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Chapter 74 – Big Loss

 

When morning arrived, it was time for all of us to get moving in the right direction.  After both of us had pulled on a pair of shorts, Tom headed down the hall to wrangle the wild mustangs while I stopped in the kitchen and pulled out the cereal and toaster.  In a minor nod to the adults, I also started the coffee brewing.  As Tom came back from taking care of his morning wakeup calls, he poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip to let the caffeine do its job.

 

“Did you remind them to get dressed and be quiet before coming out this morning?” I asked.

 

“Of course, I did.  While they may not remember we have a guest, I sure did.”

 

“Thanks, hon.  What time is your first interview today?”

 

“I need to be there at eight.  I figured I’ll drop the boys at the shelter and head on out from there.  Do we need anything from town today since I’ll have some time to kill between interviews?”

 

“It’d probably be a good idea to get some basics, you know, cereal, toilet paper, those kinds of things.  Oh, and can you swing by the Dana-Thomas house to pick up Eric’s item?  I’d like to give it to him tonight.”

 

“Consider it done, babe.”  The boys finally started to filter in, dressed for school and ready to go.  As they mounted their stools to eat breakfast, Tom asked, “Well, you all happy it’s Friday?”

 

“You bet, Pops,” Mike answered.  “I’m sick of school.”

 

“Only a month and a half left before summer break, guys,” I commented.

 

“That’s too long, Dad,” T.J. retorted.

 

“Hey, where’s Mr. Burton?” Alex asked.

 

“Probably still sleeping, buddy.  It’s still pretty early in California, ya know?”

 

“Yeah?  What time is it there?” Logan queried.

 

“Well, it’s a quarter ‘til seven here, so it would be a quarter to five there,” Tom answered.  “And that’s what time LeVar’s body and brain thinks it is.”

 

“Yeah, I’d still be sleepin’, too,” Joey moaned.

 

When they’d finished their breakfast twenty minutes later, the boys rinsed and dropped their bowls into the dishwasher before returning to their rooms to grab their backpacks and coats and Tom returned to our room to finish getting dressed for his day out.  They all returned about the same time and proceeded to give me my hugs before they headed for the garage. 

 

Before he followed along, Tom asked, “So what are you and LeVar going to do with yourselves all day?”

 

“Not a clue,” I replied.  “Probably just relax and enjoy a quiet day.”

 

“Wish I could do that, but I have places to go, things to do and people to see.  Try to not tilt any windmills today, okay?”

 

“I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises.  Love you, hon.  Have a good day.”

 

“I’ll try.  I love you, too, babe.  It’ll probably be late this afternoon before I get back home.”

 

“We’ll be here, but you better scoot or the boys are gonna miss their bus.”

 

“Well, now you’re just tryin’ to get rid of me,” Tom retorted.

 

“Not a chance of that happenin’.”  We shared a hug and a kiss before he finally turned and headed for the garage.  As I listened for the garage door to close behind him, I began to wonder what I really was going to do today.  My brain wasn’t really in the mood to work on the book I’d started, and for some reason I felt like I should come up with some way to entertain LeVar, though I’m not sure why I was feeling that.  He’s an adult, after all, and he should be able to take care of himself.  Besides, he probably wasn’t even awake yet.  I finally headed for the living room to pick up my book and read for a while.  I started a fire before I got comfortable and had just settled in my chair when I heard LeVar call from down the hallway.

 

“Anybody out there?”

 

“Just me, LeVar,” I yelled back.  “You’ve missed the three-ring circus we deal with every morning.”

 

“Good,” he replied as he rounded the corner into the living room.  I chuckled when I looked up from my book and found him standing there with his hands hovering just below his waist.  “I thought that since I was in a friendly environment, I should at least give it a try.  But finding you in your shorts makes me think I’ve committed a faux-pas.”

 

“Ha!  No worries.  I’m only wearing shorts because we have company.  But since that company has decided to relax in complete comfort, I think I’ll join you.  If you don’t mind, that is.”

 

“I wish you would.  I’d hate to be the only nude fool here today.  I almost peeled my off trunks while we were swimming last night, but I just couldn’t make myself do it.  I thought maybe if I started the day this way, I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious about it.”

 

“Would you like some coffee or breakfast?”

 

“Some coffee sounds goods, if you’ve got some.”

 

“Well, pick a perch and I’ll be right back.”  I first aimed for the bedroom so I could leave my shorts there, then stopped in the kitchen to get a mug of coffee for LeVar on my way back.  When I finally rejoined him, LeVar had settled onto the love seat and, from appearances, was decidedly uncomfortable.  As I handed the coffee to him, I noticed he kept his eyes glued to mine and said, “You don’t have to do this, LeVar.  If you rather be dressed, that’s fine.”

 

“No, I’ll be okay, I just need some time to get used to it.  Besides, I’ve always kinda wondered what it’s like to live a nudist lifestyle.”

 

“Not a whole lot different than living a textile life, just a lot less laundry to deal with.  And since I hate washing clothes as much as I hate wearing them, it works out well.”

 

“Yeah, I could see that being a positive,” LeVar chuckled. 

 

“And it’s okay to look, LeVar, everybody does.  It’s just not polite to stare or laugh out loud at whatever you might see, though giggles are allowed.”

 

“I wasn’t lookin’, Max, I swear,” he retorted defensively.

 

“I know that, I’m just letting you know it’s okay to do so.  Nudists aren’t offended by it at all.  If we were going to be ashamed or offended by someone seeing us naked, we wouldn’t have taken our clothes off in the first place.”

 

“Ha! Never thought about that, I guess.  Thanks for helping put me more at ease.  So, can I ask you a question, Max?”

 

“Ask away.”

 

“Well, while watching your interview last night, I could tell you were holding back on something.  I was just wondering what it was.”

 

“Probably how much I truly hate the couple that fucked up my life.”

 

“That would seem to be a normal reaction to what you went through.  Why hide it?”

 

“Because sharing that with a TV audience wouldn’t help get the point across.  I know some of my anger was evident, but I felt if I showed all of it, people would be less likely to believe me.  I need parents to see the truth in my story so they can take steps to protect their children in the future and help their kids if they’ve been abused, also.  Especially the kids who went to that church.”

 

“That makes sense.  I just wondered.”

 

The two of us spent a fair amount of time talking and learning more about each other.  Of course, since LeVar was so well known from his days in front of and behind the camera, there wasn’t much left for him to share except for his family that consisted of his wife, daughter and a son from a previous relationship.  I filled him in on more of my life that he didn’t get from the interview last night and he seemed to be more interested in my life than I was.  He was soaking up every word of my telling how the boys all ended up here and was laughing uncontrollably when I told about how Tom and I met.  I was watching him with interest while his eyes danced as he seemed to be committing every detail to memory.  We also spent a little bit of time talking about the movie project, but nothing in real detail.  I noticed that, as the time passed, LeVar was also becoming more comfortable as he adjusted to his lack of clothes.  Finally, about eleven I started to feel my stomach rumble.

 

“Uh-oh,” I muttered.  “Looks like my guts are ready for food.  You want anything special?”

 

“Whatever you’ve got that’s easy is fine with me.”

 

“Well, I pulled some ribs out of the freezer last night.  Thought I’d grill them on the stove with some barbecue and toss some au gratin potatoes in the oven.  Sound good to you?”

 

“Delicious.  Anything I can do to help?”

 

“If you don’t mind taking care of the potatoes, I’ll mix up my barbecue sauce and get the ribs goin’.”

 

“Great, let’s get this show on the road, then.”

 

We got up from our chairs and headed for the kitchen together.  As I followed LeVar, I couldn’t help but be impressed by and admire his physique, especially since he’s twice my age.  True to his word, LeVar wasted no time in getting the potatoes going once I told him where everything he needed was located.  He was just sliding them into the oven as I wrapped the ribs in foil and placed them on the grill over a low flame.  Once our food was going, we each laid claim to a stool at the bar counter to continue our chat and wait.

 

“It seems as though you’ve finally gotten comfortable,” I commented.

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” he chuckled.  “Like I said, I’ve thought about it before, even to the point of searching for resorts to visit in California, but I just never took the dive.  Guess I figured that I’d be putting my career at risk if I followed through and someone managed to get pictures, ya know?”

 

“Well, that’s not a problem you have to worry about here.”

 

“That’s a good thing.  Now I know where I can go to really enjoy life without having my privacy invaded by crazy fans.  I tell ya, Max, it’s a pain in the ass bein’ even semi-famous.”

 

“I know what you mean.  Even though I’m not in your league, I have the same problem.  Just last week, I had some guy come up to me at Walmart to thank me for writing my books.  Said I’d helped him deal with some issues in his life.”

 

“Isn’t that weird?” LeVar asked.  “People just don’t think about the fact we’d like to be left alone.  If we pulled the same shit on them, they’d freak out.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  Tom keeps tellin’ me I need to get used to it, and I’ve tried, with no success.”

 

“Well, he’s right, you know.  Especially once word of our new movies gets out, then all the lunatics will be creeping out of the woodwork.  I hope you’ll be ready for the reaction from your readers.”

 

“I’ll just stay here and let Tom deal with it all,” I laughed.  The ringing of the phone interrupted us, and I excused myself from our conversation before answering.  “Max Sanders,” I greeted the caller.

 

“Good morning, is this Max Sanders, the author?” the caller inquired.

 

“It is, may I ask who’s calling?”

 

“Mr. Sanders, my name is Wayne Gillespie and I’m the national news director for Fox News.  I’ve heard about an interview you gave to a local news station that was aired last night and I’d like to talk to you about obtaining the rights to air that interview nationally.”

 

“No, absolutely not.”

 

“And may I ask why you won’t even consider the possibility?”

 

“Because I know how you people at Faux News treat stories like mine.  You hack them to pieces, airing only the bits you think will sensationalize the story for the sheeple who watch your ridiculous network.  Then you cut in your own lies and propaganda to drive your extreme right-wing positions home.  I won’t allow that to happen with this because it’s way too important.”

 

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Wayne retorted.  “I guess we’ll have to find some other way to obtain a copy of the interview.”

