Previous Chapter

Chapter 84 – Mikey Spills his Guts

 

Monday morning began like almost every other day at the zoo.  Tom and I crawled out of bed, visited the bathroom to take care of our regular early morning needs, then we headed out to see who else was moving about.  As we emerged from the hallway into the kitchen, we found Ron busy fixing a simple breakfast of cereal, toast, and fruit.  The boys, as usual, were lined up on their stools at the bar counter and heckling the young man as they liked to do.  And though they were relentlessly teasing Ron, they were noticeably staying away from certain words, replacing them with slightly more acceptable terms.  Perhaps our talk yesterday had actually had the desired effect.  While I was hopeful that would be the case, I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

 

“Boys, if you don’t start bein’ nicer to Ron, he’s gonna feed ya nothin’ but the worst glop you could imagine,” Tom commented in greeting.

 

“But, Dad,” T.J. started with a bit of a whine, “if we didn’t pick on Ron at least a little bit, he’d think we didn’t love him no more.”

 

Before my caffeine-deprived brain could begin to formulate a proper thought to add some reinforcement to Tom’s greeting, Ron retorted, “If that’s the way you demons show love for someone, I don’t think I wanna see how you talk to someone you don’t.”

 

“No, you really don’t, dude,” Joey responded flatly, receiving a round of giggles from the rest of the lineup at the counter.

 

Ron quickly turned to face us and added, “We’re good, guys.”

 

“Glad to hear it, Ron,” I replied.  “But if they get out of control and take it too far, just let us know and we’ll give those reins a quick yank, again, see if we can’t pull them up short.”

 

“Geez, we ain’t horses, Dad,” Logan moaned.

 

“Really?” I asked in mock surprise.  “The way you six stampede through the house and down food like a pack of wild mustangs, positive there’s not gonna be any more tomorrow, ya sure coulda fooled me.”

 

“Well, ya put it like that, maybe we are,” Logan drawled.  “C’mon guys, let’s ride!” the munchkin cried out with wild abandon as all six hopped off their stools and proceeded to prove my point as they galloped through the house from the kitchen to the garage and back through the theater before taking their places at the counter again, snorting and chuffing from their exertions, wide grins of mischief filling their faces.

 

“I think the plates for the new Flex are right on the money, babe,” Tom chuckled, changing the subject.

 

“You had any doubts about that?” I asked.

 

“Not really,” he agreed with a smirk.

 

Ron finally had the boys lined up with their breakfast selections and they wasted no time in shoving their faces into their feed troughs.  The three adults left the herd at the counter as we adjourned to the dining room for our simple meal, away from the crazy and animalistic antics of the six-pack.

 

As we took our seats, I asked, “Are you really okay with them talking to you like they were, Ron?  Some of that could be considered bullying and abusive.”

 

“It’s fine, Max, really,” Ron replied.  “They’re boys, what do you expect?  I wasn’t that much different from them when I was their age, so no harm, no foul in my book.”

 

“As long as you’re sure.  We really don’t want them to get in the habit of talking to others like that.”

 

“Trust me, if I think they go too far, I’ll deal with it.  I’m a big boy now, Dad,” he added with a fair amount of sarcasm.

 

“Obviously, but if you want us to deal with it, just let us know.”  I then turned my attention to Tom and asked, “You ready to get started with your day?”

 

“You bet.  I think Carol’s supposed to have some more checks for us to start working on, so I’m anxious to get into those.  Right after I call that place in Normal about you-know-who?”  I was suddenly confused as to why Tom was seemingly speaking in riddles.  Right up to the point when he silently mouthed ‘William’ to me and that old five-watt bulb rattling around in my otherwise empty skull flickered back to life and I nodded in acknowledgement when I finally got it.

 

“Any idea when Dylan’s gonna be here?” Ron asked.

 

“Should be anytime, now,” Tom answered.  “He seems to enjoy getting his breakfast out here.”

 

“Lunch and supper, too,” Ron laughed.  “Though he’ll probably be sorely disappointed at this morning’s meager offerings.”

 

“Well, now that you mention it, I have noticed that,” I agreed with a chuckle.  “You may have to start docking his pay to make up for all the free meals he’s gettin’, hon.”

 

“Hell, he’d probably end up owin’ us at the end of the month with all he packs away.”

 

“Can’t be any more than those six rugrats in the kitchen,” Ron laughed, and we joined him in the moment of comic relief.  “I think I’ve bought more snack-type food for them in the past couple of weeks than I have in my entire life before I moved in here.” 

 

Just as we were about to finish up, the front door cracked open and Dylan called out, “Hope y’all left room for some Mel-O-Cream!”  The boys flew off their stools to begin their daily mugging of the big guy as he struggled to join us in the dining room.  When he finally made it, he set two boxes of doughnuts in the middle of the table and added, “Help yourself, guys.”

 

Before we knew what hit us, the boys had both boxes opened and had absconded with half of the two-dozen tasty treats, returning to their barstools to continue chowing down.

 

“Jesus, Tom, don’t you ever feed them kids?” Dylan asked with a chuckle.

 

“Only all day, every day,” Tom retorted.  “Mornin’ partner.  Thanks for the doughnuts.  I’ve been missin’ my regular stop there since I’m not in town every mornin’ like I used to be.”  He then promptly snagged a caramel-iced cinnamon roll, took a bite and leaned back in his chair looking like he’d just taken a bite of ambrosia fit for a king.

 

“No sweat, man.  I was kinda jonesin’ for some, too.  Figured I better bring enough to share, though.”

 

“You got that right,” Ron agreed.  “Those boys woulda gnawed you to the bone if you didn’t bring enough for them, too.”

 

“I’m cool with that as long as they don’t think they can gnaw on the bone,” Dylan laughed as he started to pull his shirt off.  While I had a snappy comeback for him, I just shook my head and kept it to myself.  “So, what’s on the docket today, boss?” he added as he dropped his shorts, took a chair and grabbed a white-iced long john from the selection the boys had left us.

 

“Carol’s supposed to have some more background checks for us, so we’ll see what comes in.  I have to make some other calls this morning, then I’m taking the afternoon off to go to Lincoln’s tomb with Max and the munchkins.”

 

“That sounds like fun.  After the week we had in Dexter, you deserve to spend a little quality time with the family.  Have fun.”

 

“We should,” I replied before taking a bite of the glazed old-fashioned doughnut I’d picked from the box.  “The boys thought the tomb was pretty impressive when we passed by it on the way to Barry’s burial and I promised them we’d go back soon.  With Logan being gone last week, this is really the first chance we’ve had to make it so.”

 

“How’re Malcom and Damon doing?” Ron asked.

 

“They’re great.  Since they already had plans for the weekend to see a play at ISU, I went up to spend the weekend there.  Good thing Malcom was able to get me a ticket for the show or I’da been stuck in his apartment all by myself Saturday night.”

 

“What show did you guys see?” Tom queried.

 

“Somethin’ I’d never heard of before Saturday night, ‘Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad’.  It was a bit of a farce, but we all had a great time.”

 

“How’s Damon’s mom doin’, you know, whatshername?” I asked.

 

“Oh, yeah, Mia,” Dylan frowned with disgust.  “I actually got to meet her when she showed up Sunday afternoon to pick up Damon.  And no longer than she was there, I could tell she’s not playin’ with a full deck.”

 

“What’s Malcom gonna do?” Tom asked.

 

Dylan turned to look into the kitchen to make sure the boys were still there and otherwise occupied before turning back to us and whispering, “He’s already done it.  He saw his attorney on Tuesday, and they’ve initiated a change of custody request to the court in Bloomington.  He figures if he can get her in front of a judge, he or she will see the shape she’s in, decide she’s got no business tryin’ to raise an almost teenager son, and grant the request.  We’ve all got our fingers and toes crossed hopin’ it turns out the way we want, Damon included.”

 

“So, Damon knows?” I asked in surprise.

 

“He should since it was his idea in the first place,” Dylan chuckled.

 

“Wow, that’s a bit of a surprise,” Tom muttered.

 

“Not really,” Dylan disagreed.  “Not once you get to know the kid better, anyway.  Damon loves his mom, but he feels he’s really in danger with her current state of mind.  And after seeing how she is first-hand, I can’t say I disagree with him.  If that whackadoodle was my mom, I’d be scared shitless of what she might do next.”

 

“Hey, you can’t say words like that!” Andy exclaimed as the herd joined us.

 

“Yeah, you’re bein’ a bad zample for us,” Mike added.

 

Ron, Tom and I all laughed while Dylan’s face flooded with a look of confusion.  “Sorry, Dylan,” I said as I began my explanation, “we had a little chat with the boys yesterday about them cleaning up their language and we promised to do the same to provide a better example for them to follow.”

 

“Well, excu-u-u-u-se me,” the big guy chuckled.  “Now that I know the rules, I’ll try to do better, too.”

 

“You better, Uncle Dylan,” T.J. offered.  “We’d hate to see you get in trouble with Dad and Pops.  Wearin’ clothes ain’t no fun.”

 

“No, you’re right, it isn’t.  Good thing I get to work out here with your Pops, isn’t it?  Say, how’d your little ghost hunt go Saturday afternoon?”

 

“Unreal,” Alex answered.

 

“Yeah, we all actually saw Sammy,” Joey added.

 

“You can’t be serious!” Dylan exclaimed.

 

That was all it took for the herd to hijack the next thirty minutes of our conversation as they told Dylan all about our weekend adventures, leaving no stone unturned.  To say he was stunned at our encounter with Sammy would be a major understatement.  Add in T.J.’s conversation with Charlie and you could see Dylan was in awe of the three mind-readers and their mental abilities.  When the boys finally ran dry, Dylan sat back in his chair and stared blankly towards the ceiling.

 

He finally broke his silence when he turned to T.J. and said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m sorry I didn’t go with you guys.  I would have paid dang near anything to see that happen.”

 

“Hey, it’s your own fault,” Joey giggled.

 

“Yeah, we asked you to go with us several times,” Alex added.

 

“I know,” Dylan murmured.  “Next time a ghost finds you, T.J., you better not let me talk myself out of joining the hunt.”

 

“I’ll do my best, Uncle Dylan, but I can’t help it if you’re nothin’ but a big chicken.”  Logan quickly added the clucking of a chicken to further rub in the humiliation.

 

“Yeah, thanks for that you little smart-as…, uh, alecks.  Move along now, munchkins, we have work to do,” Dylan retorted.

 

“Do we hafta, Dad?” Mike asked.

 

“Yes, please.  Pops and Uncle Dylan have work to deal with and I need to make some phone calls.  Do you think you can entertain yourselves for a little while?” I asked.

