I Love Corey, Chapter One hundred and six


     I'll start with an apology for the long delay in posting. First I hit a writer's block and then some friends came up with various projects they needed help with. Those projects cut into (actually about eliminated) the time I had to work on the block and so the result was the delay. The worst part is I can't even promise to do better because I'm still having problems with the story and have not resolved things to where I can say there will be no more blocks, plus I'm not sure my friends are going to run out of projects. Guess I'll have to wait and see how it all works out. With that said, on to the disclaimer.

     Short and to the point, Minors Leave! Leave now! Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars. Odd how expressions stick. A silly board game that is played by millions and almost everyone knows exactly what I'm referring to. And really, Monopoly is not that silly of a game. I remember spending many pleasant hours playing it when I was young. And do you remember Col. Mustard with the pipe in the library? While video games are great, I wonder if we are not missing something with them. I remember lots of visiting and kidding around and giggling when playing those old board games. Or the same when playing card games such as Cribbage, or Pinochle, and even Poker. It was more of a social time, although some of the games could get quite serious when adults were playing them. One night I watched a private plane (a Cessna 195) change hands three times in a poker game and the original owner won it back. He quit after that and commented that he was damn glad he had won it back because had he not, he didn't know how he would have explained its loss to his wife. And here I started out to be short and to the point and once again I've run on beyond what is required.
     I'll try again. If descriptions of gay sex offend you, leave! Again, leave now! Wow, that was easy. Now if I can stay on track.

     If the law in your area forbids the reading of this story, again leave! I don't want to make a criminal out of you. Hey, this is going well.

     This story is fiction. Do you think that is enough? I worry that I don't explain things sufficiently and that readers are left wondering what I'm talking about.
     This story is posted for your enjoyment, and as such you are free to download it and even fold, spindle or mutilate it. However, that does not give you the right to claim it or use it in a commercial way.

     Don cast his eyeball on this chapter and suggested corrections for my spelling mistakes. Perhaps he should suggest corrections for my poor writing skills, but that would be asking far too much. I'm not sure all the writing instructors in the world could improve my literary skills.

     As usual you may email with comments, questions, complaints, or suggestions. You may also email asking to be put on the chapter notification list. Just direct all such emails to "fritz@nehalemtel.net" and be sure to put "I Love Corey" in the subject line so I don't delete you without opening. With that, I hope you enjoy the following chapter. Fritz


          `     I Love Corey, Chapter One hundred and Six

     We were still sitting there, me with my arms around JJ's shoulders, when he finally sighed and said, "Thank you."

     I was so surprised it took me a few seconds to think of anything to say. "You-you're welcome," I sputtered. We sat there a couple of minutes longer without saying anything and then JJ got up and grinned and headed for the family room where I could hear the rest of the boys arguing over what program to watch. While watching him walk away I noticed that his carriage was different. He was truly relaxed and no longer had that contained look he normally did. There was more of a free-swinging grace to his movements, much different than his usual tightly controlled manner of walking. I hoped that he would continue to feel accepted and would develop more trust in me, and that as he did the pain of his parents rejection would slowly fade.

     Glancing at my watch I saw that I had plenty of time to start trying to set up appointments so David could meet his prospective tutors so I retrieved the papers with their names and started in.

     Jerry was right and Mr. Fielding was not the most engaging person I have ever talked with on the phone. In fact, he didn't even come close to being pleasant. When I told him he had been recommended as a tutor, he snapped back saying that he doubted I could afford him. The conversation didn't get much better as I tried to tell him that money wasn't a problem and that the only thing that mattered was how well he and David got along, but that didn't make much difference in his attitude. I was about ready to tell him to stuff it and hang up when he said we might as well get it over with and that he would come over and meet David and would tonight be okay to do so, which left me stunned. From all that he had said I couldn't believe that he was willing to even meet me or David, much less consider actually interviewing for the job. Since he lived just outside of Redding it would take him about thirty minutes to get here, and after looking at my watch I told him yes, come on over. When I hung up I was still not sure I'd done the right thing in agreeing, but Jerry had said he was good with kids so I had agreed.

     After checking on the boys and telling David about his prospective tutor, I decided to finish up the paper for Rep. Philson. I had managed to make an outline of what I wanted to write so now it was simply a matter of putting it on paper. Yet doing so was difficult. There were many things wrong with the current testing system that needed fixing, but the concepts behind testing were sound. I had barely gotten started when the doorbell rang and I discovered I'd been working on the paper for longer than I realized.

     In person Mr. Fielding was slightly less obnoxious than on the phone, but only slightly. I was ready to throw him out by the time I finished explaining about David's background and problems. He interrupted constantly and sneered at almost everything I said. Why Jerry had recommended him was beyond me, but I grudgingly got David and introduced him to Mr. Fielding. I'd been informed that I was not welcome at their interview and they stayed in the living room while I went back to my office to work on the paper.

     I finally hit print and was writing Rep. Philson's address on an envelope when I realized it was very quiet in the house. When I glanced at my watch I saw why. Good grief, it was after midnight and the boys had probably gone to bed, yet I could hear some murmuring from somewhere. Then I heard a few giggles and it was very apparent that the boys had not gone to bed so I went to see what was going on.

     I carefully poked my head through the archway to the family room and was surprised by what I saw. There was Mr. Fielding with all the boys clustered around him and David was sort of tucked under Mr. Fielding's arm. David was holding a book and Mr. Fielding was reading aloud from it. What shocked me was what was being read.

"Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—O God! How I loathed the thing."

