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

© Matt Caper


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Chapter 15



Eli's first night at our place, I slept by myself.  Eli insisted Nicholas sleep with him, which, of course, Nicholas easily agreed to.  I was thankful for Nicholas, because it seemed he was the only one Eli trusted.  That they were nearly the same size probably had something to do with it.

As we undressed and crawled into bed, Eli pointed his little finger at me.  "If you come touch me in the middle of the night, I'm gonna cut off your dick."  I really wondered what he had experienced at home that made him so angry, fearful, and venomous.

"Relax, dude.  I won't bother you.  And what is this obsession with knifing and cutting?  If you cut off my dick, I'm going to cut off yours."

He shot me the bird and quickly climbed under the covers with Nicholas.  I simply laughed.

"What's so damn funny?" he barked.

"You're really gonna add some color to this family."

"Fuck you."

"Goodnight to you, too."  I shut off the light and said nothing more.

In the morning, I blindly stumbled to the bathroom, barely even awake.  The sun hadn't even thought about coming up yet.  I would have gone straight back to bed and sleep, but a foreign noise in the bathroom startled me as I stood there peeing.  I heard breathing, and it wasn't my own!  I yanked open the shower curtain to reveal Eli snoozing in the tub.

I flushed the toilet, jarring him awake.  "Eli, what are you doing?"

"I was afraid," he mumbled sleepily.

"You can go back to bed.  Nicholas is there, he'll keep you safe."  He climbed out of the tub and moved like a zombie back to the bedroom.  I wasn't sure if he would even remember this incident in a few hours.

After lunch that blazing hot Saturday, the house was only left with me and my four boys.  Jake had taken the day to spend with David, and all the others had their own thing to do.

"What do you guys wanna do?" I asked.  "We could go swimming?  Or stay in and play or watch movies?  I could take you shopping?  You all could use some new clothes.  I hadn't really thought about that since you're homeschooled now."

"Wait, you homeschool?" Eli asked incredulously.  "Do I get to be homeschooled, too?"

I nodded.  "Yep.  Unless you cause trouble, then you'll go back to public school."

Eli punched the air.  "Yes!  I hate motherfucking school!  And I hate my teacher!  You can kiss my ass, bitch!"

I chuckled.  What else was there to do?  "I've got an idea.  Let's go to Amarillo.  We can do some better shopping there.  Then we'll do something fun there tonight, if you want.  You up for it?"  Of course they were.  I transferred money into the accounts of the older three for their allowance, then gave Eli his twenty dollars.

"Fuck me.  I didn't think you'd actually give me money," said Eli.

"I always do what I say I'll do, if at all possible.  And you should probably quit saying 'fuck me'.  Someone might take it as an invitation."

"Shit!  I'll stab anyone who tries!  This is exit only," he pointed to his ass.  Then he cupped his crotch.  "This is where the gold is, yo.  I fuck me some fine bitches with this bad boy."

"Really?" I challenged, determined not to ignore his crude behavior.  "You're ten, and you expect me to believe you can pleasure a girl with your half-inch dick?  You may be getting boners, buddy, but they aren't half the size of my pinky.  So cut it out with the facade."

Eli screwed up his face into a terrible scowl.  "What the fuck is a facade?"

"It's an illusion.  Pretending to be something you're not.  When you hit puberty and start growing, maybe you'll get a ten inch cock.  Until then?  Just fucking be a little boy, 'cause we like you just the way you are."

He seemed unsure whether to believe that last statement.  "I bet I will have a ten inch cock.  And bitches will love it."

"Great.  I'll be happy for ya.  But quit calling them 'bitches'.  If you keep using that word, you'll probably never get any.  And anyway, there's more to life than sex and big dicks.  Life at home for you was probably pretty fucked up.  You probably had some asshole parents, and that really sucks.  But you're here now, and we actually like you.  Landon even likes you, even though you racked him.  And none of us want to have sex with you."

