Disclaimer: This is a work of complete fiction.  It does not and will not exist outside the fantasy world.

Matt Caper

bassareusmc@gmail.com

Chapter 11

One of the most useful things my Dad ever taught me, in my opinion, was how to manage my money.  A lot of men, he said, never even learn.  They depend on their wives to take care of all the finances.  He aimed to make sure I never left the entire responsibility to my future wife.  I didn't realize how funny that was at the time.

After I'd had the kids for a while, I was doubly thankful he had taken the time to teach me.  Having a good job was essential, but that would have meant nothing if I wasn't responsible with my wages.  Even with the boys paying for many things with their allowances, it still seemed like I was waving goodbye to money all the stinking time.  That didn't really bother me, except I felt like I wasn't saving enough for the future.  Though I wasn't obligated to, I wanted to pay as much as I could toward the college tuition for all three boys.  Even long before they ever reached college, I already had a new appreciation for what my parents had to do to pay for mine.

Late one night after class, I was looking at my bank statement and cross-checking each transaction with the receipts, which I always kept, just in case.  I looked up when a shadow loomed over me, to see Landon standing there.  He gave me a cheesy grin, and I lifted a brow.

"Can I help you?"

"Sooooo," he began slowly.  "If I happened to get a job, would I still get an allowance?"

His process of thought amused me.  "I'll give you an allowance as long as you need it.  Or until you graduate college, whichever comes first."

"Awesome!  'Cause I got a job today."

"Wow!  Where at?"

"Pizza Hut Delivery.  It's only part-time, in the evenings.  While you're at school, I'll be making a buttload of tips," he said proudly.  "At least I hope so."

"I hope so, too, for your sake."  I didn't say so out loud, but I was reasonably sure anyone as good-looking as Landon would have no trouble getting tipped.  "I'm glad for ya.  I'm proud of you for taking the initiative, too."  Those few words seemed to make him stand that much taller.  "If you're disciplined about how you spend your money, you could put your tips in your savings account and not touch it.  By the time you graduate high school, you'd have a pretty good amount."

I had recently opened checking and savings accounts for all three of them.  They were awed and felt all grown up when they were issued their own check cards.  As a safety measure, though, I had online access to all of their accounts.  I monitored their activity and made suggestions about what to do with their money.  But ultimately I left it up to them.  The only recurring cost of living that I didn't pay myself was Landon's gas money.  So far I'd never had to issue any "emergency" funds as a result of his mismanagement of his allowance.

He left the room, and I went back to my bank statement.  But presently I looked up again.  "Landon!" I called.  He returned promptly.  "I almost forgot.  Sheila Henderson will probably stop by tomorrow before I get home from work."

"To see me?  How come?"  He began to look a little worried.

"She wants to talk to you.  She might even have some paperwork for you, I don't know."

Landon frowned.  "Are you trying to tell me I'm being moved again?"

"No way!" I said, and he sighed with great relief.  "I didn't want to tell you until I had to, because it's such a long process.  But I went ahead and filed to legally adopt you."

"You did?!" he beamed.  "When?"

"As soon as we moved in here and I started my new job.  She wants to make sure it's what you want, too."

"Hell, yeah!  But..."  He paused just for a moment, tilting his head to one side.  "Does that mean I have to call you 'Dad' now?"

"No," I laughed.  "Legally I'll be your dad, but I'd rather still just be your brother."

"You rock, Grey."

"Not without you, buddy."  We grasped hands at our fingertips and pulled away in style - one of those "bro" handshakes, as they say.

I also had more money going out than usual because of the time of the year.  Not only was Christmas coming up, but several birthdays were grouped together as well.  Noah turned fifteen in November, Will turned seventeen in December, TJ would be fourteen in January, and Landon would be seventeen in January.  Sam would turn sixteen in February, but I wasn't worrying about his yet.  And I was rather grateful to Nicholas and Dane for being born in the Spring and Summer.  Winter would keep us plenty busy.

