I lLove Corey, Chapter Ohe hundred and five



     So here I go again, trying to come up with a way to convince people to obey this disclaimer. Alas, it seems like a losing battle. After all, if I haven't succeeded in the previous one hundred and four attempts, why should I have any reason to think the one hundred and fifth attempt would do better? But I'm ever the optimist, so I plunge ahead.

     Minors leave. You know better than to skulk around here reading this story. Actually I like the word skulk. In my mind's eye it evokes a picture of youths sneaking around and reading this on their computers in a "stealthy or furtive manner," to quote Merriam-Webster. I know, I digress, but minors still need to leave before they have their pure and pristine little minds corrupted by the horrid things described in this story. Remember, if you corrupt your minds you will grow up to be like all the adults you know and no one wants that.

     As for adults, you don't have to skulk unless you are ashamed to admit what you read. I don't know about you, but my parents taught me that if I was ashamed if other people knew what I was doing, I shouldn't be doing it. Therefore, if you are ashamed to admit that you read stories on Nifty, you probably ought to leave. That holds doubly true for those who try to claim they are offended by reading the descriptions of gay sex acts which appear in the story from time to time. One thing does puzzle me though. If you are a person who becomes upset over the reading of such material, doesn't that mean you would be ashamed to let your friends and family know you are reading it, and if that is true don't you think they will be able to figure out you were reading it when you start telling everyone how horrible it is? I mean really, when you are condemning this and similar stories, that is a tacit admission that you read them. How else would you know what they contain? Ah well, I'm most likely wasting my time as bigots and hypocrites rarely see themselves as others see them.

     Then there is the problem of living where the reading of this story is illegal. Sadly such places exist and the only solution is to overthrow the government and change the laws, or move. You are free to decide which solution is best, but in the meantime I suggest you be very cautious when reading this and similar stories.

     It is with great sadness that I report that this chapter is greener than previous ones. Not that I'm sad that there is less energy being used, because that is a good thing, but I'm sad that I had to replace my old computer. I had grown quite fond of it and had few problems until it decided to die. The new one has an LCD monitor which saves energy. Anyhow, the sadness is compounded by the fact that I do not like the new operating system. Frankly it is a pain in the posterior. To put it bluntly, I'm tired of having to click on that "yes, I really wanted to do that" screen. If I hadn't wanted to do it I would not have clicked on it to start with. And pray tell me why they moved everything and why they renamed it? Anyhow, this chapter will have consumed fewer kilowatts when completed.

     Once again this story is fiction. None of the characters exist except in my mind, and the actions described exist there also. To think otherwise means you didn't read it very closely and have poor reasoning powers. Really, it is a rather improbable story.

     This chapter is posted for your personal enjoyment and you are free to read it as long as you don't try to profit from it in a commercial manner and that you properly attribute any quotes you use from it. You are even free to print it out and fold, spindle, and mutilate it. If that makes you feel good, have at it.
     Once again Don has cast his eye upon my work, searching for the tiniest flaw. I must admit that looking for little flaws puzzles me when there are so many large and glaring ones. However, he finds those also and calls them to my attention. I do think that sometimes the sea of red gets to him and he feels guilty and overlooks some things simply to avoid depressing me. Anyhow, I thank him for his efforts and so should you. His work makes the story much easier to read.

     As usual feel free to write me and criticize, complain, suggest, or question. I may be contacted at fritz@nehalemtel.net Be sure to put "I love Corey" in the subject line so I know you are not simply more spam to be deleted. For those who wish to be notified when chapters are posted, drop me an email requesting to be placed on the notification list and I'll be happy to oblige. I hope you enjoy the following chapter. Fritz


          I Love Corey, Chapter one hundred and five

     Something was bothering me and eventually I struggled out of the arms of Hypnos (The Greek god of sleep, father of Morpheus, god of dreams) to find Dog was pawing at me and nosing me and whining. When he was sure I was awake, he jumped down from the bed and headed for the door as though asking me to follow. A few blinks of my eyes and I discovered that it was almost my normal time to awaken, but owing to the lateness of going to sleep I felt terrible. A couple of lurches later I struggled to my feet and followed Dog to see what was the matter.

     Dog quickly led me to the stairs and down to David's room. As I got closer I could hear some moaning as though someone was hurting him, but the only one there was David who was clearly having a bad dream. He was tangled in the covers and his brow was covered in sweat.

     "It's all right," I murmured as I placed my hand on his shoulder. "No one's going to hurt you." Dog tried to add his assurances by continuing to whine, or maybe he was just upset. I was nowhere awake enough to figure out what Dog was thinking.

     Touching him on the shoulder only increased his thrashing and moaning, so I tried gently shaking it with equally bad results. Between my still being half asleep and the noise both David and Dog were making I was having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. That problem was soon taken care of when he swung his stump and hit me on top of my head. While his stump had healed quite a bit, it was still very tender and his eyes snapped open while I was attempting to regain my balance. When those eyes snapped open all I saw was abject fear. As I reached for him he cowered down and tried to draw himself into a ball. I still wasn't thinking very well or I might have hesitated, but instead I tried to draw him to me which only resulted in him trying even harder to draw into himself.

     Once I had accomplished that I simply held him as I kept murmuring words of encouragement and reassurance. Finally he started to relax a little and I sat down on the bed and pulled him onto my lap. He was now crying and I continued to hold him and pat his back, all the while telling him that no one was going to hurt him and that he was safe.

     Eventually I had David calmed enough to leave, so I went back upstairs and took a shower. There seemed little reason to try to go back to sleep since by now it was past my usual awakening time. I had barely gotten in the shower when I was joined by Corey. At least something was going right.

     Even though I was still tired and drug out, showering with Corey has a tendency to make everything better. By the time we finished our shower, amidst much touching and rubbing, I was ready to face the day and had a smile on my face. I regretted that much of the evidence of all that touching and rubbing went down the drain, but anyone could tell the shower had been therapeutic by the way things hung and the smile on my face. Once I was dressed, it was time to face the world.
     The first problem that arose was, would I be available to meet Mrs. Eagan, the mother of the boy Kyle had invited to stay with us? Since Trey was scheduled to show up right after lunch, that appeared to present no problem and so that one was easily solved. David and I were supposed to meet with Rowling's at ten, and they had contacted Father George and he was going to be there also, so hopefully we could accomplish making the arrangements for the funerals and I would be back in time to meet Mrs. Eagan. Then I could spend the afternoon taking David to pick out shoes for his brother.