 

“Sure, Dads.  We’re gonna read our books.  Let us know when it’s time to get ready to go to town,” Alex responded.

 

As the crew turned for their rooms to retrieve their books, I asked Ron if he’d be willing to read with Mike and Andy, and he said he’d be happy to do so.  With the rest of the crew occupied for a while, Tom and Dylan turned for their office to attack their day and I settled in my study to make my phone calls.  The first was to Harry to make sure it would be okay for us to come up for a visit tomorrow.  With his resounding approval and making sure I had his address, the second call was to the FBO at the airport to ensure the plane would be ready for takeoff at nine in the morning.  I also asked them to file our flight plans for the day, accounting for eleven souls on board, and also arrange for Tony to pick us up at the airport about ten.  I wanted to make the trip an early one so we could be back home in time to prepare for T.J.’s birthday party on Wednesday.

 

Feeling good about having Tuesday mapped out, I called Justine to finalize arrangements for T.J.’s party, giving her the number of guests we were expecting and the menu for the big day.  She was a bit surprised the party was happening Wednesday since the last time we’d talked about it, we’d settled on the Saturday after.  The change made complete sense to Justine once I explained the boys were not in school this week due to spring break.  Fortunately, we got lucky she had nothing else planned and was able to make the adjustment in her schedule without creating any conflicts. 

 

With Justine taken care of, I called Jason’s office to verify my Thursday morning appointment with him and ensure he remembered my intention to go back to the church that day to confront my past and see the hellhole where my life had been derailed for so many years.  Tim let me know that he had already talked to Derek about meeting us at the church and he would be there about eleven-thirty with the keys to grant us access.  He also warned me we would have to wear gloves and booties since it was still considered a crime scene.  I thought about that for about five seconds before deciding that was a small price I was more than willing to pay to have the chance to permanently slam the door shut on that part of my life and move on.

 

 With all that settled, I called Monica and Rick about Brent, Eric and Josh joining us for our trip to visit Harry.  Monica sounded like she’d be glad to have Brent out from under her feet for a day and she promised to have him here by eight in the morning so we could make it to the airport on time.  Rick was already at work for the day, but Eric was enthusiastic about the opportunity to see Harry again, and told me he’d have his dad call back as soon as he got home later in the afternoon.

 

With all those calls out of the way, I started my last one to LeVar to see what, if any, plans he had for coming back to take care of those interviews he wanted to do with us.  Now that we’d agreed to be involved in his projects about our family and the Jake Franklin movies, I was anxious to get started on both.  Nervous as hell, but still anxious.

 

“Burton Productions,” the receptionist answered cheerily.  “How may I direct your call?”

 

“Good morning,” I replied.  “I’d like to speak with Mr. Burton, please.”

 

“May I tell him who’s calling, please?” she asked.

 

“Max Sanders.”

 

“Well, good morning, Mr. Sanders.  It’s a pleasure to meet you, such as it is,” she added with a little giggle.  “You and your family have been the major topic of conversations around the office these past few weeks.  I’d like to welcome you to our little group and say how much we all look forward to working with you.”

 

“Well, thanks, I think,” I muttered, somewhat surprised at being fodder for their gossip grist mill.  “Is Mr. Burton available?”

 

“It’s LeVar, Mr. Sanders, remember that.  He hates when people call him ‘mister anything’.  One moment and I’ll connect you.”

 

The call switched over to music on hold for less than ten seconds when it suddenly went away and LeVar came on the line with, “Morning, Max.  How’re you and the rest of the family doing?”

 

“We’re great, LeVar.  How about yourself?”

 

“I can’t complain, thanks for asking.  Not that anybody around here listens or cares when I do,” he added with a chuckle.  “So, what can I do for you today?”

 

“Well, we were just wondering if you had any thoughts on when you might be coming back to do those interviews you talked about.”

 

“As a matter of fact, we do.  We were thinking about coming to Illinois next week to spend several days with you and your family.  I figured we could spend the days talking with the adults and deal with the boys’ interviews during the evenings after they get home from school.  How does that sound?”

 

“I think we’d all be good with that,” I answered.  “What day would you arrive?”

 

“We’ll fly in Tuesday afternoon so we can start our interviews first thing Wednesday morning.  I figure three or four days to get everything we need, then come back home on Saturday, maybe Sunday, depending on how things go.”

 

“Sounds good to me.  I’ll make sure everyone here knows what to expect and when they should be here, just to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible.”

 

“Perfect, Max.  I’ll send you an e-mail later this week with a bit of a schedule of who we’d like to talk to and when.  And just to make sure we don’t miss anybody, I’ve got you, Tom and your boys, of course, your parents and Tom’s, and I believe you mentioned you have a sister and brother-in-law, too.  Does that sound like everyone we’d want to talk to?”

 

“Well, there’s also Ron, the guy we’ve hired who lives with us.  I can’t think of anybody else at the moment, but you may find others you want to talk to after everybody else.”

 

“Ah, didn’t know about him.  He must have shown up after I was there.  As for anyone else, I guess we’ll find the answer to that question when we’re done with the immediate family.  Maybe we should allow a few extra days to deal with them.”

 

“I’ll leave that to you, LeVar.  It’s your show.”

 

“No, Max, it’s your show.  Yours and your family’s.  I’m just the guy who’s going to share it with the rest of the world.”

 

“Gee, thanks for reminding me.  You better stop talking like that or I just might change my mind,” I laughed.

 

“Too late for that, buddy.  You already signed the contracts, remember?” LeVar retorted.

 

“Oh, yeah, there is that minor detail, I guess.  Well, we’ll look forward to seeing you and your people next week, then.  I’ll make sure Ron has plenty of food on hand so nobody goes hungry.”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me, Max.  Oh, I have one more quick question before we hang up.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Will these interviews be, um, clothing optional?”

 

“I’ll leave that up to you,” I replied with a chuckle.  “If you think your folks won’t be too put out or offended by us not wearing clothes, I believe you’ll get more honest answers to your questions.  As to what you and your group do, again, that’s something only you can decide.”

 

“Well, you can be sure I’ll be joining the family in true comfort while we’re there.  Don’t know what the others on my team will think or say about that, but I really don’t give a damn, either,” LeVar laughed.

 

“Whatever boats your float, LeVar.  We’ll see you next week.”

 

“Looking forward to it, Max.  Tell all the guys I said hi.”

 

“I’ll do that.”

 

I hung up the phone and leaned back in my chair.  I almost laughed out loud at LeVar’s quick and enthusiastic acceptance of the nudist lifestyle but internalized my mirth.  After getting myself back under control, I headed across the house to relay the results of all my calls to Tom.  Crossing the entryway, I spotted Ron and the boys all comfortably lounging by the fireplace, noses stuck in their books.  I was feeling pretty good about the scene as I know a lot of kids hate to read, and being an author, I truly think that’s a shame.  There are so many worlds out there to explore through reading, the possibilities are almost endless.  I received some waves of the hand as I passed the very relaxed crew and turned down the hallway.  On reaching the sleuths’ office, I lightly rapped on the closed door. After receiving a muffled ‘c’mon in’ from the other side, I stepped inside and quietly closed the door so our conversation couldn’t be easily overheard.

 

“So, how’s it goin’ in here?” I asked as Tom and Dylan looked up from their desks.

 

“Not too badly,” Tom answered.  “Carol has seven more background checks for us to deal with and Dylan’s been working on them while I made a few calls.  How’d all your calls go?”

 

“Excellent,” I answered before continuing to give the duo a rundown on each.  When I finished, I added, “LeVar will probably want to talk to Carol or Anna, too, I suppose.”

 

“I bet he’ll want to talk to me, too,” Dylan commented.  Tom and I both glared at him in surprise before he continued.  “Don’t you two look at me like that.  I am working here on a daily basis, aren’t I?  ‘Sides, since you guys are my brothers, I’m part of the family, aren’t I?  Malcom and Damon, too.  And boy, oh boy, do we have some juicy secrets to share,” he added with an evil and hearty guffaw while rubbing his hands together like a mad scientist about to awaken his latest creation.

 

“Hadn’t considered that,” Tom replied flatly, gazing blankly at Dylan.  He then turned to me and asked warily, but with a wink, “Is it too late to call the whole thing off?”  Tom never saw the hand coming that smacked the back of his head and I could do nothing but laugh.  “Hey, what the hell, man?” he squawked as he turned back around to face his abuser while rubbing the back of his head.

 

“That’s what happens when you speak ill of family,” Dylan replied calmly.

 

“So, how’d your calls go, hon?” I interjected to disrupt the bickering.

 

“Yeah, that,” Tom replied morosely.  “It wasn’t easy, but I finally got the detention center to agree to a weekend pass.”

 

“Why was it so hard?” I asked with curiosity.

 

“Well, I figured I ought to talk to William’s case worker first and I had to call Carol to get his number.  Once I had Pete on the phone, he gave me some more background on the kid and let me tell you, he’s a piece of work, all right.”

 

“Uh, what’s that mean?” I queried with serious concern.

 

“He’s skipped so much school, they basically have him listed as a dropout.  Seems he’s out way more days than he’s in.  Then add in multiple shoplifting charges and vandalizing the school, he’s in a fair amount of trouble with the authorities in both Bloomington and Normal.”

 

“Any ideas on why he’s still in the system?”

 

“Not really.  Of course, Pete couldn’t tell me too much of William’s history due to privacy rules, but, apparently, he wasn’t a very healthy baby and any potential adoptees tended to shy away from him because of their concerns of ongoing medical issues.  Whatever health problems he had as a little kid, they seem to have resolved themselves.  Pete says William’s as healthy as an ox these days and he’s proved it every time he’s run away from the cops.  Seems that when he’s properly motivated, the kid can run like the wind.  The cops never could catch him in a foot race and would end up just going to his foster home to pick him up.”

 

“Jesus, that’s pathetic,” I muttered.  “I’d really hate to see him locked away for the few remaining years of his childhood.  He should be out having fun with friends and family, not stuck in some facility for criminals.”

 

“Well, with his record, he kinda is a criminal, babe,” Tom countered.

 

“Whatever,” I fumed.  “So, what’s it gonna take to spring him from the pokey?”

 

“Well, I’m gonna have to drive up to Normal to pick him up Friday afternoon and then take him back Sunday afternoon.”

 

“Why won’t they let Malcom bring him down.”

