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Chapter 91 – Will Settles In

 

I was prepared to answer whatever questions Tom might have thrown at me when I finally reached our bedroom, but he was already curled up under the covers and motionless.  After a quick stop in the bathroom, I crawled into bed with my furry teddy bear, whispered, “Night, hon, love ya”, then wrapped my arms around his chest and curled up behind him.  I wasn’t sure if he was actually asleep or just faking it, but I wasn’t going to press the issue at the moment and quickly zoned out.

 

I awoke Saturday morning when I felt the big guy wriggle out of my grasp, slip off the bed and listened to him quietly pad into the bathroom.  When I finally opened my eyes, I found the room flooded with bright sunlight that seemed to bring the promise of a much calmer day than last night had been.  That was my most fervent hope, anyway.  As usual, though, we’d just have to wait and see how events unfolded throughout the day.

 

“Sorry, I tried not to wake you,” Tom offered when he returned and found me sitting up in the middle of the bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

 

“No problem, hon.  It’s time to get moving, anyway.  We’ve got a busy day ahead of us,” I replied.

 

“Not too busy that we won’t have time to talk to Will, I hope,” he retorted testily.  “He really needs to chill out or T.J.’s gonna have a lousy birthday party this evening.”

 

“I think you’re gonna find he’s a little different this morning,” I commented.

 

“And just what makes you think that?” Tom asked, the sarcasm dripping from his words.  I spent the next several minutes filling him in on what had transpired between Will and me after he’d left me alone in the hallway last night.  When I finally finished my narration, he murmured, “Well, shit, now I feel like a complete ass.  I was downright nasty to the kid last night after putting up with his snotty attitude since picking him up.”

 

“I don’t really blame you for that, but you might think about telling him you’re sorry.”

 

“I will if he will,” the big goof smirked with a chortle.

 

“Better start practicing your mea culpa, then,” I cracked, “ ‘cause I’m pretty sure you’re gonna have to follow through.”

 

“Shall we go find out?” he asked.

 

With a simple nod from me, it was my turn to visit the bathroom before we pulled on shorts and headed out to the kitchen to see what Ron was fixing for breakfast this morning.  As soon as we stepped into the hallway, we noticed it was a lot quieter in the house than we were used to and we shared a quick look of concern as to what that could possibly mean for the day ahead.  Moving into the kitchen, we found Ron hard at work whipping up a breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs and biscuits.  Most obvious, though, was the lack of the regular kibitzers on the stools at the bar counter.  We both took a quick moment to pour ourselves a cup of steaming fresh coffee before beginning our search for the sensational six-pack.  Um, wait, we may need to update that to the super seven.

 

While we prepared our morning caffeine infusion, Ron asked, “Um, did I miss a meeting?”

 

“What’re you talkin’ ‘bout?” Tom replied.

 

“What’s with the shorts, guys?  And should I pull some on, too?”

 

“Oh, that,” I replied.  “We just thought Will might feel a little less uncomfortable if we covered up.”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess I can understand that.  I’ll grab a pair in a minute.”

 

“So, what’s the scoop this morning, Ron?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah, where’s the peanut gallery?” I added.

 

“I suggest you check the living room, again,” he replied flatly as he gave the eggs a quick stir.  “And tell the rugrats it’s time to set the table when you do.  Please and thank you,” he quickly added with a grin.

 

“Will do,” Tom replied.

 

While Ron zipped across the house to retrieve a pair of shorts, we wrapped our hands around the warm mugs and turned for the living room.  Crossing the entry and heading towards the fireplace, we could see the backs of five heads and momentarily wondered what they were doing and where the other two munchkins were.  Our confusion was cleared up when we reached the coffee table whose top was partially hidden beneath the bare behinds of Alex, Joey, T.J., Mike and Andy.  All five were staring at the couch and quietly giggling at the scene that held their undivided attention.

 

Though a blanket was over them, it was sweet to see Logan snuggled in tightly behind his older brother, his chin stuck between Will’s shoulder blades.  And despite the comforter, it was obvious one of Logan’s arms was draped over Will and we could only assume the other was wrapped underneath.

 

T.J. was the first to sense our presence and he turned towards us before whispering, “Look familiar, Dads?”

 

“That it does,” Tom grinned before adding, “Ron says he’s ready for you guys to set the table.  Why don’t you get busy while we get these two moving in the right direction?”

 

“Oh, man, we always miss out on the fun,” Joey whined in protest.

 

“I’m sure Will and Logan don’t want to know they had an audience watching them sleep,” I commented.

 

“But they look so cute like that,” Andy retorted while pointing to the still snoozing duo.

 

“Yeah, we wanna see their faces when they see us staring at them,” Mike added.

 

“Next time, kiddos,” Tom replied.  “Now scoot, we’re hungry,” he added as his gut gurgled loudly.

 

As the five munchkins headed towards the kitchen, we took their places on the table and were completely flabbergasted at the sight before us.  After the brouhaha of last night, I would have bet almost anything that we’d never get these two in the same room again.  To find the duo curled up on the couch together was a complete surprise.  A pleasant one, for sure, but we were still flummoxed by this new and sudden development.  Tom was just about to shake Will’s shoulder to get the brothers awake when there was a loud crash from the kitchen that jolted Logan and Will from their peaceful slumber.

 

“Aw, dang it!” T.J. grumbled in the background.

 

“Whu … what the hell was that?” Will squeaked in fear as his eyes snapped open and he tried to sit up, a move thwarted by Logan’s tight grasp.  When he realized he was being restrained, he quickly added, “Where am I and why can’t I move?”

 

“You’re on the couch in the living room and Logan’s holding onto you,” Tom answered calmly in the hope Will would relax a bit.

 

After focusing on the source of the voice, Will visibly chilled and breathed, “Oh, mornin’, Tom.  Hi, Max.”

 

“Mornin’ to you, too, buddy,” I replied.  “You ready for breakfast?”

 

“Soon as I hit the john,” he grinned sheepishly.  “That Pepsi from four this morning has my back teeth runnin’ motorboat races.”  As Tom and I chuckled at his joke, Will thrust an elbow into Logan’s gut and called over his shoulder, “Wake up, goofball!”

 

“I’m awake, dingleberry,” Logan retorted angrily.  “What the big idea punchin’ me in the gut?”

 

“I gotta go, man,” Will whimpered in anguish before asking, “And do I really wanna know what’s pokin’ me in the ass?”

 

“Whut the heck you think it is, ya nincompoop?” Logan cracked.  “It’s first thing in the mornin’ and I gotta pee.  And if you don’t get the heck outta my way, like real quick-like, well, you get my drift?”

 

“Yeah, I got it but I can’t freakin’ move, bonehead, not with the way you’re holdin’ me,” Will complained.

 

“Well, ‘scu-u-u-use me,” Logan drawled before throwing the comforter to the floor and releasing his grip on his older brother.

 

“Thank you, Jesus!” Will exclaimed with relief as he rolled off the couch, jumped to his feet and made a beeline for a bathroom, Logan hot on his heels in high-speed pursuit.  Tom and I were both giggling at the pair as we picked up the blanket and began to fold it.

 

“Well, that looks promising,” I commented.

 

“Heck of a lot better than what I expected to find this morning,” Tom agreed.  “You think they got it all hashed out?”

 

“They obviously got some things resolved between them, but I seriously doubt they covered it all.  Not in just one night, anyway.  But it’s a good start.  I hope it is, anyway.”

 

“We’ll find out.  I guess you were right about me having to apologize to Will.”

 

“Oh, that was a given, hon,” I grinned.  “I have two very simple rules you should have figured out long before now.  One, I’m always right, and two, when you think I’m not, refer back to rule number one.”

 

“Yes, sir!” Tom laughed as he dropped the blanket on the couch, snapped to attention and tossed me a half-assed salute before we aimed ourselves for the kitchen.  Joining the others already there, he asked, “Who dropped what?”

 

T.J. raised his hand and answered, “It was me.  I’d just gotten the plates from the cabinet and turned to get ‘em on the table when I bumped into Andy.”

 

“Well, if you’d watch where you’re going, it wouldn’t’a happened,” Andy protested, thinking T.J. was trying to throw him under the bus.

 

“Hey, I’m not blaming you,” T.J. fired back immediately.

 

“Sure sounded like it to me,” Andy retorted angrily.

 

“It was just an accident, boys,” I offered trying to calm the storm that was brewing.  “As long as nobody got hurt, it’s not worth fighting about, is it?”

 

“How many of them broke,” Tom asked.

 

“None, thankfully,” Ron answered.  “If they weren’t Corelle, though, it could’ve been pretty ugly, what with all those sharp shards and bare feet in here.”

 

“See, no harm, no foul,” I offered.  “I hope you got clean ones for us to use,” I joked.

 

“Well, more or less.  All us guys got new ones, but there weren’t enough for everyone so you, Pops and Ron got dirty ones from the floor,” T.J. cracked.  “All the others are already in the dishwasher,” he added with an evil smirk.

 

“No way I’m eatin’ off a dirty plate, young man,” Tom protested lightheartedly.  “I’m tradin’ mine for yours since you dropped ‘em, T.J.”

 

“I was just kiddin’, Pops,” T.J. countered.  “They’re all clean, I swear.”

 

“We know that, son,” I interjected.

 

“How?” Andy queried.

 

“Do you really think Ron would allow a dirty plate to get anywhere near his table?” I asked the crew.  “Even we know that would never happen.”

 

“You got that right,” Ron agreed emphatically.  “Now, where’s the other two rugrats?  Food’s ready.”

 

“Bathroom, should be here any second,” Tom answered just as the brothers rounded the corner, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders as if they were best buds.

 

“Yo, skinny, where’s the grub?” Logan asked with a smirk.

 

“Yeah, c’mon, dude, were starvin’,” Will quickly added with his own cheeky grin.

 

“Don’t get your panties in a wad, you two.  By the time you get your butts to the table, the food’ll be there,” Ron retorted sarcastically.

 

With that, the race was on as all seven boys hustled to the table with Ron following closely behind, carrying a large bowl of scrambled eggs and a platter filled with enough sausage and bacon to feed a cub scout troop.  Tom grabbed the biscuit-filled baskets while I retrieved the honey from the cabinet, and grape and apple jellies from the fridge to round out this morning’s menu.  With everyone seated, the feeding frenzy began in earnest.  It was nice to see Logan and Will had decided to sit together at the end of the table.  What made that unexpected development even more enjoyable was the big smiles plastered across both their faces as they shoveled food from their plates into their gaping maws.

 

Logan was the first to say anything when he turned to Ron and commented, “By the way, Bozo, I ain’t wearin’ no panties.  Never have and never will.”

 

“Me, either,” Will pitched in.  “These’re called boxers, ya goofball.”

 

“Geez, don’t you two know what a joke is?” Ron asked defensively.

 

“Yeah, it’s something said or done to make somebody laugh,” Will answered seriously.  “I learned that in, like, fourth or fifth grade.  So, for it to be a joke, it has to be funny and people have to laugh.”

 

“And in case you missed it, nobody laughed ‘cause it weren’t funny,” Logan added.

 

“Well, excu-u-u-use me.  Not my fault y’all didn’t see the humor.  I thought it was funnier than hell, ‘specially since six of ya don’t have a stitch on.”

 

“Well, you were wrong, Ron,” Joey chipped in with agreement from the rest of the munchkins.

 

“Yeah, maybe you should watch some comedy shows sometime and see how the pros do it,” Alex kidded to a round of laughter from everyone.

 

“See, Ron, now that was funny,” T.J. giggled.

 

While Ron fake pouted at being raked over the coals, I looked to Logan and Will at the far end of the table and waded into the conversation with, “Um, at the risk of reigniting the fuse from last night’s pyrotechnics, you two seem to have figured some things out.”

 

“Oh yeah, we’re cool, Dad,” Logan replied.

 

“How’d that come about?” Tom asked.

 

“Well,” Will began, “after everybody but the two of us went to sleep, we spent half the night talkin’ since neither one of us could shut our brains down.”