     The second problem was, where Mark would sleep or if he should simply sleep in his own bed. We kicked that around, but came up with no real answer since none of us were sure what Trey wanted. It was left as undecided, but that Mark or Trey could use one of the other downstairs bedrooms if either wished or was requested to do so. By the time those issues were decided we had finished eating breakfast and had the dishes picked up and in the dishwasher.

     A little prodding and boys started gathering up dirty clothes and bedding and soon the washer was full and washing the first batch. I was thrilled that I had been talked into buying that commercial washer and dryer as it cut way back on the time needed for laundry, and it really helped that Kath did a lot of it. By the time all that was done it was time for David and me to head for Rowling's and make the arrangements.

     I was still worried about JJ as David and I left. While he seemed to have shrugged off the news about his parents during the night, I wondered if he wasn't just pushing it to the back of his mind rather than deal with it. I was also puzzled over some of the things he had said, because what had come out last night didn't square with everything I knew, or thought I knew. I was left wondering if things were as bad as he had alleged, or if he wasn't trying to convince himself that things had been bad in order to not feel guilty. I didn't have much time to think along those lines as it only took a few minutes to drive to Rowling's. The whole trip was quiet with David not saying a word, only sitting quietly and looking downwards towards his feet.

     Alford Rowling met us and led us into his office. We were a couple of minutes early and Father George had not arrived yet, so Mr. Rowling and I chatted. There were several attempts on Mr. Rowling's part to bring David into the conversation, but they met with no success. Finally Fr. George arrived and we started trying to organize two funerals.

     For all his people skills, Fr. George was having little luck with David. No matter which of us attempted to get any information, David said little. He finally told Fr. George that his mother liked the "Old Rugged Cross" and "The Ninety and Nine" for hymns, but supplied no personal anecdotes that would assist Fr. George in his service. I knew that Fr. George liked to have a little personal information so he could make each service seem personal, and during his questioning of Corey he had gotten Corey to tell of several occurrences which Fr. George had then worked into the service, but that wasn't going to happen unless David supplied more information than he was now doing.
     As Fr. George continued to try to talk with David, Mr. Rowling motioned me out of the room where he asked me, very discreetly, who would be paying and was there any cost range that needed to be considered. I told him I would do the paying and that David and I were going to pick up some clothing items for his brother and mother and that there was no real limit on costs.

     "You do realize that the bodies are in such condition that an open casket service is out of the question?" Mr. Rowling asked.

     "Yes," I replied. "And to answer your next question, I know that the clothes will make no difference, but they will to David. He wants a new pair of shoes for his brother and a pink dress for his mother. I assume you can place them in the caskets?"

     Mr. Rowling gave a small smile and nodded while answering, "Of course I can. I wasn't sure you understood the condition of the bodies. We frequently have requests to have certain items placed in the caskets of the departed for sentimental reasons. Your request presents no problem and I'll be happy to do it." My next question concerned what size David's mother was since he wanted her to have a pink dress. Mr. Rowling thought a few seconds and said size eight. With that taken care of we returned to the office where Fr. George was still trying to elicit some information about his mother and brother from David. Thankfully the Sheriff had gotten various documents about the family during his investigation and so we had the age of both and their complete names which allowed Mr. Rowling to make suggestions as to the memorial cards. In the end David selected the Twenty-third Psalm for his mother's card, and one called "I'm free," for his brother's card. Then he picked out the style of card he wanted for each based on the suggestions of Mr. Rowling.

     Fr. George mentioned that although Mr. Besslor was unable to be here this morning, he was planning on playing for the service. He further told us that he recommended Berry Newburg for a vocalist, and I agreed. Berry frequently sang solos at St. Luke's and had a beautiful baritone voice, and I particularly liked his singing because he didn't go the usual route of many people who sing at church services and used less vibrato. He used some, but it wasn't overdone and was more like Tennessee Ernie Ford for style except Mr. Ford had a somewhat better voice and had been a more accomplished performer.

     Things were going along quite well when suddenly David seemed to balk. As usual it took some effort, but finally it came out that he didn't want the service to take place in a church. While that changed some things, Rowling's had a nice chapel and he soon agreed to allow the service to take place there.

     Since it was going to be held at the mortuary that affected the date. Surprisingly, next week was full of funerals and most of the week was taken up with them. Before it was over we decided to hold it next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. I had never considered that sometimes a funeral had to be delayed because the church or mortuary was already booked, but the only other option was Thursday afternoon and I decided against that because of the baseball game scheduled.

     That left choosing the caskets and I was quite surprised when David quickly made his selections. Up till now, getting him to make any decisions had been slow, but with the caskets it went quickly. The telling moment was when he ran his hand over a wooden casket and felt how smooth and well finished it was. After that the metal ones were ignored and the only other decision he made was selecting the wood, settling on cherry. While I didn't know either his mother or brother, I thought his selections were very acceptable.

     I knew that Fr. George was frustrated from not learning any of David's family history, but so far even I hadn't learned much about his life before I met him. While I had a broad outline, there were few details to put it all in perspective. His brother had been a year older than David, but that was all I knew about him. He hadn't told me anything about either his stepfather or real father, or for that matter his mother. There was no information about any other members of his family outside of the little I had received from Social Services so I was unable to fill Fr. George in either.

     Since there seemed little more we could do right then I suggested we go with the plans as they were and if anything came up we could phone or meet again. With that David and I headed home. It was lunchtime anyway.

     When I walked in, Kath was looking through the cabinets. She turned to me and complained that there wasn't enough chili for lunch and suggested that I go buy more.
     "Why don't we do it a little different?" I replied. "We can put some baked beans in with the chili and if it is a little flat, add some more seasoning. Then I think some grilled cheese sandwiches would go well with the chili and would probably fill the boys up."

