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Chapter 85 – And the Winner is … Kelly?

 

On leaving the cemetery, I was happy to discover the lack of interest I’d perceived was reserved solely for the burial vault at the base of the hill behind the tomb.  The boys couldn’t stop talking about the tomb itself, Lincoln’s family and all the good luck they should have coming their way after rubbing the nose of his bronze bust.  In a bit of a switch, Alex, Joey and Logan had clambered into the back-row seat for once, allowing T.J., Andy and Mike to take the middle row.

 

I glanced in the mirror on the sun visor and spied the three wild ones in that back row were quietly peeling their shirts over their heads and quietly giggling amongst themselves.  I was pretty certain their shoes, socks and shorts would soon follow.  Providing they hadn’t already been unceremoniously dropped to the floor of the car, that is.  While I wasn’t too surprised at this development since it had become an almost daily occurrence when we’d pick them up at the bus shelter after school, doing so as we headed around Springfield south on Veteran’s Parkway was a new development.  The only other time I could remember them getting undressed in the car when we weren’t in our own driveway was the afternoon we’d spent at Lee and Carl’s after visiting Dad in the hospital.

 

An evil thought formed in my mind and I reached over to tap Tom’s arm.  When he glanced in my direction, I mouthed, “Play along.”  With a nod of acknowledgement and a crooked smirk from our driver, I said loud enough for all to hear, “Ya know, hon, I don’t think Ron was plannin’ on anything special for supper.  Why don’t we stop at Chili’s or Olive Garden before we go home?”

 

“Sure, sounds like a great idea to me,” Tom agreed with an innocent smile.

 

I chanced another quick peek in the mirror and the looks of surprise on Joey, Alex and Logan’s faces were priceless and not something I’ll forget anytime soon.

 

“Well, don’t that just figger,” Logan drawled quietly.

 

“No!” Alex squealed.

 

“We gotta go home, Dads,” Joey quickly added.

 

“Why’s that?” I asked innocently.

 

T.J. turned around and quickly provided the answer to my query.  “ ‘Cause those fools ain’t got no clothes on,” he laughed.  That comment made Andy and Mike whip their heads around to make sure T.J. was telling the truth.

 

“Hey, if they can take their clothes off, why can’t we?” Mike asked.

 

“Well, if we’re goin’ anywhere ‘sides home to eat, I’m keepin’ mine on,” Andy retorted with a snicker.

 

As quick as a Ferrari off the line, Logan responded with, “Hey, those signs on the door say ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’.  They don’t say nothin’ ‘bout pants.”

 

“So, we pull on our shoes and shirts and we’re good to go, right?” Alex offered with a devil-may-care grin.  Tom and I were both giggling internally at the ongoing conversation, but I finally decided it was time to bring it to a halt before they got any more wild ideas.

 

“We’re not going to Chili’s, guys, but I think you should put your clothes back on, please.”

 

“Why, Dad, what’s the big deal?” Joey asked in all seriousness.

 

“Yeah, ain’t like nobody can see we’re naked,” Logan added.

 

“That’s beside the point.  We’ve talked before about places where it’s appropriate for us to be nude and driving around Springfield is not one of those places.  What if we were in an accident or Tom got stopped by the police for speeding or running a red light?  What happens then?”

 

“Well, if we’re in an accident, won’t the ambulance people take our clothes off so they can check us over?” Alex asked, trying to inject some logic into his argument.  “We’re just savin’ them some time, aren’t we?”

 

“And if Pops is goin’ so fast he gets pulled over, well, I guess that cop’s gonna get the surprise of his life,” Joey added with a laugh.

 

“Clothes back on now, you clowns, or clothes for the next three days.  Your choice.”

 

“Oh, man, you’re no fun, Dad,” Joey grumped as he retrieved his shirt from the floor and started to pull it back over his head.  All three grumbled their dissatisfaction as they got redressed but were soon properly covered as we continued home.  As soon as we pulled into the driveway twenty minutes later, however, clothes started flying all over the car as all six of the rugrats commenced stripping off.  T.J.’s shirt somehow landed on Tom’s head and his quick reflexes in pulling it from over his eyes is all that kept us from hitting a tree.  The Flex was jounced wildly as he jerked the steering wheel, tossing kids to and fro as he centered back up on the drive.

 

“What the heck was that all about?” Logan asked.

 

“Somebody’s shirt landed on my head and covered my eyes.  We almost hit a tree, you lunatics,” Tom grumbled.

 

“I’d suggest you all be more careful where you throw your clothes while getting undressed in the car.  If you want to make it home in one piece, that is,” I commented.

 

“Sorry, Pops,” T.J. offered guiltily as he retrieved his shirt.  “I’ll be more careful next time.”

 

“Thank you, son.  I really don’t want to have a wreck in our own driveway,” Tom agreed.

 

Since it was still so warm and sunny, once we were parked in the garage and the car was shut off, the sensational six-pack flooded from the car and charged outside.  Tom and I followed as far as the big door and found the herd wrestling around in the grass and having a ton of fun.  While it was tempting to join the melee, we opted to head inside and make sure Ron’s trip to town was successful.

 

“Y’all remember to grab your clothes on the way in,” Tom yelled to the scrum taking place twenty feet from where we watched the wild bunch.

 

“We will, Pops,” Joey yelled back as we turned for the house.

 

“And Mike, you be careful,” I quickly added.

 

“Don’t worry, Dads,” T.J. responded.  “We ain’t gonna hurt his cute little butt!”

 

Crossing the garage, Tom commented, “I wish I had that much energy left.”

 

“What?  The walk around the tomb wear you out?” I asked.

 

“As much as I hate to admit, it kinda did.  This lack of regular exercise is really startin’ to get to me.  Well, that and Ron’s cookin’,” he added with a chuckle.

 

“I’m with ya on that, hon.  I’m eating way more than I’m used to, but he does know his way around a kitchen, doesn’t he?”

 

“Too well, I think.  I’ve put on ten pounds since he started workin’ here.”

 

“Oh, heaven forbid!” I exclaimed sarcastically.  “What could be worse?”

 

“Another ten pounds,” Tom grumbled as we stepped inside.  “I really need to start workin’ out again.”

 

“Well, don’t let me stop you.”

 

“And you’re gonna join me,” he added with a twisted smirk.

 

“Come again?” I asked with surprise.

 

“Uh, maybe later,” Tom chortled as he leaned in and kissed my cheek.  Before I could utter the witty retort I had for that comment, we’d reached his office, stepped inside and he asked, “How’s it goin’, partner?”

 

“Just dandy, boss,” Dylan replied.  “All the prelims are done on the new checks from Carol and we have interviews set up with everybody for Thursday and Friday.”

 

“Wow!  You’re not wasting any time, are you?”

 

“Nope.  Hope you can take a couple of them.”

 

“I can do some of them on Thursday, but I need to go to Normal Friday afternoon.”

 

“I remembered that and scheduled accordingly.  I’ll take the two Thursday morning and one in the afternoon while you take the other two that day.  Then we each have one that I set up for Friday.  We can finish our reports for Carol and Anna on Monday.”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Tom agreed.  “Anything else of interest I need to know about.”

 

“You and Max, actually.  Have a seat, you two,” Dylan intoned seriously.

 

“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” I muttered.

 

“It’s not great news, but it could be a whole lot worse.”  Tom and I pulled chairs up to the front of Dylan’s desk and after we’d taken our seats, the big man continued, “I talked to Logan’s lawyer while you were gone.”

 

“Excuse me!?” I blurted out.

 

“I know I shouldn’t have, but since we didn’t know when you’d be back home, Ron felt it was important enough to rope me into takin’ his call.”

 

“So, what did he have to say?” Tom inquired.

 

“The prosecutor for Stoddard county had called Clarence to let him know the preliminary hearing for Logan will be held Friday afternoon at one,” Dylan relayed.  “He also told Clarence that after talking to Troy, he’s hittin’ Logan with some pretty serious charges for the kid castratin’ his uncle.”

 

“Like what?” I asked with serious concern.

 

“Assault, battery, assault with intent, etcetera, etcetera.  The worst charge, though, is attempted murder,” Dylan intoned gravely.

 

“I can’t believe this shit!” I yelled, banging my fist on the desk in rage.  “Troy takes Logan against his will, locks him in a hellhole for a fuckin’ week, threatens him with death multiple times and Logan’s the one being charged.  That’s fuckin’ bullshit!”

 

“Max, calm down,” Dylan responded peacefully.  It wasn’t easy, but I forced myself to breathe deeply for a couple of minutes and once I’d somewhat regained my composure, Dylan carried on. 

 

“Clarence says it’s all for show.  He’s done some digging into the situation down there and found the prosecutor’s up for re-election later this year and he wants to be seen as being tough on crime to help his campaign.  The first and biggest problem he’s got is Logan’s only nine years old.  Most folks, even the rednecks in that area, won’t look too kindly on a kid his age bein’ charged with attempted murder, regardless of what he or she did. 

 

“And Clarence is sure the prosecutor is working solely off Troy’s account of what happened.  Obviously, nobody down there has talked to Logan to get his side of the story and they apparently aren’t taking Arlene’s version of events into account.  Clarence feels once the judge and prosecutor see the videos Logan recorded that week and hear his side of things, it’s all gonna go away like it never happened.”

 

“I hope to hell he’s right about all that,” I voiced in a much calmer manner than I felt.

 

“He seems pretty confident,” Dylan reiterated.  “Now, all you have to do is make sure Logan shows up at the courthouse on time.”

 

“Well, that’s not a problem.  I’ve already told Clarence I’d fly us down once we knew when we needed to be there.”

 

“Wait, what about Mike’s appointment with Paul?” Tom asked.  “Wasn’t that set for two the same afternoon?”

 

“Oh, crap, I forgot about that,” I muttered.  “I guess one of us should call Paul and see if we can reschedule for next week.”

 

“Why do that?” Dylan interjected.  “I’d be happy to take him.  Or Ron can.  Hell, even your mom or dad could take care of that.  All you gotta do is ask.”

 

“Hadn’t thought about that,” I agreed.  “I just feel like Tom or I should take him to his first appointment.”

 

“Babe,” Tom began, “we can’t do all of this shit by ourselves and you know it.  We hired Ron to help out around here and Dylan’s offering to do the same.  Besides, I can’t pick up William until after five, so I don’t have to leave for Normal until three-thirty at the earliest.  That gives me plenty of time to take Mike to see Paul at two, bring him back home, and still get to Normal and talk to the director of that detention center before he bugs out for the weekend.”  Tom turned to Dylan and asked, “Where and when is my interview on Friday?”

 

“Well, I was gonna have you take the one o’clock in Plains, but that would probably make you late for the appointment with Paul.  Why don’t I take that one and you take the interview in Jacksonville at ten?  That should give you plenty of time to deal with those folks and then get back here to pick Mike up.”

 

“Perfect, Dylan,” Tom agreed.  “Thanks for being so flexible.”

 

“No sweat, man,” the big man replied.  “You’re the boss ‘round here, I’m just the hired help,” he added with a chortle.

 

“I’m glad your brains are still firing on all thrusters, guys.  I’m so stressed about goin’ to the church Thursday, I can hardly think straight.”

 

“So, skip it,” Tom suggested blandly with a slight twinkle of hope in his eye.

 

“Not a chance, hon.  I know you don’t like me goin’ back there, but it’s something I have to do.”

 

“I’m going with.  You know that, right?”

 

“Damn right you are.  I hope Ron will be okay with the boys for a couple of hours.”

 

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Tom offered.  “How much trouble can they get into?”

