I Love Corey, Chapter One hundrend two



     Good heavens, time for another disclaimer. I'm beginning to hate them, but I know everyone else can't wait for them. And if you believe that, I have some really good deals for you, like some bridges, some oceanfront property, and some really hot stock tips. For only a modest amount of money I can make you a millionaire. Simply send me fifty thousand dollars and I'll send you the details. Hurry, you want to get your order in before I'm sold out.

     As usual I've reached the place where I tell young people to stop reading and leave, and so I will say it again. Young people need to stop reading and leave.

     And then there are those who claim to become upset when they read about gay sex acts. My question, why do they read about them? That should be enough on that subject.

     Those who have the misfortune to live where the reading of this story is against the law are stuck. Surely you don't expect me to advocate breaking the law. Instead I'll tell you to leave so you don't get in trouble.

     I regret to inform you that the writing of this story might have had a deleterious effect on some fish, but no trees were harmed. That is because most of the power in my area is the result of hydroelectric generation, and I need those little electrons to make these little bytes. That all these little bytes make fiction, which means that none of the characters or actions ever existed or took place, is immaterial, although probably a waste of those little electrons. And for all you really sharp people, diagram that last sentence and see if you can help me make it better.

     You are free to read and enjoy the story. All I ask is that you properly attribute any quotes, and share any wealth derived from the story with me.

     Once again I have supplied Don with a headache. Alas, he has to go through my ramblings and try to make enough sense of them to correct them. His task is monumental, so pray for his survival. In the meantime, give thanks for his efforts in making the story better.

     Lastly, feel free to write with complaints, comments, questions, or suggestions. Send such missives to "fritz@nehalemtel.net" with "I love Corey" in the subject line. With luck I will answer them. Hope you enjoy the following chapter. Fritz


                    I Love Corey, Chapter One hundred two.

     It was obvious that Carl and Bob both knew and liked Mr. Kaufmann. He was a rather short man with twinkling faded-blue eyes and his hairline had receded so far that all that was left was a fringe, but he had a warm and bubbly personality that seemed to draw you out and make you feel good about yourself. He was truly a charming man.

     By now most of the other participants of the workshop had packed up their paintings and left, but there were still a couple of them standing around, and Carl soon had them introduced and Mr. Kaufmann was just as charming to them as he had been to Corey and me. After about twenty minutes of chitchat between all of us, Mr. Kaufman turned to Carl and asked, "So what is it you have for me to see?"

     "Right this way Joel, we've got some good ones for you," Carl answered and started leading all of us over to the remaining paintings.

     There were thirty-one paintings still on display and it took Mr. Kaufmann forty minutes to examine them. Several he wanted placed in different light, and he said little outside of requesting that. He had a little booklet that he made notes in as he examined each painting, but for the most part he was silent as he walked back and forth, looking at them from various angles and distances. Finally he turned to us and started in.

     He quickly eliminated fourteen of the paintings from further consideration. Then he had Carl move several of the remaining ones to different places so that the light was again different. After discarding another three he seemed satisfied.

     "I'll get to you later," he told Carl. "Right now I'll start with Mr. Hensleigh. But before we go into specifics, I'd like to explain how I normally do business. My gallery sells paintings which I've purchased and others on consignment. You also need to understand that those paintings I rejected may be as good as the ones I selected, but I don't think they would appeal to my clientele.

     "For the paintings I've selected I'm prepared to make an offer, or will be happy to take them on consignment. Please remember that you will likely receive more by selling on consignment because I'm gambling what they will sell for when I buy them. Typically my offers are about seventy percent of what you would receive from a consignment sale, but you get the money up-front and I take the risk.

     "For new artists my fee runs forty-five percent and we share in any expenses, such as credit card fees or framing. If we establish a long-term relationship and your paintings sell well, that fee drops to forty percent.

     "You may stipulate a minimum price you will accept, but if I feel it is out of line I may refuse to accept your paintings on consignment. Should you specify a price that I think below market, I will tell you, but will honor your suggestions if you insist.

     "Any consignment paintings must remain for a period of at least two months and you may not raise your minimum price during that period. If the painting has not sold during that period, at the end of it you may raise or lower the minimum you will accept, or request the return of the painting. Should you request the return of a painting after the initial period, you are responsible for all shipping costs. Should you raise the minimum beyond what my associates and I deem fair market value, we will ship the painting back to you, again at your expense.

     "Are there any questions at this time?" Mr. Kaufmann asked. When there were none he and Mr. Hensleigh stepped out of sight and for the next ten minutes the rest of us stood around talking. When they walked back into view they took one painting and set it aside. Then Mr. Kaufmann opened his briefcase and handed Mr. Hensleigh some papers, marking where he needed to sign. While Mr. Hensleigh was filling out the papers, Mr. Kaufmann filled out a check and soon Mr. Hensleigh was gathering up his remaining paintings and leaving.

     Then Mr. Kaufmann called on Mrs. Allensbee and the same procedure took place, except this time they apparently came to no agreement and Mrs. Allensbee gathered up her paintings and left as soon as they returned.

     When Mr. Kaufmann called out Mr. Lofton, Corey practically jumped towards him. I started following along behind and Carl and Bob were coming right with me.

     "Excuse me, but do you wish to allow everyone to hear my offer?" Mr. Kaufmann asked Corey.

     Carl started laughing. "He hasn't got any choice," he told Mr. Kaufmann. "He's family and we've got to look out for him."

     There was a brief pause before Mr. Kaufmann, with eyes twinkling, said, "Oh dear, should I have worn my pink suit?" After he said that, both he and Carl dissolved in laughter.

