Previous Chapter

Chapter 43 – Now What?


“What’s happened, mom?  You doin’ okay down there?”


“Oh, we’re just fine.  Can’t say that stupid bastard we call your father is doing very well, though,” she said through her sniffles.


“What’s he done now?”


“Well, I figured he’d call me on my cell phone today, if for no other reason but to bitch about something stupid, and when I didn’t hear from him, I decided to call him.  When he didn’t answer the phone after several tries, I called Helen after supper and asked her if she’d bite the bullet and go check on him.  She rang the bell and knocked on the door several times, and when he didn’t answer, she let herself in with the key I’d given her.  She found Jim on the bed, unconscious, an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills on the nightstand next to the bed.”


“Oh, my god!  Is he okay?”


“Well, he’s still alive, but it was a close call.  Helen called 9-1-1 and the ambulance took him to the hospital.  I just got off the phone with them, Helen had given them my number, and they said they’ve pumped his stomach, given him something or other to try and clean the rest of that crap out of his system.  He’s going to be in there for several days to make sure there’s no lingering effects or complications from the pills.  Then, they have to admit him to the psych ward until they decide he’s not going to try to hurt himself again.”


“Do I need to come get you?”


“No sense in that, son.  Not right now, anyway.  The hospital said he won’t be allowed any visitors until they know he’s doing better.  And once they move him to the ward for crazy people, which is exactly where he belongs, he’ll basically be on lockdown.  Probably the best thing for him right now.  I gave the hospital your and your sister’s numbers so they could keep you updated on his condition, as well as me.  I know Lee will go by when he can have visitors and I was hoping you’d be willing to go, too.”


“Of course, I will, if he’ll let me in the room.  Is there anything else I can do?”


“I can’t think of anything, honey,” she answered, the frustration evident in her voice.  “When I talked to the doctor, I told him why I think your father did this, so they’re aware of what’s happening in the family, what they need to watch for and talk about.  Looks like he’s gonna’ get that counseling we talked about, whether he wants it or not.”


“Hell of a way to get it, though.”


“Yes, it is, but he really needs it, now more than ever.”


“No doubt about it, mom.  I’m sorry he felt the need to do this, but maybe he’ll learn something from the counseling to help him work through it.”


“That’s my hope, also.  Bill’s already told me he’ll bring me back home as soon as I can see him.”


“I hate to say this, mom, but you sound awfully calm considering the circumstances.”


“Well, what the hell else can I do?  I’ve made my decision of how I plan to live the rest of my life.  I’m not going to go backward simply because your father refuses to move forward.  While I’d miss him if he actually croaked himself, that’s his decision to make and nothing I say or do will change him a bit.  I know because I’ve tried.”


“I guess that’s one way to look at it.  I just hope he can come to grips with reality, and soon.”


“Me too, son.  I guess that’s all I had to tell you.  Oh, except we’d made good progress on your wedding plans before the call from the hospital interrupted us.  I think you’ll like what we’ve come up with so far.  There’s plenty more to do, but we’ll work through that another day.”


“Thanks, mom.  And tell Bill and Estelle thanks, also.  We appreciate everything you’re doing.  I hope the next time we talk, it’s all good news.”


“I do, too.  You guys have a good night and we’ll talk again tomorrow, I’m sure.  Love you all.”


“We love you, too, mom.  Tell Bill and Estelle we all say hi.”  I held on to the phone despite my desire to throw it across the room and laid my head down on the cool granite countertop.  Damn it all the hell! how can anybody so fucking selfish?  I knew dad had gone ‘round the bend a bit, but suicide?  No doubt, this was somehow going to turn out to be my fault.


Tom and the boys came out of the theater and seeing the phone still in my hand, he stopped and carefully asked, “Who was on the phone?”


“Later, after the boys are in bed,” I answered as I finally hung up the phone.


“Okay?” he responded, concern evident in his voice.  “Boys, why don’t you get your popcorn bowls in the dishwasher and then hit the bathroom and hop in bed?  We’ll be right behind you.”


“On the way, pops,” Alex answered.  I heard the rattle of dishes being put in the dishwasher and then the boys mumbling amongst themselves as they headed to their bedrooms. 


“I wonder what the call was about?”


“Doesn’t look like it was good news.”


“Bet we’ll never know.”


That got me thinking, just how do you tell kids their almost grandfather tried to kill himself?  Do you say something or keep it from them?  If you do tell them, just how the fuck do you do it?  They have the right to know what’s going on, but are they old enough to understand?  Tom and I would have to talk this over and see how we want to handle the situation.  Crap, and just before the workshop next week.  Guess I know one thing I’ll be able to talk about, now.


Tom laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “Let’s go say our goodnights, babe.”


“Yeah, okay.”  I followed his lead and we stopped in to see T.J., Mike, and Andy, first, as usual.  T.J. was the meat of an Andy and Mike sandwich again as they held onto him under the covers.  “G’night, guys, I love you,” I said absentmindedly as I planted kisses on their foreheads.”


“Love you, too, dads.  See ya’ in the morning.”


“Sleep well, boys,” Tom added, “don’t let the monsters get ya’.”


“There’s no monsters in here, pops,” Mike said, “They’re too scared of us to come in our room,” he grinned.


“I just bet they are.  Sleep tight.”  We turned out the light, closed their door and made our next stop in Alex and Joey’s room.  We found them sitting in the middle of the bed, ‘talking’ to each other again, so we sat on the edge of the bed to wait for them to finish their discussion.


When they finally realized we were there, Joey asked, “Dad, why are you upset?”


“Yeah, what did mama Rose call about?” Alex asked.


“Nothing for you to worry about tonight, okay.  We’ll talk about it the morning.  And how did you know it was mama Rose that called?”


“I could just feel it.  It wasn’t a good call, was it?”


“Not really, no, but like I said, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”


“If you say so,” Alex responded glumly.


