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Chapter 89 – Hello William

 

For the short hop back to Springfield, none of the boys wanted to take the right seat in the cockpit with me, preferring to sit in the main cabin with Arlene, Daril and Arley to talk, tell jokes and generally have a good time, so Clarence ended up being my copilot this afternoon.  And despite him being several years older than I am, he was acting more like a kid who’d been turned loose in a candy store with a hundred bucks burning holes in his pockets than the supposedly responsible adult he truly is.  His eyes were darting from instrument to instrument and screen to screen, taking in all the information they displayed at a quick glance, before looking forward through the windows and watching the clouds float along below us.

 

The way he was behaving, you’d have thought he’d never been on a plane before, despite his earlier proclamation of having flown with other friends previously.  I guess one’s perspective will change drastically when you go from sitting in the cabin, gazing through the windows to your side and then comparing that view to having a front row seat with the world flashing by you head on.  Since the plane was essentially flying itself for most of the trip and all I really had to do was to check the display panels periodically to ensure everything was still as it should be, Clarence and I took the opportunity to chat about anything but legal issues.

 

“Thanks for letting me ride up front with you, Max.  I haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Clarence gushed with childlike giddiness.

 

“Glad you’re enjoying it,” I replied.  “I’m happy to have the company.”

 

“I may have to talk to Debbie about finally getting my pilot’s license.”

 

“Oh, crap,” I chuckled.  “Don’t you dare blame that idea on me.  The last thing I need in my life right now is your wife being pissed at me.”

 

“Oh, she knows about the dream already,” my copilot assured me.  “We’ve talked about it before and while she really doesn’t have a problem with the idea of me getting a license, she’s worried the next step will be buying the damn plane to go with it,” he laughed.  “I mean, I do pretty well with my practice, but not quite that well.  But what’s the point of going through all that training if you can’t afford to buy the plane, right?”

 

“Hard to argue that point, counselor, but I’ll make you a deal.”

 

“What’s that?” Clarence quickly asked with serious interest.

 

“You put in the time and training to get your license and receive a type rating on this plane from Flight Safety International, and I’ll let you use her any time you want.  As long as you pay for your own fuel, that is,” I added with a just a hint of snark.

 

“You’re shittin’ me!” Clarence flustered excitedly.

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it, buddy.  After everything you’ve done for us the past few months, you deserve a little bonus for multiple jobs done well.  Hell, you earned it all just by taking such good care of Logan today.  We’ll never be able to adequately thank you for making sure he could come back home with us.”

 

“I was happy to do it, Max, and you know it.  With all the crap that poor kid’s been through the last couple years, if anyone ever deserved a break in life, it’s Logan.  Of course, if he hadn’t been able to record everything Troy did to him while he was down there, we’d have been screwed.  It’s a damn good thing you gave him that phone so he could.”

 

“I have to admit that’s one of the better ideas I’ve ever had.  But then, you’d already told us we’d need some kind of evidence of how Troy treated Logan if we wanted to prove the dirtbag was unfit to be Logan’s guardian, so it was you who planted the seed.  I would never have believed the man could be so cruel without seeing it for myself.”

 

“The videos are what finally got the judge and prosecutor to change their tunes.  After watching the first one, Thomas was already leaning towards what his final decision was, but George was still all gung-ho for pitching Logan into a deep, dark hole somewhere and then throwing away the key.  But after seeing the second video, where they actually saw and heard Troy’s actions, it was a done deal.”

 

“Really?” I asked in surprise.  “They only watched two of them?”

 

“No, they also watched the last one Logan recorded, you know, the one where he castrated Troy.  Both were holding onto their junk and cringing during the, uh, denuttin’ as Logan likes to call it, but once they witnessed the way Troy punched the kid, any doubts they may have had about self-defense flew right out the damn window.  They both saw the fire in Logan’s eyes when he picked himself back up off that floor and knew Troy fully and truly deserved the punishment he was about to receive.”

 

“Well, I’m just glad it’s over and we can all move forward from here.”

 

“You wanna know the worst part of this whole thing between Logan and his uncle?” Clarence asked solemnly.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I’m pretty sure if Troy had simply asked for some help to save his orchard, Logan would have been more than willing to do whatever he could to make it happen.”

 

“Without a doubt, Clarence,” I agreed wholeheartedly.

 

In between our snippets of conversation, I did my best to explain what every cockpit control was, including what would happen when you pushed this button here or toggled that switch over there and he was soaking it all up like a thirsty sponge.  When it was time to begin our descent into Springfield, I would update the autopilot setting to each lower altitude we were given by air traffic control along the way and after each adjustment, Clarence would gaze out the windows so he could see the changes take place. 

 

With the winds coming from the north-northwest, we were allowed to fly a straight-in approach for the second time today.  We slowly sank through a light cloud cover hovering between us and the ground at about 8,000 feet.  At 4,500 feet of altitude and fifteen miles from the end of the runway we were aiming for, Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport hove into view and we were perfectly settled in on the standard three-degree glideslope.  At 1,500 feet and dropping, I took over manual control from the autopilot with a quick wiggle of the yoke to fly the rest of the way down to the ground.  Clarence was intently watching every minor adjustment I made to keep us properly lined up against the light quartering headwinds. 

 

At three miles from touchdown, I lowered the landing gear and scanned the instruments to make sure we were still on course and properly trimmed for landing.  As we floated down through 870 feet, I caught a glimpse of a dark amorphous blob of unknown origin zip past the windscreen next to Clarence’s head.  Immediately after that apparition registered in my synapses, there was a loud thump from the tail that reverberated throughout the cabin and the control panels lit up like Christmas trees on steroids.

 

Since Clarence was also focused on the display in front of him, he jerked his head upright and squawked, “What the hell was that!?” while swiveling his head left and right, trying to locate the source of the vibrations we were now feeling.  At the same moment, shrieks of what can only be described as sheer terror exploded from the cabin behind us, flooding the inside of the plane with an excess of unwanted noise.

 

 

While Mike was having his first visit with Paul, Joy and I sat in their kitchen, sipping tea and chatting.

 

“How’s everybody doing out there, Tom?” she asked.

 

“Pretty good, I think,” I replied.  “We’ll be a lot better once we know if Logan’s legal problems down south are resolved.”

 

“What’re you talkin’ about?” she asked with concern.  That simple question led to a ten-minute narrative from me to fill Joy in on what the kid’s been dealing with since the accident that took his father’s life.

 

“Wow!” she exclaimed when I finally finished up.  “I sure hope everything works out for him.”

 

“I do, too.  We all do.  Unfortunately, I haven’t heard a word from Max yet, so I don’t have a clue what’s goin’ on down there.”

