Previous Chapter

Chapter 92 – Family Party Time

 

As we got into the house and everyone started heading their separate directions to run through the showers, I asked Dylan, “You and Malcom gonna use ours like usual?”

 

“As long as it’s okay with you guys,” he replied.

 

“But we need to have a little chat with Damon first,” Malcom added.

 

“We should be out of your way by the time you get there,” Tom responded over his shoulder as we continued on our way.  Turning into the hallway, we heard Malcom call out, ‘Damon, we need to talk, boy!’

 

“I’d like to listen in on that little convo,” I whispered.

 

“I’m sure we’ll hear about it soon enough,” Tom smiled.

 

 

“Have a seat, son,” I offered calmly as Dylan and I commandeered Max & Tom’s chairs.

 

“What up, Dad?” Damon asked as he and Will settled in on the loveseat.

 

“You don’t need to be here for this, Will,” I offered.

 

“Nah, it’s cool, man,” he replied.  “ ‘Sides, we can’t very well share a shower if we’re not in it at the same time, can we?

 

“Your call, buddy.  We just want to make sure what happened out in the pool,” Dylan continued.

 

“What?  We swam, played around and had a bunch o’ fun, just like we always do.  We even put up with Mikey’s little swimming lesson,” the munchkin replied with a smile.

 

“That’s not what we’re talking about and I’m pretty sure you know that,” I retorted.  “You know better than to pressure anybody into doing something they don’t want to.  We want to know what took place between you two that ended with Will losing his shorts when he was obviously not comfortable doing so.”

 

“Oh, that,” Damon snickered.  “That was just a bet and he lost,” he added while pointing to Will.

 

“Musta been a big-ass bet,” Dylan commented drily.

 

“Uh, not really,” Will laughed loudly and Damon joined him.  After a confused look from both of us, Will continued.  “We were just talkin’ on the steps, guys, and Damon brought up I was the only fool in the pool wearin’ anything.  Well, he guessed why, then told me this wasn’t juvie and I didn’t have to worry about anybody makin’ fun of me and my small di…, uh, penis ‘round here.  I didn’t really believe him and kinda tossed out it was easy for him to say that and bet him he was bigger than any of the other boys.  ‘Cept for Daril and Arley, of course.

 

“He shot back, ‘betcha I’m not’ and like the idiot I am, I took him up on it.  He laid out the stakes and feeling confident I was gonna win, we shook on it.  Biggest mistake of my life, let me tell ya,” he snorted.  “Soon as he stood up, I knew I was screwed.  And not in a good way.”

 

“Just because you ‘lost’ the bet didn’t mean you had to lose your shorts,” I replied.

 

“Well, yeah, it kinda did, dudes.  One of the many things I’ve learned in juvie the last year and a half is if you give your word on somethin’, you damn well better follow through ‘cause if ya don’t pay up, somebody’s gonna clean your clock.  Whether it’s a pack o’ smokes, a game o’ cards or who’s got the biggest dick, or in this case, who doesn’t,” he snickered.

 

“So, Damon didn’t push you to get naked like the rest of us?” Dylan asked.

 

“Nope.  Can’t blame anybody for that but myself, guys,” Will answered before leaning forward and whispering, “but to tell ya the truth, I was about to lose ‘em anyway.”

 

“Really?” I asked.  “If you don’t mind me asking, why?”

 

“Well, after bein’ stuck in the joint with a bunch of obnoxious dickheads as long as I been, you start to get real private about stuff.  Especially when your, um, private stuff, don’t quite measure up, if you get my drift.”  With nods all around, he carried on.  “I was still in that mode when these guys were talkin’ ‘bout swimmin’, so I’d just about decided to wear shorts.   Then you three showed up and that just iced it for me.  There was no way in hell I was gonna be naked ‘round people I’d never met before.  But once I finally got out to the pool and saw how much fun all the guys were havin’, knowin’ they were all bare-assed and nobody gave a rat’s ass, I thought, ‘What’s the point?  We all got the same junk and I ain’t that small’.  But the closer I got to actually doin’ it, I realized I didn’t have the balls to just drop ‘em right there.  So, I chickened out and jumped in.”

 

“That’s when this fool,” he continued while pointing to Damon, “snagged me and said he wanted to talk.  Well, one thing led to another, then to somethin’ else, and finally ended up with our stupid little bet.  I shoulda known I was bein’ set up from the get-go, but I was still thinkin’ too much ‘bout bein’ razzed here like I get in Normal on a daily basis, so what I’d just agreed to didn’t really sink in ‘til Damon stood up and showed me he was in the same little dinghy I am.  At that point, I figured if he can do it, then by god, so could I.  I was still nervous as hell tryin’ to peel off those damn clingy shorts in front of everyone, but I did it.  And I can tell ya right now, I ain’t never swimmin’ with somethin’ on again.”

 

“Well, welcome to the zoo, Will,” Dylan replied while sticking out his hand.  After those two separated, I took my turn and we shared a handshake as well.

 

“You two need to run through the shower real quick so we’re ready for a party,” I commented as Dylan and I stood up.

 

“We’d already been done with it if you hadn’t stopped us to talk, Dad,” Damon cracked as the two scoundrels scampered down the hallway, giggling their naked little asses off all the way.

 

 

Tom and I were just stepping out of the shower when there was a light rap on the door.  “C’mon in,” Tom acknowledged just before Dylan stuck his head through the opening.

 

“Y’all decent?” he joked with a crooked grin.

 

“About as decent as we ever get, guys,” I answered.  “Shower’s all yours.”

 

“Good, I want to get this chlorine rinsed off before I turn any whiter,” Malcom snarked.

 

“How’d your chat go?” Tom queried.

 

“Fine,” Malcom replied as the two men laughed.  “Turns out it was a bet Damon suckered Will into takin’ and poor Will lost. First the bet, then his shorts and finally his dignity.”

 

“Oh shit,” I muttered.

 

“It’s all cool, Max,” Dylan jumped in.  “Will told us he was about to skinny-dip with the rest of ya, but when we showed up, he changed his mind.”

 

“So what changed it back?” Tom asked.

 

“Will bet Damon his equipment was bigger than any of the other boys,” Malcom chuckled lightly.

 

“Oops,” I laughed.  “Bet he won’t make that bet again.”

 

“Well, not with Damon, he won’t,” Dylan agreed with a hearty guffaw as the two stepped into the shower and turned on the water.  We took that as our cue to move on and head back to the living room to relax for a bit while we waited for Ron and Arlene to return.  There wasn’t much else we could do at the moment since they were bringing all the decorations we needed to put up.

 

 

After Damon and I climbed into Ron’s shower and started the water, I said, “I really wanna say thanks for gettin’ me to loosen up, dude.  I was wound up tighter than a catapult.”

 

“Yeah, I noticed,” the little bugger laughed.

 

“I’d kinda like to give you a hug.”

 

“So, what’s stoppin’ ya?  Hugs’re free, feel good and I’m always willing to share one,” Damon smirked.

 

“Um, we’re both naked, ya bonehead.  I barely hug clothed guys, ain’t no way I’m huggin’ a naked one.”

 

“Well, you oughta know I ain’t gettin’ dressed ‘til I get back to Mom’s Sunday night, so I guess I ain’t gettin’ that hug.”

 

“What about ‘tween here an’ there?  Surely you’re gonna get dressed ‘fore you leave here tonight.”

 

“Nope,” he retorted with a devilish grin.  “I’m hopin’ I can spend the night.  And even if I can’t, Dad and Poppy always take the back roads from here to Poppy’s house, so none of us wear clothes comin’ out or goin’ back.  And from Poppy’s to Mom’s place in Normal is no big deal, either.  Well, Dad’s dressed, for sure, but I’m small enough, ain’t nobody goin’ by on the interstate can see I got nothin’ on.”

 

“Damn, dude, you’re crazy.”

 

“Nope, I just hate wearin’ clothes.  ‘Course, if I tried that shit at Mom’s she’d have a freakin’ conniption fit, so I spend as much time naked as I can when I’m not with her.”

 

“Wait, you said you live in Normal?  That’s where I’m stuck in juvie.”

 

“Not for long, I bet,” Damon grinned.  “If I know Uncles Max and Tom at all, they’re already plannin’ on adoptin’ you, too.”

 

“God, I hope so.  I’d love to have a normal damn life for once.”

 

“Hang in there, bucko, I’m sure they’ll make it happen.  Now, how ‘bout that hug?” he asked as he opened his arms wide. 

 

As much as I hated the idea of huggin’ a naked dude, especially since I was naked, too, I tamped down my inner demons just long enough to cautiously lean over and wrap my arms around Damon’s shoulders, making sure the only parts of our bodies that were touching were the sides of our heads and our shoulders.  My efforts to minimize the physical contact between us flowed right down drain with the water washing over us when he cupped my ass with both hands and pulled me in closer. 

 

One thing I’d somehow failed to notice before I gave in was the fact that at some point, Damon’s dick had gotten hard.  I can’t tell you when that happened but there was no denying his rigid little prick was stabbing my soft one.  And when he wiggled his hips back and forth a bit, dragging his boner across my crotch, it was like a switch flipped in my brain and my own little pecker was jump-started, too. 

 

I immediately shoved him away and asked, “What the fuck you doin’, pervert?”

 

“I was just givin’ you a hug, man, don’t have a freakin’ cow?” he retorted.

 

“But what’s the big idea grabbin’ my ass and draggin’ your dick across mine like that?”

 

“That was the special hug I only give to people I really, really like,” he answered.  “I don’t know what you’re so pissed off about, you obviously liked it.”

 

“What makes you think that?” I countered angrily.

 

“Hey, I felt your dick get hard, don’t you dare try to tell me it didn’t.”

 

“Well, yeah, it did, but that shit still ain’t right.”

 

“Man, are you really that thick?  Don’t you ever play with yourself?”

 

“Well, yeah, maybe.  But that don’t mean I want to play with another dude,” I replied testily.

 

“And it feels good, doesn’t it?”  All I could do at that point was nod in agreement as I was too much of a wimp to say it out loud.  “Then you should know it feels even better when someone else does it for ya.”

 

“Bullshit!”

 

“I can prove it if ya let me,” he offered quietly.  I was so stunned at his bold statement; I didn’t know what to say or do.  I wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as I could, but my feet weren’t responding to the screams coming from my fractured brain.  Damon must have taken my silence and lack of movement for agreement as he stepped closer to me and gently cupped my cock and balls in his right hand.

 

This is wrong, so wrong.  I knew that in one part of my mind, but there was another part up there that was screaming even louder, ‘let him prove it, you fuckin’ moron!!’  That’s when he gripped my stiff shaft between his thumb and forefinger and started stroking my diminutive hardon.  I heard a quiet moan of pleasure emanate from somewhere but didn’t fully realize it had come from me as he continued his gentle but direct ministrations.

 

“So, you want me to stop?” he asked after a minute or two of oh-so-sweet torture.  I furiously shook my head no as the very familiar good feelings continued to grow.  “You want it to feel even better?”  I nodded my head eagerly as I looked down at his hands caressing my stiff pecker and jostling my balls from side to side.  He moved backwards a few feet until he could sit on the bench along the end wall of the shower.  I had no choice but to follow along since he still had my prong in a loose but unrelenting grasp.  As hard as I was at that moment, I was afraid if I didn’t, the damn thing might snap off and I figured a tiny dick is better than no dick at all.  After sitting down and with his right hand still manipulating my aching cock, he reached his left behind me, gripped my ass and pulled me in even closer.

 

He had pulled me so close, I could feel his breath on my cock and was completely lost in all the sweet sensations surging through me.  Yeah, it was wrong, but if that’s true, then why the fuck did it feel so fucking good?  And as good as this was, what the fuck did he think he could do that would make it even better?  I was still puzzling over the answer to that question when he solved it for me by taking my cock and balls into his mouth, swirling his tongue across my knob, then letting it slither down my length before cupping that magical muscle under my nutsack and tickling my balls.  Oh, Jesus H. Fucking Christ, please don’t let this ever end.

 

Damon proceeded to suck me with gusto and even though it was the first time anybody had ever wrapped their lips and tongue around my junk, I could tell he’d done this before.  As he continued to masterfully bring me closer and closer to the point of no return, he again cupped my ass with both hands and pulled me in tighter than I thought possible.  With his mouth filled and his nose buried in my hairless crotch, I don’t know how the hell he was breathing, but at that point, I didn’t really care.  All I cared about was him getting me off.