 

“Must’ve been a heck of a chat,” Tom commented.

 

“I guess it was,” Will agreed.  “He told me ‘bout our Mom and Dad, what it was like growin’ up on the farm, helpin’ out and everything.  I really feel like I kinda know them now even though we never had the chance to really meet after I was born.  It sounds like they were really good people who both died way too soon,” he added with a touch of sadness.

 

“Yeah, we need to go out to the storage building today or tomorrow so I can grab the picture albums out there.  Will wants to see what they looked like,” Logan interrupted.

 

“We can do that,” Tom agreed.

 

“What else did you talk about?” I asked.

 

“Pro’lly be a shorter list of what we didn’t,” Logan chuckled.

 

“Yup,” Will nodded.  “He told me all about all you guys, where you came from, how everybody ended up here together, and a whole lot more.”

 

“Um, what exactly does that ‘whole lot more’ mean?” Tom queried nervously.

 

“Probably more than he should’ve,” Will admitted quietly, suddenly becoming extremely interested in the contents of his plate. 

 

I looked to Logan and found him doing the same thing, forcing me to prod him with, “Really, young man?  You want to explain what Will means by that?”

 

“Well, I told him ‘bout ever’one here but me and Andy bein’ gay, though he’d already figgered that out for hisself, Alex and Joey havin’ boyfriends, our grandparents, aunt and uncles including Dylan and Malcom, Mr. Burton and what he’s doin’ here, and all the fun we have together swimmin’ and, uh, doin’ other things.  I think that’s all of it,” Logan added as he looked to Will for confirmation.

 

Will glared at Logan and replied, “Well, there was that other thing, too.”

 

“What other thing?” Logan asked while attempting to look like a complete innocent.  After Will rolled his eyes and poked his brother in the ribs, Logan jumped at the physical prodding and muttered, “Oh yeah, that.”  Logan then looked back to Tom and me and added, “Um, I also told him ‘bout, uh, …,” he began before trailing off into an incoherent mumble.

 

“ ‘Scuse me, we didn’t quite catch that last bit at this end of the table,” Tom grumbled.

 

“We didn’t get it in the middle either,” T.J. volunteered.

 

“Fine!” Logan vented.  “I also told him ‘bout how much you and Dad, like, really, really, really love us.”  At that point, both boys became engrossed in the floor as they ducked their heads in an attempt to avoid the tongue lashing they knew was coming their way.  Before Tom or I could even begin to formulate a response to his crossing way over the line, Logan looked back up and added, “Hey, if he thinks he wants to live here with the rest of us, he should know ‘bout ever’thing, shouldn’t he?  All I did was tell Will the truth when he was asking ‘bout stuff.”  On finishing one of the weakest defense arguments I’ve ever heard, Logan resumed his previous interest in the floor.

 

That thought suddenly stopped the two of us in our tracks.  We looked to each other for just a few moments, and though we’ve not yet reached the level of proficiency the twins had in direct mental communication, more than enough information was passed between us to realize Logan was right.  Of course, that realization didn’t completely erase our displeasure with him sharing more than he should have, but it did help mollify our reaction somewhat.  Tom and I shared a quick nod and he gave me a wave of a hand to let me handle the issue.  I held onto my tongue for about a minute to let the two stew on just how much trouble they were in, though it was really only Logan who was looking at any punishment for his transgression.  It certainly wasn’t Will’s fault his little brother had opened his big mouth and spewed forth instead of stuffing a foot into that opening and keeping certain things to himself.

 

“Okay, you two, while that info should have come from Tom and me, we understand why you told Will about that part of our lives.”  We watched as a wave of relief washed over both lads as they lifted their heads back up and smiled widely.  “Don’t be too happy about that, though,” I continued.  “Just because we understand why, it doesn’t mean you aren’t in trouble, young man.”  The smiles disappeared just as quickly as they’d appeared.  “We’ve already done one week of punishment and since that didn’t seem to have the proper impact on you, I guess we’ll have to try for two weeks this time.”

 

“Two weeks!?” Logan squeaked while our others looked very relieved to not be included.

 

“Yup,” Tom answered.  “We’ll see if you can learn the lesson this time around.”

 

“Oh, man, that stinks,” he grumbled under his breath.

 

“Does that go for me, too?” Will asked nervously.

 

“Nope, you’re in the clear, Will,” Tom replied.  “Logan knows better than to share that with anyone outside this house.”

 

“But he’s in the house, Dads,” Logan complained.

 

“Well, lots of other people have been in this house before like Lee, Carl, your grandparents and others, but do they know what you told Will last night?” I asked.

 

“Well, no,” Logan admitted.

 

“And why don’t they?” Tom quizzed the youngster.

 

“So nobody goes to jail and we get to stay here,” Logan replied.

 

“Exactly.  Hopefully, you’ll learn something and we won’t have to deal with this ever again.  From any of you, got it?” I quickly added while pointing a finger in a circle around the table to the other six boys. 

 

“Yeah, all right,” Logan moaned in defeat.  “Can I just ask one tiny favor, though?”

 

“You can ask …,” Tom replied flatly.

 

“Can I start tomorrow ‘stead o’ today?”

 

“I guess, but why wait?” I asked.

 

“So I ain’t the only idiot wearin’ clothes at T.J.’s party tonight.”

 

“Hey, I’m not an idiot!” Will protested, punching his brother on the shoulder.

 

“That’s not what I meant, dude.  I just know if I’m the only one wearin’ clothes, there’s gonna be a ton o’ questions from ever’body ‘bout why I’m in trouble again.  Pretty sure you don’t want me messin’ up and tellin’ anybody else the truth, do ya?” he asked Tom and me, a tinge of hope in his voice.

 

We shared another quick glance and must have agreed with Logan’s logic since Tom answered his query with, “Yeah, we can live with that.  But I think we’ll need to add a day to the end to make up for the delay.”  I quickly nodded my agreement to that suggestion.

 

“Fine!” Logan grunted with disgust.  “Fifteen days, then, but not a minute longer.”

 

“Can I ask a question?” Will posited.  After a moment’s hesitation, he plowed on without waiting for an answer.  “So, ‘round here, if you get in trouble, your punishment is you have to wear clothes?”

 

“Yes, and it seems to be fairly effective,” I answered.  “Most of the time, anyway.  Occasionally, an extended refresher course is required to drive home the point, such as in this instance.”

 

“That’s a whole lot better than gettin’ locked up in solitary,” Will commented.  “ ‘Course, what would you do to me since I’m still wearin’ my boxers?”

 

“Well, in that case, I think a week or two without clothes would be appropriate.  What do you think, boss?” Tom asked while looking to me with a crooked smirk on his face.  Will blanched at the thought of losing even his minimal coverage.

 

“Yeah, that works for me, too,” I agreed with a laugh and everybody let go a little giggle at the idea.  Well, everybody but poor Logan.  Looking back to Will, I asked, “So, now that you already know about something you would have eventually discovered anyway, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that bit of news and how it might affect your decision to live with us.”

 

“You mean about you and Tom doin’ sex things with these guys?” he asked quietly.  After a quick nod from me, he continued, “Well, I shoulda been surprised, but after some o’ the stuff I’ve seen happen in juvie, I can’t really say I was.”

 

“Why’s that?” Tom asked.

 

“Some of the guards do things with some of the other boys in there, and those dudes usually get some sorta special privileges or somethin’ for goin’ along with it without a fight.  The que…, uh, gay kids don’t seem to mind it too much, though, I guess ‘cause they’re gay and like playin’ ‘round with other guys, anyways, even if they are way older.  But for the ones who aren’t gay, they flippin’ hate it when it’s their turn.  And most all the guards that do it are really pretty good about listenin’ to the kid they’re with and, stupid as this sounds, bein’, uh, ‘nice’ about it?  Like if you don’t wanna do somethin’, they won’t force you into it.  Or so I’ve been told.”

 

“From our talk last night, I know none of the other boys has ever assaulted you sexually, but you didn’t say anything about the guards.  Has any of them ever attacked you that way?” I asked with concern.

 

“Luckily, no.  I think I’m too small for any of ‘em to want to,” Will answered.

 

“Yeah, we noticed that,” Mike giggled.

 

“Big deal, I’m short.  If that keeps me safe from those sick perverts, I’m glad.”

 

“Um, pretty sure that’s not what he was gigglin’ ‘bout, dude,” Alex smirked.

 

Will immediately flushed pink and muttered, “Sheesh, what is it with you guys checkin’ out another dude’s junk?  That’ll get your ass kicked, or worse, where I’ve been the last year.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  We’re gay and like to look at other guys’ dicks,” Joey answered using his best logic.  “Oops, sorry, penises.”

 

“But we won’t touch unless you say it’s okay,” T.J. quickly added.  “That’s one of the big rules ‘round here, everybody has to say ‘yes’ to anything or you’re in deep doo-doo.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I found out last night.  And believe it or not, I’m cool with that.  When we were talkin’, Logan told me how you guys practically begged your dads to do those things with you and how they kept sayin’ no until you finally wore ‘em down and they gave in.  I mean, as long as you guys aren’t bein’ forced to do somethin’ you don’t wanna, and you don’t try to suck, uh, pull me into your freakazoid games, I don’t care who does what to who.”

 

“I can promise you right now, Will, that nobody in our home or family will ever do anything with or to you that you don’t specifically request,” I assured the young man.  “So, knowing how we live and how we share and show our love with each other, do you think you’d really want to live here?”

 

“Yeah, I think so,” Will answered meekly.  “It’s gotta be a lot better and safer here than it is in juvie, ‘specially since Herman wouldn’t be coming with me.”

 

“Who’s Herman?” Tom asked.

 

“He’s the one guard up there that everybody hates ‘cause he’s rougher than hell and won’t listen to nobody.  If he wants you, he’ll come to your cell in the middle of the night and just freakin’ take you, usually into the laundry room where it’s not likely he’ll be caught or interrupted.  And you ain’t gonna like it a bit.  Scuttlebutt is he’s got a huge, uh, thing, and absolutely loves hearin’ kids howl in pain when he sticks it in ‘em.  ‘Course, he only does it once their faces are buried in some dirty sheets or towels so nobody else can hear ‘em.  I can’t tell you how many kids have been found bleedin’ from places they shouldn’t be after he’s done with them.  Let me tell ya, that Herman’s one super sick mofo that needs to be put down ‘fore he ends up killin’ someone.”

 

“Well, we can take care of him,” Tom replied.  “We may need some help to make it happen, though.”

 

“Dude, if you can get that animal outta there for good, every kid he’s ever screwed over would love you ‘til the end of time.  I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you anything you want.  Hell, most of ‘em would even let you have your way with ‘em for doin’ it, even the straight ones,” he smirked.

 

“Uh, pro’lly not,” Joey interrupted.  “You ain’t seen him naked yet but Pops ain’t no small-fry down there,” he added while pointing to his lap.

 

Ignoring the smart remark from the peanut gallery, Tom continued with, “That won’t be necessary, Will, but do you think you could help recruit some of his victims to testify against him?”

 

“Only if you promise you won’t go after the ‘good’ guards who actually seem to really care about what they’re doin’, who they’re doin’ it with and how they’re doin’ it.”

 

“All I can say is I’ll do my best to keep them out of it.  I’d have a real hard time justifying goin’ after those folks considering what happens around here.”

 

“Good point, Mr. Wright,” Will agreed with an evil grin.  “Or should I start callin’ you Pops, now?”  Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at that.

 

“Well, we’ll talk about this some more when my partner’s here.”

 

“Wait a sec’, I thought Max was your partner.  I’m really confoozled now, dudes,” Will chuckled as he scratched his head.

 

“Max is my life partner, Dylan is my business partner,” Tom volunteered.

 

“Ah, gotcha.  Oh, and since Alex mentioned it, if you older guys wanna be naked, too, go right ahead.”

 

“That wasn’t Alex, it was me,” Joey interrupted.

 

“How the heck am I supposed to know?” Will asked.  “You two are carbon copies of each other.”