 

“I’m sure if it was bad news, he’d have called you by now,” Joy commiserated with my frustration at the lack of communication.

 

“I sure hope you’re right,” I agreed flatly.

 

“So, tell me, how’s Mike really doing?  Paul and I have been really worried about him and how he’d adjust to another new living situation so quickly.”

 

“He’s doing great,” I answered with a smile.  “Well, except for the nightmares he’s been having.”

 

“When did those start?”

 

“From what T.J. and Andy told us, pretty much right after the boys moved in.  The first we heard about it, though, was last week when he woke up screaming because of one.  Then, after he finally told us more about the abuse his mom and dad dumped on him, we decided it was time for him to talk to Paul.”

 

“I’m glad to hear he’s finally ready to get the help he needs to deal with things.  Paul really tried to get Mike to open up while he was here, but the poor kid was so shut down at the time, it just wasn’t gonna happen.”

 

“Well, it took him quite a while to talk to Max about it all, too, but we’re really glad he finally screwed up his courage and did.  At least now, we have a good idea of what all we’re dealing with.”

 

“And you know Paul will do everything he can to help, right?”

 

“Of course, we do,” I agreed.

 

We continued our conversation for the next half hour and had just about run out of new topics to discuss when Mike came charging into the kitchen, jumped in my lap and wrapped his arms around me.  He was soon followed by Paul who had a very somber and troubled look on his face.

 

“Okay, Pops, we’re done for today.  You ready to go home?” Mike asked after releasing his grip around my gut.  Before I could answer, Paul shook his head and hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards his office at the back of the house.

 

Taking my cue from him, I answered Mike with, “Um, in a few minutes, buddy.  Would you like to talk to Mrs. Kirkland for a bit while I have a quick chat with Dr. Kirkland?”

 

“Sure,” Mike beamed happily.

 

After standing up while still holding onto Mike, I turned around, set him back on the chair I’d just vacated and then followed Paul’s lead.  On reaching his office, he stepped around his desk while idly motioning to an empty chair for me to use.  I could tell by the way he flopped himself into his seat and assumed a slouched posture he was not a happy camper.

 

“So, what’s up?” I asked nervously.

 

“I’m so fuckin’ pissed off right now I could spit fuckin’ nails, pardon my language,” he vented angrily.

 

 

Weeks of intense training at Flight Safety kicked in without conscious thought.  One quick glance at the computerized display before me let me know we’d just lost the starboard engine and that it may be on fire.  I immediately retarded the throttle for that engine while increasing the throttle to the port engine that was still purring along as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.  The next step was to completely shut down the now useless turbofan and activate the fire suppression system to eliminate any potential fire.

 

While taking care of those tasks, I was on the radio making the announcement no sane pilot ever wants to make.  “Mayday, mayday, mayday!  Springfield control, this is Citation November 3433 Sierra Tango.  I am declaring an emergency and requesting immediate clearance to land.”

 

“Roger, 33 Sierra Tango.  What’s your emergency?” the air traffic controller queried nervously.

 

“I’ve lost an engine.”

 

“We’re rolling emergency vehicles now,” the controller responded calmly.  “You are cleared for any runway you need.”

 

Despite feeling the plane drop as I’d made the necessary control adjustments immediately after the big bang, I’d managed to keep our precipitous plunge from the heavens to a minimum and I felt pretty good seeing that we’d settled in at 790 feet on my next check of the instruments.  Of course, all of our stomachs were still back up at 870 and I wasn’t sure if we’d get them back just yet, if ever.

 

I turned to Clarence and asked, “You heard?”  After a quick nod from him, I continued, “Do me a favor while I try to sort this mess out, then.”

 

“Anything,” he replied anxiously.

 

“Yell back and let them know we’ve lost an engine but will be okay.  I need to ensure there aren’t any other issues that will make taking us on down any more hazardous than it already is.” 

 

While he did that for me, I first confirmed the starboard engine was completely shut down and there were no more concerns about a fire.  The absolute last thing I wanted to have happen would be an explosion since the fuel tanks were still very full.  While the port engine was doing an admirable job at keeping us in the air, I noticed we’d lost another twenty feet of altitude, so I bumped the throttle up another notch and retrimmed the controls to make it easier to maintain a level flight.  Thankfully, with both engines on either side of the tail, the CJ4 is very well-balanced and easy to control with only one engine providing thrust.

 

Feeling confident that there was nothing more of major immediate concern, I took my time to verify everything else was still in proper working order.  After a thorough review of the remaining systems and controls, I felt reassured that our landing would be successful.  It was time to update air traffic control, so I got back on the radio.

 

“Springfield control, 33 Sierra Tango with an update.”

 

“Go ahead,” was the immediate response.

 

“Starboard engine is out.  Port engine is operational.  We’re coming straight in on four.”

 

“Understood, 33 Sierra Tango.”

 

“Cross your fingers, buddy,” I commented as I reached for the throttle lever for the one operating powerplant and pulled it back.  With our airspeed and altitude dropping, I waited until we were slow enough to deploy the flaps that would help keep us in the air at a lower speed.  Our descent slackened considerably with the flaps extended and we were now flying slow enough that we seemed to be clawing our way through the skies.

 

As we drew closer to touchdown, I made continual minor adjustments to the throttle and controls to keep us lined up and gradually losing altitude.  We glided over the threshold at twenty-five feet above the concrete and I allowed the plane to steadily settle until we were safely back on solid ground.  I actuated the brakes with a fervor as I pulled the single throttle all the way off.  Once slowed down to a speed that I could make a turn without going for another wild ride, I angled the plane onto the nearest taxiway where we gently came to a complete stop.

 

Ignoring the checklists for once, I shut everything down while Clarence unbuckled himself and climbed from his seat.  By the time I was ready to switch off the battery and exit the cockpit, he already had the cabin door open and was hustling everyone out onto the tarmac with further instructions to form a group on the grass out of the way of the rapidly approaching emergency vehicles.

 

By the time my feet actually touched the asphalt where Annabelle had been brought to an ignominious halt, the boys were hauling ass across the taxiway to the nearest patch of grass they could reach, Daril and Arley leading the pack and urging the others to move faster.  Clarence and Arlene were bringing up the rear of the parade and while not running like their hair was on fire as the boys were, they were still moving much faster than normal.  Before I could join them, the first emergency vehicle pulled to a stop near the tail of the plane.

 

The driver jumped out and yelled, “Is everyone okay?”

 

“Except for our wits, I think so,” I yelled back in response, a little tremble in my voice as it finally sunk in just how lucky we’d been.