 

“Ya wanna know somethin’, hon?  I love you dearly, but sometimes, you ask the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard,” I laughed.  “Ron and the boys home alone.  What could possibly go wrong?  The easier question to answer is ‘what couldn’t go wrong’?” I chuckled.

 

After receiving a very well-earned slap to the back of my head for my joke, I asked, “What time is it?”

 

After a quick glance at his computer, Dylan answered, “Four twenty-three.  Why?”

 

“I better call Clarence back to make some travel arrangements.  Then we need to sit down with Logan and let him know what’s going on.”

 

“You make the call, babe, and I’ll see if I can get the munchkins inside,” Tom offered.  As I headed across the house to take care of my call, I found Ron in the living room, curled up by a roaring fire and reading.

 

“Hey, Max, how was the afternoon?” he called out as I passed through.

 

“Pretty nice.  The boys enjoyed it, anyway, and that’s all that matters.”

 

“Glad to hear it.  Dylan tell you about Clarence callin’?” he asked.

 

“Just now.  On my way to call him back.”

 

“Good luck.  Sounds like you’re gonna need it,” Ron commented.

 

“Just a bump in the road, buddy.  We’ll get through it just fine,” I replied with way more confidence than I was really feeling.  On that note, I continued my trek and was soon settled in at my desk and dialing the phone number I’d used all too often the past couple of months.

 

“Cantrell law office, how may I help you?” the receptionist answered.

 

“It’s Max Sanders returning his call,” I replied.

 

“One moment, Mr. Sanders, he’s been waiting for you.” 

 

I was on hold for less than ten seconds when Clarence came on the line with, “Better warm up that jet, Max.  We have a trip to make.”

 

“So I’ve been told.”

 

“Already talked to Dylan, then, I take it?”

 

“He dropped the news on us as soon as we got in the door,” I replied.  “That bastard is really going for attempted murder charges against Logan?  After the hell Troy put the kid through?  What’s he thinking?”

 

“He thinks he wants to get re-elected,” Clarence chuckled.  “But don’t you worry, Max.  With the evidence we have against Troy, the prosecutor’s gonna be lucky to be elected dogcatcher when I’m done with him.”

 

“You better be right about that,” I retorted with a little chuckle of my own.

 

“So, what time do we want to leave Friday morning?” he asked.

 

“Well, I’ve done some checking and the nearest airport is in Sikeston, so we’ll only be in the air about thirty to forty minutes.  With the county’s courthouse being in Bloomfield, that’s about a thirty-five to forty-minute drive.  Add in time to get a rental car and a bite to eat beforehand, we should probably leave here by ten in the morning, I think.  That should give us plenty of spare time to be at the courthouse on time.”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me.  Do you want to meet at the airport?”

 

“That would probably be the easiest, Clarence.  My hangar’s at the north entrance.”

 

“No problem.  I’ve flown with other clients from the same FBO, so I know a few of the guys up there.”

 

“Then unless something else comes up, I’ll see you Friday morning,” I offered.

 

“It’s a date, Max.  Again, don’t worry about a thing.”

 

“I’ll try.  Thanks for all your help.”

 

After ending the call, I leaned back in my chair and stewed about the conversation we needed to have with Logan.  He obviously knows there are going to be repercussions for his attack on Troy, but I’m sure he didn’t realize just how serious they would be.  Hell, I didn’t think they’d be as potentially life-altering as they are, so how could he?  All Tom and I can do is reassure him that everything would work out fine in the end.  With my mind settled, I headed across the hallway to get comfortable and bumped into the love of my life on his way out of the bedroom.

 

“Get everything arranged with Clarence?” he asked as he followed me back into our room and sat in one of the chairs while I undressed.

 

“Yep, we’ll take off at ten, so Logan and I’ll need to leave here by nine to make sure I’ll have time to do my pre-flight.”

 

“Sounds good, babe,” Tom agreed.  “And I’ll make sure to take Mike to his appointment with Paul, then head up to Normal afterward to pick up William.  I was thinking I might just take Mike with me to save some time in case his appointment runs a little long.”

 

“I’m sure he’d enjoy spending some one on one time with you.  Probably think it’s cool to meet William before any of the others do, too.”

 

“Wouldn’t surprise me in the least,” Tom agreed.  “What car do you want?”

 

“Whichever one you don’t,” I replied.  “Since you’re so fond of driving my Shelby, I guess Logan and I’ll take the Flex.”

 

“Um, I was actually thinking we’d take the Flex Friday, if that’s all right with you?”  My jaw dropped in surprise at Tom passing on an opportunity to drive the Shelby for once and he quickly added, “The seats and suspension are bit less bone-jarring than the ‘Stang’s and I think Mike’ll be more comfortable in it.”

 

“Good thinkin’, hon,” I agreed.  “You still might want to take a pillow with you for him to sit on.”

 

“Consider it done,” he agreed.  “I know it’s not a long drive, but I’d rather he be comfortable than miserable.  So, you ready to talk to Logan about Friday?”

 

“No, but I never will be, will I?  We might as well include them all so everyone knows what’s going on.”  Before leaving the bedroom, we took a few minutes to look over the things Ron had picked up for us this afternoon.  Seeing that everything, including T.J.’s new bike, was accounted for, we headed for the living room.

 

Surprisingly, the space was devoid of human life when we arrived, so I turned for the theater while Tom continued on down the hallway as we began our search for six missing boys.  I located Alex, Joey, and Logan in the theater, pulled them away from the game they were in the middle of and returned to the living room with three grumbling youngsters.  On our arrival, we met Tom, T.J., Mike and Andy coming in to join us from the opposite end of the house.

 

“Have a seat, guys,” I said as I settled in my chair.  “We need to have a little chat.”

 

“Oh, carp, what’d we do now?” Joey asked.

 

“Nothing, buddy,” Tom replied.  “We just want to let you guys know what’s coming up the rest of the week.”

 

“Phew, that’s good,” Alex giggled.  “I was worried about bein’ stuck with wearin’ clothes.  Again.”

 

“Nope, you’re all good.  For now, anyway,” I offered.  “As you already know, we’re headed to Chicago tomorrow morning to visit Harry and see how he’s getting along.”

 

“That’s cool,” T.J. enthused.  “We’ve all been worried ‘bout him.  ‘Specially since it’s kinda our fault his dad hit him the way he did.”

 

“Well, it really isn’t, T.J.,” Tom countered, “that’s all on him for being such a hateful ignorant pr…, uh jerk.”

 

“Moving on,” I continued, “Wednesday afternoon is T.J.’s birthday party.  We’ve already told the parents of the kids we invited that at least the time in the pool will most likely be without swimsuits, so I think we’re squared away on that front.  Since there are going to be a few girls in attendance this time, we expect all of you to be on your best behavior.”

 

“Don’t worry, Dads,” Logan offered.  “We promise not to scare the little girls with our big ol’ honkin’ peckers,” he added with a laugh while wiggling his penis with his hand.

 

“We’re glad to hear that, Logan,” Tom chuckled.

 

“What’re we doin’ Thursday?” Andy asked.

 

“Well, I have my appointment with Jason and Pops is going with me this time, so you guys will be staying home with Ron.”  Alex and Joey’s faces lit up with decidedly evil grins.  “Don’t go gettin’ any wild ideas, you two.  You will not be tyin’ Ron up to take advantage of the situation.  Or him, either,” I added quickly.

 

“Dang it, Dad, you’re no fun,” Joey grumped.

 

“Yeah, Dads, where’s your sense of adventure?” Ron quipped with a cheeky smirk as he passed us by with an armload of clean clothes destined for delivery to our bedroom.  The sensational six-pack all enjoyed a little giggle of agreement as Ron continued his trek.

 

Once the crew had settled back down, Logan asked, “What about Friday?”

 

“Friday’s a mixed bag of things,” I began.  “First, Mike has his appointment with Dr. Kirkland at two and Tom will be taking him.  After they’re done there, they have to make a trip up to Bloomington/Normal.”

 

“What’re the rest of us gonna do?” T.J. asked.

 

“Well, Logan, Clarence and I have to make a trip to Dexter,” I answered solemnly.

 

“Oh, crap,” Logan muttered.  “I knew that was comin’.  Just didn’t think it’d be this quick.”

 

“We don’t control the schedule, buddy, we just have to deal with it.  Clarence called while we were out and here’s what’s happening; the prosecutor is charging you with some pretty serious offenses, but the worst one is attempted murder.”

 

“WHAT!?” Logan screamed and the other five joined him in protest.

 

“But Clarence assures us you have nothing to worry about,” Tom interrupted in an attempt to calm the herd.

 

“Easy for him to say, ain’t it?” Logan retorted.  “Ain’t his ass on the line.”

 

“No, it isn’t, but you knew you’d be facing charges of some kind for what you did to Troy.”

 

“That bastard deserved ever’thing he got.  And then some.”

 

“We won’t argue that point with you, Logan,” Tom agreed, “but that doesn’t magically get you out of your problems.  You still have to go and tell your side of the story.  Once the judge hears what you have to say and sees the videos you recorded, we think you’ll be okay.”

 

“Well, if that judge is stupid ‘nough to believe a thing Uncle Dirtbag has to say, maybe he should lose his balls, too,” Logan vented testily.

 

“You will not be taking your knife to court with you, young man,” I intoned seriously.

 

“Yeah, that’s pro’lly a good thing.  I ain’t had time to sharpen it back up after slicin’ and dicin’ that last pig.  It’d hurt a whole lot more with a dull blade.”

 

Tom and I shook our heads in disbelief at Logan’s attitude, but we couldn’t really fault him for feeling the way he did.

 

I was finally shaken from my thought processes when T.J. asked, “If Mikey’s goin’ with Pops and you’re goin’ down to Dexter, what’re the rest of us gonna do?”

 

“Again, you four will stay here with Ron,” I replied.

 

“Huh-uh!” Joey grunted.  “Ain’t no way in h-e double-hockey-sticks we’re stayin’ here while our brother’s goin’ to court.”

 

“We’re goin’ with you guys, Dad,” Alex demanded.

 

“Yeah, we gotta be there to support our brother,” Andy added.

 

I looked to Tom for his take on the idea and his response was a simple, “Why not?”

 

“But why?” I asked back.

 

“Well, they’re all brothers now, ya know.  It only makes sense for them to be there.”

 

“It’ll be a tight fit on the way home, then.  I was plannin’ to bring Arlene and her boys back with me.”

 

“Well, you, Clarence, and five boys makes seven of ya.  Add three for Arlene, Daril and Arley, you only got ten people in all.  You’ll be fine.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” I acquiesced.  I turned back to refocus my attention on the herd and continued, “Okay, looks like we have a plan of attack for Friday.  You’ll all have to be ready to roll by eight-thirty so we aren’t late.  If you miss the bus, you’ll be stuck here all day.”

 

“We’ll be ready, Dad,” T.J. replied with assurance.  “We ain’t gonna let Logan try to deal with that mess on his own.”  Alex, Joey and Andy nodded their heads with firm resolve in agreement to that statement.

 

“Thanks, dudes,” Logan muttered.  “You guys are the best brothers anybody could ever want.”

 

The fantastic five stood as one and surrounded Logan in a group hug we thought would never end.  When they finally broke up, tears were flowing freely from Logan’s eyes and T.J. quickly pulled some Kleenex from the box on the table and handed them over so the munchkin could dry his face.

 

“Sorry I can’t be there with you, too, Logan,” Mike muttered sadly.

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, dude.  I know you got more ‘portant things to deal with than me.”

 

“Ain’t nobody more important than family, bro,” Mike replied with conviction.

 

“Thanks, guys.  I love all you, too,” Logan offered through his sniffles.

 

“Okay, everybody knows what’s goin’ on,” I commented.  “Have you had a chance to talk to Vinnie about moving Arlene’s things?” I asked while looking to Tom.