He looked at me like I was on drugs or something.  He obviously didn't know how to respond.  "We going shopping, or what?" he finally said.

I smiled.  "Yes we are.  Landon, can you deal with sitting in the front with me?  I want these three to bond."

"Of course," Landon said and gave Noah a brief kiss on the lips.

"Gross!" Eli yelled.

Nicholas giggled.  "You'll get used to it.  We like to kiss around here."

"I ain't kissin' no one!"

"You don't have to," I said.  "Just let us do all the kissing.  Let's get out of here."

The car ride, thankfully, was relatively calm.  Eli seemed to take to Noah and Nicholas pretty well.  Even Landon interacted with them and led them in games.  I really hoped Eli was starting to trust us more.  When we arrived in Amarillo, I started hitting the stores with sale-price clothes.  In Ross, our first store, however, Eli was already getting rowdy and out of hand, being really crass, loud, and responding to none of the orders I gave.  I have to admit, I was getting really frustrated, mostly because I was getting dirty looks from everyone else in the store.

When Eli took down an entire clothes rack to the ground by swinging on it, I'd had enough.  I marched toward him, intending on taking all of them out of the store and back home.  Landon, however, beat me to him.

"I got this," he said to me calmly.  He grabbed Eli's hand, who immediately started screaming and kicking.  So Landon merely picked Eli up completely and carried him out of the store, with Eli screaming for help the entire time.

"I'm sorry, folks," I said loudly.  "He's gone now."  I helped an employee pick up the clothes from the floor, then continued shopping with Noah and Nicholas.

"What's Landon doing?" Nicholas asked.

"I've no idea.  But I trust him.  Noah, take my keys to the car.  If they're going to stay out there, they need the air conditioner."  He ran out and came back in less than sixty seconds.  His eyes were wide.  "Do I want to know what's happening out there?" I asked.

"Eli's getting a spanking."

"Okay, then.  Well, that's probably what he needs.  I'm glad Landon's doing it and not me."

The three of us picked out a few clothes and took our time trying things on.  The other two never reappeared, so we finally had to check out and leave.  I was nervous about what I would find at the car, but there wasn't much to see by the time we got there.  Landon and Eli were in the back, sitting quietly.  Eli seemed to be sulking.

"Noah, front seat with me," I said, letting Nicholas sit on the other side of Eli.  After storing our purchases in the trunk, I climbed in and turned to face Eli.  But before I could speak, Eli beat me to it.

"I'm sorry," he said curtly.  Landon jabbed him with an elbow and he softened.  "I'm sorry that I was bad."

I was impressed.  And very proud of Landon, whatever he did.  "Thank you," I said.  "Apology accepted.  Was there a reason you were acting out?  Or were you just feeling hyper?"

He shrugged.  "I dunno."  He looked pitifully up at me.  "It's just the way I am."

I shook my head.  "No.  Nuh-uh.  You are not bad.  Your behavior was bad, but you are not a bad kid."

He frowned.  "Why do you keep saying that, and that you like me and shit?"

"Because it's true, you twat."  Despite the situation, my profanity actually made him snicker.  I smiled.  "I'm guessing you've always been told how bad you are.  You've got some improvements to make, but you, as a person, are good, and we want you around."

His surprise was evident.  "You ain't taking me back to Miss Henderson?"

I snorted.  "Fuck, no.  We just got you.  Do you want me to take you back?"

"Y'all are fucking weird.  This ain't like no foster home I ever lived in."

"That's probably true.  But that doesn't answer my question."

"Landon spanked me.  You could get in trouble for that, you know."

"Maybe," I said, shrugging.  "But you know how bad you've behaved in the past.  Do you really think Mrs. Henderson is going to be mad about it?  I'll let him do it again, if he has to.  I'll even do it myself."

His frown deepened while he silently pondered the situation for a moment.  I waited, and finally he spoke.  "I don't want to go back."