 

“Thank God for small favors,” he replied as he drew closer.  “Name’s Bryan Evans,” he introduced himself while extending a hand for the obligatory handshake.

 

“Max Sanders,” I replied while joining the ritual.

 

“Damn fine piece of flying, there, Mr. Sanders.  First time we’ve had to roll out for a private jet in a long time.  Any idea what took out your engine?”

 

“I’m pretty sure it was a bird strike.  I saw something whiz past the windscreen on the right-side just before all hell broke loose.”

 

“Ya gotta love these Citations,” Bryan commented offhandedly while patting the wingtip as if he were petting a friendly pooch.  “They take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”  Bryan turned in the direction of the FBO and added, “Here comes one of the guys from the FBO with a tug to get your plane towed out of the way.  We have another flight coming in soon and need to clear the taxiway.”

 

“No problem.  Thanks for being available in case you were needed,” I commented.

 

“Just doin’ our job,” Bryan offered nonchalantly.  “Thanks to you for bringing some excitement into our otherwise dreary and boring day.”

 

“Glad we could help break the monotony for you,” I chuckled before turning to join the rest of the family and moving on.  When I finally reached the rest of my crew waiting patiently in the grass, I asked the obligatory question, “Is everybody okay?”

 

“Hell no, we’re not okay!” Joey yelled angrily.

 

“You scared the shit out of us!” Alex quickly added before T.J. added his two-cents worth.

 

“Yeah, we all need showers and clean shorts!” the young lad loudly proclaimed with his usual straight-forward, damn the torpedoes aplomb.

 

Despite their language in the heat of the moment, my only reaction was to breathe a huge sigh of relief that nobody had been injured, then I began laughing my ass off.  I was quickly joined by everyone else in blowing off some steam and settling our minds.  When I turned back towards the plane, the FBO employee was hooking the tug to Annabelle’s nose gear to tow her the rest of the way to the hangar.

 

Arlene saw what was happening and called out, “Wait!  Our bags are still in there.”

 

Even with the noise created by the still running machine, the tug driver jumped in surprise and looked toward us, cupping a hand around his ear to help him hear better.  I started walking towards him while he headed our direction and the two of us met at about the halfway point.

 

“What was that?” Tyler asked.

 

“We still have some baggage on board we need to retrieve,” I replied.

 

“Oh, no problem.  I’m just towing her to your hangar.  Jeff will be here soon with the van to take you back to the office.  I’ll bring all your luggage in for you and you can grab it there.”

 

“Thanks, Tyler.”  I reached into my pocket, retrieved the key and while handing it over, added, “There are some bags in the tail and a briefcase in the cabin.”

 

“I’ll make sure to grab everything I find, Mr. Sanders, and bring it in to you as quickly as I can.” 

 

On that note, he headed back to his task.  With the severely injured Annabelle hooked up and ready to move, Tyler started the long drive back to the hangar where the engine would be pulled and repaired or replaced.  I noticed a light trail of smoke still exiting the rear of the now defunct engine and wondered what could be causing it as he pulled away.  As the emergency crews began to move out of the way and return to their garage, Jeff arrived with the FBO’s van to take us to their office.  The ride was a quiet one for once as everyone silently contemplated the multitude of possible endings our flight could have had, most of those scenarios ending in complete disaster.  Once Jeff parked the van next to our cars and came around to open doors for everyone, the boys and Arlene shuffled outside and glumly hovered around our transport home.

 

When it was down to just Clarence and me waiting to exit the vehicle, he quietly said, “Before you head for home, I need to have a quick chat with my client.”

 

“Oh crap, here comes the bad news,” I muttered.

 

“Not at all, Max.  George just wanted me to pass a few things on to Logan when we got back home, and since I hope I won’t have to see you again until your wedding, I’d like to take care of it now.”

 

“That should work okay,” I replied.  “I need to talk to Jeff inside for a bit, then figure out how I’m gonna stuff nine people and baggage into a car that’s designed to accommodate only eight.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he replied before quietly corralling the wild colt named Logan and heading inside so they could have their little chat before we went our separate ways.  The rest of us followed them and while I was having my own conversation with Jeff at the counter, the others occupied some comfortable chairs away from Clarence and Logan, waiting for Tyler to arrive with the plane so we could retrieve our baggage.

 

By the time I finished talking with Jeff, Tyler had pulled the plane into the hangar and joined us inside, all the baggage loaded onto a cart.  I gave Alex the key fob to the Flex so they could open up the car and get everything and everybody loaded inside it as best they could. 

 

After they left to solve that puzzle, Tyler said, “While I was retrieving your bags, our head mechanic climbed a ladder to take a closer look at your engine and he wanted me to give you this.”  He then unceremoniously presented me with a single grayish-brown feather that was about seven or eight inches long, cheeky smirk filling his face.  “You were on the money about it being a bird strike,” he grinned.  “You just took out one of the thousands of geese that move through the area this time of year on their way back to Canada.  Damn things are nothin’ but a nuisance,” he muttered with disgust.

 

“I’m guessing I’m not the first unfortunate pilot to find one,” I commented.

 

“Not by a longshot, Mr. Sanders.  You sure won’t be the last, either.  The wisp of smoke trailing from the back of your starboard engine is probably a chunk of the carcass still roasting itself.”

 

“Can it be repaired?” I asked.

 

“The bird?” he asked with a twinkle of humor in his eyes.  “Oh, hell no, that poor critter has most definitely been cooked and there ain’t no way you’re gonna bring it back,” he added with a laugh.

 

“You know what I’m talking about, smartass,” I retorted.

 

“Oh, you mean the engine?” Tyler grinned evilly.  “Some can, some can’t.  Just depends on how much damage was done when the sucker was ingested, chopped to bits and spit back out into the airstream.  We’ll let you know what we find once we get it pulled and have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb.”

 

“I’m sure I’m not gonna like what you have to tell me, but I’ll be waiting to hear from you,” I commented morosely.  “Thanks for everything, guys.  Hope the rest of your day is a bit quieter.”

 

“Thanks, Mr. Sanders,” Jeff replied.  “Have a safe trip back home.”

 

With a quick wave over my shoulder. I turned to find Clarence and Logan had finished their conversation and we were ready to hit the road for home.  After stepping outside, Logan shared a quick hug with his lawyer, then aimed himself towards the Flex and climbed into the crowded vehicle.  After sharing my own hug with Clarence, I joined the others in the Flex and settled into the driver’s seat.

 

Arlene was occupying the passenger seat, Daril, Logan and Arley filled up the middle row with Alex, Joey and Andy taking the back seat.  That left poor T.J. to ride in the very back with the bags Arlene and her boys brought with them.