“Come say goodnight boys,” Tom said, opening his arms for a hug.  Both crawled over, wrapped their arms around us for our hugs, and received their kisses on the forehead, then swapped places.  I absolutely love getting hugs from all the boys as it reinforces in my own mind that we’re doing the right thing and to hell with what the rest of the world might think.  Everyone deserves to have someone to love and to love them back, that’s what keeps the world turning.  Even selfish and hateful pricks like my dad deserve to be loved, no matter how difficult they make it for us to do so.  After the twins laid down and wrapped their arms around each other, we pulled the covers over them, turned out the light and closed the door on our way to sit by the fireplace.  After taking my chair, I buried my face in my hands to cover the tears coming from eyes and stave off the headache that had been coming on since I hung up the phone.


“What’s going on, babe?  Who called and what don’t you want the boys knowing,” Tom asked.


“You heard Alex, it was mom,” I started as I lifted my head to look at him.  “My dad tried to kill himself this afternoon.”


“Are you serious!?”


“As a heart attack.  Mom got worried when dad hadn’t called her today, so she tried to call him and when he didn’t answer after several tries, she called Helen and asked her to go check on him.  When he didn’t answer the door, she let herself into the house and found him unconscious on the bed with an empty bottle for sleeping pills on the nightstand next to him.”


Tom knelt in front of me and took my hands in his.  “Jesus, Max, I’m so sorry.  Is he okay?”


“The hospital told mom he should be, physically, anyway.  Mentally is a whole different ballgame.  After they’re sure he’s out of the woods from the pills, he gets moved to the psych ward.  And he’ll have to stay there until they determine he’s no longer a danger to himself or others.”


“Do you need to go get your mom?”


“I asked her that and she said not yet since he’s not allowed any visitors right now.  Besides, your dad said he’d bring her back up when it was time.”


“Of course, he did.  Is there anything we can do and does Lee know?”


“Mom had already talked to Lee, so yeah, she knows about it.  The only thing we can do is wait until the hospital says he can have visitors.”


“Do you want me go with you?”


“I’d love for you to go, but it probably wouldn’t help the situation much to just rub his nose in it.  We’ll have to see what the counselor thinks after they’ve have a chance to talk to him.”


“Good point, I didn’t think about making things worse.  But, damn it, I feel useless.”


“Don’t be like that, Tom, I need you.  You’ll be very useful to make sure I don’t join my dad in the lunatic bin because of thinking about him.  I know we talked earlier this week about going to see Helen tomorrow, but I really need to go now.”


“You bet.  We should take her some flowers or something.”


“Good idea, bubba.  We can stop by Wally World and get some bulbs or something for her garden.  She and Libby always had great gardens and I want to get something that will last a long time.”


“Consider it done, Max.”


“Now, what do we tell the boys?  Anything, nothing?  I just don’t know.  And two of ‘em obviously know something’s up and you know they won’t let it slide.”


“They sure won’t.  We could just tell them your dad’s in the hospital and leave it at that.”


“I thought about that, very briefly, but I think if that’s all we say, they’ll want to go see him and I can’t think of a good reason to tell them why he can’t have visitors.  Not one they’d accept, anyway.”


“Fair point, Max.”


“Since we have the workshop at the school next week, and this situation is pretty close to the reason for it, I’m thinking about telling the flat truth.  I know Joey and Alex will grasp it, T.J. probably will, Mike and Andy, I don’t know.  But I think if we tell only the twins, they’ll probably tell the others, anyway.  The other thing to consider is how I’ve stressed the importance of telling the truth.  We’d be sabotaging ourselves if we lied about this.  They’ll eventually hear the truth from someone and if it’s not us, we might as well just shoot ourselves in the foot.”


“So, the truth it is.  Won’t be easy.”


“No, but it is what it is.  We’ll cross that bridge in the morning.  Right now, I need to go to sleep so I can stop thinking about it.  Are you ready for bed?”


“It’s a little early for me, but I’ll go anyway.  I can watch some TV while you sleep, if it won’t bug you.”


“Won’t bother me at all, Tom.  Let’s go.”  I held out my hand after he stood up and he pulled me up, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and guided me to our bedroom.  After a quick stop in the bathroom, Tom fluffed his pillows so he could sit up a bit to watch the tube, then crawled in bed.  I curled up next to him, resting my head on his furry chest and he held me tightly as I dozed off.  It was not a peaceful night of sleep as horrible thoughts kept rearing their ugly heads in my dreams.  When morning arrived with the sun streaming through the window, I felt like I’d just laid down.  I really didn’t want to get out of bed but knew we had a long day ahead.


And that Saturday began with the fantastic five hopping in our bed, climbing under the covers and curling up with us.  I was nicely surprised to see Joey was sticking with his punishment and was still wearing his shorts and shirt.  I was sure he would have stripped down after Tom and I had tucked them in and left their room last night.  Of course, he could have still done that and just pulled them back on this morning, but I’ll never know.  In my whole life, I’d never dreamed you could fit seven people into one king-sized bed, but we managed it just fine.  Of course, it helps that five of the seven are only half the size of the other two.


After about ten minutes of happy cuddling, Joey finally sat up and said, “Okay, dad, spit it out.”


“Yeah, we know you got bad news in that phone call last night,” Alex added.


“What are you two talkin’ about?” Mike asked.


“Okay, everybody sit up and I’ll tell ya’ what’s going on.”  I waited a minute for the boys to get situated before continuing.  “Mama Rose called last night while you were watching your movie.  She told me that Papa Jim is in the hospital.”


“What!  Why’s he in there?” Alex asked.


“He decided yesterday that he didn’t want to live any longer and took a bunch of sleeping pills trying to end his life.”


“WHAT!?  WHY!?” Joey screamed.


“Is he okay?” T.J. asked.


“We gotta’ go see him,” Alex said.


“Whoa, boys, hold your horses,” I called out while holding my hands out.  All five grabbed their crotches.  Just why the hell do guys instinctively grab their dicks when somebody says ‘hold your horses’, I’ve never understood that.  When they calmed down, I continued, “First, Mama Rose says he should be fine.  Their neighbor Helen found him and called 9-1-1 before it was too late.  Second, I don’t know why he did this.  I know he’s having a hard time with us being who we are, but I never thought he’d try to kill himself.  Third, he’s not allowed any visitors right now, so we can’t go see him.  Lastly, when he can have visitors, I don’t know if they’ll let you guys into the area he’ll be in.”