     "Have you still got that horrid suit?" Carl gasped out between bursts of laughter.

     "Lord yes," Mr. Kaufmann replied. "Mike won't let me get rid of it."

     "You really ought to see that suit," Bob told me. "It's hilarious. No one can figure out what he's supposed to be when he wears it."

     "Are you poking fun at my pink satin suit?" Mr. Kaufmann giggled.

     "Hell yes," Bob answered.

     "Oh Lord, that was quite a party," Carl said, after they had gotten their laughter under control. "What was that, eight years ago?"

     "Closer to ten. It was before I moved my gallery to the new address and I've been there for almost eight years," Mr. Kaufmann replied. "And it isn't true that they can't figure out what I'm representing," he said looking at Corey and me. "They keep calling me the Electric Pimp of Greenwich Village." He paused and then continued very dramatically, "Alas, I have only one in my stable and he isn't worth much." Then he and Carl and Bob again burst into laughter.

     "So how is Mike," Carl finally managed to ask.

     "Not worth a plugged nickel," Mr. Kaufmann replied with a dramatic sigh, and they again started laughing. "But enough of this. We have a young man who wants to know what my offer is."

     Corey's eyes lit up and he immediately moved closer to Mr. Kaufmann as though by being closer he could hear better. Mr. Kaufmann led the way to where Corey's picture of Kevin and Dog was displayed.

     "Here we have a picture titled `Boy with Dog.' While the technique is still quite crude, it has a lot of appeal. I'm undecided on what it might bring, and wish Mike was here to confer with, but I'm prepared to offer seven hundred and fifty dollars for it. I'd have to recommend against that because I think it might be worth more, so if you can wait for the money I would recommend consignment. This is more the type of painting that Mike handles and he would have a better idea of its worth.

     "If you were a known painter or your technique better, I can see it bringing you up to fifteen hundred dollars after commissions, but since you're unknown and it is rather crudely done, I'm not sure of its worth.

     "As for the one titled `Christmas,' that one is worth around five hundred. It suffers the same fault of being quite crudely done and lacks some of the charm of the first one," Mr. Kaufmann finished up.

     "I told you they were worth more," Carl gloated. He was all smiles as he said that.

     "Their really quite good, especially from someone as young as you are," Mr. Kaufmann told Corey. "If you have more works of this quality I would be more than happy to have a showing of your work.
     "Sorry," Bob said, "But he doesn't have enough for a show. He's only been painting for less than half a year."

     "Half a year," Mr. Kaufmann said incredulously. "I don't believe it. I was surprised that his work is as good as it is when I saw how old he is, but to learn he's only been painting for such a short time blows me away. While he has a lot to learn, he paints with such authority and understanding."

     I was lost. How can you paint with authority and understanding, or whatever that means? They were talking about painting in a way that was far beyond me. Evidently words had different meanings when they used them.

     "Did you bring any other completed works?" Mr. Kaufmann asked Corey.

     To my surprise Corey nodded his head and replied, "One." Corey had loaded his canvases and I hadn't looked at them, but I didn't know he had completed other paintings. Mostly he had canvases which were the result of Bob's lessons and they were only partially completed since they were never intended to be actual paintings, but simply examples of how to do certain things. The next thing I knew we were walking out to the pickup to view the mysterious painting.

     Boy was I stunned when Corey got in the back of the pickup and came out holding a sixteen by twenty canvas on which was a painting of me. I remembered when he had sketched it. I was sitting in my office and grading papers one evening and he had sat and sketched while I worked. That was the last I'd thought about it, but here it was, a completed painting. It looked like me, yet in some ways it didn't. In it I had an almost ethereal quality. He had me looking much better than I did in real life.

     Mr. Kaufmann looked, and then looked some more. Finally he turned to me and said, "You're very lucky. He loves you a great deal."

     Then he turned to Corey who was standing there blushing. "That's exquisite." He paused, and then continued, "I don't suppose you're willing to part with that one, but I could easily get you several thousand dollars for it."

     "Several thousand dollars?" Corey squeaked, his mouth falling open.

     "Oh easily. In this one you've taken your time and your technique is much better, while in the others you hurried and cut some corners. This one is a labor of love, the others are just paintings, although quite good ones. If you can turn out more like this one, you have a fine career in front of you," Mr. Kaufmann replied. "In this one you loved painting it; in the others you merely enjoyed painting them and it shows."

     "By the way," Carl asked, "Did you remember to call and get pledges to sign the releases yet? I forgot to give you the forms."

     "Ah, well, no," Corey stammered. "We, ah, well we sorta forgot."

     Thank God we didn't have to explain why it was that we forgot. I couldn't see myself explaining that we got sidetracked with sex instead of attending to business and making phone calls, and I didn't think Corey was anymore eager to do so than I was. Fortunately our blushes could easily be mistaken for embarrassment from forgetting to do something rather than why we were actually blushing.

     "Oh, so I can't take them back with me at this time. That's no problem since you can ship them to me if you decide to do so," Mr. Kaufmann said. "Now we need to find something to eat since I've been up for a long time and missed lunch because of flight delays."

     That seemed like a good idea, and Corey's eyes lit up with the thoughts of food. So back inside we went and soon were ordering lunch. As we waited for it the conversation was mainly between Carl, Bob, and Mr. Kaufmann, or Joel as he insisted we call him. By the time our food arrived, Joel had filled in some details about what Corey should do. He offered a couple of thoughts, one of which was that it might be better to wait until he had more completed paintings before trying to sell any. Joel said that he would love to hold a showing of Corey's work, but that required more than three paintings. By the time we were finished with dessert, Corey and I had decided to leave for home and make any decisions about his paintings later. Corey did promise to give Joel the right of first refusal on the three paintings he had seen, but nothing beyond that.