 

“No we aren’t,” Alex retorted as the duo stood up, turned around and showed Will their behinds.  “See, I’ve got a birthmark on my butt,” he added while pointing to the strawberry-colored blob on his right cheek.

 

“Oh, great,” Will laughed.  “One way or another, y’all are gonna get me lookin’ at your asses, aren’t ya?  Too bad that mark isn’t on the front somewhere.  ‘Course, with my luck, it’d be on your you-know-what.”

 

“Are you sure you’re okay with Tom, Ron and me losing our shorts, Will?” I asked.  “We pulled them on this morning because we thought you might feel uncomfortable or awkward if we didn’t.”

 

“Man, I’ve seen so many di…, uh, penises in so many shapes, sizes and colors the past year or so, it won’t faze me a bit.  Just don’t expect me to lose my boxers.  Not just yet, anyway,” he added.

 

Despite the ongoing conversation, all the food Ron had prepared had summarily vanished, so the cleanup crew got to work, Will pitching in as if he already lived here.  Us ‘older guys’ remained at the table and were discussing what needed to be done to get ready for T.J.’s party and the list of guests we were expecting. 

 

We were just wrapping things up and preparing to get on with our day when the front door popped open and Arlene called out, “Howdy, fellers, y’all decent!?”

 

“Decent enough!” Tom yelled back.  “C’mon in, we’re in the dining room.”  We were a bit surprised when she came around the corner by herself and Tom asked, “Where’s the boys?  They still workin’ with Joe?”

 

“Oh, heavens no,” Arlene smiled.  “They just had to take a quick detour through Ron’s room to drop some things.”

 

“I thought you were going to call for us to come get you this morning,” I commented.

 

“Well, I sure ‘nough thought about it, but Daril insisted he could find y’all.  He’s got this kind o’ gift, I guess you’d call it, with roads ‘n’ such where once he’s been somewheres, he can find his way back without no problems.  Ain’t got a clue how he does it, but he’s purty darn good at it.  He just sits there with his eyes closed, silently countin’ to hisself and callin’ out turns.  I reckon he must be part bloodhound or homing pigeon.  Or maybe a little bit o’ both,” she giggled lightly.

 

“Hey, Aunt Arlene, how ya doin’?” Logan chimed cheerily as the crew returned from the kitchen.  “And where’s them two lunks?” he added with a chuckle as the two shared a quick hug.

 

“Right here, midge,” Daril called out as the duo strolled in, wearing nothing but smiles.

 

“My name ain’t Midge and you know it,” Logan retorted smartly.

 

“That ain’t your name, it’s what you are,” Arley countered.

 

“Whatchu’ talkin’ ‘bout?” Logan quizzed the pair.

 

“Well, if cousin Will’s a midget like you called him last night, and what with you bein’ even shorter than him, ya can’t really say you’re a full midget, can ya?  So, ya gotta be just a midge, I s’pose,” Daril laughed, and the rest of the boys joined in.

 

“I am not!” Logan grumbled.

 

“Make ya a deal, squirt,” Arley began, “ya quit callin’ us lunks, and we’ll stop with the midge.  Deal?”

 

“Alright, alright, y’all win,” Logan caved, seemingly way too easy for the scrappy youngster we’d all come to know and love so well.  “Guess I’ll just have to go back to Things One and Two,” he added with a devilish smirk while slyly winking at Will.

 

“The heck you will,” Daril growled as he snagged Logan around the waist, picked him up and flipped him upside down as if he were nothing more than a burlap bag filled with the bounty of a successful ‘snipe hunt’. 

 

Logan immediately started squawking, “Put me down, uncle, I give!” as his face turned red from all the blood rushing to his head.  Once he was upright with his feet firmly planted back on the floor, Logan glared up at Daril and muttered, “Geez, dude, I was just kiddin’.”

 

“Maybe so, punk, but I wasn’t,” Daril retorted seriously.  “Just like your buddies here ain’t no faggots, queers or any other such nasty names, we ain’t lunks or things.  We’re just Daril and Arley, got it, midge?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” Logan acquiesced meekly.

 

“Good, glad we understand each other.”  Turning to Will, Daril said, “Mornin’, cuz, how’s it hangin’?”

 

Blushing lightly again, Will quietly replied, ‘Um, it don’t.”

 

“It will someday,” Arley commented while elbowing Will in the ribs.

 

“Only in my dreams.”

 

In an effort to spare Will any more embarrassment, Ron interjected, “I see you two have cast aside your inhibitions,” his observation aimed at Daril and Arley.

 

“Yeah,” Arley agreed, “Ma, Daril and me had a long talk after y’all left last night, mostly ’bout whatever comes next in our lives now that we ain’t gotta put up with that loser’s shit no more.  When we told her how much fun we had swimmin’ nekkid again last night, she tol’ us she really don’t give a hoot if we was nekkid at home, too.”

 

“Well, ‘cept when that Mr. Bartley dude and his kids come ‘round to help with things,” Daril added.  “She wants us wearin’ shorts at least when they’re ‘round.”

 

“Yep, that’s what we call ‘OPR’ ‘round here,” Alex offered with a giggle.

 

“That’s short for ‘other people rules’, guys,” Logan commented after seeing the confused looks on the older boys’ faces.

 

“Heh, Ryan pro’lly wouldn’t care,” T.J. noted.  “I mean, he was here for the twins’ birthday party and spent most of the afternoon bare-assed with the rest of us guys.  Don’t know how his brother would react, though.”

 

“We’ll find out at my birthday party since I plan to invite Cail,” Mike commented with a smirk.

 

“Well, boys,” I interrupted, “We’re having a party here later and it’s time we got serious about being prepared for it.  Why don’t you get started on straightening up your rooms and your other chores so we can take care of everything early and be ready when T.J.’s guests start arriving?”

 

“When’s that gonna be, Dad?” the birthday boy asked.

 

“Don’t have a clue, buddy,” I replied.

 

“Yeah,” Tom agreed before adding, “the party isn’t supposed to actually start until six this evening, but you all know how unpredictable some of the people coming are.  Plus, Levar and his group are coming sometime, too.  It’s gonna be a full house.”

 

“Does that mean we’re gonna have to wear shorts later?” the twins chorused sadly.

 

“I guess that won’t really be necessary this time around,” I commented as the herd let go a loud cheer.  “I mean, everyone coming already knows this is a nudist home, especially since they’ve all accepted it and have freely joined us in comfort when they’ve been here before.”

 

“What about you old farts?” T.J. asked.  “Ya gonna let it all hang out for once?”

 

“We’ll see,” Tom hedged.  “Carol’s gonna be here, too, and we’re not too sure she’d be ready for that.”

 

“I bet she’d be just fine with it, Pops,” Alex offered with a smile.

 

“ ‘Specially if everyone else is naked, too,” Joey added.

 

“Like Pops said, we’ll see what happens,” I offered blandly.  “Now, y’all scoot and get busy.”

 

As the crew minus Daril and Arley, scampered across the house to attack their tasks, Daril turned to Ron and asked, “You got anything left over from breakfast, dude?  There weren’t nothin’ at the house to eat and after workin’ with Mr. Bartley for an hour and a half this mornin’, Arley and me are starvin’.”

 

“Sorry, guys, that herd that just stampeded outta here wiped us out.  I’ll be happy to whip up somethin’ for ya, though.”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Arlene interjected.  “You gots plenty to deal with already, just point me the right direction and I’ll take care of my boys.”

 

“How ‘bout I help you with things this mornin’, Arlene?  I need to finish my cleanup anyway and that way I’ll be right there to let you know where everything you’re gonna need is.”

 

“Now, that would be just peachy,” she agreed.  Turning to her sons, she asked, “Why don’t you two get the table set for us?”  With affirmative nods from Daril and Arley, the four turned for the kitchen to get started on breakfast, version 2.0.

 

While Ron and Arlene went to work in the kitchen, Tom and I headed for our room to lose our shorts and get comfortable since we had Will and Arlene’s permission to do so.  We both agreed, however, that if either showed the slightest hint of trepidation at being around us while we were nude, we’d pull them back on.  As we were headed back out to the living room, I asked, “What’re your plans for the day?”

 

“Me?  I’m gonna lounge around the fireplace and watch the boys and Ron bust their butts with party prep,” he answered with a crooked grin.  “How ‘bout you?”

 

“I need to make a few phone calls and once those are handled, I think I’ll join you in making sure the living room furniture doesn’t run away,” I laughed.  “We’re gonna need it all tonight.”

 

“Sounds like a good plan to me, babe.  Let’s make it so.”  On that note, Tom continued on while I ducked into my office to make those calls.

 

My first was to Carol and she answered on the second ring with, “Mornin’, Max.  How’re things going with your weekend house guest?”

 

“A bit bumpy so far, but we’re hoping the road smooths out soon.”

 

“Uh-oh, I don’t like the sound of that,” she replied with concern.

 

“Well, to be brutally honest, last night was downright ugly, but life is looking better this morning.  With luck, we’ll have a good handle on things by this evening’s party.  And speaking of the party, that’s why I called.”

 

“Oh, you checkin’ up on me to make sure I’ll be there?” she asked sarcastically.  “I’ve told you I won’t miss a single birthday for any of your boys.  Those munchkins are just as important to me as they are to you and Tom.”

 

“Absolutely not.  I wasn’t worried about whether you’d be here or not, but I do have an important question that needs to be cleared up beforehand and I’d like an honest answer.”

 

“What, you really think I’d lie to you about anything at this stage of the game?  You obviously don’t know me as well as you think you do,” she quipped with a giggle.  “So, what’s so all-fired important that it requires a nine AM phone call?” she asked.

 

“The boys just asked if they’d have to wear shorts tonight and I told them I didn’t think OPR would be in effect for the evening.  I hope I haven’t lied to them.”

 

“Now wait just a darn minute, you wasted a call for a ridiculous question like that?  You know full well I don’t care about what those little scoundrels are wearing.  I thought I made that perfectly clear the first weekend I was out there.”

 

“You did and that’s why I told them they should be okay being themselves tonight.  I guess my real concern is the second part of this question.”

 

“Oh, and what’s that?” Carol queried with interest.

 

“Well, T.J. asked if us ‘old farts were gonna let it all hang out for once’.  I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that since I knew you’d be here and wasn’t sure how you’d feel about that development.”

 

“Max, Max, Max, you worry too damn much about the inconsequential trivialities of life.  You do know that, right?” she laughed.  “I’ve told you all about my previous experiences with my sister and her wife, what the devil would make you think I’d react any differently at your place?  Besides, I’ve already seen you naked before.  A couple of times, as a matter of fact.  And guess what?  Neither event scarred me for life, so if you and Tom want to doff your garments, too, you go right ahead.”

 

“Well, if we do so, you can expect our parents and several others will follow suit.  I guess I just wanted to give you fair warning about what you might be walking into when you get here.”

 

“It sounds like it’s going to be an absolutely delightful gathering.”  The cheer in her voice was evident and I could practically see the wide smile I knew she had on her face.  “Now, it’s my turn to surprise you, you big ol’ stick in the mud worrywart.  I’d already planned on shucking my clothes on the way out tonight so I could join the crowd.”

 

“That’s a bit of a surprise,” I muttered dumbly.  “What made you decide to do that?”

 

“Well, after hanging out with you and your family a few times, I’ve come to realize just how much I miss the freedom I’ve so enjoyed when visiting California.  I think it’s high time I recapture that feeling of peace and contentment.”

 

“Well, all-righty, then.  We’ll look forward to seeing you later.  Be careful on your way out.”

 

“I’ve already mapped out the back roads to your house so I can get there without the boys in blue stopping me,” she laughed.  “Later, gator.”  After the line went dead, I stared blankly at the phone in surprise for a few moments at Carol’s revelation before gathering my wits back together and placing my second call.

 

“Thank you for calling Landmark Ford,” the receptionist answered with the expected cheery intonation.  “How may I direct your call?”

 

“This is Max Sanders and I’d like to talk to Herb,” I replied.