“That’s ‘cause he’ll be in the crazy people section, isn’t it?” Joey asked.


“Well, yeah, it is.  They prefer the ‘psychiatric treatment’ ward, but the crazy people section works just as well.  I’ll have to check with the hospital and see if they’ll allow you to visit, okay?”


“Yeah, but we really want to see him,” Alex whined.


“Maybe we can cheer him up and make him happy again,” Mike added.


“We’ll just have to wait and see, boys.  I don’t have the answers right now.  Now, why don’t we all get ready for our day.  We have someone to go visit this afternoon.”


“Who we goin’ to see, dad?” Andy asked.


“The lady who helped Papa Jim yesterday.  Her name is Helen and I’ve known her most of my life but I haven’t seen her since I left home and that’s way too long.”


“Is she nice, like Mama Rose?” Andy asked.


“She’s one of the nicest people I know, boys, and she is going to love you guys.”  I turned to Tom and added, “She’ll love you, too, bubba.”


“What’s not to love?” he laughed.


“You five scoot on out of here, get your showers and get dressed.  We’ll meet in the kitchen for breakfast in about half an hour.”


“What about me?” Joey asked.  “Do I have to wear my clothes in the shower or can I finally get naked?”


“I don’t expect you’d get too clean with the clothes on, so naked is fine,” I chuckled.


“Thanks, dad.”


“GO!” I yelled and the fantastic five tore out of the bedroom like someone had lit a fire under their butts.  Tom and I moved a bit more leisurely, but still, we hopped in the shower and got cleaned up with only a bit of playing around.  I mean, really, two naked guys in a shower, how can you not play around a little?  Once cleaned up, we dried and dressed, then made our way to the kitchen to figure out breakfast, finding five hungry lads lined up on their stools at the bar.  Upon opening the fridge, I discovered the food stores were running pretty low and decided we’d just have to go eat our breakfast in Springfield, then after visiting Helen, we’d have to do some serious shopping to restore our supplies.  It’s amazing how much food two adults and five growing boys can go through in a week.  If this keeps up, I’m going to have to write another damn book just pay the food bill around here.


“Well, folks, looks like breakfast in town since the fridge is almost empty.”  After the cheers died down, I added, “Grab your coats and let’s get ready to roll.”  As they scampered to their rooms to get their coats, the phone rang.


“Hello?” I answered, worried the hospital was calling with an update on dad.


“Mornin’, is this Max?”


“Yes,” I answered warily.


“Good.  Hey, this Harry, is Tom there?”


“Oh, sure thing, Harry, hang on.”


I handed the phone over and Tom answered, “Mornin’, Harry, what’s up?”


“Um, don’t know how to tell you this, Tom, but I think you forgot something important when you loaded your stuff up yesterday.”


“We couldn’t have Harry.  I went through the apartment myself before we left and made sure we got everything.  We even took the refrigerator, remember.”


“Well, you just might have wanted to take a walk around the freakin’ parking lot before you scooted on out of here.  You left your damn car, you bonehead.”


“Well, shit!” Tom exclaimed as he smacked his forehead.  I looked at him in surprise, wondering what was going on.


“Maybe your skull isn’t as thick as I thought and that bullet did do some damage,” Harry laughed.  “I mean, if you don’t want it, I’ll be glad to keep it and use it around here.”


“Sorry, Harry, I don’t know how the hell I forgot my car.”  I could do nothing but laugh.  I was glad I wasn’t drinking anything or it would have sprayed it out of my nose, again.  “We’re coming in town today and we’ll swing by on the way home so we can get it out of your way, okay?”


“That’s fine, Tom.  Just thought you might to get it before some loser strips it for parts.”


“Thanks for calling, Harry.  See ya’ later.”  When he hung up, Tom turned to me, punched me on the shoulder and asked, “How the hell could you forget my car?”


“Me?” I asked, “Why is it my fault?  It’s your car.”


The boys had just returned with their coats on, ready to leave, and Joey asked, “What about a car?”


“Didn’t I tell you, Joey?” Alex asked.  “They’re getting us one for our birthday next week.”


“Really!  Cool beans, dads.  Too bad we can’t drive for another seven years.”


“No,” Tom responded, “we are not getting you a car for your birthday.  When we met Vinnie yesterday to move the rest of my things from my old apartment out here, your dear old dad forgot to remind me to bring my car home with us.  I swear, I knew he was getting old, but it’s pretty early for him to start forgetting things already.”


“Wait a sec, pops,” T.J. started, “you forgot you had a car?”


“Well, yeah, I guess I kinda’ did.  I haven’t really needed it since I moved in, so I didn’t think about it when we were there.”


“Pops, I hate to say this out loud, but it looks like dad’s not the only one getting forgetful in his old age,” Joey cracked.  We all enjoyed a good laugh at that comment.  Leave it to Joey to find just the right joke for the moment.  With that, Tom and I grabbed our coats from the closet and everyone headed to the garage, still chuckling over a forgotten car. 


On the way to town, we decided on going to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  We enjoyed a nice relaxing meal and sat longer that we normally do, but with nothing really pressing us schedule-wise today, it was a nice change for the normal rush, rush, rush.  And the boys fully enjoyed someone else cleaning up the dishes when we were done eating.  After leaving a handsome tip for our server, our next stop was the closest Walmart garden center to pick up something for Helen to say thanks for helping with dad yesterday. 


While Tom and I perused the selection of flower bulbs, the boys were picking out some decorations.  Joey and Alex selected some nice solar powered butterfly lights, T.J. found a cute bunny rabbit ceramic figurine and Mike and Andy settled on a couple of brightly colored garden gnomes.  As for the flowers, we settled on a variety of iris, tulips and Asiatic lilies.  They may not bloom this year, but they would definitely add some color to the old neighborhood next spring.  With our purchases in hand, we hopped back in the car and headed to Helen’s house, only a couple doors down the street from mom and dad’s house, which was currently empty of occupants.


We grabbed the bags and boxes from the back of the car and walked up to Helen’s front porch.  Not wanting to scare her, I had the boys step off to the side just a bit before punching the button to ring the chimes.  I was looking out towards the street when the door opened and Tom elbowed me in the ribs so I would return my attention to the door.