 

“You gonna be okay back there, T.J.?” I asked with concern.

 

“Yeah, Dad.  It’s a little snug, but it was either me or Andy ‘cause everybody else is too big,” he replied.

 

“I’ll try to be careful on the way home to make sure you don’t bounce around too much.”

 

“Just miss that big-ass pothole in the driveway and I’ll be fine,” he snickered.

 

“I’ll do my best, buddy,” I replied with a little chortle.  With that settled, it was time to hit the road and bring this long day to a close.

 

 

Fearing Mike had shared way more with Paul than he should have, I hung my head in shame and muttered, “Oh crap, what have we done?”

 

“What!?” Paul retorted in surprise.  “No, no, you misunderstood.  I’m not upset with you and Max a bit, but with Mike’s parents for being such despicable excuses for human beings.  There’s absolutely no justification for the way they abused their son.”

 

I let go a silent sigh of relief the fifty caliber round aimed directly at my skull missed by a foot and our worst nightmare was not about to come true before slowly lifting my head, “You’ll get no argument from me on that,” I agreed.

 

“You and Max have been godsends to all these boys you’re taking in.  They’re finally getting the love and family they need and deserve, especially Mike.  He’s so lost and confused after what he went through, I’m amazed at how easily he’s integrated himself into your family.”

 

“Well, thanks for that, Paul.  We’re just trying to do the right thing for everybody involved.  Of course, Max started all this by himself, but I’m loving every moment of our lives together.  And we’ve seen the changes all the boys have gone through since becoming part of the family.  Mike is a lot more secure and outgoing than he was just a few short months ago.”

 

“Well, due to confidentiality rules, I can’t discuss any specifics with you of what we talked about, but I can say I noticed that during our conversation today.  Honestly, it’s hard to believe the young man I just talked to is the same one who lived with us for a few months.  He was never that chatty or gregarious.  And of course, then, he would never have dreamed about talking to me about his abuse like he did today.  So being a part of a loving and caring family is what’s helped turn him around.  You two keep up the good work and Mike will be just fine, as will all the others.”

 

“We’ll do our absolute best,” I assured him.

 

“I don’t doubt that one bit,” Paul agreed.

 

“So, I hope Mike wasn’t as blunt with you as he was when he told Max everything.”

 

“More so than I expected, but it still wasn’t anything I haven’t heard before, unfortunately,” Paul replied with disgust.  “Of course, you never expect to hear horror stories like that from a six-year-old.  I just wanted to scoop him up in my arms and hold him while he was sharing his story.”

 

“I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded that one bit.”

 

“No, probably not, but I have to retain at least a modicum of professional restraint, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  But if I was to ever cross that line with a patient, it would be with Mike simply because he was our son for a while, and we grew quite attached to him.”

 

“Did you ask Mike if he wants to talk with you some more?” I asked.

 

“Yes, and he agreed that it would probably be a good idea.  At least for a little while.  I’ve added him to my schedule for the next month, on Friday afternoons after he gets out of school.  Let’s see how that goes and we’ll continue past that time if Mike wants to.”

 

“Sounds like a good plan to me, Dr. Kirkland,” I agreed.  “We appreciate the help and will make sure he’s here, one way or another.”

 

“Glad you’re on board with it, Tom.  I know Mike’s in a much better place and has more peace of mind over what he went through, but he still needs some serious help to process his feelings towards his parents.”

 

“Will you be reporting this new information to the authorities?” I queried.

 

“As you well know, I’m required by law to do so.  Even though his parents have already been arrested and are being held in the county jail with a very high bail, the more fuel we can add to the fire for their trial on the abuse charges, the less likely it will be they ever see Mike again.”

 

“Oh, shit,” I mumbled.  “I hadn’t even thought about them going to trial.  Do you think Mike would have to testify?  I’m not sure he could do that.”

 

“It’s a definite possibility, I won’t lie to you.”

 

“Does Mike know that?” I asked with concern.

 

“I mentioned the possibility and he seemed to accept it without a problem.  You’d be surprised at what the new Mike is capable of dealing with.  I think he’d be just fine as long as he knows you, Max and his brothers have his back without any question.  And any judge or jury hearing that story coming directly from him, well, you can be sure hell will freeze over before either one of his parents are ever released.”

 

“Okay then.  I guess we’ll cross that bridge when and if we ever get there.”

 

“It’ll all work out just fine, trust me.”

 

“Oh, we do.  Well, I think we’ve taken up enough of your time today.  We should get going.”

 

“We’ll see you next Friday at four, then,” Paul replied as we left our chairs to move on.  I let him lead the way back to the kitchen where we found Mike sitting in Joy’s lap and the two were sharing a hug.  Paul let go with a quiet cough to let the pair know they had company and both looked up at us, smiles on their faces.

 

“Oh, hey, Pops.  We goin’ home now?” Mike asked.

 

“Not quite yet, buddy.  We have to drive up to Normal first.”

 

“How far is that?”

 

“About an hour,” I answered.

 

“Well, that don’t sound like much fun,” Mike grumbled.  “Why the heck we gotta go there?  I wanna get home to find out what happened to Logan.”

 

“We’re picking up a surprise for him.  I just hope Logan’ll be home when we get there,” I offered, still a bit miffed I hadn’t heard squat from Max about what had happened.

 

“Well, let’s get goin’ then.  I love surprises!” Mike squealed with glee as he slipped to the floor, grabbed my hand and started dragging me towards the front door.

 

“Um, aren’t you going to say thanks to Dr. Kirkland and your goodbyes?” I prodded the excited rugrat.

 

“Oh, yeah.”  Mike stopped, turned around and with a quick wave of his free hand, said, “Thanks for listening to me, Mr. Kirkland, see you next Friday.  And bye.  Love you both.”  Feeling that was all he needed, he turned back towards the front door and continued pulling me along behind him.

 

“Young man, that is not how we say goodbye, is it?” I admonished.  With that reminder, he stopped again, let go of my hand, and stalked back across the kitchen to give Paul and Joy a proper farewell hug.  With the hugs completed, though, he zipped back across the kitchen, grabbed my hand and we continued our rather hasty exit.  Our hosts were giggling at my predicament and offered a quick ‘see ya next week, guys’ to our backs.  “Thanks for everything,” I called out just as Mike was pulling the front door open and stepping outside, expecting me to pull it shut behind us.

 

“C’mon, Pops, you’re movin’ too slow,” Mike chastised me.

 

“All right, already,” I grunted.  “You hop in, get buckled up and we’ll hit the road.”  That was all it took for Mike to finally release his grip on me as he darted ahead and climbed in the Shelby.  By the time I joined him and settled into place, he was secured in the back seat and ready to roll.