 

“One moment, sir, I’ll see if he’s available.”

 

Thirty seconds later, my favorite car salesman joined the call with, “Mornin’, Max.  Before you ask, I just double-checked Shelby’s latest update and they’re still expecting to have Tom’s wedding present delivered by Wednesday, the fourteenth.  That gives us a couple of days to check it over before bringing it out Saturday afternoon.”

 

“While that sounds great, Herb, that’s not why I’m calling.”

 

“Oh, sorry, I just assumed.  So, what’s up?”

 

“Stupid as this is going to sound, I need a new car,” I chuckled.

 

“Wait, didn’t you just get one?  I’m fairly sure I remember you and Tom driving out of here in a brand-new Flex just a few short weeks ago.  Don’t tell me it’s starting to fall apart already.”

 

“Nope, nothing like that.  Believe it or not, it’s now too damn small.”

 

“What!?” he squawked in surprise.  “Last I knew, it was just you, Tom and the four boys.  Can’t imagine what’s happened that has you needing something that will hold more than six or seven people already.”  When I finally stopped laughing, I filled Herb in on some of the more recent developments he’d missed.

 

“Boy, are you ever behind the times.  We’ve already added two more kids since you brought the rental out and it looks like we might be taking in yet another one soon.  Add to that, two cousins to one of our current crew have just moved nearby and I think you can see how the Flex might be just a bit crowded.  And since I’m pretty confident law enforcement personnel of any persuasion will frown on us strapping kids to a roof rack, we need something with more space for people inside.”

 

“Lord, Max, have you lost your mind?” Herb inquired seriously.

 

“You have no idea how many times I’ve asked myself that very question the past few months,” I replied with another laugh.  “So, Mister car guy who claims he can fulfill anybody’s vehicle needs, what brilliant suggestions do you have to help solve our space problem?”

 

“Well, normally I’d tell you to give me a few days to do some thinkin’ and searchin’ and I’d get back to you.  But we’re not really within the realm of anything that resembles normal, are we?”

 

“Um, no, not really.  I gave up on that pipe dream a long time ago, buddy.”

 

After a quick chuckle, Herb came back with, “I’m not touchin’ that with a ten-foot pole, Max.  What you’re looking for isn’t usually found on car lots these days, but I may just have something in the south forty that will be just the thing for ya.  Keep in mind it’s a used vehicle with a, um, a few miles on it, but it’s still in pretty decent condition and the engine has a lot of life left in it, too.  Of course, the most important thing it has goin’ for it is it’ll handle up to twelve people comfortably, eighteen if they’re small and really, really like each other.”

 

“That sounds like it just might fit the bill.  How much and how fast can we get it?”

 

“Oh, I’ll make you a helluva deal.  How fast you can take it home depends on if you think it needs a paint job and any other custom work you may want done.”

 

“Paint job?” I asked with concern.  “I don’t care how good the engine is, if the body’s falling apart, I sure as hell don’t want it.”

 

“Sorry, Max, you misunderstood my meaning.  The body is in perfect shape, but you may think the current black and yellow paint scheme is a bit, um, over-the-top,” he commented with a light chuckle.

 

“Now wait just a darn minute,” I protested as I cut into Herb’s sales pitch.  “Are you tryin’ to sell us a flippin’ school bus?”

 

“Well, yeah, why not?  If it was good enough for the Partridge Family, why not for you, too?” he laughed.  “While it may not be the most attractive vehicle available, you have to admit that it fits your particular needs to a tee.  Plenty of room for you, Tom and your current brood, along with the extra space you need to keep adding to the head count.”

 

“Well, when you put it that way, I guess it doesn’t sound quite as horrible as it did at first blush, but I was hoping for something that would actually fit in a garage without having to cut a bigger hole in the wall.”

 

“If that’s the case, let me do some of that thinkin’ and searchin’ I mentioned and get back to you sometime next week.  And since I’m gonna have to do some serious homework on this one, what kinds of features you lookin’ for?”

 

“Decent gas mileage, power everything, comfortable seats, dual or triple-zone air conditioning, a smooth ride, entertainment options like video and a gaming console or two.  I think that should cover all the bases.  Oh, and enough space to haul luggage for everybody.”

 

“I can see I’ve got my work cut out for me, so I better get to it.  Thanks for the call and have a great weekend out there.”

 

“Thanks, Herb.  Hope to hear back from you soon.”  Just as I left my study and headed to join Tom, the drive sensor announced somebody pulling into the drive.  I couldn’t imagine who would be showing up this early, so I ducked into the bedroom to grab the shorts Tom and I had just discarded in case they were needed.  I discovered the kitchen was empty when I stopped to refill my mug with a fresh shot of caffeine, but found Arlene, Daril and Arley packing the food away in the dining room as I passed through.

 

Daril paused his intake just long enough to ask, “Should me an’ Arley grab shorts, too?”

 

“I’ll leave that up to you two,” I replied.  As I continued my trek, I caught the two share a quick glance and non-committal shrug of the shoulders before they returned to their meal without another thought.  Arlene had no reaction to their snap decision except for a slight smirk of amusement before returning her attention to her own plate. 

 

Settling into my chair next to Tom, he was engrossed in his book again though he did stop to ask, “So, who did you have to call this morning?”

 

“First was Carol,” I answered as I tossed his shorts at his head.

 

“What for?” he queried as he pulled the rumpled garment from where it landed on his shoulder and stuffed in in the chair beside his meaty thigh.

 

“To see if she’d be okay with this evening’s party being clothing optional.”

 

“What!?” he exclaimed in surprise.  “I’m not sure I’m okay with that, not with all the people that’re gonna be here.”

 

“Well, you better fix that in a hurry.  You know, of course, the boys have absolutely no intentions of covering up tonight, with the possible exception of Will.  With the boys not being dressed, you can be pretty sure our parents, Lee, Carl, Dylan and Malcom won’t hesitate to lose their second skins, either.  And Carol just told me she’d already planned to arrive much the way Dylan usually does these days.  So, I figure, what the hell?”

 

“Yeah, I guess that would be pretty much everyone, wouldn’t it?” he agreed.  “Except for Arlene.  You think she’ll be okay with that development?”

 

“We can ask her when they’re done eating,” I answered.

 

“And the second call?”

 

“Herb at Landmark.”

 

“Oh boy!  Is my wedding present gonna be here on time?” Tom grinned evilly, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.  Of course, once he saw the surprised but angry glare I was directing at him, he lowered his head in shame while muttering, “Shit!  I shouldn’t’a said that.”  I was about to press the issue when there was a loud pounding on the front door.  Before either of us could move, the thundering herd let its presence be known as they burst out of the hallway at full gallop.

 

“Who’s here?” T.J. bubbled with excitement as they scattered around the living room and settled onto the couch and love seat.

 

“Not a clue, buddy, why don’t you go find out?” I replied before turning back to the bright red baboon sitting next to me and whispering, “We’re gonna circle back to this later, bubba.”  A tense nod was his only acknowledgment I’d said anything when T.J. let go a loud ‘whoop’ of excitement at the now open front door.

 

“Howdy, Mr. Burton!” he called out happily as LeVar and a lady we’d not met before stepped inside.  “Who’s that and where’s the others?” he quickly added in his usual blunt manner.  Had we known LeVar would be bringing someone who’d not been here before, we would have had everyone wearing shorts.  But seeing at it was way too late to institute OPR, Tom and I did the only thing we could think of on a moment’s notice; we crossed our legs and assumed a decidedly uncomfortable posture.

 

“Well, howdy to you, too, T.J.  And happy birthday,” LeVar replied as the two shared a high-five.  “The lovely lady joining me today is my wife, Stephanie.  Stuart and the others all decided to take in some sights like Lincoln’s home and tomb before we head back home this afternoon.”

 

“You’re not gonna stay for my party tonight?” T.J. queried sadly as he led the duo across the house.

 

“Sorry, buddy, we’ve got a lot of work to do back in California.  Maybe next year when I hope to have a bit more free time, okay?”

 

“Yeah, okay,” T.J. quietly agreed.

 

As soon as LeVar and Stephanie had joined us, they were immediately swarmed by the boys as they passed out hugs and cheery greetings to both.  All of them but Will, that is, since he’d not met them before.  When they finally calmed down, LeVar and Stephanie took over the love seat and the rest of the crew packed themselves onto the couch.

 

“Morning, guys,” LeVar began, “I’d like to introduce my wife, Stephanie.  Dear, Max Sanders and Tom Wright,” he added while pointing to each of us.  “The wild bunch that already mugged us are their boys.  From left to right, that’s Alex, Andy, Mike, T.J., of course, Joey, and Logan.”

 

“Who’s the last one at the far end?” she asked as she aimed a finger at Will who was sitting on the arm of the couch with a slightly stunned look filling his face.

 

“Not a clue, dear, I’ve not met him before.”

 

That comment seemed to shake Will out of his trance and before Tom or I could take care of introducing him, he stepped forward saying, “Hi, I’m Logan’s brother, Will.  Nice to meet you in person, Mr. Burton.  You, too, Mrs. Burton,” he added as he shook both their hands.

 

As Will stepped back to resume his perch on the couch’s arm, LeVar asked, “Do you know me because you’ve been watching Star Trek with the others?”

 

“Nope, never seen it,” Will replied.  “But one of the foster families I was livin’ with when I was six or seven used to park me and their own kids in front of a TV tuned to Reading Rainbow reruns on PBS.  Said it was the only way they could ever get any peace and quiet,” he chuckled.

 

“Happy to help them out, I guess,” LeVar laughed.  “Hope you all learned something.”

 

“You mean besides how to be quiet for half an hour at a time?” Will laughed out loud and the rest of us joined in.  “Yeah, we did, even though we didn’t much like it at the time.”

 

Sensing the end of that snippet conversation, I commented, “Sorry we weren’t properly prepared for Stephanie coming with you this morning.”

 

“What’re you talking about?” LeVar quizzed me while he shot a look of confusion my way.

 

“Well, if we’d known she was coming, we’d’ve had shorts on.”

 

The two snorted in laughter and Stephanie replied, “Oh, you guys are fine, Max.  LeVar explained in complete detail what I should expect to find today but I insisted on coming with him anyway.  If I thought seeing some naked people was going to bother me, I wouldn’t be here, but I wasn’t going to miss this moment for all the Ferraris in Italy.”

 

“Well, we heard you tell T.J. you’re headed back home later today,” Tom began, “so what brings you out now?”

 

“Right, that,” LeVar replied.  “Before we get to that, I need to ask Will a few questions.”  The young man about fell off his roost when LeVar turned towards him and started with, “So, are you going to be moving in, too?”

 

The flustered young man meekly answered, “Um, yeah, I think so.”

 

“Do you know about the project we’re going to work on with Max, Tom and their boys?” LeVar pressed.

 

“You mean the TV show about Max’s life and all?  Yeah, Logan told me ‘bout it last night.  Really, it was some time this morning,” he added with a smirk.

 

“Do you want to be included in the show once we reach that part of the story?”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so.  As long as you ain’t gonna put me on TV, that is.” 

 

“Nope, we’ll find an actor to portray you, too, just like we’re going to do with all the others.”

 

“Cool with me, then. But what’s in it for me?” he asked bluntly.

 

“Give me just a minute and you’ll find out, Will.”  LeVar then turned to me and asked, “May I borrow your study for just a moment, please?”

 

“Help yourself,” I answered, waving a hand in that direction. 

 

LeVar returned in less than a minute and his hand was filled with envelopes.  As he started handing them to each of us, he said, “Now don’t open these until everybody has theirs, okay?”  It was all the boys could do to contain their curiosity, but they somehow managed to control themselves just long enough for Tom and me to receive our own envelopes.  Once LeVar had rejoined Stephanie on the love seat, he said, “Okay, go.”