     It was twelve-thirty and the drive would take about five and a half hours. That meant that by driving straight through I could make it home by about six, but it was early enough so that we could take a few minutes and stop at Uncle Matt's and still make it home at a reasonable hour. I had remembered to top the pickup up with fuel, so shortly after leaving the parking lot I was headed south on I-5. Next stop, Medford.

     The traffic wasn't bad and we cruised along talking about the workshop and selling paintings. Corey was thrilled with the idea his paintings were as valuable as they appeared to be, but he seemed reluctant to talk much about the one of me. I finally got the impression that I should drop the subject, which meant that he had plans for that painting and those plans likely included me.

     Along about Grants Pass the conversation drifted onto the new house, or rather whether or not it would be a good idea to build on Uncle Matt's property. By the time we reached Medford we had kicked the subject around quite a bit and both Corey and I agreed that the subject should be discussed with all the boys, although he was definitely in favor of it. He didn't seem to think that the extra distance from town would be that big a problem, and that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks. By now I was becoming ambivalent as to that part of the idea, and so it was likely I would go along with whatever the boys wanted, not simply to satisfy them, but because if Corey was right, and I was quite sure he was, the rest of the boys wanted it and so did my relatives. Since I had slowly worked my way to where I was no longer against it, my thoughts were why not make the others happy?

     Of course the giggle boxes attacked as soon as we showed up, and it took a few minutes to where they calmed down enough to where we could talk with Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy. When that finally happened, I learned that there was nothing new to report on as to the value of the sale of the company and we would have to wait to see if Microsoft entered into the bidding or not. Still, ten million was nothing to be sneezed at. I also learned that the airplane deal had fallen apart and Uncle Matt was steamed over that. He was considering getting an attorney and suing those responsible, but I suggested that instead of worrying about the plane, he should make sure we got our money and we could always find a plane to buy if that was what he wanted. For the time being it looked like the Kingair was out. That didn't bother me because I still didn't know what kind of plane it was except that Uncle Matt had said it was multi-engine and big enough to haul a bunch of us. To be honest, I wasn't sure he knew that much more, but he had been happy and now he wasn't.

     I managed to remember to give Uncle Matt the papers Russ had given me regarding the Duesenberg and we discussed what to do about it. Both of us felt that even though Ralph had been less than honest about the situation, he still deserved some money because of the value of the car. While we had no idea of what would be fair, the value of the car, even before it was restored, made the property almost a gift. After discussing it some we decided to do some checking and figure out what we thought was fair and then send it to Ralph.

     In all we visited for about an hour before I told Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy that Corey and I needed to be going. That brought about protests from the giggle boxes, but shortly after that we were once again headed south. Corey had managed to get a release signed for Kevin, and Uncle Matt was planning on coming down on Friday evening so he could mow some and make more plans. Bruno had contacted the county agent and was supposed to have gotten some advice on pruning so maybe they could do some of that also.

     As we were approaching Redding I asked Corey if he wanted to stop for dinner or go on home and see what we could find. He solved that by suggesting that we stop at Downie's and pick up something from the deli section, like a chicken and some salad. That sounded good so I kept the pedal down and just after seven we pulled into Downie's parking lot. Now the problem was how many chickens to buy because I was sure that we would have help eating them. We would have had help even if I showed up with food just as the rest of the boys were cleaning up their plates, so that didn't take a genius level IQ to figure out. Three chickens, a gallon of beans, and a gallon of potato salad later we were out the door for the last few blocks.

     I had emptied the holding tanks at the trailer park so all I had to do was back the trailer into the shop and disconnect the pickup from it. I did that while Corey packed the food into the house. Shortly I was in the house and struck by the lack of sound. I shouldn't have been surprised because it was hard for the boys to talk and eat at the same time. Sarah looked at me and asked with wonderment clearly evident in her voice, "They just finished dinner a little while ago. Where are they putting it?"

     I could see boys sort of duck their heads, but they never missed a bite. I decided not to take the time to answer because I was afraid that if I did the chickens would be gone. I managed to get a drumstick-thigh portion, along with a serving of beans and one helping of potato salad before I started answering them.
     "Don't you know that teenagers are only appetites?" I asked Sarah. "Or maybe they're black holes where food just disappears." I was rewarded with those glares that only kids can master, you know the ones, the `up-yours old man' ones. However, they didn't say a word being much too busy eating to take the time. And by ducking their heads their mouths were closer to their plates and the food disappeared even faster, if that was possible. In defense of them, they didn't refill their plates like they normally did at dinner, so the one plateful was more like a light snack to them.

     I had one plateful and Corey had two, although we finished up about the same time. While Corey was working on his second plateful he managed to start telling his brothers about our trip and how much he had been offered for his paintings which drew gasps of surprise and some congratulations. When he got to the new camera, Bruno got excited, and after Corey told him where it was he disappeared followed by most of the boys. Only David and Corey were still at the table as I finished eating.

     Turning to David I asked, "How'd things go while I was gone? Did the county agent show up Friday afternoon and show Uncle Matt how to prune trees?" He ducked his head even more and nodded, but didn't say anything.

     "Well, did you guys get any of them pruned?" I continued.

     "Uh-huh," he said, his eyes still down.