"Good.  I don't want you to go back.  If we keep shopping, are you going to behave?  Like I used to tell Noah, if you get angry and need to vent, let me know.  We'll get away from everyone else, and you can let loose.  You can even hit me, if you don't hit me in the nuts."

He giggled unexpectedly, along with the others.  "I'll behave.  You'll still buy me clothes?"

"Yes," I said, turning around.  I put the car in gear.  "But not here.  I don't think they ever want to see us again."

The next place we graced, Kohl’s, gave us a much better experience.  Eli stuck with Nicholas, roaming around the place and still being kind of loud, but not obnoxiously.  He was much calmer this time.

"Could you really get in trouble for what I did?" Landon asked, while the two youngest were off trying on clothes.  "I did it so you wouldn't have to."

"Landon, whatever you did, I'll back it up a hundred percent.  I trust you."

"I didn't even know what I was going to do when I carried him out.  I don't know why I even took charge.  I hope you weren't upset."

"On the contrary, I was very relieved.  I wasn't sure what to do, either."

He smiled.  "Good.  I yelled at him for a minute when we got there.  He kicked me and scratched me, which made me really mad.  He just kept screaming and cursing at me.  Finally I was like, 'That's it.  If you don't stop screaming, I'm going to spank you.'  He didn't stop, so I put him over my knee, pulled down his jeans, and spanked the shit out of him until he stopped trying to get away.  He cried for a while.  I told him I wanted to be a good brother to him, but he had to start acting like a part of this family.  And I told him if he didn't apologize the minute you came back, I was going to spank him again.  I guess it worked."

"You are awesome.  If anyone can relate to him, it's you.  I think he probably had it bad at home."

"Yeah.  I told him he could trust me if he wanted to talk about it.  Maybe someday he will."

"I sure hope so.  I think it would help him a lot."  I wondered if Eli was currently seeing a counselor.  Sheila hadn't mentioned it, if he was.  And if he wasn't, I thought he probably should be.

Later on, we hit a Goodwill.  It had a large section of boys' and men's clothing.  That delighted me, since many Goodwills were full of women's clothing and extremely light on the rest.  There we had another incident with Eli, but of an entirely different nature this time.

Eli and Nicholas were goofing around on one aisle, dancing around while holding different shirts up to themselves to see how they looked.  They weren't being loud or destructive, so I let them do their thing while the rest of us sorted through our own stuff.  I didn't pay them much attention, until I heard Eli scream again.

"Fuck you, asslicker!" he squeaked.  He was on the row next to me, scowling at a middle-aged man.

"Eli!" I called.

"Ugly cornholer!  He pushed me!" Eli complained to me.

"You watch your mouth, young man," the middle-aged man said, wagging his finger at Eli.  "Before I smack you in that foul mouth."

Immediately I ducked under the clothes rack for a shortcut to their aisle.  I placed a calming hand on Eli's shoulder and squared off against the stranger.  "Do not talk to my son like that," I nearly growled.  "And if you value your limbs, you better keep them to yourself.  I don't take kindly to people pushing my kids."

This man was greatly offended and angered by my outburst.  He was also intimidated, though he tried to hide it with a passive-aggressive retort.  "Kids have no respect for adults these days," he said, taking a few steps back.  "He was in my way, and I couldn't get through.  What am I supposed to do, fly over him?"

"You'd better fly over him next time, because if you push him, you and I are going to have a serious altercation."

Flustered, he mumbled more under his breath and took his leave.  I watched him go for a few seconds before rounding on Eli.  I pointed my finger dauntingly at him, making his eyes widen.  "Nobody treats my kids badly and gets away with it."

Eli grinned and pushed my hand away.  "Fuckin' A!" he agreed.

"Fuckin' A is right," I said and mussed his hair without thinking.  I gasped, not knowing how he would react.  He flinched, but he didn't scream.  "Sorry, it's a habit."

"It's okay," he replied.  "I'm getting used to it."

