Max, how ‘bout yourselves?”

 

“We’re doing pretty, well.  You know where the rooms are.  You need any help, or you want us out of the way?”

 

“I don’t know Max, this pretty high-tech work I gotta’ do this morning, you sure you’re qualified to provide that kind of help?” he laughed.

 

“Very funny, John.  Go get what you need and we’ll stay out of your way.”  John disappeared down the hall, stopping in the bedroom first, while I took my chair by the fireplace again and picked up my book.  Tom returned with Malcom’s info so we’d be ready for our call.

 

A few minutes later, I heard from down the hall, “Uh, Max, I think you need to see this.”

 

“That doesn’t sound good, does it?” Tom asked.

 

“Not a bit.”  We headed down the hall and found John in what was to become Tom’s office.  “What’s up, John?” I asked as Tom and I entered the room.

 

“The floor in here looks like it’s gotten wet a time or two.  Look at the waves in the flooring.  I think we’re gonna’ have to rip this up and replace it before we do anything else in here.”

 

“Well, what the hell?  Vinnie didn’t say anything about that yesterday.”

 

“Now, don’t blame Vinnie for it, Max.  He was just moving stuff, not looking at the floor.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right, and from the looks of it, it’s been this way for a while.”

 

“Let me grab a couple tools from my truck and pull up a couple pieces of the flooring so I can take a sample with me.  That way, I can match it as close as possible to what’s here already for thickness and finish, but we’ll still probably have to replace the whole finished floor.   Twelve-year-old wood flooring of this quality won’t be easy to match today.  And we’ll end up replacing at least part of the subfloor, too.”

 

“Whatever you have to do, John.  I want it done right, you know that.”

 

“Sure do.  Be right back.”  John returned in a couple minutes and proceeded to attack the floor.  After 10 minutes of serious work, he’d finally managed to get a couple strips of the flooring pulled up.  “Boy, they sure glued the hell out of this when they put it in, didn’t they?  No wonder you don’t have any squeaks in this house.”

 

“You bet, John.  I know wood floors will eventually start making noise and I didn’t want that.”

 

“Well, now that I’ve this area pulled up, you can see a part of the subfloor here is damp.  My best guess is you’ve got a pinhole in a water line under the floor that’s spraying up against the floor.  You want me to get a plumber out here to dig deeper and find the source of the problem?”

 

“Of course, I do, John.  Doesn’t make sense to put in a new subfloor and flooring if I’ve got a leak under the floor.  We’d be better off to find it now than after you tear up the floor.”

 

“I’ll call him now and see if I can get him out here this afternoon.  That work for you?”

 

“Yeah, that’d be great, John, since we’re not gonna’ be here the next couple days.”

 

John made his call and found me in the living room once he’d made the arrangements.  “The plumber, Mark Miller, will be here about 2:00 this afternoon.  Do you know where he can gain access to the crawlspace?”

 

“Sure thing, there’s a floor hatch in the laundry room right next to that room.”

 

“Perfect, Max.  Hopefully, it’ll be just a pinhole as I suspect and not something more involved from the laundry room.”

 

“I’m hoping for that, too.  You got the measurements you need.”

 

“Yep, I’ll swing by Sherwin-Williams and get the paints for both rooms on my way back into town.  We’ll have to make arrangements with you to get in to do the painting in the bedroom and start ripping up the rest of the floor in Tom’s new office.”

 

“Are you still planning to set up the bus shelter for the boys on Monday?”

 

“We’re on schedule with that, so we should be here Monday morning about 8:00 to get started out there.  And like I said before, it’ll be done the same day.  We should be able to get working in the bedroom that afternoon or Tuesday morning.”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me, John.  Get to it.”

 

“Sorry for the bad news on your office, Tom, but we’ll get it done as quickly as we can.”

 

“Don’t worry about it John.  I’m not supposed to be working right now, anyway.  If a bullet to the head can’t kill me, then a few more days not workin’ won’t kill me, either.”

 

“Okay, guys, I’m outta’ here.  Unless I hear different from you, I’ll see you next Monday.”

 

“Thanks, John.  Have a great day.”  After John was gone, Tom and I sat back by the fireplace.

 

“Well, you ready to try Malcom?” I asked.