 

As I was bringing the engine to life, Mike was bouncing with excitement as much his seatbelt would allow and begged, “What’s the surprise, Pops?  I wanna know.”

 

“You’ll find out when we get to Normal,” I replied while backing out of the drive.

 

“Oh, man, you’re no fun at all,” my passenger grumped.

 

“That’s not what you were saying in the shower the other night,” I retorted with a smirk.

 

“Well, no, you were a lot of fun then,” Mike giggled.  “Not so much now,” he added with a little pout.

 

“I’ll make it up to you, buddy,” I offered.

 

“You better,” he demanded as I pulled onto the interstate heading north.

 

 

The noise level in the car had returned to normal as everyone was in a good mood thanks to the simple fact we’d survived our trip back to Springfield.  I know Arlene tried to pull me into conversation several times along the way, but my mind was still too fractured to properly engage with her.  While I was piloting the car down the road safely enough, my brain was still at 870 feet in the air, churning over what had happened.  Logically, I knew there was nothing I could have done any differently to avoid that damn goose, but I couldn’t stop playing ‘what if’ scenarios repeatedly.  As distracted as I was, I probably shouldn’t have been driving.  I was very happy we didn’t see any deer while on the Old Jack as there was no doubt I would have added another poor critter to my kill tally today if one had come anywhere close to us.

 

I was still so unfocused after turning in our drive that I completely forgot about the damn hole to hell.  I somehow missed it with the front tires, but my luck, and T.J.’s, had obviously run out as the rear end of the car suddenly dropped six inches and then jumped right back out of the gouge in the rock.  Poor T.J. bounced off the roof of the vehicle with a yelp and landed in the back seat in his brothers’ laps.

 

“Dang it, Dad, didn’t I tell you to miss that thing!?” he screamed.

 

“Sorry, T.J., my bad,” I muttered.  “My mind was elsewhere.”

 

“Well, you better get it back in the car with rest of us …,” Joey began before Alex finished off the thought with, “… before you drive right through the dang garage door.”  That comment elicited a loud round of laughter from everyone and helped bring my attention back to the task at hand.

 

After negotiating the turn in the driveway that directs vehicles towards the house, I felt a light tap on my shoulder and Logan cautiously said, “Um, Dad?”

 

“Yeah, Logan, what’s up?” I replied.

 

“Well, I’m not trying to be a smart donkey or nothin’, but don’t forget to punch the button to open the door before you try to pull into the garage.”  Even more laughter filled the car and threatened to launch the glass roof into low orbit.

 

“Thank you, mister smarty-pants,” I retorted sarcastically just before reaching over my head and doing exactly what he suggested.

 

“Hey, you know me, old man, just tryin’ to be helpful,” he replied with a big grin and a giggle.

 

I slowed pulling onto the concrete apron and waited for the door to stop moving before pulling into the garage and shutting the car off, immensely thankful to finally be here and still in one piece, more or less.  As everyone extracted themselves from their seats and stepped out, the boys were leading the way into the house, Arlene, Daril and Arley following their lead and seeming to be a bit unsure of actually being welcome. 

 

As the sensational six-pack peeled off into their rooms, I called out, “You can get out of your nice clothes but don’t forget shorts.”

 

“Aren’t needed,” Alex yelled back from his room.

 

“Yes, they are,” I retorted, “OPR, remember?”

 

Logan was stepping out of the bedroom sans clothes and told me, “Naw, we’re okay, Dad.  On the trip back, we told ‘em all ‘bout us not wearin’ clothes at home and they don’t give a rat’s fuzzy behind.”

 

“Is that true, Arlene?” I asked.

 

“Yes, it’s fine with us.  My boys were much the same at that age, especially when swimming in the lake behind the house,” she answered.  “I think we’ll stay dressed, though, if that’s okay.”

 

“That’s fine,” I replied as the rest of the munchkins started coming back out of their rooms.  I can’t say I was surprised to see none of them were dressed.  “Well, make yourselves at home.  Once Tom and Mike get back home, we’ll have supper and then we can take you out to the farm and help get you settled in.”

 

“That sounds great, Max.  It’ll be nice to just kick back and decompress for a bit.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks.” 

 

“I don’t doubt it, but you’re safe now.  Logan, why don’t you show your aunt and cousins around the house?  I need to call Pops and let him know we’re home.”

 

“Sure thing, Dad.”

 

“Thanks, buddy.  I’ll be back out in a little bit.”

 

As he collected the three newcomers and led them back down the hallway to start with T.J., Mike and Andy’s bedroom, I continued across the house, making a brief stop in the kitchen to chat with Ron before continuing on to my study to place the call.

 

“Hey, Ron, we’re home,” I greeted him as I opened the fridge and snagged a cold Pepsi.

 

“I assumed as much, Max,” he retorted with a cheesy smirk.  “It was either the herd was here, or we were just the epicenter of an eight-point-five earthquake,” he added with a hearty laugh.

 

“Nothing quite that drastic,” I chuckled. 

 

“What’s the good news?” he quickly asked with serious concern.

 

“Logan’s here to stay, amigo, so you can quit worrying about him,” I answered with a big smile.

 

“Thank God for that,” Ron replied with a huge sigh of relief.

 

“Well, he really didn’t have a damn thing to do with it,” I retorted.  Dropping to a whisper to ensure nobody but Ron could hear me, I asked, “Were you guys able to get a bed set up for William?”

 

“What kind of lazy bums do you think we are ‘round here,” he asked indignantly.  “Of course, we did.  I just hope the kid’ll be okay sharing my room.”

 

“I hope so, too.  And I only asked because your door was closed.  I didn’t want to risk taking a peek inside in case one of the munchkins tried to go by at that instant.  You know how they are about something being different.”

 

“You ain’t lyin’ ‘bout that,” Ron snickered.  “But don’t you think at least three of them already know what’s happening.”

 

“Who knows?  None have mentioned it yet, so maybe we got lucky this time.”

 

“Yeah, fat chance of that,” Ron laughed.

 

“You heard anything from Tom?” I asked in a quick change of subject.

 

“Nary a peep.”

 

“Well, I’m gonna give ‘im a buzz and let him know we’re home.  Logan will probably be through shortly to introduce his aunt and cousins to ya,” I offered as I turned down the hall.

 

“Oh, crap,” Ron muttered, “Should I cover up?”