Even while being frugal with the amount of money spent, we still managed to create a huge success on our first birthday party: Noah's fifteenth.  Landon offered some creative ideas, until he finally hit the jackpot.  Scavenger hunt.  We had lots of help to execute it, too.  Mom and Dad, Granny, Jim and Linda Shiloh, Mary Mason, and even Gloria at work got involved.  Nicholas and I created clues and dispersed them around town, letting Noah figure them out and tell Landon where to drive him next.  And at the end, he found his gifts, which were all at the Youth Center.

But Noah wasn't the only one who got some surprises.  After the hunt, we held the rest of the party at the Center - not including the overnight sleepover, of course.  There, I got my own surprise.  After consuming an exorbitant amount of cake, ice cream and soda, all the kids jumped in the pool.  I donned my speedo but never actually got in the water.  None of the adults swam, either.  Personally, I was enjoying some adult conversation for once.  It was hard sometimes, being between high school and adulthood and trying to figure out where you fit in.  Most of my interaction was with the kids, and it was nice to relate to different people every now and then.

I was relaxing in a lounge chair when I suddenly looked up to movement at my side.  Jordan stood there with a wrapped present in hand.  "Sorry I'm late.  I had plans today, but I told Noah I'd come."

I immediately stood, feeling a little awkward.  This was the first time I'd seen him since the break-up.  "Wow.  I had no idea you were coming."

"Oh..."  Now he looked a bit awkward.  "Noah called and invited me."

Just then Noah came running up, dripping wet.  "Jordan!  You came!"

"Of course I did," he smiled.  "Happy birthday.  You can open this when you dry off, I guess."

"Thanks!"  Noah glanced at me somewhat nervously, then disappeared again.  The cheeky bastard.

"Wanna sit down?  Can you stay for a while?" I asked.

"Sure."  We both grabbed plastic chairs and placed them beside each other.

"So how've you been?" I began, reaching toward my pile of clothes.  At the very least, I wanted my tee on just then.

"Fine.  Busy.  Senior year's a lot of fun, though."

"Yeah..."  I really did suck at small talk.  "I've missed you," I confessed in a moment of spontaneity.

"Really?"  He was skeptical, and I couldn't blame him.

"Yes, really.  I feel terrible about the way I treated you."

"You could've called," he pointed out.

I hung my head shamefully, nodding slightly.  "I know.  I'm sorry I didn't."

There were several moments of silence between us, during which I looked up to gauge his reaction.  But I couldn't read his expression.  "I'm not mad anymore," he finally said.  "I realize now it was just your fucked up way of trying not to get hurt."

"Well it didn't work.  But it's not your fault.  I just wish our circumstances had been different.  Or...I don't know what I wish."

"Hey man, just go easy on yourself.  I forgive you.  You were right anyway, long distance would have been too hard on us.  If it's meant to be, it'll still happen someday, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose so.  Thanks for being so gracious."

"Friends again?"

I smiled.  "Definitely."  We embraced warmly, and Nicholas approached us excitedly.

"Are you back together now?"  Apparently everyone had been waiting to see what Jordan and I would do.

Jordan laughed.  "Sorry, kiddo.  No boyfriend for me again at least until I experience college.  But we made up, so all is good."

"Awesome," Nicholas commented and was off again to deliver our news to the rest.

"I think they like taking care of you as much as you like taking care of them," Jordan stated.  "You're one lucky guy."

"Tell me about it."

I was intensely aware how lucky I was.  Every day I realized it.  I also felt very lucky and relieved to be made up with Jordan.  But it unexpectedly caused me to realize that I wasn't in love with him.  I felt great affection for him and valued his friendship, but nothing more.  And I was really grateful for that realization, because it put my mind at ease.  I wanted to ask him if a "friends with benefits" option was on the table, but I refrained.  He might've gone for it, but something within me didn't really want it that way.  I didn't even know what or why.  It definitely wasn't for a lack of libido.