 

“Let’s do it,” Tom answered.  He put the phone on speaker and dialed the number.  Three rings later, a man with a deep baritone voice answered.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Is this Malcom Wright?” Tom asked.

 

“That’s me, who’s calling?”

 

“Malcom, my name is Tom Wright and I have my partner, Max Sanders, here with me.  I’m the person who sent you the message on Facebook the other day about Dylan.  Do you have a few minutes you can talk?”

 

“Oh, sure thing, man.  I been waitin’ for you to call.”

 

“Great, Malcom.  As I mentioned in my message, I’ve worked with Dylan the last five years in the county sheriff’s department.  A little over a week ago, he was at our house to try and talk me out of quitting the job.  Your name came up and Dylan said that you were his best friend until your family moved to Chicago when you guys were about 16 and he lost track of you.  I thought it might be fun to surprise Dylan and get you two together again.”

 

“That’d be so cool, man.  I always wondered what happened to him, but just haven’t had time to look him up.  Never figured him to be the cop type, though.”

 

“Oh, why’s that?”

 

“Um, just how much did he tell you about us?”

 

“In all honesty, Malcom, probably a little more than he should have.”

 

“Well, hell, I been livin’ a lie for so damn long, I don’t know if I can do this, man.  My family don’t know nothin’ ‘bout who I really am or the shit me and Dylan used to get up to.  I just kinda’ put that shit down to two sex-starved, hormone-filled, stupid black boys.  But he’s all I’ve thought about the last 20 years.”

 

“Malcom, don’t worry about it.  Your secret’s safe with us.  My partner, Max, just finally accepted who he is about 6 months ago, didn’t you?”

 

“It’s true, Malcom.  We all go through the same process, it just takes some of us longer than others to come to grips with who we are in our hearts and fully accept it.  The one thing that Dylan told us that’s more important than anything else is this, if you and your family hadn’t moved away, he felt you two would still be together.”

 

“He said that?!  Damn it, wish I’d known that years ago when I moved away from Chicago.  I’d made more of an effort to look him up.”

 

“It’s never too late, Malcom,” Tom said.  “That’s why I took it upon myself to try and find you.  Dylan’s a great guy and I know you two had special feelings for each other years ago.  I know Dylan still feels the same about you, but I didn’t know if you felt the same about him.  I was kinda’ hoping you would and I wouldn’t be opening a can of worms.”

 

“Oh, man, I don’t know what to do.  I want to see him so bad, but I also don’t want to.  I don’t think I could handle seeing him again and find out everything’s changed, that he don’t want me no more.”

 

“Malcom,” I said, “we don’t need to hurry anything.  We’d love to see this reunion happen and we want to help that process.  But, we want it to be done right.  There’s no rush, whatsoever.  Take some time, think about it and let us know.  That’s all we’re asking.  We have a couple busy weeks ahead of us here and wouldn’t be able to arrange anything until later this month, anyway.”

 

“You, sure?” Malcom asked.  “You put in all this work so far, and I think I wanna’ do it, but I just ain’t sure…”

 

“Malcom,” Tom interrupted, “It took me all of 30 minutes to find you on Facebook, so don’t be frettin’ over a little bit of time.  It’s been close to 20 years since you two have seen each other, a few more weeks won’t hurt, will it?”

 

“No, I s’pose not.  I got your number from the caller ID, Tom.  Give me a few days to think about this and I’ll call you back.”

 

“That’s fine, Malcom.  If we’re not here when you call, just leave a message and we’ll call back, okay?”

 

“Yeah, okay, man.  Thanks.  I’ll be in touch.”

 

We ended the call and Tom said, “That went about as well as we could expect, I think.”

 

“Not too bad, Sherlock.  You just might make a career out of this,” I laughed.

 

“And you think I’m a smart-ass?  You looked in a mirror lately, bucko?”

 

“Every morning, big guy.  Hey, give me the phone, will ya’?  I need to find a pediatrician and make an appointment for Andy.  With everything that happened yesterday, I forgot all about it.  You don’t know any good kid docs, do ya’?” 

 

“What do I look like, the freakin’ yellow pages?” he chuckled as he handed me the phone.