     "Did you learn anything about pruning?" I asked, hoping he would say more than he had so far.

     "Uh-huh," he answered.

     "Let's get the rest of the dishes picked up and Corey can go rescue his pictures before someone accidentally erases them. Then you can tell me about pruning." I knew that rescuing the pictures was unnecessary because Corey had taken his laptop along and already downloaded all the pictures to it, but it would give me a little time to talk to David. He had been almost glued to me ever since I walked into the house, and I thought he wanted a little personal time with me. Sarah picked up on it and commented that she needed to make sure Bruno didn't get any ideas about buying a new camera himself, and with that headed for the family room where I could hear boys and Bruno talking in somewhat excited voices.

     Leading David into my office and directing him to the old couch, I started to go to desk chair, but decided to join him on the couch. When I was seated I was reminded that I should buy a new couch since that one was about as uncomfortable as was possible to find. The only reason I had it was because when I first bought the house I didn't have enough furniture and so I had visited every garage sale in the area. I'd done that because of my typical reaction to spending money, and so when I saw a couch that didn't look too bad, I had bought it. When I got it home I quickly understood why it didn't show much wear, but it was too late and I'd already paid for it. By stuffing it in the office I thought I had solved the problem because it would rarely be used. Now I was paying for that decision. Outside of being not very attractive, that sucker had to be the most uncomfortable piece of furniture ever built. It was too low to sit on comfortably because the underside of your legs didn't touch, and it was hard as a rock. Sitting on it felt like you were perched on two bricks right under your hip bones and that your back was against a brick wall that leaned about like the Tower of Pisa. Its one redeeming feature was that normally people couldn't stand sitting on it for very long and so I sometimes led salesmen into my office and let them sit on it. It was surprising how quickly they got down to business and quit fiddling around. That couch could reduce even the most persistent of salesmen to about a ten-minute pitch.

     "Well, did you learn anything about pruning from the County Agent?" I asked.

     For that question I got a nod, but David volunteered no further information.

     "How much did you guys get pruned?" I tried again.

     "Umm, well the County Agent said it was too late to do a good job, but we, ah we did a little on all of them." He hesitated some more before continuing, "He, ah, he said we needed to wait to ah, to do a good job. He said, well he said that they should be pruned when all the leaves is off, and, well, well the leaves is on. So we just did part of what needed done," he finished in a rush.

     "How about the ones next to Kath's house?" I asked.

     David stiffened up like he wanted to flee, but by now I had my arm across his shoulders. "Umm, well, umm, we, ah, we forgot about them. I'm sorry."

     "You don't need to feel sorry. In fact I think it's good that you didn't do them. Maybe you can teach me how to prune on those trees. Do you think you could do that? We could work on them after I get home tomorrow. Do you think you could do that?" I asked.

     "Umm, well Bruno can teach you," David answered.

     "I didn't ask Bruno to teach me, I asked you. Besides, I'll bet that you understood it a lot better than Bruno. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to help all of us with things like pruning and tractors. We're all city folks and haven't done any of it. After all, you knew what a box scraper was when none of the rest of us did. So will you help me learn?" I asked.

     "But I'm too dumb," David answered.

     I paused for a few seconds, trying to figure out how to answer him. "David," I started, "there are all kinds of learning. Some people are good with book learning and others are good with other kinds of learning. Think about it for a few seconds. Who was it that showed Uncle Matt how to get his tractor unstuck? Or who was it that showed all of us a better way to clear brush? And who was it that came up with the idea of putting Uncle Matt's tractor on the trailer so it would reach high enough to remove the roof? You seem to think you're dumb, but I disagree with that. Yes, you have trouble reading and because of that you haven't done well in school, but that doesn't mean you're dumb. You keep coming up with ways to show us how to do things better or easier. To me that makes you pretty smart even if you haven't done well in school.

     "After you have the rest of your tests I think you'll be surprised at how well you learn. Someone should have noticed your reading problem and done something about it a long time ago, but there are ways to teach you to read better and that will make doing school work a lot easier. In the meantime, will you teach me to prune trees?" I asked, ruffling his hair.

     David swiveled his head around and raised his eyes and looked directly at me for the first time since we had entered the office. "Do you think I can?" he asked.

     "If I didn't think you could, I wouldn't have asked you. If I thought Bruno could do a better job of teaching me I would have asked him. So will you?"

     I didn't get a vocal answer, but I did get some head nods. By now my butt was starting to get numb so I turned to him and said, "Maybe we need to go to the living room. This couch is so hard I'd rather sit on top of a fencepost. It couldn't be much more uncomfortable."

     For a few seconds nothing happened, and then David started to snicker. Then his eyes glanced up as me just as he froze with a look of horror on his face. His eyes searched my face and he must have decided that my grin meant I wasn't offended or mad that he had laughed, and finally he started giggling again. "Well, could it?" I asked, starting to laugh along with him.

     The couch in the living room was more comfortable, but it was somewhat shabby having been purchased by my parents when I was younger than David. When I looked around, all of the furniture was well used and needed to be replaced, but my frugal ways had stopped me from buying new. After my sudden epiphany, following buying the camera, I was starting to think more clearly about spending money and there were a number of things I needed to replace. My house was a mixture of the few new items I had purchased and some very used pieces from my parent's house. Add to some miss-matched pieces I'd picked up at garage sales and the whole effect was, dare I say, disappointing. Aunt Sandy had been appalled when I insisted on using the old furniture, but I'd been stubborn and she had given up although she did make me buy some nice drapes for the windows and they complimented the carpet and wall colors. The only new pieces in the family room were my recliner and the plasma television. The rest of the house wasn't much better. It wasn't that everything looked terrible; it simply didn't look very good. It would have been very acceptable for a couple just starting out who were desperately trying to make ends meet, but I didn't have that problem so there was no excuse for the way things looked. And about the only extravagance in my clothing was my love for shirts, so I had many nice ones. The rest of my wardrobe was modest, even spartan. Still, there was the Gator and the pickup and trailer, and I had spent money on the Hasselblad, but my thirty-five was a used Pentax. I could only marvel that I had missed what the folks had been trying to teach me.

