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Now, on to the story.....
Joe The Welder
No worries about getting a birthday present for Joe.
Joe got a better present from his docs—his arm cast came off early, and staples came out of his left thigh.
Not knowing that'd happened, I got to his place after work, gonna take him to a nice seafood place in town. Walked into his townhouse, didn't find him in the kitchen, walked into the den, and was damn near tackled by the bastard onto the sofa.
“I'm hungry for your cock—it's mine tonight!”
Hell, not fighting that!
Joe in his excitement managed to get my belt open, and dress slacks unbuttoned, but gave a firmer-than-planned yank, and ripped the zipper from one side of the slacks. The tailor will fix 'em just fine.
After working on me for a half hour or so, Joe finally let me get off. He'd been jacking with his left hand while he worked on me, and when we both came, all either of us could do was lie in place.
“One of the best birthday presents I've gotten,” he chuckled.
“Didn't ya get that backward, Joe? It's YOUR birthday, and I get blown?”
“I got what I wanted.”
After a couple of smokes, Joe filled me in on his day. He'd been busy. Met with his orthopedic guy, therapy was done, just need to continue with a few regular exercises at home. No need for crutches/leg brace/walker to steady himself.
He'd also met with his internist, who removed the staples, but he still had a few stitches that'd stay in place for a week or so. Best of all, Doc said he could go back to work, with the promise he'd take it easy. I'll talk with his boss, make sure he watches him, and doesn't let him over do it for a week or so.
Joe also stopped by the Child Protective Service agent, who maintains an office at the hospital, hit her up to see Brandon's kids. He was missing 'em, and wanted to assure 'em he was ok.
“Glad ya stopped by, Joe,” she said. “The kids aren't dealing as well as we'd hoped in their temporary foster home. Cops tell me that Brandon's trial next month is all but locked in with a guilty verdict, so we need to find 'em a permanent place. Unfortunately, we don't have anyone with the resources to take all three kids together, so it looks like we'll hafta break 'em apart.”
“I called the kids from her office, and talked with 'em, Rex. They'd just gotten in from school. God, I've missed 'em! Take me there Saturday?” Of course.
Joe headed back to work on Friday. Boss even set up a stool so Joe could sit occasionally during the day.
Saturday morn rolled around, Joe up early, eager to go. Called at 8 am, you'd have thought he'd forgotten how much I hate mornings, but he's like a little kid on Christmas morning. “I'm-ready-when-are-you-gonna-be-here-cofee's-ready-and-we-can-grab-it-and-go,” all in that trademarked breathless Joe style.
After a quick shower, I dressed, picked up Joe, headed to a nearby McDonald’s. Joe walked in, and was immediately nailed by the three kids, squealing with delight, “Unca Joe! Unca Joe!” and seemingly now permanently attached to his legs, and both hands occupied with smaller hands.
We walked over to one of the tables where the social worker sat. “They're obviously glad to see ya, Joe,” she said, between sips of coffee. She's no more of a morning person than I am.
Joe grabbed the kids and headed out to the Mickey D's playground to talk and help 'em burn off some of the energy. I grabbed us more coffee while Joe played with 'em. I stuck out my hand, introduced myself to Ms. Patterson.
“I know who you are, Rex. The hospital staff said you never left his side when Joe was in there. Safe to assume you guys are a couple?”
Hell, I dunno.
I guess we are. I'm crazy about the boy—and he's crazy about me. We've just never discussed it. Never had to.
“Yeah, we are. Why?”
“Look, we got running orders from the judge on the case to make placing the kids—together--a priority. We've already done our homework on this full case, on Joe, and you, too.”