We finished our shopping and went to one other place without incident.  I even felt comfortable enough to take them out to eat, instead of going through a drive-thru somewhere.  When we climbed in a booth, Nicholas and I slid onto one bench, and Landon and Noah sat on the other side.  Eli stood at the end for a moment, trying to decide where to sit.  Finally he chose to sit next to Nicholas.  "Order whatever you want," I told them.

Eli looked at me with a strange expression.  "Do you have lots of money or something?"

"No, why?"

"You spent a shitload of money on us today.  I ain't never seen foster parents do that before.  I figure you must be rich."


"Hardly.  I mean, I make decent money at the Center, but not a ton.  I'm just good at saving.  And anyway, now that I have a foster kid again, money will be coming in from the State.  I don't need it for bills.  I make enough for that.  So why not spend it on you and your brothers?"

"Jesus, you're weird," he said and opened his menu.

"You're not the first person to tell me that," I replied dryly.

After we ordered, the conversation eventually turned to the stupid man in Goodwill.  "What a retard," Eli said of him.

"I know," said Nicholas.  "He didn't say 'excuse me' or anything!  He just pushed you.  I thought you were gonna clobber him."

"I was about to pound the fat fucker!"  Then Eli paused and turned to me.  "Hey.  Thanks.  For, like, sticking up for me.  No one ain't never done that before.  No one ain't never called me their son, neither.  Not even my real parents."  It was as vulnerable as I'd seen him be yet.

"You're welcome.  I'll always do that.  To me, you are my real son, just like them."  I kissed Nicholas's temple.

"God, why are you always kissing each other?  It's so gay."

"I'm just showing affection for my kids.  It's what parents slash brothers do.  Or supposed to do."

"Whatever," Eli mumbled.

Then Nicholas unexpectedly leaned over and kissed Eli's head.  I tensed up, waiting for Eli to lash out.  But apparently Nicholas was the only one who could get away with that.  Eli looked surprised, but said nothing.

"I didn't want you to be left out," Nicholas smiled.

Our food came, and that was the end of kissing, or even conversation almost completely.  We caught a late movie after stuffing our faces, and of course consumed an ungodly amount of candy.  Which was very expensive.  But it was worth it to me, if it helped us bond with Eli.  I sincerely hoped it had.

On Monday, I withdrew Eli from school, and I think all the teachers and administrators were relieved.  "I know you can do this," I told him during the drive back to our house.  "And I think it will be better for you than public school.  You just gotta do your work and follow the rules.  Landon is free to punish you how he sees fit, if there's a need for it, whether you're at home or anywhere else."

I ate a quick lunch with them and headed back to work.  School had started, but we didn't yet have a full staff.  Which meant I was covering a lot of the responsibilities, including, but not limited to, lifeguard, maintenance and custodial.  That also meant I was working late nearly every day.  It was all really stressing me out.

That afternoon I had more high school kids apply for a job.  Which was fine, except they had limited hours.  One was a girl who had been a lifeguard for the city pool, which closed at the beginning of September.  She could only work after school and on weekends, but that was better than nothing.  The other applicants weren't even worth consideration.

As I took a short break in my office, I dialed Landon's number.  If I was going to hire a school kid, I might as well hire one I know.  "Landon?  Let me talk to Will."

There was only a brief pause before Will came on the phone.  "'Sup?"

"Do you want a job?"

"Umm.  Sure?" he said hesitantly.

"I have a job for you, if you want it.  You can work after school and Saturdays.  You can work full time next summer if you like it and do a good job."

"Sweet!  What is it?"

"I need a maintenance guy.  Most of it is basic stuff, and some things you'll just have to learn as you go.  But you're good at that.  Landon and I will help you out with getting to work and back home."

"Aw man, that would rock, Grey!  Do I have to come fill out an application?"

"Nope.  You can fill out your W-4 when you start.  You're hired, if you want the job."

"Hell yeah!  Can I start tomorrow?"