 

“Don’t bother, Wayne, you’ll just be wasting your time.  Would you like to tell me how you obtained my unlisted phone number?”

 

“We have our means,” he replied testily.

 

“And I’m sure they’re just as devious and underhanded as the rest of your company.  Goodbye.”  I hung up the phone and promptly called Ray at the Channel 17 News.

 

“Ray Snell, how may I help you?”

 

“Ray, Max Sanders.  I’ve got a little problem brewing and I hope you can help me nip it in the bud.”

 

“What’s going on, Max?”

 

“A Wayne Gillespie from Fox News just called me, wanting to obtain the rights to air my interview nationally.  I hope you can help stop that from happening.”

 

“I’ll do everything I can, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to stop them from obtaining a copy of it somewhere.”

 

“Well, you guys own the copyright to the interview, don’t you?”

 

“Sure we do.”

 

“If they air any part of it without your permission, wouldn’t they be liable for copyright infringement?”

 

“I’d have to check with our legal department on that, but I suppose it’s possible.”

 

“Well, check into it and get them ready to fight.  I do not want to give those scumbags any chance of airing a bit of my interview.  You know what they’ll do with it.”

 

“I sure do.  I’ll call legal right now to give them a heads up, Max.  Thanks for letting us know.”

 

“Thanks, Ray.  Have a good day.”  My next call was to Clarence.  After jousting with his receptionist, I finally got him on the line with me.

 

“What’s up this time, Max?” he inquired.

 

“Morning, Clarence.  I have an unlisted phone number, been that way since I got it just to keep the crazies from being able to call me whenever they wanted.”

 

“So, who called and ruined your day?”

 

“Fox News, of all the damn places.  I want you to do what you can to find out how they got my number.  If they hacked the phone company, or any other company that might have my private information, I want the hacking exposed.  If they paid off someone, I want that person to lose their job.”

 

“Max, we’ve talked about this, the rules are different for public figures.  And after your interview was on TV last night, you’ve most definitely become a public figure.”

 

“Maybe when I’m out and about but not when I’m in my own home, dammit.  And companies I deal with may have my phone number, but for their own use, not anyone else’s.  I should not have to deal with intrusions in my life while I’m at home.”

 

“Let me see what I can find out and I’ll let you know,” Clarence finally answered with a sigh of defeat.

 

“Thanks, that’s all I ask for.  Talk to you later.”

 

After I hung up the phone, LeVar calmly said, “Give it up, Max, you’re fighting a losing battle.”

 

“That may be, but it’s one I’m willing to fight.”

 

“Take it from someone who’s been in the business most of his life and struggled with trying to maintain some form of privacy and anonymity for myself and my family, you’re never gonna win.”

 

“Gee, thanks, LeVar, I appreciate your support,” I deadpanned.

 

LeVar laughed and continued, “Oh, I support you, all the way, but I also know the outcome.  But if you want to throw your money away, I won’t stop you.”

 

“At least I don’t have to worry about anybody getting pictures of us at home.”

 

“Well, ten years ago, maybe not, but you’d be surprised what the sneaky and driven can accomplish these days.  What with drones and hacking of security systems, you’ll be lucky to find peace anywhere.”

 

“Yep, you’re just a right ray of sunshine there, aren’t you?” I laughed.

 

“Not really, but I am being realistic.  I’m also giving you some things to watch for.  If I lived out here and wanted to maintain any level of privacy, I’d hire a company to come out and put a reflective film on all the glass in this part of the house, and on your pool shelter, too.  Especially with you guys being nudists.  I bet the view through the roof of the shelter would provide some very interesting views and pictures for some enterprising paparazzi.  Pictures you probably wouldn’t want out there.”

 

“You’re right about that,” I agreed.  “I’ll have Tom put Dylan on that task when he checks into increasing our security next week.”

 

“Who’s Dylan,” LeVar asked with curiosity.

 

“Tom’s old boss.  He’s resigned his position in the Sheriff’s department and he’s going to work with Tom.  One of the things Tom and I have already talked about is increasing our security out here.  Since Dylan knows all the alarm and most of the fencing companies in the area, that’s going to be his first job.  Granted, I don’t want turn our property into a prison camp, but I do want to keep out people who don’t belong here.”

 

“That’s probably a good idea.  Especially after your interview last night and the boys’ tonight.  I’ll be surprised if the Westboro lunatics aren’t camped out at the end of your drive by Monday.”

 

“They wouldn’t be the first idiots to do so,” I lamented.  “The only reason we did these interviews was another news crew was here at six in the morning a week ago.  We got rid of them and I talked to their competition instead.”

 

“Well, I wish you luck in keeping your life to yourself, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.”

 

“Yeah, I’m not going to, either,” I agreed sadly.  “Looks like it’s time to add the sauce to the ribs.  Lunch is close, hope you’re ready.”

 

“Still a bit early for me, but it’ll work out okay since I didn’t have breakfast.” 

 

I added my barbecue mixture to the foil-wrapped ribs, then checked on the potatoes.  They were looking pretty yummy and smelled even better.  I next pulled out plates, silver, napkins and glasses for us to use and set them on the bar counter.  After the ribs had fifteen more minutes to simmer and stew, we were ready to eat.  Since we’d talked all morning, our lunch was a pretty quiet affair.  We’d finished our meal and were just about to complete the cleanup when the drive sensor announced an arrival.

 

“Oh, crap, what do we do?” LeVar asked nervously.

 

“Well, there’s a couple of different options.  Either grab a pair of shorts, stay out of sight for a few minutes, or jump in the pool.”

 

“I like the sound of that pool idea.  That’s where you’ll find me,” he replied with a grin.

 

“Go on, then.  I’ll deal with whoever’s here and join you when I’m done.  I’ll bring towels for us, so don’t worry about that, okay?”

 

“See you in a bit,” LeVar replied after I handed him the shelter key.

 

As LeVar headed for the pool, I turned towards my bedroom to follow my own advice and pull on a pair of shorts.  Returning to the front door, I opened it to find Justin, the tree guy waiting for me.

 

“Oh, hey, Justin.  I’d forgotten you were coming out today.”

 

“Afternoon, Mr. Sanders.  Sorry we’re late, but it’s not been a good morning.”

 

“No worries, we all have those.  I’m just glad you’re here so the trees that got zapped Sunday night don’t fall across the drive.”

 

“I’m guessing it’s the two split and blackened ones across the drive from the garage.”

 

“Good guess,” I laughed.

 

“Well, we’ll get them taken care of for you, don’t worry.  Are you planning on going anywhere this afternoon?  I don’t want to block the drive if you need to get out.”

 

“Nope, and Tom won’t be back home until about four, so you should have plenty of time.  If you need me for anything, I’ll be out in the pool.  Just come on through the house.”

 

“Will do, sir.  I’ll let you know when we’re done.”

 

“Thanks, Justin.  See you in a while.”  He turned so he and Willy could get to work and after closing the door, I headed for the laundry room to grab a couple of towels, then joined LeVar in the pool.  I could just hear the buzz of Justin’s chainsaw starting up when I stepped into the shelter where LeVar was floating aimlessly on his back and he seemed to be rather comfortable and content.  “Enjoying your swim, I see,” I commented as I dropped our towels on the table and pulled my shorts back off.

 

“As a matter of fact, I am,” LeVar answered as he stood up in the shallow end.  “I can’t believe I’ve waited over sixty-five years to try skinny-dipping.  Whoever came up with the idea of wearing anything while swimming should be shot.”

 

“Ha!  I couldn’t agree more.”

 

“So, who was at the door?” LeVar asked.

 

“Just a guy to take care of a few trees that were hit by lightning last weekend.  You won’t mind if I swim laps, will you?”

 

“Knock yourself out, Max.  I’ll stay out of your way.”

 

I dove in and began my exercise.  When I’d completed my twenty laps and a few more to cool off, I joined LeVar where he was relaxing on the steps.  After my heart and breathing had returned to a more normal state, I finally asked the question I’d been avoiding all day.

 

“So, you gonna give me any hints about this new project that hit you last night?”

 

“Nope, sorry.  I don’t want to take the chance I’ll jinx it.”

 

“Fine, just be that way,” I chuckled.  The door to the shelter opened and Justin stepped inside to interrupt our chat.

 

“Hey, Mr. Sanders!” he called from the door.  “We’ve got both trees down, but we’re only gonna cut one apart to take with us today.  The other one’s still smokin’ pretty good inside and I don’t want to run a saw through it while it’s doin’ that.”

 

“No problem, Justin,” I replied.

 

“We’ll make sure it’s not blockin’ the drive before we leave, though, and we’ll come back late next week to deal with what’s left of it.”

 

“Sounds good to me.  Thanks for your help in taking care of the problem.”

 

“Well, I just wanted to give ya the scoop.  I’ll be back in when we’re done with the one and have it loaded up.  See ya in a little while.”  On that note, Justin disappeared, leaving the two of us alone again. 

 

I’d noticed during my whole interaction with Justin, LeVar never turned to face him so I commented, “Guess you’re not quite as comfortable as you thought.”

 

“It showed, huh?  He scared the shit out of me when he opened that door.  All I could think is ‘what if he recognized me, bare-assed naked with another guy’?”

 

“Well he’s gone now.  Besides, from where he was standin’, he couldn’t see we didn’t have swimsuits on, so no harm, no foul.”

 

“Easy for you to say, Max.  Hollywood kinda frowns on folks in my position in the industry being involved in what they consider an ‘unorthodox lifestyle’.  I mean, look how long it took for us to embrace gay and trans people.  Even women, for that matter.  While we seem to have finally reached a bit of parity with those groups, we still have a long way to go.  And I just don’t see them embracing random acts of nudity,” LeVar concluded with a chuckle.

 

“Well, if me and my family are going to eventually become a part of that machine, they’re going to get an eye-opening experience, because we’re not going to change who we are just to satisfy a bunch of prudes who feel the human body is something to be ashamed of.”

 

“I’m not saying you should, just be aware of the fact there are some people who won’t understand.  Especially with you guys being gay and raising sons.  While those two facts alone won’t raise too many eyebrows these days, adding in you’re a nudist family probably will among some people.”