Regardless, however, of how lucky I knew I was, a very odd thing began to occur.  For everyone around me, especially those who had had less than happy Christmases in the past, the closer we got to the holidays, the more excited and happy they became.  But not me.  I was becoming more depressed.  And I was frustrated and angry with myself for feeling that way.  It was just so stupid!  Here I had family, tons of new friends, a good job, good grades, good health, a young body, and plenty of opportunities in the world, and I was fucking depressed.  And even worse, I hadn't a clue as to why.

For a while, I did pretty good at pretending when others were around.  But my three boys - especially Nicholas - soon sensed something was amiss.  After some conferring with each other, they confronted me one day after work, during the brief time I had before class.  I had fallen into my recliner, eyes closed, fighting off an impending headache.  I heard them walk in, and when I heard no voices after a few moments, I opened one eye to gauge the situation.  They loomed over me, side by side, with Landon in the center.

"Is there something I can do for you folks?" I snarked.  Nicholas reached out and smoothed my bangs to one side tenderly.  But Landon was the one who spoke.

"We're worried about you."

I closed the one eye and settled more comfortably in the chair.  "It's just a headache.  I wouldn't say no to some Tylenol," I hinted.

"We're not talking about your headache," Noah piped in.

"Could you please elaborate?"  I murmured, while Nicholas continued to pet my head, which actually felt really nice.

"We think you're sad."  Landon again.

"Sad or stressed out," Nicholas added.

"Or stressed out," Landon agreed.  "We want to help.  How can we make you happy again?"

"Go online and find me a date who's good at fellatio," I quipped.

"What's fe-... whatever?" Nicholas wanted to know.

"Nevermind," I sighed.

"Do you really want a date?" Noah asked.  "Would that make you happy?"

I opened my eyes and looked at each of them, realizing they were serious.  "Do I really seem unhappy to you?"  All of them nodded.  "Seriously?  I'm not unhappy!  What have I got to be unhappy about?  I have a really good life, thanks to y'all."

They looked unconvinced.  "Then why are you so down all the time?" asked Landon.  "You're not like you used to be.  Hell, Christmas is next week, and we're all bouncing off the walls!  But not you.  You used to be a lot more fun."

I frowned, almost scowled, at them.  "So you think I'm stressed out because I'm not as much fun anymore?" I snapped.

Landon recoiled, looking hurt.  "See?  You didn't used to bite my head off like that."

I suddenly felt terrible for my behavior.  "I'm sorry," I whispered.  "I just...I don't even know why I feel so depressed.  It's not your fault, and I couldn't tell you how to help, because I don't know."

"I know why," Nicholas said suddenly.  He crawled in my lap and hugged me tightly.  Then pulling back and looking upon my confused face, he simply said, "You're lonely."

Noah gasped and took a seat on the arm of the chair.  "Oh no!  Is it Jordan?  Did you and him stop speaking again?"

I started to respond, but Nicholas beat me to it.  "No."  He searched my face for a moment before continuing.  "It's not Jordan, is it?  It's Pete."

I stared back at my little boy, stunned.  How could he know me better than I knew myself?  A flood of emotions crashed into me when he mentioned Pete's name.  "Oh my god," I rasped.  "It is Pete.  Oh god!"  When I began to cry, I felt horribly embarrassed.  But my boys never seemed to make those kind of moments awkward.  Instead all three of them hugged and loved on me, murmuring words of comfort.  It wasn't a heavy weeping or anything, but those emotions were nonetheless intense.  "I miss him so fucking much!"

"Yep, you're so in love," said Landon.  He leaned in and kissed me, and the others did the same.  I smiled and wiped away the remaining moisture in my eyes.

"Man, I thought I was over him leaving by now.  Damn that boy for leaving me!  Ooh!  It makes me so angry thinking about it!"

The boys frowned, looking helpless.  "We'll still get you a date online, if you want?" Noah offered.

I chuckled dryly.  "Nah, thanks anyway.  Most guys online are just looking for sex."

Nicholas sort of shrugged.  "You could probably use a good piece of ass.  A little sucky sucky at least."  That made all of us laugh.  "Hey, maybe I can find a hook-up online.  I gotta start somewhere, right?"