 

“According to the boys, it shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ll leave it up to you,” I called over my shoulder.  Ron’s question was quickly answered, though maybe not the way he would have preferred.  Just as I reached the study and opened the door, I heard Logan yell ‘Skinny!’ and Ron answered him with ‘Farm-boy!’ just as loudly.  With a wide grin of giddiness plastered on my face, I stepped inside and settled in at my desk to place my call.  After taking a big swig of my drink to wet the old pipes, I punched the speaker button on the phone and dialed the number.

 

Tom answered on the first ring with, “It’s about damn time you called!  Where the hell have you been?”

 

“Hi, hon.  Yeah, we’re fine, thanks for asking.  How ‘bout you two?” I retorted sarcastically.

 

“I’m sorry, Max,” he muttered in an apologetic tone, “I just thought you’d have called a long time ago.” 

 

In the background, Mike called out, “Hey, Dad!  Did Logan get to come home with you?”

 

“Yes, kiddo, he’s back where he belongs,” I answered.

 

“Yippee!!” he screamed with glee.

 

“Mike!” Tom started, “Please don’t yell in my ear like that.”  As I pictured Tom wiggling a finger in his damaged ear, I heard a quiet ‘Sorry, Pops’ before the big guy continued with, “So, the trip went well, then?”

 

“Well, except for trying to kill everyone on the way back home, yeah, it went just fine,” I replied.

 

“What!?” they both yelled.

 

“Um, yeah, as we were coming into Springfield and about to land, a flippin’ goose tried to impress the rest of its flock with his superior flying skills and decided to test its mettle against the plane.  Damn thing got sucked through one of the engines.  Both the goose and the engine lost that battle.  Thank god Annabelle’s got two of those things to keep her in the air.  Scared the ever-lovin’ crap outta everybody, let me tell ya.”

 

“Is everyone okay?” Tom asked with worry filling his voice.

 

“More or less.  The boys said they all needed showers and clean shorts when we got home, though.”

 

“I’d’ve needed a helluva more than that if I’d been with ya,” he chuckled.  “Say some electric paddles to get my heart started again.”

 

“Well, good thing you weren’t there, then, since we don’t have those on the plane, and I was too busy trying to keep us from crashin’ to use ‘em on you even if we did.  Of course, we’ll have to fly commercial if we want to go anywhere until the engine’s fixed.”

 

“How long will that take?” Tom queried.

 

“Not a clue.  Probably won’t find out until late next week.”

 

“We’ll deal with it, babe.  I’m just happy everyone’s back home and safe, especially Logan.  What about his aunt and cousins?”

 

“They’re here, too.  Logan was going to show them around while I called you.  We’ll take them out to the farm and get them settled in after supper.  Have you picked up William yet?” I asked.

 

“Not yet, we’re just pulling off the interstate and into Normal.  I need to get off the phone so I can listen to the navigation system.  I don’t want to get lost and be late.”

 

“Good plan, Bubba.  You guys be careful and let us know when you’re close, please.  Love you both.”

 

“We love you, too,” Tom replied.  “See y’all soon.”

 

After ending the phone call, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes for a minute or two to decompress from the excitement of the day.  Finally feeling ready to be sociable again, I crossed the hallway to change into some shorts and a t-shirt.  While Arlene and her sons said they’d be okay with the boys being nude, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t feel near as comfortable with me joining in.  Once presentable, I rejoined the rest of the family to get to know Logan’s relatives better and wait for Tom, Mike and William to come home.

 

 

As I headed south on Main Street, my back-seat passenger piped up with curiosity, “Hey, Pops, who’s William and why we gettin’ him?  Is he one of you or Dad’s friends?”

 

“No, he’s Logan’s brother, remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  You guys never said nothin’ ‘bout findin’ him.”

 

“That’s because we wanted him to be a surprise for Logan.  We don’t have a clue how T.J. and the twins haven’t picked up on our plans, but we’re glad they haven’t.”

 

“Or maybe they did and just kept their mouths shut.  For once, anyway.  Not that Joey really knows how to keep his big yapper closed,” Mike added with a giggle.

 

“Ya got that right, buddy,” I chuckled in agreement.

 

We located the detention center on the first attempt thanks to the satellite navigation unit built into the Shelby.  How I ever got by without that aid in my old clunker, I don’t know.  After finding an empty parking spot close to the administrative entrance, I shut the engine off and we got out of the car, Mike climbing over the console between the two front seats instead of waiting for me to flip the seatback forward for him.  He grabbed my hand and kept pace with me as we headed for the building’s entrance.

 

After stepping inside and over to the receptionist’s desk, I greeted him with, “Good afternoon, my name’s Tom Wright and I’m supposed to meet with the director before taking charge of one your residents for the weekend.”

 

“One moment, sir, and I’ll see if he’s available.”  After a quick phone call and short conversation, he came back with, “He says he’ll be ready for you by the time you reach his office.  Just head down that hallway and you’ll find him through the second door on the left,” he added while pointing the way.

 

“Thank you,” I replied before turning to follow his directions, Mike sticking to my side as if he’d been glued there.

 

“Oh, and a word of warning,” the receptionist called out in a stage whisper bringing us to a quick halt midway across the lobby.  After turning our attention back to the receptionist, he added, “If you want him to go along with your request, you should know he has a PhD and he takes that title very seriously.”

 

“Thanks for the heads up, I’ll try to tread lightly,” I smirked.  On that, Mike and I resumed our short trek across the lobby and down the hallway.  On reaching the office, I couldn’t help but grin at the name on the door and promptly decided to see just how stuck-up this gentleman was.  I gave the standard institutional gray metal door a sharp rap and waited until we heard a terse ‘come’.  Opening the door, we found Dr. Pompous ensconced behind the drab gray metal desk common to correctional facilities and I cheerily greeted him with, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  The artificial grin that had been plastered on his face evaporated in an instant, only to be replaced with an angry glare of displeasure at my choice of salutation.

 

My suspicions confirmed that the man was an insufferable egotist, I quickly added, “My name’s Tom Wright and I talked to your assistant director, Randy, a couple weeks ago about allowing a weekend furlough for one of your residents.”

 

“Did he give you the impression that we would allow such a thing?” Clayton growled in response.

 

“As a matter of fact, he did,” I answered while taking a seat in one of the chairs facing his desk and guiding Mike to the second one.  “Before you release the young man, I’d like to get some more information on him, please, just to have a good idea of who we’ll be taking care of the next few days,” I added in an attempt to shut down an outright refusal of the request.

 

“Well, I can’t help you much with that since I’ve only been here a few months and don’t know all our prisoners quite as well as I should.  Let me get Randy in here to see what he can tell us,” he replied in a slightly calmer tone of voice.  Punching the intercom button on his phone, he waited for Randy to answer and demanded, “Beecher, get your lazy ass in here and answer this man’s questions.”