 

At some point, his hands had started roaming around my backside, getting closer and closer to my crack.  I about jumped out of my skin when he finally stretched my cheeks far enough apart that his fingertips lightly grazed my asshole.  Sure, I’d played with my dick plenty of times, but I’d never even thought about touching my ass like that.  I mean, it was gross and dirty, right?  But damn, I felt every nerve in my body fire off the same moment he made contact with my pucker.

 

It was getting really close to the end of this little game and I was gonna win, dammit.  For once in my miserable fuckin’ life, I was gonna be the big winner!  I started rocking my hips in sync with his head bobbing, pushing as much of myself as possible into his warm, wet mouth.  He continued massaging my ass, his fingers lightly circling my tight hole as he held me close.  When I finally reached the point where it became impossible to hold off any longer, I grabbed the back of Damon’s head and just held him in place as my dick twitched spastically in his mouth.  To my surprise, he didn’t flinch or try to pull away, he just kept rolling his tongue all over my junk and his fingers were still roaming randomly across and all over my backside.

 

Despite the fact my eyes were tightly closed, I saw fireworks exploding like it was the biggest 4th of July celebration ever.  When the light show inside my eyelids finally subsided, I let go of Damon’s head and felt my now soft cock slip from his mouth as he sat back and looked up at me, cheesy grin plastered across his face.  I collapsed on the bench next to him as my mind reeled from what had just happened.  I finally knew why my cellmate was always so fucking giddy and relaxed whenever he came back after getting his cock sucked by somebody.  He’d offered to do it to me a few times, but I was always afraid he’d want me to do it to him and there was no way in hell I was doin’ that.  Not for anybody.  Well, I might make an exception for Damon.

 

The silence between us was eventually broken when Damon quietly asked, “Um, you okay, Will?  You’re bein’ awful quiet there.”

 

“Dude, that was mind-blowing!” I exclaimed.

 

“Well, not exactly what I was aiming for,” he deadpanned.  “Unless you keep your brains in the small head and not the big one like most people, that is,” he laughed.

 

“I guess you expect me to suck you now, don’t ya?” I asked nervously, unsure I could really force myself do it if that’s what the deal was.

 

“Nope, that was just a little ‘welcome to the family’ gift, cuz.  I’m savin’ mine for later with Joey, Alex and Logan,” he answered with a giggle.

 

“Does that mean you’re gay, too?  Is that why you sucked me off?” I asked in confusion.

 

“Nope, I’m straight as an arrow.”

 

“Then why you doin’ queer shit like that with me and the others?” I pressed.

 

“Well, I’m pretty damn sure the chick I’d like to be my girlfriend ain’t gonna do it for me.”  I couldn’t help but laugh at that before he continued.  “And even though my best guy friend and I play around when we can, it ain’t near often enough.  And since all the guys ‘round here love to screw around with each other, I figure what the hell, might as well take what I can get when I can get it.”

 

“I guess that makes sense,” I mused.  “I can see gettin’ somebody to suck you off, but why the hell you doin’ it to others if you aren’t gay?”

 

“Hey, it’s only fair, dude.  I mean, they make me feel good, then by god, I’m gonna make them feel good, too,” Damon argued.

 

“But isn’t it gross havin’ somebody’s dick in your mouth?  It’s gotta taste nasty, don’t it.”

 

“Well, you don’t want to do it right after a dude’s taken a piss, that’s for damn sure.  But after or in a shower when everything’s nice and clean, a dick doesn’t taste any different than any other skin on your body.  It’s like licking your arm or lips, just firmer.  Well, it is if you’re doin’ it right.”  We both laughed at that.

 

“What about when they, you know …” I asked warily, not wanting to say the word.

 

“You mean come, shoot, spooge, nut, whatever ya wanna call it?”  I only nodded before he carried on.  “Wouldn’t know ‘bout that since none of the guys I’ve sucked can do it yet.  Obviously, none of these dudes are old enough to do it, so it’s not a problem ‘round here.  Not even my friend back home can shoot real spunk quite yet.  And he’s actually bigger than us and has a little hair around his dick, so I’m sure he’s close.  Not sure what I’ll do when he can.  Guess I’ll figure that out when it happens.”

 

“Well, I obviously can’t do it either,” I muttered glumly.

 

“Don’t be too sure ‘bout that, bucko,” Damon countered.

 

“What!?” I exclaimed.

 

“Well, I don’t think it was actual cum, ya know, probably just that clear slick shit that oozes out when you’re playin’ with it.  But yeah, I definitely tasted a little something that wasn’t just skin.”

 

“Uh, yuck, bet that was gross,” I offered lamely.

 

“Really, it doesn’t taste like much of anything, so it didn’t bother me.  But maybe I’m used to it already since Tyler and me both leak that shit all the time.”

 

“I’ll take your word for it.  I can’t believe I’m sayin’ this, but now I think I wanna try it,” I muttered in disbelief.  “I mean, I kinda feel like I owe ya that much.”

 

“Look, I ‘ppreciate the offer, Will, but save it for when we go to bed later,” Damon replied with a cheeky smirk.  “We gotta get the hell outta here before they send a search party lookin’ for us.  And I’m pretty sure you don’t want anybody findin’ ya on your knees in front of me, do ya?”

 

“Not my first choice, no” I giggled.  “But I still owe ya one, dude.”

 

“No worries, bro.  If you wanna give it a go, I’ll be happy to let ya.”

 

We finally got off the bench and proceeded to actually use the soap and shampoo to get washed up.  With both of us clean and rinsed off, I turned off the water and we grabbed towels to start drying off.  Damon offered to dry my back for me and I accepted, returning the favor when he was done.  By the time I’d finished his back, I was kneeling behind him and his ass was right in front of my face.  And despite never having a thought like it before, I had to admit to myself he had a very cute little behind.  And since I was there, I noticed he hadn’t dried it or his legs yet, so I continued over his bubble butt and down the legs to his feet.

 

Finished with the back side of his body, I told him to turn around so I could take care of the front of his legs, too.  Of course, once he’d done so, it put his dick right in front of my face.  And though I’d obviously seen my own dick plenty of times and a whole bunch of others the past year and a half, I’d never been this up close and personal with any of them.  Truth be told, I never wanted to be.  But I couldn’t help but stare at the little nubbin while I worked the towel up his legs.  And by the time I got to his crotch, something had come over me that I simply can’t describe.

 

I let the towel graze over his crotch and when I pulled it away, I noticed his cock was just a bit bigger than it had been.  I was mesmerized by the sight and before I consciously realized what I was doing, I’d dropped the towel to the floor, grabbed his ass and pulled his hips toward my face.  Any hesitance I may have had before this moment melted away and I eagerly sucked his little wiener into my mouth, if for no other reason but to see what it tasted like.  I was nicely surprised to find out it was just like Damon said, it tastes just like any other skin that covers your body.  And I kinda liked the way it quickly got hard when I ran my tongue over the pink bullet-shaped tip.

 

I assumed the gasp I heard from above me was one of surprise until Damon knuckle-thumped my noggin and cried out, “Teeth, dumbass!  You gotta cover your teeth.”

 

I leaned back and sheepishly muttered, “Sorry, man, it’s my first time.”

 

“No shit, Sherlock, what was your first clue?”  I started to lean back in to take another stab at it, but Damon interrupted me when he added, “Like I said, later, Will.  I’ll give you some lessons so you’ll know what you’re doing before you bite someone’s dick off.”

 

"You got yourself a deal, man.  I still owe ya, ‘member?” I replied with a smirk.

 

“After that fuckup, you owe me even more, dude,” he snorted in reply as we finally headed back out to join the rest of the family.

 

 

All the boys had disappeared into the theater immediately after their showers to hone their race car driving skills or play some other equally silly video game, leaving just the adults chatting in the living room.  We certainly weren’t solving any of the world’s problems this afternoon, but just killing time until we needed to start getting serious about having a birthday party this evening.  I’d talked to Dad and made sure they were still detouring through Virden to pick up the birthday boy’s selection of DiCarlo’s pizza for our meal and he rather emphatically assured me that he’d not suddenly developed Alzheimer’s.  I also heard Mom yell from the background of the call that I worry too much.  I couldn’t help it, I suppose, since this was going to be T.J.’s first birthday with the whole family and I wanted it to be perfect.

 

The drive sensor dinged just as Will and Damon emerged from their rather lengthy time in the shower.  Even though we’d all watched in surprise as Will shed his shorts at the pool, I was amazed to see him still embracing the nudist lifestyle we enjoyed.  Despite this development, I could tell he was still self-conscious about his body being on full display around others thanks to the light pinkish tint flooding his face and the simple fact his hands were hovering around his crotch. 

 

I was about to let him know he was welcome to wear something when Damon asked, “Where’s the goofballs?”

 

“And what the heck was that gong all about?” Will added with trepidation.

 

“Hiding in the theater,” Tom answered.

 

“And the gong was the sensor letting us know somebody just pulled in the drive,” I added.

 

“Eep!” Will squeaked as the pink flush moved further down his body and Damon continued across the house to join the others.

 

“Damon!” I called after his retreating figure, “Do us a favor and try to keep those rascals in there until we get the truck unloaded.  Ron and Arlene have the party decorations and birthday presents with them.”

 

“I’ll do my best but no guarantees, dudes,” he replied with a laugh.

 

Turning my attention back to the nervous young man still frozen in place by the couch, I offered, “You’re welcome to wear shorts if you’d be more comfortable, Will.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” he muttered back, “but if I’m gonna be livin’ here with y’all someday soon, I need to get used to it, don’t I?”

 

“Not at all,” Tom answered.  “When we’re in a position to be fostering kids, we certainly won’t expect them to be nude unless they want to be.  That goes for you and everybody else who comes to our home.”

 

“Even us,” Malcom offered.  “ ‘Course, we like not wearin’ clothes,” he added with a chuckle.

 

“I’ll be all right,” Will commented.  “ ‘Sides, it ain’t that big a deal, right?” he asked as he slowly let his hands drop to his sides and looked down.

 

Despite the opening Will created with his actions and words, we managed to stifle our giggles and I replied, “Glad you’re feeling more at ease, buddy.  Make yourself at home.”

 

“Thanks, I’m really hopin’ too, Max,” the young man replied eagerly.

 

“What d’ya mean by that,” Tom queried with surprise.  “After last night’s, um, festivities, we just assumed this is the last place on earth you’d want to be and I’d be taking you back to Normal for good on Monday.”

 

“That was then, this is now, dudes,” Will retorted smartly.  “I mean, much as I absolutely love the thought of bein’ stuck in juvie for a couple more years (cough, cough), how fast you think you can make this real and permanent?” he added with a tinge of hope in his voice while sinking into the couch.

 

“If you’re serious about becoming a part of our family, Will, we can talk to Carol sometime and see what she thinks,” I answered.

 

“Then let’s do it!” he crowed happily.  “Right after we nail that sick bastard Herman to the wall.”

 

“You sure you want to wait for that to happen?” Tom asked.  “It could take a couple months or longer before we can be sure he’ll go to jail.” 

 

“Trust me, guys, I hate the friggin’ place with a passion and wanna be outta there as fast as humanly possible, but I ain’t buggin’ out ‘til I know that disgusting prick can’t hurt any more of my friends who are still gonna be stuck in there with him.”

 

Dylan’s cop instinct and curiosity, finely-honed by years of being on the force, could no longer be kept at bay and he waded into the conversation with, “Why does this Herman fella sound like someone I need to check into?”

 

“Because he is,” I answered.  Before I could elaborate any further, the front door popped open and Ron stepped through the portal, carefully carrying two birthday cakes. He was quickly followed by Arlene who had at least five Walmart bags hanging from each arm.

 

“A li’l help’d be much ‘ppreciated, fellas,” Arlene called across the house before disappearing around the corner and into the kitchen.

 

Now, while the five of us might be considered your typical clueless guys, we certainly knew the difference between a simple request and a direct order by the tone of voice used, and there was no mistaking exactly what Arlene meant.  Will was the first to jump up from his seat and head out to the truck.  The four of us followed along as we didn’t want to incur the wrath of the lady who seemed to be in charge at the moment.

 

On reaching the open tailgate, Will let out an appreciative whistle before commenting, “Damn, nice bike, guys.  T.J.’s gonna be super happy with that.”