 

Since Tom and I had a pretty good inkling as to what we’d just received, we watched as the boys lifted the flaps on their envelopes and pulled out the contents.  All of them but T.J., that is.  He must have divined what was inside when LeVar handed them out as he sat calmly in the middle of the others and just watched for their reactions along with the rest of us.  I was glad LeVar had had the foresight to not seal the envelopes so nobody had to rip them open and risk tearing into what was held within. 

 

They were all so surprised at what they held, you could have heard a pin drop.  The one thing we did hear was considerably louder than a simple pin as a resounding thud echoed through the house when Will slid right off the arm of the couch and the stunned munchkin’s behind hit the floor.  That woke the others from their stupor as they all started jumping up and down with glee, dancing around like whirling dervishes and yelling, ‘we’re rich, whoo-hoo, yippee’ and much, much more.  Poor Will remained on the floor and muttered loudly, ‘holy shit! I must be dreamin’.’

 

The ruckus they were raising brought an alarmed Arlene, Daril and Arley charging from the dining room to see what was going on.  After witnessing the melee taking place, Arlene looked to Tom and I and yelled, “What the devil’s got into them?”  Logan answered her question when he ran over to them, wildly waving his check for a million dollars in front of their stunned faces.  Once she grabbed his wrist and could actually read the amount printed on the check her nephew held, she quietly muttered, “Oh my Lord.”

 

T.J. had finally moved from his spot on the couch, and he was kneeling next to Will to make sure he was okay.  After a simple nod in reply to T.J.’s query, the caring young lad stood up and offered his hand to Will to help him back up.  LeVar and Stephanie were still ensconced on the loveseat and grinning wildly at the mad display of mass hysteria taking place.  When the herd finally began to run out of steam, they suddenly realized they’d completely forgotten what few manners they possessed.  With the precision of laser-guided missiles, all seven turned as one and launched themselves at their benefactor.  Poor LeVar and Stephanie barely had time to brace for impact before they were smothered in hugs and received a ton of ‘thank yous’ from the crew.

 

Arlene and her boys had joined us and settled on the couch while it was empty so when our boys ran out of hugs, they took a seat on whatever flat surface they could find, some on the coffee table, a few on the floor and Logan and Will ended up on the hearth, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.

 

“Can we buy whatever we want, Dads?” Joey quickly asked, a look of hope flooding his face.

 

“We’ll let you guys get a few small things for now, but let’s not go overboard, okay?” I answered.

 

“What’s overboard?” Alex prodded.

 

“Cars, houses, yachts, that kind of thing,” Tom snickered.

 

“But we can really do whatever we want with our money?” Logan asked with a tone of seriousness we’d not heard from him lately.

 

Tom and I shared a quick glance before I answered, “Once we have a chance to discuss your ideas, sure, why not?”

 

On hearing that, Logan promptly stood up, walked over to the couch and presented his check to Arlene while saying, “Here, I want you, Arley and Daril to have this.  I already got more than I know what to do with and you guys can really use it.”

 

Arlene immediately pushed his hand away and retorted, “Oh no, we can’t accept that, Logan.  You’ve already done more for us than we could ever repay.”

 

Daril didn’t hesitate for even a moment as he reached over, snatched the check from Logan’s hand and said, “Thanks, cuz.  You’re all right, I don’t care what the old man says.”

 

“George Daril Campbell!” Arlene started, “You give that back!”

 

“No way, ma.  Logan’s right, we can use this,” he argued.

 

“He’s right, momma, we can,” Arley agreed.

 

“On what!?” she countered with confusion etched across her face.  “Thanks to Logan, we already got us a nice house to live in, you two have some jobs to do so we can stay there, and I’ll find a job somewhere, too.  What the hell would we do with a million bucks?”

 

“Well, for one, we could get the well pump and irrigation system fixed at the orchard.  Then we could upgrade the sorting machine and replace that ancient tractor and some o’ the other ‘quipment, too.”

 

“We done left all that crap behind us, boys.  What do you care what happens with it now?”

 

“We may have left it back in Dexter, ma, but your name’s on it, too.  And with the useless slimeball goin’ to jail, it’s gonna be all yours, ain’t it?”

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so,” she mused, thoughtfulness replacing confusion.  “Whatchu you thinkin’, Daril?”

 

“One o’ two things.  We do what I said to make it easier to sell the thing.  O-o-r-r-r, we can do what I said and hire somebody down there to run it for us.  Up ‘til that spring freeze a few years back, the orchard did well and we always made a good chunk o’ change off it.  It’s almost back to where it was then and I think we could still make a decent profit off it, even with payin’ someone else to do all the work for us.”

 

“Hmmm, I’ll have to think about all that, boys.  ‘Til I make up my mind, though, Logan’s keepin’ that check right here.”  On that final note, she plucked it from Daril’s grasp and handed it back to Logan while adding, “Thanks for your kind offer, Logan.  Once I figger out what I wanna do, I’ll let you know.  ‘Til then, you hold on to that, okay?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he agreed.  As he turned to rejoin his brother on the hearth, Logan looked to us and asked, “That’s okay with you guys, ain’t it?”  Both Tom and I gave Logan a thumbs up as we knew he really didn’t need the money near as much as his aunt and cousins did.  Just before resuming his place in front of the fireplace, he turned back to Daril and added, “And just for the record, dude, I don’t give a rat’s fuzzy little behind what Uncle Dirtbag says ‘bout me neither.”  That comment elicited a round of laughter from everyone.

 

Once he was settled back in next to Will, LeVar and Stephanie stood while he commented, “Well, I think we’ll be hitting the road.”

 

“Already?” Tom asked amid protests from the boys.  “Weren’t you planning to talk with Lee, Carl and some others this afternoon?”

 

“I was, but something’s come up at home and we have to get back so I can deal with it.  I’ll take care of the other interviews I still need the next time we come to town.  And while I wish we could stay a bit longer this morning, we have to run a few errands in town before we meet the others at the airport at one.  But we’ll be back soon to continue working on our projects.  Now that you’ve been paid for them, I expect to see some progress being made on all fronts.”

 

“We’ll look forward to it, LeVar,” I replied as we stood to say our goodbyes.  Of course, Tom and I had to wait our turns as the boys surrounded the pair and shared hugs and goodbyes with both.  The two of us followed LeVar and Stephanie to the door and after shaking hands while expressing our own thanks for their short visit, they headed down the sidewalk to the rented Mercedes limo waiting to take them back to town.

 

“Well, that was fun,” Tom chuckled as we crossed the house to sink back into our chairs.  “So, what’re you gonna buy with your newfound wealth?”

 

“A bigger house, remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah, that.”

 

“And you?”

 

“I was thinkin’ ‘bout findin’ us a desert island in the middle of the ocean somewhere,” he smirked.

 

“Um, be kinda hard to help other kids from there, don’t ya think?”

 

“Fair point, babe.  Guess I’ll just have to stay here with you and the rugrats,” he moaned in defeat.

 

“Good thinkin’, bubba.  I’d hate to have to divorce your sorry ass before we even get married,” I giggled while delivering a sharp smack to the back of his head.  After taking our seats and with the boys still goggling over the fact they each had a million dollars, I asked, “So, we know what Logan wants to do with his money, what ideas have the rest of you come up with?”

 

“We wanna get bikes for T.J., Mike and Andy so none of us have to share anymore,” Alex replied.

 

“Well, that’ll use up about three to four hundred,” Tom commented.  “What about the rest?”

 

“We don’t know yet, but we’ll come up with somethin’, you can be sure of that,” Joey answered.

 

“I’m leavin’ mine here with you guys,” Will offered.  “Any o’ those pukes in juvie find out I got a million bucks, they’ll all want a piece of it and never leave me alone.”

 

“Sounds like a good plan, buddy.  What about you, Mike?” I continued.

 

“Ain’t got a clue.  I ain’t never had more than a couple bucks before.  How many comic books can I get with a million?”

 

“Enough to fill this house and then some,” I laughed.  “Andy, what about you?”

 

“Maybe some new games for the Xbox.  All the ones we got are too hard for me and Mike.”

 

“Good thinking, young man,” Tom agreed before adding, “T.J., we haven’t heard from you yet.”

 

“I wanna give some of it to the school,” was his answer.

 

“What the heck for!?  We ain’t even gonna be goin’ there this fall,” Joey argued. 

 

“Which is exactly why I want to do it,” T.J. replied calmly.  “Since we won’t be there, I wanna make sure our support group doesn’t die.  You know there are plenty of kids over there who need someone to talk to.  I bet Rich would be glad to listen to and help anybody he could, but there needs to be more than just him.  Maybe if the school had the money, they could actually get a real person like Mike’s foster dad to help out, too.”

 

As soon as T.J. had explained his reasoning, I noticed the twins’ eyes light up with understanding.  They quickly faced each other from opposite ends of the couch and had one of their silent and very private conversations.  No more than five seconds had elapsed when Alex suddenly announced, “Yeah, we want to do that, too.”

 

“That’s a great idea, guys,” I agreed.  “I think I’ll donate some of mine to the same cause.”

 

“That’d be cool, Dad,” T.J. agreed.  “And even though we’ll be doin’ school here, I still wanna go over there a day or two a week to keep helpin’ other kids.”

 

“I’m sure we can work that out with Steve,” Tom commented.

 

Knowing our time for party preparations was getting shorter by the moment, I finally broke up the confab with, “Okay guys, give me your checks so I can get them in the safe for the weekend and you get back to work.  We still have a bunch of people coming for a party later, remember?”

 

All the boys including Daril and Arley jumped up and as our herd stopped to hand us their checks, Joey cracked, “Don’t spend it all in one place, Dads,” before the crew headed on down the hallway to continue cleaning their rooms.

 

Just as her two were about to slip out of sight, Arlene called out, “Boys, you need to go clean up the dinin’ room ‘fore you go helpin’ them with anything else.”  The pair made a quick U-turn and returned to do as their mom requested.

 

“Ron, don’t you have to do some runnin’ to pick up some things?” I prompted.  “You should probably get headed that direction so you’re back before the guests start arriving.”

 

“On it, Boss!” he joked as he jumped up from his seat.  “Arlene, would you like to go with me so you can see where a few stores are and get some food and other supplies for your new home?”

 

“Well, if’n y’all don’t mind me taggin’ ‘long, that’d be just dandy.  I don’t wanna hold you up, though.”

 

“It won’t be a problem,” Ron assured her.  “Max worries too much about time and we have plenty of it.”

 

“Then I’ll be ready to roll when you are, Ron.  Would it be okay if we take the truck, though?  I got lots to get since there weren’t even no toilet paper in the house last night.”

 

“Sure, we can do that.  With everything I need to pick up today, the extra space will come in handy.  And we’ll even swing by the farm and unload your stuff before coming back here so none of it will spoil.”

 

“Sounds like a plan,” she agreed.

 

“Well, let me hit the john, get properly dressed and we’ll be on our way.”  On that note, Ron disappeared down the hallway.

 

After Daril and Arley finished with their task in the kitchen and it was down to just me, Tom and Arlene, I broached a subject I didn’t want the others to be involved in.  “Arlene, we had no clue what Logan had planned to do with his money.  I hope you aren’t upset that he sprung that surprise on you in front of everybody.”

 

“Well, he sure ‘nough caught me off guard, let me tell ya.  I damn near had to go find a bathroom and change my skivvies,” she laughed and Tom and I joined her.

 

“I’m sure he’d understand if you don’t accept it,” I offered.

 

“Well, that was my first thought, obviously, but the more I think about what Daril said, the more I’m actually considering it.”

 

“Would you really sell the orchard?” Tom asked.

 

“Damn right I would.  Weren’t mine to begin with, it was all Troy’s.  I only put up with it ‘cause it did make ‘nough money for us to live on.  I mean, it was all right nine or ten months outta the year when there weren’t that much to do, but during harvest time, he an’ the boys’d work twenty hours a day sometimes.  I sure as hell ain’t doin’ that, and neither are Daril or Arley.”

 

“But what if you were to hire someone to run it for you?” I queried.

