DISCLAIMER:

 

M/M, m/m, M/m

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story contains descriptions of explicit sexual acts of boys and men discovering their sexuality. It contains graphic scenes of sex between consenting underage boys, consenting adult males and boys with adult males (eventually). If this type of content offends you or you are under the age of 18, do not read it.

 

If it is illegal to read such material where you live or if you find the topic distasteful, then please stop reading now. You have been warned.

 

This story is the property of the author. It can be downloaded for personal reading pleasure or sending to a friend, but if you wish to re-post them at your own site, please contact the author for permission.

 

Copyright 2016 WSC, all rights reserved.

 

A copy of the story has been assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of its submission agreement. Comments on the story are appreciated and may be addressed to enderwiggin61@outlook.com

 

All flames will be politely ignored.

 

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Author's Note:

 

I started writing this story, never intending it to grow into what it has become. It seems to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you enjoy.

 

Also, if you are enjoying this story, my first story can be found here:

https://www.nifty.org/nifty/gay/adult-youth/moments

 

Chapter 64 ľ Reunion

 

Thursday morning began with a bang. As in someone banging on the front door of the house. I struggled out of bed, found a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on before seeing who was here and finding out what was so damn important at six in the morning. The alarm clock sounded just before I left the bedroom, so I shut it off and made my way to the location of the commotion outside. When I opened the door, I was stunned to find a mousy young lady standing on the front porch holding a microphone. Standing behind her was a burly man holding on his shoulder, a rather large video camera with the local station's logo emblazoned on its side.

 

"Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want at six in morning?" I asked as my anger rose.

 

"Good morning, Mr. Sanders. My name is Yvonne Shields and I'd like to interview you for today's Channel 20 news at noon."

 

"Are you fuckin' kiddin' me!? Get the hell off my property and don't come back!" I screamed as I slammed the door in her face.

 

"But, Mr. Sanders," she yelled through the door, "your story is important, and we want it."

 

I reopened the door and told Ms. Shields, "I don't give a fuck who you are or who you're with, you ignorant bitch. It's six in the goddam morning. Now get the hell out of here before I have my husband get his gun and shoot your sorry ass. If I find you on my property again, I'll have you arrested for trespassing." I slammed the door in her face, again, and headed towards the boys' rooms to get them moving in the right direction. As I entered the twins' room, I found Joey sitting up with his eyes wide open.

 

"What's all that banging and yelling, Dad?"

 

"Just the stupid news wanting an interview and me tellin' `em to take a hike."

 

"You're jokin', right?"

 

"I wish I were, Joey. Do me a favor and get those two lumps next to you moving, then go roust the other three. I need to get Tom up so he can deal with the dim bulb on the front porch. And make sure everyone's wearing shorts this morning."

 

"You got it. Give `em hell, Dad," he yelled to my back as I left the room.

 

I headed back across the house and saw Ms. Shields and her cameraman still standing on the front porch as I passed by to wake Tom. After punching Tom on the shoulder, I said, "Houston, we have a problem."

 

"Wha...?" he mumbled as he wiped the sleep from his eyes and the cobwebs from his mind.

 

"C'mon, big guy, up and at `em. We have a pest problem you need to deal with."

 

"What, you can't deal with a mouse?"

 

"It's not a mouse, more like a giant rat. Get up and do your duty."

 

"Why is it my job to deal with pests?"

 

"Because you're the one who knows how to use a gun. Pull on some sweats and go dispatch the vermin on the front porch."

 

"If it's on the front porch, why the hell you botherin' me? Just leave it be and it'll go away on its own."

 

"Don't think that's gonna work with this particular rat. Move it, bubba."

 

"Yeah, yeah, I'm movin'."

 

I headed back to the kitchen to start some scrambled eggs for breakfast while Tom started moving about. When I reached the kitchen, the boys were lined up on their stools and waiting for food to magically appear before them. As I started cracking eggs into the mixing bowl, I saw Tom go by, gun in hand but missing his sweatpants.

 

"Don't open that door without pants on, Tom."

 

"It ain't that cold. Besides, what's a rat gonna do, bite my pecker?"

 

"Don't say I didn't warn ya'," I yelled out as he moved closer to the door.

 

"But, Dad, what about the lady I saw through the window," Alex asked with a giggle.

 

"Hey, he was warned to cover up. Twice. Ain't my fault, now," I answered, raising my hands in surrender. All six boys started giggling and jumped off their stools so they could watch the fireworks explode. And, as soon as Tom opened the door, explode, they did.

 

"Who are you and why aren't you wearing any clothes!?" Ms. Shields screamed.

 

"I'm Tom Wright and I fucking live here! Who the hell are you and what the fuck are you doin' on my front porch at six-thirty in the fuckin' morning?"

 

"My name is Yvonne Shields. I'm with the Channel 20 news and I'm here to interview Max Sanders. And would you please cover yourself!?"

 

"Listen, you stupid bitch!" Tom yelled. "This is my goddam house and if I wanna be naked, by god, I will be. Now, get your cute little ass and that goddam camera outta my fucking face and off this property before I shoot you for trespassing. GO!"

 

While the boys were laughing their asses off, Yvonne and her cameraman finally started backing off the porch and Tom slammed the door in their faces one more time. I was having a hard time controlling my own overflowing mirth and when he finally joined the rest of us in the kitchen, I lost it, doubling over with laughter.

 

"Oh, you think that's funny, do ya'?"

 

"Freakin' hilarious, bubba," I laughed. "I told you to pull some pants on, but you wouldn't listen."

 

"You said it was a freakin' rat on the porch!"

 

"Rat, reporter, who can tell the difference these days?" I asked innocently.

 

"The gall of them sending someone out here, unannounced, at this time of the morning. That shit just fries my balls."

 

"Ooh, I hope not, Pops," T.J. said. "We like your balls just the way they are," he added with a giggle.

 

"Yeah? Good, `cause I do, too."

 

"I hope they didn't have the camera running when you opened the door," Alex deadpanned.

 

"Oh, crap, I didn't think about that," Tom responded as he turned beet red from head to toes.

 

"Look!" Mike shouted. "Even his balls are red!" he added to gales of laughter from everyone. Well, everyone but Tom, that is, who turned his rosy cheeks to us and stormed from the kitchen. I continued to work on breakfast and by the time the eggs were done, Tom had rejoined the rest of the family in the kitchen. Thankfully, he was back to his normal skin color, what we could see of it, anyway, since he was now dressed.

 

"I'm driving the boys to the bus shelter this morning and if those twits are anywhere in sight, I'm callin' Derek to come out and deal with them. They can't be coming around here and annoying us whenever they please."

 

"Works for me, bubba. Get some eggs before they're gone." The boys dropped their plates and silver in the dishwasher as they finished their breakfast and then headed to their bedrooms to get dressed and ready for school. At the appointed time, Tom grabbed his jacket and headed out to the garage. When he finally got back inside the house an hour and a half later, he was fuming.

 

"Can I go back to bed and start the day over?" he asked with an edge to his voice as he tossed his jacket onto the loveseat.

 

"What happened? You were gone long enough to drive the boys to school three or four times."

 

"Little Miss Shields and her cameraman are sitting on the shoulder of the road, across from the end of the driveway. It took every ounce of control I've got to not go over and beat the shit out of both of them. As it is, I was just lucky enough to keep the boys from being caught on camera."

 

"Thank you for that. She has no business talking to them. Should I call the school and warn them about the possibility of a news crew showing up there?"

 

"I don't know, Max. I called Derek and he came out. I already knew this, but she has every right to sit on the side of the road since that's public property. What she can't do is come onto our property without our permission. He impressed upon Ms. Shields and camera dude what the limits are. He made sure they understood that if they stepped foot on the property uninvited again, I would be well within my rights to deal with them as I saw fit. Whether that means detaining them to be arrested or shooting their sorry asses was left up to me."

 

"Whatever you want to do is fine with me, Tom. Just make sure you protect the boys from exposure."

 

"I'll do my best, babe, but if they get creative, I don't know how much I'll be able to accomplish."

 

"Just what do you mean by creative?" I asked.

 

"Oh, you know, remote cameras, drones, who knows what they have?"

 

"Ah, shit, I didn't think about that. Is there anything we can do?"

 

"Short of calling the station to see if you can talk them out of dogging us, I don't think so."

 

"Since they're still out there, I don't think calling and begging will help a bit. But you have given me an idea that might just work."

 

"What's that?"

 

"Listen and learn, bubba." I looked up a number on my cell phone and placed the call.

 

"Thanks for calling the Channel 17 news desk, how may I direct your call?"

 

"I'd like to talk to your news director, please. I have a story I'd like to share with your viewing audience."

 

"One moment, sir, I'll connect you."

 

"You sure you wanna do that?" Tom asked as we waited.

 

"Why not? I've already talked to Hank at the paper. At least this way, I can feel like I'm in control of the situation instead of those idiots at the end of the drive bein' the ones in control."

 

"Hard to argue that point, I guess," he nodded in agreement.

 

The news director finally came on the line with, "This is Doug Williams, how can I help you?"

 

"Mr. Williams, my name is Max Sanders and ..."

 

"Wait, the Max Sanders, the one who's story started on the front page of yesterday's Journal-Register and continued today?"

 

"Yes, that's me. Listen, since you've seen the story in the paper, you know what I'm calling about."

 

"Actually, Mr. Sanders, I don't have a clue."

 

"I'd like your best, most seasoned and most responsible newscaster to interview me and for it to be broadcast on your station, exclusively."

 

"We'd be happy to do that, of course. From the article in the paper, your story is an important one that people need to know about. But why are you asking for us to do it? After all, we're based in Decatur. Wouldn't Channel 20 be the more appropriate choice to air your story?"

 

"They probably are, but since they were pounding on my door this morning at six and are now camped out at the end of my driveway, I'm not real happy with them at the moment. I'd much rather have my story on their competition, with someone who doesn't have the gall to show up uninvited."