 

“Well, only Logan had one when he moved in, so giving the others one for their first birthday here seems to be the perfect way to correct that oversight,” I explained.

 

“Cool.  Hope I’m here for my birthday,” he cracked with a cheesy smirk.

 

“Guess that all depends on when it is,” Tom replied.

 

“May seventeenth, why?” the munchkin answered.

 

“You can’t be serious,” I muttered dumbly as I stopped loading up with bags and leaned on the tailgate.

 

“As a heart attack, dudes, why?”

 

“That’s the day we’re getting married,” Tom answered.

 

“Sweet!” Will crowed.  “Guess that means you’ll never forget my birthday, then.  And since I’ll be sixteen this year, I expect a car, not some silly bike,” he added with huge howl of laughter.

 

“Hang on there, Hotrod,” Dylan interjected while laying a hand on Will’s shoulder before continuing with, “Ol’ Max here may be rich compared to us common folk, but I’m pretty sure even he can’t afford to insure a teenaged male driver, especially with the cars he owns.”  That smartass comment gave us all a good laugh.

 

“Let’s get back to work, guys,” I said while turning around and snagging two more bags.  “We’ll deal with details like birthdays and age-appropriate gifts later.” 

 

Will and Malcom took care of moving the bike and other gifts into our bedroom as requested, while Dylan, Tom and I manhandled the food and other purchases into the kitchen where Ron and Arlene had just finished putting away what they’d already brought inside and were patiently waiting for the rest to magically appear.  As soon as the bags hit the counter, the two dug into them to get it all put away.  In less than five minutes, the counters were cleaned off except for the decorations and the empty bags had been stashed in the pantry.

 

Will and Malcom had rejoined the crew and Arlene took a moment to let her eyes wander from head to toe of both Dylan and Malcom before taking a deep breath and commenting, “My, my, my, ain’t you two just the finest-lookin’ specimens of Grade A Prime beefcake I ever had the pleasure to lay eyes on?  Sure makes me wonder what the hell I was thinkin’ when I hooked up with that scumbag I married.”

 

Rather flustered by her blatant appraisal, Malcom sidled closer to Dylan, wrapped an arm around his back and muttered, “Um, thanks ma’am.  My fiancé and I appreciate the compliment.”

 

“Well, shoot,” she grumbled.  “If that ain’t more o’ that bad luck o’ mine, I don’t know what is.  Guess I shoulda known better than to try hittin’ on couple o’ nice-lookin’ fellas like y’all ‘round here, shouldn’t I?” she added with a giggle.

 

Dylan, being the master statesman he is, responded with, “Don’t you worry one bit, Ma’am.  As pretty as you are, you’ll find yourself a fine young man in no time.”

 

“By God, I hope so.  I don’t much fancy the idea o’ bein’ alone the rest of my life,” she retorted.

 

“I bet Uncle Dylan’s right, Aunt Arlene, but you might want to actually get a divorce before you go fishin’ and hook another one,” Will chuckled.

 

“Good point, young man,” Arlene agreed.  “Guess I should get started on that next week.  ‘Course, now I gots to find a stinkin’ lawyer and I ain’t got a clue where to start.”

 

“I know just the guy who can help you out,” I offered.

 

“If you’re thinkin’ o’ the same scalawag that saved Logan’s skin, sign me up!  Ain’t got a clue how I’ll pay his highfalutin rates, though.”

 

“I’ll get in touch with Clarence Monday and we’ll see what we can work out.  And you don’t have to worry about how he gets paid.”

 

“Thanks, Max,” Arlene replied softly.  “You’re like an angel who’s been sent from heaven to watch over me and my boys.”

 

“I’ve been called a lot of different things in my life, Ma’am, but never an angel,” I laughed.  “So, shall we start decorating?” I asked, just to change the subject from angels and heaven.

 

“I think Arlene and I can handle it just fine, Max,” Ron offered.  “You guys get outta here.”

 

“Only because you insist,” Tom replied as he promptly turned for the living room.

 

As the rest of us followed along, I heard Ron say, “I’ll be right back, Arlene.  I need to get comfortable in my own skin before we get started.  As long as you’re okay with that, of course.”

 

“You go right ahead, cutie.  Think I’ll like watchin’ you go up and down a ladder while I hold it for ya.  The ladder, that is,” Arlene giggled lightly.

 

“Ma, don’t be gross,” Daril groused as the herd exited the theater.

 

“ ‘Sides, he’s gay, ‘member?” Arley added with a note of disgust.

 

“ ‘Course I ‘member.  Don’t mean I can’t look, does it?  I mean, I might be old to you youngins, but I’m still alive, ain’t I?”

 

“Whatever, ma,” Daril grunted sourly as the group moved on through the dining room.

 

Before everyone was in the same room, I whispered to Tom, “Now might be a good time for you, Will and Dylan to have that little chat.”

 

“Good thinking, boss,” he agreed.  “We may not have another chance before I have to take him back to Normal Monday morning.”

 

As he headed towards his office, he tapped Will and Dylan on their shoulders and bobbled his head to let them know to keep moving that direction.  As they turned down the hallway, I watched a decidedly pink Ron slowly following their footsteps, no doubt unnerved and uncomfortable by Arlene’s straight forwardness.

 

Before the boys could settle in, I suggested, “Why don’t you guys go outside and play for a while, maybe walk a trail or two and show Daril and Arley around the property?”

 

“Yeah, that sounds cool,” T.J. answered.

 

“Wait, where’s Will?” Logan queried.

 

“Having that talk with Pops and Dylan,” I answered.

 

“Guess he’ll have to wait for his next visit to see the spooks in the woods, then,” Joey chuckled.

 

“Look, guys, you all watched Sammy drift off through the trees and I ain’t seen him since that day.  And that bastard Bo is hauntin’ some plantation down in Louisiana so you ain’t gotta worry ‘bout him, neither.”  T.J. immediately turned to me and offered, “Sorry for usin’ the b-word, Dad, but ya gotta admit, he was one.”

 

I nodded in agreement but before I could say anything, Arley jumped in with “Whut the devil y’all talkin’ ‘bout?”

 

“Hey, Sammy wasn’t a devil, he was just a kid who died way before he shoulda,” T.J. protested.  “Now Bo, he’s a whole different story.  He was about as close to the Devil as a person can get.”

 

“You guys scoot on outta here and you can fill in Daril & Arley with all the gory details during your walk,” I suggested.  That was all it took for the group to head down the hallway, stop in their rooms for socks and shoes and then continue outside through the garage.  That left Malcom and me alone so we could enjoy a bit of quiet time and visit.  Or so I thought until I heard T.J. tell the others, “Wait!  I forgot I gotta tell Dad somethin’.  You guys go ahead and I’ll catch up.”

 

As the munchkin zipped back out of the hallway, I asked, “What’s up, kiddo?”

 

After screeching to a halt beside my chair and nervously gazing blankly in the direction of the floor, he mumbled, “I probably shouldn’t a done it, but at school yesterday, I asked Ralphie if he’d come to my party tonight.  And then I forgot to tell ya ‘bout it last night after we got home.  I hope it’s okay.”

 

I let go a little chuckle and replied, “It’s fine, T.J.  Is his dad bringing him over?”

 

“Yup, I told him he should be here about five,” he answered with a gush of relief.  “Thanks, Dad, you’re the greatest.”  As he turned to run outside and rejoin the rest of the herd, he yelled over his shoulder, “Love ya, Dad!”

 

“Love you, too, ya wild little rugrat!” I called back.

 

 

After entering Pops’ office, Pops had Dylan sit at his desk and he guided me to the chair in front of it.  He then pulled the chair over from his own desk and sat right next to me.  I didn’t understand why he arranged us this way, but I suppose he had his reasons.

 

“So, boss, what’s going on you need my help with?” Dylan asked to start our conversation.

 

“As you know, Will’s serving some time in the juvenile detention center in Normal for some youthful indiscretions that’s not uncommon among boys his age.”

 

“Oh, c’mon, Pops, just lay it all out there,” I interrupted.  “I broke into the school and spray painted ‘Principal McGee sucks’ on his office door one Saturday night.  Painted a few things in other places, too.  A couple other dudes were there, too, and they did their own shit that got them thrown into juvie with me.”

 

“You were in some other trouble, too, weren’t you?” he prodded.

 

“Well, yeah, but I ended up paying for all the stuff I lifted from that 7-Eleven, too.”

 

“But, between that and the vandalism, that’s why you ended up where you are, isn’t it?”

 

“You know it is.  And I’m not proud of doing that stuff, but the folks I was livin’ with at the time didn’t give a shit about me or what I did.  The only reason they took me in the first place was the money they get from the state for puttin’ up with me.”

 

“They’re supposed to do much more than that,” Dylan commented.

 

“Sure they are, but my case worker didn’t believe me when I told him they weren’t doin’ shit.  Hell, they barely fed me, and they sure as shit didn’t buy me any new clothes or anything else for the year I lived with them.  I was starting to outgrow all my stuff and they never would take me out to replace none of it.  Really makes me wonder what they did with all that money they got from the state.  I started stealin’ from that store and painted up the school with my buds just so I’d get in trouble and get taken away from those useless assholes.”

 

“Your plan seems to have worked beyond your wildest dreams, kiddo,” Dylan deadpanned.  “What was supposed to happen after?” he prodded.

 

“I don’t know,” I admitted sadly.  “Guess I was hoping my case worker would find me a new family to live with who might actually give a shit.  But no-o-o-o-o, that lazy prick just left my sorry ass to rot in juvie.”

 

Pops jumped back in and asked, “Did you ever stop and think another family wouldn’t want to foster a kid who has a track record of being a liability, one they couldn’t trust to be left alone in their home?  I mean, you already had a record for committing several thefts, right?  How could they know you wouldn’t round up some friends and rob them blind?”

 

“Um, guess I didn’t think far enough ahead, did I?  But you an’ Max are thinkin’ about me comin’ to live here with you guys, aren’t ya?”

 

“Sure, we’re seriously considering it,” Tom admitted, “But we’re going to need assurances that the behavior that landed you in detention has come to an end.  We will not abide having an active thief and vandal living in our home with our boys and any other kids we take in.”

 

“Look, man, I was young, dumb and pissed off at the world for screwin’ me over.  I swear that stuff won’t ever happen again,” I begged, looking straight into Pops’ eyes so he’d know I was being sincere.  “I’ve spent almost sixteen years knowing nobody was ever gonna adopt me.  And now I’ve finally found somebody who’s not only thinkin’ ‘bout it, but you’ve already got the brother I never knew I had.  I won’t do anything to screw that up.”

 

“That’s what I wanted to hear, Will,” Tom replied.  “And I believe you.”

 

“Thanks, Pops. You have no idea what that means to me, knowing somebody out here actually cares,” I offered as I leaned over and we shared a hug.  Our seating positions suddenly made perfect sense to me.

 

Dylan finally interrupted us with, “Look, this is all just sweet as hell, but I still haven’t heard a thing that explains why I’m in this little confab.”

 

“Sorry for getting a little sidetracked, partner,” Pops started, “but since he started this with his little confession, I wanted to make sure Will knew what’s going to be expected from here on out.”  He then turned to me and added, “It’s your story, buddy, why don’t you tell Dylan what you told us this morning?”

 

“Yeah, all right” I agreed before facing the big black dude on the other side of the desk and continuing, “There’s this guard up at juvie named Herman that needs his ass handed to him …”  I spent the next thirty minutes telling Dylan all about the sick bastard and his perverted games, including the things I knew he’d done to some of the other kids. I also added some of the rumors that were whispered back and forth between all of us despite never really knowing how many of them were actually true since nobody ever wanted to admit those things had happened to them.  The longer I talked, I could see Dylan was getting more and more pissed off.  By the time I shut up, he looked like he was ready to drive to Normal right now, find Herman all by himself, rip his head off and shit down his open neck.

 

The big man closed his eyes for about half a minute, breathing slowly in an effort to calm down before he responded.  I can only assume he was counting to ten, or maybe even twenty before he felt composed enough to speak.  And when he did finally start up, it was rapid fire questions along the lines of ‘how long has this been going on?’, ‘how many kids has he assaulted?’, ‘where’s the laundry room he usually takes his victims to?” and on and on.  He paused just long enough for me to supply an answer to one question before dropping the next one on me.  He finally ran out of steam and queries after about twenty minutes of intense interrogation.

 

He then turned to Pops and asked, “What’re we gonna do about this scumbag?”