     "Dump baked beans in the chili?" she asked. "I've never heard of such a thing."

     "Yeah, well neither have I, but it sounds like it oughta work," I answered her. "I've put a couple of different soups together in the same batch and that tasted pretty good, or at least good enough for this hungry mob. We can also add some diced onion to it, and if it needs a little more, some catsup."

     I turned the griddle on to start it heating and Kath started opening cans of chili. I got out a large can of baked beans along with one of pork and beans and she dumped those in also. Then she diced a big yellow onion and added that to the kettle while I grated some cheese for the sandwiches. I used about two-thirds cheddar and one-third jack cheese and by grating them with the grater attachment for the mixer, I could run them through together and didn't even have to mix them.

     A few squirts of catsup, some cumin, and some chili powder seemed to make the kettle of chili taste pretty good. I looked around and added a little barbecue sauce as well and it was starting to taste pretty good. A couple of squirts of Tabasco brought the heat up to where it belonged and it was time to let it cook enough to cook the onion and meld the flavors.

     I had just started grilling the sandwiches when Trey and Mrs. Eagan showed up. Her mouth sort of fell open when she saw all the people in the kitchen, and it fell even further open when I asked Trey if he wanted join us for lunch. At first he started to refuse, but after finding out what was being served he gave an apologetic half-grin and accepted. However I didn't have much luck getting Mrs. Eagan to join us for lunch. Trey took off to put his things away along with the rest of the boys, leaving the adults in the kitchen.

     "We just had lunch," Mrs. Eagan told me. "He can't be hungry."

     "So he'll only eat one sandwich and a small bowl of chili instead of the two sandwiches and big bowls my boys will eat," I grinned and answered. "Would you like some coffee?" I inquired.

     "Could I talk with you for a few minutes?" she asked rather than replying to my question about the coffee.

     "Sure," I responded, handing the turner to Kath. The sandwiches were almost ready to turn and we left Kath there grilling the sandwiches and headed towards my office. I figured that she could handle the starving masses while I talked with Mrs. Eagan.

      "I didn't realize you and Mrs. Lofton had so many children," Mrs. Eagan started after we were seated.

     That took me a few seconds to comprehend, but when I did it was clear she thought that Kath was my wife.

     "I'm not married," I replied while chuckling. "The lady you saw is my housekeeper and two of the kids are hers. I'm acting as a foster parent for one of the boys and am adopting the others." About then something popped into my mind. "Oh, and two of them are neighbor kids," I explained as I remembered Billy and Larry being among the mix of boys. "Sometimes there are even more kids eating, but only two extras today. A bunch of the neighbor's kids are always stopping over to see the boys and they get hungry also. I've seen up around twenty kids for lunch, but today is pretty mild. Now what is it you wanted to talk about?" I asked, putting the ball back in her court.

     "Trevor, or Trey as he likes to be called, is a shy boy and last year he suffered some problems at his old school," Mrs. Eagan started. She seemed to run out of things to say after that, but I waited patiently for her to continue. Finally she took a deep breath and continued, "He was hazed badly and hated school. That's why we moved here over the summer."
     "I hope he isn't being hazed here," I replied. "If he is, I'm sure that the administration will stop it if you bring it to their attention. Our district doesn't permit hazing and all the teachers are supposed to stop it if they see it happening. That doesn't mean we catch all of it, but we try."

     "No, or at least he hasn't mentioned any problems, but I'm trying to stop any that might happen," Mrs. Eagan answered. "Trevor is easily hurt and sometimes kids say things which hurt him and I was hoping you could make sure your boys didn't hurt him."

     I didn't know quite what to say since I didn't know what the problem was. After a few seconds I tried to answer her.

     "Uhm, we all try not to hurt people's feelings, but it is easier to do that if we know what to avoid," I said. "If you'll tell me what to avoid I'm pretty sure none of us will say anything along those lines that might hurt his feelings."

     There was a long pause while Mrs. Eagan considered her answer, or at least that is what I thought she was doing. In fact it looked like she started to answer me a couple of times, but then stopped and was silent a while longer.

     "Trevor was teased about being queer," Mrs. Eagan finally said. "Someone started spreading rumors and soon everyone thought he was queer and teased him about it."

     "Were they rumors, or is he gay?" I asked softly.

     There was another pause, and some looks of sadness before she said anything. "I'm not completely sure, but I think so. Trey gets very upset when the subject comes up. He tries to avoid giving a direct answer."

     "Do you have any other indications?" I then asked her. There was again a pause before she answered me.

     "Not really. I found some porn on his computer and while some of it could be considered gay, the rest was not."

     I decided that there wasn't much point in dragging this part out any more so I decided to try to calm her fears. "I think I'm quite safe in saying that being teased about being gay is something he doesn't have to fear from my boys. They know several people who are gay and it isn't an issue."

     "Thank you," Mrs. Eagan replied, a look of relief on her face. In fact her whole body relaxed as though a big burden had been lifted from her.

     The conversation had been rather disjointed in flow up to that point, with both of us pausing before speaking. I decided that I needed to try to work something in that might flow a little more smoothly and give both of us a chance to get somewhat acquainted so I asked her, "Does Trey have any allergies or things he doesn't like to eat? I haven't decided what to fix for dinner so is isn't hard to avoid things he doesn't like or can't have."

     "Oh no," Mrs. Eagan replied with a slight chuckle. "He eats anything and everything."

     "Sounds about like most of my boys," I laughed. "They don't even care how good it is as long as there is plenty of it." That wasn't exactly true, but as long as it was edible their primary concern was quantity. It had to be pretty bad before quality took first place in their minds. "Maybe I'll fix chicken and dumplings tonight. It's been a long time since I've had that and it sounds good. Does Trey like chicken?"

     "Oh yes, he loves chicken. I don't know about dumplings because I've never fixed them, but he should. He likes chicken and noodles and they taste somewhat the same.

     "Could I ask you a question Mr. Lofton?" Mrs. Eagan then asked.

     "Certainly," I replied. "Ask away."