 

"I'm always happy to stick it to the competition, Mr. Sanders," he responded with glee. "When can we do the interview?"

 

"Well, today's is shot, so is tomorrow and the weekend. How would next Monday afternoon work for you? I think that's the earliest possible time I could do it."

 

"That should be fine with us. Doing our interview Monday allows the paper to finish their story before we air ours. I'll select the person who will do the best job of presenting your story to our viewers and I'll have him and a cameraman at your house Monday afternoon at what, two or three?"

 

"I think three will work out just fine, Mr. Williams. We'll see your people then. Thank you."

 

"Oh, no, thank you, Mr. Sanders. I appreciate you giving us this opportunity to help you get your story out there."

 

We ended the call and Tom said, "Okay, I listened. What the heck was I supposed to learn?"

 

"How to take back control from people who want to rob you of that control."

 

"So, giving an interview to the Decatur station and not the Springfield station is taking control?"

 

"It is for me. One step at a time, big guy."

 

"One other good thing I see happening is you seem to be getting over your aversion to being famous."

 

"Well, not really, but I'll let you think so. Look, we better scoot or we'll be late for my appointment. Dr. Biggs' office is on the other side of town and it takes longer to get there."

 

"Lead the way, babe."

 

"Wait! I just remembered another call I need to make." I sat back down and dialed the number.

 

"Aircraft Services, this is Jeff, how can I help you?"

 

"Morning, Jeff, Max Sanders, again."

 

"Wow, Mr. Sanders, twice in one week. Is this gonna become a habit?"

 

"Let's hope not, Jeff," I chuckled. "Hey, we've had a slight change in plans and we're going to be taking off late afternoon tomorrow instead of Saturday morning. Can you still have my plane ready to go?"

 

"No problems, sir. We've already filled the tanks and checked the battery. You're good to go. What time will you be leaving?"

 

"Thanks, I appreciate it. We should be at the airport about four-thirty, so if you can have the plane pulled out of the hangar by then, that'd be great. Oh, and I also need you to update the flight plan for eleven passengers instead of eight."

 

"You got it. See you tomorrow afternoon, Mr. Sanders."

 

"Thanks, Jeff." I hung up the phone and said to Tom, "All right, now we can go."

 

We grabbed our jackets and made our way to the garage. Since we didn't have any shopping to do today, we slipped into the Shelby with Tom taking the driver's seat. As we pulled out onto the road at the end of our drive, you couldn't miss seeing Ms. Shields and the cameraman sitting in their car across the road. Once the Shelby was pointed in the right direction, Tom punched the gas and we left the two of them sitting in the cloud of dust he'd created. I'm sure Tom added a few chips in the car's paint with the rocks he'd kicked up.

 

After arriving at Dr. Biggs' office, we parked the car and made our way into his reception area. We were greeted by a handsome young man behind the desk. I let him know who we were, and he asked us to have a seat for about five minutes while we waited my turn. At the appointed time, the receptionist let us know Dr. Biggs was ready to see me now. I stood and started towards the inner office with Tom following right behind me.

 

I stopped, turned to Tom and said, "You don't have to go in with me this time if you don't want to. I've done it once, I can do it again."

 

"Oh, would you just shut up and get going. You're wasting time."

 

Sufficiently chastised, I turned back around and continued my trek into the doctor's private realm. We were met by an even more handsome gentleman than was the receptionist.

 

"Good morning," he greeted us, shaking our hands. "You must be Max and Tom. Welcome. Please, make yourself comfortable." We took two chairs that sat on the other side of the glass-topped coffee table from the chair Dr. Biggs had taken. "May I ask which one of you is Max and which is Tom?"

 

With a crooked smirk on my face, I answered his innocent request with, "Hi, I'm Tom and he's Max."

 

"Oh, no you don't, babe," Tom protested, "We're here for you, not me."

 

"You couldn't play along, for even a minute?" I asked.

 

"Nope, this is too important."

 

"Fine, I see how you are. Okay, Dr. Biggs, I'm Max and he's not, I mean, he's Tom."

 

"Nice to meet you two," he responded with a smile. "I can see this will be interesting."

 

"Before we get started, Doc, I gotta make sure of something."

 

"And what's that?" Dr. Biggs asked.

 

"Dr. Kirkland told us that you don't have problems with us adopting. I want to make sure that's true before we get too deep into anything. I don't want to have start over with another therapist, just to drop you in a few weeks because you don't accept us and what we're doing."

 

"Max ... may I call you Max?"

 

"Sure, it's my name. Do you mind I use Jason?"

 

"Not at all, Max. And I have absolutely no issues with you adopting. In fact, I think it's wonderful that you're willing to do so and applaud the group you're working with to make your dream of having a real family come true."

 

"Can I ask you why your so cool with it when Dr. Schaid thought it was reprehensible we would even consider the possibility."

 

"Because I know the struggles you're dealing with, having been through them myself. You met Tim, my receptionist. Well, Tim is my partner in life, as well as business. We have been trying to adopt a child for several years, now, and we keep hitting the same obstacle over and over, agencies just don't want to talk to us. Knowing that you two are in the process, though, gives me some hope for our future."

 

"Then maybe we can help each other."

 

"How so?" he inquired.

 

"If you can help me deal with the crap in my life, I'll introduce you and Tim to Carol. She's the one helping us and I'm sure she'd love to help you, also."

 

"Tim and I would appreciate that, Max. Now, let's get to why you're here. From what Paul told me over the phone, you were the victim of serious sexual abuse from the ages of thirteen to sixteen, is that right?"

 

"Unfortunately, yes."

 

"And you'd repressed the memories of that abuse until just recently."

 

"Also true."

 

"Can you tell me how you feel, now, after all these years?"

 

"Here, why don't you read this?" I asked while handing over my diary of hate. "I'd written this at Dr. Schaid's request and figure we might as well start there." I watched him closely as he read the twenty-three pages of hate. Unlike with Dr. Schaid, this time I was able to clearly see what he thought as he did so. You could practically see the disdain and anguish dripping from his brow as he read more and more.

 

When he finally set the diary down, he waited a moment before looking back up to us and commenting, "I can see I have my work cut out for me. What you've expressed in your writings contains a level of hostility I've not seen in some time, Max. Is there anything you'd like to add to what you've written so far?"

 

"Nothing that pops to mind at this moment, no. I think, overall, I'm not doing too badly, but Tom believes otherwise."

 

"Is that true Tom?"

 

"Well, yeah. How can anybody read that and not wonder why Max hasn't exploded from keeping all that shit inside for so long. It's gotta be killin' him." My jaw dropped in surprise at Tom's answer and I stared at him is disbelief.

 

"I agree with you, Tom." Jason then focused back on me, asking, "How is it you've managed to survive this long with all that brewing inside you?"

 

"I don't know, I just kept going through the motions of life, hoping that someday I'd find a real purpose to my continued existence. I've think I've finally found it with Tom and our boys and I'm determined to live my life the best way I know how. I used to hate to wake up, not knowing what the day held for me, whether it was gonna be a good day or a bad day. But now, still not knowing what the day ahead is going to be like, I can't wait to get started, each and every morning, because I know I have my family to share it with. Having them along for the ride with me makes all the difference in the world."

 

"I'm guessing that getting a lot of this hate out of your mind and onto paper helped you, also."

 

"It did. I hated to admit it, but it really did. I've already told my full story to Tom and the police. I've also told some of it to the rest of our family and the newspaper. And each time I've done it, it's become a little bit easier to acknowledge what I went through. But knowing it and actually accepting it are two entirely different things. I don't know that I'll ever accept it."

 

"And you shouldn't. Nobody should ever `accept' that kind of treatment at the hands of another person. And I've read the story in the paper these past two mornings and I look forward to seeing the end of it tomorrow. But even though the paper's story ends tomorrow, you do know that yours doesn't, don't you? Your story is just beginning."

 

"I'm well aware of that, Jason. Just this morning, we had the Channel 20 News on our front porch asking for an interview. I told them to take a hike. And when they didn't listen to me, I set Tom on them. He managed to at least get them off our property."

 

"Go ahead, tell him what you did then," Tom goaded me.

 

"Oh, yeah, I called the Decatur station and offered them an exclusive interview."

 

"And what possessed you to do that?" Jason asked.

 

"Well, one of the problems I have with this whole freakin' nightmare is the lack of control I seem to have over my life right now. By giving the interview to the paper on my terms and offering Channel 17 the same thing, I have a little bit of control over how my story gets out there and is presented. People need to know what's been happening in that church so they can protect their kids. I've got to keep the story from fading away, so no more kids can be victimized the way I was."

 

"Yes, I can understand the control issue. You had no control twenty years ago, so you're asserting it now."

 

"Exactly!" I yelled. "Nobody else seems to understand that."

 

"Don't worry, Max, I do. It's quite common in situations like yours, re-asserting yourself after all this time and feeling like you're in charge of your own life again. That's a big step towards regaining your self-image and self-worth and it's a very important part of your recovery."

 

"Thank you, Jason." I turned to Tom and said, "See, I told you so. Do you believe me now?"

 

"I always believed you, babe, I just thought you were rushing things."

 

"Tom, Max's recovery will take whatever pace Max needs and wants it to. It's not for us to determine what's right or wrong in this. It's almost like dealing with your grief after someone you love has passed away, it's different for everyone."

 

"I get that, and I'm all for Max getting better and dealing with the fallout of his abuse. I just don't want him pushing too hard and doing too much too soon."

 

"That's entirely up to Max. All you and I can do is guide him on his journey, and it's up to him to decide the direction and speed of that journey. Now, was there anything particular your wanted to discuss today?"

 

"I had one thing," I answered. "Jean seemed to think it was highly significant that I used the word `impotence' to describe how I felt twenty years ago. I was wondering if you attached any special meaning to that word in the context in which it was used."

 

"Not hardly, Max. You could have used helpless, powerless, weak, or any other number of other words to describe the same feeling. Recognizing the feeling is important, the choice of word or words you use to describe the feeling isn't. You are a writer by trade, so I would expect you to select and use words that are different from what most other people would."