"I was hoping you would!  In fact, I'll bring you the paperwork when I come home."

"Man, thanks for asking me.  I will do a good job."

"Yeah, I know that already.  See you later."  I hung up and breathed a little easier.  That was a little less work that I had to do now.

Nevertheless, when I got home, I was exhausted.  And I hadn't even done my schoolwork yet.  But at least I didn't have any online conferences to attend that evening, so I could do my work at my leisure.  I kicked off my shoes and fell into my recliner.  No one even seemed to notice I was home.  And I didn't have the strength to go find them.

In a few minutes, Eli came wandering in.  He was shirtless, and I assumed that was because of the heat.  He didn't seem to see me, so I acknowledged my presence.  "Hey," I muttered, and he started, jumping a mile high.

"Mother of God!  You scared the shit out of me!"

"Sorry.  I was too tired to come say hi."

He came to me, stood in front of the chair where I could properly see him, and turned around.  A big design, apparently drawn in pen or marker, covered his back.  It was beautiful, actually; it seemed to be some sort of fire-breathing dragon.

"Wow!" I said, leaning forward a bit.  "I can tell Nicholas drew that.  That's amazing!"

"Pretty fucking cool, huh?"  He turned back around and took stock of my appearance.  "God, you look like shit."

"I feel like shit.  We're understaffed at work, and I have to do a lot of extra jobs right now.  But I hired two new people today, so that'll help."

Eli stared silently for a moment, until there was a knock at the door.  "I'll get it," he said.  And then, when he opened the door: "Oh, fuck me.  Not you again."

I got up to see who it was.  Sheila Henderson.  "Eli, dammit.  Don't talk to her like that anymore.  Apologize to her."

Eli sighed with exasperation, but he did what I told him.  "Sorry.  Come on in."

Sheila couldn't possibly hide her surprise.  "I declare," she murmured.  "Hi, Grey, sorry to pop in on you like this.  I wanted to see how Eli was doing."

"Fine.  Bye," said Eli.  I frowned at him.  "Sorry," he said again.

"As you can see, he's working on his issues," I said diplomatically.

Sheila nodded and sighed.  "Hmm.  Well, I wanted you to know there's now room at the group home in Amarillo, should you decide Eli needs to go there."

Eli and I looked at each other at the same time, each of us wondering what the other was thinking.  Almost imperceptibly, he shook his head at me, letting me know he didn't want to go.  I smiled.  "No, he's fine where he is.  We've grown attached to him."

Sheila exhaled with such great relief, her body actually sagged and released all its tension.  "Oh, thank heavens!  Grey, you're a miracle worker!"

"Ohh no no, it's not just me.  I mean, I'm wild about Eli, but so are the boys.  Nicholas is amazing with him.  Landon helps me take care of him.  He's had to punish Eli already, but I don't think that should surprise you.  But look at him.  His behavior is getting better.  And he has an awesome tattoo.  Show her," I grinned.

He turned around once more, and Sheila gasped.  "Don't worry, it ain't real," Eli assured her.

"Well, obviously," she said.  "It's great artwork, though.  Who drew it?"

"Nicholas," said Eli proudly.  "I drew one for him, too, but it's shit compared to his."

"I love it!" Nicholas said, joining us also without a shirt.  His back showed a landscape scene with trees, flowers, a sun, a house, and five people figures.  "It's our new family."

"Neat!" I said.  "You both did a great job."

Sheila was beside herself.  "I really can't believe how you've seemed to adjust.  Eli, you know I have to ask you questions, now.  Are you happy in this home with Grey and the rest?"

Eli was still for a brief moment, then nodded definitively.

"Really?  That's a yes?" she wanted to know.

"Yes," he replied.  "For once you found me a decent home."

I smiled.  "I'm glad you feel that way, Eli.  You know Mrs. Henderson has tried her best every time."

He shrugged and rolled his eyes.  I gave him credit for not saying anything along with those gestures.