 

“Well, we don’t go out of our way to advertise that aspect of our lives, LeVar, you can trust me on that.  We do have a few friends and family that know we’re nudists, but it’s a pretty select group of people we trust with our lives.”

 

“I’m honored to be welcomed as a member of that group, Max.”

 

“And we’re happy to include you.  Well, I’m about ready for a shower.  I’d like to be ready for Justin when they’re done outside.”

 

“Sounds good to me, lead the way.  I need to check my e-mail anyway and deal with any catastrophes that have come up during my absence.”  As we stepped inside and went our separate ways, LeVar quickly asked, “Shorts when I come back out?”

 

“It wouldn’t hurt since Justin could come back at any time.  At least have them with you so you could pull ‘em on without having to disappear when he does,” I added with a laugh.

 

“That’s what I was thinking, too.  See, I’m learning,” LeVar replied with a smirk.

 

When I finally returned to the living room, I found LeVar busy with his laptop and taking care of some business.  “Would you like something to drink?” I asked before taking up residence in my chair.

 

“Something diet would be nice, thanks.  I’d have gotten it myself, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous.”

 

“Nonsense, LeVar, you’re part of the family now.  Be right back.” 

 

I detoured back through the kitchen to grab a drink for both of us, then rejoined LeVar and curled up in my chair to read while he continued to deal with work matters.  Justin came back about thirty minutes later to let me know that he and Willy were done for the day, and that the remaining tree was well away from the drive.  With a promise to return next Friday to deal with the smoker, he and Willy took off to get an early start on their weekend.

 

As soon as I closed the door, LeVar stood and slipped off the shorts he’d been wearing since his shower, draping them over the arm of the loveseat.  As he sat back down, he commented, “God, I thought they’d never leave.”

 

“Looks like we have another convert,” I laughed.

 

“Well, if I’m gonna be part of the family, I may as well look the part, don’t ya think?” he laughed.

 

“By all means,” I replied before adding, “Mi casa es su casa,” as I also returned to complete comfort before taking my chair and picking up my book. 

 

 Another forty-five minutes passed quietly before the door flew open and the herd rumbled inside, obviously ready for the weekend and chattering about their plans for the next two days.  LeVar nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected intrusion, almost dropping his laptop to the floor as he tried to grab his shorts to pull them back on.  When he turned and saw the cause of the commotion, he visibly relaxed and took his seat again, settling his computer back on his thighs. 

 

As the boys crossed the entry to join us, they dropped their packs to the floor and, on seeing our guest was nude, were rapidly removing the trappings they were forced to wear to school.  By the time they reached us, only Mike was still partially dressed with just his socks remaining.  He quickly rectified that oversight when he sat in front of the fireplace, peeled them off his feet and dropped them on the floor.

 

“Hey, Dad, we’re home,” Andy giggled as he jumped in my lap and gave me a hug.

 

“Really?” I deadpanned.  “Ya coulda fooled me.”

 

“Yeah, really, Dad,” Mike chimed as he climbed in my lap and joined the hug.

 

“Hey, Mr. Burton, how’re you doin’?” Alex asked.

 

“I’m just great, Joey.”

 

“I’m not Joey, Mr. Burton,” the youngster vented.  “I’m Alex, see?” he offered as he turned around to display the birthmark on his behind.

 

“Whoops, sorry, Alex,” LeVar chuckled.  “My mistake.”

 

“It’s all right, Mr. Burton,” Joey retorted.  “Everyone mixes us up.  We’re used to it.”

 

“Well, I’ll try to get better.  The more I’m around you two, the better I’ll get, I promise.”

 

“Cool!” they chimed.

 

“Hey, Max,” Logan started, “is my dad still coming over tonight?”

 

“I haven’t heard any different, Logan.”

 

“Great, I really want him to hear what I said when I talked to the news dude.”

 

I’d finally realized I hadn’t heard from T.J. just yet and when I looked around, I found him sitting in a chair by himself.  He looked a bit morose and I silently wondered what was bothering him.

 

He picked his head up and looked me in the eye before saying, “I’m fine, Dad.  I got this feeling somethin’ bad’s gonna happen tonight and I can’t shake it.  I just can’t put my finger on it.”

 

Surprised at his answering my silent question, I shooed Mike and Andy off my lap, then turned to T.J. and said, “C’mere buddy.”  He crossed the space between us and slowly climbed in my lap.  Once he’d settled in, I wrapped my arms around him and asked, “When did this feeling hit you?”

 

“Just before school let out.”

 

“Any idea what might be happening or to who?”

 

“I wish I did, then maybe I could stop it,” T.J. groaned in defeat.

 

“Well, you should know you have no control over random events.”

 

“Yeah, I do.  But that don’t make me not want to stop it.  Whatever it is.”

 

“Well, if your feeling becomes clearer, let me know, please.”

 

“I will, Dad.  Thanks.” 

 

“Now, I gotta know, did you really ‘hear’ my question about you just now?”

 

“Um, yeah, I guess I did.  I told you the other day our link’s been gettin’ stronger.”

 

“Yeah, you did, but I didn’t realize it was becoming a two-way street.”

 

“Sure looks it, don’t it.  This is too freakin’ cool,” he enthused.  Before he slid off my lap, he gave me a hug, then went to pick up his pack and discarded clothing.  The others took the subtle hint and followed suit, all of them disappearing down the hall to their rooms.

 

“God, what a good bunch of kids, Max,” LeVar commented.

 

“Yeah, they are.  I worry about T.J., though.”

 

“What about?”

 

“Well, with his abilities, I’m concerned about the things he picks up from others and how they might affect him.  He already knows about everything that happened to me, and that’s a big load for a kid his age to be carrying around.  And his feeling tonight really bothers me.  So far as I know, he’s only picked up things from people he knows or is really close to, but this thing is new territory, even for him.”

 

“Well, I hope he’s wrong,” LeVar commiserated.

 

“Me, too.”  The boys started to filter back through, headed for the kitchen with their homework to get started on it.  I followed along and set them up with milk and cookies for a snack.  Joey and Alex had already opened the fifth-grade math text and were wasting no time as they continued filling in their notebooks.  Logan was reading his social studies book and T.J. was engrossed in his language arts text.  As for Mike and Andy, they were quietly talking about being on TV tonight and how they were going to be famous.  Not wanting to burst their bubble, I stifled my chuckle and returned to the living room.

 

I’d no sooner taken my seat when the drive sensor went off.  I was hoping it was Tom and headed for the front door to see who pulled in the drive.  I watched as the Flex rounded the corner of the drive and pulled into the garage.  Calling for the boys to help unload whatever Tom had picked up for us at the store, I headed for the garage with the herd following closely behind.  Though LeVar offered to assist, I let him know we had this covered.  Ten short minutes later, everything Tom had picked up had been carried inside and put away in its proper place.  After thanking the boys for their help, they returned to their homework while I followed Tom to the bedroom to give him a proper greeting.

 

As the door closed behind us, I pulled him into hug, planted a sweet kiss on his lips, then whispered, “I missed you today,” into his ear.

 

He returned the affection, then asked, “Can I get undressed now?”  I laughed and nodded my head.  As Tom proceeded to get comfortable, he asked, “So, what did you two do all day?”  I relayed the events of our quiet day and when I finished, the next question was, “Did LeVar decide to be nude on his own?”

 

“Sure did.  Came out of the bedroom that way this morning.  He thought he might feel better about it if he started the day nude.  He was a bit nervous at first, just like we were the first time with our parents, but he eventually chilled out and just enjoyed the freedom.”

 

“Well, we won’t get to enjoy our comfort much longer this evening.  Not with Brent’s parents and Charlie being here, anyway.  I don’t imagine they’d be too comfortable with it.”

 

“No, probably not.  Just one of those sacrifices we have to make occasionally.  Oh, where did you put Eric’s item from Wright’s home?”

 

“It’s on the desk in your study.  I figured that would be the safest place for it.”

 

“Good thinking.  Let’s not forget to give it to him tonight.  And make sure I order our pizzas just after five.  I want them ready to go when Rick stops to pick them up.”

 

“Gotcha covered, babe.  Shall we join the crew?”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me.  Make it so.”

 

“Oh, you too?” Tom laughed.

 

“Why should you get to have all the fun?” I countered as we left the bedroom.

 

As we rejoined LeVar and the boys in the living room, Logan asked, “Hey, can I call Dad to make sure he’s still coming tonight?”

 

“Sure thing, Logan,” Tom answered.

 

Only a minute had passed when Logan came back, a sad look of dejection filling his face.  “No answer,” he volunteered.  “He’s either out feedin’ the cows or in the shower, I guess.”

 

“I’m sure he’ll be here, buddy,” Tom offered.  “I don’t think he’d want to miss your TV debut.”  That little reminder put a bit of a smile back on the sad youngster’s face.  With all of us settled in the living room, the boys began to pepper LeVar with questions about his time on Star Trek.  He did his best to answer every query posed and after about an hour, the boys finally seemed to have their curiosities satisfied.  Until Alex let loose with one more.

 

“Whatever happened to the kid who played Wesley?”

 

“How much of the series have you seen so far?” LeVar asked.

 

“We’re just about to end the first season,” I answered.

 

“Well, I hate to spoil it for you, but Wil left the show just after the beginning of the fourth season.”

 

“What!?  Why?” the twins chimed.

 

“Well, he’d done a few things before Star Trek, one of which was a really popular movie called Stand by Me.  He had an opportunity to do another movie, and he really wanted it.  The problem was, their shooting schedule would have overlapped with ours for a week or two and our show’s people wouldn’t rearrange things to allow Wil to do the movie.  He was really upset with the decision and decided to leave permanently so he could concentrate on movies without any other conflicts.”

 

“Well, that just sucks!” Alex exclaimed.

 

“Do you still see him, Mr. Burton,” T.J. asked.

 

“After he left, he kinda disappeared off the radar, but every now and then, we get to see each other at conventions and such.  He’s in much better shape now than he used to be.”

 

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

 

“Well, he’s dealt with depression and anxiety since he was a kid, even while doing Star Trek.  He finally sought professional help and after working with his doctor and taking the proper medications, he doesn’t struggle with his issues as much as he used to.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Tom commented.