“We haven't been able to find the kids' mom. We got all her information from the application she and Brandon filled out for the apartment It's like she's disappeared off the radar. We know Joe was taking care of the kids far better than Brandon ever was, keeping the house clean, feeding 'em, getting the older ones off to school and the little girl in kindergarten. Neighbors told us how much Brandon drank, got in fights, and his arrest record backs up a history of neglect. They told us how much better things were for the kids after Joe arrived—even when Brandon wouldn't let 'em see 'em, Joe dropped off surprise dinners for neighbors to take over, paid one of the neighbors to go in and clean the place regularly, and even took care of Christmas for 'em when Brandon did nothing. Hell, Brandon didn't even ask about why or how all this was happening, just continued to drink and party nonstop.” Her eyes flashed fire.
Yeah, they'd done their homework. Hell, she's telling me stuff even I didn't know. Even picking up on Christmas? I'm impressed.
At this point, the youngest, Sara Elizabeth , 5, came running over, and jumped in my lap, threw her arms around my neck. “Unca Rex, can I have a coke?”
“Well, darlin', you can if your Uncle Joe says you can. Did you ask him?”
“Yes, sir. He said it was ok, and that I could always ask you if I couldn't find him.”
Wow. So much there in so few words.
Got up, got Sara Elizabeth a coke, then told her we were having a grown-up conversation, and that I'm sure her Uncle Joe was missing her. She smiled big, and ran back to Mickey D’s playground to join Joe and the boys.
The social worker sighed. “Nice to see children show that kind of manners and respect. You're good with kids, Rex—I watched how y'all reacted to each other.”
“You said you'd checked me out, too. What'd your sources say about me? And more importantly, why did you check me out? ”
She chuckled. “Everything we've heard and seen has been positive. Folks here in town know ya, like ya, and trust ya. Your community involvement has gotten you lots of fans. Joe's neighbors had great things to say about you. Folks at the hospital commented on how you babied Joe. Kirk, the service guy at the car dealership even commented on how nice you were—even tempered, a good guy. He said that made ya something of a rarity at the dealership. And watching you now when you were talking with Sara showed me a lot.”
“We check out everyone who could have a direct impact on our kids. It's important that they're taken care of properly, lovingly.”
Again, wow. What a great attitude. My opinion of these lower-paid civil servants just went through the roof. If they're all like this, they need a raise.
“So what are you telling me? What's the bottom line here?”
“Look, we know the kids are unhappy where they are, and it'll only get worse if we split 'em up. Joe is all they've talked about since they've been with their foster family. They rarely mention Brandon, and have never mentioned their mom. Do you think Joe is up for taking 'em on, getting temporary custody of 'em till Brandon's issues are resolved or their mother is found? We know it's a lot for a guy to hafta do, but we're running out of options for the kids.”
“Have you talked with him about this?”
“Not yet. I wanted to see how he did with the kids”, as she looked over her shoulder to watch Joe and the kids on the playground, “and looks like he's every bit as much into them as they are into him. We know he's still recovering—but you know him better than anyone else, so wanted to ask you first before we even approached him with the idea. Can he handle taking on 3 kids?”
Can you say “emotional nuclear bomb”?
Deep breath—this is a game-changer, big time.
“Yeah, Joe would be great with the kids. He'll do a damn good job with 'em.”
She smiled. “Yeah, we thought so, too, but wanted to hear it from you. If this goes as well as we think, this will be a permanent placement. And we kinda think you'll be there to help them all out. And that'd be a good thing.”
“What are you saying?”
“Look, Rex, times have changed. We know this is all fast, and I'm hitting you up with a lot at once, but it's not that unusual for gay couples to adopt. In this case, it's even easier, since Joe is a relative already involved with their lives. IF you and Joe are in it for the long haul, who's gonna be better for the kids than you guys? Every case worker dreams of a loving home for their kids. Yeah, it's a big step for both of you—and ya both need to think long and hard. In the meantime, I'm gonna meet with Joe on Monday, and not a word about this until you hear it from him. We need his direct uninfluenced reaction to all this.”
I nodded, speechless for once in my life.
Feeling like I'm carrying the “football”--you know the briefcase the military carries for the President with the nuclear launch codes? The future fate is right here, attached to me, and I can't share it with Joe till Monday? Shit, damn, fuck. How am I gonna make it till then?