 

"That's what I thought, but she insisted it was monumental, like I was using it in the sexual context."

 

"I wouldn't put too much stock in the ramblings of a fool, Max. She knows not what she says."

 

"Thank you. That just reaffirms my decision to stop seeing her was the right one."

 

"What about you Tom," Jason asked. "Anything in particular you'd like to talk about today?"

 

"We-e-ell, there is one little thing. Max has this grand vision of building a bigger house for us to move into, so we have more room to help kids who need it. I'm wondering if that's such a great idea to tackle right now."

 

"Oh, c'mon, you're still worried about that?" I asked. "I thought you were with me."

 

"You know I am, Max. I'm just concerned about the timing."

 

"Again, Tom," Jason interjected, "if it's something Max wants to do and it will help him with his recovery, all we should do is support him and see that it happens. I wish Tim and I were in a position to be able to do something like that, but with the size of my practice, it's just not feasible. Not yet, anyway."

 

"I've got something else. Tom thinks I'm crazy for wanting to do this, too, but I want to go back to the church and see the room where all this crap happened."

 

"Yes, I can understand that," Jason replied. "And while I'd support you in doing that, I think you should wait just a bit longer before you attempt it. With what you're feeling right now, after reading what you brought with you, you're not quite ready for that step. Maybe in a few weeks or a month, I can see it happening, but not right now."

 

"At least you think it's a good idea. I know I'm not ready to tackle that obstacle, but I will do it."

 

"Max, one thing you're going to have to realize, and the sooner the better for everyone involved, is that you're not running a 100-meter sprint. This is going to be more like a marathon with some major hurdles to be surmounted along the way, and at the end of the race, you are going to be worn out, both physically and mentally. You are going to have to pace yourself if you want to have any hope of finishing in one piece."

 

"What the hell are you, Jason, a therapist or a track coach?" I laughed.

 

"Both, actually. I put myself through school by being one of coaches for the college's men's track team. And, even now, I work with a few schools in the area to help develop and maintain their track teams. I love working with kids and seeing how proud they are of themselves when they perform their best, win or lose."

 

Since Jason had scheduled extra time for our first appointment with him, we didn't finish the session until about eleven-thirty. In the time we had, we talked about the issues I'd face in the future and how to deal with times I feel like I'm starting to lose control. We were about to the end of our time and Jason had one more thing he said he'd like to talk about.

 

"Well, I think that's enough for today, guys. But I have a favor I'd like to ask before our next session. If it's okay with you, I'd like to make a house call, as it were, and get a better feel for the family dynamic, talk to your boys about how they're adapting to their new situation. I think that with that information available to me, I'll have a better idea of where we need to go with your therapy, Max. Would you have a problem with that?"

 

"I don't see a problem, do you, Tom?"

 

"Not really, no. Maybe he could talk to Mike next week instead of us."

 

"Is there something in particular you're concerned about with him?"

 

"Well, we knew he'd suffered some serious abuse from his parents before living with Paul for a few months, and then moving into our home. When talking to Paul yesterday, he gave us some more information about the kinds of abuse and how bad it really was for Mike, most all of it stemming from Mike's wanting to dress in his mom's clothes. Tom asked Paul if it was possible Mike was transgender, but Paul refused to put Mike into a specific category. So, really, we're just concerned about what Mike may be thinking about or dealing with and want to help him with whatever it is."

 

"The percentage of transgender people in the world makes it unlikely that would apply to Mike. Besides, transgender individuals rarely, if ever, have a fascination with or wear their preferred gender's clothes before they begin transitioning. If Mike were transgender, he would be more apt to dislike his body as it is, and he'd be ashamed for others to see it. Have you noticed that to be an issue?"

 

"Not hardly," Tom snorted.

 

"What's that mean?" Jason asked with a puzzled look on his face.

 

"I'm sure you'll find out next week when you talk to the boys, especially since they haven't developed any filters, just yet. We're a nudist family, Jason. The only time I've seen Mike be hesitant to show his body was the very first night the boys moved in. After that, he's never displayed any sign of being ashamed or afraid for anyone to see him nude."

 

"Then I don't think you have anything to worry about," Jason chuckled with a smile. "His desire to wear his mother's clothes may have been nothing more than a comfort issue or he just liked the look and feel of her clothes. And since he doesn't have to wear clothes at home, that issue seems to have resolved itself. What about when he leaves the house for school or other places? Has he shown any desire to wear girl's clothes then?"

 

"Not that he's said to us, no, but we don't know if he's said anything to his brothers."

 

"If he had, I'm sure you would have heard about it by now. Anything else I should be aware of before I come out?"

 

"One other thing I can think of," Tom answered.

 

"What's that," Jason and I asked together.

 

"Three of our sons have the ability to, um, read your mind. So, you may want to be cautious of what you think while they're around you."

 

"Pshhh, I don't believe in that kind of hokum. I've never heard a reliable report of anybody being able to do such a thing."

 

"Don't say you weren't warned, Jason," I laughed. "There's a first time for everything."

 

"I'll believe it when I see it. So, when do we want to do this?"

 

"It'll probably have to be Wednesday afternoon or evening, Jason. We won't be home this weekend and were pretty busy Monday and Tuesday already."

 

"Wednesday should work out just fine. I'll have Tim set your regular appointments for Thursdays at ten in the morning, if that's all right with you?"

 

"Fine with us. I guess we'll see you next week, then."

 

"I'll look forward to it. Tim will call you sometime Wednesday morning and let you know what time I can be there. Hope you guys have a great afternoon."

 

"Thanks, Jason. You, too."

 

We both shook his hand before we turned to leave. Stepping outside into the late morning sun, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

 

"What?" Tom asked as we made our way to the Shelby.

 

"I like Jason and I think he's going to be a great help. At least he doesn't have a problem with us adopting. That's a big step in the right direction."

 

"He's pretty easy on the eyes, too," Tom laughed as we fell into the Shelby for the trip home.

 

I punched my honey on the shoulder for that crack as he started the car and backed out of our parking space. "Hey, you're taken, remember?"

 

"I might be taken, but I'm not dead, dammit. I can still look, can't I?" he asked as he pulled onto the street and made the turn towards home.

 

"Absolutely not," I chortled in response. "You're supposed to only have eyes for me."

 

"Then you better get me a set of blinders for my wedding present," my chauffer chuckled.

 

"Just drive, you big goof."

 

As we pulled into the driveway, I was happy to notice the car containing the pushy young Ms. Shields and her cameraman was absent. I hoped it wasn't waiting for us in front of the house. After parking in the garage without being assaulted by the local news, we headed inside to start preparing for our lunch with David. Tom got started browning the hamburger and sausage for the sauce while I started work on the sauce itself. When the two were finally combined, I turned the burner down to simmer and allowed it cook, giving it an occasional stir.

 

Since we had a bit of a break before we needed to do anything else, I asked Tom, "Hey, why don't you go print out today's e-mail from Hank so we can read part two of his story?" I waited in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the sauce while Tom headed to the study.

 

 

I sat at Max's desk and turned on the computer. After entering his password, I opened Outlook and let it download his new messages. After finding the one from Hank, I printed it so we could we peruse it at our leisure. While waiting for the inkjet to spit out the pages, I browsed through the messages on the screen to see if there was anything else interesting. My eyes finally settled on one from Jack at Shelby America.

 

"Why would Max be talking to Shelby?" I muttered to myself. "He's already got one. I wonder if there's a show or something coming up he wants to attend."

 

I clicked on the message to find out what was going on. After reading the thing, I was ashamed with myself for being so damn nosy. "What the hell is he thinking?" I asked aloud to the empty room. "I don't need a fuckin' Shelby as a wedding present. That's way over the line." I knew I'd never come close to matching that for my present to him, but damn, I'm getting my own Shelby! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! God, I love this man, crazy as he is, I love him to fuckin' death. Now all I have to do is figure out how to keep Max from realizing I know about it. I'll just have to play stupid for the next couple of months. Shouldn't be too hard for an ex-cop to do that. Besides, mom always joked I was never the brightest bulb in the box, guess we'll see if it's true.

 

Embarrassed as hell, I shut down the computer, retrieved the e-mail from the printer and rejoined my babe in the kitchen, hoping I didn't look guilty enough for him to interrogate me.

 

 

Tom finally came back from the study, waving the printed pages of today's portion of Hank's article. He looked a little flushed, like he'd just run a fair distance, but he handed the pages to me before I could say anything.

 

"There ya' go, babe, hot off the press."

 

"Thanks, did you read it?" I asked.

 

"Nope," he replied climbing up on one of the stools at the counter.

 

I joined him on the next stool and started reading. About two-thirds of the way through today's part of the story, Hank started to add information that wasn't in the original article he'd sent us, and I was starting to feel uneasy about where he was leading his readers. The information he'd added was related to the Muellers and the twenty-four other people who'd been arrested with them, so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. The paper, apparently, had managed to dig up more dirt they thought their readers should know. Again, the new information just backed up my story, so I wasn't overly concerned at his deviation from the original story.

 

When we'd both finished reading, I asked, "What do you think?"

 

"A few minor changes and new info from what he sent before, but nothing earth-shattering."

 

"Yeah, I hope it stays that way in tomorrow's final part." I looked at the clock and realized David should be here in about fifteen minutes. "Oh, shit, we gotta get busy. Can you put the salad together while I get the bread ready to go in the oven?"

 

"Sure thing, babe."

 

The two of us got to work and soon had everything ready to go except for dropping the pasta into a pan of boiling water. We just needed a judge to arrive before we did so. As we waited, a thought popped in my head, so I looked to Tom and commented, "I've been thinking about this morning and I think we should do something to improve our security. What do ya' say?"

 

"I agree. I really don't want to be waking up to a news crew on the front porch every day. That would be the perfect task for Dylan to tackle when he starts working with me. With his position in the department, he knows all the alarm and security companies in the county, along with quite a few fencing contractors. If anyone can secure this place, it'll be him."