     "I'm a little puzzled because you look so young and yet have all those boys, so I'm curious as to how that all came about. I'm sure there is an interesting story there if you're willing to share it. I'm a freelance writer and submit articles to a number of publications."

     "Ah, well I'm not sure it's all that interesting. It's a rather involved story that perhaps is best told by the Children's Services lady in this area, but basically she asked me to help and I did," I answered. "The short answer is that I had some of them for students in my classes and when they needed somewhere to live because they were being abused, she asked me to take them in. Since the kids already knew me and I knew them that made it easier for us to get along."

     "I'm sure there is more to it than that, but if you would rather not discuss it I won't pry," Mrs. Eagan said. "I shouldn't have asked anyway, but it seems so strange that someone like you would have that many boys living with him.

     "Well, I better be going since I'm cutting into your lunch. It's been a pleasure meeting you," Mrs. Eagan said while standing up.

     We exchanged a few more pleasantries as I escorted her to the door and told her goodbye. I was unsettled because I wondered if I should be worried about her investigating me, but that was beyond my control. I figured I should be pretty safe what with Children's Services and the courts in my corner, but that was no guarantee. Mrs. Eagan struck me as a very curious and competent person and if she set her mind to it I was afraid she would figure things out. What would happen if she did I didn't know, but since I couldn't stop her I forced it out of my mind.

     As it turned out I had to fix my own sandwich. The boys had cleaned up all the others, but there was enough chili left for me to have a bowl. It hadn't turned out bad for all that I had thrown it together out of what was available in the cupboards. I liked my own chili better, but somehow the boys had kept me so busy that I hadn't had time to make any. No matter how much I did, I was always behind and getting further behind every day.

     Part of the boys headed downtown to the mall and Corey said he was going to paint. Mark and Danny said they were going to check out the park and see if there was a soccer game going on and that left Kyle and Trey. When I asked them what they were going to do, I didn't get much of an answer. Still, hanging around was something I remembered doing when I was their ages so I left it at that. Maybe I would find out later where they decided to hang around, but for now they headed for Kyle's room saying something about a video game. I suggested that either the family room or the living room had bigger televisions if they wanted to hook the PlayStation into them and they headed for the family room as David and I left for Redding. It was time to see about shoes and a dress.

     Shopping didn't go exactly like I'd planned. The shoes were not the problem since I was watching David and quickly picked up on the ones he wanted even though he was shocked to see the price. The problem arose when I suggested that his brother also needed some clothes. While he had never mentioned clothes, I wondered if later on he would realize that we had purchased no clothes and feel badly about it. So suddenly the problem of what clothes his brother should be buried in. I was leaning towards slacks and a sport coat, but David seemed to be unable to envision his brother in anything except jeans and a tee shirt. Needless to say a pair of jeans and a nice tee shirt with a Dallas Cowboys logo on it later and that was taken care of. I even remembered to get some socks and briefs to complete the outfit. After that things went more like I had expected with only minor problems.

     Those minor problems consisted of finding the right color pink in a dress that David thought his mother would like. I was surprised that for all the various shops that handled women's clothes, there was not nearly as much variety as I would have liked. After much searching we finally found an acceptable dress at Macy's and the nice sales lady even helped with the rest of the outfit. David selected a square-necked and belted casual dress that was a tiny flower print pattern and was the right shades of pink. They happened to be out of size eight, but since I hadn't told him the size Mr. Rowling had told me, we bought one in a size ten and I figured he would never know the difference. It wasn't like it had to fit because she would be on display, so the only one it had to satisfy was David and he liked the color and flower pattern. I would have picked something more formal, but it wasn't to satisfy me. If David thought it appropriate, that was what counted.

     The whole shopping thing took longer than I expected, so by the time we were headed home I was in somewhat of a hurry. All the time David hadn't said much and I felt sorry for him. I wished there was some way to convince him that his life was going to be better, but it looked like it was going to take a lot of time before he started to feel safe and open up more. We dropped the clothes off at Rowling's and headed for Downie's.

     At Downie's I grabbed several family sized packs of chicken thighs and a few other items and we then hurried home. I felt guilty at not being there to make sure that things went well with Kyle and Trey, but there was no way to avoid picking out the outfits for David's mother and brother. Watching him sit all forlorn while I drove made me wish that I could simply hold him and try to make him feel better, but I didn't have time for that. Once again things were piling up on me and I wasn't able to do all the things I thought I should or that I wanted to do. I was left wondering how parents managed to take care of their kids because I was not doing all the things I thought necessary. I still felt guilty over not being able to talk with JJ and find out how he was handling the news about his parents.

     It didn't get any better when I got home because I needed to start dinner. The boys were all there so at least I had some help. After putting the groceries away, except for those items I was going to use, I started in with some help from the boys. I took the thighs and salted and peppered them and put LT to browning them in a skillet while I got other boys working on other parts of the meal. I put Corey to work finely chopping some cabbage for coleslaw. It was going to be slightly different in that he was also going to dice some broccoli and grate a little carrot to go with the cabbage.

     While that was going on I got out some chicken stock for the freezer and nuked it to thaw it out. That was the last of the chicken stock so once again I needed to make more. I put JJ to work dicing up some carrots which I would add to some peas for a vegetable and planned on cooking them in some cream.

     Once the thighs were all browned, I put them in the Dutch oven with some chicken stock to finish cooking them. I tied a couple of bay leaves and some sprigs of thyme together to add flavor and put them on to cook until the meat was about ready to fall off the bones. While that was going on I added a couple of coarsely chopped onions to the Dutch oven with the thighs..

     When JJ was done peeling and cutting up the carrots we put them in a pan and added a little chicken stock and let them cook a few minutes to get them started since it takes longer to cook carrots than peas.

