I Love Corey, Chapter Ninety-nine




     Let me make this crystal clear, young people, who are people below the age of eighteen in some areas and twenty-one in others, are not supposed to be reading this story. Why is that you ask? Well it seems as if some people have taken it upon themselves to protect all such little kiddies from the evils of mean old me. And you know what, they may very well be right and perhaps you do need protection from me. In fact, perhaps I need protection from me, although I do have to confess that it has been more than a few years since I fit in those age groups. Anyhow, they have it all figured out that poor impressionable young people will learn all kinds of evil things from reading this story. Since I've always thought that knowledge was the key to understanding, I have a few problems with those people, but alas, they are in power and I'm not. So for those of you who fall within the age groups forbidden to read this story, sorry, you must go elsewhere to learn the information you seek. Instead of reading this story I recommend getting together with your friends and whispering back and forth out behind the barn, or some other place of privacy, where you will learn such interesting things as you will grow hair on the palms of your hands from masturbating; that you will develop pimples for the same reason; and numerous other old wives tales, none of which are true by the way. I mean ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw someone with hair on the palms of his hands. Since studies show that almost all people masturbate, there should be many hairy palms and I don't recall noticing any. And the one about going blind, well then most of the population would be blind, but the fact is they aren't. Oh, one last thing, you will have pimples whether you masturbate or not so don't look upon pimples as the way to see who is "DOING THAT." I mean really, surely you don't think you are the only person in the world to discover that playing with yourself feels good.

     Then there are those of you who just happened to stumble onto this story and need to be warned that it occasionally contains descriptions of gay sex acts. Do you really expect me to believe that? I am at a total loss as to how you could just stumble onto Nifty and this story without searching for it. I mean you have to open several pages to find this story so I find that difficult to believe. Ah well, perhaps it is the evil computer Gods who hijacked your computer and magically transported you to this page. So if that is what happened to you, leave now before you see something in the story which causes your mouth to drop open and certain parts of your body to react. Should you not escape from this page quickly enough, go take a cold shower until those body parts are once again placid, or is that flaccid, or both. I can make a decent argument for either word.

     For those poor individuals who happen to live in certain areas of the world where the rulers have taken it upon themselves to forbid the reading of stories such as this even for adults, I'm sorry for you. That you continue to allow those rulers to govern your life is something only you can change, but for now you must leave. You can't even be like the young people who lurk and read when no one is watching. Why is that you ask. Well the young people in more enlightened areas of the world will only be scolded, but the rulers of your areas tend to be somewhat harsher, think hanging, or stoning to death, or a number of other things.

     This story is complete fiction, and should you think otherwise, you need lessons in logic. Anyhow, none of the characters exist, and none of the happenings described in the story ever took place. I know you have no reason to trust me, but believe me on this.

     I would appreciate it if you credited me when quoting anything from the story, and should you be far smarter than I am and figure out a way to make money from this story, sharing that money will insure that I continue to write. While praise is nice, money is even better.

     Don is one of those people who look out for you by catching my many mistakes in the story. His work helps make the story much better and you owe him your thanks, just as I do. If you were familiar with my spelling ability, you would quickly realize how much help he is.

     As usual, send all question, complaints, comments, or suggestions to "fritz@nehalemtel.net" and be sure to put "I love Corey" in the subject line or you risk being deleted. No, not you personally, but your email. With that, I hope you enjoy the following chapter. Fritz


                    I Love Corey, Chapter Ninety-nine

     Upon hearing the words, `great Mr. Lofton,' I froze. My mind was whirling, trying to see if I detected any sarcasm, or just what Judge Strickland was driving at. I was starting to panic when he continued.

     "In all the years I've been on the bench I've never seen a simple adoption case elicit as much interest from as many people as this one has. The half dozen character letters your attorney furnished were ample, but the additional ones make for interesting reading. In all they total sixty-seven and are from a broad cross-section of the community.

     "I've also never seen so many people who were willing to attend a preliminary hearing. While I don't know that they are all here to support you, I do know several of the letter writers and recognized them in the audience, so at least part of them are.

     "It seems as if everyone from the mayor to the school custodian is determined to see that I know they think you should be granted custody of those boys. I might even have to call the National Guard to protect myself should I rule against you," he chuckled. "So tell me why you want to adopt them."

     My heart was still pounding and I didn't know what to say and couldn't think. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my mind. "Be-because I love them," I stammered out.

     Judge Strickland didn't say anything, but continued to watch me as if he expected more of an answer.

     "I mean-well-they need-well," I started, but couldn't form any coherent thoughts. I knew I needed to get a hold of myself so I tried to relax and I took a deep breath before trying again. "They needed a place to live and I've got plenty of room." Jeez, what a lame answer flashed through my mind as soon as I said it. The judge is going to think I'm an imbecile unless I do better than that was my next thought. I didn't know what to say and so I froze up again, desperately wishing I could think of something intelligent to say. At the rate it was going Judge Strickland was going to have me locked up to protect me because it was apparent that I wasn't able to care for myself based on my lack of ability to answer simple questions.

     Had it not been for Judge Strickland asking me why I thought they needed a place to live I might never have said anything which made much sense, but once he gave me a place to start from I finally got my mind under control and started in telling him about how I met Corey and why I ended up with him. The more I talked, the more control I got over my emotions, and as I worked my way through telling him about how Mrs. Babcock would disappear and leave Corey on his own for several days at a time, and that he loved her and I didn't want to be responsible for having her lose custody of him, and the way we had solved that by me becoming his joint guardian, and how she had died, I was starting to do pretty well at explaining.

     Once I finished explaining about Corey, it was on to JJ and LT, and I explained to the judge how Judy had thought that I was a good choice to foster them and had talked me into doing so. In the middle of that I realized that I had outed myself to the judge, but at the time it had seemed so natural to explain that she thought I would be able to understand them and help them because I was gay. Suddenly I was tongue tied again and couldn't go on, but Judge Strickland offered me a glass of water and the way he did it seemed like he really cared and wasn't judging me. My hand was shaking when I took the glass, but at least I didn't spill any of the water.