 

"Good thinking, Tom. You might want to give him a heads up before he starts so he can maybe have something in the works."

 

"I'll take care of it, Max, don't worry." The drive sensor dinged and the phone rang at the same moment, interrupting our train of thought.

 

"I bet that's David," I reacted. "Why don't you get the door and I'll answer the phone?" Tom left the kitchen while I picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

 

"Max, Steve Furman here. We had a situation here I thought you should know about."

 

"Oh, lord, what did the boys do this time?"

 

"Oh, it wasn't them, exactly. It was the Channel 20 news in the person of a Ms. Shields and a cameraman. They showed up here about a half-hour ago, demanding they be allowed to talk to your sons. I told them to take a hike or I was calling the police to have them removed from the school's property."

 

"Well, crap. I thought they'd crawled back in their hole. I didn't think they'd really show up there."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"They were on our front porch this morning at six, but Tom managed to get rid of them. Then, when we left to go to town for an appointment, they were sitting at the end of our drive. When they weren't there when we got back home, I just assumed they'd given up."

 

"Apparently, no such luck, Max. I just thought you should know about it."

 

"Yeah, thanks for calling, Steve. Talk to you later." I hung up the phone just as Tom came back into the kitchen, followed by Judge Corgan. "Good afternoon, David. How are you today?" I greeted as we shook hands.

 

"I'm doing just fine, Max, yourself?"

 

"It's been an interesting day."

 

"So Tom said. I assume it's interesting, in part, due to the car at the end of your drive."

 

"Unfortunately, yes. Channel 20 wants to interview me. Too bad for them that it's not going to happen."

 

"But I was under the impression you wanted your story out there. Why face off against more exposure?"

 

"Because that idiot showed up here, uninvited, at six this morning, pounding on the door. I'm not going to give my story to someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to call first."

 

"Well, I suppose that's reasonable," David agreed.

 

"I'm just glad we'll be out of town for the weekend. That way, we won't have to deal with them for a couple of days. Are you ready for lunch?"

 

"Anytime. Can I do anything to help?"

 

"I don't think so, David. I just need to deal with the bread and get the spaghetti on the boil." I popped the bread in the oven while Tom and David chatted idly. After I was able to flip the bread over so both sides would be crispy, I dropped the pasta in the water. Tom excused himself from his conversation to put everything else on the table while I dealt with the noodles. While we handled our tasks, David excused himself to run out his car to retrieve something. He returned shortly with a bottle of wine.

 

"I hope you don't mind me bringing a bottle of Chianti to go with our meal. Margie isn't real fond of Italian food and when I get the opportunity to indulge myself, I always like to have a nice wine with it."

 

"That's quite all right, David," Tom answered. "We don't usually have wine, but it sounds goods today. Shall I do the honors?"

 

"By all means." While Tom opened the bottle, David commented, "I love your home, boys. This is the kind of place I've always wanted, open, warm, inviting and isolated."

 

"Thank you, David," I replied.

 

"It's all Max's doing, I haven't been around long enough, yet, to have had much of an impact," Tom added.

 

"Sure, you have," I corrected him, "you got your new office. That's a big change."

 

"Whoo-hoo," Tom whistled while twirling a finger in the air. "One whole room."

 

"Don't worry, you'll have plenty of opportunity to make up for lost time as we work on the new house."

 

"New house?" David asked.

 

"Yep, I'll tell you my idea, but first, it's time to drain the pasta and sit." I drained the spaghetti and drizzled a little olive oil on it to keep it from sticking together, then pulled the bread from the oven and transferred it to a basket. With these last two items in hand, I said, "Let's eat," and led the way to the dining room. The three of us took our seats at the table and spent a few minutes filling our bowls with salad and plates with spaghetti, sauce and bread. As we ate our hearty meal, I explained our plans for a new house to David, making special note of the extra kids we'd be able to help once the project was completed.

 

"That sounds rather ambitious, Max. Are you sure you're ready for that?"

 

"I admit, right now, I'm not. But I want everything done and in place so when I am ready, everything else is, too."

 

"You'll have to make sure you let me know when you're all set up. I see cases every week where kids need to get the hell away from mom and dad for a while as the parents deal with their issues. It'll be nice to have a place for them to go that's so close by. Are you and Tom going to run everything yourselves, or are you planning on having some other people to help you out?"

 

"No way we're doing this on our own, David," Tom answered. "Once we get the new place built, we're giving this house to our parents, so there'll be four more adults around to help us out. Plus, we've already hired a guy to come in and help out around here with things once I get back to work."

 

"And I have a few other ideas, but we haven't talked about them yet," I commented.

 

"Oh?" Tom asked, lifting his eyebrows in curiosity. "No time like the present. Do tell."

 

"Well, you know how the boys are always going on about doing school at home? I've thought about asking Ken to leave the school and come work at the new place, not just for our boys, but for the other kids, as well. I've also been thinking about having Rick come on as an on-site health person to be able to deal with any medical emergencies. Then, there's the possibility of having full-time lifeguards here since there will be more kids to use a pool, but I'm not too sure about Brad or Duane filling that position. The last person I think it would be handy to have available 24/7 is a counselor. If these kids are troubled, and some of them will be, for sure, you'll never know when one might need some help."

 

"Jesus, Max, have you thought about how all that will affect our lives, the changes we'd have to make to accommodate those new people being around all the time. The boys won't like one of those changes, for sure. Hell, I won't much like it either."

 

"Like I said, they're just ideas. I'm not going to do anything without all of us talking about it."

 

"I like what you're thinking, boys," David commented. "I'd be willing to help draft some legal resources for you. There are plenty of attorneys in this town who don't do their fair share of pro bono work and I can't think of a better cause for them to do so. Are you thinking of adopting whatever kids you take in? Or are you planning a sort of foster family environment."

 

"More like a foster family," Tom answered. "A rest stop, of sorts, where they can live while their parents get their act together or other arrangements are made."

 

"We're thinking that with our boys, we'll all be able to help these kids more than they might find somewhere else."

 

"Speaking of, how are your boys?"

 

"They're all doing great. Joey, Alex and T.J., with the help of the school, have set up a support group for gay youth at the school, and Mike and Andy are having a great time together. I'm glad Carol was able to arrange for us to adopt Andy with the other boys," I replied.

 

"And I'm going over to the school at two-thirty. T.J.'s asked me to talk to a kid about some issues he's having," Tom added.

 

"Good for you, Tom. I knew you wouldn't quit helping people when you left the department. So, it looks like it'll be just you and me taking a hike this afternoon, Max."

 

"Yep, looks that way."

 

We spent the rest of the meal discussing a myriad of subjects and getting to know each better, though Tom already knew David pretty well from their poker nights over the years. When we finished eating, Tom and I cleaned up the table and the kitchen mess while David sat at the bar and watched.

 

When the cleanup was done, Tom said, "Well, David, I hate to eat and run, but I need to get ready to go to the school. I hate to leave because I really want to see the cemetery, too, but I'll have to wait for another day."

 

"No worries, Tom, go. Your son needs you." With that, Tom headed to the bedroom to change clothes. "Before we take our walk, Max, I'd love to see the rest of your home."

 

"I'd be happy to give you the tour, follow me." We started at the far end of the house at the garage and worked our way back towards the study and our bedroom. David was surprised at the colors the boys had selected for their bedrooms, but agreed that if that's what they wanted, who were we to argue with their choices.

 

He paid particular attention to the picture of the twins' parents that was hanging in their room and commented, "I assume that's the picture you had reprinted for Joey and Alex."

 

"It is, and they absolutely love it."

 

"Their parents were a handsome couple. That was a good thing you did for them. Most adoptive parents prefer to hide their kids' biological parents, almost like they never existed. In some cases, that may be warranted, but it's not true for the majority. And it's such a shame to bury their family history like that. I mean, they came from somewhere, why not celebrate that?"

 

"I don't know, David. Alex and Joey may soon be our sons, but Tom and I will just be continuing the work their parents started nine years ago. And though they've had a pretty tough life the last five years, living where they were, we're going to do everything we can to overcome that."

 

"That's as it should be, Max. And I don't doubt for one second that you'll do so."

 

As we moseyed back through the house, we briefly stopped at the glass doors to the pool which David loved, then continued on to the theater. David was impressed with the room and commented about how much nicer it would be to watch a movie here as opposed to a regular theater. We ended the tour with my study and our bedroom that Tom had already vacated.

 

As we returned to the living room, David said, "Thanks for letting me see the whole house. I'd read Carol's description of it in the boys' adoption files, but mere words don't do justice to what you really have here. I can see the boys are going to be well cared for and, in my book, that's the most important thing when someone is adopting. I'm ecstatic that you came along when you did and opened your home and life to them."

 

"You can't be any happier than I am, David. Finding Tom and our sons have given me the purpose in life I've never had before, and I can't wait for it all to become legal. But, I've waited thirty-four years for it so far, a couple more months won't kill me, I guess."

 

We finally caught up with Tom as he was retrieving his jacket from the closet and we shared a kiss before he took off for the school. As he headed for the garage, David and I retrieved our jackets, also, and followed in his footsteps. When we got to the garage, Tom was just settling in the Shelby and I suggested he take the Flex and bring the boys home with him.

 

"But what if this kid wants me to go talk to his parents?" he asked.

 

"Then, by all means, go with him and the boys can ride the bus home after school," I answered.

 

He pondered the situation for a moment and finally said, "I think I'll go ahead and take the Shelby. I want to be ready if he wants me to take him home. And, if the boys ride the bus, you'll need the Flex here."

 

"Hadn't thought about that, I guess. Okay, go on and do your good deed." He backed out of the garage and pulled away down the drive with a wave out the window. David and I headed in the opposite direction, deeper into our property, to see the old cemetery. After passing my storage building, we left the paved drive and headed for a gap in the trees about fifty feet away. "It's nice the sun is out today, that should make our stroll a bit more comfortable and enjoyable," I commented as we stepped into the shadows of the woods.