 

“Guess I’ll start with my own doctor and see if he can recommend one.”  I made the call to my doctor’s office, and since he was with a patient, I talked to his nurse.  She recommended a couple pediatricians to contact and I called the one she said was the best one in town.

 

“Dr. Finney’s office, how may I help you?”

 

“Hi, my name is Max Sanders and I’m acting as a foster parent for a 6-year-old friend of one of my sons.  He’s having a little problem and I think I should bring him in and have him checked out.”

 

“I’m sure we can arrange that, Mr. Sanders.  What is the young man’s name and date of birth?”

 

“Andy Cox.  I’m sure his full first name is Andrew.  Oh, and his birthday is August 4th six years ago.”

 

“Has he ever been to our office before?”

 

“I have no clue, ma’am, since I just got guardianship of him this past Saturday.”  The 2nd phone line rang and I motioned for Tom to answer it in the kitchen.

 

“That’s all right Mr. Sanders.  I’ll check our files and if he isn’t a current patient, I’ll create a new file for him.  Now, what seems to be the issue?”

 

“I’d prefer to discuss that with the doctor.”

 

“You’ll certainly do that when you come in, but we like to have some clue what’s going on before that happens so I can make sure we can schedule an appropriate amount time for the appointment.  Especially with new patients.”

 

“Well, if you must know, he’s having an issue with his foreskin.”

 

“Thank you, sir, I’ll make sure to allow some extra time for his appointment so the doctor can complete a comprehensive exam.  Let me see what’s open on the doctor’s calendar.  It looks like the first day we have a time slot long enough for his visit is next Friday, the 14th, at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Will that work for you?”

 

“That’ll be perfect.  I’ll make note of it and we’ll see you then.  Thanks.”  I hung up the phone and turned to Tom who had returned from the kitchen and said, “Okay, Andy’s doctor’s appointment is set for next Friday at 2:00 o’clock.  Who was on the other line?”

 

“That was John’s furniture guy, Bob Ficklin.  He apologized for not calling yesterday, but he got tied up at another customer’s house.  He wanted to know if he could come out this afternoon to discuss what we want built.  I told that should be fine since I didn’t think we had anything else planned.”

 

“Great, I’d forgotten about him, too.  Being around my dad makes my memory do bad things, like not remember shit.  What time’s he showing up?”

 

“He said he’d be here about 1:00 o’clock.”

 

“Perfect.  We should be done with lunch by then.  Now, there’s one other person I needed to call about something, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember who or what it was about.”

 

“Well, don’t look at me, I don’t have a clue.”

 

“I don’t either at the moment, but it’ll come to me.  Eventually.  You feel like a fire today?”

 

“You can light my fire anytime you want, babe,” he snickered.

 

I loaded up some logs in the fireplace and once I had a nice fire going, I sat back down, grabbed my book to continue reading while Tom picked up his book.  The next thing I knew, Tom was shaking me awake and saying something about lunch.  “Huh, what time is it?”

 

“A quarter past noon, Rip.  C’mon, Bob will be here in forty-five to talk furniture.”

 

“Yeah, furniture, right.”  Tom helped me up as I shook the cobwebs from my brain.  “Man, I wonder how long it’s going to take to get used these 6:00 a.m. mornings.  I never fall asleep like that.”

 

“I beg to differ with you, old man.  This is the second time you’ve done it that I know about it.”

 

“Give me a transfusion of some caffeine and I’ll be fine.  What’s for lunch?”

 

“How ‘bout hot dogs?  Not fancy, but quick and easy.”

 

“Works for me, Tom.”  We headed to kitchen and while I got the dogs cooking on the griddle, Tom pulled out plates, ketchup, mustard, relish and chips.  I grabbed a Pepsi to mainline some sugar and caffeine to help wake up my tired ass.  Ten minutes later, we sat at the bar counter to eat our simple lunch.  We’d just finished cleaning up our mess when the drive sensor announced a visitor.  “Good timing,” I commented as I headed to the front door.  “Meet you in the living room,” I added.

 

I opened the door and asked, “Bob?  Come on in, we’ve been expecting you.”

 

“Thanks, you Max?”

 

“I am.  Let’s go sit in the living room for a minute and talk about what we want built and then we can show you the rooms.”