 

“Look, if you guys ever get out to California, I could probably arrange for you to meet him.  I’m sure he’d love to meet some of the next generation of fans.”

 

“Whoa, that’d be so cool,” Joey enthused.

 

“Thanks, Mr. Burton, we’d like that,” Alex added.

 

“Well, I hate to break this little party up, but I think it’s time we all found some shorts and shirts and get ready for our visitors.”

 

“Why bother, Dad?” Joey asked.

 

“Yeah, Brent’s mom said she was cool with it.”

 

“But both his mom and dad will be here, along with Logan’s dad.  We’ll see if it’s okay to change that when everyone is here, okay?”

 

“Yeah, all right,” T.J. muttered. 

 

On that note, we all separated to our own rooms to cover up.  As Tom and I were returning, the drive sensor announced our first guest’s arrival.  To our surprise, it was a car we didn’t recognize, so we waited at the front door to see who it was.  Once the car stopped, we discovered our surprise was a pleasant one as Malcom, Dylan and Damon extricated themselves from the vehicle and headed for the front porch.  Though we couldn’t imagine why they were here, Tom opened the door and let them in. 

 

After a flurry of greetings, I finally asked, “What the heck are you guys doin’ here?”

 

“Well, we watched your interview last night and thought we’d come out and watch the boys’ with you tonight,” Dylan answered.

 

“That’s all right, isn’t it?” Malcom asked.

 

“You bet, glad you could join us,” Tom said.

 

The boys started to come back from their rooms and upon spying our unexpected guests, they hustled over to join us.  With squeals of joy from all, they hugged Dylan and Malcom, then surrounded Damon and squished him in a seven-way squeeze fest.  When they finally released Damon, he asked, “What’s goin’ on, dudes?  All of you in trouble this weekend?”

 

“Nah, man, we got other people comin’ over tonight so we gotta stay dressed,” Joey answered.

 

“It sucks, but what’re we gonna do,” Alex added with a bit of grumpiness.

 

As we made our way towards the living room to visit for a bit, LeVar finally returned.

 

“Whoops, sorry guys,” Dylan began, “didn’t know someone was here already.”

 

“No worries, Dylan,” I replied.  “Dylan, Malcom, Damon, I’d like you to meet LeVar Burton.  LeVar, Dylan, Malcom and Damon.”

 

“Well, nice to meet you.  I heard about Dylan earlier today, but not you other two.”

 

“I hope what you heard was good,” Dylan chuckled while shaking LeVar’s hand.

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Burton,” Malcom greeted as the two shook hands.  “I’ve always admired your work, never thought I’d get the chance to meet you.”

 

“Please, Malcom, LeVar is fine.  And thanks for the compliment.  Just how do you tie in with this group?”

 

“Oh, Dylan and I are getting married.  Finally!”

 

“Congratulations,” LeVar replied.  “And how about Damon?”

 

“He’s my son,” Malcom answered.

 

“Nice, to meet you Damon,” LeVar greeted as he shook Damon’s hand.

 

“Nice to meet you, too, sir.  What’d Dad mean when he said he admired your work?”

 

“Well, I’m an actor, writer, director and producer.”

 

“Wow!  So, you’re, like, from Hollywood?  What the heck you doin’ here?”

 

“I came to talk to Max last night about turning his books into movies, and I stayed over another night so I could see the boys’ interviews tonight.”

 

“Cool,” Damon enthused.  “So, who else is comin’ that we gotta stay dressed,” he asked turning to Tom and me.

 

“Well, Logan’s dad will be here, along with Alex’s boyfriend Brent and his parents, then Joey’s boyfriend Josh, his brother Eric and their dad.”

 

“Just wondered.”

 

“Hey, Dad, can we go watch some TV before the others get here?” Andy asked.

 

“Why not?  We’ll let you know when it’s time to eat.”

 

“You better,” Mike retorted as the herd turned and headed to the theater.  The five of us settled in the living room to await the arrival of the others.  As we visited, I noticed the fireplace was about to die out, so I added a few more logs to keep it going into the evening.  Next to arrive were our parents, followed shortly by Lee and Carl.  After introducing them all to Malcom, we continued to chat.

 

“Hey, Dad, how’d your appointment go today?” I asked.

 

“Not too bad, I guess.  We talked a bit about what I said last night, and she told me that those old ideas won’t just magically go away.  And she’s obviously right, but I’m working on it.  I promise to keep a tighter rein on my tongue.”

 

“I’m glad to hear you’re gonna keep working on it.  We really like this new you.”

 

“I gotta say, Max, I’m likin’ it, too.  I feel more at peace than I have for a long time.”

 

The ongoing conversation was brought to a quick halt by the arrival of Brent, Ben and Monica.  After introductions all around, Brent disappeared into the theater with the other boys while Monica and Ben joined us in the living room.  Another five minutes of idle chatter was interrupted by Rick, Eric and Josh coming through the door with eight pizzas and lots of breadsticks signaling it was time to eat.  The only person missing was Charlie, but we assumed he would be here shortly. 

 

Tom sent Eric to retrieve the boys from whatever they were watching and when they returned, Joey and Josh shared a hug and kiss before grabbing plates and loading them up.  With ten kids and two grandfathers settled in around the dining room table, the rest of us gravitated to the living room and claimed spots around the coffee table where we could set our drinks while we balanced plates on our knees.  Despite the number of people in the house, it was rather quiet for once as everyone dug into their meal. 

 

I was half-way through emptying my plate when T.J. came out of the dining room, his face drawn and ashen.  I looked at him questioningly and he waved his hand for us to follow him.  I tapped Tom on the thigh and we quickly excused ourselves from the group to follow T.J. down the hall and into my study.  After closing the door, I asked, “What’s happened?”

 

“I don’t know for sure Dads, but it ain’t good.  I didn’t want to say nothin’ out there since Logan’s already freaked out ‘bout his dad not bein’ here, but I think what I’m feeling is ‘cause of him.”

 

“Oh, crap,” I muttered in disbelief.  “Any clue what might have happened?”

 

“None, and I’ve tried, Dad.  I think Pops and Uncle Dylan should go check on him.”

 

“Tom, you okay with that?” I asked with concern.

 

“You bet.  We’ll take the Flex and be back as soon as we can.”  With that, Tom turned and left.

 

I knelt in front of the munchkin and said, “Thanks for letting us know, T.J.  Are you okay?”

 

“I guess so.  Don’t really have much of a choice right now, do I?”

 

“No, I suppose you don’t.  Why don’t we rejoin the others while Pops and Dylan check things out?”

 

“Can I stay with you?  I don’t think I could control things ‘round Logan ‘til we know what’s goin’ on.”

 

“No problem.  Let’s go sit by the fireplace.”  By the time we’d rejoined the rest of the family, Tom and Dylan were long gone and I received many questioning looks from the remaining assemblage.  I could do nothing at the moment except shrug my shoulders to avoid tipping off Logan that something was up.  T.J. and I sat on the hearth and I draped an arm around his shoulder.  Despite the heat emanating from the fireplace, I could feel him shivering with concern for Logan.  The rest of the boys and their two grandfathers were still huddled around the dining room table and talking up a storm, oblivious to ominous events taking place elsewhere.

 

Ten minutes later, I heard T.J. quietly moan, ‘Oh, shit’, and I looked down at him with concern.  He looked up, stared solemnly into my eyes and quickly shook his head.  Five seconds later the phone rang and even without T.J.’s gift, I knew what I was going to hear when I answered the call.  I ran to the study with T.J. on my heels and picked up the noisemaker while T.J. closed the door behind us.

 

“What’s happened, Tom?”

 

“Charlie’s dead,” he muttered matter-of-factly.

 

“What the hell happened?” I pushed.

 

“Looks like he was grinding feed for the cows or something and his coveralls got snagged on the PTO shaft running the grinder.  He never had a chance.”

 

“Oh, fuck!” I exclaimed.  “What the hell do we do now?  What do I tell Logan?  Should I bring him out there?”

 

“No way, Max.  This ain’t pretty.  I wouldn’t want Logan’s last image of his dad to be … well, this.  Dylan and I are going to wait for Derek and the ME, and then we’ll be back.  Don’t have a clue how long we’ll be here.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, take as long as you need.  Do you think I should tell Logan now or wait ‘til you guys get back?”

 

“Now or an hour from now, ain’t gonna change what’s happened,” Tom intoned seriously.

 

“No, I guess not.  I’ll try to hold off until you’re back.  We’ll see, I guess.”

 

“I wish you luck, babe.  Just know I’m with you in spirit if not in body.”

 

“I know, thanks.”  I hung up the phone and rested my head in my hands for a moment to collect my thoughts.  When I finally felt ready to move, I lifted my head up to find T.J. staring me directly in the eyes.

 

“Charlie’s dead, ain’t he?” he asked through quivering lips.

 

“Yes, son, he is.  A bad accident happened while he was getting ready to feed some livestock.”

 

“Well, shit!  That’s just gonna kill Logan.  What’re we gonna do?”

 

“Support and take care of our friend and muddle through the best way we can.  Let’s get out of here, okay?”  T.J. let me hold his hand as we left the study.

 

As we were about to rejoin the group in the living room, Logan stuck his head out of the dining room and asked, “Hey, was that my old man?  Where the heck is he?”

 

“No, Logan, it was Tom.”

 

“Wait, where’d he go?  And where’s Uncle Dylan?” Logan asked with serious concern.

 

I let go of T.J.’s hand and while he went to sit with his Mama and Papa, I walked towards Logan.  When I reached him, I gently said, “Come with me, young man.  We need to talk about something.”

 

Fear filled his face and he cried, “No!  I don’t wanna.”

 

Not wanting to extend the situation any longer than necessary in front of everyone else, I scooped the trembling lad into my arms and carried him to my bedroom so we could talk in private.  After closing the door, I set Logan on the bed, then sat beside him.  I wrapped an arm around his shoulder and started the conversation I really didn’t want to have right now, but knew I had to. “Logan, I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but …”

 

“What, my prick of an old man too fuckin’ busy with his damn farm to come see me on TV?” he groused.