     The really silly part was that I had been spending on the boys, buying them the things I wouldn't buy for myself. It was as if I satisfied my desires by buying them things, and in many ways it did. Having expensive things had never impressed me, but that was no reason not to have adequate and decent looking things. I could see I was going to have to do some shopping.

     By now David and I had seated ourselves and I started to kick my shoes off so I could stretch my legs and rest my feet on the coffee table. And then it hit me. I had never liked that coffee table. I didn't hate it, but I certainly disliked it. So why was I carefully taking my shoes off so I wouldn't scratch it? Right then I vowed that the coffee table would be among the first items replaced.

     "David," I started. "Is there anything you need or would like? I know things have been busy and screwed up, and I haven't spent much time with you, but if you can think of anything you need or want, tell me. If it's reasonable, I'll get it for you."

     All I got was a mumbled no and a shocked look from him. I didn't quite know how to go any further with him, so I dropped that subject and decided I would keep my eyes open and see if I could spot anything he seemed to like. So far he had some clothes, and there was the promise of a bike although that had been slightly delayed until everyone figured out what would work best. I'd managed to order a laptop for him and it was supposed to be in on Tuesday, but that was it. He had almost nothing and I didn't know what he would like. He had looked almost shocked when I had included him when passing out allowance money, and even more shocked when he had counted it. It was like he had never held that much money in his life.

     We talked some about what would happen next week and then I walked down to Kath's to make sure she was able to haul him around and watch out for him while I was at school. He had an appointment with the prosthetist and there would also be some appointments for further testing while everyone figured out what he needed for schooling.

     Kath said it would be no problem to take him for the tests and to the prosthetist, so it looked like I didn't have to worry about that. Upon learning that we sat and visited about how things were going. As we sat there talking I noticed that she had managed to make her house look nice although I knew she was still somewhat short of funds. Then when I looked more carefully, I noticed it was little things which finished it off, like a pretty candy dish on the coffee table, or some cute prints on the walls. Where my house was rather bare of ornaments and stuff, hers had a homier look because of a few decorations on the various tables. That made sense because I disliked housework and had streamlined everything to where it took the least amount of time to keep up. For sure the boys didn't care about decorations, so I needed to think about it and decide if I wanted more stuff around to dust, or if I simply wanted to replace some of the furniture. That squashed the idea of asking for her help until I had decided how far I was willing to go to make it look better.

     Since Danny and Andrea were with the boys, Kath and I had a chance to really visit. We argued some about what was expected and I finally convinced her to not worry about whether or not I was getting my money's worth. Actually I don't think I convinced her of anything, but she gave up debating the subject. We were sitting there batting the breeze when she let something slip and for once, my mind was alert enough to pick up on it. When she had gotten married she had given up hope of going to college and had worked to help put her husband through school.

     "So what had you planned on studying?" I asked.

     "Bookkeeping and accounting," Kath answered. "Neither is a very glamorous career, but you can always find job in one or the other," she finished with a slight longing in her voice.

     That made sense to me. She was clearly interested in bookkeeping from the way she had helped set up the household expense system. It was far more detailed than necessary, but it was showing me where the money went. I had also seen her write lots of information in her check register when she had written a check, far more than just the simple amount and who the check was to that most people did, so I was pretty sure she did the same with her own money.

     "I think I'd be bored to tears by doing nothing but pushing columns of numbers around all day," I commented with a chuckle. "You're much too orderly for me."

     She paused before answering, apparently giving the subject some thought. "You're right, I'm obsessively neat," she giggled. "That drawer in your kitchen upsets me no end, and I hate to even think about Danny's room, let alone look in it."

     "You mean my whatchamacallit drawer?" I asked.

     "I don't know what you call it, but the one with all the items in it."

     I was right. Kath was way too orderly. Anyone who would refer to the stuff in the whatchamacallit drawer as items could be described as anally retentive. Kath and I had gotten into an argument over the drawer when she had wanted to throw much of the stuff out, but I wouldn't let her. Yet I had to admit that it was so full that it took almost forever to find anything in it and it really did need to be sorted through. It had everything from pieces of string to pliers and screwdrivers, and if you dug deep enough there were even some nails and hammer in it if only you could find them. It also had those things whose name I didn't know and that was why I called it the whatchamacallit drawer, short for what you may call it. I'd been throwing things in that drawer since I'd moved into the house and it was getting full, very full.

     "Tell you what, when the new house is built I'll set several drawers aside for that stuff and then maybe you can keep them more orderly," I answered her.

     "So you've decided on building the new house?" she replied, her voice rising as if asking a question.

     "Not completely," I replied, "but probably. Corey seems to think that the boys will like it and I've worked my way to where I don't really object, so if Corey's right and the boys like the idea, then yes. Do you think Danny and Andrea would like it out there?"

     Kath' expression suddenly became very serious. "Sam, why are you spending so much money on Danny and me? We're nothing to you."