Sheila continued.  "Do you feel you're in any danger here?  Or do you feel safe?"

"I feel safe," he said.  "I'll let you know if anything bad happens.  I ain't puttin' up with that shit no more."

"All right," she said.  "Then is it safe to assume you do not want to go to the group home?"

"No.  I want to stay right here."

Sheila smiled.  "That's the first time he's ever said that," she told me.  "And now I'll leave you alone.  I'll call again next month."

She left, and I approached Eli.  "I'm glad you're not leaving," I said and playfully pushed his head.  He growled like a dog, righting his head and looking at me angrily.  I guess he wasn't so used to it after all.  "Hey man," I said.  "I want you to learn that there's such a thing as good, affectionate touching.  I won't hurt you or molest you.  This family is pretty stuck on the hugs and touches."

"Well, I don't like it!" he snapped.

"Really?  You don't even like to be...tickled?"  As I spoke the last word, I advanced on him and attacked his bare torso with my fingers.  He screamed, angrily at first, but he was apparently very ticklish and quickly began laughing uncontrollably.  He collapsed to the ground, which gave Nicholas, who happily joined in, access to his feet.

"Stop!  Motherfuckers!" he cackled.  We paused, letting him catch his breath.  "Y'all suck," he giggled.

"I just want you to get used to us touching you, and not be afraid of us."

He shrugged.  "I don't think I'm afraid anymore."

"Good," I said.  "Does that mean I can hug you now?"

He squinted his eyes at me.  "You're so fucking weird."  He still didn't seem to know how to process genuine affection.

"Can I hug you?" Nicholas asked him.

Eli considered Nicholas for a moment, then stood to his feet.  "Fine."

Nicholas grinned brightly and stood quickly, wrapping Eli in a long, tight hug.

"Jesus Christ," Eli grunted.  "You're killing me here."

Afterward, Nicholas kissed Eli on the cheek, which Eli promptly wiped off.  "I'm glad I have a younger brother now," said Nicholas.  "I promise I'll take care of you."

I loved how Eli was taking so well to Nicholas.  Sheila was wrong, in my opinion.  Nicholas was the miracle worker, not I.

"I'm hungry," Eli stated.

Nicholas smiled.  "I'm on it."  He and I took care of dinner, I hooked Will up with his paperwork, then I hit the books and tuned everything else out.  Will went home at some point, though I never noticed him leaving.  The next thing I was conscious of, apart from schoolwork, were the voices of Nicholas and Eli coming from the bathroom.  They were making quite a ruckus, in fact.  I got up from my desk, and before I even got to the bathroom doorway, I heard great splashes of water.  I opened the door, and Eli shrieked.  But he was also laughing so much, his reaction was more theatrical than serious.  Both boys were naked and in the tub, which was only half full of water.  The other half was apparently all over the floor.

"Oh my god," I muttered.  "I think I'll pretend I don't see this."

"We'll clean it up!" Nicholas assured me.  "Promise!"


"Clean what up?  I don't see a thing."  I closed the door, and they went to giggling.

After a long while, they came padding into the bedroom, naked but dry.  "We cleaned the whole bathroom," Eli bragged.

"I do appreciate it," I said.

"You didn't even care that we made a mess?" he asked curiously.

I looked up.  "No.  That's what boys do.  As long as you're able to clean it up afterward, it doesn't bother me a bit."

"Weird."  He seemed to say that a lot.


When they had underwear on, Nicholas sat in my lap for some snuggling.  I was all too happy to oblige.  I hugged and kissed on him, which I hadn't gotten to do lately.  Eli stood watching us.  I didn't know what he was thinking.  He didn't say anything or join us, merely watched.

"Have you been okay sleeping by yourself?" Nicholas asked.  He'd slept with Eli the past two nights.

"I'm not used to it anymore, but it's not bad," I told him.  "Are you two comfortable in that bed?  I could switch with you, if you like."