     I was still shaky, but after the drink I finished telling about JJ and LT before moving on to explain about Kyle and Mark. I told him about Judy wanting to place Kyle with me and that it was only when we realized that he had a brother did Mark enter the picture. I eventually reached the end of telling him why they were living with me.

     "You still haven't told me why you want to adopt them," Judge Strickland said.

     "Yes I did. I told you I loved them. It didn't start that way, but the more I got to know them, and the more I saw what fine young men they were, the more I liked them. That like turned into love. I look at them and I can't understand why their parents didn't love them. How could anyone beat one of them, or leave them alone with nothing in the house to eat? They needed someone and suddenly I wanted to be that someone. I wanted to try to make up for all the bad things which had happened to them. I wanted to see they were safe and had plenty to eat, and go to college if they want to. You've talked to them. Can you truthfully say they should be condemned just because most of them are gay? As it happens I can afford them so I'm in a position to be that someone who watches out for them and tries to help them grow up. I don't know that I'm the best person for that, but if not me, then who? We're all aware that teenagers are the hardest to find good foster homes for and I'm willing to try, so why not me?"

     Judge Strickland developed a sort of smile and said, "I'm the one who is supposed to ask questions." Suddenly my face felt like it was on fire.

     "I'm sorry your honor," I answered him. I realized I'd been so busy trying to tell him why I thought he should award custody to me that I'd forgotten everything that Russ had told me about only answering questions and not volunteering any information. The boys meant that much to me. I could now only hope that I hadn't spoiled the chances of that happening.

     Judge Strickland looked down and started going through some of the pile of papers on his desk. He handed me one saying, "What do you think of this?"

     My heart was in my throat as I tried to focus on the letter he had handed me. Then like magic, I saw it was written by Mrs. Webb. She went on and on about how much Corey had changed and how much his grades had improved after I had gotten involved in taking care of him. Her final sentences summed up her opinion on the adoptions quite clearly when she said, "While Corey was the first, all of the boys are doing better in school since they started living with Mr. Lofton. They are much happier and appear better adjusted and it is my opinion that they should continue living with him. It would be a travesty of justice not to award him custody."

     I didn't know what to say because the first part of her letter had been on what a fine teacher and person she thought I was. I knew we got along and liked each other, but her letter was way beyond like. And I couldn't believe her comments on how my arrival had helped change not only my classes, but the whole student body. She positively gushed with praise for me.

     About the time I finished reading that letter, Judge Strickland handed me another one. It was written by the mother of a student I had had my first year and she wanted to tell what a difference I had made in her daughter's attitude towards school. She said her daughter had not cared for school, but after taking a class from me had suddenly started liking school and her grades had picked up. I remembered her daughter as a somewhat shy and quite intelligent young lady who over the course of the year had started coming out of her shell more. She was now in high school so we didn't see each other very often, but she always had a smile for me if we met and was doing well in her schoolwork.

     The judge then handed me another letter. This one was from Rob Stanton and Lee Cummings, and in it Lee told about how he was going to commit suicide and how I had talked him out of it and helped him find his real father. Rob said that he was proud to know me and that he had never met a better person and would be more than happy to trust his children to me should something happen to him. Reading what Lee felt as he stood on the bridge and looked down still scared me.

     I finally looked up with tears in my eyes. It still hurt me to think that all of us had missed what had been happening to Lee and how that had almost cost him his life.

     "There's more," Judge Strickland said while waving a pile of papers, "but they all say the same things. When I was first a judge there was almost no chance of awarding a gay man custody of any children, even his own. Times have changed and now some of us see what a mistake that was. You seem to have had a very positive effect on many people and about the only thing left to do is go back out and make it official." Then he started chuckling. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but if I don't my wife will kill me. She's friends with Ellen Downie, and when Judge Alton recused himself because his niece is in your class, I about had to take the case. Last night I happened to comment that I had an adoption case today and my wife immediately knew it was for you. I'm surprised she didn't write a letter right then supporting you. You have a lot of friends who think highly of you. Don't let them down."

     With that he stood up and we headed back to the court room. The boys were back in their seats and everyone jumped to their feet as the judge and I walked in. Judge Strickland told them to be seated and started in. He asked Judy if Children's Services still supported the adoption. Then he asked if anyone had any objections. When no one offered any, he ruled favorably. That meant that as soon as the trial period was over and all the rest of the inspections and paperwork were done, the boys would be mine unless something came up to prohibit it. The courtroom erupted in applause. It was nice to have my friends support me, but I felt embarrassed that they were doing so publicly. Boys were grinning and hugging each other and me and people were coming up and congratulating me. It was a real madhouse. I suddenly found myself face to face with Mrs. Webb. I grabbed her and kissed her cheek saying, "Thank you. Thank you so very much." She smiled at me and was swallowed up again in the mob milling around me. I was ecstatic. About then Bruno grabbed me up and about crushed my ribs. He swung me around a few times and set me back on the floor, giving me a pat on the back which almost knocked me down. Good Lord, that man doesn't know how strong he is.

     People kept coming up and congratulating me and there were so many people in the way I couldn't even see the door, much less make any progress towards it. I was thrilled that so many of my friends were wishing me well, but all I wanted to do was be alone with the boys so I could tell them how much I loved them and how happy I was. Somehow David had attached himself to my hip and was staying there as if he thought I might disappear. When Jerry finally made it over to me he looked David over.

     "So, this is your latest one. When are you going to register him?"

     It was one of those how could I be so stupid moments. I'd had plenty of time to register David at school, but hadn't gotten around to it. Not only that, I had no idea of what grade he should be in or anything about his schooling. Everything had been so confused and busy that I had put off thinking about that.