I'm rescued from this bomb scrambling my brain by Joe's return with the kids in tow. Sara Elizabeth immediately jumps into my lap as before, and the older of the two boys walks up, and sticks his hand out awkwardly.
“I'm Braydon, Unca Rex.” He just turned 10.
“I'm Clay, Unca Rex.” Younger than Braydon at 8, he fumbled to shake my hand, even more than his brother. Neither had ever had much, if any, experience doing that.
“Boys, it's good to meet you! Your Uncle Joe has said so many nice things about you, I'm looking forward to getting to know you, too. But why'd you call me Uncle?”
“Unca Joe said you were really, really special, and we need to treat you just like we treat him.” Braydon grinned shyly. “Since Unca Joe is our uncle, you're our uncle, too.” Both of the other kids grinned and nodded.
Damn fluorescents....always make my eyes water.
“Joe, I'd like to meet with ya Monday afternoon. OK if I come to your job? Two o'clock ok?” Ms. Patterson was passing both Joe and me her business card. “My cell number is on there, if you've got any questions, that's the best way to catch me.”
Joe nodded yes. Game on.
Made it through the rest of the weekend only because of my cop buddy Chuck Edmundson and his wife inviting Joe and me over for the first swim of the season on Sunday. It'd warmed up enough that it sounded great! They were gonna throw some burgers on the grill, swim, and let their two kids enjoy themselves. We were gonna head over for a late lunch, swim, then relax the rest of the afternoon.
I'd hung up the phone when Joe said, “Wouldn't it be great if we could get the kids and have 'em join us?” We talked through it, got clearance from Chuck, and I called Ms. Patterson. She approved, and said she'd coordinate with the foster family, and would call back. Fifteen minutes later, she confirmed the foster parents were ok with it, and gave me their address so we could pick 'em up the next day. Her only stipulation was they be back home by 6, to get into the foster family's routine of a school night. No problem.
“Let's see if Andy can go, too.”
“Joe, we need to clear it with Chuck again. It's his party, not ours. Then Sandy.” Joe blushed at his over exuberance at getting to play with the kids. Adorable. Of course, Chuck said yes.
I called Sandy's cell. She was at work, pulling a double at the coffee distribution plant nearby. Yeah, as a single mom, she's struggling, pulling in every bit of overtime possible. Clueless on her babysitting costs, but gotta be a chunk. “Rex, it'd be great if you'd take Andy. He doesn't have a lot of friends, and, quite frankly, it'd let me get some sleep without feeling like I'm ignoring him on Sunday.” Told her we'd be back at 7 or so, and to turn on the porch light to let us know she was up. So Andy was joining us.
Got up on Sunday morn, headed over to Joe's. Andy was already there, bouncing up and down, ready to head out as soon as he heard my knock on the door. His cutoff jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops were perfect for a fun afternoon at the pool.
Loaded up the van, and stopped by pick up a cake and more hamburger and stuff at the grocery. Suspect these kids can eat. And know Joe is just as much of a kid about these things as anyone.
Went to the foster parent's house to get Joe's kids. Wait, Joe's niece and nephews. I think he'll want 'em, but it's his call. Don't wanna assume anything-- like the diagram shows, when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.
Met the foster folks. Incredibly nice—as were their 2 adopted kids and another foster kid they had. The foster child was only 3 or so, but appeared to keep 'em running, and they were in a small 3 bedroom house. I could understand how 3 kids plus their own responsibilities kept 'em running. They'd turned their formal living room into a bedroom for Joe's boys, and the formal dining room into another bedroom just to handle Joe's girl, uh, niece and nephews. Like I said, incredibly nice, generous folks.
We all piled into my minivan and headed over to Chuck's place. As soon as the doors opened, we grabbed the bags and Chuck yelled, “Back here”. The boys went racing around the side of the house to the back yard gate. Before I could get there, I heard a gigantic splash, then the 2nd, then the 3rd. Braydon, Clay, and Andy all cannon-balled into the water at a dead run. Typical boys.