"I ain't a baby," Eli declared suddenly.  "I can sleep by myself.  You can sleep with Grey from now on."  Nicholas frowned, but Eli turned defiantly and crawled into his bed alone.

"You sure?" Nicholas asked slowly.

"Yep.  Goodnight."  Eli turned over, facing away from us.

I sighed, gave Nicholas a kiss, and slid him off my lap.  I was definitely ready for bed, too.  We shut off the light and got in bed together.  I'll admit, I preferred Nicholas to be there with me.  I think he still did, too, but we both felt bad for Eli.  I could only hope he'd be okay on his own.

I was asleep within minutes.  My body was hating me for overworking it lately.  And I was starting to neglect my swimming again.  That irritated me most of all.  But for now, all I wanted was sleep.

I had a bit of a rude surprise in the middle of the night, however.  I was jolted awake when someone or something was pushing on me.  I felt myself being heaved apart from Nicholas's body.  When I was awake enough, I realized Eli was wedging himself between us.

"Whatcha doin'?" I mumbled in a whisper.

"I changed my mind," he whispered back.  "I don't like sleeping by myself."  He put his back to Nicholas, who never woke up but snuggled with Eli automatically, anyway.  And I cuddled up to his front side, providing him a secure place between us.  He had no room to move, but he apparently didn't need it.  He didn't move again for the rest of the night.

When I dragged myself out of bed in the morning, Eli awoke and reached for me.  "Mornin', buddy.  I gotta get ready for work."  He got up with me, and we both stumbled to the bathroom to pee.  I was fighting morning wood, which I think startled him when he saw it.  But perhaps he was too sleepy, for he didn't say anything.  I started the shower.

"You should go back to bed," I told him.  "You still have a couple of hours before you have to get up for homeschool."  He still didn't say anything, but he gave me a hug before leaving the room. It was barely seven in the morning, and already he'd made my day.  Maybe I was making a difference to him, after all.

After 3:00 that day, Sarah, the new lifeguard, started her first day.  Will actually showed up even earlier than that, and my relief began.  I had to stick with him for a while to train him for his new job, but it was better than doing it all myself.  Besides, Will was an eager and fast learner, not to mention a hard worker.  I knew I'd made the right choice in hiring him.

We were on ladders changing ceiling tiles in the boys' locker room, exchanging grins with each other as hotties swarmed all around us.  "How are you and Dane these days?" I asked in low volume.

"We're cool.  Except I'm gonna be eighteen soon, and he's still fifteen.  Is that bad?"

I shrugged.  "Not necessarily.  It could create problems, though.  Do you want to stay with him?"

"I think I do."

"You're not sure?" I queried.

"It's not that I don't love him.  I love him a lot.  I just don't wanna get in trouble for being with him."  But then he smiled.  "Except I don't think I can help it.  He's my little hippie bunniekins."

I climbed down from my ladder, finished with my task.  "Aww, that's so sweet," I sang.  An older gentleman winked at me as he walked by.  I smiled and took my leave.  Will and I exited the locker room before resuming our conversation.

"Yeah, so he's probably stuck with me."

"Y'all do make a cute couple.  Strong as any I've seen.  Hey, help me take a break.  That's in your job requirements."

Will laughed and followed me into my office.  We took a much needed seat and relaxed quietly for a few minutes while drinking a coke.  Finally Will spoke into the stale air.  "Grey?  I...need to ask you something."

I lifted my head, which was dangerously hanging over the back of my chair.  Dangerous because I could fall asleep at any second.  "What's up?"

"I wasn't going to ask you this.  But now that I have a job that I can keep even after finishing the school year, I can totally pitch in funds."

"Funds for what?"