 

“Oh, geez, if only that were all it was.  No, Logan, I’m very sorry, but your dad’s dead.”

 

“NO-o-o-o-o!” he screamed.  “What happened!?” he cried out as tears filled his eyes and he scrambled into my lap where I wrapped both arms tightly around his trembling body.

 

“From what Tom said, it looks like he was getting ready to feed your cows or something and there was an accident.  When he and Dylan found your dad, he was already gone.”

 

“I don’t believe it!  Daddy was always real careful when he was grinding feed.”

 

“I don’t know what else to tell you.”

 

“I wanna go!”

 

“No, that’s not going to happen, Logan,” I replied as calmly as I could.  “Tom said you shouldn’t see your dad the way he is right now.”

 

“Oh, man, I can’t believe this fuckin’ crap,” Logan whimpered as the tears rolled down his cheeks.  “We was just startin’ to get our shit together and was gonna be a real father and son after the last two years of me bein’ nothin’ but his damn whippin’ post.  And after I said all that crap ‘bout him to the TV dude the other day.  I’m a real shithead for a son, let me tell ya.  This is all my fault, I just know it is.”

 

“Logan, listen to me,” I said as I turned his face towards mine.  “You’re a great kid and what happened is not your fault.  It was an accident, simple as that.”

 

“But I hated my daddy for the way he’s beat me.  And I know he fuckin’ hated my guts for momma gettin’ sick and dyin’.  You don’t know how many times I’d wished he’d just fuckin’ die.  I wanted him gone and outta my life.  Guess I finally got my fuckin’ wish, didn’t I?  What the hell have I done!?” he cried in anguish.

 

“Logan, please don’t talk like that.  Nothing you’ve done or felt had any effect on what happened tonight.  You remember the other night when your dad and I talked?  He told me how much he loved and missed you.  He really wanted you two to work out your problems and have you back together again.  And despite what you’ve just said, I know you loved your dad just as much, if not more.  The one thing you’ve always said while you’ve been living with us is how much you wanted to go back home and live with your dad.”

 

“But that can’t happen now, can it?  What’s gonna happen with me, where ’m I gonna go?”

 

“I don’t have the answer to that question right now, but we’ll figure it out in due time, together.”

 

“Thanks, Max.  I don’t know if I believe all that crap ‘bout this not bein’ my fault, but I’ll try.”

 

“That’s all I can ask for, buddy.  Look, we know this is gonna be hard for you, but remember, we all love you, too, and we’ll do everything we can to help with whatever you need.  You know that, don’t you?”

 

“Sure, I do.  And I’m gonna let ya, too.  I just don’t know what happens next, do you?”

 

“Not a clue, young man, but we’ll find out and take care of whatever it is.  We’ll just take things one step and one day at a time, okay?  But, I promise, we’ll take all those steps together.”

 

“Not much else I can do, I guess.  Does this mean I’ll get to stay with you guys forever?”

 

“That’s about twenty steps down the road, Logan, but we’ll see what happens.”

 

“Thanks, Max, I love you guys.”

 

“And we love you, too, Logan.  You ready to get out of here?”

 

“Can I have a few minutes alone?”

 

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, right now.  Would it be okay if I sent T.J. in to stay with you?”

 

“Um, yeah, that’d be cool, I guess.  I just need to think.”

 

“I understand, buddy.  Take all the time you want and I’ll send T.J. back.”  I gave Logan another long hug and kissed the top of his head before leaving the room and sending T.J. back to stay with him until Logan felt ready to come back out.  When I finally rejoined everyone in the living room, I discovered all of the boys except T.J. were in the theater to watch TV until it was time for the boys’ interviews.  I took my chair and with a very heavy heart told everyone else what had happened.

 

 

I quietly opened Dad’s bedroom door and found a miserable looking Logan still sitting on the bed, eyes red as could be and snot running from his nose.  I first went to the bathroom and peeled off some toilet paper so he could wipe his face.  I then handed the bundle of tp to him, crawled up on the bed to sit and asked, “Hey, Logan, I’m really sorry ‘bout your dad.  You okay, dude?”

 

After wiping his eyes and runny nose, he squealed, “No, I’m not okay, dammit!  My daddy’s dead!”

 

I pulled my buddy into a hug and whispered, “Yeah, I know, man.  I wish I coulda done more.”

 

“Watchu’ talkin’ ‘bout, T.J.?” Logan asked with puzzlement filling his face.

 

“Ever since the end of school, I’ve had this feeling somethin’ really bad was gonna happen tonight.”

 

“Wait, you knew he was gonna die and didn’t do nothin’?  What the fuck, dude?”

 

“Like I said, Logan, it was just a feeling.  I told Dad about it right after we got home, and even though I kept feelin’ the same shit, I didn’t know what or who until it was too late.  I’m really sorry.  If I coulda done somethin’, I would have.  You gotta know that.”

 

“Yeah, I know, T.J.  And I ain’t mad at you.  I’m just pissed off at everything and everybody right now.  Mostly pissed at my dad for bein’ such a prick the last couple years, but that ain’t right, neither.”

 

“It may not be right, Logan, but I understand it.  I’ve been mad at my mom for years for not knowin’ who my dad is, and then she got her dumb ass sent to prison so she can’t be my mom no more, but I guess that’s just the way shit goes sometimes.”

 

“Ain’t that the freakin’ truth?  And there ain’t a damn thing we can do about any of it, is there?” Logan moaned in defeat.

 

“Not really, no.  Just keep moving forward best we can, just like Dad’s doin right now.  I know you hurt like hell and you’re mad at everybody, but I’m here for you, dude.  You need anything, just ask.”

 

“Thanks, T.J.  If Momma and Daddy had ever had another kid, I’da wanted him to be you.  You’re the best brother a dude could ever ask for.”

 

“Thanks, Logan, I feel the same way ‘bout you.”

 

“I’m scared ‘bout what’s gonna happen with me.  Will I get to stay with you guys or am I gonna hafta go somewhere else and live with somebody I don’t know?  I don’t wanna go nowhere,” Logan whined.

 

“And we don’t want you to, either.  I bet our dads will do everything they can so you can stay here.”

 

“I sure as hell hope so.  I’d be lost without you guys.”

 

I pulled Logan into another hug and held him tight while I just let him cry.  He was using the bottom half my shirt to wipe his eyes and nose, but I didn’t give a shit about that.  It’s just a damn shirt and Logan was all I cared about right now.

 

 

As soon as I’d taken my chair, Dad, asked, “What’s going on son?  Where’d Tom and Dylan go?”

 

“They went out to check on Logan’s dad, Charlie.”  The next logical question of ‘why’ was voiced by Bill.  “Well, T.J.’s had this feeling all afternoon that something bad was going to happen tonight and while we were eating, he told Tom and me he thought it was Charlie.  So, I asked Tom to take Dylan and check on things.”

 

“And?” Mom prompted.

 

“Tom said there was a bad accident and Charlie died.”  A collective gasp overtook the group.

 

“Oh, my, that’s horrible,” Estelle cried in anguish.

 

“How’s Logan taking the news?” Dad asked.

 

“Just like you’d expect, I’d guess, pretty badly.  Especially since he thinks it’s all his fault.”

 

“How the hell could he think that?” Carl asked.

 

“Well, Logan’s wished his dad would die the past couple of years because his dad was beating him.  Logan said he guessed he finally got his wish.  I tried to tell him what happened isn’t his fault, but he’s not buying it.  Not just yet, anyway.”

 

“I can understand that,” Malcom volunteered.  “I’d be happy to talk with him if he wants.”

 

“Thanks for the offer, Malcom, we’ll see.”

 

“What’s going to happen with Logan?” Lee asked.

 

“Who knows?  With both parents gone, I guess the next thing is to see if there are any other family members who would take him in.”

 

“Why doesn’t he just stay here with you?” Rick asked.

 

“I sure don’t have a problem with the idea,” I agreed, “but it’s not going to be up to us to decide that.  That’ll be up to somebody like Carol and the courts to figure out.  I’ll need to call Carol in the morning to let her know what’s happened.”

 

“Well, I hope they do what’s best for Logan,” Monica thought out loud.

 

“We all do,” I intoned seriously.  T.J. and Logan were finally coming back from the bedroom and I could see they were both holding tightly to each other.  When they reached us, both climbed in my lap, one on each thigh, and I wrapped my arms around them.  “How ya doin’, buddy?” I asked.

 

“Numb,” Logan whimpered.  “Have you told the others yet?”

 

“Just the adults.  All the boys are watching TV, so they don’t’ know yet.”

 

“Can you tell them?  I don’t think I can deal with that right now.”

 

“Of course, I will.  Do you want me to do it before or after we watch your interviews?”

 

“Might as well do it before, I guess, get it over with.”

 

“You goin’ with me?”

 

“Yeah, I just don’t want to say it out loud yet.  I feel like if I don’t say it, it won’t be real.”

 

“Well, let’s go then.”  I let the boys crawl off my lap before I stood to follow them to the theater.  It took us several minutes to escape the hugs and shows of concern everybody was sharing with Logan, but we finally reached our destination.  When I opened the door and the three of us stepped inside, the seated group turned their heads as one to see who was joining them.

 

“Is it time to watch our interviews?” Alex asked.

 

“Not yet, but I need to tell you guys something.  Can you pause the show for a few?” I asked.  While Alex punched the button on the remote, T.J. and Logan crawled into a chair together.  With the motion on the screen halted and the sound silenced, I stood in front of the group to relay the news.  “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just gonna tell ya.  Logan’s dad died this evening in an accident on their farm.”  Surprise and shock rippled through all eight hearing the news for the first time. 

 

Less than five seconds passed before they all surrounded Logan with hugs, ‘I’m sorry’ and concern and caring you wouldn’t normally expect to see from kids their age.  But I had to admit that I wasn’t too surprised as I know how good all these kids are.  Seeing as Logan was in good hands, I waited until the hugfest broke up, then knelt in front of him, and said, “You need anything, to talk, cry, cuss, whatever, I’m here for you, any time you need me.”