     "Umm, I haven't got his transcript yet," I managed to say. I hoped Judy had remembered to get it because it had slipped my mind. "I was hoping to have it soon so I could," I continued. That wasn't a complete falsehood, but was certainly less than the truth. Suddenly I realized I was doing what I had preached against, being less than honest.

     "Actually I forgot," I told Jerry. "I thought about it a few days back, but everything has been so busy it slipped my mind. I'll see if Judy has his transcript and if she has, I'll stop in at the district office tomorrow morning. If not, as soon as I can get his records I'll take care of it."

     Jerry started to laugh. "I can't imagine why you would forget something," he chuckled. "It's not like you had anything to occupy your mind. Are you going to introduce me?"

     It was obvious that all semblance of manners or intelligence had left me. Mother would have been furious at me not remembering to introduce David to Jerry, saying she had taught me better than that. And of course she had, but somehow in all the rush I had forgotten good manners. I was still so rattled over the hearing that my mind was not working, that is if it ever worked. Amidst much blushing on my part, I introduced David to Jerry, explaining to him that Jerry was the principal of the school where I taught. By the time I stammered my way through that, Jerry was grinning.

     "I do think you're rattled," he said. I haven't seen you this incoherent since Pendinkio." David looked puzzled, but the other boys quickly turned red and abandoned me. Bruno had a puzzled look on his face and I could see that my innocent fun was again coming back to haunt me again. The worst part of it was that Danny and Kath were within hearing range and had turned to look at us while Jerry was talking. While I thought Kath might get a kick out of the story, I wasn't sure how Danny would take it. After all, boys don't normally want to talk about the size of their penis unless they can brag, and the boys had reported that they thought Danny quite average. I quickly decided to ignore it and hope it would go away so that no one was embarrassed.

     Eventually people began to clear out, but not before I felt like I had shaken a million hands and been patted on that back that many times also. As I was turning to leave, Judy came up to me.

     "You need these Sam, they came this morning," she told me as she handed me a bunch of papers. As luck would have it they were David's transcripts, but I didn't take time to read them. In fact I didn't even open the envelope they were in, but merely thanked Judy for them and gave her a big hug. I was floating on air even if my hand and back were tired. I needed some time to unwind and let the wonder of it all sink it. Kath got in her car with part of the kids and the rest of us climbed in the Gator and off we headed for home. It's a good thing I wasn't stopped as any traffic patrolman would have thought I was on some kind of drugs owing to the grin on my face, a grin which wouldn't go away. Hopefully there was something in the house to eat because suddenly I was famished.

     I got a much less painful hug from Sarah when we told her the news, and then I couldn't help myself. I walked over the liquor cabinet and fixed us all Margaritas. Somehow the moment called for a celebration. Mark's eyes about popped out of his head when I handed him a glass, and Danny and Andrea were only slightly less surprised, but my knot heads acted like they had been being served drinks all their lives. When everyone was served, it was time for a toast.

     "To our family," I said, and suddenly it hit me and the tears started running down my face. I would never have my parents back, but now I had a family. Even though I thought of Uncle Matt and Aunt Sandy as family, they were not as close as the boys were. I must have looked like a fool, standing there with a big grin and the tears running down my face, but I was so happy there was no way I could put it into words. I didn't even take a drink, but set the glass down and reached out and grabbed the boy closest to me, which happened to be Mark. I couldn't say anything as I hugged him, only stand there and cry. I started feeling more arms and when I tried to look around, there were boys all around me and we were all hugging each other in a big massive hug. I don't know how long we stood there, but it was the best feeling I had ever had.

     "You're getting me all wet," Mark eventually broke the silence. He was trapped in the middle and I wasn't the only one crying and dripping on him. That broke the silence and suddenly everyone was talking at once. Not listening, just talking and I let the sound of boy voices wash over me. It had to be the best day of my life.

     It couldn't last, and people started coming by to congratulate me even though many of them had done so a short while before. Corey was busy fixing drinks for them and everyone was talking and congratulating both me and the boys. I finally told Bruno to go the store for steaks, and when he asked how many, I told him lots because we were going to have a party. He was almost to the door when Ellen Downie arrived and told the boys to go out to her car and bring stuff in. My word, they carried in enough food to feed an army. Yet when I looked around, I wasn't sure there was enough as the whole house was full of people. It looked like she must have cleaned out the bread truck to get enough hamburger buns, and there were a bunch of fried chicken pieces from the deli section, not to mention containers of beans and salads, and boys just kept packing goodies in. The last thing was a huge sheet cake with the words, `Congratulations, It's Boys' on it, and underneath that were each of the boys' first names. There was even a box of cigars to pass out with a little blue labels saying it's a boy. I didn't know what to say. I just stood there with that stupid grin and the tears again streaming down my face. Every time I tried to say anything, my throat hurt so bad that the words wouldn't come. Then everyone started teasing me about it being the first time they had ever seen me speechless and the party got started.

     Kath, Sarah, Ellen, and Nancy headed for the kitchen to get started there, and Vern, Bruno, and Carl Downie went out and started the barbecue. Make that barbecues. Thank God the weather was nice since the house was now overflowing with people. Every time I tried to offer any help I got chased out so I finally wound up in the back yard with Dog at my feet. He didn't much care for large crowds and had escaped the house, but soon that wasn't any refuge for him as the back yard started filling up and everyone was again congratulating me. Poor Dog disappeared after a few minutes of that. When I walked in to use my bathroom, Dog was firmly ensconced in the middle of my bed. He did raise his head, and he gave the bed a few thumps with his tail, but he made no effort to get down. I walked towards him, and Dog rolled onto his back with his one front leg lifted as if requesting that I scratch him, and so I did. As I was doing that he groaned and the thought flashed through my mind that Dog's wants were few and simple; things like a good scratch made him happy. I wondered why people were so much harder to please. That was followed by the thought that perhaps I needed to go back out and start scratching my guests chests and seeing if they started groaning in pleasure. I was still giggling to myself as I continued on to the bathroom, imagining myself scratching Mrs. Webb's chest and the likely reaction. Somehow I doubted that such scratching would produce groans of pleasure, but then you never know.