 

“Too much hassle, ‘specially with us livin’ up here,” she retorted.  “First, I don’t know if there’s anybody down there I could trust to do it ‘n’ not screw me over.  Second, most of the folks he hired to work the harvest were his friends and I wouldn’t want none o’ them scalawags anywheres near nothin’ o’ mine.  And third, there’s just too many bad memories tied to the place.  The sooner I dump that nightmare, the better off we’ll be.”

 

“Well, whatever you decide is up to you, of course, and you can be sure we’ll provide any support you need to make it happen.”

 

“Thanks, Max, Tom.  Just bein’ away from there is a huge load off my mind.  Troy has so many crazy friends that I’d have to have eyes in the back of my head to feel safe.  Not to mention extra locks on the doors and a gun under my pillow.  Who the hell knows what those flippin’ rednecks would do to us with that asshole bein’ in jail?”

 

Ron reappeared at that moment and asked, “You ready, Arlene?”

 

“I was born ready, beanpole,” she smirked.  “Let’s get this show on the road,” she added as she snagged her purse and headed for the front door which Ron was already holding open.

 

As soon as they were out the door, I turned to Tom with a scowl and asked, “Okay, how long have you known?”

 

“What?  That I loved you and wanted to spend the rest of my life with you?” he responded with as much innocence and sincerity as he could muster at the moment.  “I’d have to say it was about ten twenty-three the Sunday night after we met.”

 

“That’s not what I’m talkin’ about, you smartass, and you know it.”

 

“Oh yeah, that,” he snickered.  “It was when Hank’s articles about you were in the paper.”

 

“How the hell did you even find out about it?  I swore Herb to secrecy.”

 

“And he never said a word, I swear, so don’t get pissed at him,” Tom countered.  “I think it was the day the second article about you hit the paper.  You were fixing breakfast for us and told me to check for the new part in your e-mail.  I, um, kinda perused your inbox while I waited for it to print.  I saw an e-mail from Shelby and looked at it thinking maybe they were letting you know about a show in the area or something.  Boy, did I ever feel like a first-class shit when I saw what it was really about.”

 

“As well you should,” I immediately agreed.  “But, I guess it’s my own damn fault for leaving the message in my inbox and then giving you free rein over my computer.  Lesson learned, I guess.”

 

“See?  It’s all your fault the surprise was ruined,” Tom cracked with a grin.

 

“Don’t you dare go there, bucko.  I may change my mind, keep the new one for me and give you the one that’s already in the garage.”

 

“Fine with me, babe.  Either way, I end up with a Shelby, so it’s a win-win in my book,” he laughed.  That, of course, earned him another sharp smack to the back of his noggin.  Before we could continue our chat, the dust mop emerged from the hallway with Will attached to the handle, guiding it across the floors.  Tom leapt at the opportunity to move on to a new discussion with someone else about anything else.

 

“The boys draft you, Will?” he called out as the young man aimed the dust collector towards the entry.

 

“Naw,” Will replied as he paused by the door.  “Like the fool I am, I asked if there was somethin’ I could do to help.  Joey pointed to the dust mop and told me to have at it.”

 

“Well, if you don’t wanna do it, you don’t have to,” I offered.  “You are just visiting this weekend, ya know.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but I’m fine guys.  ‘Sides, if I’m gonna move in with y’all, I might as well get used to it,” he replied as the vacuum kicked on in one of the boys’ rooms.  “At least I’m not pushing that noisy thing around like Daril and Arley got sucked into doin’,” he added with a laugh.

 

“Well, carry on,” I replied with a wave of my hand.

 

“Wait!” Tom yelled.  “Come here a sec, Will.”  The youngster left the mop handle leaning against the glass by the front door, strolled across the entry and nervously settled onto the love seat, wondering what he was in trouble for now.  Once he quit fidgeting, Tom started, “I want to say I’m sorry for how ….”

 

“Whoa, dude, back the truck up,” Will interrupted.  “You got nothin’ to be sorry for.  I was a complete jackass from the moment we met in Dr. Pompass’s office.  If anybody here needs to be sayin’ they’re sorry for somethin’, it’s me.  And I am.”

 

“I appreciate that, buddy, but I’m the adult here and I should never have let myself sink to that level.  Sniping at a kid like I did last night, even a mean and nasty one, is uncalled for.  I know better than that and promise it won’t happen again.”

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Pops.  If I’ve learned anything the past year and a half in juvie, it’s this; if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out in the first place ‘cause whatever you say or do to someone is gonna come back to haunt you at some point.  And when you least expect it, usually.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen some poor schmuck of a kid get his clock cleaned for as little as lookin’ at somebody the wrong way.  And my brain was so freakin’ scrambled after you tellin’ me I had a brother, I kinda lost it, I guess.”

 

“I can’t imagine how surprised you were to hear that news,” I commented.

 

“You have no idea, Max, um, Dad.  I damn near fell off the chair.  After the last fifteen years of thinkin’ nobody would ever want me as a part of their family and then finding out I’ve actually got one I never knew about blew my mind.  I’m glad Logan and I had a chance to talk alone last night so we could hash some things out and get to know each other a little bit without an audience.”

 

“We’re glad you took advantage of the time.  I assume you told him you were sorry, too.”

 

“Damn right I did,” Will agreed.  “Actually started with that.  I knew there was no way he was gonna listen to a thing I said if I didn’t.  ‘Course, him threatinin’ to sic the others on me if I didn’t get my act together mighta helped, too,” he added with a laugh.  “And after you held me last night while I poured my guts out to ya, I remembered something else that had slipped my disjointed brain; treat people the way you want to be treated.  Well, if you’re a, wait, what did you say I was?  Oh, yeah, if you’re an insufferable little prick like I was last night, that’s exactly what I shoulda expected to get thrown right back in my face.  And you didn’t disappoint me, Pops.  Consider that lesson re-learned, guys.”

 

“That’s good to hear, Will,” Tom agreed.

 

“So, we cool?” the young man asked with a hopeful look on his face.

 

“Yeah, we’re cool, kiddo,” I replied.  “We knew this weekend would be difficult for everyone, but I guess we may have underestimated just how much so.  I’m glad to see things seem to be working out.”

 

“So, can I finish my job, now?” Will asked.

 

“I don’t know, can you?” I retorted.

 

“Huh??” he quizzed me with a confused look.

 

“Well, ‘can’ signifies an ability to do something where may signifies the willingness to do it,” I answered.

 

“Oh, you’re one of them people,” he giggled.

 

“Get used to it, bucko.  I am a writer, ya know, and I’m a bit of a stickler for things like that.”

 

“Gotcha, Dad,” Will chuckled.  “So, may I get back to my job?”

 

“Go for it,” Tom snickered.

 

Will left his perch and before continuing to run the dust mop across the floors, he gave us a quick hug.  With that out of the way, he retrieved the thing and continued on, turning left down the hallway towards my study and our bedroom before coming back through the kitchen, dining room and living room.  With the whole area completed he disappeared down the hallway to park the mop back in the laundry room.  Tom had picked up his book to continue reading and I laid my head back to close my eyes for a moment.

 

And a moment was all I got as the herd suddenly appeared with Alex declaring, “Okay, Dads, we’re all done.  Can we go watch a movie?”

 

“Sure thing, guys,” Tom answered.

 

“Make sure you let us know when somebody shows up for my party,” T.J. said.

 

“We’ll be having lunch long before anybody gets here, T.J.,” I commented.

 

“You better tell us when you’re gonna eat, then,” Joey demanded.

 

“Yes, sir,” Tom retorted while snapping off a quick salute to the munchkins.  On that note, the crew continued across the house and ducked into the theater.  With them out of earshot, Tom turned to me and asked, “What’re we gonna do for food?”

 

“Well, I don’t figure Ron and Arlene will be back before those rugrats start feelin’ like they’re starvin’, so I think dogs and D’itos will have to suffice.  Especially since T.J. wants pizza from DiCarlo’s for his birthday dinner.”

 

“Oooh, that’s right,” Tom moaned with delight as he rubbed his gut.  “I’d forgotten all about that.  And it’s been way too long since we’ve had good pizza ‘round here.”

 

“I thought you liked Capones.”

 

“I do, but when you compare that to DiCarlo’s, it’s like eating cardboard with ketchup on it.  But wait a sec, don’t tell me Dicarlo’s is delivering.”

 

“Nope, they won’t drive this far, not even for a rich and famous author like me,” I laughed.  “I begged Mom and Dad to swing down to Virden to pick it up for us on their way out.  DiCarlo’s will half-bake the pies and we can finish them off here so they’ll be nice and piping hot.”

 

“That’s gonna take a while with the number of pizzas we’re gonna need,” he commented.

 

“Yeah, but it’s worth it,” I replied.

 

“Fair point, I guess.  Sounds like you’ve got it all under control.”

 

“I try,” I yawned.  “Hey, I’m feelin’ kinda wiped out for some reason.  Would you mind if I laid down for a bit?”

 

“Nope, go right ahead.  I’ll wake you when it’s time to fix lunch.”

 

“Thanks, hon.” 

 

I gave my lover a hug and a kiss before heading back to bed.  After crawling in, I pulled the sheet over my head to block out some of the light and promptly zoned out.  Unfortunately, a restful nap was not in the cards for me today as I re-entered a dreamworld I’d not visited for almost twenty years.  I returned to a time when fourteen-year-old me was crawling into a strange bed in a strange house occupied by a decidedly bizarre and previously unknown family, all in a town I’d never heard of before.  The only seemingly normal part of my vision was the fact I was sleeping naked, which was the norm for me, even at that age.

 

A short time after dream me had fallen asleep, I’d curled up comfortably on my side and was lightly snoring, completely oblivious as to what was about to go down.  Sadly, though, as always happened in this particular vision, my sleeping form was soon joined by the faceless and nameless ‘man of the house’ as he silently crept into the room and gently sat on the edge of the bed I was occupying.  As if watching a football replay in slow motion, the man placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it little squeeze before letting it drift to a spot between my shoulder blades.  From there, he spent several minutes rubbing my back from neck to the small of my back, gently caressing my semi-exposed ribs as the sheet had moved a bit with his very cautious manipulations.

 

Upon reaching my still covered behind, he cupped my cheeks one at a time and gave each a gentle squeeze or two, all while keeping a close watch on my face to ensure he wasn’t disturbing my slumber.  Apparently satisfied I was out like a rock, I watched and felt a finger trace the crease between my cheeks, the sheet becoming stuck between them when he pressed his finger to my hole.  That was enough to disturb the sleeping form and my fourteen-year-old self rolled onto his back. The man seemed quite giddy and pleased with himself after spying the small tent that was apparent in the middle of the sheet, leading him to believe I was quite enjoying the attention he was secretly lavishing on me. 

 

Sensing I was done moving around, he reached a hand up to my head and lightly brushed the hair from over my eyes.  Once he was happy with my hair arrangement, his hand slipped down and brushed my left cheek before moving further and pausing briefly on my chest.  Sleeping me jerked at the touch and the man waited patiently to make sure I remained sound asleep before he moved again.  Finally satisfied I wasn’t going to interrupt his fun, I watched as his hand slowly started sliding down my body, taking the sheet with it and uncovering my body inch by glacially painful inch.  Once I was completely revealed from chin to just below my waist, the man’s hand drifted back up to my chest where he lightly tweaked my nipples until both stood at attention.  The man appeared to be happy with by body’s reaction to his ministrations and he allowed his hand to wander lower again where he circled my bellybutton with a fingertip.  Again, young me shifted position slightly and the man stopped all movement until he felt it was safe to continue his perverted fantasy.

 

My thirty-four-year-old mind was screaming at both sleeping versions of myself.  It was begging the young me to wake the hell up and kick the man in the balls before the sick son of a bitch could reach his ultimate goal.  While he would be writhing on the floor in agony, I could make my getaway and bolt out of the house like my hair was on fire.  It was also demanding the older me wake the fuck up and stop the insanity before it went any further.  Unfortunately, neither of us were listening to those impassioned pleas.