“Hello?  Who’s there,” Helen asked timidly through the tiny gap in the open door.


“Hi, Miss Thomas, it’s Max Wright,” I answered as I gave a small wave through the door.  “Are you up for a bit of company?”


“MAX!  I haven’t seen you in, well, I don’t know how long it’s been.  What the heck are you doing here?”


“Well, mom called me last night to let me know about dad and I wanted to come by and say thanks for helping him yesterday.”


She opened the door wide and said, “Get your tail in here young man.  We need to catch up.”


“I’ve brought my family with me.  I hope that’s okay?” I responded as we all entered the house.


“Of course, it is.  Oh my, when did all this happen?” she asked as boys filed through the door.  “Your mother never said anything about you having a family.”


“It’s all pretty recent, Miss Thomas.”


“Max, Max, Max, please, call me Helen, you’re not a little kid anymore.”


“Thanks, Helen.  Let me introduce you to everybody.  First, this handsome guy is my fiancé, Tom Wright.  Tom, meet Helen Thomas.”


“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Thomas,” Tom said in greeting.


“Tom, you may also call me Helen.  I think you’re old enough for that, if only just.” 


Tom accepted a hug from Helen and replied with, “Thank you, Helen.  It would be my honor.”


“And who else do we have here?” Helen asked looking to the boys.


I stood behind the lineup and, while placing a hand on each head, I recited, “This Joey, I think, next is Alex, I’m pretty sure, then we have T.J., Mike and Andy.”


“Well, aren’t you all just the cutest little things.  Can I get a hug?” she asked.  Each lad took a turn and received and gave a hug to Helen.  “Well, let’s all sit down so we can visit.”  Helen sat in her chair, Tom and I sat on the couch with Mike and Andy between us and the other three boys claimed spots on the oriental rug covering the wood floor.


“Now, just so I know these old ears aren’t playing tricks on me, did I you hear right?  Tom is your fiancé?”


“Yes, Helen, you heard right.  We’re getting married May 17th, at our home.” 


“I never figured you for a gay man.  Especially with your father being how he is.”


“It’s not been easy, I can tell you that.  Mom’s being much more accepting of it now that she’s gotten to know you better.”


“Yes, your mother has been a godsend these past few months.  I don’t know what I would have done without her help.  I assume your mom has told you about Libby and me.”


“She did, and we want to let you know we’re sorry for your loss.”


“I only wish we could have been married before it got so late in our lives.  But after forty-three years together, it seemed kind of silly to go through all that insanity simply for a piece of paper.  We knew we were married in our hearts, even if the rest of the world didn’t.  Well, enough of that maudlin junk, we must live for today for there may be no tomorrow.  Tell me about all you and your new family.”


We spent the next couple of hours visiting and Helen was as lovely as ever.  I told her about adopting the boys and how they came to be living with me, then about the chance meeting with Tom at the Mueller’s.  Helen was happy that I’d been able to rescue the twins from their ‘evil influence’, as she put it.  After the first hour, she offered us drinks and the boys received some cookies with theirs, which they readily accepted.  She also gave the boys a little tour of her house and then we stepped out on the patio briefly so she could point out special features in the back yard and garden such as the fountain and an old claw-foot bathtub hidden in the corner, surrounded on three sides by tall hedges.


“Do you really take your bath out here?” T.J. asked after seeing the tub.


“Oh, heavens no, not a real bath anyway.  I do occasionally run a hose from the water heater and fill it up just to sit and relax for a while in the great outdoors.  I find the meditation helps calm my soul.”


“Doesn’t it get awful cold?” Andy asked.


“Well, I don’t use it in the winter, honey, only during the summer.  Good thing I have this tall fence surrounding the yard and the hedges around the tub, though.  If the neighbors knew about it, I’d be the scandal of the subdivision.  But I always have my robe nearby should someone drop by.”


“Well, boys,” Tom started, “do you think it’s time we gave Helen her presents?”


“Yeah, let’s go!” Alex shouted. 


“Presents?” Helen asked.  “You shouldn’t have done that.”


“We’re happy to do it Helen, in thanks for helping dad yesterday.”


We went back inside to the living room and the boys grabbed the items they’d picked out for Helen and presented them to her one at a time. 


“Oh, these lights will be perfect beside my tub.  I’ve always wanted to have some soft light when I relax in the tub during the hot summer evenings.  And this bunny is just too cute, as are the gnomes.  I’ll find the perfect spots for these once I know where the flowers will pop up, boys.  Wouldn’t want a flower to try and grow under one now, would we.  You’ll have to come back when everything’s in bloom to see where they end up.”


“We’d like that, Miss Thomas,” Joey responded politely.


“And here’s something from us, Helen.”  I handed over a large bag with the bulbs we’d picked out.  “I wasn’t sure what you’d really like or need, so we got you a bit of an assortment of iris, tulip and Asiatic lily bulbs for your gardens.  They probably won’t bloom this year, but they sure will next year.  And, if you need any help planting, just let me know.  I’m sure these five would love to help dig holes in the dirt for you.  They are boys, after all.”


“Yeah, that’ll be fun, dad,” Mike said.


“I’ll do that, Max, just as soon as all this nasty snow is gone and it’s a bit warmer than it is right now.  I don’t know how to thank you for all this.”


“No thanks are necessary, Helen.  Just know how much I appreciate you taking care of dad yesterday.”


“Well, I just hope he doesn’t get mad when he finds out it was me who came in the house and did the helping.  I haven’t been welcome there for a while now.”


“You’re in good company with that, Helen.  Can’t say I’ve been made to feel at home there the last several months, either.”  I turned to the boys and said, “Well, boys, I think it’s time we took care of our shopping and headed for home.  Let’s say our goodbyes and get moving.”  All five surrounded Helen and gave her hugs which she happily returned, then they took off for the car.  After they were out the door, Tom hugged Helen and then stepped back so I could do the same.  “Thanks, again, for yesterday, Helen.  We’d be having a very bad day today had it not been for you.”


“I was happy to help, and I hope your father gets the help he needs.”


“We all do.”


“Thank you for coming by and for the lovely gifts, also.  They will add some cheer and color to the garden and Libby would have loved them, especially the little bunny.”