 

“I don’t know, yet.  That’s why you’re here.”

 

“Personally, I think skinning the bastard alive and roasting what’s left of his carcass over an open fire pit is still too kind for an animal like him,” he growled angrily.

 

“Yeah!” I hooted happily.  “Go get ‘im, Uncle Dylan.”

 

He immediately softened his tone and added, “I hate to ask this, Will, but has he ever hurt you?”

 

“Never!” I answer adamantly.  “Small as I am compared to Herman, I think my cellie woulda cleaned that bastard’s clock if he’d tried to take me to his private little hellhole.”

 

“I’m glad to hear that, bud.”  He turned back to Pops and pushed, “So, what’re we gonna do?  You got any brilliant ideas churning through that lump of grey matter filling the gap between your ears?”

 

“Unfortunately, not a one I think wouldn’t end in complete disaster.  And we definitely don’t want that,” Pops answered.

 

“Very true.  If we inform the Normal cops of our suspicions, you just know they’re going to go in there with a bloodlust that won’t turn out well for anybody.  And while I’d trust our guys down here to quietly do what needs to be done, they simply don’t have the jurisdiction to do it.”

 

“Same hurdles I’ve run into with every scenario I’ve run through today, partner,” Pops agreed.

 

“Um, what about usin’ me?” I asked quietly, not believing the words were able to escape my constricted vocal chords.

 

Dylan’s face lit up and he quickly asked, “What do you mean, Will?”

 

Plucking up what little bit of courage I could muster, I answered with, “Well, I’m supposed to go back there Monday, right?  I bet I could get some info for ya and none of the guards would find out about it, ‘specially Herman.”

 

Pops immediately tried to shut that idea down with, “Look, Will, we appreciate the offer, but you are not going to spend another day locked up in that place.  Not with Herman roaming the halls.”

 

“Well, you’re gonna lose your chance to nail him, then.”

 

“Why do you say that?” Dylan queried with serious interest.

 

“You think any of the kids in there are gonna talk to any cops about this shit?  Hell, we barely talk about it between ourselves, and when we do it’s only because it’s happened to another one of us.”

 

“He’s got a point there, Tom,” Dylan agreed while waggling a finger in my direction.

 

“So, here’s what I think we need to do,” I continued before I could lose the gumption I’d just found.  “Get me something I can record with, a small camera, a phone, a pen, a bug, anything I can stash quickly and easily.  I’ll start with my cellmate Rocky and move out from there.  If I can get Rocky to talk about what Herman did to him, he can help convince the others to open up to me, too.  And I’ll talk to every kid in the place to find out for sure who the bastard’s fucked over, record them and send them all to Pops.”

 

“Do you really think you can get the others to be honest with you?” Pops asked with concern.

 

“I don’t know for sure, but I think so.  Pretty sure the thought of seeing ol’ Herman strung up by his ‘nads will loosen some lips, though.  And loose lips can sink ships, right?  ‘Sides, I’ve got a helluva lot better shot at it than either of you do.  Plus, me talking with the others won’t look weird to anybody, so it shouldn’t raise the guards’ or warden’s suspicions.”

 

Tom turned to Dylan and said, “Buzz the living room, would ya?  I want to see what Max thinks about this idea.”

 

“Screw what he thinks!” I growled in frustration.

 

“ ‘Scuse me!?” Tom growled right back.

 

“Sorry, Pops, that didn’t come out right,” I quickly apologized.  “There’s something else Logan and I talked about last night that we didn’t tell you at breakfast.”

 

“Oh shit,” he muttered.  “What was that?”

 

“He told me ‘bout what happened to Max when he was my age an’ some of the hell he’s been through the past couple months ‘cause of it.  And I really like you guys and will probably love you just as much as all the others do someday, but do you really believe Max would be able to think objectively about what we’re plannin’ to do?  You know just as well as I do he’d absolutely refuse to let me do this because he’ll be deathly afraid Herman will fuck me over just like the Muellers did to him.”

 

“Why in dog’s name did Logan tell you about that?” he quizzed me.

 

“Just so I could be prepared if something weird happened with Max while I’m here.  Logan knows how hard it is for him right now and he didn’t want me gettin’ freaked out by anything.  So, you still wanna see what he thinks?” I asked with complete sincerity.

 

Pops and Dylan shared a short look with each other before Pops answered, “No, I guess that would be a waste of time ‘cause I think you hit the nail right on the head.  Where was analytical thinking like this a couple years ago when you were getting in trouble,” he chuckled.

 

“Like I said, dude, I was young and dumb,” I giggled to lighten the mood a bit.  “I’m still young, I know, but not near as dumb as I was back then.”  Both big guys laughed at that one and when they’d chilled back out, I asked, “So, we got a plan y’all can live with?”

 

“I think we do, Will,” Pops gave in.  “We just need to figure out what to do once we have your recordings in hand.  Getting those is just the first step.  We still need to determine the best way to get them to a grand jury who will indict Herman without the news leaking to the press.”

 

“Well, you two should know enough people in the system to get that done, right?” I asked.  “ ‘Cause if you can’t figure out the next step, I ain’t talkin’ to nobody ‘bout nothin’.”

 

The two shared a thoughtful look for a minute before Dylan asked, “Do you think Judge Corgan might be able and willing to help in some way?”

 

“Well, he is a family court judge, so this mess would definitely be in his wheelhouse.  Of course, he’s Sangamon County, so I don’t know if he’d have any pull up in McLean County.”

 

“You willing to check into that?”

 

“Sure, give me the phone and I’ll find out right now.  Providing he’s home this afternoon, that is.”  After Pops got the guy on the phone, he relayed my story, our current thinking and asked for any other ideas he might have that would help us put Herman out of permanent commission.  When he finally hung up the phone, Pops had a grin on his face that told Uncle Dylan and me we were on the right track.

 

“Okay, here’s the scoop.  David agrees that trying to start any kind of outside investigation would create a nightmare scenario.  Not only could we inadvertently spook the guy, but we could also possibly be putting some kids’ lives at risk should Herman try to silence any potential victims.”

 

“You mean, like, kill ‘em?” I squeaked, beginning to worry about what I’d started.

 

“Unfortunately, yes, Will.  A cornered rat will often resort to extreme measures to survive, and we don’t want to see Herman put in that situation since there’s no telling what he might do.  No, we want his ass rotting in a prison cell for the rest of his life.”

 

“Now you’re talking, Pops.  Does that mean I get to be your spy and help take him down?”

 

“David has some serious concerns about that course of action, just like we do, Will.  And as much as he hates the idea, he really doesn’t see any other way to pull it off.”

 

I was really warming up to the idea of being 007 for a couple of weeks and eagerly asked, “So, how we gonna work this?”

 

“The biggest trick will be finding the phone Logan used to nail Troy.  I don’t have a clue where Max stashed it after he e-mailed the videos Logan recorded to Clarence.  Once you have that and the charger, then as you talk to the other kids, you forward the videos to me and I’ll hold on to ‘em until we have them all.  Once they’re all here, I’ll drop ‘em on a flash drive and get them to Judge Corgan.”

 

“What’s he going to do with them?” Uncle Dylan asked.

 

“Well, unlike criminal court judges, it seems the family court ones know each other pretty well and willingly work together across their jurisdictions to protect any kid who may be in danger, regardless of where they may be.  David said he’ll work with the judge in McLean County to get the ball rolling up there.  And since it’ll all be handled on the family court docket, there won’t be any public knowledge of what’s going on.  The one very important thing you’ll have to do with each kid you talk to is to get them to identify themselves at the beginning of their recording.”

 

“Not sure any of them will want to give out their real names.  Not even while rattin’ out that prick,” I countered.  “You think nicknames would be okay?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, that would probably work.  I mean, we’ll have their faces and voices on the recordings, and it would be easy enough to find them because of that, but David did say the judge in Normal will want some type of name for each of the victims.  You think the ones who talk to you will have a problem comin’ up with somethin’?”

 

“Nope, all of us already have a nickname of some kind.  Like my cellie, his real name is Zachary, but we call him Rocky ‘cause he’s kind of a rockape.”  Seeing the confused look on both their faces, I added, “You know, a rockape, not too bright but big and muscular like a Neanderthal or somethin’.  Then there’s Gordon who got stuck with Poindexter since he’s a skinny nerd with glasses, and don’t forget about Big Dick Mick.  You don’t even have to think about how he got that one,” I laughed.

 

“Interesting,” Pops mused.  “What’s yours?”

 

“I ain’t tellin’ ya,” I retorted.  “You’re such a hot shot detective, you figure it out on your own.”

 

“Challenge accepted, buddy,” he chuckled.  “I’ll let you know what I discover.”

 

“So, we’re really gonna do this?” I asked.

 

“Only if you think you’re up to it, Will,” Dylan replied.

 

“You bet your ass I am,” I agreed immediately.

 

“I figured as much,” Pops muttered with resignation.  “Okay, I’ll try to find the phone so you’ll have it with you Monday.  You sure you won’t have a problem taking it inside with you?” he asked with concern.

 

“Nah, I’ve never seen ‘em check anybody’s bags when they come back.  And Rocky’s got some good hidin’ spots in our cell that they’ve never found when we’ve had to turn it out for inspections.”

 

“Good to know, kiddo,” Pops replied while breathing a huge sigh of relief.  “I’d hate for you to get caught with contraband at this point.”

 

“I sure as shit don’t want that happenin’, either, ‘cause that would land my skinny little butt in solitary for a couple o’ weeks.  And I hate that hole.”

 

“Okay, sounds like we have a plan of action,” Dylan commented.  “Shall we adjourn this meeting and rejoin the family?”  With all in agreement, Pops moved his chair back to his desk and we headed out to the living room.

 

 

Tom, Will and Dylan were finally returning from their discussion when Malcom asked, “So, how’s it goin’ with your wedding plans?  Ya got everything settled?”

 

“Now, that’s a damn good question,” I laughed.  “We should probably talk to our parents tonight and see what the scoop is.  How ‘bout you and Dylan,” I asked as the two adults settled in with us and Will continued across the house towards the theater.  “They’re not there anymore, Will,” I called out.

 

The young man spun on his heels and asked, “Well, where’d they go?”

 

“They went outside to walk some trails for a while.”

 

“Figures they’d go do somethin’ fun without me,” he grumped sadly before heading back towards us.  As he drew closer, he asked, “Can I sit with you, Pops?”  Tom quickly shifted to one side of his chair and patted the space he’d just cleared so Will could join him.  As the young man settled in, I shot Tom a questioning look with a raised eyebrow and all I received in return was a shoulder shrug and look of befuddlement at this development before he draped an arm around Will’s shoulders.

 

Once Will was stuffed in place, Malcom answered, “Well, we’ve picked a date, finally,” and quickly added the answer to the unasked question, “It’ll be June 28.  We picked that day since we want to make sure you guys can be there.  I mean, we don’t know where you’re going for a honeymoon or how long you’ll be gone, so we’re hoping five weeks would be adequate.”

 

“Yeah, that should work out just fine,” I offered.

 

“I’d like to agree with Max on that, but he still hasn’t told me where we’re going or how long we’ll be gone,” Tom chuckled.  “Don’t know what I’m gonna do if we get there and find out I don’t like the place.”

 

“You’re gonna love it,” I promised.  “The worst part of the honeymoon is we’ll have to fly commercial this trip since I’m sure our plane won’t be ready to go in time.”

 

“What happened to the plane?” Dylan asked.

 

“Sucked a goose through one of the engines on the trip home yesterday afternoon,” I replied.

 

“Holy shit!” Malcom exclaimed.  “Bet that scared the life outta ya.”

 

“Damn right it did.  We survived it, though.  Can’t say the plane was so lucky.”

 

“Wait a sec,” Will interrupted, “You’ve got a freakin’ plane?  You must be loaded.”

 

“I don’t know I’d call it ‘loaded’, buddy, but yeah, we’re pretty comfortable,” I chuckled.

 

“And a whole lot more comfortable today than we were just a couple days ago,” Tom added with a smirk.

 

“That reminds me, I need to talk to Clarence Monday about a lot more than just representing Arlene,” I commented.

 

Our conversation continued for the next thirty to forty minutes.  During that time, Tom and I were intrigued with Will’s additions to the various subjects we discussed.  Despite the difficulties in his life the past almost sixteen years, it was a pleasure to discover he was really quite intelligent and level-headed.  Having missed the explanation he’d given to Tom and Dylan of the troubles that ended with him being sentenced to juvenile detention, I could only wonder where he’d gone so wrong to end up in that hellish place.  I wouldn’t fill that blank in my knowledge until much later in the evening when Tom and I could talk privately.