     I'd say the crowd was milling around except they were so tightly packed there wasn't room to do much milling. Even with all the doors open, the living room felt like an oven. I managed to squeeze my way through the crowd and make it out the front door, figuring that I could walk around the house and make it into the backyard. I got sidetracked as the boys were shooting baskets and I decided to join in. Boy what a mistake. I'd never been very tall and therefore had never played much basketball, so it didn't take the boys long to convince me that they were all much better shots than I was. Our games of horse ended rather quickly for me, but it gave me time to sit on the planter and watch them. Mike and Fred Garvin were already here and Mike was more than holding his own against the rest of the boys when some more of the neighborhood kids started showing up. Soon there was a full fledged game of basketball going on and once again David was called upon to be the referee. Mostly they wanted him to keep track of the score because there was about ten fouls on every play, and by the time they got them all straightened out they forgot what the score was. I was sitting there watching the boys be boys when Andrea came out and joined them. At first they were careful not to foul her nearly as much, but after a few minutes they figured out she played just as rough as they did when she wasn't there. It turned into a real battle and Andrea ended up making the winning shot after stealing the ball from Mike. Who says that girls aren't competitive? She was the best player out there and had she been slightly taller would have been a shoe-in for the team when she started high school. Quick hands and fearless would best describe her.

     Fred Collins, the science teacher came out holding my cordless phone in his hand and gave it to me. It was Aunt Sandy and did I ever get my backside chewed out. The fact that I hadn't called her immediately upon getting home to tell her how the court proceeding had gone put me on her list, and that list wasn't one I wanted to be on. I tried to explain that I hadn't had time, but my excuses were not making any headway as she continued to complain. However, I was in such a good mood her complaints simply rolled off of me and I let her chatter on and kept saying I was sorry and wouldn't do such a thing ever again. I don't think she was listening to me, and I know I wasn't paying much attention to what she was saying. She finally ran out of words and congratulated me and put the giggle boxes on.

     They were giggling and happy that they now had more cousins, and we chatted for a while before saying goodbye. I promised Kristin that Corey would still read to her and Kevin and that seemed to make her even happier. The only other thing I learned was that Uncle Matt was in
Seattle and wouldn't be home until Friday evening, if then.

     By now the game was up to seven on seven and there were even a couple of kids standing on the sidelines. Several more people had dropped by and, after greeting and congratulating me, had continued on into the house. So far no one had left and I was beginning to wonder when the house was going to burst.

     When Bruno stuck his head out and yelled that there was food, the basketball game was a forgotten cause. I'd never seen a stampeding herd of buffalo, but if I was a buffalo I would turn and run from that stampeding herd of boys. If they didn't run over the buffalo, they would have gobbled them up before the poor buffalo could get turned around to run away. I swear that my poor house swelled at least six inches in every dimension when boys hit the door and headed for the bathrooms to wash their hands. Even Bruno, who had faced opposing football teams without fear, paled and jumped out of the way. Shy David was right in the middle of the herd, and while all I could see were backsides, I think Andrea was leading them. I smiled and picked up the now discarded basketball and sauntered towards the house, my still half full glass in my hand. The drink was good, but no amount of alcohol could come close to the thrill I was experiencing over the judge's ruling.

     Three hours later we were out of food, but I think most everyone had eaten. The boys made two trips through and about cleaned the last of it up, although I have no idea where they found room for it because their first trip through the line had resulted in plates piled so high they looked more like cones than plates of food. I wondered how they kept it from sliding off when piled that high. I think David had been shocked at the amount on his plate, but the boys had taken turns loading him down as they filed their own and they made sure he hadn't gone hungry.

     People started leaving, but even after some had left the house was still packed and that was with half of us in the back yard. Andrea and the boys were cooking marshmallows on the barbecue and the rest of us were sitting around any place we could find room, but we were all so stuffed that the conversation was lagging.

     "How's it feel to be a parent?" Vern turned to me and asked. I didn't bother to answer, merely grinned at him. He grinned back and said, "I know just how you feel."

Nancy jumped into the conversation saying, "You didn't even have to change diapers. How did you get so lucky?"

     "I suppose I could get some of those adult diapers and learn how to do it," I replied. "You can hold them down while I diaper them, and I don't mean their arms and legs."

     "Daaaad," I could hear Corey complaining about what I'd said. Suddenly I was chocked up again. Corey had always called me coach when other people were around and this was the first time I'd ever been called dad. I didn't know what to say, but that didn't make any difference because I couldn't have said it anyway.

Nancy broke the spell by saying, "No thank you. You can hold them down by yourself," followed by some giggles. By that time all the adults were all giggling. I was in a silly mood and had been so ever since we left the courthouse. The kids were all blushing, but they went on roasting their marshmallows while we finished our giggle fest. And the really strange thing was that when I had made my comment, I had not been thinking of it the way everyone had taken it, but had been remembering when Kevin had peed all over me when I had been roped into changing his diapers and had commented to Aunt Sandy that I needed another hand to hold it down or some string to tie it down. Erections had been the furthest thing from my mind, but a perfectly innocent comment had been taken wrong and we all had a good laugh out of it. Besides, it was fun to pick on my kids. What lovely words, my kids. All I could do was sit there and continue to grin.