 

“Yeah, I did.  He plans to go down Thursday afternoon, spend the night and then go out to the house Friday morning to load up everything Arlene tells him to.  Once they’re done, he’ll hit the road back home.”

 

“Good, I want this to go as smoothly as possible for her and the boys.  She’s got more than enough to deal with just gettin’ everything ready.  We’ll call her in a bit to make arrangements for them to meet us at the airport when we’re ready to come back.”

 

“Don’t you think she’ll probably be in court?” Tom asked.

 

“Well, yeah, I guess she will.  That’ll sure make it easier to deal with things, but I still want to talk to her and make sure she hasn’t changed her mind about accepting Logan’s offer.”

 

“We can do that after supper,” Tom commented.  “Okay, guys, you can go back to whatever you were doing.  Supper should be ready soon and Ron will let you know when it’s time to set the table.”

 

All six hustled off, the three oldest returned to the theater to resume their game and the others headed back to their own room and whatever Tom had interrupted.  As for the two of us, we grabbed our books and settled back to escape reality for a while.  We heard Tom’s office phone ring about twenty minutes later and as soon as the light went out, Dylan joined us, looking more serious than I’d seen from him previously.

 

“What’s up, partner?” Tom asked after the big man had taken up residence on the loveseat.

 

“Got some news for Max,” he intoned seriously.

 

“Oh, crap, what now?” I muttered with concern.

 

“That was Derek on the phone.  He was callin’ to let me know Kelly won one of the pools this afternoon.”

 

“What the hell you talkin’ about?” I asked in confusion.

 

“No shit!?” Tom whooped, “Which one?”  I shot my honey a quizzical look and he quickly answered my silent question.  “Frank or Iris?”  Recognition of our conversation’s topic crashed over me like a tsunami pounding a lonely empty beach.  I turned back to Dylan and waited for him to supply the answer.

 

“It was Iris,” he answered flatly.

 

“Do you know what happened?” I asked.

 

“Somebody got to her in the exercise yard, despite the extra precautions the prison took to keep just that from actually happening.  When it was time to go back to their cells this afternoon, all those women just walked inside and left Iris sittin’ at a table like nothin’ had happened.  When the first guard reached her, she thought Iris’d just gone to sleep with her head layin’ on her arms.  It wasn’t until she tried to wake Iris up that she fell over and the guard saw the shiv stickin’ out of her chest.  Whoever did it knew exactly what they were doin’.  The sharpened point of that toothbrush handle went straight into her heart.  Forty convicts and damn near as many guards and nobody saw a damn thing.  Or that’s what they’re sayin’, anyway.”

 

“Unreal,” I muttered in disbelief.  “I knew it was gonna happen, wished for it, actually, and now it has.  And a lot quicker than I thought it would.”

 

“Yeah, I’m kinda surprised it happened this soon, too,” Dylan agreed.  “They’d even put Iris in a cell by herself so a bunkmate couldn’t off her, for all the good that did ‘em.”

 

“Well, one down, one to go,” Tom voiced cheerily.

 

“How can you be that happy about someone losing their life?” I asked.

 

“After what those two did to you and I don’t know how many others, I consider it justice.  Brutal justice, for sure, but nothing less than she deserved, babe.  And now she can’t ever fuck up another kid’s life.”

 

“There is that, I guess,” I agreed.  Turning back to Dylan, I asked, “Any word on how Frank’s gettin’ along in his new situation?”

 

“According to Derek, he’s wishing he were already dead,” Dylan chortled.

 

“What’s that mean?” Tom asked.

 

“Well, while he’s not truly segregated from the general population, he does have a cell to himself, so as long as he’s in there, he’s safe.  Meal, exercise and shower times are a whole other story, though.  He’s apparently being force fed some rather nasty tube steaks in the ding hall for breakfast, lunch and supper.  Out in the yard, it’s not unusual to find a whole gang of cons in one corner torturing the bastard even more, in one nasty way or another.  And as for the showers, the others don’t even wait for him to drop the soap, they just rip him a new one every single day.  Sometimes three or four will gang up on him at the same time and take turns.  The guards are turning a blind eye to all of it and refusing to put Frank in solitary, even though he’s begged them to do just that.”

 

“Sounds like true justice is being served then.  I give all those other cons my blessing to continue his never-ending punishment.”

 

“Yeah, I just bet you do,” Dylan snickered.  “Well, I’m done for the day, so I’m gonna take off.”

 

“You’re not stayin’ for supper tonight?” Tom quizzed the big guy with a chortle.

 

“I’d like to, but I’m going out to supper with mom and dad.  I haven’t seen them in over a month and I need to let them know about all the changes in my life.”

 

“Good luck with that,” I chuckled.  “Hope they react better than my ‘rents did.”

 

“Well, they’ve known I’m gay since Malcom moved, obviously, but I still need to let ‘em know I’ve quit the department and the two of us are getting married.  Pretty sure Mom’ll be cool with all of it, but who knows what dad’ll do or say?  Maybe him finally becoming a grandfather will help.  He’s always wanted a grandson he could take fishin’ or to a ball game, and now he’ll finally get the chance.”

 

“Sure shouldn’t hurt,” Tom offered.

 

“We’ll see,” Dylan replied noncommittally.  “What time you guys leavin’ for Chicago?”

 

“We’ll leave here about ten, that should put us in town by noon,” I answered.  “Then we’ll have lunch before we go see Harry.  I figure we’ll spend a couple hours with him and his mom before heading back to the airport.”

 

“Well, have a safe trip and I’ll see y’all Wednesday.”

 

“You’re gonna be here for T.J.’s birthday party?” Tom asked.

 

“Well, I plan to actually do some work, but we’ll see how that goes.  Oh yeah, forgot to tell ya, the fence guy is supposed to be coming out that day to get started on that security upgrade you wanted.”

 

“Great,” I replied.  “I’ll be glad when that project’s done.  Any idea on when the windows are going to be dealt with?”

 

“They’re supposed to start on those early next week.  They figure it’ll take a day, maybe two, but the fence will probably take a couple of weeks.”

 

“No problem.  Thanks for letting us know.  Hope you have a good supper with your parents, and we’ll see you Wednesday.”  On that note, Dylan returned to the office to retrieve his clothes before hitting the road for home. 

 

Tom and I returned to our books and were still engrossed in them when Ron announced supper was ready through the intercom.  The house shook as the boys charged from different ends of the structure to take care of setting the table.  Once their task was completed, they helped Ron move the food to the table and we came together over a meal of lasagna, garlic bread and salads.

 

After taking my first bite, I looked to Ron and commented, “This isn’t the Stouffer’s I usually get, is it?”

 

“Nope, made it myself,” he replied proudly.

 

“Well, you did a great job, this is delicious,” Tom said.

 

“Thanks, Tom.  It’s nice to know my mom’s training actually sunk in.”

 

“Can we have lasagna every night?” the twins chimed.

 

“Yeah, this is the best I’ve ever had,” Mike added.

 

Ron was blushing mightily at the gushing compliments when he answered, “Not every night guys, but often enough you won’t get sick of it.”

 

“Don’t think that’ll ever happen, Skinny,” Logan drawled with a giggle.

 

“Thanks, guys.  I’m glad you like it,” Ron replied before returning to his meal.

 

The rest of supper was a pretty quiet affair except for the occasional purr of contentment from all of us as we enjoyed our repast.  With the lasagna pan emptied and our plates and bowls cleaned within an inch of their lives, the boys got busy with their cleanup while Tom, Ron and I leaned back in our chairs and groaned happily, rubbing our distended bellies.

 

“He keeps feedin’ us like that, Max, we’re gonna need that new gym long before the new house is built,” Tom laughed.

 

“Don’t hold your breath, bucko.  I don’t know where the heck we could set up anything at the moment.”

 

“How about the storage building?” Tom asked.  “It’s gettin’ warmer out and I wouldn’t have a problem goin’ out there to get in a workout.”

 

“That’s not a bad idea,” I agreed.  “We wouldn’t have to move too much around to make space and then we’d have the equipment you want in the new house when it’s done.  Make it so, hon.”

 

“I expect you to join me out there on a semi-regular basis, babe.”

 

“Unlikely in the extreme, hon,” I laughed.  “Tell you what, you can call Eric and he can come over to work out with you.”

 

“I’m sure he’d be happy to join me,” Tom grinned.  “I know I’d enjoy it,” he added with a little wiggle of his eyebrows.  “Bet Ron would be more than happy to join us, too.”

 

“In a heartbeat, man,” Ron quickly agreed with a sinister laugh.  “I’d like nothing more than to watch that little hottie gettin’ all hot and sweaty.”

 

“Well,” I began, “I guess that means I’ll have to join the three of you, if for no other reason than to make sure things don’t get out of hand.”

 

“Oh, no worries there, man,” Ron countered.  “I’d make sure my hands never left the kid’s body.  I’d just have to make sure Rich and Eric aren’t here at the same time.”

 

“Why does that not surprise me?” I asked with a chuckle.  “It seems like someone has gotten over his concerns of enjoying some of life’s little pleasures.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.  I mean, why fight it, right?”

 

“A decision you won’t regret, buddy,” Tom agreed.

 

Having completed their portion of the cleanup, the munchkins rejoined us and Alex asked, “Can we watch some more Star Trek?”

 

“Sure, guys,” Tom answered.  “Snack now or after a couple episodes?”

 

“Later, Pops,” Joey replied.

 

“Yeah, we’re all too stuffed for anything else right now,” Logan added.

 

“Well, head on into the theater and we’ll be right behind you.”  As they disappeared, I turned to Ron and asked, “You gonna join us?”

 

“Yeah, that sounds like fun.  Let me get the lasagna pan soakin’ and I’ll be there.”

 

Tom and I joined the boys and I got the next disc into the player.  We waited a couple of minutes for Ron to get settled and then started the show.  After watching two episodes, we took a break to drain our bladders and fix popcorn and drinks for all.  Hands full with our snacks, we returned to watch our third show of the night.  Upon its completion, it was time for showers and bed so we could get an early start in the morning. 

 

Five of the six rugrats stampeded out of the theater and on across the house to get cleaned up and brush their teeth.  Mike, however, hung back and when Tom reached the aisle, the young lad grabbed his hand and said, “C’mon, Pops, it’s your turn to help me tonight,” a funky little smirk flooding his face.

 

“Well, let’s get a move on, then,” Tom replied.

 

“Can I get a ride?” Mike begged with his sad puppy dog face.  Tom’s answer was to turn the munchkin around, slip his hands in Mike’s armpits and lift him over his head, settling his behind on his shoulders with the sore spot hanging out over the big guy’s back.

 

“Don’t forget to duck when we go through doors,” Tom suggested, and Mike just giggled as he shrunk himself as low as he could go as the pair headed for our bathroom.

 

“I’ll be in the living room when you’re done, hon,” I called out to their backs as they passed through the kitchen where Mike smartly rapped Ron on the head as they passed him by.

 

“Hey, what was that for?” Ron squawked.

 

“Just sayin’ hi,” Mike giggled.

 

After retrieving my book from the table and settling in my chair, I wondered if Tom was going to survive whatever plans Mike may have for their mutual bathing.  And, more importantly, if he’d have anything left to share with me when it was my turn.

 

 

When I first had Mike settled on my shoulders, I couldn’t help but notice how his genitals were seemingly squished beyond recovery against the nape of my neck.  I had worried needlessly, though, because the more he bounced on my shoulders with every step I took, the more I could feel his penis beginning to react to the constant friction against my skin.  By the time we reached the bathroom and I set him back on the floor, his sweet little cocklet was proudly sticking straight out from his hairless pubic mound.  Whether it was the stimulation from the ride or his anticipation of our taking a shower together, I couldn’t determine.  He seemed quite proud of the fact he had a bouncing baby boy boner and he made no attempts to cover up or hide it from my wanton stare.