 

Just about the time Ron and Arlene finished up their decorating and decided to join us, the front door swung open and the rest of the boys returned from their walk, Daryl and Arley talking excitedly about coming over this fall to hunt deer when the season opened up.  I had to dash their dreams when I commented, “Sorry guys, hunting is not allowed on my property.  The deer, turkeys and other animals were all here long before I was and I’m not going to let them be killed on my watch.”

 

“Oh, man, you don’t know what you’re missing, Mr. Sanders,” Daril replied.  “Venison is good eatin’.”

 

“You’re welcome to believe that if you want, but Bambi will continue to live without fear in my woods.  You want to hunt, you’ll have to do it on the farm.”

 

Arley turned to Logan and asked, “That cool with you, cuz?”

 

“I guess it’d be okay as long as y’all don’t shoot up the house, barn or any of the livestock,” Logan answered.  “Assumin’ y’all know the difference ‘tween a cow and a deer, that is,” he added with a smirk.

 

“Cool,” Daril enthused.  “And we’ll be real careful, Logan, we promise.”

 

The phone rang at that moment and the caller ID let us know it was Mom and Dad.  During our short conversation, they let us know our supper was on the way and we should start getting ready to eat.  Well, you didn’t need to tell the boys twice as they hopped up from their perches and charged across the house to start pulling out plates, glasses, silverware and everything else we were going to need.  Ron followed along to pull out the pizza pans and get the oven warming so it would be ready to accept the pies to finish baking them.  Knowing the ‘rents were bringing at least six pizzas with them, I found myself wishing the new house was already done and we had more than one oven to work with.  Unfortunately, we were still a long way from that dream becoming a reality and we’d just have to deal with what was available at the moment.

 

T.J.’s friend Ralphie arrived just before five and after Tom had a quick chat with his dad about when to come back to pick his son up, the two youngsters disappeared down the hallway, Senior lamely reminding Junior to be good.  Having been here just a few days ago for the first party, it was nice to see Senior didn’t bat an eye at all the bare bodies in sight.  I could only assume he and Junior had talked about our lifestyle after Wednesday’s party and Dad was cool with his son’s comfort level while here.  With Ralph on his way back home, Ralphie and T.J. were next seen as the two wandered back through the living room on their way to join the others in the theater, arms tightly wrapped around each other’s shoulders.  Ralphie had wasted no time in shedding his second skin and joining the rest of us in natural comfort.

 

The drive sensor announced our parents’ arrival about ten after five and while the boys charged from the theater towards the front door, Will, Arley, Daril and Ralphie held back since none of them had met the newcomers.  I warned the sensational six-pack to not maul anyone carrying pizzas as I didn’t want to risk any of them hitting the floor, the grandparents or the pizzas.  Once all four were inside, Joey closed the door and the whole crew followed them into the kitchen to dole out hugs and greetings as soon as their hands were empty.  Soon enough, Ron joined them to get the first two into the oven.  I’d already told him to start with the kids’ pizzas so they could be eating while the pies for the adults were popped in.

 

As everyone started to join us in the living room, Dad asked, “Mind if we leave our clothes in your bedroom and get comfortable?”

 

“We also need to drop these somewhere away from prying eyes,” Mom added as she held up a gift bag.

 

“Go right ahead,” Tom answered.  “We’re not going anywhere.  Just don’t go snooping in any drawers, you probably don’t want to see what’s stashed in them,” he added with a sly grin.

 

“Don’t you worry ‘bout that, Tom,” Mom commented.  “I’ve already seen way more than I wanted to that day we sprung this fool from the hospital,” she added with a smirk.

 

“Oh, what was that?” Jim asked with an arched eyebrow.

 

“Never you mind, you nosy old coot,” Rose retorted smartly.  On that, the foursome headed across the house but soon returned to join the crowd in the living room.  Picking up where she left off, Mom asked, “So, are you going to introduce us to the new folks or do we have to take care of that by ourselves?”

 

“Moms and Dads,” I responded, “The lovely lady sitting next to Dylan is Logan’s Aunt Arlene and the two bigger boys are her sons Arley and Daril.  Next is Logan’s brother, Will, and finally, T.J.’s friend Ralphie.  Folks, our moms and dads, Jim, Rose, Bill and Estelle.”  Throughout the entire process, as I said their name, each raised a hand or gave a nod to signify who they were.

 

“Nice to meet everyone.  We didn’t know Logan had any other family in the area,” Bill said questioningly.

 

“Well, we didn’t either until just recently,” Tom answered.  “But Arlene and her boys have just moved from their orchard outside Dexter, Missouri onto Logan’s farm and Will is here for the weekend for a short visit.  And Ralphie’s here just for the party.”

 

“I just assumed Will had moved in since you say he’s Logan’s brother,” Estelle commented.

 

“I’m sure we would have heard about that happening long before now, dear,” Bill chuckled.

 

“Not yet, I haven’t,” Will piped up.  “But I’m sure hoping to,” he added with a hopeful gleam in his eyes.

 

“Well, where are you staying until that happens?” Rose quizzed him.

 

“I’m stuck in juvie up in Normal ‘til Max and Tom talk to the right people and we can work things out,” he answered matter-of-factly.

 

“That doesn’t sound like a very nice place,” Estelle replied.

 

“It’s not,” Will quickly agreed.  “But even as lousy as it is, it’s still better than livin’ with the last jerks I was stuck with.”

 

“Well, we hope things work out for you here,” Dad commented.

 

Random snippets of conversation from everyone filled the room as we patiently waited for the first two pizzas to finish baking.  It wasn’t but about five minutes later Ron called out from the kitchen, “Okay you wild rugrats, come and get it!”  He hadn’t even finished his announcement before the first of the herd had jumped up and started running towards the kitchen.  Even Daril, Arley, Will and Ralphie gave up any semblance of shyness as they rapidly followed the others into the kitchen. 

 

“Birthday boy gets his first and then youngest to oldest,” Ron dictated. 

 

T.J. let go a little squeal of joy while all the others groaned at their misfortune of it not being their birthday.  As each received their plate, they settled into the dining room and wasted no time digging in.  With the first two pizzas wiped out by ten seemingly starving waifs, Ron quickly slipped the next two into the oven, one more for the boys and the first for the adults.  I was beginning to wonder if the six pizzas we ordered were going to be enough for everybody since we had a few extra folks we hadn’t planned on feeding tonight.  If not, there should be plenty of cake and ice cream to relieve any remaining hunger pangs.

 

When the next two were ready, several of the boys returned for seconds, most notably, Daril and Arley.  It appeared the younger ones had gotten enough on the first go around.  Or maybe they were just trying to save some space for cake and ice cream later.  We let Arlene and the grandparents get first choice on the adult’s pizza with Malcom and Dylan following them.  Tom, Ron and I would wait for the next two before we’d get our chance.  And Ron was quick with the last round as he couldn’t stand waiting any longer.  Since he’d never heard of DiCarlo’s until T.J. said that’s what he wanted for his birthday dinner, he was in for a pleasant surprise.  Though Ron was a little bummed out when T.J. stated his preference for DiCarlo’s over anything else for his special dinner, he seemed quite happy with the decision after taking his first bite.

 

“Okay, I forgive the munchkin for pickin’ DiCarlo’s,” Ron professed after swallowing.  “This is the best damn pizza I’ve ever had.  Just where is this place and why didn’t I know about it?”

 

“Down in Virden,” I answered.

 

“That explains the mystery, heard of Virden but never been there.  The next time y’all want pizza, I know where I’m goin’.  These guys got Capone’s beat hands down.”

 

“Hey, if you’re willing to make the drive to pick it up, we sure as heck won’t stop you,” Tom laughed. 

 

Since his mouth was full with a second piece, all Ron could do at the moment without being rude was nod enthusiastically.  When he finally finished that one, he retorted with a smirk, “No skin off my back, guys.   Or money out of my pocket since I’ll be using one of your cars and the gas that’s in it.”

 

“Ya got a point there, bubba,” I laughed.

 

It took us little time to wipe out six pizzas and as soon as the boys’ plates were cleaned off, they were ready for cake and ice cream.  While unhappy about having to wait, I wasn’t going to serve up dessert until after Lee, Carl and Carol had arrived.  With some luck, those three would be here shortly and the herd wouldn’t have to wait too long.  To kill time until that happened, though, they loaded their dirty dishes into the dishwasher and hightailed it into the theater to watch one of their many movies while the adults remained in the living room to finish our meal and catch up on the latest news from everyone.

 

During our chat, Tom and I finally managed to get a few of the details of the wedding plans our parents had been diligently working on and we approved of everything they had come up with so far.  There were a few things they refused to divulge as they claimed they weren’t quite ready to do so.  When we asked about who had been invited, we were shocked to find out just how many people they’d notified of our upcoming nuptials.  We had assumed we’d be having a small, quiet ceremony, but with over a hundred people in my mom and dad’s immediate families and seventy-five or so in Bill and Estelle’s, the guest list was much larger than either of us had expected.  Then add in family friends like Helen, Steve, Clarence and others for both families, and our parents were expecting as many as two-hundred fifty guests to be here.

 

Despite our objections to it being way more people than we were expecting, we were told it was too late to make any changes to the guest list as the invitations had been sent out two weeks ago and many had already accepted.  It appears we’re stuck with what they’d already done, so we both shut up and let the conversation move on to other subjects.  As people emptied their plates, Ron was stacking them on the coffee table so he could take them all into the kitchen at one time.  Of course, Arlene beat him to the punch as she jumped up and snagged the now empty plate from his grasp as soon as he started licking his fingers to retrieve the last remnants of his meal.  The poor guy tried to complain but was immediately shut down by a withering glare from the feisty woman.  Quietly accepting defeat, Ron slumped back down on the loveseat and let her do as she pleased.

 

About six-thirty, the drive sensor announced a new arrival and soon enough, Lee and Carl let themselves inside.  Of course, the herd rumbled out of the theater to greet the newcomers and before they could finish the round of hugs, hellos and the introductions of Daril, Arley, Will, and Ralphie, all four of whom opted for handshakes instead of hugs, the gong went off again.  While Lee and Carl disappeared into our room to get comfortable, the boys hovered around the door so they could follow suit with Carol.  Once she’d received her hugs from our boys, she shared simple handshakes with the other four who didn’t seem quite ready to be hugging someone they’d just met.

 

As Lee and Carl rejoined us, Carol asked, “Mind if I use your bedroom, too?”

 

“Go right ahead,” Tom answered.

 

“Wait, you’re getting naked, too?” Alex asked with surprise.

 

“Yeah, you’ve never done that before,” Joey added.

 

“Might as well, don’t you think?  Don’t want you all thinking I’m an old fuddy-duddy by being the only one who’s dressed, do I?”

 

“Oh, you wouldn’t be, Ms. Ward,” Logan answered.  “My aunt’s keeping her clothes on,” he added as Arlene returned from loading the last of the plates into the dishwasher.

 

“Well, I still think I’ll join the crowd if that’s okay with you guys.  I haven’t had a good opportunity to enjoy a nudist event since the last time I stayed with my sister.”

 

“Cool!” T.J. grinned.  “But you better be quick ‘cause it’s time for cake, ice cream and presents.”

 

“Back in a flash, buddy,” she replied as she turned down the hallway.

 

As soon as she was out of sight, T.J. zipped across the house, stood in front of Ron and demanded with a glower, “Time to get off your butt, bubba.  We’re ready for dessert!” 

 

Ron shot a quick glance to Tom and me and after receiving nods from both of us, he headed to the kitchen to get the festivities under way, T.J. following in his footsteps with the rest of the crew in tow behind him.  As what seemed to be a rapidly forming habit, Arlene joined Ron to help him get both cakes out, candles in place and lit.  By the time Carol had come back, all the boys were seated around the table and waiting impatiently for the cakes to be delivered.  Once all of us were crowded into the dining room, Ron and Arlene brought the cakes out and placed them in front of T.J., eight candles glowing brightly on each one.

 

Not being a group to waste time when food is involved, the munchkins started singing happy birthday as soon as the cakes hit the table and the adults quickly joined in.  T.J. was bouncing excitedly in his chair, anxious to make a wish and blow out the candles.  I shuddered to think what he might wish for and only hoped it was something simple that could be easily provided at the appropriate time.  Of course, since you’re not supposed to tell anyone what you wish for, only he will know if it comes true.

