Although this story is based on actual events, enough "poetic license" has been taken with names and descriptions of characters, merging of characters, locations, sequence of events, and the like, that it must be regarded as a work of fiction. If, in describing these characters, I have described any actual person, living or dead, I assure you that this is entirely unintentional and coincidental, and I ask for your understanding and forgiveness.
This is the story of the love between a young boy and an older man--how they met, how their relationship developed, and how it stands now. Although there was no sexual relationship between them in real life, and therefore none in this story, there were situations and conversations of a sexual nature which may offend some readers. Certainly there will be those who disagree with some of the ideas I describe here. If this kind of story is not to your liking, now is a good time to look elsewhere. This is the only warning you will receive.
As will become obvious to the reader, I do not believe that sexual relations between adults and children is ever appropriate. It is possible to have a relationship which is just as warm, loving, and fulfilling without any sexual elements. I know that some sexual relationships exist between adults and children, and I will concede that in a very few cases they may be based upon genuine love and affection for each other, but I contend that they are still inappropriate and can still lead to lasting emotional confusion and pain. I do not presume that my opinion alone will make any great amount of difference in the way such people live their lives, but I most earnestly urge you, if you are in such a relationship, please terminate the sexual aspects of it immediately! Believe it or not, you can still express all the love you feel, and can receive all the love that is offered, without sex, and your relationship can be just as fulfilling as it ever was, but it will be much less destructive in the long run.
This is the first, and probably the last, story I will ever write. I own the copyright, and all rights are reserved. Feel free to download it for your own personal use, but do not alter it in any way, or post or publish it elsewhere without my permission. If you like it, please let me know. If you don't like it, I am still interested in your constructive criticisms. Like almost everyone else, I do not appreciate "flames," and will joyously ignore and delete any that come my way.
It was the first Wednesday in August, and choir practice had run long that evening. It had been doing that a lot lately, what with preparing for the special Christmas music (some day I will get used to practicing Christmas music in August). Also, the new soprano soloist had needed a lot of extra time. She had a beautiful voice, when she could control it, but absolutely no confidence in it, and just needed a little extra attention and encouragement, I guess. As Director of Music, I had to do all I could to help her, but there were times when nothing seemed to work. This evening had been one of those times. I wasn't ready to give up on her--far from it--but I was tired, and I was frustrated. Oh, well, next week will be better, I told myself.
Also, I had stayed after practice to work on a particularly troublesome section of music on the organ, and to set up my registration pistons for the next Sunday service. I had promised one of the parishioners--a friend of mine--that I would play his favorite organ piece as the postlude that Sunday. It had been a while since I had performed the Widor Toccata, and my playing was still a little rusty in places. Oh, well, at least I could practice at home the next couple of days. Come Sunday morning, I would be ready. I liked to think I always was. And the minister had asked me at the last minute to come up with an accompaniment to a poem he had found and thought would make a good anthem. It showed promise, and I told him I would do my best. I would have to call the organ tuner first thing tomorrow morning--it was about time for the general tuning of the organ to be done, and I had noticed some of the reeds were beginning to falter.
I had a lot on my mind, and I was tired.
I went out through the front door of the church and locked the door behind me. It was already dark, and there was never enough light in the parking lot. I noticed from a distance that my car was the only one left; the place looked deserted. I must be keeping late hours, I thought--even the custodian had already left, and he was known to keep very late hours at the church.
As I approached my car, through the windshield I could see the figure of a man sitting in the driver's seat, and he appeared to be asleep. There had been a few auto burglaries and thefts in the neighborhood recently, and I was immediately angry. I stormed over to my car, ripped open the door, grabbed the intruder by the collar, and jerked him out of the car.
"What the hell are you doing in my car?" I demanded angrily. God, I was mad!
"Please, Sir, I was trying to do you a favor. I noticed that your car door wasn't locked, so I sat down in the car so that no one would try to steal it. I guess I just fell asleep."
It was only then that I realized it was a young boy. In the dim light, I couldn't make out his features. His clothes appeared to be a little baggy on him, and he sounded like he was, indeed, tired. I became aware of a slight body odor on him, but nothing out of the ordinary for a boy his age--from his voice, he appeared to be about ten or twelve years old. But I was still angry. I know you have to make allowances for kids--they haven't yet developed mature judgment; but I couldn't let him think he had acted appropriately--it could get him into trouble.