     Poetry was the last thing I would have thought the boys would enjoy and most of my efforts to direct their attention that way had fallen upon deaf ears, but Mr. Fielding had their complete attention and they were grinning as they listened. He had to complete another stanza before I figured out what poem he was reading, but when he came to the part about `Lake Lebarge' I knew the poem was "The Cremation of Sam McGee," by Robert Service.

     As he continued reading I was struck by the way he put expression into the poem with his voice. He had the boy's imagination captured and when he got to the line about taking a hike because he didn't like to hear him sizzle so, he drew the word sizzle out to add accent to it. It came out more sizzzzzzzzzzle than sizzle.

     I had read "The Cremation of Sam McGee" when in high school, but what Mr. Fielding told the boys, when the poem was finished, I hadn't known. He told them that Sam McGee was a real person and had been a customer in the bank where Robert Service worked, and that the boat, the Alice May, was a real boat except it was actually named the Olive May. He further explained that the cremation had actually taken place although not on Sam McGee, but rather a doctor had been sent to tend a sick prospector and found him dead and frozen and had actually cremated him in the boiler of the Olive May.

     As I stood peeking in, I was struck by the way the boys were sitting. JJ and LT were sitting close together and their hands were casually entwined, as were Kyle and Trey. Mark and Corey were leaning against each other, but were not holding hands. Then there was David and he was tucked so tightly under Mr. Fielding's arm that he was almost part of Mr. Fielding's body.

     "Do you know any more good poems?" Corey asked.

     "That I do," Mr. Fielding replied. "Would you like to hear one about an ice-worm?"

     "What's an ice-worm?" Kyle asked.

     "An ice-worm is, well let's read the poem and then you'll know." With that he thumbed through the book David was holding and started in on "The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail." That was a poem I hadn't read and I was almost as interested as the boys were as I heard about how a bunch of people tricked a fellow who was trying to pass himself off as more than he was.

     As Mr. Fielding was reading the poem I slipped in and sat down beside Corey. Corey then leaned against me and Mark leaned against Corey. About the time the poem was finished Corey reached over and laid his hand on top of mine and without thinking I covered his hand with my other hand.

     When Mr. Fielding finished the poem, he started in explaining what some of it referred to, such as cassowaries being large flightless birds and Timbuktu (spelled Timbuctoo in the poem) being a city in Africa that originally had salt mines making it famous. He even explained that there were some worms called ice-worms, but of course those were not the ones talked about in the poem.
     As he was explaining all that his eyes happened to drift to Corey's and my hands. It took me a while to notice that he was staring at our hands, but his gaze stayed there long enough to where I finally picked up on it. When I finally did I was left wondering what to do. If I jerked my hand away from Corey's hand it would call attention to what we had been doing, and if I left it there the same thing was happening. I was starting to get very nervous when Mr. Fielding sighed and leaned back against his chair. His face took on a gentle smile and he appeared to relax. He raised his eyes and saw I was staring at him, and then he smiled and nodded at me. Suddenly I had no idea what to say or do, but fortunately I was spared by Mr. Fielding and did not have to do anything.

     "If you're still interested, I think we can work something out," he said. "I think I can help David with his reading skills and I'd like to try."

     Before I could come up with an answer David solved one problem by saying, "Can he? Can he please?"

     I don't know which of them startled me more, Mr. Fielding with his complete change in personality or David with his sudden willingness to ask for something. Until now David had never asked for much without me almost dragging the words out of him and there he was, staring intently at me after asking me if Mr. Fielding could be his tutor.

     "Uhh, David, could I talk to you a little first?" I sort of stammered out.

     My heart fell like a stone as I saw David's expression change from eager to crestfallen. Nonetheless he stood and followed me into the computer room, all the while looking at the floor. Once we were seated, the ball was in my court as I knew David would never initiate a conversation, or at least had not been willing to do so for as long as I'd known him.

     "I take it you like Mr. Fielding," I said. I got a weak nod as a reply.

     "Are you sure you like him well enough that you don't wish to meet the others before making your decision?" I asked. Again a weak nod was his answer.

     "Well," I said, "I told you that it was your choice because you were the one who would have to work with him, so if he and I can come to an agreement he'll be your tutor. Just remember that you're not stuck with him forever should you later realize you made a mistake. If he doesn't work out for you we can look again. Will that be acceptable?"

     David looked up at me for the first time since entering the computer room. He had a look of astonishment on his face.

     "You mean I really gets to choose?" he blurted out.

     Inwardly I cringed at his mangling of the language and hoped that Mr. Fielding could do something about that, but I smiled back at him and nodded while saying, "I told you it was your choice and I normally mean what I say. If Mr. Fielding is who you want for a tutor, I'll try to make it happen."

     Suddenly I had boy in my arms and was being hugged tightly. In fact, so tightly hugged that I was surprised that he could squeeze me that hard, or that he hadn't knocked the chair over with the way he slammed into me as he had almost leaped across the floor. After a few seconds his hug relaxed some and I said, "Do you think you could talk with the other boys while I try to work things out with Mr. Fielding?"

     Immediately the hug was released on his part and he grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. He had grown a lot stronger than I had realized and he almost jerked me out of the chair and led me back to the family room. I was amazed at what a decent diet and some exercise could do in such a short time. When he first came to live with me it was about all he could do to move himself about and now he was literally dragging me as though I weighed nothing.

     I grinned at the room full of boys and Mr. Fielding and said, "Looks like you and I have some negotiating to do Mr. Fielding, so if you will come with me we'll get started." Then I glared at the boys and added, "And no listening at the door you knuckleheads. Got that?"