"The hell you will!" I cried.

Noah turned to his brother.  "You mean you and TJ never...did anything?" he wanted to know.

"No way.  He's totally committed to Sam."

"But he flirts with you all the time!"

"TJ flirts with everyone.  But believe me, Sam keeps him satisfied.  I've seen it for myself."

"You mean they do it in front of you?!" I gasped.

Nicholas shrugged like it was no big deal.  "Yeah, whenever I sleep in the guest room when they're over here.  I get to watch Will and Dane, too.  You won't believe who has the biggest dick.  It's not Landon, and his is pretty big!"

Landon smirked but said nothing.  I could see my innocent boy flying far away from me.  "You watch them, too?" I asked dryly.

Nicholas giggled.  "Well?!  I get bored at night sometimes!  I need some entertainment.  Nobody ever pays attention to me, so I watch.  Anyway, it's Sam.  His dick is, like, as big as my arm!  But you know what?  TJ can get nearly the whole thing in his mouth.  Drives Sam wild!  Know what else?  Dane and Will are pretty kinky.  Dane, like, gets Will to spank his ass.  Then Will puts his tongue inside it.  You guys oughta try some new stuff," he told his brothers.

"I am just going to pretend I didn't hear a word of that," I stated.  "I don't know a thing.  Nothing."

"We like what we do!" Noah said defiantly.  "Anyway, I bet I could get Landon's whole dick in my mouth if I tried.  Couldn't I, Landon?"

"La la la la laaaaaa la la la!" I sang, covering my ears.  "I'm going to class!  Not gonna listen!"  I pushed Nicholas out of my lap and retrieved a small bottle of juice from the kitchen, to take with me.

"I'll prove it to you," said Noah, and he went to his knees.  Landon's pants and underwear were around his ankles by the time I reached the front door.

"Wait, dammit!  Wait 'til I leave!  For Pete's sake."  I frowned upon inadvertently mentioning Pete's name.  "Geez.  You guys be careful.  And try to think of other things besides sex!  Love you, see you tonight."

After I left, I did my best not to think of Nicholas' words.  I couldn't stop boys from experimenting.  I could only hope they understood that sex does not equal love.  I wished I had understood that when I started messing around at age fifteen.  It might have saved me a lot of heartache.  But there was really no way I could ensure my boys didn't experience heartache in relationships, as much as I wanted to.  I simply hoped for the best for them.  I'd pop a brain fuse worrying about Nicholas, if I let myself.  And anyway, I knew from experience that teenage boys were too susceptible to constant thoughts of sex.

Instead, I mused over their "intervention".  What the boys had done for me, in helping me name the cause of my depression, actually helped me deal with the emotions better.  Which in turn caused me to relate to the people that were around me in kinder and happier ways.  It was a lesson to be thankful for what I had, even though I mourned what I had lost.

And so Christmas was a joyful time.  At different times the whole lot of us convened at different houses, each of us taking turns hosting parties.  We celebrated life, and we celebrated each other, and we did it as many times as we could!  Without spending a lot of money, we still had a blast getting together, dancing, telling stories, and starting new traditions.  In fact, we bought gifts only for those in our immediate families.  Apart from that, we all decided to throw in just a few bucks each and sponsor a needy family.  It both saved us money and caused us to do good for people outside of our own little circle, even though we never got to meet the needy family personally.

All the kids had taken to rotating houses where they'd spend the night, not caring if they had a bed or not.  Mary, the Shilohs, and I all took turns as hosts.  The other parents weren't too keen on the idea, as I'd expected.  The night before Christmas Eve, on the 23rd, they were all at my place.  I caught Nicholas by himself early that evening to ask a favor.

"Would you mind sleeping in bed with me, when you go to bed tonight?"

He narrowed his eyes skeptically.  "Is this so I won't watch the others doing it?  I've already seen it plenty, you know."

"No, no.  That's not it.  That's just a bonus."  He stuck his tongue out at me, making me smile.  "Nah, it's more personal.  To be honest, I'm feeling particularly lonely today and don't want to sleep alone."