 

After stepping into the shower and adjusting the water temperature so we’d be comfortable, I opened the door and waved my hand to beckon him to join me.  When I did so, Mike had his hands raised way above his head and he was stretching backwards, hips thrust forward, making his little stiffie seem slightly longer than it had been just moments ago.  I swallowed hard at the lovely sight and waited for him to step inside before closing the shower door again.  Once that was done, I lifted him up on the bench to help keep his tender behind above the pounding spray from the shower.

 

“So, what are we doing first, buddy?” I asked my partner.

 

“You might as well start with washing my hair, Pops, then work your way down from there,” he answered with a sly grin.

 

“Your wish is my command, young man,” I replied.  I had Mike turn sideways and bend over so I could get his head wet using the handheld showerhead, but not have water run down his back and get his behind wet.  I poured a bit of shampoo into my hand and worked it into a lather before placing my hands on his head and working the suds into his hair and scalp.  As I massaged his cranium with my fingertips, Mike had leaned a little further forward and grasped my still limp penis in his tiny hands.  I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first felt his fingers wrap around my prong and he giggled sweetly at my reaction.

 

“You okay, Pops?” he asked innocently.

 

“Uh, yeah, kiddo, just a little surprised,” I replied.

 

“Well, get a grip on yourself, old man, or your gonna pass out before we’re done in here.”

 

“I don’t need to, kiddo,” I retorted.  “Your tight grip is more than enough for me right now.”  As I continued to work on Mike’s hair, he started sliding his hands back and forth on my steadily growing cock and by the time I’d moved on to wash his neck and back, I was fully engorged.  Finishing with his back, I gently caressed the uninjured smooth globe of his ass with my soapy hand and proceeded to gently wash his behind.  As my fingers slipped into his rear cleft, they lightly brushed his tight pucker and a low growling groan of delight emanated from deep inside his tiny body with the intimate contact.  I could feel the vibrations of excitement in my fingertips as they grazed his hole.

 

Finished with washing what I could while he was in this position, I retrieved the handheld unit from the bench and started rinsing him off.  In an effort to minimize the amount of water reaching his injury, I placed the edge of my left hand into his crack, creating a defensive wall to block the overspray, then started moving the showerhead from his behind up his back and on to his head.  Since I no longer had to worry about the large scab on his butt getting damp, I stepped closer to his head so I could use my now available left hand to work the cleansing water through his hair and make sure I got all the suds rinsed out.

 

This change of position must have been exactly what Mike was waiting for.  As I started working diligently to ensure no shampoo remained, I felt his tongue slip from between his lips and caress my knob.  Without conscious thought, I stood even taller on the tips of my toes and the next wild sensation I received from below my waist was a small pair of lips wrapping themselves around my glans.  There is absolutely nothing in this world that can adequately prepare you for the feeling of your horny six-year-old son wrapping his lips around your cock’s mushroom head and taking it into his warm, wet and welcoming mouth.  I felt as if I’d died and moved into heaven.

 

When I was finally satisfied with the rinsing of his hair, and trying to avoid pumping a load into Mike’s mouth way earlier than I was ready for, I patted his back and said, “Time to get the rest of you clean.”

 

“Oh, goody,” Mike squealed happily after setting my bouncing stiffness free and standing up straight.

 

Still holding onto the showerhead, I quickly dowsed Mike from his forehead to his toes, not missing the fact his two-inch hard rod was still eagerly awaiting some attention.  I filled my hand with body wash and started working on Mike’s shoulders before moving down to his chest.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to tweak his light brown nipples as I worked my way down his torso and I watched his pecker bounce every time I did so.  When I reached his waist, the little guy was moving around erratically, trying to force his hardness into either of my soap-slickened hands.  I purposely bypassed the immediate area and moved on to his feet.

 

The sound that escaped his lips as I started work on his toes could best be described as a hiss, almost as if a snake was curled up in the corner of the shower behind Mike.  Had this been a Harry Potter movie, evil Lord Voldemort would have been mightily impressed with the youngster’s ability to speak Parseltongue.  I slowly continued my work, moving up the youngster’s skinny calves and shins, past his knees and on up his taut thighs.  On the back side of his legs, I stopped at the point where his butt bubbled out from the rest of his body to avoid the sore spot.  The back of his legs done, it was time to finish the front side.

 

I slid my hands back around the front and slipped my thumbs between his thighs.  Mike took the silent hint and moved his right foot about eight inches to give me a little more room to work.  Sliding my hands up his legs, my thumbs soon reached the inside crease where his legs meet the rest of his body.  I gingerly kept moving upwards, allowing my thumbs to slip through that crease, then traced a path over his snug, smooth scrotum holding his tender marble-sized balls.  I continued moving up so my thumbs ran along each side of the sweetest piece of young boy meat I’ve had the opportunity to clean in this manner.  The shudder of delight Mike experienced and moan of ecstasy he released was sheer music to my ears.

 

With my fingers holding his hips in place, I allowed my opposing digits to wander all over his erection and snug sack, bringing him even closer to release.  After just a couple of minutes of protracted teasing, I abruptly stopped my ministrations, grabbed the showerhead again and proceeded to rinse the soap from his slender body.  The look he shot at me when the clean water hit his body would have immediately killed a lesser being, but I was too strong with lust at this point for it to make even the smallest of dents.

 

Wanding the water down his body and forcing the bubbles from his smooth skin and down the drain, it was impossible to miss seeing the aching desire radiating from his body by way of his sweet and tender cocklet as it strained to reach the ceiling.  Though Mike said nothing, he was constantly thrusting his pelvis forward, trying to make any contact he could between his pecker and me.  Setting the showerhead back on the bench, I pulled Mike into a hug and kissed his forehead.  As soon as his tumescent toy touched my gut, he was rocking his hips and rubbing himself against me. 

 

“Would you like a little special cleaning now?” I sweetly whispered into his ear.

 

“Oh, please, Pops, more than anything,” he moaned in anticipation.

 

I sat on the bench and moved Mike so his feet were outside my thighs.  I then carefully grasped him by the waist and pulled his ass towards my face.  “Lean forward just a little bit, buddy,” I instructed.

 

“Whatcha gonna do?” he asked with a quiver of excitement.  “Ya gonna stick a finger up my butt like Dad did last night?  I really liked that,” he added.

 

“You’ll see soon enough,” I replied.  With Mike in the proper position, I found a place I could cup his injured side with one hand and placed my other hand around the other half, then using my thumbs, I gently spread his cheeks as far apart as I could.  Holding him in that position, I leaned in and ran my tongue from the top of his crack, down over his quivering sphincter and all the way to the back of his scrotum as he leaned over even further and put his hands on my knees.  The sweet sound that escaped his lips was nothing less than sheer anticipation for what was soon to follow.

 

I returned to his wrinkled rosebud, curled and stiffened my tongue, then dove right in, impaling the youngster.  The squeal of surprise he loosed surpassed the sound of even the sweetest symphony ever composed.  I continued working his tight hole and loved the feeling of his muscles clamping my tongue repeatedly.  I worked one hand around to his front and grasped the vibrating stiffness jutting out from his body.  Stimulating both sides of his being and his mind all at the same time in the manner I was, I had Mike bucking wildly in no time at all.  The feel of his cocklet jerking in my hand while his hole strangled my tongue to the same syncopated rhythm was heaven on earth.

 

“Oh, oh, fuck, don’t stop, uh, shit, go, Pops, go!” Mike grunted as the orgasm flooded his body from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, blowing his young mind.

 

I had never truly realized how much I’d missed helping another boy get off in the most mind-blowing of ways until this moment.  While I’d survived the last twelve or so years with just my hands, toys and fantasies, they paled in comparison to being able to bring such joy and contentment to a young boy.  The unbridled passion and desire they have inside their souls comes second to nothing.

 

With my shower mate rapidly wilting from the sensory overload he’d just experienced, I carefully turned him around and let him settle his tender behind on my thighs.  As can only happen in our younger years, his little cock was still hard as a nail as I pulled him into my body and directed his stiff member alongside my own still rampant ramrod.  Mike laid his head on my chest and gradually recovered, his labored breathing and racing heart slowly returning to their more normal patterns.

 

When he finally recovered his voice, he looked into my eyes and asked, “What the fuck was that?  That felt even better than having a finger up my butt.”

 

“It’s called rimming, little buddy,” I replied.

 

“Oh, man, that was so fuckin’ hot.  We ain’t never done that to each other.”

 

“One thing you need to remember is to make sure everyone is super clean before you do it.”

 

“Yeah, I bet,” he giggled.  “I sure don’t want shit in my mouth.”

 

“Well, you usually can’t get your tongue deep enough for that to happen, but still, you want to be careful.”

 

“Don’t worry, Pops.”  He then leaned back, looked down between our bodies at our stiff dicks nestled snugly together and asked, “What about you?”

 

“Don’t you worry ‘bout me, kiddo,” I responded as I ruffled his hair.  “Your Dad will take care of that in a little bit.”

 

“Oh, no you don’t!” Mike protested.  “I want to see your spermies shoot out, too.  I got to see Dad’s last night and now I wanna see yours.” 

 

With that, Mike wrapped his hands around my stiff pole and started jerking me off.  While he obviously hadn’t had any practice with a dick the size of mine, he knew what he was doing.  He allowed his thumbs to glide over the head every couple of strokes and the fact his stiffness was now rubbing against the base of mine thanks to the rocking motion of his body, I was rapidly approaching the point of no return.  I’d always loved the feel of another hard dick rubbing against my own when I was a teenager and that hadn’t changed as I’d gotten older.  Of course, as steamed up as I was before he started stroking me, I wasn’t even contemplating trying to make him stop.  All too soon for my desires, I felt the tingling begin in my balls as they pulled up in preparation for release.

 

“Almost there, buddy,” I groaned.  “You ready for it?”

 

“Yeah, Pops, let it go,” he replied eagerly as he increased the tempo, eyes focused on my gleaming head like lasers and watching anxiously for the impending eruption.

 

It took only four or five more strokes of my now super-sensitive member for the floodgates to open wide and release a torrent of semen, flooding both of our chests and bellies with milky white fluid.  Mike slowed his stroking action but continued to milk my softening cock for every last drop he could get.  I finally had to force his hands away as I simply couldn’t take the continuing tingles he was coaxing from me any longer.

 

“Damn, Pops, I bet horses don’t shoot that much,” he commented with a hearty laugh and I couldn’t help but laugh along with him.

 

“Well we better get rinsed off again so you can crawl into bed.  T.J. and Andy are going to wonder what’s taking so long.”

 

“No they won’t,” Mike retorted.  “I told them all about what Dad and I did last night, and they know I was gonna do the same thing with you tonight.  They can’t wait to hear all about it.”

 

“Be that as it may, we still need to clean up -- again,” I chuckled.  I had Mike stand up in front of me and I sat up straighter so I could lick him clean.  As I moved from his neck down his chest and on to his belly, he was constantly moaning in contentment, almost the way a cat happily purrs when you stroke it just right.  When I reached his waist, I discovered some of the mess had dribbled onto Mike’s still erect pinky-thin prick.  Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I took his entire package into my mouth and gave him a tongue bath he’d not forget anytime soon.  I didn’t quit slurping and lapping on his cocklet and balls until he bucked a couple of times into my face and I felt his sweet morsel jerking madly on my tongue as he succumbed to a second round of sexual bliss.