     The last twenty or so of the guests started leaving, but it took a while because each of them had to congratulate me again and also tell the boys that they had to mind and be good boys, as if that would make any difference. We had made it inside for the last half hour or so because it was getting chilly outside, and when the last one was out the door I collapsed on the couch in the family room. I was sitting there sprawled out and first LT, then Corey, and soon the rest of the boys were on the couch with me, all trying to get within reach of my outstretched arms. I made it to put my arms over their shoulders, but only by hauling Mark onto my lap. Then Corey noticed that David was off to the side, looking on with a sad expression.

     "Come on, get on his lap," Corey said.

     David looked like he didn't know what to do and that was too much for Corey, so he got up, grabbed David and pushed him onto the leg across from Mark. Corey quickly slid back under my arm and there we were, all on the couch. Dog had finally sneaked out of my bedroom and he took one look at the couch full of people and immediately jumped up on LT and after stomping both JJ and LT's private parts, creating much reaction from them, he flopped down. There I was, Corey tucked under my right arm with Kyle next to him, LT under my left arm with JJ next to him and Dog on their laps, and Mark on my right leg and David on my left. It's a good thing the couch was strong because I think it was way beyond rated capacity.

     I wanted to say something, but every time I tried the words wouldn't come so I squeezed a little tighter.

     "Ouch," Kyle said. "You're breaking my neck."

     I guess I had sort of tightened up and had tried to pull the boys closer to me, so I lightened my grasp and he quit complaining. Yet even when I did that he made no effort to move.

     "I was scared when the judge started questioning me," Corey finally broke the silence.

     "Me too," LT immediately added.

     It was like a dam burst and all the boys were talking about how scared they had been that the judge might not let them live with me. For the next four or five minutes all of the boys, except for David, were talking about what the judge had asked and how worried they had been that they might say something that would cause him to rule against me. They didn't wait to take turns, they all talked at once. No matter how hard I tried, I only managed to hear snippets of what each of them was saying. When they ran down, they all hopped up and headed for the kitchen to see what they could find to snack on leaving me and Dog on the couch. Dog looked at me and rolled onto his back, once again asking for a belly rub. Instead I scratched under his chin, another thing he liked and for which I was rewarded with groans.

     I didn't know what to do or say so I sat there, scratching Dog and trying to fix in my mind everything that had happened today, so I could remember and savor it later. There was too much to take in today, and I knew that it would be several days before it had all sunk in.

     Bruno and Sarah stuck their heads in and said they were going to bed. I got up and grabbed the first boy going past and gave him a big hug. Before it was over I had managed to snag every one of the boys on their way to bed, and those hugs were worth more than money could ever buy, especially the one from JJ. For the last few weeks had had been a little stiff when I hugged him, but tonight he relaxed and seemed to melt against me. Now if I could only get David to act the same way.

     Corey and I wanted the same thing, that being holding each other. I was exhausted, but I couldn't unwind and go to sleep. As I lay there with my nose buried in the hair on Corey's neck, I could only wonder what I would have done had the judge ruled against me. Had that happened, life would not have been worth living. Somewhere in the middle of the night my overworked nerves gave up and allowed me to fall asleep. I'm pretty sure I was still grinning.

     It's funny how we are creatures of habit. When it was my normal time to wake up, I did. I hadn't remembered to turn on my alarm clock, but I only missed by two minutes. I staggered out and plugged in the coffee and got the paper while I tried to get my mind functioning again, but I wasn't having much success at that. By the time Sarah showed up I had consumed one cup of coffee and was still trying to figure out what the headlines said. I was pretty sure I was making some progress because I was almost able to focus my eyes well enough to make out words, but when Sarah started talking to me, I gave up on the paper. There was no way I was up to doing two things at one time and so far my mind was still on coffee.

     I managed to grunt a few answers in Sarah's direction, but I have no idea if they made any sense. By the time I'd gotten the second cup of coffee consumed, I was almost alert enough to understand what Sarah was saying. She was talking about the property, I think, but what her concerns were I hadn't figured out.

     About then I heard running footsteps accompanied by LT's voice screaming, "I'll get you for that!" JJ burst into the kitchen with a grin on his face, and about ten feet behind him was a very naked LT. JJ quickly ran around the table to where I was sitting and hid behind me while LT followed him about half way, then stopped, and then turned bright red from about his nipples to the top of his head. Actually he was only slightly pink at nipple height, but he got redder the higher you looked. His neck was a little redder than his upper torso, his chin was a little redder than his neck, and by the time your eyes made it to his forehead it was impossible to imagine any way he could be redder. LT quickly turned around and as soon as he managed to get traction on the floor, he disappeared faster than a speeding bullet. By now JJ was laughing so hard he was about to fall down.

     "What was that all about?" I asked.

     I received no answer except for more laughter. Sarah started snickering about then and my mind managed to spin up to speed enough to where even I found it funny, although I still had no idea what had prompted the whole thing. I could hear vile threats floating down the hall from their bedroom and if a person believed them, JJ was going to soon depart the world of flesh and be reduced to a more spiritual existence. Corey came wandering out looking half asleep, followed by Mark. Of Kyle there was no sign, so apparently LT's yells were not bothering him. Then I heard their shower start again.

     A couple of minutes passed before JJ got himself under control, but when he did the story came out. It seemed as if he had been out next to the fence last night and had spotted a slug. Then in some form of logic I can't explain, he decided that putting that slug in LT's briefs would be a fine joke, so he had gotten a freezer container and pulled some grass and put the grass and slug in the container. Being sure to be the first one through the shower had given him sufficient time to put the slug in LT's briefs while LT was finishing his shower. Then JJ had distracted LT with some questions while LT started to get dressed, assuring that he wouldn't notice that his briefs contained a surprise.

     JJ had no more than choked his story out when LT came charging out, still damp but with some pants on. He might have killed JJ, but Sarah put an end to that by looking directly at him and commenting that she liked the way he looked earlier. LT again turned red and retreated. I'm not sure whether Sarah did JJ a favor or not, but it was a cinch that LT could have captured him because JJ was still laughing far too hard to get away.