 

“When Pete called the juvenile detention center he’s in, they initially refused to let him out for anything.  He was finally able to sweet-talk the assistant director into it only by promising him that this weekend could be the first step in somebody finally adopting William and taking him off their hands.  Of course, that meant they want whoever is going to claim responsibility for him to be the one to pick him up and take him back.  I also think they only allowed it because that person is a former cop and they figured if anyone could deal with him, it would be me.”

 

“Well, we knew we’d have to jump through some serious hoops to make it happen and I’m glad you’re willing to go the extra mile to help William.”

 

“He’s Logan’s brother, of course I’ll do whatever it takes.”

 

“Glad to hear it, hon.  Not a word to Logan about this until you get back from Normal, understood?  I don’t want to get Logan’s hopes up and then have those people change their mind at the last minute about letting William out for a few days.”

 

“My lips are sealed, babe.”

 

“Mine, too,” Dylan added with a smile.  “Malcom, Damon and I are looking forward to meeting William.  Hope you won’t mind some visitors on Saturday.”

 

“Nope, you and your family are always welcome here, brother.”

 

“Phew, glad to hear it,” Dylan retorted with a mock wiping of his brow.

 

“Okay, sounds like everything is set for the week unless Clarence calls with news from Dexter.  We’ll just have to roll with whatever comes from them.  I guess I’ll go do some more work on the book for a while.  I figured we’d just eat lunch here and head to the tomb afterward.  Sound okay to you?”

 

“Yup,” Tom agreed.  “Now, begone and let us do some real work, will ya?”

 

Despite his command, I didn’t leave without first sharing a hug and a kiss with my other half.  That done, though, I headed back across the house.  As I passed the group in the living room with their books six inches in front of their faces, I suddenly remembered I wanted to have a little chat with Mike about what had happened between us last night.

 

“Hey, Mike, would you come with me for a few minutes?” I asked.

 

“Sure, Dad,” he answered as he slowly maneuvered himself off the loveseat, leaving Ron and Andy by themselves.  As he headed my direction, he turned back for just a moment and said, “You better not read no more ‘til I get back.  I don’t wanna miss nothin’.”

 

“We’ll wait for you, dudelet,” Ron replied with a grin as Mike joined me and I laid a hand on his shoulder.

 

I steered the young lad to my study and on closing the door behind us, I said, “Have a seat, buddy.”

 

“What’s up, Dad?” he asked as he gingerly climbed into a chair and settled in, still leaning to his left.

 

“Well, first, I wanted to see how your behind was feeling.  Is it any better?”

 

“It still hurts like the devil, but it ain’t bleedin’ no more, so that’s cool,” Mike answered as he stood up and turned around to show me his backside.

 

“Still looks pretty gnarly, there, buddy,” I commented as he gingerly retook his chair.  “And, you’ve got a pretty bad bruise that’s even bigger than the area that got scraped up, so I’m not too surprised it hurts.  You’re gonna be sore for a while.”

 

“Yeah, I know, I just hope when we go back to school next week I can sit straight.  This leanin’ to the side is a pain in the a…, uh, behind,” he commented with a little smirk.

 

“I’m sure it is.  Sorry, buddy, there’s not much I can do to help that.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Mike muttered.  “I’ll be okay.”

 

“I don’t doubt that one bit, you’re one tough cookie.  The second thing I wanted to talk about is Wednesday is T.J.’s birthday and I need to find out what you’d like to give him.  Once I have a list from all you guys, I’ll see if we can get Ron to run out and pick it all up this afternoon while we’re visiting Lincoln’s tomb.”

 

“Gee, I don’t know what he’d want so I ain’t got a clue.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Maybe a book, a game, a movie, some music, whatever.”

 

“Well, when we’re in the theater playin’ games, he’s usually listenin’ to some of your music that none of us have ever heard before.  Some of it ain’t too bad, I guess.”

 

“Is there anything or anyone in particular he listens to more than some others?”

 

“Well, he seems to really like this one group o’ dudes who called themselves the Beatles.  That’s a pretty stupid name for a band, but their music was pretty cool, I guess.  And what’s that other one he listens to a lot?  Oh, yeah, Punk Floyd!” he exclaimed as he snapped his fingers.  “He seems to really like them, too.”

 

I snickered lightly before replying, “Um, I think you mean Pink Floyd.  And yes, both groups are good.  At least, I think so.  Do you really think he’d like to have some CDs of his own?”

 

“Well, duh,” Mike retorted.  “He keeps playin’ yours like he is now, he’ll wear the dang things out.”

 

“Well, you can’t really wear out a CD, kiddo, but I get your drift.  I’m sure we can make it happen.”

 

“Okay, can I go back to readin’ with Ron and Andy?”

 

“Um, not quite yet.  I wanted to talk to you about what happened in the shower last night.”

 

“Yeah, that was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?” Mike grinned happily.

 

“I have to say I enjoyed it.  I just want to make sure you were okay with everything that happened.”

 

“Hey, you’ve always said if we wanted somethin’, we had to ask for it.  And I did.  If I didn’t want you to play with me like that, I woulda kept my mouth shut.”

 

“Yes, I know that, but you’ve always seemed to be a bit more reluctant than Joey, Alex, and T.J.”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so.  But I got reasons, too.”

 

“Like what,” I pressed.

 

“NO!  I don’t wanna talk ‘bout it.”

 

I scooted closer and pulled Mike’s hands into mine before looking into his eyes and calmly saying, “Listen, there’s nothing you could tell me that would surprise or shock me.  We’ve never pushed you to talk about what your life was like before you came to live with us, figuring it was up to you, and that once you were settled in and had gotten comfortable, you might eventually feel like you wanted to unload whatever you’re keeping bottled up.”

 

Mike’s lips quivered in fear, but he didn’t look away from me or pull his hands from mine.  If anything, he seemed to grip my hands even more tightly.  I smoothly added, “If you think you might be ready to let it go, I’m here to support and help you in any way I can.  If you feel you’re not quite ready, I’ll let you go back to your reading and patiently wait for the time when you are.”  I could see the worry in his eyes as he debated with himself about what he should do.  I thought I could see the wall he’d built to hide everything behind slowly crumbling, but until his shoulders sagged in defeat, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.

 

He finally muttered faintly, “Yeah, all right.”

 

“So, what happened,” I asked with concern.

 

“Can I say anything and not get in trouble?” he asked with a note of worry filling his trembling words.

 

“Of course, you can, just let it out.”

 

“I ain’t told nobody none o’ this, not even the lady who took me away, but since just beatin’ on me didn’t work out too well, my real daddy used to fuck me. Like, all the time,” he sobbed.

 

I carefully pulled the munchkin into my lap and held him tightly as he continued to cry.  Though I knew my words were going to be wholly inadequate to the news I’d just heard, the only thing I could think to say at the moment was, “Oh, Mike, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”  We sat there for several minutes with my boy crying softly and me just holding him, trying to silently reassure him that everything would be okay.  Since his head was buried in my chest, by the time he’d regained a modicum of control, I was soaking wet down to my navel.  I finally pulled some Kleenex from the box on my desk and used them to first dry Mike’s eyes and face, and finally my gut.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked the shaking child.

 

“I don’t know,” he mumbled.  “Did you feel better after you talked about what happened to you?”

 

“Actually, yes, I did.  And I still do.  I’ve told Tom, the police, our parents, the newspaper, Ray and some others about my abuse.  And now I’m writing a book about it.  And each and every time I tell the story, it’s gotten easier and easier to do so, and I’ve felt a little bit better each time, also.  So, whatever you want to tell me, I’m here for you.”

 

“And you won’t say nothin’ to the others?” Mike asked with concern.

 

“Well, I can’t very well keep anything from Pops, can I?  He needs to know everything I do so he can help you deal with things, just like I will.  And as for your brothers, I bet T.J., Alex and Joey already know your secret.  But, they also probably know you weren’t ready to talk about it, so they’ve let it slide.”

 

“Oh, crap, I didn’t think ‘bout that,” Mike giggled as he finally picked his head up and flashed me a toothy grin.  “Yeah, knowin’ those three, they cheated, didn’t they?”

 

“I’d be surprised if they didn’t, buddy.  Nothing we can do about it though, is there?”

 

“Nope,” he agreed.  “Well, since they pro’lly already know, I guess I might as well tell you, too.  I’m kinda surprised they ain’t told you already.” 

 

“Well, they know it should be you and not them to be the one to say something.”

 

Mike took a moment to steel himself and when he finally felt he was ready, started with, “So, whenever Mom and Dad would catch me wearin’ her clothes, they’d get all kinds of pissed off.  They’d yell crap at me like ‘you’re a boy dammit, not some wimpy little girl’.  And I knew that already ‘cause I got a dick and not a pussy, right, but I just felt really close to Mom with her stuff on, ya know.  Then, after Mom would go away, Dad was always like, ‘You wanna see what it’s like to be a girl, ya little pervert, I’m gonna show ya’. 

 

“That’s when he’d take her clothes off me and he’d take his off, too.  And he looks really nasty when he ain’t got nothin’ on.  He made me do some really sick shit, but it always ended up with him throwin’ me on my bed and fuckin’ me as hard as he could.  He’d say crap like ‘how do ya like havin’ my cock stuffed in your tight little pussy, you little bitch’ and ‘fuckin’ wanna be a little girl now?’.  Just stupid crap like that to try and make me feel bad about playin’ in Mom’s clothes.  And sometimes, Mom would come back in my room and egg him on to fuck me even harder and hurt me even more.  ‘Course, the more he was fuckin’ me, the less he was fuckin’ her, and maybe that’s what she wanted.”

 

“Mike, I can’t tell you how sorry I am they hurt you like that.”

 

“Well, that’s the really weird thing, Dad.”

 

“What?”

 

“Well, the first time he did it to me when I was like four, it hurt like hell when he jammed his dick in my ass, and I cried for ‘bout an hour after it was over ‘cause it hurt so damn much.  But after the fifth or sixth time him doin’ it to me, it didn’t hurt near as much as it did that first time.  In fact, after a while, I really got to like it when he’d fuck me.  My little weiner’d get all hard and ever’thing, and even though he was smackin’ my ass for bein’ bad while he fucked me, I’d get my tingles almost every time.  And I know he knew what was happenin’ ‘cause he had to feel my asshole squeezin’ his dick.  I mean, I could feel it happenin’, he sure had to, right?  And whenever that’d happen, he’d get even more pissed ‘cause I was likin’ it.

 

“I guess what confuses me the most about all of it was I knew what he was doin’ was wrong and I really hated it, but I also really, really liked it.  I hated his guts, but I also loved him so much that I’d get caught on purpose, just so he’d fuck me again and hopin, maybe, he might actually love me.  It’s all so twisted ‘round in my brain, sometimes I can’t make no sense of it.  Does that mean I’m a sick little kid?” he asked sadly.