"Well, what would you have done if someone HAD tried to steal it--try to scare him to death with your snoring? A security guard who sleeps on the job is fired on the spot, more likely than not."
"I am sorry, Sir. I guess I just was more tired than I thought."
Since he was just a boy, and he seemed genuinely sorry, I calmed down and decided to just forget it. "Okay, I'll let it go this time. But from now on, if you see a car that is not locked, either leave it alone, lock it if you know whose car it is, or try to find the owner if you think you know where to look. Getting into someone else's car without permission can get you into a lot of trouble. You understand?"
I threw my music satchel into the back seat and started to get into the car. The boy seemed like he was going to cry, but was determined not to. I thought I heard a low whimper, and started to wonder if my initial anger had scared him more than I thought. As I turned back to look at him, I heard him speak, barely above a whisper, trying but really failing to appear in control.
"Sir, since I at least tried to do you a favor, would you do me one?"
"You can ask," I said, my voice somewhat mellower than before.
"May I come home with you tonight? I promise I'll be good, I won't make any trouble, and I'll leave in the morning, but I don't have a place to sleep tonight, and I am awfully tired."
"What do you mean, you don't have a place to sleep tonight? Where are your parents?"
"My stepfather kicked me out of the house three days ago. My mom died last year."
"What about your father?"
"He's dead, too."
A million questions started whirling through my mind as I grasped the enormity of what this child had asked of me. Does he even realize what he is asking me to do? Is this kid telling me the truth about his parents? Is he a "Trojan horse" for some gang that he wants to let inside my house after he gets in? Is he really a runaway? And if he is, what would happen if the cops caught me with him in my car, to say nothing about in my house? What kind of kid is this? Can I trust him? Can I trust myself? I must have taken too long to answer, because he started to whimper.
"Please, Sir," he pleaded. I could see even in the dim light that his eyes were glistening, and he seemed so small and pathetic in those baggy clothes, and it was obvious he was going to cry in less than 30 seconds. Call me an old softy if you want, but I couldn't keep my heart from melting.
I know there are laws governing what to do with an abandoned or lost child, but I had no earthly idea at that point who I was supposed to contact, and it was almost 10:00 p.m.--they would probably be closed anyhow. (I know, I was tired myself right then.) Not being able to come up with a better solution on the spur of the moment, I made my decision.
"Sure, hop in."
The boy seemed too tired to smile, but he managed to anyway, and I began to feel better about my decision. He climbed into the passenger seat and immediately scooted over against me and leaned his head against my shoulder. He was asleep in less than half a minute.
I started the engine and pulled into the driveway. There was not a lot of traffic, but enough to keep me in the lot for about a minute before I pulled into the street. My house is about five minutes away from the church, but I started thinking: If this kid was kicked out of the house three days ago, I'll be willing to bet he hasn't had much to eat in those three days. I turned the opposite direction from my house and pulled into the drive-through of a burger place, apparently just before it closed. I ordered two baked chicken sandwiches (I thought they might sit better on an empty stomach than a greasy hamburger) and some potato salad. Then I headed home.
My street was well lighted, but my house was dark. I waited for the garage door to open, pulled into the garage, killed the engine, and hit the button for the automatic door opener to close. The only light in the garage was from the door opener, and it was still so dark I couldn't make out the boy's features, but he was still sound asleep with his head on my shoulder. I shook him gently to wake him up.
"Wake up, Tiger, we're home." He opened his eyes, but was still obviously not wide awake. I got out of the car and grabbed the sandwiches and my music satchel, unlocked the back door, turned on the kitchen light, and put the sandwiches on the counter. I waited a short time for the boy to come in, but when he didn't, I returned to the car. He was still sitting in the front seat, looking very tired and listless. He was apparently half asleep and didn't know what to do.