 

"I'm just hoping this is the cemetery my dad and I have been looking for. We've looked all over Macoupin county, and the southern end of Sangamon, but obviously never had any luck. We'd never dreamed it would be this far north and west from Virden."

 

"Funny you should mention Virden. We were down there just the other night for supper."

 

"DiCarlo's, right?"

 

"Where else. Best pizza I've ever had. And Tom and the boys loved it, too. I can see we're going to have to make a habit of going there."

 

"Don't blame you a bit, Max. Not being close to DiCarlo's is the only reason I miss living there. Margie and I still get down there once a month, though. While she's not that enamored with Italian food, she does love their pizza."

 

A few minutes later, we rounded a corner in the path and were confronted with the wrought iron fence I'd replaced. The gate into the cemetery was a wrought iron archway with the name `Corgan' formed at the top of the arch in one-foot tall letters.

 

"Well, here we are, David," I stated as I waved a hand in the direction of the arch.

 

"Oh, my, this is beautiful. For a cemetery, that is."

 

"Well, it didn't look like this when I found it. The original fence had all rusted apart and fallen over. The woods had practically taken the space back over and a lot of the headstones were damaged, mostly from fallen limbs. I had a company in Springfield recreate the fencing using the remnants of the original as a pattern. I also had a monument company come out to repair the headstones they could and replace the ones they couldn't. And my lawn guys cleared out all the trees, weeds and other junk. Now, they keep it maintained every summer, along with all the walking trails I've created. It took a couple of months to accomplish everything, but I felt the people buried here would appreciate it."

 

"I don't know if they appreciate your efforts, but I sure do. May I go in?"

 

"Of course, that's what we're here for, isn't it?" I unlocked and opened the gate, allowing David to precede me into the cemetery. He began to wander among the thirty or so tombstones, taking in the names and dates emblazoned thereon. After making the complete round of the grounds, he turned to me with tears in his eyes.

 

"You're going to make an old man very happy, Max. This is the place we've been searching for. Do you mind if take pictures to show my father?"

 

"I'd be surprised if you didn't. Take your time, I'll wait outside the gate, so I won't be in your way." I stepped outside and quietly waited as David made the rounds again, snapping pictures of every marker with his phone. He would occasionally make a comment or two about the people as he did so. As he neared a marker at the back corner of the cemetery, he started to chuckle.

 

"Ah, John Wesley, you old cad, you. I'm amazed you live long enough to make it here."

 

"Excuse me?" I asked in surprise at his comment.

 

David turned towards me and explained. "This man was described as quite the cad back in the day. He was a love `em and leave `em type of fellow. He'd marry a woman, have a kid or two or more, and then leave. Only to find another woman, get married, have a few more kids with her, merely to disappear into the mists of time, yet again. I know of at least four marriages and I can't remember how many kids, all without the benefit of a single divorce. Yes, he was the quintessential scoundrel. I'm amazed one of those scorned ladies didn't do him in. To find him here with the others is a pleasant surprise."

 

"That's quite the story," I laughed. "And to think people today still frown on two guys getting married. They really should take a long, hard look to their own families before disparaging someone else's."

 

"Yes, we've come a long way in the last hundred or so years, haven't we?"

 

"We still have a long way to go, too," I commented.

 

"No doubt about that, Max." David took his last picture inside the cemetery and then joined me outside the gate. "I'd like to get one more picture of the whole place."

 

"Oh, let me get out of the way, then."

 

"No, please, I'd like you in the picture, also, so dad can see who found our family. Why don't you stand beside the gate?"

 

"If you insist." I took my position while David backed up the trail about twenty feet so he could fit the whole cemetery into the picture. After snapping a few shots from the outside, he walked back over to join me and wrapped me in a bear hug.

 

"I can't thank you enough for letting me come out today. Finding this cemetery is the culmination of a dream and promise I made years ago, never realizing the difficulty in the task I'd set for myself."

 

"I'm only too happy to help you realize that dream," I said as we turned around to head back to the house. "I'd wondered if any of the family was still in the area, and now I know."

 

"Dad's just gonna shit himself with glee when he sees these pictures. And he's also gonna bug the hell out of me until I can bring him out to see it with own eyes. When do you think we could do that?"

 

"Any time you want, David. Now that you know where it's located, we don't even have to be home."

 

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of coming out if you're not here. That just wouldn't be right. Besides, I want dad to meet the man who has given our family such tender loving care."

 

"And we'd be happy to meet him. Just give us a couple days' notice before you want to visit and I'll make sure we're here."

 

"I'll be sure to do that."

 

As we entered the house, I said, "I guess you'll be heading for home now."

 

"Actually, Margie had some ladies function to attend this afternoon, so I'd be going to an empty home. If you don't mind, I like to stay for a while, maybe see Joey and Alex again and meet your other sons?"

 

"I think that sounds just fine, David. I'll enjoy the company since Tom's at the school. Would you like something to drink?" I asked as I hung our jackets back in the closet.

 

"Tea would be good, if you have some?" After getting a glass of tea for both of us, we settled in the living room next to a fire and enjoyed visiting for the next couple of hours.

 

 

When I got to the school, I located the visitor's parking and headed inside to the office. I found Gloria behind her desk and introduced myself.

 

"Hi, I'm T.J. Bruce's dad, Tom Wright, and I'm here to see him and another boy."

 

"Oh, yes, Mr. Wright, we met briefly during the workshop. And T.J. popped in at lunchtime to let me know you'd be coming by. Give me just a moment and I'll have him come get you."

 

"Thank you, Gloria." I took a seat and waited patiently for T.J. to arrive and escort me through the building. When he finally stepped into the office, he jumped in my lap, gave me a hug and planted a kiss on my cheek.

 

"Hi, Pops, thanks for coming over. And thanks for letting me know my dad was here, Ms. Miller," he added as he glanced at Gloria.

 

"You're welcome, T.J."

 

With T.J. holding my hand we left the office and he led the way to a small office where we'd meet with his new friend. After closing the door and taking our seats, I asked, "What's this kid's name, T.J.?"

 

"Rich," T.J. answered. "Like I said, he's a junior. It took me a while to get him to really open up with me, but once he did, he let it all hang out. He's having a real hard time dealing with being gay, mostly `cause he's scared of his parents reaction. The only thing he didn't say out loud is that he plans to kill himself. We can't let him do that, Pops."

 

"That's why I'm here, buddy," I offered as I wrapped an arm around his shoulder.

 

We'd waited in silence for a few minutes when there was a light rap on the door. "C'mon in Rich," T.J. called out. The door opened to reveal a six-foot one-inch, blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty. Despite the loose-fitting jeans and long-sleeve shirt the young man wore, you could tell by the way he carried himself he was lean and sinewy. If I had to guess, and I was, I'd say he played on the school's basketball team. He probably had every girl in the school panting after him, too, which I'm sure irritated him immensely. He stepped into the room and closed the door before he spotted me sitting there with T.J.

 

"Oh, sorry, T.J., I didn't know you were talking to someone already. I'll come back later," Rich squeaked in embarrassment.

 

"No, Rich, sit down," T.J. countered forcefully. "This is one of my dads, Tom, and he's here to talk to you."

 

"Despite what I told you yesterday, I really don't go for the old farts, dude." T.J. and I snorted in laughter.

 

"Hi, Rich, nice to meet you," I greeted the young man, extending my hand for a shake, a gesture that he ignored. "First off, I'm only twenty-seven ...," I started

 

"That's still ten years older than me and it ain't gonna happen."

 

"... and T.J.'s not playing matchmaker. He's asked me to be here this afternoon to talk with you. Apparently, you said some things yesterday that really worried him and he wanted an adult to get involved."

 

"Wait!" Rich yelled. "You told your old man what I said! I thought you were gonna keep this shit to yourself, man."

 

"Well, normally I would, Rich," T.J. responded calmly, "but I picked up something from you that really scared me. I'm not old enough to deal with it myself `cause I'm afraid of what you might do if I say the wrong thing. That's why I asked my Pops to be here today. He used to be a cop and I really think he can help you. Just hear him out, okay."

 

"What do you mean you `picked up something'?"

 

"Listen, dude, nobody but my family knows `bout this, and I'd really like it if you'd keep to yourself, but I can read minds." I looked at T.J. in surprise that he just told Rich about his ability.

 

"What the fu ..., uh, heck you talkin' `bout?"

 

"When we were talkin' yesterday, about how scared you are tellin' your `rents you're gay, I saw your plan for killin' yourself, usin' your dad's gun that's locked up in the safe in their closet."

 

"Oh, crap, man, how do you know `bout that? I ain't told a soul."

 

"I already told you, Rich. I can read minds. And I can tell, right now, that you're closer to doin' it today than you were yesterday. What's happened?"

 

"I can't talk `bout this with him here," Rich answered, pointing at me.

 

"Sure you can. And you will," T.J. replied. "My dad's here to help you and there ain't nothin' you can say that's gonna freak him out, trust me. Me and my brothers have tried and we ain't succeeded yet. And if we haven't, you won't, either."

 

"Please, tell me what's going on, Rich" I pleaded. "I want to help you, if you'll let me. T.J. told me you think you're gay and you've been going to a bar in Springfield to try to find some guy to, I guess, experiment with?"

 

"Well, yeah, so what if I have been?" Rich asked in a huff as he sat down in the empty chair.

 

"You should know how dangerous that can be. You never know who you'll run into in places like that. He could be a really nice guy who's truly willing to help or he could be predator just looking to find a nice young man to take advantage of. Or, he could also be a serial killer, you just never know. And a kid who looks like you do would be ripe for the picking."

 

"So, what the hell am I supposed to do? It's not like I can ask one of my friends to do anything, is it?"

 

"Well, why not? You never know what they might say. One of them might be gay, or even bisexual, and be willing to see what sex with another guy is like. Surely you've had mutual masturbation sessions with some of your friends."

 

"Well, yeah, but that don't mean they actually want to do it. I mean, we never even touched each other, so what makes you think he's gonna let me screw him? Or have him do it to me?"