He sighed and gauged me warily.  "My step-dad's gonna make me move out when I get my GED.  He don't care if I go to work or go to college, but I'm pretty much on my own no matter what.  I can't afford to go to school anywhere but here right now, if I even go to college.  I thought maybe...since I already have a bed at your place..."  His eyes were fearful and hopeful at the same time.  "Could I move in with you?  Like I said, I'll totally pitch in for bills and food," he said quickly.  "I'll do all the housework you want.  I might even consider sexual favors."

I laughed and threw a box of Kleenex at him.  "Man, Will, you should've known I would say yes.  You're my friend.  I don't make Jake help with utilities, so I won't ask you to, either.  Just help out with food, and that'll be enough.  I bet my mom can help you find financial aid if you decide to go to college.  I'm totally here for you."

"God, that is such a relief," he breathed.  "Thanks, man.  You're the best."

"That's what he said."


Will laughed and threw the Kleenex box back. "I remember you and Ryan making some noise.  Bet y'all are wild."

"You're one to talk!" I laughed.

"What do you mean?"

“Nicholas tells me things sometimes.  He's seen the things you and Dane do."

Will reddened and covered his face, muffling his words.  "Oh god!"

"No shame in it.  At least you keep each other happy."  He let down his hands and grinned.  "Hey, I was just thinking," I added.  "You could move in now, if you want.  You can even wait 'til the Summer to start chippin' in for food.  I know your folks aren't too easy to live with.  And you need to save some money right now."

"Oh my god," Will said, standing.  He reached across my desk, we locked thumbs and closed our hands around the other's.  "Seriously.  Thanks.  I owe you big time."

"Ah, cut it out, Will.  You don't owe me.  We're family.  Besides, you help Landon watch out for the younger ones.  Hell, you got expelled for it."

"That don't matter.  I still appreciate it.  I can be moved in by the weekend, if that's cool."

"Totally cool.  Let me know if you want help moving your stuff.  Hey, we better get some more done today," I said, getting up.  Will's shift was to closing time for the Center.  I was off before that, but I stuck around and swam while he did some custodial work, for which I hadn't yet hired anyone.  He was glad for the work, and I was glad for the time to myself.

After I took him to what would soon be his former home, I went home and announced we were acquiring yet another housemate.  I don't know why the boys always got excited about that, since it gave them less and less room to themselves.  But they didn't seem to care about that at all.

"Who is it?  Another foster kid?" Landon asked.


"Nope, not a foster kid."

Is it someone we know?" Noah asked.


"I know who it is!" Nicholas exclaimed.  "Will!"

"Will Spencer is exactly who it is."  They all danced around with joy - all except Eli, anyway, who barely even knew Will.  Landon was probably the most excited.  He and Will were the very best of friends.

"Hey, how was Granny today?" I asked.  They were still going to see her every possible Tuesday and Thursday, and usually on the weekends, too.

"She's good, but she said she misses you."  I hadn't seen her since a week ago that day.

"Aww.  I miss her, too.  You know what?  I'll eat lunch at her place tomorrow, so don't expect to see me."  I always enjoyed my wonderful talks with Granny.  I learned a lot from her advice and stories, and we simply had a good time together.

When bedtime came, I was curious whether Eli would follow the same pattern as the night before.  We all undressed and chatted casually about Will's impending move.  I was the first one to get in bed, and the other two stood around awkwardly, trying to figure out what the other wanted him to do.  I decided to make it a little easier on them.

"I liked both of you sleeping with me last night.  I like to snuggle up, if you can't tell."

"Me too!" Nicholas said eagerly.

"Can I be in the middle again?" Eli asked.

I grinned and turned back the covers.  "Welcome aboard, folks!  Thank you for flying Grey Skies.  We hope you enjoy your flight and come back to fly with us another day."  Both boys giggled, and we all snuggled tightly.  Happy boys made me happy.

Things were smoother for us after that.  We had seven people living in a three bedroom guest house, but we were entirely content.  Even Eli was calmer.  Granted, he had relapses that far outweighed anything Noah had ever brought to the table.  But no one had their nuts pummeled again, and I considered that progress.