     The fake wounded looks on the boys' faces would not have convinced anyone of their innocence, even a two-year old. I debated about trying to trap them by opening the door quickly after we had been in the computer room a while, but decided not to bother. Instead I decided to talk softly enough to where there was no way they could hear what I was saying. Letting them stand there and try to figure out what was being said should be enough to drive them up a wall. I could only hope that they would not leave ear-prints on the door.

     The negotiations were not what I expected since Mr. Fielding, or Ed as he asked me to call him, wanted less for salary than he had led me to believe he would ask. We quickly reached a compromise of somewhat more than he asked for and it was on to working out the details. That also went quickly and before I knew it, we had worked out most of the details that we could without knowing David's physical therapy schedule. I apologized for not knowing that, but Ed assured me that it wasn't important and he would be more than happy to work around it. By now I was totally flabbergasted over his change in attitude and finally decided to see if I could find out the reason for the change. I probably should have ignored the subject, but I'd always been an intensely curious person and it frequently drove me nuts not to know or understand things like sudden changes in attitude. One of my parent's favorite sayings, when I was peppering them with questions, had been, "Curiosity killed the cat," to which I'd always replied, "But satisfaction brought him back."

     "Why the sudden change in attitude?" I asked, plunging into the subject without thinking about how I sounded. Mr. Fielding's face started to take on a look of anger as I continued running my mouth off. "On the phone you sounded like there was little chance of you taking David on, and here you are almost eager to do so. What caused the change?"

     By the time I finished speaking I realized that I could have phrased the question much more diplomatically, but the words were already out and there was no way I could take them back. I was suddenly almost sick with fear that I had screwed things up and that David would be terribly disappointed. I frantically tried to think of what to say as I watched various expressions wash over Mr. Fielding's face.

     I could feel my face turning red as various thoughts flashed through my mind, but no quick answers came to help me. Fortunately Mr. Fielding suddenly sagged back against his chair and his whole attitude seemed to change. The look of anger was gone and there was only sadness left. It wasn't that I wanted him sad, but at least he no longer appeared angry.

     "You're gay, right? he asked.

     "Yes, but what does that have to do with it?" I answered in a sort of mumbled way. I had no idea what he was driving at or where he was going. I was still trying to come up with a way to lesson the impact of my poorly phrased question.

     "Everything and nothing," Mr. Fielding started. "Everything because you're the opposite of me, and nothing because that should make no difference. You're willing to accept what you are whereas I've never been able to do so. Yes, I'm also gay, but I come from an influential family just outside of Atlanta and Dad is active in his church. When I came out to them right after my high school graduation, I wasn't exactly disowned, but was shipped off with a remittance and the understanding that I was never to show my face around there again. For the last twenty years my only contacts have been checks issued from a trust. Oh they set me up well and sent me to UCLA, and the checks make it so I don't have to work, but that doesn't make up for the loss of family I suffered. I was informed that I was not even permitted to send Christmas cards to any of the rest of my family or my funds would be cut off." There was a pause while he looked down before continuing.

     "I know now that I made a huge mistake and should have stood up for myself, but at the time I was crushed. I was shipped off to a part of the country I didn't really understand and totally cut off from everyone I knew. Some kids would have stood up and fought back, but I was always the shy and retiring kid who stayed in the background. I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I took classes in the one thing that had always interested me, literature. Finally one of my advisors suggested I might like to teach literature because I had volunteered at a library in their reading for kids program. In some ways it was like the kids were my family and so I followed that suggestion and became a teacher."

     Mr. Fielding paused and looked down for a while. I couldn't see his face very well, but it looked as though his eyes were blinking quite rapidly and I was still dumbstruck as I tried to think of something to say. I had no idea where he was going with what he had said so far, and so I still wasn't coming up with anything to say which might diminish the impact of what I'd blurted out in my poorly phrased question. Suddenly he looked up and I could see his tears in his eyes. They hadn't started to run down his face, but they were about to do so.

     "I envy you. I envy your boys," he said. "Looking back I wish I had had the courage to hold my head up and admit that I was gay and go on from there, but after the reaction of my family and friends I was afraid to do so. Your boys' acceptance of themselves as gay shows me what I missed." He looked down some more before continuing. "I've been alone and afraid for so many years and suddenly I discovered boys who are not afraid to be gay. They don't flaunt it, but they accept it. And there you are, accepted and liked by people throughout the community. Can you understand what that shows me? It shows me I've wasted so many years worrying about something that you and your boys don't seen to think is a problem. It shows me I've been a coward, living in fear when there was nothing to fear. Seeing what you have makes me jealous and, well, well I want to by part of it." Suddenly he was almost pleading as he continued with, "Can't you understand? Can't you realize how much it would mean to me to be around people who accept themselves as gay?" His voice dropped again and he finished up by saying, "I've been so foolish and now I see that."

     With that he fell silent again and I could see a few tears trickling down his cheeks. My mind was racing, trying to come up with the right words to explain the boys and myself.

     "Ah Ed, I'm not sure that you've understood the situation completely," I started. "I was just as afraid as you were. I wasn't out until recently, and then it was pretty much forced on me. The funny part is that when I finally did come out I discovered that a lot of people already knew, or at least suspected. If it wasn't for the boys I'd probably still be in the closet."

     "Huh?" he said.

     "It's a long story," I sighed. "It all started with Corey, and then a social worker. I wasn't even out to my family until last fall. I was too afraid."

     "Really?" Mr. Fielding asked. He sounded incredulous.