“Don’t forget to call us when it’s time to plant all those bulbs.”


“I most certainly will, Max.  I don’t move as well as I used to and I’ll need all the help I can get.  It was a delight to meet your beautiful family and I wish you nothing but the best in the future.  You take good care of those boys.  Oh, and this big guy, too,” she added while patting Tom on the cheek, causing him to blush.


“Oh, we will, don’t worry about that.”  Tom and I stepped out onto the porch and gave a little wave as Helen closed the door.


“Well, that was a nice visit,” Tom commented as we headed down the walk towards the car.  “Helen seems like a wonderful woman.”


“She is, and I need to stop being such a stranger.  I’ll look forward to coming back to help plant those bulbs.”


“Me, too.  I’m sure the boys will enjoy it, too.  There’s not a doubt in my mind they’ll jump at any chance to get dirty and not get in trouble.  I know I used to.”


“Yep, me too.  Mom used to hate it when I’d come home all muddied up after riding my bike in the rain.  I couldn’t help it though,” I said as I smiled at the memory.


We joined the boys in the car and headed back to the Walmart to do our grocery shopping.


“So, when are we coming back to help Miss Thomas plant the bulbs?” Joey asked.


“Whenever it’s warm enough.  She promised she’d call when it was time,” I answered.


“That’ll be fun,” T.J. commented.


“She’s a nice lady, dad.  It’s sad Libby died,” Alex said.


“Yes, it is, but that how life works, we’re born, we live, we die.  There’s no avoiding it.”


“I know that, but it still sucks,” Alex responded.


“No argument from me on that.”


When we got to the store, Joey and Alex volunteered to drive the carts while we filled them up.  I made them promise not to run over anyone as we moseyed our way through the Saturday shopping crush.  We managed to attract quite a bit of attention on our tour thanks to six out of seven having the left side of their heads shaved.  When leaving home, I hadn’t thought about today being Tom’s first real foray out into the public eye since being shot, not counting, of course, his old apartment or the courthouse where everybody already knew of his injury.  It was finally dawning on me what the stares and odd looks at Cracker Barrel were all about.  Fortunately, it didn’t faze him or the boys in the slightest.


Our progress was slow but steady as we loaded up the carts with the basic needs of a big household, along with plenty of snacks for the boys, of course.  You can’t forget snacks, not with five boys who were always hungry for something.  As we turned the corner into the aisle to restock the cereal selection at home, I noticed the Mueller’s coming towards us from the other end.  I couldn’t imagine what they were doing in this particular Walmart since the one on the west side of town was just a few blocks from their home.  I elbowed Tom in the ribs and when he looked at me I nodded my head down the aisle in their direction.


When he recognized who was headed our way, he whispered, “What the hell are they doin’ over here?”


“Not a clue.  Want to move to another aisle and come back?”


“Eh, fuck ‘em,” he whispered to me.  “It’s a free country.”


“I was just thinking about avoiding a problem.  C’mon, let’s turn around.”


Just as the words passed my lips, I heard Joey yell, “Hi, Mr. & Mrs. Mueller.  How’re you?”


“Great, too late now,” I muttered under my breath.


“We’re fine,” Iris hissed.  “Just what are you doing here?”


“Shopping, just like you,” Joey answered as if it was blindingly obvious, which, of course, it was.


“Yeah, you got a problem with that?” Alex asked.


“I certainly do.  We shouldn’t be forced to be in the same store with the likes of you,” Frank shot back.


“What?” Joey asked.  “Somebody behind you got a gun pointed at your backs?” he continued as he craned his neck out to look around them.


“Hello, Frank, hello, Iris,” I greeted politely as Tom and I drew closer.


“Should’ve known the big perverts would be close behind the little perverts.”


“Y’know, Frank, your attitude is really getting on my nerves,” Tom said.  “We have just as much right to be here as you do.”


“Well, this store doesn’t need business from your kind.  Why don’t you just leave?” Iris asked.


“No, I don’t think that’s gonna’ happen, Iris,” I answered.  “You just continue with your shopping and leave us alone, okay?”


“We’ll see about that,” Iris responded.  “Frank, go get security.  Have them get these sick people out of here.”


Before Frank could move, Joey yelled, “Hey, how many other people in this aisle besides me are gay?”  I was turning bright red with embarrassment now, unsure how this was going to turn out, and Tom was kneeling behind the cart, suddenly engrossed in the ingredient list for Lucky Charms.  Not counting my own family, four out of the twelve other shoppers in the busy aisle calmly raised their hands.  “Well, just so you know,” Joey called out while pointing to the Muellers, “these two people right here don’t like you, either.  I’d watch out for them.  You might get some straight people cooties on ya’.”  He then turned to me and calmly asked, “Hey, dad, can we get some more Frosted Flakes?”


“Sure, Joey, why not,” I laughed.  All the other shoppers started laughing, too, and Frank and Iris beat a hasty retreat from the aisle and, I assume, the store since we didn’t see them again. 


One of the other shoppers who had raised their hand came closer and said to Joey, “Good for you, young man, don’t let them intimidate you.”  He then told me, “Brave lad you have there, sir, keep up the good work,” then he disappeared around the corner into the next aisle.


“Joey, Joey, Joey, what am I going to do with you?” I asked, while trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to control my laughter.


“What?” he asked innocently, “I was just warning people about haters in the area, ya’ know, so they could avoid ‘em.”


“It sure looks like you accomplished your goal, but you really need to tone it down a bit, don’t ya’ think?”


“Why?  I’m gay, big freakin’ deal.  If people don’t like that, it’s their problem, not mine.”


“Okay, let’s move on and finish our shopping.”  We continued on and somehow managed to get out of the store while avoiding further incidents.  We also, somehow, managed to avoid adding to the collection of movies at home.  We stopped at the Steak ‘n Shake on the way home to have lunch as the boys all claimed they were starving and couldn’t wait to get home to eat.  It’s a good thing it was still cold since we didn’t have a cooler in the car for the refrigerated and frozen foods.  Fortunately, our lunch was much calmer today than the last meal we’d had here.  After we were done eating, we swung by Tom’s old apartment to retrieve his car.  Joey and Alex decided to ride the rest of way home with him the so he wouldn’t be lonely for that twenty minutes out of the day.  On our return home, we spent about half an hour unloading and putting away all the food and I was hoping we could make it through to next weekend without having to go shopping again. 