     I decided it was time to start breakfast and when I got up, JJ attached himself to me and continued giggling. As I pulled things out of the fridge, I realized I had never seen JJ quite so bubbly and certainly not this early in the morning. He was almost a completely different person. When I had the Cream of Rice cooking, I pulled him to me and gave him a hug. I got a big hug in return and with that he spun around and headed off to his and LT's room, a big grin plastered on his face. He was almost bouncing and looked like the cat that had caught the canary. His attitude this morning made me wonder if I had ever seen the true JJ because I'd never seen him in such a playful mood. Yes he had been cracking jokes a few weeks back and had seemed happy, but nothing like this morning. Of all the things I'd been told to watch out for from the medication he was taking, being overly giddy was not one of them and the only word I could think of to describe him was giddy. He had appeared much happier yesterday, and even more so today.

     I found some boiled potatoes which I grated for hash browns, some link sausages, and enough eggs for scrambled eggs. Corey had to dig out a container of frozen orange juice to add to what he had squeezed since we were low on oranges, and shortly food started being put on the table and boys started making it disappear. It was apparent that I needed to make a stop of the grocery store and stock up again. It was bad enough that the boys went through food like a swarm of locusts, but when you added Bruno in, the food just vanished. I got everyone filled up and even had enough to satisfy myself, but fortunately I wasn't much for a big breakfast.

     After Kyle was off to school and the kitchen cleaned up, it was time to get organized and look over David's school transcripts. To say I was shocked and disappointed only partly covers it. His grades were terrible and he had been held back a year. That didn't add up to what I expected since he appeared to be quite intelligent. The last grade he had been in was the fifth grade and he had only completed the first two months of it and judging by the grades he was receiving in it likely would have failed it. I was left wondering what grade he should be placed in because it was obvious that he wasn't capable of doing the work of his age group. It would have been bad enough had he been getting good grades when his stepfather had pulled him out of school, but getting bad grades and missing almost two complete years of school meant that even if he was in the last grade he had started, he would be much older than the other students. As I thought about it, there was no way he would fit in the fifth grade and to put him there would create problems.

     After thinking about it, it was apparent that David needed help. The problem, as I saw it, was what kind of help he needed. His problems could be the result of his family situation or it could be something else, such as dyslexia. Only testing could determine which it was and what the correct approach to helping him would be. By now it was late enough for the district offices to be open so I called them and shortly had an appointment for David to have some preliminary tests. With that I went and told him that he needed to get cleaned up and ready to go be tested. I wasn't prepared for his reaction.

     "Why do I got to be tested? I know I'm dumb."

     "Why do you think you're dumb," I asked. "You certainly don't appear that way to me."

     "You never seen my report cards," he replied.

     "As a matter of fact I have. I've got them right here and it looks like you've had some problems in school. The testing is to determine what those problems are and how to overcome them."

     "I can't learn nothing," he answered.

     "That obviously isn't true," I told him. "You learned to operate a tractor and figured out how to help Uncle Matt get his unstuck."

     "That's different," he replied.

     "No it isn't," I told him. "Learning is learning and although it may seem different, school is like any other form of learning. It's just that school depends on the written word and you might need some help with that part of it."

     He wasn't very impressed with what I told him and wanted to skip the testing, but he didn't have much choice in the matter and soon I had him at the district offices and left him there for testing. That isn't quite a complete picture of what happened as I wanted to stay and help, but Mrs. Finley chased me off, telling me she knew what she was doing and I'd only make it harder for her. I was told to check back at noon and we would discuss it further.

     Since I couldn't do anything about David, I decided to do some grocery shopping. The larder was getting pretty empty and I not only needed things for the house, I also needed some for the trailer if Corey and I were going to have anything to eat.

     When I got home with all the groceries, the boys' bikes were missing and the house was quiet. I was finishing putting the groceries away when Kath showed up to do her cleaning. We chatted a few minutes before I went out and started getting the trailer ready. I put the groceries away in the trailer and discovered several bottles of wine I'd forgotten were there, and noticed that the sheets were missing, likely still in the house. By the time I had most of that straightened out, it was time to check on David.

     I didn't learn anything, but was told to have him back in an hour and fifteen minutes for further testing. We hurried home for lunch, but I was surprised when no boys joined us. As I was fixing some sandwiches I found a note Kath had left telling me that the boys had decided to have hamburgers at the Dairy Queen and would be home later in the afternoon. I was left wondering what they had found entertaining downtown because normally a couple of hours at the mall and arcade were about all they could stand. I filled David up with a couple of tuna sandwiches and had him back at the district offices in time for his afternoon tests. Since I was again run off, I swung through town so see if I could spot the boys and see what they were up to.

     I should have known. The little park just off the main street was filled with boys playing soccer and my bunch was right in the middle of things. They were so busy playing that they didn't notice me and I drove on home where I found Kath again doing housework. Since I didn't have anything else I needed to do right then, I went downstairs and loaded a bunch of shotgun shells. While I wouldn't be able to shoot this Sunday, maybe the rest of the boys would like to go to the gun club and get back in the swing of things.

     I was finishing up the reloading when I heard the boys charge in. When I went upstairs I also found Bruno and Sarah there also and learned they had gone down to watch the boys, something I hadn't been aware of. While I'd noticed they were gone, no one had told me where. After a few minutes of getting filled in about the game, it was time to go pick up David and see what the results were.

     "Well Sam, the tests seem to show he's dyslexic," Arlene Finley stated to start our conversation. "I'd like to schedule a few tests with some doctors to make sure we haven't overlooked anything, but thought I should clear it with you first."

     "Go ahead," I responded to her request.

     "It will likely be next week before any of them can be set up. Will that be a problem for you?" Arlene asked.

     "It shouldn't be. My housekeeper should be able to take him if I can't," I answered.