 

As his penis finally wilted and slipped from my mouth, I gently set him on the bench and grabbed the showerhead to wash the remaining evidence of our deeds from my own body and down the drain.  Once I was satisfied we were both as clean as we could get, I turned off the shower and grabbed our towels.  I dried Mike first, gently patting his wounded behind and the scab that covered a large area of his posterior.  With him taken care of, I applied the other towel to myself.  With both of us dried off and ready to move on, I picked up my son and carried him across the house to put him to bed.

 

Passing through the living room, I found Max reading his book.  He looked up with a large and knowing grin filling his mug.  After a quick stop so Mike could say good night to his dad, I gave him a smile back before turning down the hallway.  When we reached the bedroom Mike shared with T.J. and Andy, we discovered both were already asleep and snoring lightly.  I carefully set Mike on the edge of the bed, where we shared our hug, kiss and ‘love you’ before he wiggled into position in Andy’s arms.  After turning out the light and closing the door, I stopped in Joey, Alex and Logan’s bedroom to say my good nights there and found all three of them wide awake and watching TV.

 

“Aren’t you guys supposed to be asleep already?” I asked.

 

“We were waitin’ to say good night to you, Pops,” Joey replied.

 

“Yeah,” Alex agreed.  “Did you and Mikey have fun?”

 

I blushed a little bit at them knowing what had just happened between the two of us but wasn’t really that surprised.  “Um, yeah, we did,” I admitted.

 

“Good for you, Pops,” Logan commented with a grin.  “Mikey’s been champin’ at the bit all day.”

 

“Really?” I queried with surprise.

 

“Yep,” Logan nodded.  “Now, when the hell do I get my turn?” he asked with a giggle.

 

“Not tonight, buddy, that’s for sure,” I chuckled and all three joined me.  I leaned in to take care of our nightly rituals and after saying good night to the trio, I turned off the TV and lights, closed the door and turned for the living room.  As I settled into my chair next to Max, he was still grinning madly at me.

 

 

While everyone was otherwise occupied, I decided to take advantage of the quiet time to place my call to Arlene before it got any later, so I set my book back down and dialed her number.

 

“Hello?” she answered nervously.

 

“Arlene, it’s Max Sanders.  How’re you and the boys doing?”

 

With an audible sigh of relief on hearing who was calling, she answered, “Oh, we’re hangin’ in there, I s’pose.  Those stupid cops in town went and let Troy out of the pokey today.”

 

“Are you safe?” I asked with concern.

 

“I think so,” Arlene replied.  “I had all the locks changed over the weekend so he can’t get back in without breakin’ a window or door.  The boys and I are hunkered down and stayin’ inside ‘til we can get the hell outta here.  We don’t think it’d be too awful smart to be out and about with that prick on the loose.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it.  Look, the reason I’m calling is to let you know that I’m bringing Logan down Friday for court.”

 

“I figgered y’all’d be here, too.  Daril, Arley ‘n’ me’ll be there hopin’ they throw the book at that god-awful bastard I married.”

 

“Well, if you’re ready to move, we’d be happy to have you come back with us.  We’ve also arranged for a moving crew to be at your house Friday morning to load up anything you want to bring with you.”

 

“That sounds great, Max.  ‘Specially the movers.  We’re not plannin’ to bring that much with us, but I have a piano that was my momma’s and I ain’t leavin’ that here for Troy to destroy after we’re gone.  I hope they’ll be able to handle the thing ‘cause it’s massive.”

 

“I’m sure they’ll take good care of it for you,” I offered, thinking of all the muscle Vinnie was sure to have with him.  “We’ll see you at the courthouse, then.  Oh, will you need a ride to get there?”

 

“Naw, already got that arranged with a neighbor.  He knows all ‘bout Troy from livin’ next to us and he’ll be armed so can’t nothin’ keep us from gettin’ there.”

 

“Sounds like you’ve got everything set, then,” I commented.

 

“ ‘Bout as much as I can.”

 

“Are you sure you’re ready to start over in a strange town?” I asked.

 

“Been ready for a long time, Max, just never had any way to make it happen.  Me and the boys can’t thank you and Logan near ‘nough for all the help in finally makin’ it real.”

 

“Just doin’ what’s right, Arlene.  You three stay safe and we’ll see you Friday.”

 

After ending the call, I settled back in with my book.  Twenty minutes passed before Tom and Mike finally returned from their shower, both looking quite pleased with themselves.  Tom stopped briefly so I could share a hug, kiss and ‘love you’ with Mike before they continued on down the hallway.  When the big guy rejoined me after making his rounds, he sank heavily into his chair next to me while I watched him with a cheesy grin.

 

“What?” Tom asked once he’d gotten comfortable.

 

“I have to assume you and Mike had at least a little bit of fun since you were in there so damn long.”

 

“Well, duh,” he deadpanned.  “How can you not have fun when showering with a horny kid?”

 

“I don’t know, hon,” I responded.  “I’m just wondering if the little rugrat left anything for me?”

 

“I don’t know, babe, I’m pretty tapped out,” Tom giggled.  “I’ll do my best to see you go to sleep happy, though,” he added.

 

“I should hope so,” I quipped as I stood, grabbed his hand and dragged him to our bedroom.  Forty-five minutes and a quick run through the shower later, we curled up together and promptly fell into a very deep and happy sleep. 

 

When our alarms announced the start of a new day at seven-thirty, we rolled out of bed, visited the bathroom to take care of our early-morning needs and struck out across the house to get the boys moving in the right direction.  Ron was already busy in the kitchen as we passed the kitchen and by the time the boys straggled in to join us, our breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, orange juice and milk was waiting for them.  They each filled their plates and dug in as if they hadn’t eaten for a week.

 

“What time we leavin’ this mornin’?” Alex asked.

 

“We need to leave here by ten,” I replied.  “By the time we get to the airport and I do my pre-flight inspection, it’ll be close to eleven before we take off.  An hour in the air and another hour for lunch before we go to Harry’s should put us at his place about one to one-thirty.”  DING!

 

“Yay, Uncle Dylan’s here,” Andy cheered.

 

“Good timing, too.  He almost missed breakfast,” Alex giggled.

 

“No, that shouldn’t be Dylan,” Tom commented.  “He wasn’t coming out today since we’re going to be gone.”

 

“Well, crud monkeys,” Logan hissed.  “Guess we better get some shorts on dudes.”

 

“You guys, too,” Joey added as he left his chair but looked over his shoulder at Ron, Tom and me.

 

“We should be okay, guys, but why don’t you get the door since you’re already up, Joey?” I said.

 

“With nothin’ on?” he asked seriously.

 

“Yeah, go ahead,” Tom agreed.

 

“Ya’ll just remember you said I could,” Joey retorted as he left the dining room.  Thirty seconds later, a loud whoop of excitement rang through the house.  While Tom and I knew the reason why, the others were completely in the dark.

 

“Yee-hah, what’s Josh and Eric doin’ here?” Joey yelled from the foyer.

 

“They’re going with us today,” I yelled back.

 

“Is Brent comin’, too?” Alex quickly asked with a hint of begging in his voice.

 

“Yes, Alex, Brent should be here shortly,” Tom answered.

 

“Sweet,” he grinned like a maniac.  Joey soon arrived with the two newcomers, who had somehow already lost their clothes.  Assuming, of course, they’d had any on when they got here, that is.

 

“Did you guys forget something this morning?” I asked with a chuckle.

 

“Nah, we left our clothes on the couch, Mr. Sanders,” Eric replied with a cheeky grin.

 

“But we figured we’d be here for a while ‘fore we had to leave, so why bother keepin’ ‘em on since we knew you guys’d all be naked,” Josh added.

 

“Well, pull up a chair, you two,” Tom offered.  “Grab a plate if you want.”

 

“We’re good, Mr. Wright,” Eric replied.  “We had breakfast with Dad before we left home.”

 

The three settled in at the table, Josh taking an empty chair next to Joey and Eric sitting next to Ron.  The two shared a little smirk before Ron returned to his meal.  The boys were busy chatting about our trip but still managed to pack away the food in a timely fashion.  The drive sensor announced another arrival about ten minutes later and assuming it would be Brent coming to join the circus, Alex jumped off his chair and fairly ran to the front door.

 

A minute later, we heard Alex say, “Hi, Mrs. Miller.  Thanks for bringing Brent over so he can go with us today.”  Tom and I both jumped a little once we realized Monica had actually come to the door with her son.

 

“No problem, Alex,” Monica replied.  “Once your dad called to see if he could join you, there was no way Brent was going to stay home.  Do you think I could talk to your dads for just a moment?”  The two of us shared a quick nervous glance before accepting the fact we were stuck and decided our best course of action was to remain seated and at least partially hidden under the table.

 

“Sure, c’mon in.  They’re in the dining room right over there,” Alex offered as he closed the front door.  Eric squeaked out a quick ‘eep’ at knowing Monica was going to join us and he slipped his hands under the table and into his lap.  I’m not sure what he thought he’d accomplish by doing so, considering he was as well-hidden beneath the wooden tabletop as the rest of us were, but the mind plays some weird tricks on you when you least expect it.

 

Soon enough, there was a little knock at the corner of the dining room and Monica asked, “Is it safe to come in?”

 

“About as safe as it gets around here, Monica,” I replied.

 

She stepped around the corner and on seeing the table surrounded by nine naked bodies let go a little giggle before sinking into an empty chair.  “I’m so glad I caught you all in your, uh, natural habitat,” she laughed as Alex and a now naked Brent rejoined us.  Neither appeared to have the slightest concern Brent’s mom was there with us.  In all honesty, only Eric, Ron, Tom and myself were even the slightest bit fazed by her presence.

 

“Good morning, Monica,” I greeted our surprise guest as I started to rise to shake her hand.

 

“No, don’t bother getting up on my account, Max,” she countered.  I quickly resumed my seat with a silent sigh of relief as she continued.  “I have a little favor to ask of you.”

 

“Go right ahead,” Tom replied.

 

“Ben and I have a company awards dinner party to attend this evening and these things have a nasty habit of running quite late.  Would you mind if Brent stayed the night with you?”

 

Tom and I shared a quick look and with both of us shrugging our shoulders, Tom answered, “We don’t see a problem with that, Monica.  Does Brent have everything he needs?”

 

“Well, I figured once you guys get back home, he won’t be needing clean clothes or much of anything else really, until I pick him up tomorrow, so he should be okay with what he wore over here.  Especially since they won’t be on him long enough to really get that dirty.”  She looked to her son for confirmation and he gave her a thumbs up.  “See, problem solved,” she added, and all the boys cracked up at that.  “I’ll be here to take him off your hands tomorrow morning.”

 

“Hey,” T.J. interrupted, “if he’s spending the night, why doesn’t he just stay for my birthday party?”

 

“Yeah!” Brent replied with enthusiasm.

 

“Oh, I don’t know about that, young man,” Monica said.  “I don’t think that would be appropriate since your other guests will more likely be your own friends and not your brother’s.”

 

“Well, Brent might be Alex’s boyfriend, but he’s my friend, too,” T.J. commented.

 

“If it’s all right with your dads, then, I guess he can stay.”

 

“Ple-e-e-ase, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Wright,” Brent begged while aiming a very effective sad puppy dog face in our direction.

 

“As long as T.J. is fine with you joining us, I don’t have a problem with it,” I agreed.

 

“Same here,” Tom offered.

 

“Sweet!” Brent replied before turning to T.J. and adding, “Thanks, dude.”

 

“No sweat, Brent.  We’ll have fun, for sure.  ‘Course, there’s gonna be some girls here this time.  Hope that won’t bother you.”