 

“Not at all, little buddy.  Confused and hurt, for sure, but definitely not sick.  Now, your mom and dad, on the other hand …”

 

“Well, see, now we come to the really big problem,” Mike interrupted.

 

“Oh god, there’s more?” I mumbled in a bit of a daze.

 

“Yeah.  They found out just ‘fore I got taken away that Mom’s gonna have another baby.”

 

“That’s not good,” I muttered.

 

“No, it ain’t.  I don’t know if it’s gonna be a girl or a boy yet, but whatever it is, it shouldn’t have them for a mom and dad.  Who knows what the fuck they’ll do to another kid?”

 

“Nothing good, I’d imagine.  Listen, Mike, I’m glad you finally felt you could trust me enough to tell me what you went through.  I really don’t know what to say right now that’s gonna make you feel better, but I’m going to work on it with you, see if we can’t help you figure it all out.  But I have one more really important question for you and I want the truth, understand?”

 

“Yes, sir,” he muttered.

 

“You were calling me ‘daddy’ last night and that’s not something you’ve ever done before.  Were you doing that because of what your dad did to you?”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so.  Whenever he’d be fuckin’ me, he demanded I call him ‘daddy’.  I don’t know why.  But I pro’lly just slipped back into that last night ‘cause I was likin’ it so much.”

 

“That’s okay, I understand.  Just do me a small favor, please.”

 

“What’s that?” he asked with raised eyebrows.

 

“Don’t ever call me ‘daddy’ again.  I don’t want you to think I could, or would, be like your birth father.”

 

“No problem with that.  What he did to me and the way he did it was all ‘cause he hated me.  What you and me did in the shower together was ‘cause we love each other so much,” he smiled serenely.

 

“I’m glad you can understand the difference.  Now, we can’t let them be responsible for another kid.  Would you be willing to talk to Dr. Paul and Dylan so we can keep that from happenin’?”

 

“I won’t like it much, but yeah, I’ll do it.  I don’t want my little brother or sister to have to go through the same crap I did.  What the hell kinda big brother would I be if I let that happen?”

 

“I’m glad to hear you say that.  I’ll call Dr. Paul and see if he can talk to you Friday to get things rolling and make sure the baby’s protected.”

 

“Whenever it is, I’ll go.  I like the Kirklands and would like to see them again, anyway.”

 

“Good man, Mike.”

 

“Thanks, Dad.  Um, can I ask you somethin’ now?”

 

“Go on, spit it out.”

 

“Are you gonna help me with my shower again tonight?” the imp asked with a vicious smirk.

 

“No, I think it’s Pops’ turn for that particular task,” I replied with my own crooked smirk.

 

“Sweet,” Mike cooed with delight.  “Maybe I’ll get him to shoot his spermies out for me, too,” he giggled with glee.

 

“I bet he’ll be happy to have your help, little buddy.  Why don’t you scoot along now, and send Andy back here?”

 

“Why you want him?  My dad didn’t fuck him, too, did he?”

 

“Lord, I hope not,” I answered in exasperation.  “I just want to ask him what he wants to give T.J. for his birthday, remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  Thanks for listenin’ to me, Dad.  I know you really didn’t want to hear all that crap, but you asked.”

 

“And I’m proud of you for bein’ so brave and telling me the truth.  We’ll get busy on taking care of your parents.  Now move it, munchkin.”  Before he slid off my lap, Mike wrapped his arms around my neck and squeezed me almost hard enough to have my brain pop right out of the top of my skull.  Another half-pound of pressure and it might have happened.  Fortunately, he eased up just before the ultimate disaster could occur, whispered ‘I love you, Dad’ into my ear, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before disappearing out the door on the way back to the living room. 

 

I figured I had maybe thirty seconds before Andy arrived to pull myself back together and grabbed another handful of Kleenexes to dry my eyes and face again.  I’d just managed to toss the sodden mass of tissues into the trash can under the desk when the youngster zoomed into the room, made a beeline to my chair and crawled up in my lap, face adorned with the most innocent and angelic smile I’d seen in quite a while.

 

After a quick chat with Andy and getting his gift idea for T.J., I sent him on his way with the request to have Alex join me.  And so it went for five or so minutes until I had the items Ron needed to pick up for T.J.  I wrote down everything I wanted him to get for us and where he should go, including Ace Bicycle Shop on South MacArthur to retrieve the bike from Tom and myself.  Just as I was about to leave my study, T.J. stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

 

“What’s up, young man?” I asked.

 

“Well, you’ve talked to all the other goobers but me, so you must know what they’re giving me for my birthday,” he cracked.

 

“As a matter of fact, I do.  Do you already know what you’re getting?”

 

“Nope.  I’ve shut that part down for the next couple o’ days.  I want to be surprised when I open everything Wednesday,” he added with a twisted grin.

 

“I’m glad to hear it.  This is one time your special gift could ruin an otherwise good time.  I wasn’t aware you’d learned enough control over it to be able to close it down like that.”

 

“Well, it’s not perfect, just yet, so we’ll see how it goes.  I’m gettin’ a lot better at it, though.”

 

“Good for you.  So, if you’re not here to snoop on your big day, what else can I do for you?”

 

“If I read it right, Mike just told you ‘bout what his dad did to him.”  My heart fell at the confirmation of what I’d already suspected.  This poor kid was going to end up scarred for life because of all the shit done to the people he cares about and not to himself.

 

“Nah, Dad, I’ll be fine.”  I was so shocked he was so straight-forward at contradicting my thought, I couldn’t respond.  “I’ve known about Mike’s dad almost as long as I’ve known about what happened to you.”

 

“But you never said anything,” I complained.  “Why not?”

 

“ ‘Cause it wasn’t my story to tell, was it?  It was Mike’s.  ‘Sides, I knew he’d ‘ventually screw up the courage to tell you.  Took ‘im longer than I thought it would, though, but he finally did it and that’s the important part, that he was able to do it himself.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, he’s been wantin’ to say something for a while now.  Really, ever since you told all of us ‘bout the Muellers.  But he was afraid ‘bout how you’d react after your little breakdown out at the pool that one day.”

 

“Yeah, I can understand that.  His experience with his dad is very similar to my own and I’m sure he was afraid he’d react like I did.”

 

“Yeah, that’s part of it, for sure.  But he also didn’t want you to think he didn’t want to do things with you and Pops like what happened during your shower last night, ‘cause he really does.  He was afraid if you knew what his dad had done, you wouldn’t ever give Mike what he really, really wants since you’d think you were being just like his dad.”

 

“Well, he’s got a point there, doesn’t he?  I have to ask myself, and have many times already, just what makes me and Pops different from people like the Muellers and Mike’s dad for doing those kinds of things with you guys?”

 

“You already know the answer to that, you just don’t believe it,” T.J. retorted.

 

“Well, do me a big favor and clue me in, little Mr. Smarty Pants,” I replied sarcastically.

 

“Uh, Dad, I ain’t got no pants on, or have you gone blind?” the munchkin giggled uncontrollably before recovering his serious side and continuing.  “It’s love, ya big goofball.  You love us and we love you.  We ask you, beg you sometimes, to let us show you and Pops how much we love you for bringing us all together to make a real family, and for you and Pops to show us how much you love us back.  People like the Muellers and Mike’s dad wouldn’t know what the hell love is if it smacked ‘em upside their stupid heads.  All they know and understand is hate, power and control over someone else.  And that ain’t love, is it?”

 

“Not in my book, no,” I agreed with my young philosopher.  “Tell me, young man, how’d you become so wise at such a tender age?”

 

“Not a clue, old man.  Just lucky, I guess,” he giggled in reply.

 

“No, Pops and I are the lucky ones.  Lucky to have found each other, lucky to have found you boys when we did, just lucky to be alive and truly enjoying our lives together, really.”

 

“Sounds like a formula for success to me, Dad,” he commented as he leaned in closer and wrapped his arms around my neck.  While his squeeze wasn’t quite as constricting as Mike’s a little bit ago, it was darn close.  At least I stood a fair chance of not only keeping my head attached to the top of my shoulders where it belongs, but I was confident it would be completely intact and nobody was going to have to scrape any brain matter from the walls or ceiling.

 

As he began to relax his grip, I leaned in, kissed the top of his head and whispered, “Thanks, T.J., I really needed to hear that.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” he giggled back at my ear.

 

“I love ya, ya little bugger.”

 

“Yep, knew that, too, ya old fart.  Love you right back.”

 

“Okay, I need to go talk to Pops and Dylan, so let’s get the heck outta here.”

 

I left my chair and T.J. grabbed my hand to lead me through the house.  “Ya gonna tell Pops ‘bout Mike?” he asked as we stepped into the hallway.

 

“Well, yeah, I think I should.  Don’t you?”

 

“Of course, you have to.  How else you gonna protect Mike’s new little brother or sister when they’re born?”

 

“Is there anything you don’t know?” I asked with concern.

 

“Uh, not much, really.  But nothin’ I can do ‘bout it, is there?” he asked in all seriousness.

 

“I suppose not,” I replied sadly.  “Do the other boys know about what happened to Mike yet?”

 

“Alex and Joey do, but Logan and Andy ain’t got a clue.”

 

“Well, tell the twins to keep it under their hats until Mike’s ready to tell the others himself.”

 

“What, you think we’re idiots?” T.J. asked in disbelief.  “We agreed to that a long time ago.”

 

“Thanks, buddy.”  By that time, we’d reached the living room and T.J. released my hand to return to his book while I continued on down the hallway to relay yet another sad story to the love of my life and his business partner.  After knocking on the closed door, I pushed it open, stepped inside, re-closed the door and leaned heavily against the wooden slab.

 

“Uh-oh, I don’t think I like the look on your face,” Tom muttered.

 

“Nope,” I agreed flatly.  “And you’re gonna like it even less when I tell you the story I just heard.”  I pulled a chair up next to his desk before sinking into it and launching into my narrative.  Tom and Dylan gave me their undivided attention, both becoming angrier and angrier with each passing word.  I couldn’t really fault them for their reactions as I was feeling exactly the same way.  By the time I was done sharing Mike’s story with them, I knew exactly how Mike felt when he told me.  Of course, having been through it myself, it all hit me a bit closer to home than the pissed off duo before me.

 

“Why the hell do parents insist on ruining their kids’ lives before they’ve barely begun,” Dylan groaned.

 

“If I could answer that question, I could fix every problem on this miserable planet,” I replied somberly.