     We chatted a few more minutes before David and I left. While all that was going on David had his head down and was looking pretty depressed. When we finally made it out to the Gator, David turned to me and said, "See, I told you I was dumb. I know I flunked all those tests."

     "David, I don't think you understood what Mrs. Finley said," I answered. "She didn't say you're dumb, she said you're likely dyslexic."

     "What's that, a fancy word for dumb?"

     "No, it's a word to describe someone who has trouble learning to read. It has nothing to do with how smart that person is and dyslexics frequently are smarter than average, but have problems learning to read. There's even been some talk of changing the name to reading disorder rather than dyslexia," I finished up. We sat and I tried to explain how some people are good at learning one thing and not another and it has nothing to do with intelligence, but I was having trouble convincing David of that. I decided that the best way to try to convince him was to go home and call up some information on dyslexia and see if that would convince him, but as I reached for the key to start the Gator, my cell phone started vibrating. When I looked at it, it was Russ.

     "Hello counselor," I greeted him. "What can I do for you?"

     "What, no complaints about my fees? I must be slipping," he laughed.

     "Blame it on the Post Office," I answered. "They haven't delivered your latest attempt at Grand Larceny yet." After a couple more wisecracks back and forth Russ got down to the reason for the call.

     "If you've got a few minutes I just received some information on the Duesenberg you might find interesting."

     "So why don't you just tell me?" I asked.

     "Now why would I do that when I can charge you extra for an office visit?" he laughed at me. "Besides, I also have some more questions about the scholarship program I need answered."

     "I suppose I can spare you a few minutes so Nathan won't starve," I replied. "After all, you need enough income to feed your child."

     "You haven't got enough money to keep him filled up," Russ laughed.

     "I'll see you in about two minutes," I told him and disconnected.

     We could have walked to Russ's office in about the same time as it took to drive there, so the two minutes were a pretty accurate guess of the length of time it took. Russ looked surprised when we walked in one minute and fifty-four seconds after I hung up on him.

     "You weren't kidding when you said two minutes," he said.

     "We were down the street at the School District Offices," I explained. "So what is it that you found out?"

     "My investigator ran the plate number and after getting some information there, he did a little more checking. I think he figured everything out. It appears that the registered owner, a Mr. Gerald Van Radon, encountered some financial problems and put the car up as collateral for a bank loan. When he couldn't pay, there was a judgment against him, but he hid the car with his cousins, who were Ralph's parents, so it couldn't be seized and auctioned off." With that he handed me some faxes of court documents which covered what he was telling me.

     "So that means that we have to track down the parties and settle the judgment before we can get a clear title?" I asked.

     "Not so fast," Russ replied. "It seems as if Gerald Van Radon had a heart attack and died a few months after the judgment, and he had life insurance. By the time everything was settled, the judgment was paid off. His will said that any property was to be divided between Ralph's parents and his younger brother. That brother was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor and his will left everything to Ralph's parents also." Again he handed me some papers to look over.

     "Now here is where it gets interesting. Ralph's parents, in their wills, specifically left everything from Gerald's estate to Ralph so that means that Ralph is the one with title to it.

     "To finish up, when Ralph signed over the property I knew there were some old cars to dispose of, so I had him sign a document which signed off on all titles of abandoned cars found on the property so you could dispose of them. The end result is that while it will take a little more time, the car belongs to your uncle and as soon as the paperwork goes back and forth between a couple of offices, the state will issue him a title for it. To make it short, it appears that Ralph's parents were trying to conceal a car long after the reason for doing so was gone. My investigator could offer no information on if they ever learned of the judgment being vacated or not, but from their actions that appears unlikely. The state had no idea where the car was, so they had no reason to send any documents to the Beelers which might have cleared it up for them. No one knows why it wasn't covered when Van Radon's will was probated, but by that time the car was listed as stolen although no insurance claim was filed for it.

     "My investigator reported that Van Radon was involved in bootlegging during prohibition and the car was probably purchased with proceeds from his activities. He got into financial hot water after the feds busted him and he was spending money trying to defend himself when all this took place. There was also some speculation that his death was not a heart attack, but no proof and the death certificate lists heart failure as the cause of death. With his death, the feds lost interest, probate cleared up the judgment, and somehow everyone overlooked one Duesenberg, thus ending the saga of the missing car." With that, Russ sat back in his chair and grinned at me.

     "I didn't really expect that, but it does clear up why Ralph was upset when the Duesy was mentioned. What surprises me is his willingness to sell with the car still there."

     "I can explain that," Russ said. "Ralph was short of money and he needed to sell. I also learned that he had a feud going with Bledsoe Timber and you happened to be the first person who had contacted him outside of Bledsoe. He probably didn't want to list it with a realtor for fear of Bledsoe buying it, and by selling to your uncle he was assured that wouldn't happen. Remember, he wanted to know what your uncle planned to do with the property before he agreed to sell."

     That made sense to me. Ralph had asked questions about why Uncle Matt wanted the property and hadn't mentioned a price until he'd been told that Uncle Matt wanted to build a home on it. I knew that he'd called Vern and that Vern was well aware of Uncle Matt's plans. It all added up, but in one sense seemed sad. Ralph might have been able to cover his needs by selling the Duesy, but his fear of admitting ownership had cost him some money. I had no idea what an un-restored Duesy was worth so I had no idea how much Ralph had missed out on, but with the way it had worked out I was confident I would learn.

     "Do you think that Ralph needs more money?" I asked. "Uncle Matt got the car for nothing and if he needs more money, maybe Uncle Matt would give him some for it."

     "Pretty generous with your uncle's money," Russ answered while grinning at me. "I don't think so. Something you didn't know is that Ralph is suffering from several health problems. He likely won't last much longer and he carries additional insurance to compliment Medicare so his medical costs are mostly covered."