 

“Sounds good, lead the way.” 

 

When we got to the living room, I introduced Bob to Tom and we sat down to talk.

 

“Did John tell you what we’re looking for, Bob?”

 

“In general, he did.  A couple different sets of bookshelves, desks, a bedframe, was there anything else?”

 

“Would you want to try a filing cabinet?”

 

“I’ve done them before, but they’re a pain to do and get just right.  While the people I built them for were happy with them, I never much liked the finished products.  Are you looking for a two-drawer or four-drawer cabinet?”

 

“A two-drawer would be plenty big,” Tom answered.

 

“Here’s what I’d suggest.  Get yourself a good filing cabinet at Sam’s or Office Max and I’ll leave space under the desk for it.  Then once the desk is in place, you just slide the cabinet underneath.  You’ll get the storage you’re looking a whole cheaper than I could build it for you.”

 

“That works fine for me,” Tom said, “but he’s the one who thinks everything needs to be custom,” he added, hooking his thumb in my direction.

 

“If you’re good with that setup, Tom, it’s fine with me.  That’ll let you get a locking cabinet, too, to keep prying eyes out of your work.”

 

“Hadn’t thought about that, Max, good idea.”

 

“Well, let’s show you the rooms were dealing with, Bob,” I said as I stood and lead the way to the empty bedroom.  “This will be Joey and Alex’s room when it’s completed.  The desks, shelf units and storage space will all be along the exterior wall and beneath the windows.  John’s going to build a wall perpendicular to the exterior wall, extending about six feet into the room so the boys will have a bit of their ‘own’ space on each side.”

 

“Okay, and what about the bedframe you want.  What size and type?”

 

“I’m thinking of a basic platform type frame, but with drawers underneath each side so they each have storage under whichever side of the bed they claim is theirs.  The size is king, which, if I remember is six feet wide and about the same in length.  I’m thinking the drawers on each side could be about two-foot front to back and about eight inches deep.  Maybe add one more drawer on the end, then, for a total of seven.”

 

“Do you want any kind of headboard or foot board?  Maybe a bookcase type head so there’s room for a clock, book, glasses, whatever.”

 

“That’s a good idea, Max,” Tom offered.  “It would them a little extra storage.”

 

“Yeah, I agree.  Let’s do that, Bob.  Maybe two shelves with a divider so they each have their own side, again.  I know they’re twins and will probably share everything without problems, but just in case.  I think we can do without the footboard, unless you think another set of shelves at the end would be good.”

 

“If you do that, Max, you kiss that seventh drawer goodbye.  But omitting the end drawer would allow the side drawers to be a little deeper.  Better to have the shelf space and not need it than the other way around, Max.  That’s my feelings on it anyway.”

 

“I agree, Bob.  What do you think, Tom?”

 

“The more, the merrier.  Let’s do it.”

 

“Anything else in here, guys?” Bob asked.

 

“No, I think that’s all for this room.  John got all the measurements yesterday so you can work with him to get those or you can re-measure.  Whichever way you want to do it.  Let’s go look at the other room.”  We crossed the hall to Tom’s new office and after entering, I commented, “Ignore the floor, Bob.  John discovered we have a water problem and a plumber is going to be here shortly to take a look at that issue.  According to John, he’ll probably have to replace all the flooring in here because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to match what’s in here now and he also needs to see how much of the subfloor needs replaced.”

 

“No problems, Max.  I assumed the desk, shelves and bedframe for the bedroom were going to be higher priority, anyway.  I planned to work on those first and then start what we need for this room after all the other is in place.”

 

“Perfect, Bob.  Tell him what you want done, Tom.”

 

“I was thinking about shelves across this entire wall,” he started as walked towards the wall, “with a bottom section about twenty inches deep and two-foot tall, then maybe ten-inch deep shelves on top of that base section up to the ceiling.  Then have the desk sitting about here with me facing the wall opposite the shelves.”

 

“That sounds, good, Tom.  You right or left-handed?”

 

“Right, why?”

 

“Well, do you want the file cabinet to be under the right or left side of the desk.  I need to know so I can put the regular drawers on the other side.”