 

"Did you ever ask?" I inquired.

 

"Oh, yeah, like I'm just gonna go up to my best bud and say, `Hey, I wanna fuck you'. No way man, that ain't gonna happen."

 

"You never know until you try. Look, I know how difficult it is for a young guy like yourself to deal with being gay. I was in the same place not all that long ago. You want to know if what you're feeling is the real you, but you're also afraid of what your friends or family will think of you."

 

"Ain't that the truth," Rich opined. "I may think I know who I am and who I want to go to bed with, but I'm not ready to tell the world that. Not just yet, anyway. I just don't think I can deal with it. And I'm sure my mom and dad don't want to deal with it, either."

 

"Whether you deal with it today, tomorrow, or even next year, you're still gonna have to do it at some point, aren't you? And, it's not going to get any easier. In fact, it might be even harder to do the longer you wait. What I'm really worried about, right now, is what T.J. told me about your plan to commit suicide. Suicide is not the answer to your problems, Rich. All killing yourself does is transfer your pain to the family and friends you leave behind. It leaves them wondering what they've done so horribly wrong that you felt your only solution was death. It leaves them wondering what they could have done differently so you'd still be here with them."

 

"Well, that ain't my problem, it's theirs. I've already written my goodbye and I explained everything."

 

"Oh, that's not good. Will you tell me what you've written?"

 

"I just let `em know that I'm a faggot and I know they don't care about me or love me. They only love their perfect little daughter and couldn't give two shits about the queer in the family. I told `em how I could never live up to their grand plan of me getting married and giving them grandchildren. What a complete fuckin' waste of time my life is."

 

"The only thing that will make your life a waste is if you end it prematurely. Now, tell me why T.J. thinks you're closer to following through with your plan. What's happened since you talked to him yesterday?"

 

"Yeah, all right. Look, my parents already hate me. They favor my little sister and spoil her like she's the Queen of Sheba or somethin', right? My old man already suspected I'm queer, but last night, I'm pretty sure all his doubts were erased."

 

"Well, what makes you think that?" I asked.

 

"I'd gone to my room about ten-thirty and I was horny, like I always am, so I decided to rub one out. So, I pulled out this DVD I'd made of some gay porn flicks I downloaded, popped it in the player, and stretched out my bed. I was really getting' into it and was just about to ..., well, you know, when the bastard barges in without knockin'. I've never seen him so flustered or pissed off. But it's his own damn fault, right? I mean, what sort of pervert just walks into a teenager's bedroom without knockin'?"

 

"Did he see what you were watching?" I asked.

 

"He couldn't miss it `cause my TV faces the door. He probably saw that before he saw me, naked, hard and beatin' my meat. When he could finally talk, he grunted somethin' `bout us talkin' about it tonight, then he turned around and left. And this mornin', he wouldn't even fuckin' look at me. The old lady was pretty frosty, too, so I know he told her what he saw."

 

"So, you're thinking of carrying out your plan after school this afternoon?"

 

"Why not? Sister's goin' to a friend's house after school. Mom and dad won't be home from work, yet, so I'll have the house to myself. I could get the gun, go to my room and eat some lead. Lights out, man."

 

"So, who would find you? Your sister? Your mom? Dad? Someone else? Do you really want their last image of you to be you, laid out on your bed, half your head missing? Is that fair to them?" I saw Rich wince and retreat a bit as I confronted him with the aftermath.

 

"Who gives a shit about fair?" Rich cried. "They all hate me. They couldn't care less about me or who I am. Why the hell should I be fuckin' miserable, just to make them happy?"

 

"You shouldn't, Rich. You should live your life so you're happy. If they can't accept you for who you are, then maybe you need to separate yourself from them. But, you're not really giving them a chance, are you? I think you need to talk to your family, tell them the truth and see what they do. At least give them the opportunity to do the right thing."

 

"Oh, yeah, that's a fuckin' peachy idea," he replied sarcastically. "I can see it unfolding now, `Hey mom, dad, I'm a fag, deal with it'. Yeah, that'll go over like a fart in a windstorm."

 

"Well, there's other ways to approach the conversation that are a bit more reasonable and less likely to provoke a negative response."

 

"Really?" Rich spat. "I bet every parent is just dying to hear their son tell `em he wants to fuck dudes for the rest of his life. How'd it go for you when you told your mom and dad? I bet your parents just loved havin' a queer in the family, gave you hugs and kisses and said, `That's okay, baby, we love you anyway'. Probably happened like some fuckin' Hallmark movie, I bet."

 

"No, it didn't. In fact, it was my worst nightmare come true. They were disgusted with me being gay and shortly after graduation, I moved out and came to Springfield to start a new life. But, they finally got over it, have accepted me, my fiancÚ and our five boys. So, while it may not be very pretty in the beginning, it can turn out all right. But you have to give them a chance."

 

"Yeah, who's gonna back me up? This little shrimp?" he asked waving his hand at T.J.

 

"Hey!" T.J. screamed. "I ain't no damned shrimp! I'm the kid who's tryin' to help you, remember? Don't be thinkin' you can bully me just `cause I'm ten years younger than you. At least I'm not afraid to be who I am. I know I'm gay, my whole family knows I'm gay and so does every person who works in this school. And I'm damn proud of it. I got bigger balls than you'll ever have."

 

Rich and I both chuckled at that and Rich replied, "You're right, dude, I'm sorry. And I appreciate you talkin' to me and havin' your dad come in, too. It actually feels good to get this shit off my chest. So, what happens now?"

 

"Well, I think you should talk to your parents tonight," I answered. "And I'm willing to go with you to do so. T.J. is, too."

 

"Really? You'd both be there for me?" he asked in surprise.

 

"Sure thing. The one thing I won't let you do is go home by yourself after school," I answered.

 

"What're you gonna do to keep me from doin' that?"

 

"I think you should come to our house. Then, when your parents get home from work, T.J. and I will take you home and you can have your talk."

 

"Damn, man, you really do give a shit, don't ya'?"

 

"Yes, we do." With that, Rich broke down and started crying, hiding his face in his hands. I walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Rich," I said as I tried to soothe his mind.

 

He stood and hugged me, and I returned his hug. He whispered in my ear, "My old man won't even hug me, and here you are, a complete stranger, doin' what he should be."

 

"Don't worry about it. Look, are you done with your classes today?"

 

He stepped back, wiped his face and eyes on his shirt sleeve and answered, "Yeah, this a study hall time for me."

 

"Good, get your things and come with me." I turned to T.J. and added, "T.J., let's give Rich one of the workshop DVDs so he can watch it and maybe show it to his parents, also?" I waited while he crossed the room and pulled a disc off the shelf then handed it to Rich. "Thanks, buddy. Why don't you go on back to your class, now? Rich will be at our house when you get home and you can go with us when it's time to take him home."

 

"Sounds good to me, Pops. Thanks." He jumped up into my outstretched arms to give me a hug and kissed me on the lips.

 

"Oh, man," Rich groaned, "I wish I could find a dude that'd let me do that."

 

"All in good time, young man. You've got the rest of your life, remember. C'mon, let's get out of here."

 

The three of us left the small office and, while T.J. turned right to return to his regular class, Rich and I turned left to head for the office. When we entered the office, Rich took a seat while I stepped over to Gloria's desk.

 

"Hi, again. Rich tells me he's done with his classes today and I'd like him to leave with me so he's not at home by himself this afternoon."

 

"Oh, gee, I don't know Mr. Wright. We're not supposed to let any student leave the school grounds with anyone other than their parents, guardians or school staff. I'd have to clear that with Mr. Furman."

 

"That's fine with me. And I'll be happy to talk with him as well, if he needs to."

 

"Well, he's on a phone call at the moment. Why don't you go ahead and have a seat? I'll buzz him the first chance I get."

 

"Thank you, Gloria." I sat next to Rich and waited patiently for Steve to become available.

 

A few minutes later, Gloria picked up her phone and buzzed Steve in the office behind her. When she hung up the phone she turned to us and said, "Mr. Wright, he says he'd like to talk to you and Mr. Weaver. You can go on in."

 

We both stood and as we passed her desk, I thanked her for her help. Before I knocked on the door, I looked to Rich and asked, "You sure you want to do this?" After a quick nod of acceptance, I rapped lightly on the wood slab and cracked the door open.

 

"Come on in, Tom, and bring Mr. Weaver with you," Steve said. We both entered the small room and took seats on the opposite side of the desk from Steve. "So, what's this about, Tom?" Steve asked.

 

"Well, T.J. talked to Rich yesterday afternoon as part of the school's new support group. Then, T.J. also talked to me at home last night about a serious concern he has with Rich. At T.J.'s request, I came over to talk to Rich today and, after the conversation we just had, I don't feel comfortable with Rich going home by himself this afternoon. I'd like for him to come with me until his parents are home from work and then I'll take him home and we'll talk to his parents, together."

 

Steve pondered the situation for a moment before turning to Rich and asking, "Is that what you want to do, Mr. Weaver?"

 

"Uh, yes, sir, Mr. Furman," Rich mumbled. "If I go home, I pretty sure I'm gonna do somethin' real stupid." I nodded my head in agreement and Steve caught it.

 

"Very well. Tom, you're responsible for Mr. Weaver until you can deliver him to his home later. Thank you for making yourself available today." Steve turned his attention back to Rich and added, "Mr. Weaver, I'm glad you're willing to accept the help you need. Whatever problems you're dealing with will not leave this office, but know that we're here and willing to help in any way we can."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Furman," Rich acknowledged glumly.

 

"We'll expect to see you in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Take good care of him, Tom."

 

"We will, Steve, thanks."

 

Rich and I turned and headed on out of the school. As we walked across the lot to the car, Rich said, "I really appreciate you offering to help me, Mr. Wright. You don't know me from Adam, but you're still willing to try. That really means a lot to me."

 

"We're happy to do it, Rich. Everybody needs help at some point in their life." We'd reached the Shelby by that time and I punched the button on the remote to unlock the doors.