 

And since he somehow managed to blow out all sixteen candles in one shot, it looked like whatever he wanted was going to drop in his lap someday.  With the flames extinguished, Ron and Arlene took them back to the kitchen to slice and serve them with a dip of ice cream for everyone.  While they were busy with that task, the rest of the adults retrieved the presents from our bedroom and proceeded to fill the table with them.  It took two trips from everyone to get them all moved, but they were in place before dessert was delivered and the boys tucked in.  The adults were a bit more laid back, but silence soon reigned over the house as we stuffed ourselves even more than we already had.

 

As we finished our dessert, the boys took care of retrieving the plates and bowls and depositing them in the sink for Ron to deal with later.  I watched as Ralphie picked up T.J.’s, a small grin taking over my face as the youngster planted a little kiss on the birthday boy’s cheek.  T.J. caught me looking and blushed that he’d been caught receiving the minor token of affection.  In a weak attempt to let him know he had absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, I gave him a quick thumbs-up and a nod, to which he grinned even more than I had.  Once all the dishes were in the sink, it was time for the grand opening.  And judging by the prodigious passel of parcels seriously straining the structural strength of the table, we were going to be here for a while.

 

T.J. wasted no time in starting the process and grabbed the nearest item.  The one he snagged happened to be from Joey and Alex and he discovered the twins had selected a couple of Beatles CDs to add to his growing music collection.  “Thanks guys, these are great,” he enthused before quickly moving onto the next item.  We soon found this present to be a nice t-shirt and shorts outfit from my mom and dad, and the munchkin shared a thank you with them, as well.  And so it proceeded until he finally reached the last package on the table, a rather smallish box with what could only be described as a haphazard mess of wrapping paper and tape.  T.J. struggled a bit to open this one, no doubt thanks to the excessive amount of tape holding the paper in place.  With the wrap finally removed and tossed over his shoulder to join the mountain on the floor behind him, he slowly opened the box to find a very cute brown and blue puka shell friendship bracelet.  We knew the bracelet had to be from Ralphie since everybody else’s gifts had already been opened.

 

T.J. stared at his friend in awe and as he slipped it over his hand, he finally mustered up the words, “Thanks, dude, it’s beautiful.”

 

“Glad you like it, T.J.,” Ralphie replied quietly.  “I have the matching one at home and will put it on when I get there.”

 

“Why aren’t you wearing it now?”

 

“I didn’t want to give away the surprise, ya goofball,” Ralphie giggled.  “Since you didn’t know I have one, too, if I was wearing it now, you’d have seen and asked me ‘bout it.  ‘Specially since it’d be the only thing I got on,” he added with another giggle.

 

T.J. leaned over, planted a kiss on his friend’s lips and whispered, “Love you, man.”  Poor Ralphie was a bit flummoxed and turned beet red with embarrassment on hearing that.  Before he could respond, though, T.J. turned to Tom and me and bluntly asked, “Where’s my present from you guys?  Don’t you dare try to tell me you forgot it.”

 

Tom and I shared a quizzical glance between us before shrugging our shoulders and me saying, “I thought you were picking it up, bubba.”

 

“No, you said you were gonna get it,” Tom retorted on perfect cue.

 

We turned back to face T.J. and while trying to maintain a straight face, I muttered, “Whoops, sorry kiddo.  Guess we messed up.”  Of course, T.J. being his true self, wasn’t buying that load of bullshit for one second.

 

“Yeah, right, Dads,” he scoffed.  “You think I’m really gonna believe Ron didn’t pick it up with everything else today?  If you guys are gonna lie ‘bout somethin’, at least try to make it believable,” he cracked, which got a good laugh from everyone.

 

“Guess you better go get it,” I said to Tom.

 

“Why me?  I think you should bring it out,” he replied innocently.

 

Estelle finally broke into our weak attempt at a joke with, “Would you two quit torturing our grandson, please?  This type of cruel and inhuman punishment is banned by the Geneva convention, ya know.”

 

“Not really, dear,” Bill interjected, “that only applies to prisoners of war.”

 

“And kids waiting for their first birthday presents from their new parents,” Dad added seriously while looking to T.J. who nodded firmly in agreement.  Another round of laughter followed us down the hallway as we hustled to our room to retrieve the bike that was waiting there.  Following their experience during Joey and Alex’s birthday just a few weeks ago, the whole group was already assembled in the living room when we returned with the gleaming black machine.  T.J., of course, was dancing excitedly as we wheeled the thing into the middle of the gathering, and he immediately climbed on the seat while Tom held the bike in place to ensure it didn’t fall over or get taken for a spin around the living room.

 

“Sweet, Dads!” he crowed with glee before slipping back off and giving us both huge hugs in thanks.

 

“You’re very welcome, son.  Happy birthday,” Tom replied.

 

“We can go riding tomorrow, guys,” T.J. commented, receiving instant agreement from the rest of the boys.

 

“We’re still a few bikes short of everybody having one …,” Alex began.

 

“… but we’ll figure it out so everybody gets a turn, just like we always do,” Joey completed the thought.

 

“Why don’t you park your bike in the garage with the others?” I suggested.  “Then when you get back, you can help clean up the massive pile of twisted up paper you unceremoniously dumped on the floor.”

 

“Yeah, all right, Dad,” T.J. agreed as he wrapped his hands around the handlebars and started pushing the bike down the hall.  We weren’t too surprised to see Ralphie following along to help if it was needed.  The other boys turned for the dining room, grabbed a couple of trash bags from the pantry and started picking up the mess T.J. had created in his mad rush to open all his presents.  By the time T.J. and Ralphie had returned to the scene of the crime, there was nothing left to pick up, so the two grabbed the bags Mike and Andy were holding and returned to the garage to dispose of them.  After rejoining the crew, all the boys retreated to the theater to watch one of T.J.’s new movies.  Or so I thought.

 

I felt a light tap on my shoulder and when I turned around, I discovered Will still hovering and he was looking quite nervous about something.  “What’s up, buddy?” I asked.

 

“Um, is that Carol person the lady we need talk to ‘bout me livin’ here?” he whispered.

 

“She sure is,” I replied with a smile at his eagerness.  “Do you want to try to do that tonight?”

 

“Could we, please?” he begged.  “I really, really wanna get the heck outta juvie and be with my brother.  Well, guess I should say brothers, shouldn’t I?” he added with a crooked grin.

 

“That would be more accurate, for sure.  Why don’t you join the boys with whatever movie they’re watching and I’ll see if Carol has time to chat tonight.  If she does, we’ll make sure to talk before she goes home.  Sound okay to you?”

 

“Perfect, Dad.  Thanks a lot,” he replied happily as he gave me a hug.  With his mind eased about being able to escape confinement, he finally joined the rest of the boys in the theater while I aimed myself for the group of adults yakking up a storm in the living room.  After settling in next to Tom on the hearth, I briefly interrupted the current flow with, “Hate to barge in the middle, folks, but I need to ask something before I forget it.”  I then turned to the question’s recipient and asked, “Carol, Will wants to know if you might have a bit of time for a conversation before you go home?”

 

“Gee, I don’t know, Max,” she answered with a smirk.  “Guess it depends on what he wants to talk about.”

 

“I think I’ll let him give you the details, but it’s important to him.  And us, too, really.”

 

“Max, Max, Max, you should know by now that I always have time for you, Tom and your growing family,” she replied.  “So yeah, we can do that.”

 

“Thank you.  Now, which of the world’s many problems were you all trying to solve before I so rudely interrupted?”  With that, the conversation picked up from where it was and continued as if I hadn’t just butted my big nose in.  We were still going strong an hour and a half later when the boys finally zipped out of the theater on the hunt for the nearest bathroom.

 

On their way through the living room, Tom asked, “Which one did you watch, guys?  And more importantly, was it worth the time?”

 

“ ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ and it was great, Pops,” T.J. answered with enthusiasm.  “Thanks for gettin’ that one Uncles Dylan and Malcom.”

 

“Yeah, we’ll be watchin’ that one again and again,” Andy added.

 

“ ‘Specially since the kid who played Lewis is so cu-u-u-u-ute,” Alex hummed in agreement.

 

“Wait, thought you already had a boyfriend?” Joey joked.  “Bet Brent won’t like you checkin’ out other dudes, bro.”

 

“Well, as cute as Lewis is, Brent’s still cuter,” Alex countered.  “ ‘Sides, I don’t even know where that kid from the movie lives.”

 

“Lucky for you or Brent’d kick your butt,” Joey laughed.  While that conversation was happening, Will caught my eye with a questioning look and I gave him a quick nod to let him know we were all set for a conversation with Carol when the time was right.

 

“Daril and Arley, git your kit on so we can git on outta here,” Arlene announced.

 

“Already, ma?” Arley questioned sadly.

 

“Yep, y’all got some chores to take care of on the farm ‘fore it gits too late.  Or did you two already forget our deal?”

 

“Yeah, awright,” Daril mumbled sourly as the two turned for the boys’ bedrooms to retrieve their clothes.

 

“We should be headed home, too,” Malcom suggested.

 

“Really, Dad?  It feels like we just got here,” Damon complained.

 

“Hey, we’ve been here all afternoon and Dylan and I have things to do, son,” Malcom countered.

 

“You don’t need me for any o’ that stuff, do ya?”

 

After Dylan and Malcom looked to each other for confirmation, Malcom answered, “No, I suppose not.  I’m guessing you want to stay here tonight,” he added with a grin.

 

“You bet!  As long as it’s okay with you guys, that is,” Damon answered with hope filling his voice.

 

“You better check with Max and Tom to make sure it’s acceptable to them,” Dylan prompted.

 

The young man turned towards us but Tom saved him from asking by saying, “Fine with us, buddy.”

 

“YAY!” the boys cheered.  I caught a sneaky glance pass between Will and Damon and could only wonder what that was all about but figured if it was something we needed to know, they’d tell us.

 

“Problem solved, then,” Malcom commented.  “I’ll just come out here after leaving Dylan’s to pick you up and we’ll hit the interstate to Normal.”

 

“Cool, thanks Dad, Poppy.  Love you guys,” Damon remarked while giving them both a quick hug.

 

“Love you, too, kiddo,” Dylan replied.

 

Daril and Arley had finally returned, so Arlene jumped up to grab her purse and the trio headed for the front door, followed by Dylan and Malcom.

 

“Max, Tom, thanks for lettin’ us join the party today.  We ain’t had this much fun in a coon’s age,” Arlene commented when we joined them at the door.

 

“We’re glad you came over,” I replied.  “You should know you’re welcome here any time.”

 

“Thanks for that, Max, but I swear we don’t wanna be a problem for y’all.”

 

“You aren’t.  We’re happy we can help.  And I’ll let you know what Clarence says about representing you after I talk to him Monday.”

 

“We’ll all be glad to slam the door shut on that part o’ our lives and can’t thank you ‘nough for helpin’ make it all possible.”

 

“We really didn’t do that much, Arlene.  It was mostly Logan’s quick thinking and action that got you where you are now.”

 

“You’re right.  Where is that devilish little rascal?” she asked.  “I owe him a giant hug for all he done.”

 

I turned around to locate the youngster and discovered he’d been hiding behind Tom the whole time.  I gently grabbed his shoulder and dragged him out in the open where he was immediately mugged by his aunt and cousins.  While it was obvious he didn’t really appreciate the attention, he accepted it without complaint.

 

“Thank you for savin’ us from that lowlife, Logan,” Arlene gushed as she wrapped him in a smothering hug.

 

“Yeah, cuz.  You ain’t gotta clue how much I wanted to do what you done to that bastard,” Daril added.

 

“Ain’t that big a deal.  I’m just glad y’all ain’t like him.”

 

Sensing Logan’s uneasiness with the situation, T.J. barged into the huddle, breaking the quartet up and wrapping Arlene in a hug of his own.  “I’m happy you guys could come over today,” he offered.  “You’ll have to make sure Dad and Pops know when your birthdays happen so we can be there to help celebrate them, too.”

 

“I’ll do that, T.J.,” Arlene replied as she let go of the munchkin.  “An’ sorry I didn’t have nothin’ for ya, just didn’t know what you’d need or want.”

 

“I don’t need a thing ‘cept you bein’ here,” T.J. countered.