     That pretty well covered our conversation about Ralph and the Duesenberg. We went on to talk about the scholarship program and I told him that no, I hadn't really considered trade schools as being worthy, but since he had brought them up, I did. After all, not all students are academics and for those not interested in college, learning a trade or skill would help them throughout their lives. Russ explained that Phil Bledsoe had brought the subject up and wanted to include trade schools, and I agreed that it was an excellent idea.

     We also discussed who should be trustees of it. I suggested that Phil should be able to suggest some of them, and I would do the same. I don't think Russ was surprised when I told him that he was my first suggestion, but he agreed to serve. We kicked around several other names and by the time I left, Jerry had been added to the list, along with Mr. Downie, and several others. Russ assured me that things were coming together and it wouldn't take much longer until the foundation would be in operation. I was thrilled that after all the delays things now seemed to be moving ahead. Russ said that he thought it might be best to wait until next year before starting to offer any scholarships as that would give everyone time to get the processes worked out for approving them. We also needed to decide who would be responsible for investing the funds. I decided not to suggest Uncle Matt, not because I didn't have a lot of faith in him, but his ideas on investments were about growth and not income. The foundation's funds would need to be more conservative type investments geared towards income rather than growth, with an eye towards a more stable source of income. With Uncle Matt's types of investments, some years were great and others not so good.

     We also discussed another suggestion of Mr. Bledsoe's, that of including the Redding schools. Many of his employees were from there and it seemed only fair, particularly since I was going to have more money to add to the foundation. Perhaps I was counting my chickens before the eggs were hatched, but when Uncle Matt told me to expect money, he had never been wrong and the amounts he was talking about were way more than I needed.

     I finished talking with Russ and then David and I went home. I wasn't sure what the answer was for David, but I suspected that he needed a lot of tutoring to help him with his reading and I wasn't sure that he would be capable of attending school anytime soon. Only time would tell how much of his dyslexia could be overcome with tutoring, if that's what it was.

     When I got home Kath was in the kitchen starting dinner. I offered to help, but she chased me out, telling me that cooking during the week was part of the deal and to get out and let her do it. When I got to the family room, I discovered that she had also chased Sarah out. I spent the rest of the time before dinner talking with Bruno and Sarah, telling them what I expected of the boys while Corey and I were in Eugene. Kids wandered through off and on, and we kept getting interrupted with their questions, but soon Kath had dinner finished and I about got run over by boys in their rush to get to the table.

     Kath had fixed
Salisbury steaks and had mashed potatoes to accompany them. Outside of being slightly flat, they were superb and I made sure to compliment her on them. She had not put in as much salt as I would have, but on thinking about it, she had the better idea. It is quite easy to add a little salt, but hard to take it out if you get too much in the dish. Not only that, she was starting to get a handle on how much the boys ate and when we finished there was still some left. I knew the leftovers would never see the dawn, what with the bedtime refrigerator raiders, but it seemed like each day Kath got better at cooking and at judging the amount she needed to cook. While I had planned on meatloaf for that batch of hamburger, the Salisbury steaks hit the spot and I really enjoyed them. A little questioning produced the information that she had put a little horseradish in the hamburger mix and that was part of what made them better, and she had sautéed the mushrooms in butter and added them to the gravy at the last minute. All in all, an excellent meal. I'd never used any horseradish in mine and now would do so. I also learned that she had added a panade of several slices of bread soaked in milk to help keep the patties moist, something I frequently did with meat balls. She claimed she got that idea from me and I was left wondering why I'd never done it with Salisbury steak since it helped keep meatballs moist, but I had always depended on the gravy to help keep the patties from drying out. I could see that the panade was in improvement, but what I couldn't understand is why I had never thought of it. Sometimes the simple things slip past and when someone finally points them out, all you can say is, `Duh.'

     Corey and I spent part of the evening getting clothes and things put in the trailer. When that was done I mentioned to Kath that I'd loaded some shells if she wanted to take the boys shooting on Sunday and that brought up David. He looked disappointed at first, but I explained that while I wouldn't be there to help him on Sunday, having one hand missing wouldn't hinder his ability to shoot. He didn't want to believe me when I insisted that he didn't need to be able to grip the forend on the shotgun, but finally started to accept that when the rest of the boys insisted that I'd not only demonstrated it by laying the gun on top of my wrist and shooting, but that they had all tried it when I had been after them to quit grabbing it like it was going to get away. I'd resorted to that to try to teach them to quit trying to swing the gun by the barrel with their hand and instead swing it by twisting their bodies. I knew that Bruno had done a little shooting so he could help teach David and I was sure that the other boys would be more than eager to teach their new brother all about it. Before we went to bed I took one of the new shotguns and fitted it to David and showed him how to swing it without holding on to the forend. He could get by with Corey's shooting glasses and earplugs until we could buy him some, and if he wanted to continue shooting I would have to find him a left-handed shotgun or a break open model. By the time all of that was done, it was time for bed.


                    To be continued...

     A panade to add moisture to ground beef can be made by taking a slice of bread and trimming the crust off and then tearing or dicing the bread and adding a couple of tablespoons of milk. Press the bread into the milk with a fork and let it set for a few minutes and then mix it well with the fork until it turns into a smooth paste. You can use it anytime you are going to cook ground beef well done, such as meatballs, patties, or meatloaf. I frequently leave my patties on the rare side, meaning slightly pink, so I don't need the panade, but if you intend to cook them well done it will help keep them moist instead of being like a hunk of cardboard. One slice of bread is about right for each pound and a half of ground beef. You can also use buttermilk which works particularly well in meatballs. Just mix the paste in well and cook as usual.

     On the horseradish, I use about a teaspoon per pound and a half of ground beef. I don't want to use so much that it overpowers other flavors, but a little seems to add something. I use the hot horseradish, not the mild.

     For some dishes I use 80% hamburger. The added fat helps keep it moist and most of it cooks out if you are going to cook it well done. For rare patties I use leaner hamburger, like 90% lean.