 

As I opened the driver's door, Rich let out a low whistle of appreciation and commented, "This is your car? This baby's HOT!"

 

"Well, hop in and let's get out of here." Rich climbed in after me and quickly belted himself in. We didn't talk on the way home as he stared out the window, deep in thought. His eyes perked up a bit when I turned into our drive and he became fully animated as I made the turn towards the house and pulled in the garage.

 

"Damn, Mr. Wright! This is a cool place. How the hell could a cop afford a place like this?"

 

"A cop couldn't, Rich, but my fiancÚ could."

 

"Is that why you're marryin' the dude, `cause he's got a buttload of cash, a cool house and a hot car?"

 

"Absolutely not. Max and I are getting married because we love each other," I answered as we got out of the car.

 

"Yeah, right," he snorted.

 

I pushed Rich up against the garage wall and put my nose a half-inch from his. "Listen here, you ungrateful punk. I can be either your best damn friend or your worst fuckin' enemy. I'd suggest you think twice about your own situation before you go pissin' on somebody else's parade. You understand me?"

 

"Yes, sir, Mr. Wright," he cowered. "I was way outta line and I'm sorry."

 

"Damn right, you were." I backed off a couple feet and extended my hand, asking, "Friends, then?"

 

"Friends, Mr. Wright," Rich agreed as he nervously shook my hand.

 

"Good choice, bud. Now, let's go inside." I lead the way into the house and down the hallway into the living room where we found Max and David chatting.

 

 

"Ah, there you are, and I see you've brought company," I greeted the two as I stood and gave Tom a kiss and a hug. "Who's your new friend?" I asked.

 

"Max, meet Rich Weaver, Rich, my fiancÚ, Max Sanders."

 

"What!? The writer? Oh, man, I've always wanted to meet you," Rich crooned as we shook hands. "Your books are awesome, Mr. Sanders. I keep waiting for someone to turn them into movies."

 

"It's nice to meet you, too, Rich. I've had a few people in Hollywood ask about doing just that, but I just don't think my books would survive the transition from book to movie without losing some very important parts of the story."

 

"Now, wait just a dang minute," Tom interrupted. "You've actually read Max's books and know who he is? Not too many kids your age will read a real book anymore."

 

"Oh, yeah. Mom had bought his first one years ago and I found it layin' around one day when I was bored to death and started reading it. That was, like, five years ago and after that, I had to read the others."

 

"Glad I was able to rescue you from your boredom," I chuckled.

 

"But, back to the movie thing," Rich continued, "I bet they'd be okay if each book was a two-part movie, like the last Harry Potter book was."

 

"Hmm, there's an interesting thought," I mused. "I hadn't considered that possibility. I guess the next time someone calls begging for film rights, I'll have to make that request and see what happens."

 

"Rich, the other gentleman here is Judge David Corgan," Tom said. "He's in charge of the juvenile court for Sangamon county."

 

"Nice to meet you, Rich," David said as they shook hands.

 

"Nice to meet you, too, sir," Rich replied.

 

"Okay, Rich, the first thing you need to do is let your mom and dad know you're not at home and won't be until they are. You can call or text them, whichever you prefer. Next, if you have any homework, you should get started on it because once we take you home, you'll probably be too busy and won't have a chance to work on it. You can use my office just down the hall, first door on your right."

 

"Gotcha', Mr. Wright. Thanks. Again, great to meet you, Mr. Sanders. My mom's gonna flip when I tell her." With that, Rich turned and disappeared while Tom finally settled into his chair.

 

"You're not taking in another kid, are you, Tom?" David asked.

 

"No, sir. At least, I hope not. Just extending a helping hand to a kid in need. Rich is in a precarious position at the moment and I didn't want him going home alone today. Too much of a chance of bad things happening."

 

"How precarious?" I asked.

 

"He's on the ragged edge, babe. Last night, his dad caught him watching something he shouldn't have and told him they'd talk about it tonight. Rich was ready to go home after school and end it all with his dad's gun."

 

"Oh, Jesus. I'm glad you brought him home with you, then. Are you taking him home, or am I?"

 

"T.J. and I will do that. Rich wants some support with him when he tells his parents he's gay."

 

"You sure you want T.J. involved in that," David asked.

 

"Yeah, I do," Tom replied. "Rich talked to T.J. first, and they trust each other. I think he trusts me, at least a little bit, since he came home with me, but still, T.J.'s the one. If it gets too hairy, I'll send T.J. out to the car to wait."

 

"Uh, Mr. Wright," Rich interrupted as he stuck his head around the corner from the hallway, "I hate to intrude, but my mom wants to talk to you."

 

"Right behind you, Rich. I'll be right back, guys," Tom added before following in Rich's footsteps.

 

 

I followed Rich into my office and picked up the phone.

 

"Hello?" I greeted.

 

"This is Rich's mom, Eileen. Would you mind tellin' me why the hell my son is at your house and not in school?"

 

"I'll be happy to have that discussion with you and your husband when I bring Rich home later."

 

"No! I want to know what the fuck is going on, right now."

 

"Mrs. Weaver, please calm down. Rich is fine, and I intend to see he stays that way. We'll talk about it at your home tonight."

 

"What's the stupid little shit done now? Are you the police?"

 

"I used to be, but not any longer. Your son hasn't done anything wrong and he's not in trouble. Now, what time will you and your husband be home?"

 

"I usually get home about five-thirty and Stan about five-forty-five."

 

"So, if I bring Rich home at six, you both should be there, and we can talk?"

 

"It doesn't sound like we have much choice, do we?"

 

"Uh, not at this moment, no. We'll see you at six, then." I hung up the phone, turned to Rich and asked, "Are you certain you're ready for this?"

 

"Yeah, I can't take this hidin' who I am shit no more, Mr. Wright. It's literally killin' me."

 

"That's the right attitude, Rich. Remember, it's your life, not theirs. Do you still need to call your dad?"

 

"Nah, I tried to call him first, but he was in a meeting of some kind, so I left him a message. I told Janet it was important he sees it as soon as he's done with his meeting and she promised to put it in his hand."

 

"Okay, sounds like you're done with the phone. Wait, what about your sister, do you need to call her?"

 

"Nope, she was gonna be at the friend's house until eight or eight-thirty."

 

"Okay, then. Homework?"

 

"Yeah, I got some chemistry and trig to deal with."

 

"Then you better get busy, then. Time's runnin' out."

 

"Please, man, don't remind me," Rich grinned. "I wish my old man treated me like you do instead of just ignoring me like he usually does."

 

"Don't know if I can help you with that, but we'll see. Hit the books, buddy."

 

"Yeah, all right."

 

I left Rich to his homework and returned to the living room to rejoin Max and David.

 

 

"What's the scoop," I asked when Tom had come back.

 

"Oh man, this is not gonna be a fun evening," he bemoaned. "His mom sounds like a real battleax."

 

"Oh, c'mon on Tom. I'm sure you can handle her. I'm more worried about the father. Especially since there's a gun in the house."

 

"I'll go armed, babe, so don't worry about that. I'm really thinkin' about leaving T.J. home though. If Rich's parents are as volatile in person as they are on the phone, he really doesn't need to be there."

 

"I'd prefer he stayed here, but then, I also hate to see you go in there alone. Do you think Derek would be willing to come out and act as backup?"

 

"I don't know. He told me this morning that he's pretty busy at work getting ready to take over when Dylan leaves."

 

"What about me?" David asked. "I could go with you. I won't carry a gun, but I can be a legal force, if needed."

 

"I couldn't ask you to do that, David," Tom responded. "But the more I think about T.J., the more I think he'd be the best backup for me."

 

"Why?" I asked nervously.

 

"With his ability to read minds, he could clue me into something I might otherwise miss."

 

"That sounds awfully risky, Tom," David commented.

 

"it would be unless I leave him in the car and he can work his magic from there. He could have your phone and I could wear an earbud connected to mine, so he could feed me info from outside. What do you think about that idea?"

 

"I guess we'll have to talk to him when he gets home and see if he thinks he can do it from that distance," I replied, still worried about T.J. being that close to what could be a violent situation.

 

"So, when do the boys get home from school?" David asked.

 

"They're usually here by a quarter to four," Tom answered.

 

We spent the next half-hour chatting idly when the front door opened and the mini herd rumbled into the house. I was glad the boys had decided on their own that it was warm enough to walk to the house. The exercise would be good for them and, as long as the weather stayed nice, Tom and I shouldn't have to pick them up every afternoon.

 

"Hey, Alex, the judge from court's here," Joey exclaimed. "Hi, Judge Corgan. What're you doing here?"

 

"Hi, young man, it's good to see you two again. I came out to see the family cemetery on your dad's property."

 

"Really? Why?" Alex asked.

 

"Well, it turns out that the people buried out there are part of my family."

 

"Cool!" Joey crowed.

 

"How are you boys doing? And please tell me which is which, again."

 

"I'm Alex, he's Joey," he offered with a chuckle. "Just remember, I'm in the blue shirt and Joey's red."

 

"Today, anyway," Joey added with his own chuckle of amusement.

 

"Hey! Was that an earthquake I just felt?" Rich asked as he joined us.

 

"Nope," I laughed. "Just the boys coming home."

 

T.J. scooted closer to Rich and quietly asked, "You okay, dude?"

 

"Yeah, T.J., I'm fine. Thanks."

 

"T.J., Mike, Andy, come over here and meet Judge Corgan," Tom called out. "Yes, you, too, Logan. Sorry, bud." The four boys lined up in front of David and Tom went through introducing each one to him, pausing as each shook David's hand and gave him a meek greeting.

 

"It's nice to meet all of you. However, as I recall, Max and Tom are only adopting five of you. I believe Logan is a new addition."

 

"Yeah, I'm just staying here while my dad gets his brain straightened out."

 

My brain must have slipped a gear earlier today as I suddenly remembered Charlie was going to be here in about forty minutes to see Logan. I looked to Tom quickly and mouthed, "He'll be here soon," and received a quick nod in acknowledgement.