     By the time I was finished explaining I had covered most of my life up to when Corey entered it. It sounded much worse when I explained it, but when I had been living it, it had seemed like the right thing to do. Mr. Fielding must have agreed because in many places he nodded as I told him about how and why I had decided to act in certain ways, but in the end, fear had won out and the simple truth was that I had been afraid to openly admit I was gay. I'd lied to myself by telling myself I was bisexual when I knew it wasn't the truth, and to everyone else. Mostly it had not been done by actually telling lies, but rather by not saying anything. However, the result was the same. I was ashamed of myself and wasn't even as brave as Mr. Fielding. After all, he had come out to his family, something I hadn't managed to do when my parents were still alive.

     Then I was faced with trying to explain about Corey and how I'd fallen in love with him. That was difficult to do without letting on that we were lovers, but I did my best to try to explain about how I met him and how I had fallen in love with him. While I had felt sorry for him when I first met him, that alone was not the reason I fell in love with him. I was left mumbling something about Corey's quiet strength and dignity in the face of adversity as my reason, but it sounded inadequate, even to me. All I knew was that somewhere along the way I had fallen in love with him and admired him in ways that I could not explain. Perhaps it was his continuing to try long after most people would have given up that attracted me. Perhaps it was the fact that he had faced his problems and was willing to continue on, something I had been unable to do. For all the fact that he was still a boy, there was a quiet strength to Corey that I had never encountered in anyone, and I wanted to share in it. How many young people, when faced with a drug addicted mother and little food, could have remained unembittered and continued to strive as best he could?

     Finally I got around to finishing up and explaining about Judy and how she had almost forced me to take on JJ and LT. I struggled through that while, I hoped, keeping Corey's and my true relationship still quiet, but it was becoming more difficult to do so. I was making it a point to not tell any lies, but sometimes I left out a lot. I was left hoping that Mr. Fielding would not examine what I was telling him very closely because even a cursory examination would soon lead anyone with half a brain to the truth. I kept wanting to shut up and be done with my explanation, but Mr. Fielding showed his interest with those little encouraging type noises and questions which left me no way to gracefully quit. Not only that, it was very late and I was getting tired and so I probably was letting slip things I would have rather kept secret. Still Mr. Fielding seemed sympathetic and with his encouragement I continued on through Kyle, Mark, and David's joining my now not so little family.

     By the time I was up to date in explaining how my family came to be, it was very late and I was more than ready for bed. We exchanged a few more words and then Ed stood and prepared to leave. When he opened the door, there was only one boy outside the door, and it was David. He was slumped against the wall across from the door and had dozed off with Dog's head on his lap. I wished I had my new camera handy because they presented such a great picture together.

     I escorted Ed to the door and we said goodnight. Then I headed back to try and get David to his room and in bed. I stopped along the way to turn a few lights off and just before I started on David, there was a knock at the door.

     "My car won't start," Ed told me when I opened the door. "The battery acts dead. Can I use your phone? I forgot my cell phone," he continued.

     "Sure," I answered as I let him back in. About then my brain kicked into gear. "The only problem with that is there's nobody open to fix it. Why don't you spend the night and tomorrow we can check it out. I've got spare bedrooms and I know there is one store open tomorrow that sells batteries. We could pick one up and install it."

     "I couldn't impose on you like that," Ed replied.

     "Not much of an imposition," I answered. "So I have to throw an extra hotcake or two on the griddle for breakfast, so what. It would also give you a little more time to get acquainted with David."

     It didn't take much more to convince him and so we headed back to get David on his feet and to his room. That was somewhat more difficult than I had expected. The best that can be said is that I finally made a sleepwalker out of him because I'm sure he never completely woke up. Even when we got to his room the only thing he could do was flop on the bed making no effort to get undressed and into that bed. For all intents and purposes I had a dead body to undress and he never appeared to move a muscle while I stripped his shoes, jeans, and sport shirt off and finally got him in between the sheets. I've heard the expression, `Dead to the world,' and David pretty much filled the bill as an example of it.

     After getting David in bed, I guided Ed to the room that Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy normally used and told him to sleep as late as he wanted. By the time I got myself into bed, it was almost two-thirty. It had been a long day, but things had gone pretty well. I hadn't found any time to have a conversation with Trey, but he and Kyle seemed to be happy and busy so maybe I could get that done tomorrow morning before we headed to the gun club.

     Corey was on his side and so I worked my way across the bed and snuggled up behind him. He seemed to sense my presence and as soon as I got close sagged back against me with a soft sigh. I draped my arm across his midriff and buried my nose in his hair. All was now right with my world and it wasn't long before sleep claimed me.

     For a change I didn't wake up at the usual time, but managed to sleep until almost seven-thirty. Not only that, there was no Corey beside me. Instead, he was finishing dressing and grinned at me while saying, "Look who finally woke up?'

     "You're a cheeky little sod," I answered.

     "Oh, you're acting very Brit-tish this morning," he snickered. "I knew I shouldn't let you read that book on traveling in England," referring to a book he had suggested while trying to talk me into the idea that we should all take our summer vacation there. "Your British accent is almost as bad as your German one."

     "Get your ass to the kitchen and squeeze some orange juice," I muttered. "And don't forget to start the coffee," I added in a louder voice.

     With that said I lurched to my feet and headed for the bathroom to start my morning routine. I was still debating about traveling overseas for our vacation, but there was so much going on I wasn't sure we could find the time. I knew the reason Corey wanted to go was because he had seen several pictures in the book and thought the English countryside would be inspire some paintings. The rest of the boys thought it was a good idea also, that is until they learned exactly what Corey wanted to see. After that they had become a little more reserved about the idea. Looking at museums and old castles was not high on their agendas. Corey's suggestion that we should also make a trip to the Louvre Museum so we could see all the famous paintings had not inspired them and instead they had suggested that there must be some good museums in Los Angles and Disneyland was close. It was pretty obvious that only Corey was interested in paintings and the rest of them wanted to go to an amusement park.