 

“So, what happens next?” Tom inquired.

 

“I’m going to call Paul and see if he has an opening Friday to talk to Mike.  First, to start getting the kid the help he’s gonna need to sort out his feelings and second, to get the process started on making sure Mike’s little brother or sister does not grow up with those two pathetic excuses for human beings.”

 

“I almost hate to ask this question,” Dylan began, “but what’s gonna happen with the baby?  I mean, you’re not thinking about adopting it since it’s gonna be Mike’s sibling, are you?”

 

“I don’t know,” I admitted.  While the prospect of doing just that had flashed through my mind as soon as Mike told me his mom was pregnant, I wasn’t sure we were really prepared to follow that path.  I had another thought, also, but it seemed to be so ludicrous that I almost immediately discarded the idea.  But the more I cogitated on it, I decided I should at least make a phone call to see if it was an option.  Shaking my head to clear away the clouding thoughts, I continued, “The first thing that needs to happen is to call Paul, then Carol to let her know what we’ve learned.  The two of them can lead the charge to see his parents in jail where they belong.  Everything else can be dealt with later.”

 

“I’ll talk to Carol to get her started on her end,” Tom offered.  “I can only assume Paul will notify Derek after he’s talked to Mike, but I’ll still give Derek a call, just to give him a heads up.”

 

“Sounds good, guys,” I admitted.  “I’m going to make Mike’s appointment and then crash until time for lunch.  I’d planned to do some work on the book, but my brain’s just not up for that torture right now.”  As I got up to leave, Tom stood and pulled me into a calming hug.  As we embraced each other, he whispered, ‘just like everything else, babe, we’ll get through this’.  With a simple nod of acknowledgement from me, we separated, and I plodded back to my study.  After unceremoniously falling back into my chair, I looked up Paul’s number since it wasn’t coming to me like numbers usually do and placed the call.

 

“Kirkland home and practice, how may I help you?” Joy answered cheerfully.

 

“Morning, Joy, Max Sanders here.  How’re you today?” I replied as if on autopilot.

 

“We’re doing great, Max.  How’s everybody out there?”

 

“We’ve had better days, that’s for sure.”

 

“Uh-oh, am I sensing some trouble in paradise?” she asked with concern.

 

“You could put it that way.  The reason I’m calling is I need to make an appointment for Mike to see Paul and I’m hoping he has some time open Friday afternoon.”

 

“Of course, let me check his schedule.”  I could hear pages flipping in a notebook as she fast forwarded to Friday.  She came back to me soon enough with, “Looks like he has slots at two and four open that afternoon, Max.  Which one do you want?”

 

“I think the two o’clock time slot will work just fine, Joy.  Thanks.”

 

“I’m guessing Mike finally decided to open up to someone.”

 

“Yeah, and it’s not a nice story.  Since Mike really likes Paul, he’s the logical choice of someone for Mike to talk to.”

 

“You can be sure Paul will do whatever he can to help.  We both really like Mike.  He’s such a charming kid, I just don’t think he was with us long enough for him to feel really comfortable talking with us much.  I’m glad he’s finally found someone he trusts to be there for him.”

 

“I am, too.  Well, we’ll see you Friday.”

 

“Thanks for calling, Max.  Try to have a good week.”

 

I hung up the phone and took a few moments to ponder the other insane idea that had popped into my mind while talking with Mike before picking the receiver back up and dialing a number I knew all too well.

 

“Thank you for calling the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  How may I direct your call?”

 

“I’d like to talk to Lee Nichols, please,” I requested.

 

“One moment, sir,” the receptionist replied before placing me on hold.

 

Less than twenty seconds passed when I heard, “This is Lee, how may I help you?”

 

“Hey, sis, how’s your day goin’?” I asked flatly.

 

“Not bad, bro, but what’s up with you?  You sound like you’ve been hit by a truck,” she commented with a bit of a giggle.

 

“Well, it missed me, but just barely.  It damn near splattered Mike all over the highway, though.”

 

“WHAT!?? Is he okay?  Oh, god, please tell me he’s not hurt,” Lee groaned in my ear.

 

“I’m sorry, didn’t mean to scare you, Lee.  I was speaking figuratively, not literally,” I said in a calming tone of voice.

 

“Jesus, Max, don’t do shit like that to me,” she scolded.

 

 “Look, I’ve got a question for you but I’m not sure how to ask it without upsetting you.”

 

“Oh, come on, Max.  After all our discussions over the last year, how do you think you could ever upset me in any way?  Besides telling me one of my adorable nephews was just run over by a truck, of course.”

 

“Well, this one’s way more personal than just about anything else we’ve discussed and if it’s none of my business or I’m way the hell off base, just slap me around a bit and I’ll shut up.”

 

“Well, it’ll be a little hard to slap you through the phone, but I’ll do my best if it’s called for.”

 

“I don’t doubt that a bit.  What I want to know is why you and Carl have never had any kids.  I mean, did you not want them, or was it just not possible?”  The silence emanating from the other end of the line was mortifying and I immediately felt as if I’d crossed an unseen line in the sand.  I waited maybe thirty seconds before breaking the silence with, “Uh, you still there?”

 

“Yeah, sorry, Max.  You just caught me way off guard.  I guess we’ve never talked about it, have we?”

 

“Well, no, hence my asking now.  And if you don’t want to talk about it, I’ll understand, go away and forget I ever asked.”

 

“No, it’s fine, bro.  When Carl and I first got serious about each other, the one thing we most wanted to come out of our being together was kids.  Before we even got married, we agreed that we’d have four, hopefully two boys and two girls, though you never know, do you?  Then, after we got married and were seriously trying to make that dream become reality, we discovered that due to some medical issues, it was never gonna happen for us.  So, we readjusted our priorities and lives to move forward in what we thought would be the best way for us.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that, sis.  I guess in the back of my mind, I always wondered, but a chat with Mike this morning pulled those thoughts front and center.”

 

“What kind of talk could you have possibly had with him that would make you think about Carl and me having kids?  I don’t see any possible connection there, Max, and I gotta tell ya, I’m pretty confused.”

 

“Well, join the club in that regard.  We’ve told you about some of what Mike went through before being taken away from his parents, right?”  After a quick acknowledgement from Lee that we had actually done so, I plowed on.  “Well, just this morning, Mike told me more.  A whole lot more.  Turns out his dad abused Mike in much the same way Frank and Iris did me.”

 

“Oh my God, Max!  That’s horrible.  How’s he holding up?”

 

“Pretty well, I guess, all things considered.”

 

“I’m still wondering how his abuse could possibly tie in with us having kids.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  I’m getting there, okay?  Mike also told me that just before he was removed from their care, they found out his mom is pregnant.  And we can’t let them keep that baby, especially after what they did to Mike.”

 

“Oh, hell to the no!” Lee exclaimed.  “Are you and Tom thinking of adopting another one?”

 

“Um, no, even though that idea briefly flitted through my mind.  No, the whacked out thought that popped in after I dismissed the first option was to see if you and Carl might be interested in adopting.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Lee scoffed with a chuckle.  “Wait, you’re serious, aren’t you?” she quickly added with serious surprise.

 

“I wouldn’t have asked the question if I wasn’t serious, sis.”

 

“Oh, crap, you’re really puttin’ me on the spot, ya jerk.  If I say yes, I’m a hero, and if I say no, then I’m a heartless bitch.  Nice, bro, real nice,” she added with a considerable dose of sarcasm.

 

“That’s not my intent and you know it, Lee.  I just want you and Carl to have a serious discussion about the possibility and give it some thought.  Since that baby is going to be Mike’s little brother or sister, I’d like to know where it goes so the two can grow up knowing each other.”

 

“Well, you just shot my afternoon to hell.  I won’t be able to think about anything else the rest of the day.  Tell you what, I’ll talk to Carl tonight and we’ll see what happens.  I’m not making any promises at this point.”

 

“I understand.  There’s a ways to go before the baby arrives, so take your time and really think about it, please.  If you two decide you want to go that route, we’ll do everything we can to help.”

 

“Thanks, Max, I know you will.  Look, I gotta try to get back to some real work, but I promise you’ll be hearing from us soon.”

 

“Love you, Lee.”

 

“Love you, too, asshole, uh, I mean Max,” she chuckled just before hanging up on me.

 

Asshole, huh?  We’ll see about that, you heartless bitch,’ I thought before re-cradling the receiver.  I leaned back in my chair and rehashed the conversation I’d just had to make sure I understood everything I’d just learned.  Lee and Carl had planned to have kids, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t in the cards for them.  I wondered if they’d tried other routes of becoming parents or if the news it wouldn’t happen naturally hurt them so badly, they just gave up on that dream.  And why hadn’t I known about their problems?  For some odd and completely selfish reason, I was hurt that I didn’t know about their struggles.  Not that I could have done anything to solve the problem for them, mind you. 

 

True, on one hand, it was really none of my business and I’d never asked the question before, but on the other hand, why hadn’t they shared that part of their lives with me, either.  Do Mom and Dad know?  And if they do, why the hell didn’t I?  Again, I returned to the simple fact it was their life and not mine, so why would they have told me.  Beyond the heartache they’ve dealt with since they got married twelve years ago, I’m sure there was a touch of shame or humiliation to go along with what must have seemed to be a major failure in their lives.

 

By the time I was done beating them up over not sharing one of the most intimate aspects of their lives with me, I realized Lee was absolutely right about one thing; I am an asshole, and she’s not the heartless bitch she claims to be.  Here I was thinking it was horrible of them to have not included me in their troubles when in reality, I’m taking the easy way out and adopting six kids.  Yeah, like that’s easy.  I just got lucky.  And it was my fervent hope they might finally have some good luck of their own and be willing to accept a baby into their lives.  Well, I’ve done all I can do at the moment by making the suggestion.  The ball’s in their court now.

 

With my brain having been tortured to the limit by the emotional ups and downs of the morning, I retreated to the bedroom to take some Advil and see if my pillows still loved me.

 

 

“Well, what did Carol have to say?” Dylan asked when I hung up the phone.

 

“Unfortunately, she wasn’t too surprised.  She said she always knew Mike wasn’t telling them everything his parents had done to him.  She was hoping it hadn’t been as ugly as it was, but deep down, she already knew.  They just couldn’t get Mike to open up about it so they could do what really needed to be done.  She’s starting the paperwork right now to take the baby as soon as it’s born.”

 

“I guess you work her job long enough, you develop a sixth sense for things like that.  Always hoping for the best but expecting the worst.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.  But we had the same thing in our job, didn’t we?” I replied.