 

“I know, Dad.  Thanks.”

 

Tears were flooding my eyes and I almost walked face first into the door as I left the boys in the theater.  After stopping in the kitchen to clean my face with some paper towels, I finally rejoined the adults in the living room.  On reaching the solemn group, I realized I should have brought the roll with me as there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  After a quick trip back through the kitchen to correct my oversight, I settled back in my chair and passed the roll around.  Everybody took at least one for immediate use and a few took a couple of extras for later.

 

“How’d that go, Max?” Ben asked.

 

“Logan’s in good hands, folks.  And with Alex and Joey having been through this themselves, I’m sure they’ll give Logan the support he needs as he deals with his loss.”  We continued to talk quietly amongst ourselves about inconsequential things for the next half hour when we finally heard the drive sensor go off.  I was seriously hoping it was Tom and Dylan returning because I didn’t think I could deal with another catastrophe tonight.  Hearing the rumble of the garage door closing was about the sweetest sound I could imagine at this moment in time.

 

I headed down the hall to the garage and reached the door just as it opened for the two to come inside.  Dylan patted my shoulder as he passed by and Tom quietly closed the door before asking the obvious question, “How’s Logan?”

 

“Torn up, hon.  How’re you?”

 

“Not much better.  I know we didn’t like Charlie much the first time we met, but he seemed to have changed some since that day.  Still, nobody deserves to die like he did.”

 

“Any idea what happened for sure?”

 

“Sebastian, the ME, is pretty sure it’s what I said.  Charlie’s coveralls were wrapped around the PTO shaft from the tractor and his body was thrown aside like a rag doll.  It’s like it ripped ‘em right off him and damn near broke every bone in his body as it did.  I’ve seen fatal car accidents that didn’t cause that much damage.  Not a pretty sight, let me tell you.”

 

I shuddered as I visualized the lifeless mass of mangled flesh and broken bones in my mind before finally replying, “No, I’m sure it wasn’t.  Do you think we should still watch the boys’ interviews tonight, or should we just record and watch ‘em later?”

 

“With all these people here, I think we should go ahead and watch.  It might distract us for a while.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.  Somehow it just seems wrong to carry on like nothing has happened, though.”

 

“You remember the afternoon you talked to Paul?”  After receiving a quick nod, Tom continued.  “One of the questions I asked Paul before you came back out of the bedroom was whether we should go ahead and have a birthday party after what you’d just remembered.  He told me that continuing as if things were normal couldn’t hurt a bit, so that’s what we did.  I think the same reasoning applies tonight.”

 

“But what about what Logan said to Ray?  He didn’t pull any punches about how things were between him and Charlie.  I think hearing that now could really hurt him.”

 

“We’ll play it by ear, I guess.  If he doesn’t want to watch his part, one of us can go to the living room with him.”

 

“Yeah, okay.  Let’s go, then, and get this over with.”  While the evening had started out great with the boys’ interview being the most important thing happening tonight, events conspired to make to make them seem almost irrelevant.  We finally headed down the hallway to round up our guests and continued on across the house to the theater.  As we passed through the dining room, each of us grabbed a chair so we’d have enough seats for everyone.  As we entered the theater, the boys quickly moved so they were sharing recliners as they had last night.  The second row of recliners went to our parents, LeVar and Rick while the rest of us settled onto their borrowed dining room chairs. 

 

As I retrieved the remote from Alex, he quietly asked, “Hey, Dad, can we lose these freakin’ clothes, yet?  They’re drivin’ us crazy.”

 

“I don’t care, buddy,” I answered before my brain kicked in and I realized we still had a couple of guests who might be a bit surprised with that development, but it was too late to change course now.

 

“Swe-e-e-t,” Alex replied as he stood on the chair and gave me hug.  “For an old fart, you’re pretty cool, Dad.”

 

“Thanks,” I laughed.

 

He turned to the others and said, “C’mon, dudes, let’s get comfortable,” then jumped off the chair and ran out of the theater, quickly followed by all the others.  As I took my seat next Tom, I changed the satellite to Channel 17 to find the credits of the last program still rolling up the screen.  The boys were starting to filter back in just as the next to last commercial before their interviews began. 

 

They all climbed back in their seats except for Logan who walked over to Tom and asked, “Can I sit with you, Pops?”

 

“You bet, buddy, climb on up here,” Tom answered as he patted his meaty thigh.  Logan followed instructions and was soon comfortably ensconced on Tom’s lap with Tom’s strong arms wrapped around him.  Whether Tom put any extra thought into Logan calling him Pops or not, I couldn’t tell.  And all my interest in that disappeared when Ray appeared on the screen with his introduction to tonight’s show.

 

“Good evening and thank you, again, for joining us for tonight’s special broadcast.  I am Raymond Snell with the NBC affiliate Channel 17 News located in Decatur, Illinois.  If you joined us last night, you met local author Max Sanders and his fiancé Tom Wright, and you heard Max’s story of surviving horrendous abuse at the hands of people he and his family had trusted.

 

“During that interview, you also heard a little bit about the boys Max and Tom are in the process of adopting.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting their sons and a few of their friends the same afternoon.  While parts of their stories were published in the Journal-Register last week, the boys all felt it was important for them to tell of their own journeys and how they feel about becoming a part of this growing family.

 

 “Without further delay, let’s hear what they had to say.”  The screen momentarily faded to black before the image of Mike and Andy sitting on the love seat in front of the fireplace filled the screen.

 

“Hi, boys.  Would you like to tell our audience your names and how old you are?”

 

“I’m Mike Broadhead, and I’m six.”

 

“And I’m Andy Cox and I’m six, too.”

 

“And you’re both being adopted by Mr. Sanders and Mr. Wright who I’ve already talked to, right?”

 

“You bet,” the boys answered together.

 

“Would you like to tell our viewers how that happened?”

 

“Well,” Mike started, “My mom and dad were really mean to me.  They used to yell at me, hit me all the time and lock me in a closet.  I never got much to eat, either, and I was really skinny, the smallest kid in my class at school.”

 

“Do you have any idea why they treated you the way they did?”

 

“How the heck should I know?  I’m just a kid, ain’t I?”  Everyone let go a little giggle at that answer.

 

“So, how did you end up here with Max, Tom and your new brothers?”

 

“Well, a neighbor lady where I used to live called somebody and told them what was goin’ on.  I guess she could hear it when mom and dad would yell and hit me ‘cause the walls in those stinkin’ trailers weren’t very thick.  Then, another lady came to the trailer and when she saw what was goin’ on, she took me with her and I moved in with the Hamiltons.  A few months later I met my new dad and got to move in with him and T.J. and Joey and Alex.”

 

“And how do you like it here?”

 

“It’s great!  Our dads really love us, and they take real good care of us, too.  They don’t’ yell or hit us, even when we do somethin’ wrong.  We play games, swim, watch TV.  They even read to us.  My real mom and dad never did nothin’ like that with me.”

 

“Sounds like you have a good time.”

 

“You bet.  We all love it here.”

 

“Thank you, Mike.  Now, let’s turn to Andy.  Would you like to tell our audience how you ended up here?”

 

“Sure, my mom’s boyfriend was a bad man.  He was doin’ all kinds of nasty things and mom helped him.  And Russ used to beat on me and my mom, too.  Then, one Saturday, I came over here to spend some time with Mike, Mark, and Billy, and everything changed.”

 

“What happened that day?”

 

“Well, we’d gone swimmin, and after we were done and gettin’ ready to watch a movie, I said somethin’ about the beatings Russ had done to me.  When my new dads checked me out, they could see I had bruises all over me.  That’s when Pops called his boss and let him know.  And when Uncle Dylan showed up, he checked me over, too, and said they’d take care of my problem.  So, him and Pops and couple of other cops went to my house and took mom and Russ away.  And since they’re both gonna be in jail for long time, here I am.  Oh, and Pops killed one of Russ’ friends after that guy shot him.”

 

“Wow, that sounds amazing.  I’m glad you’re safe here.”

 

“Yeah, me too.  I’m a lot happier than I used to be.”

 

“I bet you are.  Do you like having brothers?”

 

“That’s the best part of livin’ here, man.  I never had no one to play with before, but that ain’t a problem no more.”

 

“We’re glad to hear you’re both doing so well.  I want to thank you for sharing your stories with us this afternoon.  What say we give a couple other boys a chance to talk now?”

 

“Sure thing, Mr. Snell,” Mike chirped just before the screen went black.  When the picture came back, the next pair up were T.J. and Logan.  Our parents gave a little round of applause when T.J. introduced himself as ‘T.J. Wright-Sanders’, but quiet quickly returned as Logan began to tell his story.  I looked over at the pair in the chair next to me and could see Logan had his ears covered so he couldn’t hear what he’d said and he’d buried his face in Tom’s chest and his body was shaking as he sobbed into Tom’s body.  I reached over, laid a hand on his shoulder and gave him a little squeeze of support.

 

Once Ray started talking to T.J., Logan dropped his hands to his lap, but continued to cry softly, though it was hard to hear with his face buried in Tom’s chest.  When the segment ended and the screen went blank again, I heard Logan mutter to himself, ‘dammit, why did I say all that shit ‘bout my dad?  I made him sound like a real bastard.’  I didn’t have a chance to say anything to him as the picture reappeared with Joey, Josh and Eric filling the screen.  Everyone laughed heartily as Mike and Andy suddenly crashed into Joey and Josh and corrected their last names.  Quiet returned again when the wild pair moved off-camera and Ray started talking with the trio.

 

With those three done, the screen faded again and when the picture came back, Alex and Brent took over.  We all enjoyed another quick laugh at Alex’s comment about him and Joey being too old to be adopted, but calm was quickly restored as the pair continued.  All too soon, the segment ended and Ray came back by himself to introduce the last segment.

 

“And there you have it, folks.  Though the story in the paper last week gave you some of the information about these astounding young men, they didn’t give you the full story.  While I’m sure many of you disagree with the idea of gay men being allowed to adopt any child, you’ve now heard the reason why Max and Tom are being allowed to make them their sons.  Just like their dads, four of those five boys are gay.  I, personally, can’t think of anyone better to raise a gay child than a loving, nurturing, strong, confident gay parent and we wish them all the best in the future together as a real family.