     By the time I had cycled myself through the shower and donned some clothes the coffee was done and it was with great anticipation that I poured my first cup and settled in to see what the paper had to say. That didn't get very far because boys were showing up and complaining of starvation, so I gave up on the paper and started in on breakfast. At least I had gotten part of my first cup of coffee consumed and I knew I could manage a few more sips while I cooked. The boys had talked me into fixing the last of the frozen trout to go with some hotcakes and eggs, but I had forgotten to ask Mr. Fielding if he liked pan-fried trout. Oh well, if he didn't I had some bacon I could serve him.

     I was in full cooking mode when Fred showed up. It had been some time since Fred had showed up for breakfast, but everyone was treating it like it was normal so I simply asked if Vern would be coming also. Fred got a sort of sheepish look and told me he thought so because Nancy was supposed to help furnish refreshments at church and had forgotten until this morning and had nothing prepared. Fred was right and in a short time both Vern and Mike showed up looking hungry so I got out the bacon and started cooking some of it also. I also added a couple more cups of flour to the hotcake batch and Corey squeezed some more orange juice. At the rate things were going I was going to have to get a bigger stove in order to feed everyone.

     I hadn't realized that Vern knew Mr. Fielding, but from their conversation it was apparent that they had gotten acquainted when Mr. Fielding taught here. While they were visiting I finally got enough trout and bacon cooked to where it was time to start on the hotcakes. I could only crowd twenty-four on my griddle at one time so it would take several batches to fill everyone up.

     It takes a gob of hotcakes to fill eleven hungry teens up and by the time I got to eat, the trout were history. I was lucky to snare a couple of strips of bacon to compliment my hotcakes and eggs. There was barely enough syrup left for my hotcakes and I could see I was again going to have to stock up, but even Dog had had his fill and instead of trying to beg some bites from me he had flaked out smack dab in the middle of the doorway to the rest of the house. Dog liked it there because he could watch us and yet lay on the carpet. The only problem with that is he acted wounded when we tried to step over him and would finally sigh and move when the traffic became too heavy.

     As the boys were cleaning up the kitchen Vern turned to me and asked, "How in the hell do you get them to wash the dishes?"

     "Easy," I grinned and replied. "If they don't clean-up, I don't cook. Since they like to eat they clean things up." That produced some chuckles from Vern and Kath, but Mr. Fielding didn't seem to think it was that funny.

     Since things appeared under control I decided it was time to check out Mr. Fielding's battery problem. When I brought it up, Vern immediately acted interested and so off we went to see why Ed's car would not start. Vern asked for my voltmeter and as soon as the hood was up, checked the battery. It read only ten volts which was way too low.

     "Get your jumper cables Sam and we'll get it started and see what the alternator is doing," Vern said.

     I walked over to the shop and started the pickup and drove it up beside Mr. Fielding's car. It didn't take long for Vern to connect the jumper cables and after a few minutes he told Mr. Fielding to try to start his car. It started right up and that brought a big smile from him, but Vern removed the jumper cables and took my meter and again tested the voltage at the battery. Now the reading was about ten and a half volts, still too low.

     "I don't think the battery is the problem," Vern said. "It acts like the alternator's bad. Did the alternator light come on when you turned the key on?" he asked Ed.

     "I didn't notice," Ed replied.

     "Shut if off and then turn the key back on. The idiot light should come on," Vern told him.

     Ed shut the car off and then turned the key back on. The oil pressure light came on, but not the alternator light. Vern sighed and said, "I don't know if it is the alternator or the light or the wiring, but we need to test and see." With those words he took the meter and returned to under the hood. I could see him reach in and unplug a wire from the alternator and then check to see if there was any voltage there. There was none.

     "Dang," Vern said. "I'm not getting a reading and that means the wire is broke or that there is some reason there is nothing coming down the wire." With that he walked back to the door and leaned down and looked under the dash.

     "Get me a flashlight and a screwdriver Sam," Vern directed me. "It might be that the light bulb in the dash failed and if that burns out no electricity makes it to the excite circuit of the alternator. Bring your battery charger along with it and we can charge on the battery while I'm checking the bulb."

     "What kind of screwdriver?" I asked.

     "Looks like a number two Phillips," Vern answered.

     Soon Vern was lying on his back with his head under the dash on the driver's side. I heard some muttering and a couple of minutes later he wriggled his way out with a small plastic thingy in his hand. Passing the plastic thingy to me he pivoted around and got out of the car and took the plastic thingy and removed a light bulb from it. I knew that you could test light bulbs and fuses with the ohm tester built into my meter, but in this case that was not necessary. The bulb was black on the inside which told us all we needed to know.

     "I think a new bulb will fix things up," Vern said.

     "You mean that's all that's wrong," Ed said.

     "Probably, but we won't know for sure until we try a new bulb," Vern replied.

     So the three of us hopped in my pickup and headed for a service station to see if we could find a new light bulb. I had a couple of tail and stop light bulbs, but nothing that was small enough to fit the little plastic thingy. Fortunately the service station had some and it wasn't long before we were back, complete with a couple of bulbs. Vern complained some about how hard it was to reach the place where the plastic thingy plugged into the back of the instrument cluster, but after some fiddling around he pronounced the job completed and wriggled his way out from under the dash. After plugging the wire back into the alternator it was again turn the key on and test, but this time the light came on and when the car was started the voltage jumped up to almost thirteen volts.