     While those things were cooking I mixed up some dumpling dough. I put some milk and butter in a measuring cup and nuked it until it was almost ready to boil. By the time I got to that point, the thighs were done and I took them out of the kettle and removed the bay leaves and thyme, after which I dumped in some heavy cream. I put the liquid back on the stove and brought it back up to a simmer while I finished making the dumpling dough. I also added some cream to the carrots and put the peas in also. My cooking was getting out of whack and the vegetables were going to be done before the dumplings, but they would have to sit while the dumpling cooked. I had too many boys in my way and was trying to do too many things to get everything timed out right.
     Corey wound up having to make two batches of dressing for the coleslaw and he whined about that, but he was still done before the rest of the meal was finished. In the meantime I was dropping spoonfuls of the dumpling dough in the simmering stock and cream mixture. When the Dutch oven was full of dumplings I had to stop and let them cook. As they cooked I turned them over once to make sure they were cooked all the way through. After about twelve minutes I stuck a toothpick in to see if they were done, but there was still a little dough clinging to the toothpick so I cooked them another few minutes. I'd been dropping heaping tablespoons of dough and that made pretty good sized-dumplings which normally took about fifteen minutes to cook.
     I gave up and let the boys start eating when the first bowl of dumplings was finished. They had been circling me like hungry sharks and it seemed like the easiest way to handle things. Kath and her two had showed up and she was giggling at me as I rushed around the kitchen trying to get everything done, but she quit laughing when she had to wait for the second batch of dumplings to be cooked. All I can say is that it is a good thing she jumped to the head of the line for the second batch of dumplings or she might have starved while waiting for me to fill the kids up.
     By the time the third batch of dumplings was cooked, I was starting to gain a little. I thought about fixing a plate for myself, but I still had part of a batch to cook and I decided that it would be nice to have the dumplings just as they finished cooking. Besides, I needed to take some more of the liquid I was cooking the dumplings in and thicken it for gravy because the kids had used the entire first batch. Oh well, I could wait.
     When the last of the dumplings were cooked I again took some flour and water mixed together and added it to the last of the poaching liquid. It didn't take long for it to come to a boil and thicken into a nice gravy for the dumplings. Now it was my turn to eat. While I was eating I couldn't believe my eyes. Part of the boys came back for their whatever serving and joined me. At least they were no longer filling their plates and only had one dumpling each, plus a little more slaw. I'd been too busy cooking to keep track of how many times each of the boys had refilled his plate. I did notice that Trey was not bashful and he had been right in the middle of the others and still was. However all of them seemed to slow down as they worked on their last dumpling. Even Kyle gave up and couldn't finish cleaning his plate, and he wasn't the only one. Corey only managed half of his last dumpling, and the rest ranged between half and two-thirds. I caught Mark sneaking a few bites of dumpling to Dog, and Dog acted like he was enjoying them. I had to chuckle when I suggested ice cream for dessert because all I got were groans. Glancing around I had a bunch of potbellied kids surrounding me. A couple of them even unbuttoned their jeans for adding comfort.

     "Those were good," Corey commented. "Can we have dumplings again sometime?"

     "You liked those," I chuckled.

     "Oh yeah, I've never had dumplings before," he answered me.

     "Me neither," Trey joined in. "Those were awesome. I wish Mom would fix those sometime."

     "How come your dumplings weren't soggy? Kath asked. "Most dumplings I've had were all soggy and doughy from the poaching liquid."

     "I don't remember where I read it, but somewhere I read that if you make your dumplings with hot liquid they won't absorb as much of the poaching liquid when they cook. I tried it and it works. That's why I heated the milk and butter in the microwave before I poured them into the flour mixture. It makes for a light and fluffy dumpling. The chicken gravy had plenty of flavor since I used homemade stock, so I didn't use chicken fat in the dumplings, but if you are using canned stock use part chicken fat instead of all butter in the dumplings to give them more chicken flavor. Actually, dumplings are pretty much poached biscuits and the dough is much like biscuit dough. About the only thing I do differently is to heat the liquid and shortening, or in this case butter, before adding it, and I don't use any sugar. Since I heat the liquid, I use fresh milk rather than buttermilk for liquid," I told her

     We discussed dinner a few more minutes before I managed to get the boys moving enough to clean up the table and load the dishwasher. At first Trey just sat there, but before long he was helping like he belonged here.

     I had too many things I needed to do and I was having a problem on where to start. I needed to talk with both JJ and David and then there was calling and setting up appointments with David's prospective tutors. I also wanted to spend a few minutes getting better acquainted with Trey for the obvious reason of wanting to know him better in case he and Kyle became more than just friends, but also to see if I could make him more comfortable with his sexuality no matter what it was. Watching the two of them interact I was pretty sure his mother was right and that he likely was gay, but some people act in ways that others think are gay and that is not always the case. It wasn't that Trey acted effeminate, but he seemed to look at Kyle a little differently than most straight boys would. Perhaps one way to describe it would be that there seemed to be a longing or desire in the way he looked at and interacted with Kyle. Then again, maybe I picked up on that because Kyle was acting much the same way towards Trey. They both kept grinning at each other when they thought no one was looking and it looked like they both thought they had discovered something new and wonderful. If my assessment was right it was not something new, but it was something wonderful.

     As it turned out my first chance came with JJ as David got away before I could speak to him. Kath, along with Danny and Andrea, had gone home saying they needed to do some things. She didn't say what those things were, but from the expressions on Danny's and Andrea's face I suspected that Kath was still nesting and had some projects that she wanted the kids to help her with. So far every time I stuck my head in her door I saw changes in where things were and what was on display. The living room arrangement had changed about five times before going back to the original placement she had selected, and she had commented several times on how she was changing the order in her kitchen cupboards so that meant they had probably changed as often as the living room. I felt sorry for Andrea and Danny, but there seemed little way to help them and I could only hope that Kath's nesting instinct would calm down in the near future. Not only would that make things easier for them, but it should also produce less conversation on how each change she made was either better or worse and I was getting somewhat tired of listening to that. I was also getting tired of listening to all her suggestions on how this or that change would improve my house. Good Lord, a house is to be lived in and not some great commentary on who I am. Neither the boys nor I needed thousands of ornaments around as a fashion or decorating statement. Well, maybe she hadn't suggested thousands, but sometimes it seemed that way. If I had let her have her way there would not have been room on the coffee table to rest your feet owing to all the this and that she thought should be there. I hadn't realized it before, but Kath was one of those people who saw any empty space as a space for more ornaments. I realized that I was almost as extreme the other way in that to my mind, if it wasn't needed most of the time, don't put it out was my modus operandi, and it was never my intention to have my home decorated in a manner that would merit inclusion in "Better Homes and Gardens." Mostly I liked things convenient and easy to care for, and that meant as little to dust or clean as possible.