Walked around back, Sara Elizabeth holding Joe's hand. Joe introduced all the kids to Chuck and Danielle, and their boy and girl. The two girls started talking and their boy made a dash to join the other boys in the pool.
Chuck got the grill fired up, Danielle went inside to get stuff out of the fridge and bring out the plates, and Joe and I kicked back with a beer and enjoyed a typical suburban Sunday afternoon. Burgers were soon done, everyone out of the pool, and I was glad I brought the extra hamburger and buns. I was right—the guys were all animals at the table.
Another beer, Chuck, Danielle, and I were chatting. Looked over at the pool, the boys divided into teams playing water basketball on the shallow end with a floating net, and Joe acting as referee. It soon broke down into “water war” with all 4 of the boys teaming up against Joe, Andy included. He was fitting in nicely. And Joe was smokin' hot, his fur slicked down with all the water running across and on him from the splashing. Boys will be boys, including my Joe, and everyone was laughing loudly as they splashed—and everyone was drenched. Hell, they even splashed Chuck and me sitting by the pool.
A few hours later, and it was time to say goodbye's and get the kids home. Thanked Chuck and Danielle for a great afternoon—and all the kids, including Andy, thanked 'em too with no prompting. As we walked out to load everyone in my minivan, Danielle smiled and looked between Joe and me. “Y'all make a great family.” I bit my lip—I'd kept the secret all weekend, wasn't gonna spill it now.
Took Joe's kids back to their foster home. They all hugged both Joe and me, and Sara Elizabeth and Clay sniffled a little bit, and were all obvious about not wanting the afternoon to end. The foster family welcomed 'em back, and Joe thanked 'em for the time with the kids.
Andy was left on the back seat, and was heavy-lidded. “Andy, you wanna take a nap when ya get back? You look a little tired from all that time in the pool.”
“Yeah, Unca Rex, maybe just a minute or two.”
“Uncle Rex? Why did ya call me that, Andy?”
“That's what Braydon and Clay call you, and I'm a kid like them. I don't have an uncle, so you and Unca Joe are now my uncas.”
Damn dust....keeps getting in my eye.
This kid thing is getting to me.
Joe was quiet in the van, too. Something was going on, but he wasn't talking about it—yet. I'll get it out of him.
At Joe's place, the light was off at Sandy's, so she was still asleep. Brought Andy in, put him on the sofa, turned on something on the Cartoon Channel, and within seconds, he was sound asleep. Joe covered him up with a blanket.
We headed to the patio for a smoke before I headed back to my place. “I hated to let 'em go, Rex. I miss 'em,” So THAT'S what Joe was thinking. And I could say nothing yet, knowing he'd get the opportunity tomorrow. Sucks.
Kissed Joe goodbye, headed to my van. Heard Sandy yell “Thank You”, and turned my head to see her wave goodbye. Joe told me later he picked Andy up, and carried him to his bed at Sandy's place. His body's still stiff but his heart overruled his body to take the kid upstairs to his bed.
Thought the rest of the drive, and the bulk of the night about Joe's meeting tomorrow with the social worker. Tossing and turning, couldn't sleep. I really had no doubt he'd take the kids, but does he realize what he's taking on? He's already had a family, and got 'em grown. Lots of responsibility—emotionally and financially. Is he up for that?
And what about Joe and me? I love the guy, no doubts there, and he loves me—how will adding the kids change that? Negatively? If we DO make a commitment for long term—and I'm definitely up for that—how will he integrate me into his kids lives? Kids be able to deal with two dads or do I become “the evil step-dad'? And if we DO live together, we'll hafta get a bigger place for Joe and me AND the kids—can we afford it? Or is all this just too much for “straight” Joe, and he walks away, maybe with the kids, maybe not, and I'm left behind?
Dammit. I'm driving myself nuts with this---what's gonna happen will happen. Joe and I need to really talk. Gotta stop this shit and get some sleep.
Where the fuck is all this going?
(Chapter 10 next week)
(PS. Thanks for all the input, guys! I appreciate your comments!)