 

“Before we end tonight’s special, we have one more thing to share.  You heard the boys talk about the support group they’ve helped create at their school for gay youth.  You’ve also heard about T.J. and Tom helping save the life of one of the district’s students recently.  Alex, Joey, and T.J., along with their dads, were all involved in a workshop at the school where the idea for the support group was first voiced.  As a part of last night’s show, we included clips of Max’s presentation to the school’s staff.  Tonight, we are going to share Alex, Joey, and T.J.’s full presentation.”  The screen faded again, only to come back to the threesome standing in the library at school with us behind them.

 

“Hi, I’m Joey and I’m a faggot.”

“Howdy, my name’s Alex and I’m queer.”

“Hidey-ho, I’m T.J. and I’m a pervert.”

“In case you ain’t figured it out yet, we’re all gay.”

“No way!” was heard from off-camera. 

“You’re too young to know that!” came from another faceless voice.

“First, Mrs. McMurdo, yes, way,” Joey replied. 

“Second, Mr. Clark, we know,” Alex continued. 

“Third, all of you, it’s who we are, and we’re done hiding it.”

“We saw you all jump in surprise when we said those words.” 

“You didn’t much like ‘em, did you?” 

“Well, guess what, we don’t like ‘em either.” 

“But, unlike you, we’re gonna …”

“… hear those words directed at us …”

“… for the rest of our lives.” 

“Calling people like us and our dads fags, perverts, queers, pansies, …” 

“… is just as bad as calling black people …”

“… like our good friend Dylan the n-word.” 

“They’re all slurs meant to demean …”

“… and hurt the person they’re aimed at.” 

“And that crap has to stop.” 

“One thing we knew would happen today …” 

“… was at least one of you would say…” 

“… we couldn’t know we’re gay at our age.” 

“Thanks for making us right, Mr. Clark.” 

“But, you couldn’t be more wrong.” 

“Why do adults think kids can’t or don’t know who they are?” 

“When did you know you were straight?” 

“Sure, we don’t all figure it out at seven or eight …” 

“… some of us don’t put it all together until we’re in our thirties,” Alex said as he turned to look at me.

“For most kids, though, it usually happens in their teens …” 

“… when their bodies start changing and the hormones kick in …” 

“… and they suddenly realize they don’t care about the other sex.” 

“We may be younger than most …” 

“… but that doesn’t mean we don’t …” 

“… know who we’re attracted to.” 

“Knowing us can’t make you gay.” 

“Touching us or hugging us can’t make you gay.” 

“Being kind to us can’t make you gay.” 

“Accepting us for who we are can’t make you gay.” 

“Treating us with the respect we …”

“…  deserve can’t make you gay.” 

“You don’t need to hide your kids from us.” 

“We can’t make them gay, either, by the way.” 

“It’s really pretty simple, folks …” 

“… you’re either straight or you’re not …” 

“… and nothing you do can change who you are.” 

“Oh, sure, you can fake it …” 

“… lie about it to yourself and others …” 

“… but it really doesn’t change anything.” 

“We don’t want anything you don’t already have.” 

“We don’t want special treatment.” 

“But we do deserve to be treated …” 

“… the way you want to be treated …” 

“… with love and kindness and respect.” 

“One thing we won’t do is stand by …” 

“… and watch while one of us is being …”

“… bullied just for being who we are.” 

“Would you think it’s okay if …”

“… a gay kid bullied a straight kid …” 

“… simply because he or she is straight?” 

“Of course, you wouldn’t.”

“So why should it be okay in reverse?” 

“Easy answer, it isn’t, never was, and never will be.” 

“Just because we’re a little different from you …” 

“… doesn’t mean we don’t want to be loved and needed …” 

“…by the people in our lives, our families and our friends.” 

“We’re lucky, though, we have two dads who’ve found us …” 

“… and they’ve given us a home where we don’t have to …” 

“… worry ‘bout that ‘cause, in our home, we’re not different.” 

“And we know that our …” 

“… dads and brothers will …” 

“… always love us, no matter what.” 

“You just heard our dad tell you about how …”

“… close he came to killin’ himself last year.”

“We’re so glad he didn’t do it ‘cause we …”

“… wouldn’t be brothers now if he had.”

“And we wouldn’t have two dads who …”

“… love us and take care of us …

“… and would do anything for us.”

“Dad told us just the other night …”

“… that we saved his life.”

“Well, guess what, he saved our lives, too.”

“Who knows where we’d end up without …”

“… living in such a loving home?”

“Our dads are the best dads …”

“… any kid could ever want …”

“… whether they’re gay or straight.”

“We know that they’ll support us in anything …”

“… we want to do, and they’ll help us …”

“… to be the best people that we can be.”

“And we all love them for that,” the three chimed.

“We know we can’t be the only gay kids in this school.” 

“But the others are hiding it because …”

“…they’re afraid or ashamed of who they are.” 

“They’re worried others will treat them …”

“… differently or hate them for being gay.” 

“Let’s face it, this is a small town and a small school.” 

“It’s not gonna be easy for a kid to be openly gay out here.” 

“We three are taking a risk today by telling you all who we are.” 

“But we’re willing to do that to prove there’s nothing wrong with it.” 

“We want to work with you …”

“… and Mr. Franklin to create a support …”

“… group for the gay kids in this school.” 

“We want all those other students to come …”

“… out of hiding and be proud of who they are.” 

“We want them all to know they are loved …”

“… and someone really cares for them.” 

“Even if it’s just us three munchkins.” 

“Only by doing that will they see their true selves and know they’re okay,” T.J. said. 

“Only by doing that can they embrace their futures and the joys that await them,” Joey continued. 

“Only by doing that can they be at peace with themselves and live the life they were destined for,” Alex concluded the train of thought. 

“I think that’s about all we wanted to say,” Alex started. “But I want to give you just one more thing to think about. If you have a problem with us being gay, then the problem is yours and yours alone. We don’t have a problem being gay and our family doesn’t have a problem with us being gay.

“And you want to know why? Because it isn’t a problem! It’s just who we are. And since we certainly don’t have a problem with most all of you being straight, how could you possibly have a problem with us being gay? Being gay is such a teeny-tiny part of who we are as a whole, that it’s really inconsequential in this grand thing called life. And all of us intend to live that life to fullest.” 

“And to be bluntly honest about it,” Joey started, “we don’t much care what anyone thinks of us. We’re not gonna live our lives to make you happy, we’re gonna live it so we’re happy, so our dads are happy, and so all our family is happy. Beyond them, we’re really not too worried about what other people think.” 

“Yeah! What my brothers said,” T.J. finished.

 

Fade to black one more time.  Then Ray returned with his final thoughts.

 

“What else can anyone say?  Those three brave young men told the entire staff at their school they’re gay to prove their point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being who you are, being true to yourself, being true to others.  The simple fact that their group has already helped save one life speaks volumes to the importance of such support groups in every school district in this country.  We at Channel 17 are going to be pushing the Decatur school district to create such a group in our local schools, and we urge all other schools to do the same.

 

“In the short time I spent with Max, Tom and their boys, I learned a lot about myself and my perceptions of the other people in my life and workplace.  I’ve tried all my life to be a good person, and while I am loathe to admit this, I have fallen woefully short of the example you just witnessed in Joey, Alex, and T.J.’s performance.  I will no longer judge others based on their appearance, how they move their bodies, how they speak or any other such superficial and wholly unimportant characteristics.  No, I will now listen to their words, witness their actions, see how they treat other people before I decide if a person is good or bad. 

 

“These three astounding young men are way beyond me with their intelligence, composure, caring for others and so many other things I don’t have time to bore you with the complete list tonight.  They have restored my faith of the heart and my faith in the human race.  I can only hope that, someday, I will be able to live up to the example they set for all of us and we should all strive to attain that goal.  It’s a high bar to reach, but I tell you right now, I’m going work my butt off until I get there.

 

“From all of us here at Channel 17, we’d like to thank everyone for tuning in last night and tonight.  We hope you’ve learned something new about yourself and the people you share your lives with.  I’m Raymond Snell for the Channel 17 News, thank you and good night.”  One more fade to black and the end credits began to roll.  Instead of the normal cheesy music local stations regularly use, they used the song Faith of the Heart performed by Rod Stewart.  I could only assume that song was selected to reiterate what Ray said in his closing.

 

When the show finally ended and the follow-up commercials started, I turned off the TV and sat in stunned silence for a few moments.  I didn’t move until we were surrounded by all the boys pulling Tom, Logan and me into a giant group hug.

 

When the hug finally broke up, Alex punctured the ensuing silence when he asked, “Did you hear what he said about us?”

 

“Uh, yeah, ya goofball,” I answered.  “I was right here the whole time.”

 

“And he says we’re better people than he is,” Joey laughed.

 

“He don’t know us very well, does he guys?” T.J. asked with a giggle.

 

“Don’t sell yourselves short, boys,” Tom responded.  “All of you are great kids and I think Ray’s right.  We could all learn a lot from any of you.”

 

Logan looked up to Tom and with a crooked smirk, said, “Have you been drinkin’, Pops, ‘cause that’s crazy talk.”

 

“Not a drop, young man.  Now hop off my lap would ya, my legs are achin’ and about to fall off.” 

 

Logan jumped down with a chuckle before turning back to Tom, giving him a kiss on the cheek and whispering, “Thanks for letting me sit with you and holding me, Pops.  I needed that.”

 

“No problem.  Dessert, anyone?”

 

With raised hands from everyone, we adjourned to the dining room, carrying our chairs back to the table.  Tom and I turned into the kitchen and while he started cutting the cake he’d picked up, I started dipping ice cream.  In no time at all, everyone was quickly emptying their bowls.  As was their habit, when the boys finished, they took care of rinsing their bowls and dropping them into the dishwasher, then coming back to take the adults’ bowls. 

 

Our parents were the first to leave, all four headed back to Mom and Dad’s for the night.  After sharing hugs and kisses with their grandsons and heaping praise on them for their interviews, they headed out the front door to Bill and Estelle’s car for the trip to town with a promise from Tom’s parents to stop by on their way home to Grafton tomorrow afternoon.