     "I thought the alternator was supposed to supply fourteen volts," I told Vern.

     "It is, but with a low battery it will take time for the alternator to raise the voltage that much. Wait a few minutes and then test and I'll bet it's a lot closer," he replied.

     Sure enough, five minutes later the voltage was up to thirteen and a half volts. With that we picked up my stuff and put it in the pickup and I drove the pickup back to the shop. Leaving Mr. Fielding's car running we went back in the house for another cup of coffee.

     By the time we finished our cups of coffee it was almost time to get ready for church. Mr. Fielding was almost effusive in his thanks to Vern, but Vern brushed it off like it was nothing. Soon Vern and his boys headed home, and Mr. Fielding headed for Redding.

     As we were heading for church Corey said, "Looks like it's going to rain."

     "Yeah," I replied. "It had a raw feel while Vern was working on Mr. Fielding's car. That storm seems to be ahead of schedule. It wasn't supposed to get here until late this evening."

     "We still going shooting?" LT asked.

     "Depends on when the rain starts and if you want to shoot in the rain," I replied.

     That brought about some discussion about shooting in the rain. The boys were still talking about it when we arrived at church, but had reached no decision. By the time the service was over it was raining hard and as soon as we were in the Gator the boys decided that shooting had lost its appeal for the day. Trey appeared disappointed so I told him he was welcome to join us any weekend and go shooting and that seemed to brighten him back up. So far he and Kyle appeared to be having a good time and were grinning every time I looked at them. I suspected that I was witnessing a serious case of lust developing, but didn't say anything for fear of embarrassing them. It wasn't that I was worried about embarrassing Kyle, but I was afraid that Trey would take it wrong and get upset. I could wait until he had been around us longer and was surer of himself.

     Yesterday had been one of those beautiful spring days that you get in California, but today was doing its best to balance things out. It was at least fifteen degrees cooler and between the rain and the wind it felt even worse when I stopped just outside the garage to let the boys out. While it was possible to get the Gator inside and still get out of it, the various bikes and other stuff had finally more than filled the second stall and I was going to have to hold a garage cleaning so we could once again swing the vehicle doors open. I had thought that the shop would solve that problem, but that had been wistful thinking on my part. The boys had claimed the spare stall for their bikes and then added to confusion with the riding mower and skateboards and the baseball equipment and so on. Thank God I hadn't kept any of the pitching machines at home or there wouldn't have been room for the Gator. I kept trying to convince them that they could store their bikes in the shop where there was lots of room, but they complained that it was too far away. Too far away? I mean it wasn't like an additional fifteen steps or so would kill them, but they sure acted like it would. Then they had the audacity to whine over getting out in the rain. I finally chased them out of the Gator and parked it. I just barely had room to open the door far enough to get out, but finally managed to make it past the Gator and into the house. There I found boys in the kitchen looking pathetic.

     "What's for lunch?" JJ asked.

     "Lunch," I replied. "What happened to all those cookies and other goodies you ate at church?

     "That was just a snack," he replied. Not only that, he appeared serious when he said it. All I could do was shake my head and start looking for something to fix for lunch.

     "Well," I said, "if you are willing to peel some potatoes and wait for it to cook, I've got some clams and we could have clam chowder."

     The boys exchanged glances and suddenly started moving. Out came the potatoes and the potato peeler and we were off and running. I got out the stockpot and diced up some bacon and started it cooking. By the time the bacon was cooked down, the boys had peeled and diced sufficient potatoes and onions for the chowder. After pouring off part of the bacon grease and removing the bacon, I added the diced onion and started it cooking. So far we were in ten minutes of prep time. Another five minutes and the onions were translucent and I added the rest of the ingredients. It would take about twenty minutes for the potatoes to cook once the liquid reached boiling.

     Once the chowder was cooking Kyle and Mark unloaded the dishwasher of the morning dishes while the rest of the boys set the table with bowls and spoons. Corey came in waving a couple bottles of chardonnay from Chile. "Think this one will go with the chowder?" he asked.

     I was a little surprised at Corey bringing out wine for lunch and it must have showed on my face because he subtly nodded towards Trey. Suddenly I understood that he was trying to see that everything was as perfect as he could make it for Kyle and Trey. "Yeah," I answered. "That one ought to be perfect. It's light on oak and should go well with the chowder."

     It was a good thing that the batch of chowder was big and that I had plenty of crackers on hand because the boys inhaled it like they had been starved for months. They all had two huge bowls and most ate part of a third serving. I had originally thought there would be plenty left for me to take some to school for my lunch, but that clearly was not possible now. Ah well, at least they appeared to enjoy it. When all the dirty dishes were in the dishwasher Corey brought up the subject of dinner by asking, "What's for dinner?"

     "I haven't decided yet because we need to go shopping and see what's available. I thought we could do that when we take Trey home," I replied. I continued, "I originally thought we could take him home directly from the gun club and then stop and pick something up."

     Corey glanced around before he asked, "Why don't you invite Trey's parents to dinner? I think Kyle would enjoy having him around a little longer." As he finished saying that a little smirk formed on Corey's face. It was obvious that Corey and I were both thinking the same thing about Kyle and Trey.

     The more I thought about Corey's suggestion, the better it sounded. While Bob would be here to give Corey his art lesson, there was no reason that I couldn't entertain Mr. and Mrs. Eagan while the lesson was taking place. "Sounds like a good idea," I replied. "Let's see if Trey likes the idea and then you and I can go shopping."