Once that chore was completed, everyone retreated to their bedrooms to get comfortable.  Upon our return to the living to relax for a while, I lit a fire in fireplace and grabbed my book to read for a bit.  When the boys came back in, I said, “T.J., I’m sorry, I forgot to ask earlier, but how you feelin’ today?”


“I’m still sore, but it’s a lot better than it was.”


“Come over here and let me take a closer look at that bruise.”  I gently poked and prodded around the bruise, being careful to not push too hard and hurt him.  “It’s not looking as bad I thought it would.  I think you’re gonna’ be just fine.”


“That’s what the doctor said, dad.  And it’s okay as long I don’t jump or run around too much.  It hurts really bad when I do that.”


“Then you should listen to the doctor and your dads when we tell you to take it easy for a week or two, will ya’?”


“I’m tryin’, dad, but I don’t like sitting still.”


“No kidding?  You sure coulda’ fooled me.”  The phone rang, bringing a halt our conversation.  After looking at the caller ID, I saw it was Tom’s parents, so I told him answer the phone.


“It’s probably your mom, but okay.  S&W Ranch,” he answered with a bit a drawl in his voice after punching the speaker button.  I just shook my head.


“Tom, is that you?”


“Sure is, mom, what’s up?”


“Since when did you start a ranch?”


“Since I moved into this house with five wild boys,” he answered.  “Seems like we’re always rounding up a stray or two, so S&W Ranch seems to fit.”


“Gotcha’.  Have I ever told you how crazy you are?”


“Many, many times, ma.”


“I thought so, nice to know I haven’t been wrong all these years.  Look, the reason I called is Rose got off the phone with hospital a little while ago and she asked me to pass the news along.  Jim is doing as well as can be expected considering the number of pills he took.  He’s still pretty out of it, mostly sleeping, but he’s starting to show signs of improvement and their encouraged by his progress.”


“That’s good to hear, Estelle,” I said.  “How’s mom dealing with all this?”


“Not too badly, I guess.  She’s pretty pissed off at Jim for doing something that stupid and drastic, but she also knows there’s nothing she could have done to stop him.  I think that disturbs her more than anything else.  She went to lay down and take a nap after she got off the phone.  She didn’t sleep well last night and is pretty worn out from worrying about him.  Now that he seems to be out of the woods, I think she can finally relax.”


“I’m glad she was there with you guys when dad went off the deep end.”


“Well, we are too, but she’s afraid her being gone is what pushed him over the edge.  We’ve tried to tell her that’s not the case, but she’s not accepting that just yet.  I think, in time, she will.  Will you call your sister and let her know what’s going on?”


“Of course, we will.  How’s everything else going down there?  Mom’s not crimping your lifestyle too much, is she?”


“Oh, we’re just fine, don’t you worry about us.”


“Good.  Thanks for calling Estelle.  Tell Bill we all said hi and tell mom we love her.”


“Will do.  Talk to you guys later.”  Following through on my promise, I called Lee and Carl to pass on what I’d just learned from Estelle.  Unfortunately, they weren’t home, so I left a message on their answering machine for them.  At least I could say I tried.


“So, you guys got any big plans for the afternoon?” Tom asked.


“Alex and I wanna’ do more in the new math book,” Joey answered.


“If that’s okay with you?” Alex added.


“If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine with us, boys,” I replied.


“Cool, let’s go, Joey.”  They ran down the hall to their room, grabbed the text and new notebooks and came back to sit on the floor by the fireplace and used the coffee table to work on.


“What about you three?” I asked.


“Mike and I want to go to our room and play,” T.J. answered.


“Well, what’s Andy going to do.  Maybe he wants to join you.”


“Not for this play he doesn’t,” Mike answered.


“Ah, ‘nuff said.  Please make sure you close your door.  And T.J., you need to be careful.  You know what’s gonna’ happen if you start breathing too deeply.”


“Yeah, dad, I know.  We’ll be careful.”


“Okay, Andy, what would you like to do this afternoon?” I asked.


“Can we read a book?”


“That sounds like a good idea.  Let’s go to the study and see what we can find.”


“Yay!  Can I get a ride, dad?”


“Sure thing, come here, munchkin.”  He hopped over to me and after I stood up, I turned him around, put my hands in his armpits, then lifted him up over my head, settling his bare behind on my shoulders and smashing his genitals in my neck.  I don’t know how he could stand to ride like that, all squished up that way, because I would be dealing with some serious pain, but it doesn’t seem to faze young boys like it does us older farts.  When we reached the study, I set him back down on the floor and we started to look for a good book that a six-year old might enjoy, Andy searching the lower shelves and me, the upper shelves.


After about five minutes of searching with Andy reading off book titles that were way above his level, I finally found a group of books by Mark Twain.  It had been a long time since I’d read these stories and I thought maybe Andy would like them since they were about young boys and the adventures and misadventures they get into.  “How about this one, Andy, The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn, this should be a good one.”


“What’s it about, dad?”


“It’s about a group of young friends growing up in the Hannibal, Missouri area in the early to middle 1800’s.  That’s almost 200 years ago.”


“Wow!  Is that before you were born?” Andy asked.


“Way before, smarty-pants.  C’mon,” I said while holding out my hand, expecting him to grab it.


“No, I wanna’ another ride.”


“Fine, you carry the book and turn around so I can pick you up.”  He did as I asked and was soon ensconced on my shoulders for the trip back to the living room to sit by the fireplace.  After a few steps, I asked, “Um, think you could stop whacking me in the head with the book every step?  You’re gonna’ knock me out, kiddo.”


“Oops, sorry, dad,” he giggled.


“No problem.”  When we got back to the living room, I set Andy back on the floor, took my chair next to the fireplace, then had him climb up in my lap.  I realized very quickly that I should have had him sit next to me instead of on me.  As he wiggled his pert little behind in my lap, trying to get comfortable, I was beginning to feel an unwanted reaction from below.  Fortunately, he was soon settled in and had quit moving around before the reaction could rise to a level of serious concern.