     I'd never thought about it that way, so I had to think about how to answer her. "Kath, you don't seem to realize what you bring to me and act like you aren't worth what I'm paying you. While this time Bruno and Sarah were here and could have taken care of the boys, you bring me freedom. With you here I can leave some or most of the boys with you to watch them and do something with the others. You're here to help me raise them. It's hard for a single parent to manage to get everything done, and you fill in for me when necessary, just as I can do for you. You're going to haul David to his various tests, and were it not for you I would have to quit teaching in order to take care of all the boys. Since I love teaching and you make it possible to continue it, you're worth far more than I pay you. And be honest with yourself, don't you find the idea that you could go out for an evening or weekend and I'd look out for Danny, and now Andrea, liberating?

     "I know all the kids are getting to the age where they don't really need a babysitter, so this way they don't have one yet we both are now free to do some of the things we wouldn't do without the other being there to take over.

     "As far as the money part, I've got lots so what better to spend it on than freedom? Money isn't worth much if you don't use it to buy those things you want or need. So quit worrying, I'm more than getting my money's worth."

     After I said that, it all made sense to me for the first time. I'd finally figured out what money was and what to do with it. Money has no value other than what it can buy you, and in this case it could buy me the freedom to do things I wouldn't be able to do any other way. Having money had meant I could adopt the boys because I didn't need the states money. Having money made it possible for me to afford them on my terms.

     Kath didn't say anything and we sat there for a while. Finally she spoke. "So it isn't just charity?"

     That was a no-brainer and was easy to answer. "Nope, it isn't charity. Honestly? Charity might have had something to do with it at first because of Danny, but once I figured out how valuable you are to me, that idea disappeared. I have more time to work with the boys because I can finish up grading when I get home rather than fix dinner. As for weekends, now I don't have to spend so much of them doing things like laundry, again giving me more time for the boys. Now I don't know what I'd do without you, but if you decided to do something else I'd immediately find someone to replace you. I didn't know how badly I needed help and now I know. Without you I couldn't have helped David. So get the idea of charity out of your mind." I was pretty worked up by the time I finished that because it was suddenly apparent to me just how badly I had needed help. Little things, like this past weekend with Corey, or when I had gone to Sacramento and appeared at the hearing had made that very clear. While I was sort of tired from the trip, my mental state was recharged and I was looking forward to school starting again and felt better than I had in some time.

     Kath and I chatted for a few more minutes before I headed back to my house. She seemed happier with my explanations of why I was willing to pay her and hopefully she would stick around and help for as long as I needed her. Add in that there was an idea kicking around in the back of my mind. I wondered if Kath would think more highly of herself if I could get her to go back to school and get some training and perhaps even a degree in accounting. In many ways Kath was somewhat like the boys. Her opinion of herself needed improving. She was smart and worked hard to try to please, and her cooking demonstrated that and was improving by leaps and bounds. She frequently asked me to taste things and then we discussed what I thought they needed and why. Then the next time she fixed them, they were much closer to being seasoned right. And while it wasn't exactly proper, I had been amused when Danny had commented on how much better his mothers cooking tasted one night when eating dinner. When he realized how it sounded he'd blushed and stammered, obviously embarrassed. Even Kath had had a hard time keeping from laughing at him, and I could see the corners of her mouth twitching upwards as she tried to glare at him. I was still thinking about Kath when I got home.

     Glancing around I saw that the boys were in the family room, or at least out of sight and from the sounds they were there, and Bruno and Sarah were in the living room. It was late enough that the rug rats were undoubtedly in bed, so I stopped in the kitchen and got some coffee before joining Bruno and Sarah.

     "Well, how'd it go?" I asked.

     "Pretty good," Bruno replied. "The boys didn't get in trouble and we managed to keep them fed."

     I was impressed since I knew how hard it was to keep the boys full. Bruno continued while I was digesting that.

     "That David's pretty sharp. He understood the agent better than I did. If he had both hands he'd be a whiz at pruning."

     "Yeah, he commented on how much you guys got done," I replied. "He said you guys pretty well did all of the old orchard on Matt's property."

     "We didn't do a very good job because the agent said we were too late to do it right, but we did most of what he recommended," Bruno said. "Next winter it needs a lot more, but there should be a fair crop this year.

\     "You got a call Friday after you left. Your builder said that the old barn was sound and that he would be starting on the roof sometime this week. Oh, and the fuel distributor called and they will be putting the storage tank up Monday. Bledsoe rocked where it goes so that looks good."

     Before I could answer Bruno, Sarah jumped in asking, "How did the workshop go?"

     "You mean Corey hasn't talked your ears off?" I answered, chuckling. "Corey had a ball. I don't think I've ever seen him as excited as he was, and everyone seemed to like him. So I guess it was a howling success."

     "He did seem pretty happy," Sarah replied while grinning. "Is he really that good?"

     "I don't know," I answered, becoming thoughtful. "Both Bob and Carl think he has a lot of talent, and the fellow from New York agrees as near as I can tell. He's still got a lot to learn, but everyone seems to think he can be successful. I suppose it depends on if he wants to continue or if painting's just a hobby. At his age, who knows, but if I had to bet I'd bet on him painting."

     We continued talking about Corey's painting and how the boys had behaved while I was gone, and after a while I asked a question. "So what's planned for the week?"

     "We were thinking of borrowing Corey's car and driving up to Matt's for a week or so," Bruno answered. "Then we really ought to go home and sell the house. So can we borrow the car?"