 

“Ph-h-ht, won’t bother me none, man.  Won’t raise the ol’ flagpole, either,” he quickly added with a snicker.

 

“Brent, how could you even think such a thing?” Monica exclaimed.

 

“ ‘Cause I’m gay, Mom, remember?” Brent laughed in response.  “A naked chick ain’t gonna do nothin’ for me.  Now, a naked Alex, that’s a whole other story,” he added with a lascivious grin.

 

“Brent Christopher Miller, you keep that up and you’re going back home with me right now,” Monica flustered.

 

Brent looked down to his lap, then back at is mom and came back with, “Nope, not up a bit, guess I get to stay, then.”  The boys at the table could no longer hold it in and they all broke out into an uproarious fit of laughter.  “See ya sometime tomorrow afternoon, Mom,” Brent added as he grabbed Alex’s empty plate in one hand, Alex’s hand in the other, and headed for the kitchen.  Tom and I could hear them snickering to each other as they passed behind us.

 

“Well, I never,” Monica muttered to herself as the other boys suddenly decided it was a good time to make themselves scarce as they joined their brother and his boyfriend in the kitchen.  Well, all of them but Eric who seemed to still be a touch embarrassed at being nude with Monica sitting directly across the table from him.  She turned to us and added, “I’m so sorry for Brent behaving like this, you two.  He sure doesn’t talk about such things at home.”

 

Tom and I were still laughing internally, but I tried to put her mind at ease.  “Don’t worry about it, Monica.  With nine guys living here, you can rest assured somebody’s making some sort of joke about the male anatomy on a fairly regular basis.”

 

“Well, yes, I suppose I can see where that would be a fairly common occurrence around here,” she giggled lightly.  “I’m just not used to it being so out in the open, I suppose.”

 

“Hang around much more and those boys will scare the pants right off of ya with some of the things that come out of their mouths,” Tom laughed.

 

“Pops, you really shouldn’t be putting that kinda image in her head,” Alex quipped as the herd exited the kitchen and turned for their bedrooms. 

 

“At least he didn’t say nothin’ about the things we put in our mouths,” Joey laughed as the crew disappeared across the house.

 

Monica flushed crimson with embarrassment at Joey’s comment and bowed her head in abject defeat. Eric took immediate advantage of the temporary distraction and jumped at the opportunity to vanish with the rest of the boys, hands carefully maintaining his minimal cover all the way across the living room.  He even had Josh grab his pile of clothes from the couch so his hands never left his crotch.  I guess he wasn’t overly concerned about his ass being on public display.

 

“I think I’ll go now,” Monica offered timidly.  “I hope you all have a safe trip and I’ll retrieve my son tomorrow afternoon.”

 

“Thanks, we hope to, Monica,” Tom replied.  “We’re sorry if the boys offended you.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she responded as she regained her normal coloring.  “We all know that boys will be boys.  I’m just gonna have to get used to it, I guess,” she added with a touch of resignation in her voice.

 

“Monica,” I began, “it’s just one of those things us guys seem to do.  It’s almost like it’s a competition between us as to who can cause their parents the greatest degree of discomfort and embarrassment.”

 

“Well, I have to say our boys sure got the best of us this morning, didn’t they?” she asked with a giggle.

 

“For now, sure, but don’t you worry, we’ll get even with them for you,” I laughed.

 

“Wish I could be there to see it happen, guys, but I really need to get a move on or I’ll be late for my mani/pedi.  Again, thanks for inviting Brent to go with you and for letting him stay here tonight.  Ben and I really appreciate it.”

 

“No worries.  Hope you enjoy your dinner tonight,” Tom offered.

 

We started to get up to follow Monica to the front door, but she waved us back to our seats and commented, “No, please don’t you two.  I’ve already seen more than enough penises today.”  On that final note, Monica disappeared around the corner into the living room and the last we heard of her was the front door closing softly behind her as she left the house. 

 

I waited thirty seconds to give her a chance to reach her car before yelling, “Boys!  Front and center!”

 

When all nine had returned to the dining room and Ron had moved into the kitchen to begin his part of the cleanup, I asked, “You wanna tell me what the heck that was all about?”

 

“What, Dad?” Joey asked, feigning complete innocence.

 

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.  ‘In our mouths’?  Really?”

 

“Sorry, Dad, I got carried away,” Joey apologized as he hung his head low.

 

“You sure did,” I agreed.

 

“But Brent started it all with his ‘flagpole’,” Alex countered.

 

“Doesn’t matter who starts it, guys, you know better.  At least I thought you did,” I groused.

 

“I’m really sorry, Dads,” Joey offered with sincere feeling.  “It just popped in my brain and I couldn’t stop it from coming out my mouth.  I’ll apologize to his mom when she comes to pick him up.”

 

“We’re gonna hold you to that promise, young man,” Tom intoned seriously.  “If you don’t, it’ll be …”

 

“Clothes for a week,” Joey finished the thought.  “Yeah, I know.  And I’d deserve it.”  After a short hesitation, he quietly added, “I hate to ask after all that, but do you think Josh could spend the night, too?  T.J. says it’s cool with him.  Eric, too, since they’re pretty much family now.”

 

Tom and I shared another quick glance and we both nodded in agreement at the same time.  “Yeah, why not?  I’m not sure where everyone will sleep tonight, but I guess we can figure that out later.”  A loud cheer of jubilation echoed through the house and the boys turned tail for their rooms again.  “You all need to be ready to roll in about forty-five, fifty minutes!” I yelled to their rapidly retreating backsides.

 

“We’ll be ready, Dads,” T.J. yelled back.

 

With Ron busy in the kitchen and the boys entertaining themselves in their rooms, Tom and I headed for the bedroom to pull out the clothes we planned to wear. 

 

Passing through the kitchen, I asked, “So, what’re you gonna do today with nobody around to bug ya?”

 

“I’m gonna lounge around and do nothin, guys, just enjoy the peace and quiet for once,” Ron answered with a very peaceful smile gracing his face.

 

“I don’t blame you a bit, buddy,” Tom commented.  “I think this’ll be the first time you’ve had the house all to yourself since you moved in.  We hope you enjoy it.”

 

“I fully intend to do just that.”

 

That settled, we moved on.

 

 

“Okay guys,” Alex started, “who’s sleeping where tonight?”

 

“Well, duh!  I’m with you dude,” Brent answered.

 

“And I’m wherever Joey’s sleeping,” Josh added.

 

Logan commented, “Well, if you four numbskulls are gonna be in the same bed, I’m gonna crash with T.J., Mike and Andy.  Otherwise, I won’t get no sleep at all.”

 

“What about you, Eric?” Mike asked.

 

“Well, if it’s okay with you guys, I’ll join Logan and stay with you four.  With three of ya bein’ smaller, there should be plenty o’ room for all five of us.”

 

“That’s cool,” Andy replied.

 

“And if we decide we can’t all fit without killin’ each other, I’ll move to the couch,” Eric offered.

 

“We’ll be fine,” T.J. responded.

 

“Sounds like we got a plan, dudes,” Joey commented.  “What’re we gonna do ‘til it’s time to leave?”

 

“I know what I’d like to do,” Josh answered as he leaned in and shared a sweet kiss with Joey.

 

“Me too,” Alex added after kissing Brent.

 

“Then let’s quit wastin’ time,” T.J. added.

 

 

With our clothes laid out on the bed, Tom and I returned to the living room to read and relax for a bit.  At ten minutes to ten, we dropped our books on the table and headed across the house to get dressed.  Passing the hallway to the boys’ rooms, I yelled down the hall it was time to get ready.  I received a muffled response from the far end of the hallway before turning to follow Tom.  We were ready to roll five minutes later and hoped the boys had heeded my warning.  On our way back through the house, we found Ron lazily reclined in my chair, reading.

 

“Enjoy the day,” Tom offered.

 

“Yeah, you, too.  Hope you have a smooth flight,” Ron replied before diving back into his novel.

 

Proceeding down the hallway, we noticed it seemed awfully quiet compared to normal and when we stepped into the garage, we weren’t too surprised to find the boys filling the Flex and Shelby, buckled in place and ready for the trip to the airport.  I punched the buttons by the door to open the big doors behind the cars.

 

“I hope you don’t mind, but can I drive my Shelby today?” I asked.

 

“Oh, I suppose so.  You’ve been a good boy lately, I guess you’ve earned a little treat,” Tom replied with sarcasm.

 

“Thank you so much,” I retorted.  “I promise to keep it under a hundred,” I added with a laugh.

 

“You better.  Let’s leave the flying part of the trip to when we’re in the airplane, please,” Tom replied as he aimed for the Flex.

 

I fell into the Mustang where Eric, Josh and Brent waited patiently, started the car and backed out of the garage.  I waited until Tom was backed out on the driveway before punching the buttons to close the both doors, then shifted the machine into first gear and slipped the clutch to get us moving in the right direction.  On reaching the airport twenty-five minutes later, we parked side by side and headed into the FBO.  Having been here before, the crew headed directly for the door leading to the ramp while I met with Jeff at the counter.  After reviewing and approving the flight plan they’d filed for me, it was time to get this circus into the air.

 

I did my regular pre-flight inspection of the plane as the others climbed inside and made themselves at home.  I let Mike know he was going to be my copilot this morning and he was over the moon with giddiness as he climbed the short ladder, anxious to take his spot in the cockpit.  With Tom taking the seat by the door again and all the other boys but Mike secured in the same seats they occupied on our last flight, I finally settled in my own seat and strapped myself in place.

 

I helped Mike don the headset and explained how to use it, including the admonition he couldn’t talk to me when I was on the radio.  With a quick nod of understanding from the youngster, we were ready to start engines.  With both running and all indicators in the green, I eased off the brakes and began the long roll to the end of the runway where I gently brought the plane to a halt and wait for clearance from the tower.

 

We had to sit still for a couple of minutes for another plane to land, but once he was on the taxiways and aimed for the small terminal building, it was time to roll.  Releasing the brakes, I pushed the throttles to about fifty percent and guided our winged chariot to the centerline of the runway.  One more quick glance at the instruments let me know we were ready to take to the skies.  Pushing the throttles to ninety-five percent, our speed rapidly increased and I pulled the yoke towards my gut.  The nose wheel was soon in the slipstream, anxiously waiting the main gear to join it in flight.  After covering less than half the length of available runway, the main gear lifted off the ground and we were clawing our way up, up and away.

 

After being released from our 5,000 foot initial altitude, I started the climb to today’s cruise level of 37,000 feet.  Soon enough, we were settled in and floating through the heavens.  I pressed the button on the yoke that would let me use the intercom to let everyone know if they wanted a drink or snack, now was the time to get it.

 

“Thanks for letting me ride up here with you, Dad,” Mike said.  “This is really cool.”

 

“I’m happy you’re enjoying it.  Are you going to get something to drink, too?”

 

“If it’s okay for me to have it up here, sure,” he replied.

 

“Do me a couple of favors when you go back then, please.  Grab a Pepsi for me and check on Pops.”

 

“You got it,” he agreed as he started releasing the straps holding him in place.  Once free, he gingerly crawled out of his seat and scooted into the cabin.  On his return a couple of minutes later, he handed both drinks to me so he could get situated in his seat and strap himself back into place.  After slipping the headset back over his ears, I opened the small bottle of apple juice he’d selected for himself and handed it to him.  He quickly took a big gulp, put the lid back on the bottle and set it in the cup holder.

 

“So, how’s Pops doin?  Still hangin’ in there?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, he seems okay.  Better than he was the last time, anyway,” Mike giggled.

 

“Good, maybe he’ll get over his fear of flying one of these days.  And what about your brothers?  Are they being good?” I added.

 

“They still got their clothes on, if that’s what you’re askin’,” Mike sniggered.