"I could call Jordan for you?  If you need something...you know...more."

"Nope, I don't need sex.  Just someone I love to be with me."

He beamed and lifted his chin to kiss my nose.  "Then I'm all yours tonight."

"Are you hitting a growth spurt?  I swear you're getting taller every day."

"Yeah," he muttered glumly.  "Maybe I finally won't look six years old anymore."

I laughed before I could think better of it, and he scowled.  "Aww, don't fret.  You're still the cutest of 'em all."

"Then how come no one ever asks me out?  No girls, no boys, nobody."

"Well there have been lots who've come to the door to ask you out, but for some reason they ran away when I pulled a knife on 'em."

He hit my shoulder and growled at me.  "I'm serious!"

"Well who do you want to ask you out?" I asked curiously.

"I don't know!" he cried.  "Anybody will do!"

As my eyes rolled, he whacked my shoulder again.  "Stop doing that!" I yelled.

"Quit making fun of me!"

"Okay!  Sorry!  Geez."  Rubbing my shoulder, I decided to ask some key questions.  "I didn't want to have to ask you this until you were, like, twenty-five, but I guess I can't get what I want.  So...tell me.  Are you interested in girls?  Or boys?"

"I dunno," he mumbled and shrugged.

I tried again.  "Okay...  When you jerk off, what do you think about?"

"Well, lately I think of Sam and TJ.  I feel pretty left out when they do stuff together, but I like to watch, too."

"Do you imagine yourself in the place of one of them?  Like, do you want it to be you and TJ?  Or you and Sam?"

Nicholas thought for a moment and shook his head.  "No.  I don't think so.  I just want someone who will love me like they love each other."

"Okay, that's understandable.  But you know you have a lot of love that has nothing to do with sex, right?"

"I knowww," he growled.  I'd told him that a hundred times before, at least.  "But I don't have anyone for myself!"

"Well, you know what I've learned?"

"What?"

"You have to be happy being by yourself before you can be happy being with someone else.  Remember how I was moping about Pete?  I wasn't paying attention to the love I have, only what I didn't have.  That's all wrong.  I'm still sad about Pete, because I really loved him.  But just look at all the great love I have from you guys.  If I don't recognize how important that is, I'll just end up losing it."

He was quiet for a few seconds, pondering.  "Okay, that makes sense."

"And anyway," I continued, "I've never said it out loud, and if you tell anyone I said it, I'll shoot you.  But you know you're my favorite, right?  Out of, well, the whole world."

"I always suspected," he beamed.

"It's true.  I can't deny it.  And if that ain't important to ya, then a lover won't make you happy, either."

"It is important!" he assured me.  A glossy sheen fell over his eyes as he stood there reveling in his 'favorite' status.  His countenance was brighter than the lights in the room.  "You wouldn't want to wait six years for me to grow up, would you?  And then marry me?"

I giggled.  "Why wait?" I shrugged.  "We should just get married now."

His laugh was infectious as he cackled.  "I'd be Landon's step-dad!"  We both had a good laugh over that.

Once we calmed down, I kissed Nicholas' head, as I was fond of doing.  "You'll find someone even better than me.  They have to be the absolute best, actually.  'Cause I really will stab any losers who try to take you away from me."

He rolled his eyes and playfully punched me, but he obviously wanted it no other way.  "Thanks, Grey.  I feel better.  I don't think I really want a lover, anyway.  Not like the other guys do.  I bet this will make you feel better, too, but I'm kinda too scared of all that sex stuff right now.  I just wanna kiss and hold hands with somebody."

"Yeah, I was pretty much like that at your age, too.  Just hold hands with me every now and then and remember how much I love you.  And yeah, wait on the sex stuff.  That would make me very happy indeed."

After that, Nicholas and I were just as we were before other boys came into our lives.  I wasn't involved with anyone, and he wasn't crushing on anyone or worried about having a relationship of his own.  He was my little boy again, sweet and innocent and cuddly.  And I was going to make it last as long as I could.