 

"Ah, you must be Charlie Campbell's boy."

 

"Yep, that's me."

 

"Well, I hope your dad does well with his counseling and you can be back home with him soon."

 

"Yeah, me too. Wait, are you the judge he had to see the other day?"

 

"Yes, I am. From what I saw in my courtroom, your dad's a good man who's had a very rough couple of years. And, you have, also. I want you to know how sorry I am about the loss of your mother. It's never easy to lose a loved one, especially at your age."

 

"Yeah, it really sucks," Logan agreed.

 

"Logan, that's no way to talk to a judge, you know better than that," I chastised the young lad.

 

"No worries, Max," David replied. "He's absolutely right, it does suck," he added with a grin to Logan. All the boys giggled at David's using the word.

 

"I can't wait to see him," Logan said. "I know he's home now, but he ain't called me yet."

 

"I'm sure he will, young man, just be patient. He's had some catching up to do at home first, I'm sure."

 

"Boys," Tom interjected, "homework and snacks. Now, please." The herd headed to their bedrooms first and soon returned carrying the things they needed on their way to the kitchen. When Tom and I finally joined them to get a snack set up, the four older boys had their books already open and were busily taking care of business while the two youngest were playing a quiet game of hangman.

 

Rich stuck his head around the corner and asked, "Um, could I get something to drink?"

 

"Sure thing, Rich," Tom answered. "The fridge is right there, help yourself."

 

"Who're you?" Andy asked, looking to Rich as he dug through the fridge and retrieved a Pepsi.

 

"My name's Rich."

 

"Why're you here? Are you moving in, too?" Mike asked.

 

"No, I'm not moving in," he laughed. "Your dad and T.J. are gonna help me deal with something in a little bit," Rich answered.

 

"Oh, you must be the kid who's afraid to tell his mom and dad he's gay," Alex commented.

 

"Does everyone here know my business? Geez, T.J., can't you keep a secret, dude?"

 

"Uh, not from Joey and Alex, I can't. Sorry, man."

 

"What, do they torture you for information?"

 

"Nah, nothing like that," T.J. laughed. "They can read minds, too."

 

"Oh, man, this is just too weird. I'm going back to the living room."

 

Tom and I followed suit shortly after, joining David and Rich and picking up the thread of their ongoing conversation.

 

"So, what do you have planned for your future, Rich?" David asked.

 

"I don't. I didn't think I had much of a future, so I haven't really thought about it."

 

"Well, it's never too late to start," David retorted.

 

"Have you ever done any acting or even considered it?" I asked.

 

"When I was the age your boys are, I used to think it'd be cool to be famous and all, but no, I've never actually done any acting."

 

"Actually, Rich, you have," Tom countered. "You've been playing the role of a straight kid for years. And it must have been pretty convincing to fool your parents for that long."

 

"That wasn't acting, Mr. Wright, that was freakin' survival. Big difference."

 

"Still, you were being somebody you really aren't. That's what actors do for their survival."

 

"I suppose. But why did you ask, Mr. Sanders."

 

"You reminded me of my concern about turning my books into movies and seem to have found the solution to that. My biggest problem with allowing that to happen was always trying to reduce a book to two hours of screen time. I didn't think it could be done and still be satisfactory, so I've always turned down the offers I've received. The other big problem I also had was who would be selected to play the main character. None of the actors I've seen in movies recently really fit my image of `Jake'."

 

"And what'd I say to make you rethink it?"

 

"First, you suggested splitting each book into two movies. That doesn't happen often, but when it does, they're both usually pretty successful and profitable. Second, I just decided on the perfect person to take on the role of `Jake Franklin'."

 

"Really!? Who?" David enthused. "Daniel Radcliffe, Josh Hutcherson, Asa Butterfield?"

 

"None of the above, buddy. I was actually thinking of you," I smiled.

 

"WHAT!? Have you freakin' lost your mind?" Rich squeaked in excitement. "I can't do no dang movies, I got no experience."

 

"Think back to the first book, Rich. Jake was a young novice in his early twenties, more or less bumbling his way through things on his first assignment. But he learned some of the finer points of his new profession in the process. Who better to portray that innocence and na´vetÚ than someone who's never done it before. You've got the look I'd imagined when I created the character, the right build, the exuberance to do right."

 

"Yeah, right. I can't even tell my parents I'm gay, how do you think I could pull off playing Jake?"

 

"All in good time, young man. I have faith in you to do it and do it the way it needs to be done."

 

"But I'm still in school! How the hell can I be in a movie?"

 

"Kids do it all the time, Rich. It's called tutors. Besides, by the time the first book could be turned into a screenplay and be ready to shoot, you'd be out of high school, so that problem solves itself. The only thing you need is a little bit of experience acting and learning how to listen to a director to convert what he's telling you to do into the correct actions. So, what do you think? You interested, providing I can find someone to work with who's willing to make these movies on my terms?"

 

"Hell, yeah!" Rich crowed with glee.

 

"Good, I'll talk to some of the people who've expressed interest in making the movies and see what I can come up with." DING!

 

I leaned over and whispered to Tom, "I bet that's Charlie. You want to meet him at the door and then take him into your office? I want you to lay down some ground rules before he sees Logan." Since you can't see directly into the kitchen from the front door, I was fairly confident the two wouldn't see each other until we were ready for it.

 

"You got it, babe," Tom replied before heading to the front door.

 

"What was that ding," Rich asked.

 

"There's a sensor at the end of the driveway to let us know when someone's headed our way," I answered for the second time today, having already explained it to David when Tom came home with Rich in tow.

 

"Rich, would you do me a favor and go stand at the end of the counter by Alex and try to keep the boys' attention focused in the kitchen for a few minutes? Please and thank you."

 

"Sure thing, Mr. Sanders." He was off like a flash to do as I requested, hopefully keeping the boys occupied in something other than who was at the front door.

 

When Tom opened the door, there stood Charlie, looking more lost than any man I'd ever seen. Tom put a finger to his lips asking Charlie to be quiet as they came into the living room. David and Charlie shared a perfunctory handshake, as did I, before they continued on down the hall to Tom's office. DING!

 

Confused as to who else could be coming in, I excused myself from David and headed for the front door. When I saw my computer guy's van make the turn towards the front door, my brain kicked back into gear. I waited patiently as Bill parked in the circle drive and made his way to the front door. Upon opening the door, I greeted him with, "Hey, Bill, good to see you again. I'd forgotten you were coming out this afternoon."

 

"You want me come back another day?" he asked.

 

"God, no, it was just a brain cramp. I'm all good now. You might want to go ahead and bring everything in. Tom's having a quick chat with someone in his office, but it shouldn't take too long."

 

"Sure thing, Max. I'll be right back." Bill returned to his van and loaded up his cart with Tom's new equipment. Once it was all secured, he made his way up the ramp I'd added to one end of the porch so a wheelchair-bound friend could get into the house easily. After stepping inside, pulling the cart behind him, he parked it by the coat closet and we strolled across the living room to wait for Tom and Charlie to vacate the office.

 

"Bill, this is juvenile court judge David Corgan, David, my computer guy, Bill." The two shook hands and we all sat. "So, Bill, how ya' been?"

 

"Busy, Max. The latest Microsoft Windows update has me upgrading people's systems left and right."

 

"Nice of Bill Gates to help keep you going."

 

"It really is. This latest version requires 128 gigs of RAM and three terabytes of hard drive space. And that's just for Windows. You want any more on the system, you need to at least double both. How's your system running these days? Still hanging in there?"

 

"Running like a scalded ape, Bill. I'm glad I was ready for this latest update from Microsoft. Thanks for taking care of me before it was released."

 

"No problems. You know I'll always take care of you."

 

"I sure do, that's what keeps me coming back to you." Tom and Charlie returned from the office and Charlie slumped on the couch with his back turned towards the kitchen. "Tom, this is Bill and he's here to set up your computer. Why don't you show him where your office is?"

 

"Great! I wanna see what he's got for me. C'mon, Bill, right this way." Bill jumped off his temporary perch, corralled his cart and followed Tom down the hall.

 

"I didn't know you were gonna be here, too, Judge Corgan," Charlie commented. "I know my visits with Logan are supposed to be supervised, but I think your presence is a bit of overkill, don't you?"

 

"It's nice to see you, too, Mr. Campbell. And I'm not here to supervise anything, I'm just a guest this afternoon. I'll be happy to leave if that would make you feel more comfortable."

 

"No, I'm sorry, sir. I'm fine, just a little on edge. Tom explained the rules of my visit to me. I'm not real happy with `em, but I'll deal with it. Really, it's nice to see you. I truly appreciate the chance you're giving me to correct my attitude and behavior. Another judge probably would have locked me up and thrown away the key."

 

"Had you been in criminal court instead of family court, that most certainly would have been the outcome. Fortunately for you, Sergeant Brock believes in you and I based my decision on his recommendation. I'm just hoping you don't make us both look like fools."

 

"I promise you, sir, I won't. So, when can I see my son?"

 

"Just as soon and Tom returns," I replied. Thirty seconds later, Tom came back in and took his chair next to mine. "Okay, I guess we're ready. Charlie, why don't you slip down just a bit more so Logan won't see you until he passes the couch?" Charlie followed my request and when he was low enough, I yelled, "Logan, front and center, young man!" The youngster zipped around the corner of the dining room and seemingly broke the sound barrier as he flew right past his dad before braking to a sudden halt in front of Tom and me. I could also see six heads, stacked up like a totem pole, peering around the corner to see what was going on.

 

"Yes, sir, what's up?"

 

"We have a little surprise for you today. Would you like to see it?"

 

"You bet, Max, I love surprises," he replied gleefully, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

 

"Then turn around, silly boy."

 

Logan slowly turned around to find his surprise and, at first, spotted only the aforementioned totem pole. When his gaze finally landed on Charlie, he screamed, "DAD!!!", and he ran back across the living room, jumped into his father's lap and smothered him with hugs and kisses.