 

“True enough.  It always pissed me off when we’d run into situations like that.  The only saving grace was that while we couldn’t dispense the appropriate justice immediately, we knew they’d eventually get what they had coming when their sorry asses landed in jail.  I don’t know what it is with cons, but they absolutely hate anybody who abuses kids in any way, and they make sure those sick fuckers get back what they gave out.  Ten times over.”

 

“Yep, always love to hear it when some sicko gets his just rewards.  Makes me wonder how Frank and Iris are faring in their new confines,” I added with a twisted grin.

 

“Do you really care?” Dylan asked with interest.

 

“Not a whit.  Whatever happens to those two is less than they deserve.”

 

“So, Tom, do you think you and Max are going to adopt this baby?” Dylan prodded me. 

 

The sudden change of topic caught me by surprise, and I hesitated a moment before supplying an answer.  “I’d be surprised if he’s not thinkin’ about it already,” I admitted with reservation.  “Not sure I’m ready for that, though.”

 

“Oh, come on, man.  It would make perfect sense since you’re already takin’ Mike.”

 

“Well, I guess it does, but I think the six we already have is more than enough.  And now he wants to add William to the crew.  And a baby!?  I mean, what the hell is Max thinkin’?”

 

“He’s thinkin’ all these kids need a good home to live in and a loving family to grow up with.”

 

“I’m not arguin’ that point a bit, Dylan, because I’d be wastin’ my breath.  But just where do you draw the line?  I mean, when does it all become too much to handle?”

 

“Sounds like somebody’s havin’ second thoughts about the commitment they’ve made,” Dylan commented.

 

“I’d be lyin’ through my teeth if I said I wasn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Max with all my heart, and I’d follow him to the ends of the universe to be with him.  And those boys?  How can you not love them?  They’re all so kind, considerate, smart and cute, you’d have to be the most heartless villain in the world to not love them, right?  I’m just not sure I’ve got enough in me to go around,” I quietly admitted.

 

“Tom, listen to me,” the big guy demanded.  I picked my head up and looked Dylan in the eyes as he continued.  “We’ve worked together almost daily for what, over five years now, right?  And I think I know you better than almost anybody else.  Except, maybe, Malcom, that is.  You may not believe this, but you’ve got more love in you to give than you think is possible.  How do I know that, you ask?  Because I’ve seen you in action, seen the way you deal with people and treat them.  Even the lowest of lowlife scumbags you’ve come across in the job gets way better than they deserve.  Like the Muellers.  I know how much you wanted to clean Frank’s clock that day, just wipe that smug ‘I’m better than you’ smirk right off his face so hard it’d never come back.  But you didn’t.  Even as pissed off as you were at him and Iris, you still treated them with respect they didn’t come close to deserving.  It’s who you are and there’s not a damn thing you could do to change that.”

 

“Thanks for that, Dylan, I guess.  But still, there’s gotta be a limit, right?  I just have this feeling, way down deep in my gut, that we’re biting off way more than either of us can chew.”

 

“And maybe you are, but you wanna know somethin’?  If anybody can do it and succeed, it’s you and Max.  Sure, you’ll have to make some minor adjustments as you go along, but it’ll all work out.  Whether it’s just the six kids you have now or the hundred and fifty-six I think Max wants, you’ll adapt as needed and everyone will be better off because of the love you two have for each other and however many kids you eventually end up with.”

 

“Oh, don’t go there, man.  A hundred and fifty-six?  No way, José.  I draw the line at, let’s say, sixty-six.  Yeah, that’s a good number, I think.  Nice and round, divisible by two and three, so you can split things up easily.  More than enough for four football teams or what, 12 basketball teams, and still have some left over to be cheerleaders.  Yep, that’s my limit, sixty-six and not one more.”  I ended my daydream with a sheepish grin on my face and looked back to Dylan, only to find him staring at me with the widest smirk I’d ever seen on his face. 

 

“What?” I asked.

 

“I think I’m takin’ the rest of the day off as my work here is done,” he laughed heartily.

 

“Not by a longshot, Bubba.  Get back on the phone,” I demanded with a chuckle.

 

“Yessir, massa,” Dylan laughed again as I shot him a dirty look.

 

 

“Well, guys, I think it’s time to take a break and get started on lunch,” I suggested.  “What do you want to eat today?”  The suggestions from the herd were flying so fast, it was hard to keep up with them all, but once Logan mentioned tacos, the other five suddenly forgot their own ideas and all six were begging for the same.  “Well, let’s go see if we have what we need to make it happen.”

 

They followed me to the kitchen and into the pantry where I pulled the two eighteen-pack boxes of taco shells off the shelf along with four packs of taco seasoning.  Joey grabbed the jar of salsa from another shelf while Alex lifted Andy to grab the bag of Tostitos Scoops from the high shelf that was their home.  Back in the kitchen, I pulled two packs of ground sirloin from the freezer and dropped them in a large pan on the stove to start the thawing and browning process.

 

“Okay, I’ve got things going in here, why don’t you rugrats get the table set, then let your dads and Dylan know lunch’ll be ready in thirty minutes?” I asked.  Without question or argument, the six-pack got to work and soon had everything we’d need on the table except for our drinks.  That minor chore completed, Alex, Joey and T.J. aimed themselves down the hallway to get Max while Andy, Mike and Logan traipsed across the house to spread the word to Tom and Dylan.

 

 

I knocked on the door to Dad’s study and we waited for an answer.  I didn’t wait long, though, before pushing the door open to find nothing but an empty room.

 

“Well, where’d he go?” I wondered out loud.

 

“Don’t know, Alex,” T.J. answered.

 

“Last time I saw him, he was headed this way,” Joey added.

 

“Must be in the bedroom, then” I decided, and we turned around to knock on that door.  Again, we waited for an answer and when none came, T.J. cracked the door just enough for us to spy Dad splayed out on the bed like a guy who’d been staked to the ground, just waiting for the vultures to show up for dinner.  As usual, he’d kicked off the covers and his stiff dick was standing at attention.

 

“Aw, isn’t that cute?” T.J. giggled. 

 

“He must be dreamin’ ‘bout Pops, again,” Joey added with a snicker.

 

“Naw, he’s pro’lly dreamin’ about his shower with Mikey last night,” I offered with a quiet laugh.

 

“Wait, you guys know ‘bout that?” T.J. asked.

 

“Well, du-u-u-h,” I answered.  “Mikey can’t keep nothin’ from us, can he Joey?”

 

“Nope.  His mind’s way too easy to pick.”

 

“You guys think maybe now that he’s talked to Dad about what his dad did to him, he might actually tell us, too?”

 

“Who knows?” Joey replied.  “But if he wants to talk ‘bout it, we’ll listen, won’t we?”

 

“You know it,” Alex added.

 

“I wish we could do somethin’ to help him feel better.”

 

“We will, dude,” Alex replied.  “Just in our own way.”

 

“Well, let’s get the old fart up and go eat,” Joey said.  “Well, he’s already up, ain’t he?” he added with a giggle when he turned back and looked through the open door.  “Guess I shoulda said movin’.”

 

On that note, the three of us moved in for the kill.

 

 

Logan knocked on the door to Pops and Uncle Dylan’s office and when we heard the ‘come in’ echo from the other side, Andy pushed the door open and we stepped inside.

 

“What’s up, kiddos?” Pops asked.

 

“Ron’s started lunch and he told us to let you guys know it’d be ready in thirty minutes,” I answered.

 

“Yum!” Dylan replied while rubbing his stomach.  “Those doughnuts are wearin’ out awful quick and I’m startin’ to get hungry.  What’re we havin’ today?”

 

“Tacos,” Andy replied.

 

“Chips and salsa, too,” Logan added.

 

“Thanks for letting us know.  We’ll be out in about twenty minutes,” Pops said.  “Why don’t you three scoot and we’ll see you in a few.”  Logan and Andy quickly returned to the kitchen to see if they could help Ron with anything, but I stayed where I was, looking down at the floor and kind of shuffling my feet.  “What’s up, Mike?  You have something else to add?” Pops asked.

 

“Um, yeah.  I guess Dad pro’lly told you what I told him this mornin’, didn’t he?”

 

Pops left his chair and knelt in front of me before answering.  After putting his hands on my shoulders, he finally said, “He did and I’m sure you know this already, but we’re all really sorry you had to go through that.  We’re just glad you finally said something to us so we can get you the help you need to deal with your feelings about what your mom and dad did.”

 

“Did he also tell you the part about me really gettin’ to like it?”

 

“Yes, but that still doesn’t make what they did right.  And you can be sure they’re going to be punished for what they did.”

 

“How do you know that?” I asked finally peeling my eyes away from the floor and looking into Pops’ eyes.

 

“Because I’m gonna make sure of it, little buddy,” Uncle Dylan answered.  I jumped a little in surprise when he said something because I was so focused on the floor, I had kind of forgotten he was in the room.

 

I turned to him with a smile and said, “Thanks, Uncle Dylan.  I knew I could count on you guys.”

 

“Always, Mike,” Pops replied.  He pulled me into a big hug and just about squeezed the stuffings right out of me.  Before letting me go, he whispered, “I love you, son.”

 

“I love you, too, Pops,” I echoed, then gave him a little kiss on the cheek.  I ran over to Uncle Dylan’s desk to give him a hug and kiss, too, and when I got there, he picked me up by my armpits and spun us around while he was sitting in his chair.  That got me really giggling before we finally slowed down and he set me back on the floor.  “Thanks Uncle Dylan.  I love you, too,” I added as I wrapped my arms around his neck.

 

“Love you, too, munchkin,” he replied before I let go of him and turned to follow Andy and Logan.

 

 

Mike had just left our office, closing the door as he did, and I turned to look at Tom who was still kneeling in the same position and hiding his face behind his hands.  Despite his attempt to be covert, on closer inspection, I could see the tears running from his eyes and dripping from his cheeks on to the new wood flooring.  “You okay there, Buckwheat,” I asked with concern.

 

“Yeah, fine,” he croaked in response.  As he started to stand up and return to his chair, he continued, “I just hate what all these kids have been through in their short lives so far.  I don’t know if any of them will ever be able to have a normal fuckin’ life, not with all the crap they’ve got to deal with.”

 

“Tom, it’s like that for every damn kid in the world, whether they’ve had a rough life or not.  It’s all a matter of them having good role models to emulate and learning how to properly deal with any problems they may have along the way.  And just look at the role models your boys have, they’ve got me, Max, Malcom, your parents, Lee and Carl.  Hell, even you’re gonna be a pretty good person to follow once you pull your head outta your ass and get with the program.  It’s those decisions we make throughout our lives that make us who we are.”