 

Sensing young me wasn’t going to come alive anytime soon, the man’s hand moved even further down my skinny frame, hooking the sheet with his fingers and continuing to lower it to mid-thigh.  This, of course, fully exposed my rather small adolescent dick and balls.  The man licked his lips lasciviously as he covered my genitals with his hand and began to lightly rub my pubic region.  The whole time he was doing it, he was intently gazing at my face, watching closely for any signs of a reaction.  All too soon, he changed from gently rubbing my diminutive prick to grasping it between his thumb and forefinger and beginning to masturbate young me.

 

At that point, I let go such a blood-curdling primal scream, I woke not only my young self, but my old self, too.  I was shocked to find my fist flying through the air to connect with a face that shouldn’t be there.  And had it not been for the lightning-fast reflexes so finely honed after five years as a cop, I’m sure Tom would have ended up with a black eye.

 

“Max!  Wake up!” he yelled as he blocked the swing with his forearm and ducked out of the way.

 

“What??” I screamed back, bolting upright in the bed.

 

“I was just trying to wake you up for lunch,” he replied.  “You havin’ a bad dream, babe?”

 

“More like one of my worst nightmares ever coming back to haunt me,” I answered.

 

“You haven’t had one this bad for a while,” he commented as he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close for a comforting hug.  “You wanna tell me about it?”

 

“Not really, but I don’t suppose you’re just gonna let it slide, are ya?” I asked.  Receiving a negative shake of the head from Tom, I continued.  “Well, it was pretty much the same dream I used to have on a fairly regular basis during the time Frank and Iris were torturing the shit out of me.”  The surprise showing on Tom’s face didn’t go away until I finished telling him everything about what I’d just experienced.  I wrapped up my narration with, “What’s really bizarre is I haven’t had that nightmare since I got the hell away from them.  Plenty of others over the intervening years, sure, but not that particular one.”

 

“Any idea why it chose now to come back?” he asked.

 

“Much as I hate to say it, I think it might be because of Will.”

 

“ ‘Scuse me, come again,” Tom muttered with surprise.

 

“I think talkin’ to him last night about what he’s been through the past fifteen years brought back one of my biggest fears when I was around his age.  Do you remember me saying that during those three years of living in hell, how I’d hoped to get away from it all?” I asked.  A quick nod of acknowledgement from Tom and I carried on, “Well, I felt my own parents didn’t much like or want me because even though I wasn’t out to them at the time, I think, deep down, they already knew.  And I think that feeling of being unwanted or abandoned is pretty much what Will has dealt with, what with nobody including his own family wanting him.

 

“So, I’d started seriously thinkin’ ‘bout runnin’ away, and not just to get away from the Muellers, but to get the hell away from Mom and Dad, too.  I thought if my own parents didn’t want me, maybe I could find someone else out there who would.  So, my big hope and recurring dream back then always started out with me doin’ just that, disappearing in the middle of the night with plans of never goin’ back.  Of course, with my luck bein’ what it was, I always got picked up in whatever town I got to and since I’d refuse to tell the cops who I was, I’d end up getting dropped in a foster home with some weird-ass family. 

 

“In the dreams, the first few days or so with the new people would seem pretty decent.  The kids were nice enough and we’d get along okay, the mom was always super nice and really tried to make me feel comfortable and like a real part of the family, but the dad would always be a bit stand-offish.  I used to believe it was because he worked in some office somewhere and wasn’t around me near as much as the others, but I later figured out it was because he was actually hiding his true self and what he really wanted the most.  After dreaming of spending days in my new peaceful and idyllic life where people actually seemed to care about me, it would all get ruined by the part I just told you about.

 

“So, my own family didn’t give a shit if I was alive or dead, and the only other men I knew, real or imagined, only wanted me for one thing, to use me as their personal and perverted fuck toy.  I mean, I’d heard enough horror stories about the things that can happen to kids in foster homes and subconsciously knew it would probably be even nastier than what I was already dealin’ with, despite having blocked all that ugliness out.  Of course, once a person goes to sleep, the subconscious takes over and runs rampant, leading you wherever the hell it wants to go.

 

“That dream’s the only reason I never actually followed through on my plan of takin’ off, I was afraid that whoever I ended up livin’ with would be just as bad, if not worse, than Frank and Iris.  And though Will says nothing like that has ever happened to him, I have to wonder whether he’s telling the truth considering how many different places he’s been since Charlie and Rebecca gave him up for adoption.”

 

“You know how sorry I am you had to live through that,” he commiserated as he gave me another hug.  “You aren’t thinkin’ of talking to him about it, are you?” Tom queried.

 

“Not this weekend, no, but I can see a time where we might have to,” I answered. 

 

“Glad to hear you’ve put that idea on the back burner for the moment.  I’d hate to put a damper on the weekend, for him or anybody else.”

 

“So, what’re the boys doing?  I’m kinda surprised they didn’t come charging in here after my scream.”

 

“They’re holed up in the theater watching a movie or killing space monsters on the Xbox.  Probably both at the same time knowing those kids.  I’m sure they’ve got whatever turned up loud enough they didn’t hear a thing,” my honey chuckled.  “You ready to get lunch going?”

 

“No time like the present, I guess.  Um, can I hit the bathroom first, though?” I asked.

 

“Gee, I don’t know, can you?” Tom snickered.

 

“You, Thomas Wright, are a first-class smartass.  You know that, right?” I cracked.

 

“I certainly hope so,” he immediately agreed.  “Dad always told me I could be whatever I wanted, I just had to be the best at whatever it was.  Nice to know I’m living up to my potential,” he added with pride.

 

“That wasn’t meant to be a compliment,” I countered.

 

“Too bad for you I took it as one,” he laughed heartily.  “Well, time to get a move on.  I’ll be in the kitchen, bubba,” Tom added as he headed for the door.

 

“Be right there, hon.”  After a quick pitstop, my next task was to roust the kiddos from the theater and put them to work setting the table for lunch.  When I joined Tom in the kitchen, he already had three packages of hotdogs on the grill insert, so I got busy with pulling out the Doritos, chips, and everything else you need for a quick and simple meal.  The boys finally showed up a few minutes later and in short order had the table set and drinks for everyone.  Daril, Arley and Will pitched in with anything the others asked them to help with.

 

Everything was ready to go in less than ten minutes and we settled in the dining room to chow down.  The chatter was light during the meal since everybody was stuffing their face.  The one important thing that was discussed and decided on was a swim before a bunch of people got here.  Less than twenty minutes after digging in, the food was gone and the boys went straight to work cleaning up the table, anxious to get in the pool for a while.  With nine boys taking care of the job, it went pretty quickly and they were heading for the pool in no time at all.  Tom and I were dutifully following along when the drive sensor went off.

 

Seeing that it was only one, we felt it was still a bit early for any of our party guests to start arriving but that didn’t stop T.J. from darting to the front door to see who was here.  Tom and I were hovering behind our chairs so we could slip on the shorts we’d left there just in case they were needed.  Daril, Arley and Will had taken up a position at the beginning of the hallway so they could duck into a bedroom if needed, but the others were just waiting by the glass doors so they’d be ready to scoot on out to the pool.

 

Soon enough, T.J. called out, “Yippee!!  It’s Uncle Dylan.”

 

“Well, we’re gonna head on out to the pool, buddy,” Tom shouted back.  “Bring ‘em on out, will ya?”

 

“Right behind you, guys,” T.J. acknowledged.

 

Daril and Arley immediately joined the rest of us at the doors, but Will said, “Be there once I get my shorts changed,” as he turned down the hallway.

 

The crew stepped outside and as soon as the shelter door was unlocked, they charged inside and launched themselves off the apron and into the water.  Knowing we’d be joined shortly by Dylan and Malcom, Tom and I bypassed the shallow end and aimed for deeper and much calmer waters.  We were just getting settled into place when the door opened and T.J. led Dylan, Malcom and Damon inside.  The two late arriving munchkins joined the boisterous rugrats and the mad frolicking already taking place.  Dylan and Malcom, wise men that they are, opted to bypass the regular muggings and took their places in our semi-quiet corner.

 

“How you guys doin’?” I asked once they were settled in for the long haul.

 

“We’re great Max,” Dylan answered with a big smile.

 

“You’re a little early for the party, aren’t ya?” Tom queried.

 

“Yeah, but Damon demanded we come out now so he could have more time to hang out with his cousins,” Malcom responded.  “And you guys should know you just can’t say no when those brats give you that pathetically sad puppy dog face, am I right?”

 

“Absolutely, Malcom,” I agreed with a chuckle.  Will finally arrived and he wasted no time jumping into the middle of the fray at the far end of the pool.

 

“Who’re the new kids,” Dylan quizzed us.

 

“The two bigger boys are Logan’s cousins, Daril and Arley.  The smaller one is Logan’s brother, Will,” Tom answered.  “Or did you forget he was gonna be here for the weekend?”

 

“No, I remembered, he’s just a lot smaller than I figured he’d be.  He’s supposed to be fifteen, isn’t he?”

 

“Yep,” I replied.

 

“Any idea why he’s barely Damon’s size?” Malcom asked.

 

“Well, we know he had some health issues early on, but we don’t know exactly what they were.  At this point, we can only assume his short stature is somehow related to them.  Of course, I’m sure spending the first fifteen years of his life in this state’s shitty foster care system and getting randomly shuffled from place to place all that time didn’t help a bit.  If he ends up moving in with us, I assume we’ll find out more then,” I answered.

 

“Well, he seems to fit in just fine with the rest of the wild ones,” Dylan laughed.

 

“Well, he does now,” Tom commented.  “Better than we thought he would after last night, anyway.”

 

“Why, what happened?”

 

 

“So, who’s the short little fucker,” I whispered to Alex while pointing to the kid trying to shove Logan’s head under the water.

 

“Oh, that’s Logan’s big brother, Will.”

 

“Cool, didn’t know he had another brother, though he really ain’t that big, is he?  Where’d he come from?”

 

“Their parents gave him up for adoption right after he was born.  Even Logan didn’t know ‘bout him ‘til after his dad died.”

 

“What’s he doin’ here, then?” I pushed, being the nosy little shit I am.

 

“Turns out he’s been in foster or state care his whole life, just like Joey and I were after our mom and dad died.  Our dads found out he hadn’t been adopted and worked it out for him to come down this weekend.”

 

“They gonna ‘dopt him, too?” I asked with surprise.

 

“Don’t know yet.  Guess it all depends how this weekend with us goes,” Alex replied.

 

“Well, if he’s Logan’s brother, I bet they do,” I grinned.  “So tell me, why’s the scrawny little puke wearin’ shorts.”

 

Alex let go a little giggle and whispered, “We’re all pretty sure it’s ‘cause he’s got a small dick and he’s too much of a chicken to go bare-assed like we do.”

 

“Hey, havin’ a tiny pecker ain’t funny, dude.  It’s fuckin’ humiliatin’,” I spat angrily.

 

“Shit!” Alex yelped as he smacked himself in the forehead.  “I’m really sorry, Damon, I wasn’t aiming that at you.  You know we don’t care ‘bout how big you are or aren’t.  Everybody’s different, right?  ‘Sides, we all like your dick just fine, don’t we?” he added with a snort or laughter.

 

“Yeah, I know, but it’s still a touchy subject,” I muttered with dejection.

 

“You mean like this?” he chuckled as he cupped my package in his hand and gave a gentle squeeze.

 

Whatever anger I had at his mean-spirited comment instantly evaporated as I laughed out loud and said, “No, not like that, ya horny little bugger.  But later, all right?”

 

“You gonna spend the night with us again?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“I’m gonna try, dude, depends on what Dad and Poppy say,” I answered.  “But let me warn ya, I been horny as hell ‘cause I been thinkin’ ‘bout comin’ to T.J.’s party all week and some of the fun we could have.”

 

“Swe-e-e-et,” Alex hissed with glee.

 

“But right now, I’m gonna go have a little chat with my new cuz and see if I can get him to loosen up a little bit.”

 

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Alex scoffed as I waded away to rope the newcomer and drag him into a corner away from the rest of the loud and rambunctious goofballs.  As I passed behind Will, I tapped his shoulder and said, “Yo, dude, let’s talk.”