     I thought about taking JJ into the office where we were less likely to be disturbed, but the thoughts of that uncomfortable sofa put an end to that. Instead I got him into the living room and hoped the rest of the boys would go to the family room. JJ had been pretty quite during the parts of the day that I'd been around him, and that didn't change when we were alone.

     It took a surprising amount of time to get him to talk about how he felt about his parents, but when he again opened up, again anger was clearly present and the more he talked, the more anger there was. He continued much of what he had said last night when he had complained about how he had never been able to please his father or that no matter how good the grades it was never enough, but it was mixed with the times they had done things together as a family that he had enjoyed. He finally ended with, "Why can't they just love me? What did I do wrong?" After that he sagged against me as if tired.

     I had my arm around his shoulder and I pulled him a little closer while I tried to think of how to answer.

     "Well Jason," I started softly, "do you ever make mistakes?"

     Jason turned his head and looked at me as though I was a total idiot for asking such a question. Finally he nodded his head.

     "Don't you think it is possible for adults to make mistakes?" I asked next.

     "Oh course," he snapped with enough incredulity in his voice to show he thought I was nuts for even asking such a question.

     "Then might it be possible that your parents made a mistake in the way they tried to encourage you? I mean might it be possible that they actually loved you, but wanted you to succeed so badly that they didn't handle things well?? I sighed before continuing.
     "The way it looks to me is that there are too many contradictions in what you're telling me. In one sentence you tell me how nothing you did was ever good enough, and in the next you tell me about how your father would take you camping, or play ball with you. Since you don't mention your mother much, I pretty much have to conclude that she was not very assertive and that your father was the one who ruled your home. What if he didn't know any better and was only doing what he thought was right. Now yes, he should not have beat you, but isn't it possible that he became very angry and then was so scared that he ran away rather than face the consequences of his actions?

     "You mentioned one event where your father spanked you and later found out he made a mistake and never apologized, but instead bought you a bike. Could it be possible that he is afraid to admit he made a mistake and then when he made an even worse one was afraid to stay and try to fix it?" I paused while I tried to think of how to continue.

     "Now I don't have any idea why your father became so enraged over your sexuality, but it almost appears to me that after he beat you he was so afraid that he ran away rather than face the consequences of his actions. People do things when they are mad or scared that they normally wouldn't do. Much of what you've told me suggests that your father has an anger management problem, and that makes me wonder how his parents treated him, but you've never mentioned any grandparents so I have nothing to form any opinions on.

     "Anyhow, it looks to me as if your parents made a big mistake, then fearing its consequences or being ashamed of their actions ran away. I don't know why they made the mistake, but I think they loved you in at least some way."

     JJ said nothing for a while, but I could tell his mind was working. "Mom's parents are dead. Grandma Alice died of cancer when I was real young, and Grandpa Tom was killed in a traffic accident four years ago. Dad wouldn't talk about his parents and Mom wouldn't talk about them either. They never went to see them or called them. All I know is Mom told me not to mention them because Dad hated them and it would make him mad." After telling me that, he fell silent.

     "Jason, I can't solve your problem. Only you can do that. What I can say is that hating your parents isn't going to help anything. I'm not telling you to love them, only that you need to forgive them enough to where you no longer hate them. You can dislike them, but hatred consumes the one who hates. Don't allow yourself to be consumed by hate.

     "What they did was wrong, but we all make mistakes. What is important is how we handle our mistakes. Your parents not only made a grave mistake, but they handled it very poorly. Had they stayed and faced what they had done there is little chance they would have been arrested in Georgia, but running from the law is stupid and creates all sorts of other problems. But instead of hating them for making stupid mistakes, forgive them enough to where you don't hate them and then go on with your life. Just know I love you and so do your brothers and we'll always be here for you." I couldn't think of much else to say, but I knew I was going to talk with Dr. Logan's friend as soon as he moved out here and get some counseling for JJ. JJ needed to come to terms with his feelings about his parents or it would poison his life.

     Hearing about his grandparents, or about some of them also made me curious. I wondered what Judy knew about his paternal grandparents and if that might shed some light on the situation, but I would have to wait to find out. I hated calling her out of office hours unless it was an emergency, and this didn't qualify as such.

     We sat there for a while, me with my arm around JJ's shoulders and him leaning into me. I wanted to help him more, but I didn't know how. Sometimes life isn't very fair, and JJ had experienced its unfairness. Something told me that there was more to his father's reaction than either of us knew, but I didn't know why I felt that way. In the meantime I had a boy whose heart had been broken and I didn't know how to fix it. I was left hoping that time would help heal his wounds. I was left wishing that I had realized how much he was hurt earlier and if I had, I might have been able to help him more. Instead he had been stuck with someone who didn't know enough to understand that he was bottling it up rather than dealing with his problems. Part of it was his fault because he would never tell me about his home life prior to the beating no matter how I had asked him, but I should have done more to draw him out and tried to help him.

     "Feel any better now?" I asked.

     "Uhm-huh," he murmured

     "Anything more you you'd like to talk about?"

     I didn't get any answer, but he didn't say anything either. I waited, but after a while he sighed and sagged against me even more, still without saying anything. As we continued to sit there, it dawned on me that this was the longest he had ever allowed me to hold him. Always before he had pulled away after a short while, but tonight he was soaking up affection.

     We continued to sit there with me gently holding him against my side. Nothing more was said, but he didn't appear uncomfortable with the silence. I would have almost thought he had fallen asleep except I could see his eyes and they were looking off into space. I wondered what was going through his mind, but didn't wish to disturb his thoughts. Maybe it was enough for now that he felt loved.

                    To be continued...

     I've been chided for not enough cooking lately. Well, maybe chided isn't the correct word. Railed against might be slightly more accurate. Whatever, today the subject is gravy. Gravy is such a simple thing that I have no idea why people keep conning me into making the gravy. I belong to a couple of organizations and I keep getting stuck making the gravy for them, and then my relatives also stick me with the job. I mean really, it is just some thickened liquid.