 

“Look, I get that, okay, but these six boys are so far behind the eight-ball right now, how the hell will they ever recover?”

 

“With lots and lots of love and support from you, Max, and whoever else you all decide to add to the family over time.”

 

“How can you be so damn sure about that?” Tom muttered in despair.

 

“Easy.  Look at our pal, Vinnie, and what he’s accomplished.  A few years ago, he was just a few steps shy of spending some serious time behind bars, wasn’t he?  Then you and I got just a little involved with him, tried to show him a more positive side of life, a better way to live.  And where is he now, you ask?  He has his own moving company that not only keeps him on the straight and narrow, but half his family, too.  If that’s not a turnaround worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.  And he did all that with the minimum of input from us.  Just think of the effect all of us working together will have on those kids in the next ten to fifteen years as they grow up.  By the time they’re ready to move out of this dump and get on with the rest of their lives, they’ll have the world by the balls and be ready to squeeze the shit outta them.  Just ask Logan’s Uncle Dirtbag ‘bout what happens to people who get in their way.”

 

Despite what he’d been feeling ever since Max came in the last time, Tom laughed heartily at what I’d said, and I joined him in the first light-hearted moment we’d had all morning.  “There, you see I’m right, don’t you?”

 

“Well, I sure hope you are,” Tom tentatively agreed.

 

“So, what’s your limit on kids now that you have a fresh perspective?”

 

“What’d I say before?  Sixty-six, right?  Yeah, fuck that, way too low.  Maybe five hundred sixty-six.  If your gonna go for it, might as well go all out, right?” he replied with a wide smile.

 

“Now, there’s the Tom Wright I know.  Welcome back to the real world, bonehead.”

 

“Yeah, thanks, Dylan.  Love you, too, smart-ass.”

 

“ ‘Least I’m a smart one and not a dumb one,” I chuckled.

 

“Says you,” Tom retorted with his own chuckle before looking back to the file on his desk and picking up his phone to arrange an interview with a couple looking to adopt a baby.  While that all by itself was a good sign, what I thought was even more important was the simple fact the smile he’d lost earlier was firmly plastered across his face and I saw no sign of him losing it this time.

 

 

Lunch was a rather quiet affair after Mike’s news this morning, but it didn’t the keep the boys from packing away the food like they always do.  After Tom, Dylan and Ron provided some assistance to Andy, Mike and T.J. in putting their tacos together (meat and cheese only, thank you very much), we whipped up our own.  Of course, ours included lettuce, onions and some tomato chunks Ron had prepared to add a bit more flavor to an otherwise rather plain taco. 

 

Alex and Joey took the easy way out and crumbled the shell into tiny bits on their plates before dumping two tacos worth of meat on top of the shredded shells, then adding almost as much cheese to the pile already on their plates before digging in with their forks.  In all my life, I’d never seen anyone eat a taco in such a manner.  Though, after struggling to keep all the fillings in the shell as I took a bite of my own and tried to not make a mess, I was beginning to see the method in their shared madness.  I’ll have to tuck that little trick into the back of my mind and pull it back out the next time Ron was inspired to fix food from south of the border.

 

Wasting little time by virtually inhaling their meals, the boys were obviously anxious to get their afternoon adventure started.  As each finished with emptying their plates, they immediately took them and their silverware into the kitchen, rinsed it all in the sink and then dropped it in the dishwasher.  Their minor chore completed, they headed to their rooms to get dressed and ready to leave.

 

Alex was the last one to take care of his cleanup and as he came back through the dining room, he looked to Tom and I and bluntly suggested, “C’mon, you two, hurry the heck up!  Time’s a wastin’ and we gotta get movin’.”

 

I looked at Alex and commented, “Um, you do realize Lincoln’s not going anywhere, don’t you?”

 

“Well, I sure hope not,” he giggled in agreement.  “But still, let’s get rollin’.  We don’t wanna be cooped up in the house all day, Dads.”

 

“You go get ready, buddy, and we’ll be with you soon enough,” Tom offered with a smile.  As Alex turned for his room to get dressed, Tom looked back to me and commented, “Geez, you’d think we never take them anywhere.”

 

“Well, except for grocery shopping, the occasional meal out and our trip to Chicago, we really haven’t,” I countered.

 

“Yeah, all right.  We better get movin’ or they’re liable to leave without us.”

 

“Yeah, good luck with that.  They don’t have keys to the cars,” I chuckled.

 

“Uh, Max,” Ron interjected, “did you forget about the hooks we put in the garage that hold the keys and fobs to every vehicle you own, including the ‘Vette and Ferrari?”

 

“Oh, shit,” I muttered.  I looked back to Tom and asked, “What the hell you waitin’ for, an engraved invitation?  Get your ass up and movin’,” I added as I grabbed my plate, silverware and glass, and turned for the kitchen on my way to the bedroom.  I could hear Ron and Dylan laughing their asses off as I dropped my stuff in the dishwasher and aimed for the bedroom, Tom following closely behind.

 

While we didn’t really rush through getting dressed and ready to go, soon enough, we were presentable to the public at large and headed back through the house.  Passing through the dining room on the way to the garage where we were sure the boys were waiting for us, we found Dylan and Ron still chuckling to themselves.  I interrupted their continuing chortles with, “Ron, I’ve left a list on my desk of items we’d like for you to pick up this afternoon while we’re gone.  Once you’re done with your cleanup, would you please take care of that and when you get back, stash it all in our bedroom?”

 

“You bet.  You guys go have fun.”

 

“We’re gonna try,” Tom said as we left the pair of still-giggling fools behind. 

 

Stepping into the garage, we found the sensational six-pack waiting patiently in the car.  That, in and of itself, wasn’t really much of a surprise.  The surprising part was finding Joey had taken up residence in the driver’s seat, the engine running and every window and roof panel on the car wide open.  The look on our faces must have been something to see as all six kiddos cracked up with laughter.

 

After gathering our wits, Tom called out, “Move it munchkin!  I’m not goin’ anywhere with you behind the wheel.”

 

“Aw, c’mon, Pops, where’s your sense of adventure?” Joey retorted with a crooked smirk.

 

“Still in bed and enjoying a very peaceful nap.  Now, skedaddle.”

 

“You’re no fun at all, old man,” Logan crowed loudly as Joey climbed over the back of the driver’s seat and settled himself in between Logan and Alex in the middle row.

 

“You got that right,” Tom agreed as he took his place behind the wheel and I sank into the passenger seat.

 

I buckled my seat belt, then turned around to face the wild ones and said, “You guys should know better than to start a car.  What the devil were you thinkin’?”

 

“Oh, don’t have a cow, man,” Alex replied.  “All he did was push the button on the dash.  He didn’t touch nothin’ else, I swear.  We’re not complete dummies, ya know.”

 

“Then how did the windows and roof get opened?” I asked as Tom backed out of the garage and got us on our way to town.

 

“That was me,” Alex confessed with a smile.  “It’s such a nice day, we thought we’d enjoy some fresh air on the way.”

 

I smiled internally as the same thought had occurred to me as Tom and I were getting dressed, but I was still upset with Joey actually starting the car.  “Any of you ever starts a car without us being there and asking you to do so, you’ll be wearin’ clothes for a week.  You got me?”

 

“Geez, man, take a pill and chill,” Joey muttered quietly.

 

“What was that, young man?” I asked as I spun around as far as my seatbelt would allow.

 

“Nothin’,” he grunted.  By that time, we’d reached the end of the drive and Tom had just turned onto the road that would take us to the Old Jacksonville Road and Springfield.

 

“That’s it,” I fumed in disgust at their behavior.  I turned back to Tom and demanded, “Turn the car around, we’re not takin’ these little brats anywhere.”

 

“Nope, no can do, babe,” Tom replied wistfully as the boys erupted in protest from the back seats.

 

“What’re you talkin’ about?” I questioned our driver.

 

“He’s right, Max, would you just take a pill and chill?” he asked with a smile.  He then reached his right hand over the console between us, pulled my left into his and gently squeezed while adding, “You’re just stressed and an afternoon out of the house is just what the doctor ordered.”

 

“Oh yeah,” I retorted angrily.  “You wanna tell me what quack gave you that shitty advice?”  Another round of protests ensued from the back seats, this time all of them calling me on my word selection.

 

“Why me, of course,” Tom replied with serene bliss.

 

“I wanna see your diploma,” I demanded, though the humor of the situation was finally breaking through the denser than normal fabric of my mind and a tight smile was slowly forming on my face.

 

“I’ll show you anything you want when we’re back home and in bed, babe,” my honey whispered seductively as he winked at me.  That was all it took, and I completely lost it, laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the whole situation and my extremely overboard reaction to the boys’ actions and comments.

 

I turned in my seat again and offered, “I’m really sorry guys.  I overreacted and went way off the deep end.  I promise I’m in a better mood, now, and I’ll try to stay that way, okay?”

 

“You better, Dad,” Joey retorted.  He then turned towards Tom and asked, “What, did you promise to give him a blowjob if he chilled out?”

 

“Or was it just a handjob?” Alex added.

 

“Nah, I bet it was a whole lot more than either one o’ them,” Logan laughed aloud.

 

Tom’s only response to their gibes was a simple ‘no comment’ as I turned almost as red as the outside of the car in embarrassment.  All six munchkins were now giggling uncontrollably.  Whether it was the new color tone of my skin or the thought of their dads enjoying some intimate time later was up for debate.

 

Right up until this small voice from the backseat called out, “Hey, don’t forget my shower tonight, Pops.  I’m really looking forward to it.”

 

“Don’t worry, Mike, there’s plenty of me to go ‘round,” Tom replied.

 

“Ain’t that the truth,” T.J. retorted.  That got all of us laughing yet again and we remained in high spirits the rest of the way into town.

 

 

I was headed down the hallway towards the garage, but before I left the house to run the errands Max had asked me to take care of, I wanted to have a quick chat with Dylan.  I stopped and knocked on the door, then stepped inside after receiving the all clear signal.

 

“What’s up, Ron?” he asked as I stood in front of his desk, feeling as nervous as a little kid standing before the school principal about it for some odd reason.

 

“Hey, man, I just wanted to ask you somethin’ ‘fore I headed out.”

 

“Well, spit it out, boy,” Dylan grumbled as he leaned back in his chair.