     I had never thought about it, but I had referred to the car as Corey's even though the title was now in my name. Yet I felt that it wasn't my place to loan it so I replied, "You'll have to ask Corey. I doubt that it'll be a problem, but it's his car. It's one of the few things from his mother, but she wasn't around much after she got it so he doesn't have a strong attachment for it. We've even talked of selling it, but haven't got around to doing anything about it. When were you thinking of leaving?"

     "Tuesday," Sarah replied. "Maybe Wednesday."

     "We really can't do much more here, and I need to talk more with Matt," Bruno jumped back into the conversation. "While we're up there we can decide if I need to rent a house up there or down here. Don't argue, I know you'll say we're welcome to stay with you, but putting up with us for a visit is one thing, and having us underfoot for several months is another."

     I can only hope I managed to conceal my glee. Much as I liked my relatives, having them living with me for extended periods of time was not something I looked upon with great anticipation. In fact I wished they would leave immediately. Everything had been unsettled ever since the fire and I needed time to get things back under control. Yet, as usual, I wimped out with the customary reply. "You're more than welcome here."

     Bless his heart, Bruno insisted that staying with me was not an option, and Sarah backed him up. So after some more discussion on the subject, Bruno tracked Corey down and asked to borrow his car. And so the plans were that come Tuesday morning they would leave. I was so happy I wanted to dance. I knew that in a week or so I would be more than happy to have them back, but for right now some time with just the boys sounded wonderful.

     Bruno and Sarah went to their bedroom leaving me alone, so I wandered into the family room to see what the boys were up to. LT was ensconced in my recliner, and the rest of the boys were scattered out around the room. They were watching Sports Center on ESPN so I looked around and seated myself on the sofa. While this one didn't look very nice, it was the most comfortable one in the house. Maybe I would have it recovered instead of replacing it.

     David had been sitting on one end and JJ on the other, so that left me the middle. As I leaned back and turned my attention to what was going on in the world of sports, I felt a boy shoulder against me, and it was almost automatic that my arm went out and wrapped itself around JJ's shoulder. JJ had never shown much physical affection so I was surprised. When I looked at him, he had a big grin on his face and then sagged against me. I couldn't help it; I ran my fingers through his hair and gave it a good ruffle. JJ gave a little giggle and then sighed and continued leaning against me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a big grin on his face.

     David was much stealthier. It took him about ten minutes to work his way over to where he was leaning against me. He had been leaning on the arm of the couch when I sat down, so first he had straightened up, and then he had squirmed around and moved a little closer. A couple more squirms and he was close enough to lean against me, but he hesitated. However, there was no resistance when I reached out and draped my left arm across his shoulders and I immediately had another bony shoulder tight against me.

     JJ had never been that affectionate, but tonight he seemed to want contact with me. I expected it from David because he was desperately trying to find someone to cling to, but it was a real surprise from JJ. So I sat there enjoying my time with JJ. My right thumb gently rubbed his shoulder and he practically purred. He had a silly little smirk and was leaning against me so hard that I knew if I was suddenly removed he would fall flat on his side.

     ESPN broke for a commercial and I asked JJ, "Are you ready for school?"

     "Oh man, do we have to?" but he was still grinning even as he whined out his answer.

     "Yes, you have to," I chucked. "Do you want to grow up to be a dummkopf?"

     "What's a dummkopf, some word you made up?" he grinned.

     "No you person of little letters, it's a blockhead in German," I replied. "You wouldn't want to be a blockhead now would you?"

     "It's prolly better than being a fake German professor," he teased back.

     "Probably you dummkopf, probably. How many times do I have to tell you that?" I answered. "And besides, who says I'm a fake German professor? I thought I did quite well at that and was pretty realistic."

     By now JJ had a bad case of the giggles and I wasn't doing much better.

     "Give me a break," he laughed. "You couldn't get a part in a grade school play."

     "Not true," I laughed. "I'm here to inform you that I was once a wise man in the Christmas play. That was in the first grade. I will confess it was my Sunday school class, but I was still in grade school," I answered, trying to act wounded with little success. "My line was `I bring you Myrrh.'"

     "It's a shame you left the wise part in the first grade," Corey tossed out from where he was, which was sitting in my recliner across the room from the couch.

     Up till now the boys had only been giggling at JJ and me, but that turned into howls of laughter at Corey's remark.

     "Better watch it you little knot head, or I'm going to have to send David over to beat some sense into you," I laughed at Corey. "He shouldn't have any trouble whippin' your scrawny butt and you're laughing way too hard to get a way."

     David tensed up as if to escape, but before he could do that Corey jumped up, turned around and mooned us. "Scrawny butt," he said over his shoulder. "Take a look at that and tell me it's scrawny."

     JJ grabbed one of the little pillows on the end of the couch and hurled it at Corey, well I suppose to be specific Corey's butt, but he missed. By now Mark was on the floor gasping from laughing so hard, and I wasn't far from that myself.

     Kyle got in the best line and cracked everyone up even more when he asked what that brown streak was on the back of Corey's briefs, which he'd pulled back up after mooning us. Of course there was no brown streak, but Corey turned red and the way he twisted around trying to see the back of his briefs was what was funny. Corey threatened to kill Kyle, but with everyone else laughing hysterically he finally gave up and finished putting his pants back on and sat down.

     I could feel David relax as he figured out no one was going to hurt anyone and we were simply having fun. We continued trading wisecracks with each other until it was time for bed, about twenty minutes later. When I stood up and told them they needed to take their showers and get a good night's sleep, they left but were still giggling as they exited the room. I got hugs from everyone except Corey and I figured we could take care of that in my room.