     Gravies are roughly divided into two types, milk and stock based gravies. Milk is fairly obvious, but stock might be anything from water to bullion cubes dissolved in water. Fortunately it makes little difference which of the two you make, the process is about the same. And so we will discuss the basics.

     Gravy thickness varies for different dishes. For example, in the dish mentioned in the chapter it would be a thinner version than if it were made for putting on something like potatoes. So you vary the amount of flour, or other thickening agent, according to the consistency you want the gravy. "A crude rule of thumb for gravy." The amount of flour used is normally between 1 tablespoons and 3 1/2 tablespoons per cup of liquid. For a gravy to be used with dumplings I use about 1 tablespoons of flour per cup of liquid, but were it for gravy to go on potatoes I would up that to about 2 tablespoons per cup. To go even further, if I was making something such as sausage gravy to go on biscuits, that would get 3 tablespoons per cup of liquid because you want the gravy thick enough to keep the sausage bits from settling out. These amounts are based on an eight-ounce cup and all-purpose flour, but if you use something else for thickening, such as cornstarch, the amounts will change. Also, the more you brown the flour, the less thickening power it has. When browned to a dark brown, it will only have about half the thickening power of not browning it, thereby requiring twice as much flour as unbrowned. So the first thing we need to know is how much liquid you have, or how much gravy you want. So let us assume that we have a stock and we wish a thinnish type gravy suitable for dumplings, and that we do not wish to add the flavor of browned flour. That means that we have to add the flour to the liquid and hopefully in a way that will not produce lumps. In the case of the meal mentioned, I had removed the chicken and veggies from the stock and wanted to thicken the stock, so I mixed the proper amount of flour with the same amount of water and added it before the stock came to a boil. Don't add the flour-water mixture to a boiling liquid or you will have lumps. So let us say that there were four cups of stock in the pan and that means adding six tablespoons of flour mixed with six tablespoons of water. Mix the flour and water well so there are no lumps, and add to the stock and whisk well. Then turn the heat up and bring the gravy mixture to a boil while stirring or whisking and allow it to boil gently for several minutes, like four to five or so in order to cook the flour.

     Okay, so you have done that and your gravy is too thick or thin. If too thin allow it to cool slightly and add more flour, again mixing it with water, and again bring it to a boil while stirring or whisking it. Should it be too thick, add more liquid such as water or chicken stock and thin it to what you are looking for. One trick you can use to hurry the process if your gravy is too thin and requires more flour. After mixing up more of the flour/water mixture, temper that mixture by slowly adding some of the hot stock to it, all the while stirring it and then add the whole mixture back to the thin gravy. Make sure the thin gravy is not boiling and by rights it should be 150 degrees or less when adding the flour water mixture directly without tempering.

     There are other ways to add the flour such as mixing equal amounts of flour and softened butter together (correctly called a beurre manie, French for kneaded butter) and then adding that mixture, but that should not be used unless you are willing to add the fat content of the butter. Chicken and turkey gravy normally do not need additional fat content and the problem is more frequently that you need to remove some of the fat from the drippings or stock, so in the case of the recipe in the chapter that method would not be used. However it is an excellent method of adding flour to thicken and does not result in lumps, and if you don't mind a little more fat content, a very easy way to add flour to very hot liquids and escape any lumps that adding a flour/water mix might produce.

     Using a beurre manie is nice because you can add some and see if it thickens your stock sufficiently. If not, you can simply add a little more. If you happen to have some of it leftover simply put it in a closed container and store in your refrigerator where it will keep for several weeks, perhaps longer. Be sure to allow the gravy to boil long enough for the added beurre manie to work and cook.

     Now I'll cover pan gravies made on drippings before going on to seasoning. If you have fried something such as chicken or hamburger patties and wish to make gravy from the drippings, you start by figuring out how much gravy you wish to make. The rule is that you need approx. three tablespoons of fat and 2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of liquid in order to make gravy for such things as to go over potatoes or on biscuits or over dressing. So start by draining the fat from the pan and then putting back however much you need. If you wish to make two cups, put six tablespoons of fat back in the pan and then put five tablespoons of flour in the fat. Cook the flour/fat mixture over moderate heat for a couple of minutes, longer and or hotter if you wish to brown the flour and you now have a roux. Then add your liquid which can be milk, water, stock, or a combination of them. Remember, stock could even be the liquid used for cooking potatoes or mild vegetables and is not restricted to meat stocks. Whisk the liquid into the cooked roux and bring to a gentle rolling boil, whisking all the while and cook for another three minutes or so while it thickens.

     If you wish to make something like sausage gravy to go on biscuits, or grits if you like them, you want thick gravy to hold the pieces of sausage in suspension. So make as above for pan gravies except use 3 tablespoons of flour and use milk for the liquid. If you want it a little richer, use part cream in place of some of the milk.

     Now we get to gravies made from drippings from things like roasts and roasted turkeys and chickens. Obviously you won't have as much liquid as you need from them, so the problem then becomes how to achieve sufficient flavor while making enough gravy and using all water normally means rather tasteless gravy. The best answer is if you happen to have some homemade stock on hand, use it, but frequently you don't. So, for chicken use some canned low sodium-low fat chicken stock from the market and some water. For turkey you can use part chicken stock and part water. For a pork roast you can use part chicken stock and part water. For a beef roast I don't like the available canned beef stocks, so I normally use either bullion cube or more frequently Au Jus mix. For chicken I use half chicken stock, or slightly more, for turkey I use about one third chicken stock, for a pork roast I use one fourth chicken stock and I will also add one fourth of diluted Au Jus. For beef I use diluted Au Jus, meaning that if the package says it makes two cups, I make four cups. Start by removing the excess fat from your roasting pan and add the liquid. As it warms, stir in the proper amount of flour/water mixture to thicken it. It will be the same as described for the chicken stock one above except that you need to use two and a half tablespoons of flour per cup of liquid instead if the one and one half.