I opened the book to the first chapter and asked Andy if he wanted me to read it or if he wanted to do the reading.  After a moment’s thought, he said he’d like to try.  He started reading aloud with me helping occasionally with a few bigger words and at the end of the first paragraph, he stopped and looked up at me with a puzzled expression on his face.


“What?” I asked.


“They sure wrote funny back then, didn’t they?”


“Well, I guess they did, but that’s the way it was in the 1800’s.  Keep going, Andy, you’re doing great.”


He resumed his reading out loud and when it came time to turn pages, he elbowed me in the ribs to let me know that.  I was going to have to pay more attention to the story or I would end up with a bruised chest to rival T.J.’s before we got very far into the book.  Progress was slow, but Andy was doing a good job at sounding out the words as we went along and I didn’t need to provide much help.  I know the language and grammar was creating confusion in his young mind, but I explained it to him when he had questions.


When we reached chapter two, he suddenly stopped reading, looked up at me again and said, “No.  I ain’t sayin’ that word.”


I had glanced at Alex and Joey to see how they were doing and wasn’t sure what word he was talking about, so I asked, “And what word is that?”


“That one, right there,” he answered, pointing to it.


I looked closely and saw the one he was talking about was ‘nigger’.  Well, hell, I’d forgotten about that being in these stories.  Looks like time for a bit of education.


“And why won’t you say it?”


“Because it’s a bad word.  I may not know a whole lot, but I know that.”


“You’re right, of course, we don’t use that word today because of the negative history tied to it, but back in the time when this story takes place, that’s the way a lot of people talked.  This story and the others about Tom and Huck all take place before the civil war, when slavery was still in practice, and people back then used to say nigger all the time when talking about black people.”


“Hey, you can’t say that!” Alex yelled after looking up from the math book.


“Yeah, what the heck are you reading?” Joey asked.


“It’s a book titled The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn.  It was written a long time ago and the story takes place well before it was written, at a time when it was used all the time.  While most civilized people won’t use it these days, there are still some who do.”


“It doesn’t make sense, dad.  Why was it okay to say it back then, but not now?” Andy asked.


“Well, times change and people grow.  It’s kinda the same thing with the word faggot.  Not too long ago, it was very common to hear people use that word when talking about gay people like me, Tom and your brothers, but not so much anymore, thankfully.  It’s the same thing with this word.  It’s one I detest and normally refuse to say, but I can’t stop other people from using it.  And when I’m reading a book, if it’s there, I’ll read it the way it’s written and understand that’s way things used to be.”


“Well, I still ain’t sayin’ it,” Andy said adamantly.


“That’s fine, you can change it to something different if you’d like as you keep reading, okay?”


“Good.”  And he did just that as he picked up where he left off, replacing the word with just the letter ‘n’.  I was proud that the boys rejected the word as it’s one I have hated for a long time.  I find that people who continue to say it these days are usually hateful people that I don’t need in my life.  Andy and I spent the next hour reading and he was really enjoying the story when I decided it was time to start thinking about supper.


I looked to Tom and asked, “What are you fixing for supper tonight, big guy?”


“Me?” he asked, “I thought you were the chief cook around here.”


“I may be, but tonight is your turn.”


“Well, I think pizza sounds good, give me the phone and I’ll get it ordered.”


“Whoa, big dog, that’s not cooking.”


“Hey, I don’t tell you how to cook, don’t you be telling me how, okay?” Tom joked.


“Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Call ‘em up and let’s get it going, then.  I’m getting hungry and know five boys who probably starving by now.”


“Yeah, pops, call ‘em already,” Alex said.


“O-o-o-h, I’m starving over here,” Joey moaned as he laid back and started rolling around on the floor, holding his belly.  Andy cracked up at his antics. 


T.J. and Mike finally decided to rejoin the rest of the family and when they came around the corner from the hallway into the living room and caught Joey’s act, Mike asked, “What’s his problem?”


“He says he’s starving.  What about you two, pizza sound good for supper?” I asked.


“Yeah, that sounds great!” T.J. yelled.  “Don’t forget the breadsticks, too.”


Tom got on the phone and while he was ordering our supper, I said to Mike and T.J., “Nice of you two to grace us with your presence.  I’m guessing from the satisfied grins on your faces you enjoyed your time together.”


“Oh, yeah, it was great,” Mike said as he grinned even wider.


“Hey, give us a break will ya’,” T.J. added.  “Since Andy’s sleeping with us again, it’s been almost a week since we done anything.”


“Well, I’m glad you’re being respectful of Andy and his wishes and I’m sure he is, too.”


“We’re cool, dad, we talked about it when I started sleeping with them again,” Andy commented.


“Good, I’m glad you three have worked things out.  Now, why don’t you guys go get the table ready while Tom picks up our supper?”


“On the way, dad,” T.J. called out as they headed to take care of their job.  Joey and Alex closed their math book and joined the rest of the crew in getting ready for our meal.  I, however, sat in my chair and let everyone else take care of things for once.  It was kind of nice to kick back and relax for a few minutes.


As Tom passed through the house on the way to the garage, he stopped and asked, “Um, where, exactly, is this place?  I’ve never been there, ya’ know.”


“It’s on the main drag in the middle of New Berlin, just west of what you’d call downtown.  There’s a couple of gas pumps out front.  Go into the right end of the building behind the pumps to pick up the pizzas.”


“Got it, thanks.  I’ll be back in a few.”  With that, Tom headed out.  He returned fifteen minutes later with three boxes of pizza and a sack for the breadsticks.  After setting the food on the table, he headed to the bedroom to get comfortable, then came back to join the rest us already at the table.  The meal passed pretty quietly since everyone’s mouth was full of food.  When we had finished gorging ourselves, the boys started cleaning up the dishes and loading the dishwasher.  I checked their work when everything was cleaned up and, seeing the machine loaded just the way I would have done it, complimented them on a job well done.


“Okay, what’s next?” I asked.


“Can we watch a movie?” Mike asked.