 

Lee and Carl were the next to continue the exodus, but not until they’d shared hugs with the boys also.  Rick, Eric and Josh followed suit with Ben, Monica and Brent following closely behind, with thanks from all for hosting them tonight.  With assurances from us they were welcome anytime, they got in their cars and headed for their homes, also.  The crowd had finally been reduced to the eight who actually lived here plus LeVar, Dylan, Malcom and Damon and we all settled into the living to visit for a bit.

 

Once everyone was comfortable, Tom started our conversation with, “So, Malcom, are you and Damon down for the weekend or are you headed back to Bloomington tonight?”

 

“The weekend, man.  I can’t stand to be in that lonely hole of an apartment any more than I absolutely have to.”

 

“Did you talk to Damon’s mom about taking him to see a doctor?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, and surprisingly, she was cool with it.  She didn’t know anything about what Damon was worried ‘bout and she’s not comfortable dealing with it herself.  My first real act as a dad, I get to take my son to the doctor.”

 

“Oh, c’mon, Dad, don’t be like that.  Better late than never, right?”

 

“I guess so, Damon.  I just need to get that doctor’s name from Max and I’ll make the appointment.”  I fulfilled Malcom’s request and he added Dr. Finney to the contacts on his phone as I did.  “I’ll make the call Monday, buddy, and get you in as quick as we can.”

 

“Thanks, Dad.”

 

“Hey, Dads,” T.J. started, “Since they’re in town for the weekend, can Damon stay here tonight?”

 

“Fine with us if it’s okay with Malcom and Dylan,” I answered.

 

“Cool with us, too,” Dylan replied as he turned to look at Malcom and wiggled his eyebrows.

 

“Logan, you’re bein’ awfully quiet over there.  You okay?” Tom asked.

 

Logan looked up and quietly said, “Yeah, I think so, Pops.  I’m just still tryin’ to wrap my head around daddy bein’ dead.  It just don’t seem real.”

 

“I know it doesn’t, buddy.”

 

“Are you guys okay with me callin’ ya Dad and Pops?”

 

“Well, it seems a little quick, but if you want to do so, it’s fine with us,” I answered.

 

“Well, ain’t got no momma, and I ain’t got no daddy no more, either.  And if I’m gonna be livin’ with y’all, it makes sense, don’t ya think?”

 

“Like I said, Logan, it’s fine with us.  Whatever you feel comfortable doing.”

 

“Thanks, Dad,” he replied with a slight mischievous grin.

 

“Well, why don’t’ you guys hit the showers and crawl in bed?” Tom asked.  “It’s been a long day and the next week is gonna be filled with more of them.”

 

“We’ll be along shortly to say good night.”  As the sensational six-pack headed down the hall, Damon lingered for a moment to say good night to his dads before he followed the others.

 

“I think we’ll get out of your hair, too,” Dylan offered as he and Malcom stood to take their leave.

 

Tom and I followed their lead to the front door.  As we paused to say goodbye, I said, “Thanks for going with Tom, Dylan.  I’m sorry you had to be there to deal with that on your last day as a cop, but I’m glad Tom wasn’t alone either.”

 

“Hey, I’m a big boy, now,” Tom protested.  “I can take care of myself,” he added with indignance.

 

“I know you can, but I’m still glad you weren’t alone.”

 

“Yeah, me too, actually.  It was pretty creepy stumbling through that dark barn.”

 

“We were glad you guys came out tonight.  Do you want us to bring Damon to you, or do you want to pick him?”

 

“Would it be okay if we picked him up Sunday afternoon?” Malcom asked.

 

“Sure, that’s fine.  The boys will love havin’ him stay a couple of nights.”

 

“Thanks, guys, we ‘preciate it.  We haven’t had much time to ourselves the past couple of weekends,” Dylan grinned.

 

“You’re not rethinking step-fatherhood, are ya?” Tom asked with a laugh.

 

“Not on your life, man,” Dylan laughed back.  “I love that kid, it’s just that I need to be able to show Malcom some love too, if ya know what I mean?”

 

“We’re with ya, guys,” I chuckled.

 

“Not tonight, you ain’t.  Tonight’s just me and Malcom.  Another time, maybe.”

 

“Oh, geez, get outta here you two and have some fun.”

 

“We plan on it,” Malcom chuckled as they locked hands together and headed for their car.

 

After closing the door, we turned for the living room, but found it empty.  Just as we started to head down to say our good nights to the boys, LeVar returned, again comfortable in his own skin and seeming to relish his freedom as he swung his arms in big lazy circles.  The two of us could do nothing but laugh.

 

“Mind if we join you?”

 

“I’ll be mad if you don’t,” LeVar retorted.

 

We turned for our room, got comfortable and hit the head before returning to the living room.  As we passed through, I commented, “We’ll be back after we say good night to the boys.”

 

“Uh, Max, where’s Damon going to sleep?”

 

“Well, hell, I guess I was thinkin’ he’d sleep in the room you’re in tonight.  I somehow forgot you were spending the night again when T.J. asked about him staying over.  I guess he can crash with the boys tonight.”

 

“Four boys in one bed sounds a bit snug to me, even if they are king-sized.  I remember how much I used to move around at their ages.  If he doesn’t mind, he’s welcome to share my bed.”

 

“You sure about that?  I wouldn’t want to impose.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, guys.  We’ll be just fine.”

 

“I’ll let him know that’s an option, then.  Thanks for being so accommodating, LeVar.”  We continued our trek down the hall and stopped to check on Joey, Alex and Logan first.  We found those three plus Damon still in the shower and all four were giggling their butts off.  “C’mon you four,” I yelled to be heard over the sound of running water, “Hurry it up in there.  We’ll be back in a couple minutes and you better be ready for bed.”

 

“We got ya, Dad,” Joey yelled back.

 

We continued on down the hall and found T.J., Mike and Andy just crawling into bed.  They waited for us to reach them, then we shared our hugs, kisses, good nights and loves yous before they curled up in the middle of the bed.  We pulled their covers up, turned out the light and closed the door to move on and deal with the other four.  When we returned to the other bedroom, the four wild ones were just coming out of the bathroom.

 

“Damon, do you think you’ll be okay sleeping with these three?” Tom asked.

 

“Sure, we’ll be fine.”

 

“Well, if you get too crowded, LeVar said you’d be welcome to share his bed,” I offered.

 

“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it, man.”

 

“Your call, young man.  If you’re stayin’ here, y’all better hop in.”  Tom and I stood by the side of the bed and shared our nightly ritual with all four as they climbed in the bed.  They finally settled into place with Alex and Joey on each side of Logan with Damon curled up behind Alex.  We pulled the cover over the four lads, turned out the light and closed the door on our way to join LeVar in the living room.

 

“God, what a night,” I sighed as I finally got comfortable in my chair.

 

“Yeah,” Tom agreed, “but seeing the boys on TV takes some of the sting out.”

 

“Max, Tom, I gotta tell ya somethin’,” LeVar started.  “Your sons and their friends are some of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.  You should be very proud of them, all of them.”

 

“Oh, we are, LeVar,” I agreed.  “Every damn day.  Especially on shitty days like today.”

 

“So, are you ready to hear the idea that hit me last night?”

 

“If you’re finally ready to share, we’re all ears.”

 

“Okay, here goes.  Now I don’t want you to freak out or anything when you hear it, okay?  Just listen and let me finish.”

 

“Now, you’re startin’ to scare me, LeVar.”

 

“Don’t be scared, Max.  It’s really quite simple and straightforward.  I want to create a series based on you, your life and your new family.”

 

 

 

As y’all know, I sometimes add a little note at the end of a chapter to explain something said or used in an installment.  Well, here’s the one for this chapter.

 

At the end of the boys’ interview show, Ray commented, “They have restored my faith of the heart and my faith in the human race.”  While I was working on this chapter, that line, ‘faith of the heart’, popped in my head for no apparent reason, but the more I thought about it, it seemed to fit nicely with what Ray was trying to say to the viewing audience.  If you’ve never heard the song before, here is a link to a video of the version Rod Stewart originally did for the movie Patch Adams that starred Robin Williams.

 

I’m also including the lyrics so you can read along as Rod sings.  The lyrics were copied from a website, so don’t complain to me about the lousy capitalization and punctuation and it ain’t my fault. 😉  Considering how far Max has come in his life from being abused by the Muellers to now becoming the father of five or six boys, (along with Tom, of course), I find the entire song quite fitting.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nanaT3u2Lzw

 

 

It's been a long road,
to get from there to here.
it's been a long time,
but my time is finally here.
And i can feel a change in the wind right now.
nothing's in my way.
and they're not gonna hold me down no more.
no they're not gonna hold me down.

'cause i've got faith of the heart.
i'm going where my heart will take me.
i've got faith to believe.
i can do anything.
i've got strength of the soul.
and no one's going to bend or break me.
i can reach any star.
i've got faith,
i've got faith,
faith of the heart.
It's been a long night,
trying to find my way.
been thru the darkness,
now i finally have my day.
And i will see my dream come alive at last.
i will touch the sky.
and they're not gonna hold me down no more.
no they're not gonna change my mind.
'cause i've got faith of the heart.
i'm going where my heart will take me.
i've got faith to believe.
i can do anything.
i've got strength of the soul.
and no one's going to bend or break me.
i can reach any star.
i've got faith,
faith of the heart.
I know the wind's so cold,
i've seen the darkest days.
but now the winds i feel,
are only winds of change.
i've been thru the fire,
and i've been thru the rain,
but i'll be fine.
'cause i've got faith of the heart.
i'm going where my heart will take me.
i've got faith to believe.
i can do anything.
i've got strength of the soul.
and no one's going to bend or break me.
i can reach any star.
'cause i've got faith,
'cause i've got faith,
faith of the heart...
Faith of the heart.
i'm going where my heart will take me.
i've got faith to believe.
and no one's going to bend or break me.
i can reach any star.
'cause i've got faith,
'cause i've got faith,
faith of the heart...
It's been a long road...

 

 

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