 

“Good question, Bob.  Hadn’t thought about that,” Tom mused.  “I think I’ll want the file cabinet on my right side.  I’ll be getting into it more that I will the others.  Oh, will you have a center drawer and if so, can it have a lock?”

 

“If you want it, I can do it.”

 

“Good, let’s plan on that then.”

 

“Okay, next question for you two,” Bob started, “John said you wanted maple with a lighter color finish in the boys’ room, right?  And what about in here?”

 

“Maple’s correct for in there,” I said pointing back to the boys’ room.  “What say you for in here, Tom?”

 

“I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything but oak.”

 

“Sure, you have, you just didn’t realize it.  The entire kitchen is maple.”

 

“Oh, well hit me upside the head with a Louisville Slugger.  No, scratch that, don’t need another gouge in my scalp, thank you very much.”

 

“Is that what happened to you?” Bob asked.  “I was afraid to ask.”

 

“I only wish it was a bat that did this,” Tom answered, gingerly touching the shaved area of his scalp, “but no, this was done by a bullet,”.

 

“Sounds like you’re a lucky man to be standing here right now, Tom.”

 

“In more ways than one, Bob.  Why don’t we go ahead and do the maple in here, too, that way it all matches.  Do you have any color samples of the finishes you use?”

 

“Sure do.  They’re in my case in the living room.”

 

“Great, let’s go take a look,” I said.  We headed back to the living room where Bob opened his case and extracted the wood samples and handed them to us.

 

“These slats are maple and the finish names are printed on the back.  I also have oak samples if you change your mind on the wood to use.”

 

“I like this Honey Maple for the boy’s room, Bob.  The wall behind the desk will be a darker shade of blue and I think the wood should be a lighter color to offset that darkness.  What do you think, Tom?”

 

“I like that, and I think the boys will, too.  But I’m thinking more along the lines of this Antique Maple for my office.  I think the Honey would be a little too bright to look at all day.”

 

“Good choices for both rooms, gents.  I’ll think you’ll be happy with the final product.  Let me get back to my office and I’ll get some plans drawn up for everything, generate some renderings and then e-mail them to you tomorrow morning.  If everything looks good to you, let me know and I can get started.  I’ll swing by John’s office on my way and get his measurements.  Oh, and one more question, do you want backs on the shelves?”

 

“I don’t know, Bob, what would you recommend?” I asked.

 

“I usually don’t, Max, that’s why I asked the question,” he laughed.

 

“Fat lotta’ help you are,” I laughed in reply.  “I think on the boys’ shelves, no backs, that way the wall color will show through them.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put color in a room and then cover it up.  What about yours, Tom?”

 

“I probably will need the back.  I wouldn’t want to take a chance on a client’s file falling behind them because once that happens, you’re not getting them back easily.”

 

“Good point, Tom,” I said.  “So, backs for the office shelves and none for the boys’.  Is that all you need, Bob?”

 

“I think so.  Time for me to get to work.”

 

“Thanks for coming out today, we appreciate it,” I said as I walked him to the door.

 

“No problem, guys, that’s the least I could do since I didn’t get in touch with you yesterday.  You have a good afternoon and I’m sure we’ll talk tomorrow.”

 

“If we do, it’ll be late afternoon, probably, we have to go to court in the morning.”

 

“Well, good luck with that.  Thanks for your time, I look forward to working with you.”

 

“Thanks, Bob, same here.”  I closed the door behind him and heard the drive sensor announce another visitor.  This had to be the plumber.  At least I hoped it was.  As soon as Bob had backed his truck off the drive, another truck rounded the corner to the drive.  I decided to just wait at the door for Mark, then opened it again as he walked up.  “You must be Mark,” I called as he stepped up on the porch.

 

“That’s me, you Max?” he asked. 

 

“Yep, you’re in the right place.  Come on in I’ll show where the problem is.”  I closed the door and led Mark to Tom’s office and showed him the area John had torn out this morning.

 

“Yep, you got a problem all right.  Show me how to get under the floor and I’ll check it out, see what I need to do to get you fixed up.”

 

“Follow me, Mark, there’s a hatch in the floor of the laundry room next door.”  I led him in and pointed to the hatch against the outside wall of the house.  “This switch turns on the lights down in the crawlspace.  Hopefully, they still work, but since I haven’t been down there since the house was completed, I can’t say for sure.”