 

“Right away, Doctor,” was the tense reply.  Five seconds later, a harried young man hustled into the office and took up a position next to the desk, assuming a stance that anyone familiar with military training would call ‘parade rest’.  “Yes, Doctor, how can I be of assistance?” he asked nervously.

 

With a dismissive flip of the hand in my direction, Clayton replied, “This is a Tom White.  He’s spouting some nonsense about us allowing a prisoner to have a little vacation, and he claims you said we’d allow it.”

 

I quickly interjected, “It’s Wright, sir, W-R-I-G-H-T, and it’s pronounced just like you’d say ‘right’ hand,” I commented directly while wiggling the appropriate appendage in the air to prove the point.  Mike giggled at my retort and a tight grin took over Randy’s face.

 

“Whatever,” Clayton grumped.

 

Randy quickly took over as he turned to face Mike and me and said, “Pleasure to meet you Mr. Wright.  I’m the gentleman you talked to, Randy Beecher.  As I recall, you were asking us to provide a furlough to William Campbell for a weekend.  Is that correct?”

 

“On the money, Randy.  And please, it’s Tom.  Oh, and this is one of my sons, Mike,” I added while hooking a thumb in the youngster’s direction.  Mike happily gave Randy a wave and his sweetest smile after the introduction.  “I was hoping you could give me a little more information about the young man before he’s released into my custody.”

 

“What would you like to know?” Randy cheerily replied.

 

“Well, we already know about most of the trouble he’s in after talking to you and his case worker, but I’d like to get whatever personal info you can share.”

 

“Well, like I told you already, the kid’s a smart-mouthed little punk with a humongous chip on his shoulders, thinks the world owes him everything while giving nothing in return.  Which, considering the number of different homes he’s been in the past fifteen years, really shouldn’t be a big surprise to anybody.”

 

“How many is that?” I asked with concern.

 

“Last count, twelve,” Randy answered with sadness.  “That’s what happens on occasion when you aren’t a healthy baby.  They’re placed in a home, the foster parents hope things smooth out and get better fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen with William.  He didn’t really get over his various health issues until he was almost five and ready to start school.  And once a kid gets to be that age, not many folks want to adopt them, so they just end up getting shuffled from placement to placement.  It’s a sad state of affairs, but that’s just the way is works sometimes.”

 

“Yes, I’m a bit familiar with that thanks to some information from the agency my fiancé and I are working with,” I commented.

 

“So, you’re not married?” Clayton asked.

 

“Not quite yet,” I answered.  “Our wedding is scheduled for May seventeenth and the adoptions of our six sons will happen right afterward.”

 

“Six!?” Randy exclaimed.  “And you think you want to add another one, especially one with issues like William has?  Are you nuts?”

 

“Well, as I told you when we talked, one of the boys we’re adopting is William’s biological brother.  It seems logical to Max and me that since William doesn’t have a forever family already, we’d like to see what we can do to help him out and give him the chance to learn about his mom, dad and the rest of his family.”

 

“Um, I hate to ask this, but is Max short for Maxine or something?” Randy queried nervously.

 

“It’s short for Maxwill,” I replied.  “Why do you ask?”

 

“Uh-oh,” Randy muttered glumly.

 

“Uh-oh what?” I quizzed the flustered man.

 

“That could be a problem, you bein’ gay and all.”

 

“Why should that be an issue?” I asked in all seriousness.  “The agency helping with the others doesn’t have a problem with us being gay.”

 

“Oh, it’s not a problem at all from our point of view, believe me,” Randy offered quickly, trying to placate me.  “The problem is going to be William.”  After a look of confusion filled my face, he continued, “One of the homes he was in for a couple of years was very religious and I’m afraid a major thing he took to heart and has maintained ever since is a rather virulent case of homophobia.  I just don’t see any way this could possibly work out.”

 

“Be that as it may,” I began, “we’d still like to try.  Who knows, once he’s actually met some gay people and sees we aren’t any different from him, he might change his attitude.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Randy scoffed dismissively.  “Good luck with that.”

 

“Well, why don’t you go get him and we’ll be on our way?” I offered.

 

Randy shot a quick glance to Clayton and after a curt nod in response to the unspoken question, he left the three of us alone.  I had Mike climb into my lap so there would be a chair available for William when he joined us and we sat in silence for five or so minutes before Randy returned, William in tow behind him, carrying a small bag of his belongings for the weekend.  Mike and I were a bit surprised as we watched him settle into the chair next to us, frown filling his countenance.

 

Despite supposedly being fifteen years old, you’d have a hard time believing it on first glance as William was much smaller than I’d anticipated.  He couldn’t have been an inch over five feet tall and weighed, maybe, 110 pounds.  His long black hair was down past his shoulders and pulled into a ponytail.  With the hair pulled back the way it was, the double piercings in each ear were quite obvious, one set of holes decorated with what I’m sure he hoped people would think was a diamond and the other pair filled with a simple silver ball stud.

 

His clothes looked to be well-worn hand-me-downs as his shirt and pants were much looser on him than they should have been.  The only part of his appearance that wasn’t surprising was his face.  If he were six years younger and just a tad bit smaller, he could be Logan’s twin. Providing, of course, you ignored dark fuzzy caterpillar attempting to make its presence known on his upper lip.  After giving us a few moments to gather our senses, Randy took care of the introductions.

 

“Tom, Mike, I’d like you to meet William Campbell.  William, this is Tom Wright and one of his sons, Mike.”

 

“Yeah, so what?” the young man grumbled in response.

 

“This is the gentleman I told you may consider adopting you if this weekend goes well,” Randy replied with a smile.

 

“Big whoop, just another loser who’ll bring me back first chance he gets,” William retorted angrily.  “Why you wastin’ my time with this crap?” he added while looking to Mike and me.

 

“Because that’s what my fiancé and I do, we help kids who need it.  And we’d like to help you, too, if you’ll let us.”

 

“Yeah, c’mon dude,” Mike interjected cheerfully.  “We’ll have lots of fun this weekend.”

 

“But why me?” he asked, confusion filling his few words.

 

“Well, one of the boy’s we’re in the process of adopting is your brother.”

 

“What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout, mister?  I ain’t got no brother,” he protested loudly in a higher pitched voice than you’d normally expect to hear from a kid his age.

 

“Yes, you do, William, and he’d like to finally meet and get to know you,” I replied.  “By the way, do you prefer William or something else?”

 

“The few kids ‘round this hole that I kinda like all call me Will.”

 

“Then, Will it is,” I agreed as I extended my hand.  It took a few seconds, but he tentatively latched on and we shared a civil, if perfunctory, shake.  “Are you ready to go?” I asked when we let go of each other.