 

“Well, ain’t you just the sweetest little thing?” Arlene cooed lightly as she planted a little kiss on top of the birthday boy’s head.

 

T.J. then turned to the two hulking teens and offered, “You guys might be way older than me, but you’re still a lotta fun.  I hope you had a good time.”

 

“Best day we had in a long time, T.J.,” Arley replied with Daril nodding along enthusiastically.

 

“Like Max already said, you’re welcome here any time,” Tom offered.

 

Daril let go a hearty laugh and retorted, “Y’all keep bein’ this good to us and we just might hafta say the heck with the farm and move in with ya.”

 

“Not until the new house is built,” I joked.

 

“Ya got nothin’ to worry ‘bout there, Max.  We’re just fine at the farm,” Arlene corrected her son.  “These two need to learn the value of real work and Logan’s place is the perfect place for ‘em to do that.”  She then turned to them and added, “Saddle up boys, time for us to skedaddle.”

 

“See, y’all later,” Logan called to their backs as they headed down the sidewalk.

 

Dylan and Malcom were the next to exit, receiving another hug and thank you from T.J., Tom and me.  As soon as they stepped onto the porch, our parents, Carl and Lee rounded the corner from our bedroom.

 

“You folks taking off, too?” Tom asked.

 

“Yep,” Bill replied.  “Seems like you guys have a rather important discussion waiting to take place and we don’t want to hold that up or be in the way.”

 

“Of course, you better let us know what decisions are made as soon as they are, too,” Mom added sternly.

 

“You know we will,” I replied.

 

T.J. then shoehorned his way into the crowd and started sharing hugs and more thank yous with everyone.  When the other boys finally woke up to the fact their grandparents, aunt and uncle were on the way out the door, we were immediately surrounded by the whole herd as they said their goodbyes.  Even Will snuck into the mix telling everyone he couldn’t wait to see them again.  After closing the front door behind Carl, we turned to the living room and found the only person remaining was Carol and she seemed to be rather comfortable in her spot on the loveseat.

 

Our family had just joined her and Carol managed to ask, “So, what’s this all about?” when the drive sensor announced an arrival.

 

“That’s pro’lly your dad, Ralphie,” T.J. commented while turning to face his friend.

 

“Yeah, guess I better go find my clothes, huh?” he responded sadly.

 

“C’mon, dude,” T.J. offered as he grabbed Ralphie’s hand and aimed for the hallway.  “Y’all better wait to get started ‘til I’m back,” he called over his shoulder as the two munchkins disappeared around the corner.  They had just returned from Ralphie getting dressed when we heard a sharp rap at the front door.  Both immediately hooked a left and T.J. opened the door to let Ralph, Sr. in.

 

“You have a good time tonight, buddy?” Sr. asked as he stooped down to hug his son.

 

“The best, Dad,” Jr. enthused.  “Hope I can come back sometime soon,” he added with a grin.

 

“We could probably arrange that,” Sr. agreed hesitantly.  “Why don’t you go hop in the car and we’ll head for home right after I talk to T.J.’s dad?”  On that suggestion, the two lads stepped onto the porch to share a proper goodbye with each other and having heard enough of the conversation from our seats in the living room, Tom and I joined Sr. at the door.

 

“What’s up, Ralph?”, Tom asked.

 

“Well, it seems Junior and T.J. are becoming really close, to the point where Bonnie and I are being pestered with almost constant questions about ‘when my boyfriend T.J. can spend the night’.

 

Tom and I both let go a little chuckle and when we’d calmed down, Tom replied, “Anytime’s fine with us, Ralph.  As long as it’s not a school night, of course.”

 

I waded in with what I thought was the more logical question by adding, “Um, are you okay with Ralphie having a ‘boyfriend’?”

 

“As long as the kid’s healthy and happy, who he decides to care for is his decision.  Seven, uh sorry, seven and three-quarters seems to be a bit young for anybody to fully understand choices like that, but we’re gonna love our son no matter who he loves.  Unless that person’s a criminal or dirtbag, that is.”  All three of us shared a quick laugh at that.  “I guess our only real concern about T.J. staying over is whether he’d be willing to stay dressed or not.  While I wouldn’t be too bothered by the two little rascals being naked, I’m pretty sure the old ball and chain wouldn’t appreciate it very much.”

 

“That won’t be a problem, Ralph.  Despite our lack of clothing at home, we all get dressed when we go out.  None of us want to go to jail for indecent exposure, ya know,” I responded with a grin.

 

“No, I s’pose not,” Ralph chortled in reply.  “I mean, we both know that most of the time Junior’s in his bedroom lately is spent without clothes.  And we’re fine with that as long as he covers up whenever he comes out of his hidey-hole to spend time with the rest of us.  I just want to make sure T.J. won’t have a problem following the same rule.”

 

“Nope, won’t be an issue at all,” Tom agreed.

 

“Sounds good, guys.  I’ll be in touch to make arrangements for a sleepover once we’ve decided when it can happen.”

 

“I’m sure the boys’ll love it,” I commented.

 

“No doubt,” Sr. agreed.  “Listen, thanks for letting Ralphie come over tonight.  He was really psyched about getting away from his younger sisters for a few hours.”

 

“We were happy to have him.  Ralphie’s a good kid and we all enjoy him being here.”

 

“Well, we should scoot.  We’ll be in touch, though.”

 

“Sounds good, Ralph.  Have a great evening,” Tom replied as the man turned, laid a hand on his son’s shoulder and guided him down the steps and to their car.  T.J. slunk past the two of us with his head hung low.

 

“Cheer up, T.J.,” I called to his back.  “You two will be together again soon.”

 

“I’m tryin’, Dad,” he whined pitifully.

 

“How ‘bout we have this discussion so we can call it a night?” Tom offered lamely.

 

“Got nothin’ else to do, so we might as well,” the youngster replied.  The three of us joined the group in the living room, Tom and I taking our regular chairs while T.J.  climbed into the middle of the couch between Mike and Andy.

 

Carol wasted no time in starting up with, “So, do I need to ask the question again?”

 

Will immediately mumbled, “WhadoyahaftadosoIcanlivewithmybrother?”

 

After taking just a moment to unscramble and decipher Will’s word salad, Carol looked to Tom and me and asked in a serious tone, “Is that what you guys want?”

 

“Well, we haven’t had much of chance to really talk about it today,” I hedged.

 

“We should probably see what the boys have to say about the idea, don’t ya think?” Tom asked.  The two of us looked to the overloaded couch and the big guy started to say, “All those in favor …”.  Before Tom could get any further, seven hands shot in the air.  Wait a second, on a second count, there were nine hands waggling high above their heads since Logan and Will had raised both of theirs.  Tom looked back to me and commented dryly, “I think we have to take that as a unanimous ‘yes’.”

 

“You better,” Logan chirped.

 

I turned back to Carol and asked, “So, what does have to happen and how quickly can it be done?”

 

“Well, the first thing to accomplish is resolving Will’s legal problems that have him living in juvenile detention at the moment.  Once we figure that out, then the rest of it’s pretty simple.  I mean, we know he’s available for adoption, so that’s not a problem.  As to how fast it can happen, that all depends on how difficult it will be to settle the other issues at hand.”

 

“Any idea on what we might be looking at there, Carol?” Tom queried.

 

“Unfortunately, not a clue.  Until I talk to his caseworker, that is.  My best guess at the moment is he’ll be required to pay any restitution or fines called for by the court and will only be released after that happens.  He may also be placed on youthful offender probation for a period of time, but if he keeps his nose clean, we should be able to have his record expunged once the probation period has ended.”

 

“Well, we can guarantee he’ll be on his best behavior,” I commented while looking to Will. 

 

“Dang right, Dad.  I’m not takin’ any chances on gettin’ sent back to that hellhole,” Will agreed enthusiastically.

 

“And paying any required restitution obviously won’t be a problem, either,” I continued.  “We’ll come up with some way for him to pay us back after he’s become an official member of the family.”

 

“Well, Carol, seems like you’ve got your marching orders,” Tom offered.

 

“I’ll start working on the process Monday morning, guys.  With some good luck, I might be able to get things ready so Will’s adoption could happen the same day as all the others.”

 

“Whoa, hang on a minute, Ms. Ward,” Will interrupted.  “I may not be ready by then.”

 

“What do you mean by that, buddy?” I asked.  “I thought you’d jump at the chance to get out of there.”

 

“Oh, I will, for sure.  But not ‘til Herman’s gone.”

 

“ ‘Scuse me?” I grunted with concern while looking to Tom, assuming this sudden change in Will’s attitude had something to do with the conversation he’d had with the big guy and Dylan this afternoon.

 

“Sorry, babe, haven’t had a chance to talk with you about that just yet.  Been a little busy with other things today, ya know,” he answered while feigning innocence.

 

“Seems like as good a time as any to fill me in, don’t ya think?”

 

“Well, in our chat with Dylan, the plan we came up with is for Will to help us by interviewing the other boys in detention.”

 

“Over my dead body!” I countered angrily.  “There’s no way in hell we’re letting Will go back to that place as long as that asshole’s still around.”

 

“Told ya so, Pops” Will interjected with a smirk.

 

“Believe me, Max, if there was another way, we’d take it.  But even with three of the sharpest legal minds in the area on the job, it was the best we could come up with.”

 

“Three?” I asked curiously.  “I thought it was just you, Will and Dylan.”

 

“It was until we called David to loop him in on the problem and get his input.”

 

“Well, I still don’t like the idea, but if you’ve got him involved in your mad scheme, I suppose I can live with it.  I’m gonna need to hear the full story before I sign off on it, though.”

 

Carol had remained uncharacteristically quiet during our back and forth but could no longer restrain herself when she butted in with, “Um, what am I missing here, Tom?”

 

“One of the guards up there is an abusive prick who needs to be removed from that facility and be relocated to a different one better suited to his, uh, proclivities shall we say?”

 

“Do I even want to know?” she muttered with resignation.

 

“Probably not,” Tom agreed.  “Let’s just say Herman and Frank would be the perfect cellmates.” 

 

Carol angrily muttered something that started with an ‘f’ and though the rest of her utterance was silent, there was no mistaking exactly what her feelings were.  “God, I hate this,” she added.  “In light of that news, I’ll work extra hard to get things accomplished as quickly as possible.”

 

“Works for me,” I commented.

 

“You can work it as fast you want, folks, but like I said, I ain’t leaving juvie ‘til that dirtbag’s gone.”

 

“I’ll still have everything ready to go when you are, Will,” Carol affirmed.  “Hopefully, you can do what you need to do fairly quickly.”

 

“What about gettin’ sprung for the weekends before it becomes permanent?  Think you could arrange that?  Assuming, of course, Dad and Pops are willing to come get me and take me back, that is,” he quickly added.

 

“I think that could be arranged, Will,” I chuckled.

 

“Perfect,” he enthused.  “I can’t wait to be a part of a real family for once.”

 

“Well, if that’s all you needed from me, I’m gonna head for home,” Carol commented as she stood up and headed across the house to get dressed.

 

Before she could get very far, though, Logan and Will both stood in her way and wouldn’t let her pass without giving her hugs of appreciation and saying thanks.  Once she managed to break free from them, she continued on.

 

“It’s gonna be so cool to have another brother,” Alex grinned.

 

“The more, the merrier, right guys?” Tom asked.

 

“You bet, Pops,” Joey agreed.

 

“Um, where’s he gonna sleep?” Mike asked.

 

“I suppose if it’s okay with the two of them, he can keep sharing a room with Ron until you guys have your new bunkroom,” I suggested.

 

“Yeah, I could live with that,” Will offered.

 

Ron had just come back from his room and asked, “I heard my name, do I wanna know why?”

 

“Will has asked Carol to start the adoption process for him,” I answered.  “Mike wanted to know where he was gonna sleep and I suggested he continue to share your room until the new house is built.”

 

“Oh, man, you’re kiddin’ me, right?” Ron protested with a wink aimed at Tom and me.  “Why the devil would I wanna have an obnoxious mouthy teenager stuck in my room for months on end?” he added as he moved to stand close to Will.

 

“Hey, it’s not a great deal for me either, ya jerk,” Will countered as he punched Ron in the shoulder.  “I gotta share my room with an asshole now.  Hell, I might as well stay in juvie if you’re gonna be just like him.”