     I got more than a hug in my room. We even had a great shower, but docking is somewhat more difficult when your hands are covered in shower gel. More difficult and I think more fun. There is something very stimulating about the way a hand slips and slides when covered in gel, and it feels really good especially when that hand is Corey's hand and his hand is sliding on a very sensitive part of me. Sometimes the sensation was so intense that I could barely stay still enough to continue with the docking, but like all good things it had to come to an end. His hand drove me over the edge, and when I started thrusting he soon joined me. After it was over we stood there and let the warm water carry the evidence down the drain. It had been a great weekend.

     After we had dried each other, we cuddled up in bed and prepared to sleep. Before falling asleep, Corey softly said, "JJ's sure a lot happier."

     "Uh-huh," I softly murmured while enjoying the smell of Corey's hair, which always had a stronger odor when damp. "I'm just sorry I didn't realize he was depressed," I continued. "I could have got him help much sooner." I went back to enjoying the smell of his damp hair after saying that.

     "Do you think David will ever be that happy?" Corey asked.

     Since Corey wanted to talk I was going to have to pay more attention and answer him. "Don't know. He's had it much worse than Jason. It will take a lot more time and effort before he feels safe and maybe he'll never feel completely safe or free of fear, but all we can do is try. I think he enjoyed this evening and he even giggled a few times.

     We both lay there thinking, and when Corey commented again, it was on another subject.

     "I'm glad Bruno and Sarah are leaving. They're nice, but I like it better when it's just us."

     I was about to agree with him when I started wondering why he liked it better. All of my family had accepted him and treated him more like we were partners, so what was his reason. Since I could see no way to find out short of asking, that seemed like the logical thing to do.

     "And why is that?" I inquired.

     Corey was silent for a while, and when he finally started to speak he was hesitant as though thinking his way through it.

     "It's, well, like when they're here you kinda, well sorta let them run things. We don't get to talk, and well, uhh Uncle Matt ah, well he kinda takes over." After saying that, Corey fell silent again. I was just about to try to answer when he took another breath and started again.

     "When it's just us, you, well you talk things over with us, but when Uncle Matt's here, well, well you talk things over with him and we don't get to talk about anything. We don't get to tell you what we want." With that Corey acted like he had said all he was going to say on the subject and he again relaxed.

     He didn't have to say anymore because, when once pointed out to me, I knew he was right. In fact I had been deferring to Uncle Matt as long as I could remember. He was older than I was and I had always worshiped him because he had paid attention to me. That paying attention had flattered me and made me feel more important and grown up when I was young. In effect I'd turned into his little brother and followed him around almost like Mark followed Kyle. Sometimes if was comical to watch Mark because he wanted to be like Kyle, and in many ways I had been trying to be like Uncle Matt.

     "Jeez, you're right. I'm sorry," I told him. "Have the others said anything about it, and is there anything they'd like to talk about?"

     "Umm, well they would, ah they would kinda like to talk about the new house," Corey replied. I could tell he was somewhat uncomfortable telling me about what the boys talked about, but couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me. Likely he felt that he was breaking trust with them. Kids don't always feel comfortable with having adults know what they are talking about, especially when it concerns those same adults.

     I thought a little more before replying. "Tell you what; Bruno and Sarah are leaving Tuesday morning, so how about we hold a meeting after dinner Tuesday night and talk it over? That way it would be just us and they can say anything they want."

     "What good will that do? Haven't you made up your mind?"

     "Actually I haven't. I'm ambivalent on it right now and was going to do whatever you guys wanted. I just thought that the way you talked on the way home and from what the others had said, they wanted a new house." I paused for an instant before continuing. "As far as that goes we could build a new house somewhere else. It isn't like I can't afford another piece of property.

     "I'd planned on talking it over with all of you, but everything has been fouled up and we haven't had any time alone. You know that at first I wasn't going to do it, but..." I ran out of thoughts and had to stop and try to figure out what I wanted to say.

     Corey lifted his head off of my chest and looked straight at me. "You mean you won't move there if we don't want to?" he said.

     "Well," I chuckled, "I would hope that you had some reasons for your decision, but no, if you don't want to live there I won't force you. While I run things, I try to do what you guys want as long as it's within reason. Just remember, you'll have a lot better chance of success if you don't ask for unreasonable things. We're all in this together and we all need to think of the others when we decide to do something. Remember, I asked you if you were willing to have David move in and you all agreed. So while I'm sorry I neglected to talk more about the house, it isn't like I don't get your opinions on what we should do before I make up my mind."

     There was a pause before Corey answered. "I'm sorry, I forgot that."

     "Looks like we both sometimes forget," I said. "Maybe we need to agree to remind each other when we think the other is forgetting something or that there is something we need to talk about. Think that'll work?"

     Corey agreed to that and soon after he went to sleep. While he had no trouble falling asleep, I was worried that I'd neglected to talk more with the boys about the new house. So I lay there wondering why it was that I couldn't do a better job with them. It seemed like every time I turned around I discovered something I was doing wrong or had forgotten to do. I wondered if other parents felt the same way or if I was alone. Yet no matter how I looked at it I didn't see how I could have known about most of the problems before they came up. While I had missed the boat on the new house and on JJ's depression, those were about the only two where I was sure I should have known better. Maybe I was simply too young. Most parents of teenagers were older than I was, but did that mean they knew better or were they working their way through raising their kids like I was? I didn't have an answer for that, and after thinking on it long enough I finally fell asleep. There would be plenty of time to worry about that in the future.