 

“I hope I’m not oversteppin’ my bounds and I don’t want anybody thinkin’ I was eavesdroppin’ or anything, but I can’t help but overhear things sometimes that I probably shouldn’t be hearin’.  Ya know what I’m sayin’?” I asked with trepidation.  After a quick nod from the muscle-bound and surly-looking naked black dude on the other side of the desk, I carried on.  “Well, I’ve heard what I think are some rather interesting whispers this mornin’ and I just gotta know if any of it’s true.”

 

“I guess that depends on what you think you heard,” Dylan responded evenly.

 

“Well, first was about what happened between Mike and his parents.  And then, there was something ‘bout this kid named William.  And to top all that off, I could swear I heard somethin’ ‘bout Max and Tom adopting a baby.  I mean, is any o’ that true?”

 

“Every bit of it.  And let me tell you somethin’ right now, Ron,” he began with a glower that put the fear of God in me, “no sense in you wasting time and money on a visit to an audiologist ‘cause let me tell you, there ain’t a damn thing wrong with your ears,” he quickly added with a laugh.  “Pull up a chair, buddy, and I’ll tell you what I know so far.”  I gratefully accepted his offer and after settling in, he continued.  Dylan quickly confirmed the basics of what I’d asked about while fleshing out a few of the more confusing details for me.  He finally ended his summation with, “Ya got any questions?”

 

“Tons, but I should probably save them for Max and Tom, don’t ya think?”

 

“Well, yeah, that would be the smart thing to do.  While I know enough about each story to get us all in big trouble, I don’t know it all.  Obviously, Max and Tom are your best bets for complete details.”

 

“Thanks, Dylan.  I can see why they all like you so much.  You’re a good guy and a great friend to have.  Well, I need to go get this stuff and be back before the guys return from the tomb.  Sorry to have bothered you and wasted your time with stupid questions, but I’m just tryin’ to keep on top of what’s goin’ on ‘round here.  I was about to ask Max about all of it before they left, but he didn’t seem to be in a very good mood.”

 

“No, I’m sure he wasn’t.  He’s been pretty down ever since Mike talked to him this morning.  All we can do here is hope they have a good afternoon and are in a better mood when they come back home.”

 

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  See you when I get back.”

 

“You know it.  By the way, what’s on the menu for supper tonight?” Dylan added with a laugh.

 

“Pork tenderloin sandwiches with onion rings and coleslaw.”

 

“Sounds yummy as usual, bud.  Hope you’ve got enough for me.”

 

“Always do, Dylan, always do,” I chuckled as I turned and headed towards the garage to take care of my errands.

 

 

After pulling into Oak Ridge Cemetery and passing by the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam Veteran’s memorials, Tom weaved and wiggled his way through the parklike grounds to finally reach the parking lot for Lincoln’s tomb.  And the lot was quite full for a Monday in April, I thought.  But we weren’t too far past the 160th anniversary of the great man’s assassination, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised.  Add to that, the number of area schools closed this week for spring break and the crowds made even more sense.

 

“Wow!  It looks even bigger than it did the day we saw it for whatshisname’s funeral,” Alex commented.

 

“Well, we’re a bit closer than we were that day, so I’m sure it does,” I commented.  “Wait until we’re standing right at the base and it’ll seem even taller.”

 

Once Tom had found a parking spot and shut off the car, the boys wasted no time in clamoring outside and taking off across the lot.  We let them go as I figured they couldn’t go far enough to be out of our sight and we slowly ambled towards the bronze bust of Lincoln in front of the tomb.  By the time we’d re-joined the boys, they were in line to do what almost every other visitor was doing, rubbing Lincoln’s nose.

 

“Dad, why do people rub his nose?” Mike asked.

 

“Because they think it will bring them good luck.  Kinda like finding a penny face up on the ground.”

 

“Is that why his nose is so shiny, and the rest is almost black?” Andy queried.

 

“Exactly, buddy,” Tom replied.

 

As we waited for their turn, it became obvious that while Logan, Alex and Joey could probably reach Lincoln’s nose on their own by standing on the large block in front of the statue, the other three were going to require a boost to accomplish the task.  Fortunately, Tom was more than capable of lifting T.J., Mike and Andy high enough so they could take their turn, being extra-careful while hoisting Mike to avoid hurting his still-tender behind.  With the last one back on the ground, we walked towards the tomb’s entry and joined yet another line for our tour.

 

“Hey, can we go up there?” Logan asked while pointing to the platform surrounding the 117-foot-tall obelisk that is the main focal point of the site.  While not nearly as tall as the 555-foot-tall Washington monument in Washington, D.C., it’s still a pretty impressive sight to behold in the flat farmland of central Illinois.

 

“I don’t think so, Logan.  See the chains blocking the steps up?” I answered.

 

“Well, that stinks,” Joey grumbled.

 

“Yeah, why is it closed off?” Alex asked.

 

“I don’t have a clue, boys.  Maybe they’re doing some work up there,” Tom answered.

 

While I was sure the boys already knew it, I felt the irrational need to remind them to be quiet and respectful as we meandered through the tomb itself.  The dirty looks shot my direction from all six confirmed my initial thought and I felt bad for even bringing it up.  I chalked it up to being just one of those things parents do without thinking it all the way through.  As we followed the line inside and aimed for the burial chamber, we saw eight smaller bronze statues set into niches in the marble-lined corridor, each depicting Lincoln at various stages of his life. 

 

Turning the second corner of the hallway brought us to the burial chamber itself and the boys lined up along the rope separating the walkway from the seven-ton cenotaph that marks Lincoln’s final resting place.  Well, almost.  After a failed attempt to steal Lincoln’s body back in 1876, his mortal remains were eventually laid to rest in a concrete vault thirty inches behind and ten feet below the enormous reddish marble marker that bore his name and the years in which he was born and died.

 

The boys silently took in all the details of the room, as did Tom and I.  From the black and white marble walls surrounding the same materials comprising the floor to the gold leaf ceiling above, and on to the nine flags evenly placed along the perimeter of the semi-circular room.  Seven of those flags commemorate the states that Lincoln and his ancestors called home.  The other two flags, of course, are the US and Presidential flags.  The quote ‘Now he belongs to the ages’, credited as being said by Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on Lincoln’s death, is inscribed in the wall above the US flag.

 

While I wasn’t what anyone would consider to be a frequent visitor to the tomb, I wasn’t surprised at any of the details the boys were soaking up on their first visit, but I always stood in awe of the place and the subtle grace imparted by the room.  As we turned to continue our tour, the boys were suddenly drawn to the south wall of the burial room and the eight crypts that lined the wall.  Four of those were occupied by Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, and three of their four sons, Edward, William and Thomas, while the other four were currently unused and likely to stay that way.

 

As we passed the crypts, I could see the surprise register on the boys faces at just how young Abe and Mary’s sons were when they died, Eddie just a month before his fourth birthday, Willie was only eleven and Tad had reached the ripe old age of eighteen.  I watched as T.J. flinched a bit on realizing their ages and barely heard him whisper to himself, ‘Wow, that sucks’.  I was about to grab his shoulder and reprimand him for his word selection, but suddenly stopped myself, agreeing that dying that young would most certainly suck.  And in a nod to Logan, I incorporated his most excellent addendum that it doesn’t just suck, it ‘sucks big ol’ donkey dicks’.

 

We continued our journey around the third and fourth corners of the tomb’s corridor, eventually returning to the entrance rotunda.  Stepping back outside into the bright sunshine, everyone was covering their eyes after having become accustomed to the relative gloom of being inside for the last half-hour.  Once outside and away from the tomb some thirty to forty feet, the herd could no longer contain themselves and they all began talking at once about their experience and what they’d seen.  All of them were seemingly impressed with our visit, but you could hear the sadness in their voices as they talked about the three young boys buried with their parents.

 

The most interesting comment we heard from the crew was when Mike asked, “So, did ya meet any new spooks, T.J.?”

 

“Thankfully, no,” the youngster answered morosely.  “And I’m glad none of them are still hangin’ ‘round.”

 

“I didn’t feel anything either, bro,” Alex chimed as he wrapped an arm around T.J.’s shoulder.  “And if any o’ them were still here, one of us would know.”

 

“Nope, I didn’t feel nothin’, either,” Joey agreed.

 

As the group continued on their way towards the parking lot, I asked, “Hey, where y’all headed?”

 

“The car, Dad,” Andy answered.  “How else we gonna get home?”

 

“Well, there’s one more really interesting thing to see here.  Follow us.”  I grabbed Tom’s arm and turned off the sidewalk to head to the north side of the tomb and the hill behind it.  Reaching the top of the steep incline, I began to slowly pick my way down the slope, followed by seven very confused individuals.  On reaching the bottom, I waited for the rest to join me on level ground again before moving on.  Once we were all together again, I led everyone to a rather anonymous looking edifice built into the side of the hill, the obelisk of the tomb reaching skyward above us.

 

“What the heck is that nasty-lookin’ hole,” Joey asked with disinterest.

 

“This is where Lincoln was first buried when he was brought back to Springfield after his assassination on April 15, 1865.”

 

“I’ve been to the tomb before,” Tom commented, “but I never knew this was back here.”

 

“See, you’re never too old to learn somethin’ new, are ya?” I asked with a grin.

 

“Apparently not,” Tom muttered in agreement.

 

“Is this where he was when those crooks tried to steal him?” Alex asked.

 

“No, that didn’t happen until a few years later, but take a closer look through the gates,” I added with a wave of my hand.  All six lined up and peered through the locked grates that protected the interior from vandalism.

 

“That’s pretty gloomy,” Logan commented.  “Glad my dad ain’t in there.”

 

“Yeah, he pro’lly is, too,” Andy agreed.

 

“I don’t remember how long his body was down here, but he was moved around several times before finally being buried where he is now.”

 

“Well, that’s just bizarre,” Alex commented.  “Why the heck would they do that?”

 

“The tomb up the hill there wasn’t built overnight, guys.  It took quite a few years to get that done.  Then after those boneheads tried to steal Lincoln’s body, he was moved around a couple more times.  It wasn’t until his oldest son, Robert, requested it, that he finally ended up where he is now.”

 

“Okay, I seen enough,” Joey interrupted.  “Can we go home now?”

 

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Tom replied.  “As long as the others are ready to go, too.”

 

“Yeah, let’s, boogie, Dads,” Alex agreed.

 

“Back up the hill, then, guys,” I said as I turned and started clawing my way up the steep incline.  The crew fell in behind me and soon enough, we were back on the level ground behind the tomb and headed towards the parking lot.  Despite their seeming lack of interest, every one of the munchkins turned back to take one more look at the tomb before climbing in the car and settling in for the trip back home.

 

Home Page
Story index
Next Chapter