 

“C’mere, ya little twerp,” Ron growled.  As soon as Will was within range, Ron pulled him into a hug and said, “If you can put up with me, Will, I can put up with you.  And welcome to the family, dude.”

 

“Thanks, Ron,” Will whimpered in relief as a tear slipped from the corner of his eye.

 

Carol returned and headed for the front door.  That was the cue for the rest of us to get off our butts and meet her there so we could say our proper goodbyes.  The boys got started, T.J. taking the longest because he thanked her again for coming out and also for the new video game she’d given him.  Will and Logan took a little extra time, too, since they were thanking her again for her help in making Will’s joining the family a reality and not some pipe dream that would never come true.  With all the boys done, they moved off to the theater to play one of T.J.’s new games or watch a movie. 

As Tom and I shared hugs with Carol, we also thanked her for joining the party and for helping with Will’s relocation to greener pastures.  Her reaction, of course, was ‘it’s my job’, but we still want to make sure she knows just how much we appreciate her efforts on our family’s behalf.  Ron, for his part, just waved from his perch in the living room while calling out, ‘see ya next time, ma’am.’  On that simple note, Carol headed out the door.  After a quick wave as she climbed in her car, I closed the door and Tom and I returned to our chairs by the fireplace to decompress from the busy day before trying to go to bed.  Of course, it was only a little after seven, so it was fairly early for us to seriously consider that particular course of inaction.

 

Once comfortably ensconced in our places, though, I turned to Tom and vented the feelings that had been building for a while with, “Okay, Bubba, you need to explain this cockamamie scheme you and Dylan cooked up that sounds like it’s gonna put Will in a dangerous situation.”

 

“Hey, it wasn’t us, it was all Will’s idea,” he countered.

 

“From what little I’ve learned about the kid in the past twenty-four hours, that seems highly unlikely,” I argued back.

 

“I swear to dog that’s the absolute truth.  Let me tell ya how we ended up where we did.”  And he proceeded to do just that for the next twenty or so minutes.  When he finally finished regaling Ron and me with his story of teenage subterfuge and espionage, he ended with, “That’s the scoop, the whole scoop and nothin’ but the scoop, Babe.”

 

“Okay, I get it was Will’s idea,” I reluctantly acquiesced.  “I hope that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

 

“Not at all,” Tom reassured me.  “Dylan, David and I don’t much like it, either, but none of us could figure out a better way to get what we need without creating a complete debacle that could end up with a lot more kids getting hurt.”

 

“Do you have any thoughts of how Will could be somewhat protected from possible repercussions from Herman or the other guards if they figure out what’s going on?”

 

“The only one I’ve thought of that’s halfway feasible would be to talk to Randy when I take Will back up Monday and let him know what’s going on.  I think if we do that, then at least someone up there will be aware and can keep tabs on the situation until he’s out of there for good.  It’s not a great solution, for sure, but it’s about the only option I think might work.”

 

“I thought Randy was just the assistant director,” I commented.  “Wouldn’t it be better to have the director involved with this?” I added with serious concern.

 

“You mean Dr. Pomp-ass?  Uh, no, I don’t think he’d be one bit helpful.”

 

“Why not?  He is the man in charge of the place, isn’t he?” I pushed.

 

“Let’s just say I don’t think he likes me very much right now and leave it at that,” Tom grinned.

 

“I guess Randy’ll have to do then,” I sighed in defeat.  “Do you feel confident he’ll actually keep an eye on the situation?”

 

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have suggested him.”

 

“Remind me tomorrow to get the phone from my desk, then.  I don’t want to take the chance Will leaves without it.”

 

“Will do, boss.”

 

Ron finally broke his silence on our conversation when he chimed in with, “Well, from where I’m sittin’, the kid’s got way bigger balls than what you can see.  No way in hell I would have ever volunteered for such a risky proposition.”

 

“He’s got some serious backbone growin’, that’s for damn sure,” Tom agreed.  “I’m just glad somebody came up with an idea we can work with.  Otherwise, we’d be stuck in neutral on how to deal with Herman.”

 

“Okay, enough of this.  Let’s make some popcorn and join the boys for some Star Trek,” I suggested.

 

“Sounds good to me,” Tom commented as he jumped up and headed for the kitchen with Ron and I trailing behind.  Tom started the popcorn going while I pulled out bowls for everyone and Ron started work on the drinks.  Surprisingly, the sound of the popper hadn’t attracted any attention from the boys, so when we joined them in the theater and started handing out bowls and drinks, they were dumbfounded at their good luck.  Despite receiving thanks from all the munchkins as we made our deliveries, none of them wanted to tear their focus away from the screen for a second.  I glanced at the screen to see what they were watching that was holding their interest so intently, but all I saw was some sort of crazy pirate-looking character wildly ranting about something senseless.  Senseless to me, anyway, since I didn’t have a clue what movie they were watching or who this guy was.

 

With the boys properly supplied, we adults settled into our seats in the second row and I asked, “So, you guys want to watch a couple Star Treks before bed?”

 

The action on the screen was suddenly paused and Alex turned around to reply, “We’d really like to finish this one if it’s okay with you guys.”

 

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Tom replied.  “Which one are you watching?”

 

“The movie T.J. got from Mama and Papa,” Joey answered over his shoulder.  “It’s called Pan and the kid in it is seriously hot.”

 

All three of us chuckled at his answer and I commented, “Well, that might make it worth watching to some of you but I’m sure the others wouldn’t mind switching to something else.”

 

“Nah, man, we’re cool,” Will commented.  “Besides, speaking as a straight kid, even I gotta admit the dude playin’ Pan is smokin’.  I can only wish I was that freakin’ cute.  Maybe if I was, I woulda been adopted a long time ago.”

 

“Not if you was an obnoxious punk then like you are now,” Logan joked as he punched his brother on the shoulder.  “Don’t matter how cute ya are, if you’re a problem child, ain’t nobody wanna deal with that.”  That smart comment got a good laugh from everyone.

 

“Well, then carry on, guys,” I offered.

 

As the show started up again, we settled back into our comfortable seats for the duration, hoping against all hopes that we’d be able to enjoy what was obviously a movie aimed at a much younger audience.  When the flick shifted to the next scene and we got to actually see who the boys were talking about, their interest in the movie became quite clear.  I wouldn’t find out until the credits at the end of the movie the young actor playing part of Pan was a kid named Levi Miller, but I had to agree that the boys’ blunt evaluation of his looks was right on the money.  Tom and I shared a quick glance of appreciation, and we both decided we’d enjoy the rest of the show just as much as the boys would.

 

When the movie ended, it was time to head for bed, so we started the herd moving in the right direction.  They dropped their bowls in the sink as they passed through the kitchen before continuing across the house to take care of their nightly routines.  While Ron finished loading and starting the dishwasher, Tom and I headed for our bedroom because we both needed a quick pit stop before saying goodnight to the boys.  With our immediate needs taken care of, we shuffled across the house and decided to start at the far end of the hallway and work our way back.

 

On entering T.J., Mike and Andy’s room, we found all three just climbing onto the bed.  They waited at the edge of the big bed for us to join them and as soon as we were in position, the hugs commenced.  With those done, it was time for kisses on foreheads followed up with sharing ‘goodnights’ and ‘love yous’ between all five of us.  After sharing another ‘happy birthday’ with our now eight-year-old son, the trio curled up in the middle of the bed and we pulled the sheet over them.  They were so wiped out from our busy day, we could hear the first light snores starting up as we turned out the light and closed the door.

 

Our next stop was the middle bedroom to check on Will and after a light knock on the closed door and getting the okay to ‘c’mon in’, Tom pushed the door open to reveal a bit of a surprise.  Of course, we already knew there were at least two boys in the room thanks to the light giggles we could hear before the knock, it’s just the identity of the second young man was not who we expected we might find.

 

“You’re not sleeping with Joey, Alex and Logan this time, Damon?” Tom quizzed the extra.

 

“Nah.  While the four of us fit in these big-ass beds just fine, I thought Will might like a little company tonight,” the youngster answered.

 

“Fine with us as long as it’s okay with Will,” I replied.

 

“Yeah, it’s cool, Dads,” Will responded.  “It’ll give the two of us a chance to get to know each other a little better before he has to leave tomorrow.”

 

“ ‘Nuff said, guys.  Come get your hugs,” I said.  After pushing the cover down, the two scooted to the edge of the bed on their knees and the reason for the giggles we’d heard became obvious as both young lads were displaying a certain level of excitement quite common to boys their age.  Of course, nothing was said about that as we shared our hugs with the two randy rascals, though it was hard to ignore the hot little pokers stabbing our midsections. 

 

On separating from each other, I asked, “Damon, you do know our rules ‘round here, right?”

 

“Yup, nobody has to do anything they don’t wanna,” he replied.

 

“And you understand that, too, Will?” I pressed.

 

“Uh-huh,” he offered before quickly adding, “But after what happened during our shower this afternoon, I kinda owe Damon a favor.”

 

“You don’t owe anybody anything you’re not comfortable with, buddy,” Tom remarked.

 

A sly grin crossed Will’s face before he pointed to Damon and responded with, “Dude, you really think this goofball’d be in my bed right now if I wasn’t ‘comfortable’?”

 

“Just remember, kiddo, you can change your mind at any time,” I offered lamely despite the feeling I was wasting my breath.  “You two get a good night’s sleep and we’ll see you in the morning,” I added as Tom and I turned to make our last stop of the night.  As I switched off the light, the giggles behind us kicked into high gear and I just closed the door as we continued on our mission. 

 

Since the door was still open at the last trio’s bedroom, we walked right in to find all three curled up together and already asleep.  We gently leaned on the mattress to kiss foreheads and share ‘love you’s’ with all three before extinguishing the light and closing their door.  On our return to the living room, we found Ron lounging on the couch with his nose stuck in a book.

 

“You gonna be a while?” Tom asked.

 

“Maybe,” Ron replied.  “I’m tired but don’t think I can really go to sleep just yet.”

 

“That’s probably a good thing,” I commented before adding, “Your room might be a little busy for a bit.”

 

“What’re you talkin’ about?”

 

“Well, it seems Will and Damon are sharing a bed tonight and they might get a bit noisy.”

 

“Wait, the two ‘straight’ boys are gettin’ busy with each other?  Who’d a thunk it?” Ron laughed.

 

“We could be wrong,” Tom admitted, “but pretty sure we’re not,” he added with a chuckle.

 

“Hell, it might be worth goin’ to bed now just to see what they get up to,” Ron opined.

 

“That’s your call, of course,” I offered.  “As for us, we’re hittin’ the hay, bubba.  See you in the morning.”

 

“You guys sleep well,” he replied before turning back to his book.

 

On that note, Tom and I continued our trek and on reaching our own room, we embraced each other with a deep longing before tumbling onto the bed and indulging ourselves in a night of wild passion.

 

 

I read for about five more minutes before deciding my eyes were about to give up the ghost, so I marked my spot and headed for my room, completely forgetting the warning I’d just received from Max and Tom.  On opening the door, I quickly realized I should have knocked but my exhausted brain just wasn’t thinking straight at the moment.  Apparently, neither were the two supposedly straight boys in the middle of the bed who were going at it like a couple of sex-starved gay nymphomaniacs.  That initial image is now seared into my synapses to be recalled whenever the need arises.  And speaking of rising, my cock snapped to attention so quickly at the sight that greeted me, I was surprised a ‘boing’ sound effect like you’d hear in an old Saturday morning cartoon didn’t go off somewhere in the background.

 

“Whoops, sorry guys, I shoulda knocked,” I muttered as I started to turn around and close the door.

 

“Wait, Ron!” Will called out after releasing Damon’s goodies from his mouth.  “It’s your room, dude.  We’ll stop if we’re bothering you,” he offered quietly.

 

“Don’t you dare,” I protested through the partially open door knowing how I’d feel if I’d just been so rudely interrupted.  “Just finish what you’re in the middle of and let me know when it’s safe to come to bed.”

 

The two horny hound dogs shared a quick look and when they turned back, Damon patted the bed and softly uttered, “Oh, it’s plenty safe right now, bubba.  But only if you’re interested and ‘comfortable’ with it, that is.”  Both boys cracked up with that.

 

Well, after my recent experiences with Eric and little Mikey, it took me little time to decide what I should do in this situation.  Ten milliseconds, maybe, but most likely, even less than that.  The only logical course of action, of course, was to close the bedroom door, accept their generous invitation and find out just how adventurous these two young lads really are.

 

Home Page
Story index