 

“You’re really serious ‘bout this?” Will asked in surprise.

 

“I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t.”  I turned to Clayton and asked, “Do I need to fill out any paperwork to have Will released into my custody until Monday?”

 

“Oh, you’ll bring the little snot back, I’m sure of that, Tom,” Clayton retorted with attitude as Randy rolled his eyes at his boss’ answer.  I watched Will shrink into his chair a little on that comment.

 

“Randy, would you do me a favor and wait by the front door with the boys?” I asked.

 

“Sure, let’s go you two,” he answered, happy to be out of Clayton’s sight.

 

Once the three were on their way and safely out of earshot, I glared at Clayton and asked, “Could I offer you a little bit of friendly advice?”

 

“I can’t stop you from giving it, doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to it.”

 

“Why am I not surprised by that?” I commented before adding, “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Nastiness works, but friendly persuasion achieves better results’?

 

“Never.  Just what are you insinuating by that?”

 

“I’m not insinuating a damn thing you pompous ass, I’m flat out stating it.  You may have a PhD, but it’s one of those useless pieces of scrap paper that means nothing more than ‘Piled Higher and Deeper’.  You obviously don’t know a flippin’ thing about working with people.  You treat your subordinates and residents like dirt simply because they don’t have the education you have, and you don’t believe you should be forced to share the same space with such lowly individuals. 

 

“Lording that over the people around you will do nothing but instill resentment and anger in them.  And if you keep it up, one of two things will eventually happen.  Either you’ll be fired for creating a toxic work environment, or everyone else who works here will quit because they got tired of your never-ending ego trip.  And once that happens, you’ll still be fired.”  I stood to make my exit, then turned back around and added, “Oh, and one more thing, it’s Mr. Wright to you, Clayton.”

 

While the man was too stunned at my rant to formulate a response, I beat a hasty retreat and soon enough, was bearing down on the trio patiently waiting by the exit for me.  As I strode across the lobby, I said, “Randy, thanks for your help in making this happen.  We’ll have Will back by noon Monday.  Boys, let’s get while the gettin’s good,” I added with a grin.  On that note, I grabbed Mike’s hand with my right, Will’s bag with my left and we headed out into the sunny afternoon, Will following along like a lost puppy dog.

 

Once outside, I handed the key fob to Mike and said, “Go ahead and saddle up pardner, we’ll be right there.”  As soon as he was gone, I laid my hand on Will’s shoulder and commented, “I hope you’ll give us a fair chance this weekend.”

 

“I’ll think about it, but don’t hold your breath, mister,” he grumped.  “I still don’t get why you’re doing this.  Nobody’s wanted me the last fifteen damn years, why should I think this time will turn out any different?”

 

“Because Max and I have made it our mission to help as many kids as we can and now it’s your turn to have something good in your life,” I answered.  While surprise showed on his face on hearing Max’s name, he kept any possible thoughts he was having to himself.  On reaching the car, I handed his bag back to him and said, “Toss this in the back seat with Mike and get buckled in the passenger seat.  We’ll be home in about an hour and a half.”

 

Once we were settled in, it was time to hit the road.  After getting back on the interstate and heading the right direction, I set the cruise control at seventy-four and let the computer take over that minor task.  I knew if I didn’t, my right foot that seems to be full of lead when driving the Shelby would have us well over a hundred in no time and I really wasn’t looking forward to trying to talk my way out of an expensive speeding ticket.

 

I glanced over at my moody and sullen front seat passenger and asked, “Did you bring a swimsuit with you, Will?”

 

“Yeah, right,” he grunted.  “Like they ever let us go anywhere I could use one.”

 

“So, that’s a no?” I asked.

 

“Well, duh!!  Why would I have one if I got nowhere to wear it?”

 

“What do ya think, Mike?” I asked while looking in the rear-view mirror.

 

“ ‘Bout what, Pops?”

 

“Making a quick stop at Walmart so we can get Will something to wear in the pool.  I’m sure we’ll go swimming at least once the next couple of days, don’t you?”

 

“You bet we will, but why don’t he just go naked like the rest of us?” Mike asked nonchalantly.

 

“What!?” Will croaked in surprise as he spun around as far as he could and gawked at Mike.

 

“Yeah, dude.  Since we don’t wear nothin’ at home anyways, it’d be stupid to pull on shorts or a swimsuit to jump in the pool.”

 

“What the hell kinda perverted zoo you takin’ me to, mister?” Will demanded.

 

“Not a zoo, really, but more of a ranch, as we like to call it.  And definitely not perverted, just different,” I replied.

 

“ ‘Sides, what’s the big deal?” Mike asked bluntly.  “You’re a dude, right?  And just like all us other dudes, you gotta dick, right?  So, you ain’t got nothin’ we ain’t seen before.”

 

“Well, you sure as hell ain’t gonna be seein’ mine,” Will retorted.

 

“Whatever, ya big chicken,” Mike clucked before asking, “Hey, Pops, can I ask ya somethin’?”

 

“Sure, buddy, any time, you know that.”

 

“What’s that homo-whatever that one guy was talkin’ ‘bout?”

 

“Guess we’ve never talked about that, have we?  Well, a homophobe is a person who doesn’t like gay people simply because we’re gay.”

 

“So, this fool kid don’t like us just ‘cause we like guys and not girls.  Guess he ain’t gonna have much fun this weekend then, is he?” he added with a giggle.

 

“Well, that’s what Randy said, but I guess we’ll find out in due time.  I asked Will to give us a chance and we’ll do the same for him, so don’t write him off just yet, okay?”

 

“Yeah, all right,” Mike agreed.

 

“Tell ya what, mister,” Will started, “y’all keep your hands to yourselves and don’t try to fuck me and we’ll get along just dandy.”

 

“Hey!  You can’t say that!” Mike yelled.

 

“What?”

 

“The f-word, dude.”

 

“I can say whatever the hell I want,” Will argued.

 

“Actually, Max and I would really appreciate it if you at least tried to control your language,” I commented.  “We’re trying to break some bad habits with the boys before they get too ingrained.”

 

“Whatever, man,” he grumped as he turned to gaze out the window at the empty fields.

 

Sensing that our conversation had just come to an abrupt end, I punched the button on the steering wheel to activate the phone and told Sync to call home.  When Ron answered, I let him know we were on the way but were going to stop at Walmart to pick a few things for Will before coming on home.  He assured me he’d pass the word on to Max as soon as he could wedge a word into the multiple conversations going on in the background.  That handled, I ended the call and we continued our trek in silence.

 

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