     It didn't take long to get the answer and call the Eagan's. A few minutes later Corey and I were headed for Downie's Market to see what looked good.

     Much as I loved the other boys, the little periods of time I managed to be alone with Corey were special. Granted it was only a few blocks to the market, but during the drive I used my left hand to steer and my right to hold Corey's hand. Yes we had our time in bed, but the rest of the time I was uncomfortable showing much affection with the rest of the boys around. We didn't say anything, but simply enjoyed being together by ourselves. Even on drives like this we each set on our own side so that anyone seeing us would never notice anything between us. At first Corey had wanted to sit next to me, but we had talked it over and decided that there was too much risk in actions like that and so had limited ourselves to those few times and minutes when no one else could see us.

     I don't know how other people shop, but once in the market we headed for the meat department. Once the meat was decided upon we could figure out what to serve with it. The problem was that the meat department was not talking to either Corey or me and so we kept wandering around trying to figure out what would make a good dinner. After about the third trip up and down the meat display case Corey suggested checking out the Deli section to see if anything there would inspire either of us.

     As we approached the Deli section Ellen cornered us. That required the usual ten minutes while we filled her in on what was going on in our lives, as if she didn't know. I swear that woman has a better intelligence operation than any government as her first questions concerned Trey and the Eagan's. However it turned out to be time well spent because as we were standing there visiting, the lady in the department placed a boneless pork-roast in the case.

     "How about a cassoulet?" I interrupted Ellen to ask Corey.

     His eyes lit up and he grinned.

     "What's a cassoulet?" Ellen asked.

     "It's a bean casserole," I answered. "Its got meat and beans and sausage and a whole bunch of stuff in it."

     Before I got away I had invited Ellen and Carl to join us for dinner and I had two pork roasts for the main meat in the cassoulet. After that it was easy to pick up the rest of the needed supplies, but as usual I had two carts overflowing and that didn't cover the two cases of oranges. Then it was home to start cooking.

     When I got home the first thing was to cook the beans. A couple of pounds of white beans went into a pot, along with a couple of diced onions. Some salt and pepper, a couple of bay leaves, a couple of sprigs of thyme, a few cloves of minced garlic, along with some canned chicken stock and a little wine were added to where there was enough liquid to cook the beans. I would have preferred to soak the beans, but a longer cooking time would have to suffice today. While I could have used canned beans, these would have a better flavor.

     While the beans were cooking, I fried the hot Italian sausage and the Bratwursts. I also peeled the ham of its outside skin and sliced it up. The pork roasts were quickly sliced and I was to the point where I could do nothing more on the cassoulet until I assembled it.

     Since it was still raining I decided to see if the boys had made up their minds about building a new house. While I had planned on doing that after dinner, inviting guests made that unlikely now.

     Once everyone was assembled in the family room I started in. "I know you guys are concerned about having Uncle Matt and family close, and I understand the problem. I've thought it over and have come to the conclusion that it likely will make little difference whether or not we build on Matt's property or stay here. As you know the distance between houses would be about a quarter of a mile and about the only downside would be Kristen and Kevin. Even if we stay in this house, I'm going to have to start saying no to Uncle Matt and I can do so here or there.

     "The second thing is that no matter what the decision, it will take time to build all three houses. Since Matt and Bruno need their houses more than we do, our house would be built last. So even if we decide to build out there they will be there before our house would be finished. The way I see it is that Bruno's house needs to be completed first, followed by Uncle Matt's, and then ours if we decide to build there. My guess is that Bruno's and Uncle Matt's places might be done about fall and that would mean that even if we go for it it would likely take until Christmas before our house could be completed, and maybe even later depending upon the weather.

     "So with that in mind we need to make a decision, or rather two decisions. Should we build a new house out there, and if so do we like any of the plans submitted so far? Remember, we can find a piece of property somewhere else to build on if that is what you want."

     "I like Kevin and Kristen, but I don't want them sleeping over all the time," Corey said.

     "I doubt that they would do that very often, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them invade us for things like breakfast, especially on weekends," I answered him. "Besides, both of them are growing and my guess is that they won't want to sleep with us much longer. Yes, they will likely want to hang around with you some, but the age difference will cut down on that."

     Several more things were discussed about how living close to Uncle Matt might affect us, but in the end the boys seemed to agree that it probably wouldn't make much difference whether we built a house on his property or continued to live here. Once that was settled, it was on to which set of plans they liked the best or were any of them that much better than continuing to live in our present house.

     The various submissions from the architect all had good features, but in the end we all agreed on one. Its basic layout was in the form of an L with one end being for us and the other end being for Kath. At the corner of the L was a huge garage and over the garage was an area for an additional apartment for guests and could be used by either family. Kath's end would have four bedrooms and there would be six bedrooms on our leg with the apartment having an additional two bedrooms along with an open area that consisted of an abbreviated kitchen at one end and a living area at the other. I thought everything was agreed upon and the discussion was over when Kyle brought up the fact that even though the garage was big enough for four cars that probably would not be sufficient. I could see right then that every boy had visions of his own car along with a garage to park it in. At the rate they were going on about parking space I would have to build a parking garage big enough for a shopping mall. Pointing out that there would be additional space in the old barn even with the trailer stored there was an exercise in futility. I finally left them arguing about it and retreated to the kitchen to check on dinner. At the rate they were going it didn't look like they were going to agree on any of the sets of plans so I felt safe leaving them alone for a while.