     Okay, we now have it roughly the thickness we want, so now it must be seasoned. I hate it, but the proper suggestion is to correct the seasoning, meaning add the proper amount of salt and pepper. Then they never tell you what that amount of salt and pepper is. Bummer. Unfortunately, I can't do much better, but I can offer a few guidelines. If the chicken stock or other liquid was salt free, then it will take between and teaspoon of salt per cup of liquid. The problem is that normally there is already some salt in the stock to make the meat cooked in it taste better, and so what is a person to do. I can only offer my method. Taste it. If your use of salt falls in the normal range, meaning that canned soups don't seem overly salty or need a lot of salt, then add salt until the gravy starts to taste very slightly salty. Remember that most things the gravy is put on are quite bland and so the gravy needs to be slightly more seasoned than many people think so as to make up for the blandness of the food it is used on. So for our four cups of gravy I would likely start by adding a scant teaspoon of salt and then adding smaller and smaller amounts until I reach my goal. I will also say that most poor gravy made in homes is the result of not using enough salt and pepper. While you can add some at the table, if it is very flat you cannot add enough at the table to make it good. Any salt and pepper added at the table should be for minor corrections and not major ones.

     The next problem is pepper. I have never seen anyone recommend enough pepper. In the first place, no one should ever buy ground pepper or use it. Instead buy a good pepper mill and grind it as you use it. Also, do not try to grind if too finely. If you grind it too fine, all you get is hot and none of the good pepper flavor. So set your pepper mill to grind a somewhat coarse grind and get one with a crank on the top. Then grab your trusty pepper mill and grind away. You will want to put enough pepper in to where it is just shy of starting to become hot from pepper, and that takes much more than most people think. It is going to take well over a teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper. Now understand that I like things on the spicy side, but not hot from black pepper. So I'm not trying to make the gravy seem hot, only give it a good flavor. It should not feel hot in your mouth, nor should it leave a hot aftertaste. Be warned, if you insist on using ground pepper you will have to cut the pepper amount down as that stuff has little flavor and is mostly hot.

     Pepper has a lovely flavor, but most people grind it too finely and that brings out the heat. The finer it is ground, the hotter it will be. So the problem is that when finely ground, you cannot use enough of it to get that lovely pepper flavor without burning the top of your head off. My solution is a good pepper mill and never let pre-ground pepper darken your kitchen again. You want heat, there are lots of ways to get heat without using pre-ground pepper. Unfortunately, good pepper mills are expensive, but you want one with a crank on the top so you can grind lots of pepper. Those ones with a knob like thing on top where you turn the whole top will take forever and wear your hands and arms out. My pepper mill is an Atlas and those things cost $55 to $60 bucks online and some stores sell them for more. However, I happen to think they are worth the money. They are good grinders and hold a lot of peppercorns and grind quickly. Having said that, I was disappointed in the salt mill. It grinds great, but I can't see much advantage to freshly ground salt. Yes, sea salts can and do taste differently than common table salt when applied at the table, but I see no advantage in freshly grinding it like I do in pepper. And I see no advantage in using specialty salts in cooking and think they should be reserved for table use. I simply cannot tell the difference in gravy, or other dishes, made with common table salt or fancy sea salts when the salt is used in the preparation of the dish. I can detect the difference on some dishes when I apply it at the table.

     The last thing to discuss is how to add flavor to gravies. A good place to start is adding a few glugs of wine. How much is a glug? I have no idea, but try something on the order of a quarter cup for each two to three cups of gravy. Me, I just dump some in. Be sure and boil it long enough after the wine is added to cook the alcohol off. Use a dry wine so it doesn't make your gravy sweet and use red wine for beef and white wine for most other gravies. I normally use red wine with pork, but I use a little less than I do with beef and you can use white if you have it on hand. A very standard white wine for cooking is Vermouth, but make sure it is dry Vermouth and not sweet Vermouth. If you like martinis you will have dry Vermouth on hand and can use it. Saves opening a bottle of white wine just for cooking and it keeps without going bad.

     You can also add flavor by adding herbs and spices, such as thyme, rosemary and so on. For chicken I like to use a bay leaf and spring of thyme. Be sure and pull the both out before serving. For beef I still like the thyme, but would use rosemary, parsley, cayenne, etc. And for beef a little garlic never hurt anything, so a clove or two would get run through the garlic press and added. Also for beef and pork, an onion run through the food processor until liquefied is a good addition. For a couple of cups of gravy use a quarter to a half of medium yellow onion liquefied. You can also add things like mushrooms. I like to take dried mushrooms and soak them in some hot water for twenty minutes or so, dice them and add them to the gravy, and also add the liquid I soaked them in. Add such mushrooms and their water before cooking the gravy so they can cook while your gravy is boiling and thickening. Be sure to be careful because the dried mushrooms frequently have a little dirt on them and so you need to strain the liquid. I use a coffee filter in a sieve. You can also take those dried mushrooms and run them through the food processor until they are mushroom flour and add them that way, and you won't notice any dirt I promise you, but it always worries me to see it in the bottom of the dish I soaked the mushrooms in and so I strain it out.

     There are a number of other things you can add, such as a squirt or two of Worcestershire, a tablespoon of tomato paste, perhaps some mustard, and so on. As long as it would taste good with the meat, you can probably add a little of it to the gravy.

     You don't have to use flour and can use cornstarch to thicken your gravy, but only use half as much cornstarch as you would flour. You can also use potato starch, or rice starch, or arrowroot, and a number of other things to thicken gravy, but flour is cheap and works well. I sometimes use cornstarch when I want the gravy to look real nice. It leaves the gravy clearer looking, but does not reheat as well.

     I will finish by saying you will have some failures in cooking whether it be gravy or something else. Treat those failures as learning moments and figure out what went wrong. Did you do something wrong, or was it a case of not liking the spices and herbs in the recipe? If the latter, quit using those herbs and spices. If the former, try to figure out what you did wrong so you don't do it again. Most of my failures have been the result on using spices, or a spice combination I don't like. The few other failures were the result of forgetting to put all the ingredients in, or forgetting a step. I learned much more from my failures than I did from my successes.