 

“Well, not really, but it’s still good to hear they do have at least a little bit of self-control,” I chuckled.  After a short hesitation I asked, “So, how’re you doin’, buddy?”

 

“What d’ya mean?” Mike asked with curiosity.

 

“Well, first, I guess I’m a little worried about our shower the other night and I want to make sure you’re okay with everything that happened.”

 

“Yeah, that was lots of fun, wasn’t it?” Mike giggled.  “Last night with Pops was great, too.  Why you worried ‘bout that?”

 

“Well, after you told me about what your dad did, I’m just concerned about you and how you’d react or feel about us doing the same thing to you.”

 

“They ain’t the same thing, Dad,” he retorted adamantly.  “What you and Pops and I did together in the shower only happened ‘cause I wanted it to, not ‘cause you wanted it.  And we made each other feel really good ‘cause we love each other so much.  When my old man did that crap to me, there wasn’t no love, just anger and hate for me bein’ like I am.  I may be just a little kid but even I know the difference ‘tween love and hate.  ‘Sides, neither one o’ you guys stuck your dick up my butt, or even tried to.  It’ll happen someday but I know I ain’t ready for that just yet.”

 

“Well, okay then.  I just need to be sure.  Do you think you still want to talk to Dr. Paul?”

 

“Yeah, I guess.  Not sure what to tell him, though.”

 

“Just tell him what you told me, Mike.  About what your mom and dad did, the nightmares you’ve been having, and anything else you think is important.  Well, maybe a slightly cleaner version,” I added.

 

“What?  You think he don’t know what fuckin’ is?”

 

I couldn’t suppress the laugh that escaped from deep inside me but quickly regained my serious attitude and replied, “Well, no, I’m sure he knows all about that, but he may not be ready to hear it come from you.”

 

“Dad, he deals with screwed up kids, like, all the time.  Ain’t nothin’ I can say gonna surprise him none.”

 

“I guess you’re right about that.  You tell your story any way you want, buddy.  I’m sure Paul will understand.”

 

“Don’t worry, man, I can do this,” the youngster assured me.  “And I also know not to say nothin’ ‘bout the things me and my brothers do to each other, or ‘bout you and Pops.  I ain’t a complete dope.”

 

“I never thought you were, kiddo,” I responded as I reached across the console between us and ruffled his hair.  “We love you, little guy.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  I love all you guys, too,” Mike replied quietly.

 

“Well, we’re getting close to starting our descent, so I need to get back to actually flying this thing instead of letting the computers do it all.  You ready?”

 

“You bet, Dad.  Let’s make it so.”

 

With the exception of a few bumps in the road as we floated over the small burg of Dwight, the flight was otherwise smooth and uneventful, the kind of trip every pilot dreams of.  Following directions from the air traffic controllers at O’Hare, we were soon handed off to receive our final guidance from the personnel at Chicago Executive.  Once on the ground, I followed their directions and we were soon parked on the tarmac at the FBO we used on our last trip.  Mike helped me run my checklist by reading each item from the list and waiting for me to respond with ‘check’ before continuing on down the list.

 

With the plane secured, I flipped off the battery and we exited the cockpit.  While Mike joined the other boys, I popped open the hatch and lowered the stairs to the ground.  After a quick wave of my arm through the open door and a reminder to line up in front of the wing, the crew headed out into the bright sunshine.  Once the last one started his descent to the ground, I stepped over to Tom who was still buckled in place and had his eyes closed.

 

“Okay, big guy, time to go,” I suggested quietly.

 

“You sure about that?” he asked nervously.

 

“As sure as I can be,” I replied.  “Mike said you seemed to be doing better this time around.  What happened?”

 

“Those potholes you hit about fifteen minutes ago, that’s what happened,” he vented as his eyes snapped open.  “I damn near shit a brick.”

 

“Ooh, I’m glad you didn’t.  These leather seats aren’t cheap to replace.”

 

“It ain’t funny, you clown.  I thought we were all gonna die.”

 

“It was just a little turbulence, hon.  We were never in any danger,” I offered in an attempt to calm the still shaken Tom.

 

“Easy for you to say, bucko.  I felt like the floor was pulled out from under me.”

 

“It’s solidly back under you now.  C’mon on, let’s go,” I replied as I held out my hand to help him up.

 

Once he released this seatbelt, I helped him up and we stepped outside to join the boys.  While Tom rounded the crew up and then let Eric help guide him into the FBO since he was still a bit shaky, I turned and found Marty coming my way.

 

“Mornin’, Marty.  How are you today?” I greeted.

 

“Not too bad.  Smooth flight?” he responded

 

“Except for right around Dwight,” I answered.

 

“So what can we do for you today, uh, Mr., um, sorry, I forgot your name.”

 

“Max Sanders.”

 

“Yeah, that’s it!” he grinned.  “I apologize, Mr. Sanders.  I’m horrible with faces, and even worse with names.  But I never forget a tail number.  N3433ST, a Citation CJ4 that seats ten people, eleven in a crunch.  You were through here just ‘bout a month ago, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yep, sounds about right,” I agreed.  “I think all we need is a parking space for a few hours this time around.  We’re headed back to Springfield later this afternoon.”

 

“No problem, sir.  We’ll keep a good watch on her for ya, make sure she doesn’t blow away.  See you when ya come back.”

 

“Thanks, Marty.” 

 

I turned, strolled across the tarmac and into the FBO.  After checking in at the counter and leaving the key to the plane with the counter man, I collected the rest of my crew and we headed outside.  As I had planned and expected, Tony was waiting for us, the stretched Expedition gleaming in the sun behind him.  The reflection was so bright, it almost appeared as if mirrors had been smoothly molded over the metal body.

 

“Morning, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Wright.  How’re you guys today?” Tony greeted us.

 

“Still alive, barely,” Tom grunted.

 

“We’re great, Tony, how about you?” I greeted in return as we shook hands.  “And remember, it’s Max and Tom,” I added with a smile.

 

“Couldn’t be better,” he replied happily while opening the back door of the monstrous vehicle.  The boys wasted no time in clambering inside and staking their claims to a seat.  “Where we headed today?” Tony asked as Tom joined the others and settled into the very back seat.

 

“Hoffman Estates,” I answered.  I handed Tony the slip of paper I’d written Harry’s address on and added, “We’d like to find somewhere simple for a quick lunch before we get there, though.  Think you could find a place big enough for the whole group between here and there?”

 

“Shouldn’t be a problem, Max.  Have a seat and I’ll plug this address into the satnav, then get us moving in that direction.  Any preference on the type of food you want?”

 

“Not really, just something quick and easy.”

 

“So, McDonald’s or something similar would be okay?”  After a quick nod from me, Tony added, “Well, climb in and I’ll get us rolling.”  Following his instructions, I hoisted myself into the gleaming machine, taking my place next to Tom on the back seat.  We were on our way just a few minutes later and after quite a bit of weaving through stop and go traffic, Tony pulled the leviathan into a Wendy’s.

 

Having learned their lesson the hard way on our first trip, the boys were lined up and patiently waiting when Tony opened the door for them.  Patience was tossed to the wind once they hit the ground again as they took off across the parking lot like a herd of wild mustangs on the open prairie.  I grabbed Tom’s hand with my right and laid my left on Tony’s shoulder to guide us across the parking lot and to our lunch.

 

On entering the building, we found the boys waiting quietly for us before joining the other rats in the maze that led to the young lady taking orders.  As they told her what they wanted, they were very polite and as soon as each had placed their order, they moved on and found tables for us.  Since Tom was the one last in line, he ended up paying for our meals.  He still seemed to enjoy using his new debit card without having to worry about whether the transaction would be approved or not.

 

After filling drink orders and joining the boys, our food was delivered to us and the eating machines inhaled their food in record time.  Apparently, they were anxious to get moving again.  Tom, Tony and I were trying to enjoy the visit a bit, but the glares aimed our way from the munchkins spurred us on and we were soon ready to go.  Having already dealt with their own trash, Alex and Joey grabbed our trays as soon as they were empty and dumped the refuse in the bin on their way to the door.  Taking the not so subtle hint, the adults soon joined the nine boys as they led the way across the parking lot.

 

Once we’d retaken our places inside the limo, Tony wasted no time in getting us back on the road.  A few short minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot of a large apartment complex that looked to be well maintained and clean.  After some quick searching, Tony found enough empty spots in the parking lot that would accommodate the Expedition and promptly filled four out of six of them.  He opened the door and let us back out into the sun, then commented, “I don’t have a clue which place is the one you’re looking for, but the office we passed over there should be able to tell you.”

 

“Thanks, Tony.  We’ll be a couple of hours so if you have something else to take care of, that’s fine.  Just be back here about three so we can get back home with plenty of daylight.”

 

“Thanks, Max, but I am not running errands in that thing,” he laughed in response while hooking a thumb over his shoulder.  “I’ll be fine waiting right here.”

 

“Your call, I guess,” Tom chuckled.  That settled, Tom struck off across the parking lot in the direction Tony had indicated, the rest of the crew playing follow the leader.  On reaching the office, Tom went inside to get directions while the rest of us waited outside.  With directions firmly in his mind, it was time for another round of follow the leader, the big guy in front and me bringing up the rear to make sure none of the herd strayed away.  I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen, as they were all excited to see Harry again and they kept up a constant chatter as we climbed the stairs to a third-floor end unit of the five-story building.

 

Before Tom could knock on the door to announce our arrival, I felt the odd parental compulsion to remind the herd to be good during our visit.  Nine heads swiveled in my direction and eighteen eyes rolled inside their skulls as the group showed me exactly what they thought of my attempt to exert my minimal authority.  Only Joey felt the need to voice his displeasure at my air-wasting utterance when he retorted with a simple, “Well, duh!”  Having been properly put into my place, Tom turned back to the door and began to knock.  The door swung open before his second strike could occur.

 

Maureen greeted us with a cheery, “Good afternoon, guys.  Brought the whole group, I see.  Get your tails in here,” she added as she stepped back and held the door for us.  We stepped into a basic cramped, but nicely decorated, dwelling and found Harry stretched out on the couch in the living room, Angela firmly ensconced in the chair right next to him.

 

“Hey, guys,” Harry began, “it’s good to see you again.”

 

“Good to see you, too,” Joey replied as all the boys invaded the space and copped a squat on the floor around Harry and Angela.

 

“How ya doin’?” Alex quickly added.

 

“Pretty good,” Harry answered.  “Friday afternoon, I had to go for a new scan to see if I’m still on the mend and everything looked great.  The blood vessel that was torn looks fine and the skull fracture is about half healed up.  The doctors said I’m really a little bit ahead of schedule compared to what they originally thought.”

 

“That’s good news, Harry.  We’re really glad your recovery is progressing so smoothly,” I replied.

 

“Are you keeping up with your schoolwork?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah, thanks for that, too,” he replied with a hint of sarcasm tinging his words.  “That freakin’ tutor comes every morning and drills junk into my brain for four straight hours.”

 

“Don’t be like that,” Angela scolded.  “At least you’ll be able to move on to tenth grade with the rest of us.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  That’s the only reason I’m puttin’ up with her,” Harry grumbled.

 

“Does anyone want a drink?” Maureen offered.

 

“We just had lunch, so I think we’re okay for now,” I replied.  “But is there somewhere we could talk?” I asked while pointing a finger at her, then Tom and finally myself.

 

“Oh, sure,” she answered.  “As long as you don’t mind sittin’ in the kitchen.”

 

“That would be fine, Maureen,” Tom agreed.

 

As she turned for the back of the apartment, I told the boys, “We’re going to talk to Maureen for a while.  Try to keep it to a dull roar in here, okay?”