“Well, since T.J. can’t go swimming yet, I think a movie sounds like a great idea.”  We headed to the theater and once the boys had taken their seats, I asked, “Do I get to pick the movie tonight?”


“Sure, dad,” Alex answered, “but make sure it’s something we’ll like.”


“I’ll do my best.”  I decided to start what I was sure would be a new science fiction series for the boys, Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Since I had bought the complete series several years ago, I’d watched them several times and enjoyed it more and more each time.  I was hoping I’d create some new fans.  The first show is a two-parter titled Encounter at Farpoint.  It would run for just about an hour and a half, which would be a good time to take a bathroom break and make some popcorn to munch on while watching the second show of the series.  The boys were virtually silent during the show, which was rare for them.  They are almost always whispering something to each other while watching a movie.


When the show was over, I suggested the boys visit the bathroom while Tom and I got busy fixing popcorn and drinks for everyone.  As the popcorn was popping, the boys came back through and I asked them, “So what do you think about the first show?”


“The first?  How many are there,” Alex asked.


“Let me think, the show was on TV for seven years and I think there are about twenty-four episodes each season.  So how many…”


“168,” Joey interrupted.


“How can you do that so darn fast, Joey?” I asked.


“Piece of cake, dad.  Seven times twenty is 140 and seven times four is twenty-eight.  Add 140 and twenty-eight, you get 168.”


“Well, good for you, young man.  Is that how you think about numbers?”


“Most of the time, yeah, we both do.  And when we’re both thinking about the same problem, we can usually do it even faster.”


“How in the world do you manage that trick?” I asked, intrigued at what I was hearing.


“Easy,” Alex answered, “we split the problem between us.  I’ll take one part, he’ll take the other, and then we put them together.”


“Amazing!  Let’s try a more difficult one, say eighteen times thirty-two.”


No more than 2 seconds later, they answered together, “576.”


“My god!  How the hell did you get it that fast?”


“I did the eighteen times thirty, which is eighteen times three, or fifty-four, then put the zero on the end, to get 540,” Joey answered.


“And I did eighteen times two to get thirty-six,” Alex added.


“Then we added them to get the 576,” they said together.


“You two boggle my mind.  In a good way, though.  Now, back to Star Trek, what do you think of the show?”


“That Q dude is awesome,” T.J. answered.


“Yeah, if I could do what he can,” Andy started, “I coulda’ gotten rid of Russ just by thinkin’ ‘bout it.”


“Yeah, and we could have our mom and dad back,” Alex said.


“Well, unfortunately, none of us mere mortals have those powers, do we?”


“No,” Joey mumbled as his eyes started to moisten.


I knelt and called Alex and Joey to come to me.  I wrapped them in my arms and told them, “I know you miss your mom and dad and I’m sorry they’re not here for you, but Tom and I are here and you know we’ll take care of you.”


“Yeah, we know, dad,” they whimpered.


The popcorn had finished popping and Tom had already split it into five separate bowls while I consoled the twins.  Once they’d calmed down again, we grabbed the popcorn and drinks and went back to the theater for the next show.  It was starting to get late when the third episode ended, so I told the boys it was time for bed and they should drop their bowls and cups in the dishwasher as they headed to their bedrooms.  They took off while Tom and I ambled slowly through the house to give them a chance to get in bed before we reached their rooms.


We stopped in the trio’s room first where Andy, Mike and T.J. were just climbing into their bed.  Tom and I pulled the covers up, then planted sloppy kisses on three foreheads, said good night and told them we loved them.  We received the same back from all three and then turned out the light and continued to our next stop.  Alex and Joey were already curled together in the middle of the bed waiting for us to pull up the covers.  I think they like tempting us with their lovely bodies, though only one was on display this night.  We took care of our nightly duties and after receiving our kisses and ‘I love you’ back from them, turned out the light, closed the door and returned to sit by the fireplace and read for a while.


An hour later, I was about to lay my book down and head for bed when the phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number, but answered the phone anyway.


“Hello?”  Tom shot me a puzzled look.


“Is this Max Sanders?”


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


“Mr. Sanders, this is Dr. Nichols at Memorial Hospital.  I’m calling about your father.”  After hearing who it was, I punched the speaker button so Tom could listen in.


“Oh god, what’s going on?  Please don’t be calling at this time of night to give me bad news.”


“Actually, no, I’m calling with what I hope will be good news.”


“We could sure use some, please tell me, doc.”


“Your father woke up about thirty minutes ago and seems to be doing quite well.”


“Well, that is good news.  My mother will be glad to hear it when I call her in the morning.  I know she’d like to see him.  Do you know when he’ll be allowed visitors?”


“Well, that’s why I’m calling you instead of your mother or sister.  He has asked, actually, more like demanded, that we allow you to come see him.  And he would like it very much if you would bring your family with you.”


“Wait a minute, could you repeat that, please.  Me and my family are the reason he’s there in first place.”


“I’m well aware of that Mr. Sanders.  And I’ve explained to him that, after a what he’s been through, we don’t normally allow visits from anyone until we’ve had a chance to do some counseling with the patient.  But he’s being rather adamant about seeing you and your family and I don’t think he’ll allow any counseling to take place until he’s had a chance to talk with you.”


“You mean, now?  We just put the kids to bed.  I really don’t to drag them to town this late at night.”


“Oh, no, I’m sorry for not being clear.  I think tomorrow afternoon would probably be best.  That way, in the morning, we can make sure he still feels the same way before you make the trip in.  Would you be interested in coming in and hearing what he has to say?”


“I don’t know that I’ve got much choice in the matter.  I assumed he’d want to see mom first, but if he’s asking for me, I’ll be there.  Tomorrow afternoon, about one?” I asked, confused as hell.


“I think that would be fine, Mr. Sanders.  I’ll be here and we can chat before you see him.”


“Okay.  I’m not feeling too sure about this, but we’ll be there.  Thanks for calling and we’ll see you tomorrow.”


“Thank you, Mr. Sanders.  Have a good night.”


I ended the call and looked at Tom with a puzzled expression on my face.  “What the hell do you think this is all about?”


“I don’t have a clue, babe, but it definitely sounds very odd.”


“I guess we won’t have the answer to that question until tomorrow.”


Home Page
Story index
Next chapter