 

Will spun around and glared at me for a moment before saying, “I don’t even know who the hell you are, what makes you think I wanna talk to you?”

 

“I’m your cousin, Damon.  Now you know me, let’s go,” I replied while tipping my head towards the steps in the corner.  I continued in the direction I’d indicated while looking over my shoulder to see if Will would follow along.  I’d gotten about five feet away and he was still rooted to the same spot, gawking at me in disbelief, so I added, “Don’t make me come back and drag your ass over here.”  That smartass comment apparently did the trick as he slowly started following along and soon enough, we’d settled onto the top step.

 

“So, what’d you wanna talk ‘bout?” Will asked nervously.

 

“I just wanted to say hi and get to know my new cousin a little better.  That all right with you?”

 

“There’s no way we’re cousins,” Will retorted.

 

“Oh yeah, why’s that?” I asked, knowing full well what his answer was going to be.

 

“Well, I’m white and you’re …”

 

“What?  Black?  Or dark tan, really,” I giggled lightly.

 

“Well, I was gonna just say not, but since you already said it, yeah, that,” he came back with a little bit of a blush.

 

“Dude, if my dad and Poppy claim Uncles Max and Tom as brothers, then we gotta be cousins.”

 

After shooting a quick glance to the other end of the pool and seeing the four where they usually copped their squat, huddled together in deep conversation, he looked back to me and admitted, “Ya got a point there, I guess.”

 

“So, like I said, I’m Damon and Alex says you’re Will,” I started while holding out my hand for a quick shake.  Receiving nothing more than a simple nod of agreement, I retracted my hand and continued with, “He also said your Logan’s bio bro.  That’s cool, man.”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Will muttered.

 

“What, don’t you two like each other?” I asked seriously.

 

“Can’t really say we know each other that well, I s’pose.  I mean, first time we met was last night and that didn’t go over too well with either one of us.  But that was all my fault, really.”

 

“So, what happened?” I asked with interest.  Will gave me a quick rundown of how he found out about Logan, the trip from Bloomington to here, how their first meeting went and then followed all that up with telling me about the talk the two had in the middle of the night.  “Well, I can see where you two might have some issues to deal with, but it sounds like you’re workin’ on it, at least.  And I know how you feel, Will.  Suddenly finding out about a family member you never knew about is a helluva shock, ain’t it?”

 

“What’re you talking about?” he asked.

 

“Well, for the first eight years of my life, I had no clue who my dad was.  I mean, I knew I had one ‘cause I wouldn’t be here without him, right?  But Mom never talked about him.  Then from outta the blue, ‘bout a month after my eighth birthday, she took me for a ride across town and after parking in front of an apartment building I’d never seen before, she dragged me up to the fourth floor and knocked on a complete stranger’s door.  Malcom finally opened up and was surprised as hell to see her.  He was completely blown away when she told him who I was.”

 

“You mean neither one of you knew about the other until then?”

 

“Yep.  That was a little over four years ago, and it took a while for us to really warm up to each other, but we did and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of each other’s lives now.  And if things work out the way I’m hoping, after those two lunatics get married this summer, I’ll be moving down here with dad.”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“Well, Mom’s brain is a bit scrambled and I just don’t feel safe living with her.”

 

“I can understand that after some of the whack jobs I’ve run into in juvie,” Will commented.  Changing the subject, he added, “So, you’re twelve now?”

 

“Twelve and a half, dude,” I proclaimed proudly.  “How ‘bout you?  You look like you’re eleven or twelve.”

 

“I know I look it, but I’m really fifteen,” Will grumbled.

 

“No way!” I exclaimed in surprise since Alex hadn’t said how old he was.

 

“Way, man.”

 

“Not tryin’ to be mean, dude, but if you’re fifteen, why the hell you so small?  I mean, you’re not much bigger than Logan and he’s only nine.”

 

“Yeah, I know, don’t remind me, okay?” he grumped.

 

“So, you small all over or you just short?” I asked to finally get this little chat going the direction I’d planned.  And though Will hesitated to answer, the deep red blush that overran his face and shoulders was all I needed for an answer.  “That’s why you’re still wearin’ your shorts, isn’t it?  You’re afraid somebody’s gonna make fun of you, aren’t you?”

 

“Well, yeah, why wouldn’t they?” Will retorted.  “All the dickheads in juvie crack stupid jokes ‘bout me all the damn time.  I hate havin’ to take showers with them assholes ‘cause of it, too.  I always try to get one of the corners in the shower room so I can have my back to all of ‘em and that helps, but only a little since all of ‘em already know I got nothin’ happenin’ down there.”

 

“Got a little news flash for ya, bucko.  In case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t juvie.  This is Max and Tom’s home.  Ain’t nobody ‘round here gonna give two shits ‘bout what you got ‘tween your legs.  And if any of us ever dared to make fun of you, we’d catch hell from our dads for bein’ rotten little punks.”

 

“Easy for you to say, man.  I bet you’re bigger than any of the others.  Well, ‘cept Daril and Arley,” he added with a snicker.

 

“Bet ya I’m not,” I retorted, knowing Will hadn’t seen my full body since I was already in the pool when he came out of the house.

 

A wicked grin cracked his face and he turned to face me before issuing his challenge.  “Okay smartass, you got yourself a bet.  What’re the stakes?”

 

“Hm-m-m, let me think,” I hesitated, trying to make him think I was seriously considering the various options.  Truth be told, I’d decided what the bet would be as we were making our way to the steps.  After a moment, I came back with, “I guess if you win, you can have my cake and ice cream at the party tonight.”  His smile grew even wider with the anticipation of a double dose of sweetness later.  “But, if I win, you have to lose your shorts and spend the rest of the day naked just like them,” I added while pointing to the brat pack ten feet away from us.  That prizewinning smirk disappeared in a nanosecond after hearing that.  I watched him closely as he stewed over the situation, his confidence of winning growing with each passing second.  I guess the idea of extra dessert was just too much for him to pass up.

 

“You got yourself a bet, dude.  And thanks for the extra cake, I’m gonna love it,” he gloated.  We quickly shook hands to seal our deal and once we broke up, Will cracked, “Okay, stand up and drop ‘em.”

 

“Got nothin’ to drop, loser.  I ain’t had stitch on since we left Poppy’s house,” I laughed as I rose out of the water and turned to face my new cousin.  On seeing he’d just lost our little bet, he turned as white as a sheet, which was quite the accomplishment considering just how white he already is.

 

“Well shit, you set me up, you asshole,” he muttered numbly.

 

“Damn right I did,” I giggled.  “Time for you to pay up, hombre.”

 

“I really don’t wanna do this, but a deal’s a deal, ain’t it?”  I smiled and held out a hand to help him to his feet.  He latched on and accepted my assistance before stepping out of the pool and slowly shuffling over to the nearest chair.  As he moved, I was thinking to myself, ‘a flippin’ snail moves faster than this kid does.’  After steeling himself for a few more seconds, he finally decided he couldn’t delay any longer and hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his soggy swim shorts.

 

 

Dylan, Malcom, Tom and I had been enjoying our visit and during short lulls in our conversation, we’d glance down to the boys to see how they were faring.  Daril and Arley had started another round of toss the rugrat and the shelter was filled with peals of laughter from all the munchkins as they flew through the air before coming down for a splash landing.  Well, all of them except for Will and Damon.  We’d watched as they’d separated themselves from the others a while ago and had been having what looked like a serious discussion of their own while sitting on the steps.  The four of us were pretty confused about what they could be talking about but figured if they needed help with something they’d let us know.

 

I’d happened to chance another look their direction when I saw Damon stand up, sporting a very wide shit-eating grin and then helping Will rise from his seat on the top step.  I prodded Tom with my elbow and nodded my head that direction as Will stepped over to a nearby chair.  With Tom and I both watching events unfold, Dylan and Malcom diverted their attention to the far end of the pool, too.

 

“What the devil’s goin’ down over there?” Dylan inquired.

 

“Not a clue,” Tom replied.

 

After standing by the chair and looking down at the concrete for a few moments, he reached down for his shorts and started to slowly peel them off.  By the time the wet, clingy material had moved far enough to expose his behind, the boys still in the pool started hooting and whistling at the obviously embarrassed young man.  While I’m sure they thought they were encouraging Will, he quickly dispelled that illusion.

 

Turning his crimson face over his shoulder, he yelled, “Would y’all just shut the hell up!?  You ain’t makin’ this no easier.”  The boys’ reaction to his outburst started with some slightly guilty laughter before the crew became silent witnesses to Will’s hesitance.  He struggled for a minute or so before finally kicking the now useless shorts onto the chair.  After dropping his arms to his sides and I assume providing some minimal cover over his crotch, he started backing up towards Damon who was patiently waiting on the top step.

 

“Way to go, dude!” Damon called out.  “I’m proud of ya!”

 

“Whatever, ya jerk!  You better not let me crack my skull wide open fallin’ down the steps,” Will retorted over his shoulder as he adjusted his aim.

 

“I’m right here and ain’t gonna let ya die on my watch,” Damon assured him as he fed Will minor course corrections.  When Will finally made it to the steps, Damon grabbed his elbow and helped guide him back down and into the pool. 

 

Once comfortably hidden from view by the water, he wrapped his hands around Damon’s neck and asked, “Ya happy, now, dickhead?”

 

“Freakin’ ecstatic, cuz,” Damon laughed.  “Doesn’t that feel better?”

 

“Much as I hate to admit it, it kinda does,” Will replied as a tight grin developed on his mug.  On that note, the duo was surrounded by all the other guys and a miniature celebration began with high fives and hugs being shared with Will.  And surprisingly, he accepted them all with glee, even the hugs.  When they finally wound down, it was suddenly time for Daril and Arley to restart their game and they began launching the younger boys haphazardly across the pool.

 

“Well, that’s an interesting development,” Tom deadpanned.  “I really didn’t think he’d go so far as to lose his shorts on his first visit.”

 

“I bet that was all Damon’s doing,” Malcom chuckled.  “The kid’s a helluva salesman, let me tell you.  He’s so good he could sell oil to a Saudi sheik.  And if he can’t make the sale, he’ll con you into it, one way or another,” he added with another laugh.

 

“As long as Will was willing to take the step himself and wasn’t forced into it, we’re good,” I commented.  “I didn’t see any of those guys holding a gun to his head, so I have to assume he lost his shorts on his own free will.”

 

“Well, I’m still gonna check with Damon and see how it all came about just to be sure.  He knows better than to push an issue like that.”

 

“We’ll let you handle it then,” Tom commented.

 

“So, what were we talkin’ about before we got distracted?” Dylan chuckled.

 

“You and Tom talking to Will about that guard at the juvenile detention center, but hang on a sec before we dive back into that,” I replied.  I turned back towards the boys so they could hear me over their squeals and yelled, “Mike, time for your thirty minutes!  Put ‘em through the paces!”

 

“You got it, Dad!” the youngster yelled back before turning back to the rowdy crowd and yelling, “All right dudes, hands on the wall and start kickin’.”

 

As our five took their positions, Daril called out, “What about us?”

 

“Until Mike says you can pass his test, you, too,” Tom yelled back to be heard above the splashing created by the serious kicking the others were already doing.  Resigned to their fate, Daril, Arley and Will assumed their places and began to follow Mike’s instructions.  From what we could see, Will definitely needs some help with his skills, but the two older boys seemed quite adept with swimming, probably due to years of using the pond in their back yard.  With them otherwise occupied, we could pick up where we left off.

 

Thirty minutes later, Mike’s time was up and we decided it was time to get cleaned up and ready for the party that was going to be starting soon.  The four of us waded down to where the boys were and as soon as we tried to get them moving the right direction, the battles began.  With two hulking teenagers added to the mix, the brat pack made short work of the adults amid much hilarity from everyone.  With their victory firmly in hand, the munchkins led the way out of the pool and into the house for showers and a bit of down time.

 

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