 

“Don’t we always?” Logan drawled with a little giggle.

 

It was my turn to roll my eyes and I made sure all of them saw it before I fell in place behind Tom, leaving a laughing crew behind.  As we took seats at the kitchen table, I noticed Maureen sank heavily into her chair and she slumped over the table, resting her head in her hands.

 

“So, tell us, how are you really doin’?” Tom asked.

 

Maureen lifted her head and with tears in her eyes, answered, “Comin’ apart at the seams, Tom.  This whole thing is just wearin’ me down.”

 

“We’re sorry to hear that,” I offered.  “Is there anything we can do to help?”

 

“Haven’t you already done enough?” Maureen asked in surprise at my offer.  “You payin’ for Harry’s care has been the only thing that’s allowed me to maintain my tenuous grip on what little sanity I’ve got left.  Well, that and the fact Angela’s basically moved in with us until the doctors release Harry and say he can go back to school.  Having her here to help him through the day while I’m at work has been a godsend.  If it weren’t for her, I’d have completely lost it weeks ago.”

 

“I’m glad she’s been able to do that.  Isn’t that impacting her schoolwork, though?” I asked.

 

“Not really, since she’s been working with Harry and the tutor, too.  I honestly don’t know how she keeps up with everything she’s taken on.”

 

“She’s younger and she obviously cares about Harry.  A lot,” Tom commented.

 

“Well, yeah, I s’pose so,” she agreed. 

 

“How’s your job treating you?” I asked.

 

“They aren’t a bit happy with me, but I don’t give a rat’s ass ‘bout them right now.  When I asked to take off this afternoon to be here when you were, they threatened to fire me.  Well, after all the crap they’ve dumped on me since Harry got hurt, I told ‘em to ‘bite me’ and stormed out.  At this moment, I’m not sure I still have a job.  But all I want is my Harry back healthy and happy again.  If I can get that, then I’ll be fine.”

 

I looked to Tom and raised an eyebrow in silent question.  He nodded in agreement and I whispered, “It was your idea, you should be the one to ask.”

 

“What idea?” Maureen queried.

 

 

“So what’s gonna happen to your dad?” I asked.

 

“Not sure, Alex,” Harry answered.  “At the moment, he’s still in jail.  He’s been to court where he lied his ass off and swore he never hit me or my mom, but Angie and the ambulance guys were there and they told the judge what really happened.  ‘Course, it didn’t hurt that the aquarium gave mom’s lawyer a copy of their surveillance video from that day, either.  Once the judge saw that, the old man’s goose was cooked.”

 

“You weren’t there, were you?  In court, I mean,” Joey said.

 

“Nah, Mom hasn’t let me go out since I got home,” Harry answered.  “But Angie told me all about it.”

 

“Is your mom gonna leave your dad?” Mike asked.

 

“That’s the plan, I guess, ‘specially with him bein’ where he is.  I hope like hell she follows through.”

 

“You think she won’t?” T.J. asked.

 

“Who knows?  I know it’s been hard on her dealin’ with me.  She’s been workin’ her ass off, tryin’ to make sure we don’t get kicked outta this dump into someplace even worse since the loser ain’t givin’ us any money.  She’s probably tempted to take him back just so we don’t have to move.”

 

“I bet our dads would be happy to help you guys out,” Logan commented.

 

“That’d be nice, but I ain’t gonna hold my breath, dude.  We’ll figure it out and if it turns out we have to move, that’s what we’ll do.”

 

“But where would you guys go?” Angela asked with concern.  “There aren’t many places around here that are this cheap for rent.”

 

“I don’t know, girlfriend,” Harry admitted.  “But we’ll find somethin’.”  Harry then turned his attention back to the boys and asked, “So, tell us what it’s like havin’ two dads.  And just how many of you are gay?”  The gaggle on the floor laughed heartily as six raised their hands to full extension and one raised his halfway.  “Why only halfway Eric?” Harry queried.  “You not sure yet?”

 

“Nah, but I’m pretty sure I’m bi.”

 

The conversation took off from there as the boys filled Harry and Angela in on who they are in their hearts.

 

 

“You two are serious?” Maureen asked in surprise at the offer Tom had just made.  After a quick nod from both of us, she continued.  “I can’t believe this.  First, you pay for Harry’s hospital bill and now this?”

 

“It’s just something for you and Harry to think about,” I volunteered.  “The job wouldn’t actually start until sometime this fall, but if you think you might be interested, now’s the time to start makin’ plans.”

 

“I’d love the opportunity, but I’m pretty sure Harry won’t want to move and leave Angela behind.”

 

“That’s not an insurmountable obstacle,” I offered.  “We’d be more than willing to help Angela and her family make the move as well.  I don’t think we’d have a job available for her parents, but we could certainly help them find something in the area.  We also happen to know of a decent house in New Berlin that’s going to be coming up for sale soon.  I’m sure it would be adequate for either you and Harry or Angie and her family.  With a little legwork, we can probably find another one close by, too.”

 

“Well, you can be sure we’ll talk about it.  As much as I’d love this new challenge and no matter how good I think it might be for us, if Harry says no, then I’ll have to pass.”

 

“We understand that, Maureen,” Tom replied.  “Just give it some serious thought.”

 

“You can be sure we’ll do just that”

 

“Well, I think we’ve taken up enough of your time,” I commented.  “We should get out of your way and let you get back to your normal day.”

 

“Nonsense, you two,” Maureen objected.  “It was really nice of you to bring the boys up to visit.  Harry’s been pretty down and quiet since he got to come home, but he’s been talking nonstop about your crew and I know your coming today has been the highlight of the last couple of weeks for him.  For all of us, really.”

 

“We’re glad we could do it.  We’re just sorry our boys provoked Hank the way they did.”

 

“Don’t you worry about it.  Angie’s told me over and over that it was just a matter of time before something like this happened.  Him blaming your boys as the cause is just him shirking his responsibilities for his actions, just like he’s done for years.  And if it wasn’t them, it’d been some other ignorant thing he’d blame for settin’ him off.”

 

“Thanks for that, Maureen.  While we know it wasn’t really the boys’ fault for what happened, we still feel at least some responsibility to take care of Harry and you.”  I turned to Tom and asked, “Shall we round up the herd and move ‘em out?”

 

“Let’s make it so,” Tom agreed.

 

As we stood to take our leave and turned for the living room, Maureen followed along behind us.  As Tom hit the living room first since he was playing the leader again, he said, “Come on, guys.  Say goodbye and get ready to go.”

 

“Already, Dads,” T.J. grumped.  “We barely got here.”

 

“We’ve been here two and half hours, boys.  And I want to get in the air soon so we can be back on the ground before dark.”

 

“Wait, you have your own plane?” Maureen asked with surprise.  “I just assumed you drove up today.”

 

“Yep, it’s waiting for us at Executive.”

 

“Then I guess my concern about you bein’ able to afford to pay me what you offered is a moot point, isn’t it?” she giggled lightly.

 

“Yes, no worries on that,” I agreed.

 

“What’re you talkin’ ‘bout, Mom?” Harry quizzed.

 

“Yeah, Dads, what the heck is she talkin’ about?” Alex added.

 

“We’ll have that conversation when we get back home,” Tom answered.

 

“And you, Angela and I will talk about it over supper, son,” Maureen volunteered.  “Now, c’mon and say your goodbyes so they can get moving.”

 

That was all it took as the boys jumped up off the floor and formed a line to share a hug and say goodbye to Harry and Angela.  As each finished with those two, they shared the same with Maureen before heading out into the hallway to wait for all of us to be together before actually taking off.  After Tom and I had taken care of our social graces, Maureen followed us into the hall.

 

“Thanks, again, for coming up today,” Maureen said.  “I’ll let you know what we decide as soon as I can.”

 

“No need to hurry with that, Maureen,” Tom offered.  “There’s plenty of time.”

 

On that final note, Tom and I finally began the trek down the hallway to the stairs where Eric was trailing the rest of the crew.  As we stepped back out into the sunny day, we discovered the boys had patiently waited for us to join them before they high-tailed it across the parking lot to our ride where Tony was already holding the door open.  The munchkins wasted no time in climbing inside and taking their seats. 

 

As Tom and I drew closer, Tony asked, “Back to the airport, I assume?”

 

“Yep, thanks, Tony.” I replied.

 

“I’ll have you there in a jiffy.” 

 

With the two of us comfortably settled into the back seat again, Tony closed the door and got us moving in the right direction.  Sooner than I thought possible while dealing with Chicago traffic, he was pulling up to the FBO’s entrance where the loading process was reversed and the herd scrambled back out of their seats and through the door.  They charged towards the entrance with Tom following closely behind them while I thanked Tony for his excellent service and slipped him a hundred-dollar tip for the few hours he spent with us today.  Before we separated, I promised to let him know the next time we’d be in town so he’d be prepared to take care of us again.  After joining the rest of the crew inside, checking our flight plan and retrieving the plane’s key at the service counter, we exited the other side of the building and headed for our transport.

 

“Who gets to fly up front on the way home, Dad?” Mike asked.

 

“I guess we’ll let Andy take a turn,” I answered which put a big smile on the tyke’s face and frowns on most of the others.

 

“Why him,” Logan asked.

 

“Well I figured Joey and Alex would want to sit with Josh and Brent, and T.J., Eric and Mike have had a turn up front, already.  That leaves you and Andy who haven’t had a chance yet.  Since I figured you’d want to take your turn up front Friday, now would be a good time for Andy to get his.”

 

“Yeah, guess that makes sense,” Logan agreed happily having turned his frown upside-down.

 

As my crew climbed aboard and took their seats, T.J. joined me on my pre-flight again and I was surprised to see how much of the process he remembered from the last time we’d done this.  As we rounded the nose and he scampered off to join the others inside, Marty strolled over to say goodbye.

 

“Leavin’ us so soon, Mr. Sanders?” he asked with a cheesy grin at having remembered my name.

 

“Yep, we have a birthday party tomorrow and need to be well rested for that.”

 

“Don’t blame ya there.  I know you didn’t ask for it when you landed, but we went ahead and topped off the tanks for ya and charged it to the same card you used last time.  Hope that’s okay.”

 

“Not a problem.  Guess we’ll see you next time,” I offered as we shook hands.

 

“You bet,” he agreed heartily.  “I’ll hang close so I can pull the chocks once you have the engines fired up.  Y’all have a smooth flight back home.”

 

“Thanks, Marty.”  On that note, I climbed in, raised the steps, closed the door and joined this afternoon’s copilot in the cockpit.  “You ready, kiddo?” I asked as I checked his straps to make sure he was secured in his seat.

 

“You bet, Dad, let’s go hop some clouds,” he answered happily.

 

Without any further delay, I took my seat and lit off the first engine.  A minute later the second was also running and less than ten minutes after that, we were in the air and on our way to Springfield.  With a nice tailwind to help push us home this time, we landed at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport only fifty minutes later.  We left the plane outside my hangar and in the capable hands of the ground crew as we headed for the FBO’s office. 

 

The rest of the herd continued through the building to mount up for the ride home while I stopped to make arrangements with Jeff to have the plane prepped and ready for a ten o’clock Friday morning flight.  With his assurances the plane would be ready to roll when we got here, I joined the rest of the family, settled into my favorite seat in the world behind the wheel of the Shelby, and led the parade back home.  Once back at the house, the boys wasted no time heading inside to dispense with their clothing while Tom and I did the same.  When Tom and I returned to the living room, I spied Ron enjoying a quiet swim. 

 

We’d all just settled into the living room when Alex said, “Okay, spit it out, Dad.  What did you, Pops and Harry’s mom talk about?”

 

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