 

“Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?  Thanks, Max.  I’ll let you know what I find out.”

 

I headed back to the living room to join Tom and continue reading.  I had barely opened my book when I suddenly remembered who else I needed to contact – Ken, the twins’ teacher about the special testing.  I grabbed to phone to call the school before I forgot about it, again.

 

“New Berlin schools, how may I help you?”

 

“Is this Gloria?”

 

“It is, may I ask who’s calling, please?”

 

“Gloria, this is Max Sanders, how are you today?”

 

“We’re just great Mr. Sanders.  How are you doing?”

 

“We’re keeping quite busy, thanks.  Look the reason I called is Alex and Joey’s teacher, Mr. Thomas, had said something to me about some special testing for the boys to see if they could move up a grade level in math since they’re bored with it.  I need to try and find out what’s involved with that and what I have to do get them tested.”

 

“Oh, I wish I could help with that, Mr. Sanders, but Mr. Furman is taking care of all that now that Ms. Carr isn’t here.  And, unfortunately, he had a meeting this afternoon in Springfield to interview a possible replacement for our poor departed principal.”  I detected a slight snicker from Gloria after that comment.  “I’d be happy to leave a message for Mr. Furman and I’m sure he’ll return your call in the morning.”

 

“I’d appreciate that Gloria, but note that I won’t be available until Monday, please.  We already have plans for tomorrow and Friday.”

 

“I’ll do that, sir, and thanks for calling.  I hope you have a great evening.”

 

“Thanks, Gloria, you too.”  I hung up the phone and had no sooner retrieved my book than Mark came back.

 

“All fixed, Max.”

 

“Really?  That was pretty darn quick.”

 

“It was an easy fix, for once.  One of the joints in the pipe that runs under that room heading towards – I’m guessing, the kitchen – had separated just enough to create a fine spray.  That’s what soaked the floor.  If the pipe had been 6 inches lower, the spray would have never reached the subfloor.  As it is though, there are probably two floor joists that will have to be repaired or replaced when they rip out the floor above.  I’ll pass that on to John so he can be prepared for it.”

 

“Thanks, Mark, you’re a lifesaver.  How much do I owe you?”

 

“Rush house call and time, should be 150 bucks, but I’ll let you slide by for 100 today.”

 

I pulled out my wallet and handed him 200 dollars.  Before he could complain about getting paid too much, I said, “If you don’t want the extra, donate it to someone who needs it.  Otherwise, take your wife to a nice dinner tonight.”

 

“Thanks, Max.  Here’s one of my cards, if you ever need anything else, don’t hesitate to call.  Oh, and just so you know, all the lights in the crawlspace still work.  Thanks for those, too.  Make my life much easier.  Hope you have a great night.”

 

“Thanks again, Mark, you, too.”  I walked him to the door and, after letting him out, returned to sit with Tom.  “Well, I think everything should be good to go with your office now, Tom.  Once the floor’s fixed that is.”

 

“No worries, Max.  Remember, I’m not supposed to be working right now, anyway.  Good thing you’re rich and can support me,” he grinned.

 

“Yeah, good thing, that,” and returned to my book.  I had just finished the first sentence of a new chapter when the drive sensor went off again.  “I guess Mark forgot to grab something.”  I got up and headed to the door, but before opening the door, I turned to Tom and asked, “Hey, did you get the furniture guy’s number when he was here, ‘cause I forgot?”

 

“Sure did, he handed me one of his cards before he boogied.”

 

The doorbell chimed and I opened the door while I replied to Tom, “Good, I want to make sure we can get in touch Bob if we need to.”  I turned back to the door, expecting Mark to be standing there and was surprised by a man I’d never seen before.

 

“Sorry, I’m not Bob, but are you Maxwill Sanders?”

 

“I am, who are you?”

 

“Not that it matters, but I’m Ryan,” the stranger said, then he extended a hand with a sheaf of papers held snugly in his grasp.  I instinctively reached out and accepted the papers this stranger was handing to me.  “You’ve been served, Mr. Sanders.  Have a good day.”  With that, he turned, headed back down the walk, got into his car and pulled away while I stood at the open door, too stunned for what just happened to register in my brain.

 

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