     The beans needed more liquid so I added some water and then started on the salad. Since it was only going to be a simple green salad it didn't take long to prepare and after that I cut up the mushrooms for the cassoulet. Then it was time for the garlic bread. I took some butter and mixed in some minced parsley, minced basil, and some minced garlic and set it aside to meld the flavors. I then grabbed some Parmesan cheese and grated it to sprinkle on after the bread was buttered. That only left dessert and I was taking the easy way out and had a carrot cake I'd picked up at Downie's for that. While my carrot cake was slightly better, it was much easier to buy one.

     I had just headed back to the family room when I remembered that I needed to make some breadcrumbs to top the cassoulet, so back to the kitchen where I put some bread through the food processor and then mixed some grated Parmesan cheese into it. I'd sprinkle that over the cassoulet about twenty minutes before serving and brown it under the broiler.

     I was right and the boys still couldn't make up their minds on which house they wanted. I was somewhat amused to see Trey was in the thick of the argument as though he had a say in the decision, but then maybe he did. After all, if he and Kyle became an "Item," they would want things the way they wanted them. Now I was left wondering what the results of their lust would be. Oh well, I wasn't going to worry about it because teens fall in and out of lust faster than anything except Mrs. Downie's intelligence network and nothing is faster than that.

     The second that thought flashed through my mind I was scared. What if Corey suddenly decided that he no longer loved me? What if it had been lust all this time and I had mistakenly labeled it as love? I had to get out of there before I broke down and cried, so I got up and headed for the bathroom. With the boys still arguing over the house plans I hoped they would not notice, but I needed time to pull myself back together. I was once again in the throws of fear: fear that Corey didn't actually love me, fear that I would lose him by being found out and arrested for child molestation, fear that I was destroying him by not allowing him to grow up normally. These were the same old fears that I had suffered many times late at night when I was trying to fall asleep, but those times I didn't have to present a brave face. Today I needed to get my act together so I could entertain the Eagan's and Bob. By the time I opened my bathroom door I could barely see enough to see the knob. My heart was breaking over something that had not happened and might not happen, but I was scared just the same.

          To be continued...

     I also talked about cassoulets in chapter 31, so you can refresh your memory there. I also suggest checking out Jacques Pepin at this link for further thoughts on them


     In the next chapter I'll finish this cassoulet, but really there is no set recipe. It's one of those dishes that you can use almost anything in and it will be good. For myself, the Italian sausage is the hot kind because I like things spiced up more than many people do, but if you like your food mild, use the mild Italian sausage or part hot and part mild.

     Sharp readers will notice that I added salt to the liquid in which the beans are being cooked. I realize that many cooks consider that a no-no because it makes the beans tougher. While I do agree that the beans are slightly firmer, they taste much better and besides, the skin is the only part that is tougher. I actually think it produces a better bean because the beans have less of a tendency to burst and turn to mush, and to call them tough is a real stretch. Anyhow, try cooking your beans with salt and pepper and see if you don't think they taste better and that the little increase in skin toughness does not matter. So it takes a fraction of an ounce more bite to break the skin, so big deal. My experiments tell me that few people will be able to detect the additional toughness of the bean skin, but they will be able to tell how much better the beans taste.

     As for clam chowder, while I have mentioned it a number of times and even come close to giving a recipe in chapter 90, I suppose I could be a little more specific. The bad part is finding clam juice at reasonable prices. Mostly you find those little bottles in the market and they charge an arm and a leg for them. I buy my clam juice from a restaurant supply business and it comes in 46-ounce cans for around 2 bucks. Anyhow, take a can of clam juice and a can of clams about the same size as the juice can for a good-sized batch of chowder. Start by dicing about a half pound of bacon and cooking it until crisp. (For a change of pace, use salt pork if you can find it. While it won't have the smoky taste, I like it.) Remove the bacon and pour off part of the bacon grease and then add a couple of diced medium onions and sauté until the onions are translucent. Then add the clams and clam juice and enough diced potatoes to where the liquid just barely covers the potatoes. I normally use about a 3/8ths dice, but a half-inch dice works just as well. Grind in about a teaspoon of black pepper and cook until the potatoes are tender. Then add the bacon back into the chowder.

     Now you will have to make a decision. If it is important that your chowder have a nice white color you will need to use half and half, about the same amount as you had liquid to begin with. Since you had 46 ounces of clam juice, plus the juice the clams were packed in, that means about two quarts of half and half.

     On the other hand, if you don't mind the chowder having a somewhat grayish yellow cast, add four 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk. It won't look quite as nice, but the evaporated milk will give the chowder a nice mouth feel, better than the half and half, without adding all the fat. Plus, it is cheaper.

     On special occasions I have used the half and half, but just between you and me I like it better made with the evaporated milk. Anyhow, once the chowder comes back up to a simmer, add some instant mashed potatoes to slightly thicken it, like about a half-cup. To be honest, that is the only use I have ever found for instant mashed potatoes because I can't stand them for anything else. Of course you can use any mashed potatoes you happen to have, but I never seem to have any around when I make chowder so I use the instant ones. A few minutes of simmering should cook the instant potatoes. When you serve, a small pat of butter floated on top is a good idea. Be sure to check for salt and pepper when you add the instant potatoes and adjust if necessary. Between the clam juice and clams you probably will not need much salt, but it will take quite a bit of pepper. And sorry, but you don't need any other spices in your clam chowder. I know, lots of people like adding something to make their chowder a little different or distinctive, but why louse up perfectly good chowder? Just make a nice honest chowder and let it go at that. Take it from one who likes to spice up food, clam chowder does not need nor benefit from that approach.