"Come on, Tiger, you need to get something to eat." He scooted over the driver's seat toward me, but he seemed to be in no condition to walk into a strange house on his own, so I slid my arms around his shoulders and under his knees and picked him up. He put his arms around me and buried his face into my neck, totally exhausted. As I carried him into the house, I noticed that he was very light--I doubted if he weighed seventy pounds. I managed to get him seated in a dining room chair. "I stopped and got you a sandwich and some potato salad, but what would you like to drink? I have diet Coke, root beer, iced tea, water, or milk."
"Root beer, please," he said. He seemed to perk up when I indicated he could have something to eat.
In the brighter light of the dining room, I could see that his face was dirty, as were his clothes. He needed to get cleaned up before he ate, but he was obviously much too tired, and I could bet that he was so hungry he wouldn't notice anything but the food, so I opened his root beer, put his sandwich on a plate, and set his food in front of him, then got mine and sat across the table from him. He started to eat ravenously, and even when I told him to slow down so he wouldn't get sick, he still managed to eat his whole sandwich before I finished half of mine. I thought about offering him the rest of my sandwich, but I thought he had better take this slowly for a while--I sure didn't want him to get sick.
"Thanks. That really hit the spot," he said.
"You are welcome. Since you are a little more perky now, I have a few questions. First of all, what is your name?"
"Kerry. Kerry Patterson."
"Glad to meet you, Kerry Patterson. My name is Michael Newman."
"Glad to meet you, Sir." He reached across the table to shake my hand. I was surprised by the strength of his grip. This kid had learned good manners from someone, but if he was telling me the truth about his parents, who was it?
"How old are you, Kerry"
"Ten right now, but I will be eleven in two months."
"Sounds like your birthday and mine must be close together. Mine is in October, too."
"Mine is on the 12th."
"Mine is on the 8th. We are practically twins." Kerry giggled at this.
"Look, Kerry, I have some questions to ask you, and I want you to know right now that when we talk tomorrow, I want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but right now I know you are tired and dirty. You need to get a shower and hit the sack. Do you have any other clothes?"
"That's okay. I'll wash your clothes while you are in the shower. Come with me, and let me show you your room."
I led Kerry back to the guest room and told him to get undressed. While he took off his clothes, I turned down the bed, got out a clean towel and washcloth for him, found one of my T-shirts for him to use as a night shirt, and started the shower so it would warm up. When I returned to the bedroom, he was standing there in his underwear, and his briefs looked like they had been worn for a month.
Kerry was obviously tired, almost falling asleep standing up, but now, in the light of the bedroom lamp, I for the first time took a good look at him and realized just how beautiful a boy he would be when he was all cleaned up and smiling. He stood not quite five feet tall, maybe two or three inches shy, and I had never seen a child's body so well proportioned. His hair appeared to be mussed and dark, but that could be because he needed a shampoo, and possibly a haircut, although I had seen a lot of kids whose hair was longer than his right now. His face, as I could see clearly now, was triangular. His eyes were a beautiful blue, with eyelashes a little longer than most kids. His lips were almost those of a young girl, they appeared to be so delicate, even on his dirty face. He had a few very light freckles across his nose and onto both his cheeks, but otherwise his face was lightly complexioned, almost translucent--it probably would be after he was cleaned up. His arms and legs were slight--definitely not those of an athlete, but not overly thin, and he appeared generally healthy. He still had a little "baby fat" on his body, which made his "iny" of a belly-button more prominent, but I could see the outline of his lower ribcage. His hips were a little broader than his waist. I started to ask him to turn around so I could see his back, but I thought better of it.
I held a towel up between us for the sake of his modesty, and told him to take off his underwear, which he did, then I tied the towel around his waist. He was so tired, he had no resistance left in him.
"The soap is in the shower, there are more towels in the linen closet if you need them, there is a T-shirt for you to use as a night shirt, and your bed is turned down for you. Do you need anything else right now?" He shook his head. "If you are too tired to shower, would you prefer to take a tub bath?" Again, he shook his head. "Do you need me to help you in any way?" Again, he shook his head. "Okay, make yourself at home. If you need anything, I'll be in my bedroom just on the other side of the dining room. Okay?"
He nodded, and I gathered up his dirty clothes and left the room, closing the door behind me. It wasn't long before I heard the bathroom door close, then I heard him enter the shower. I put his clothes in the washer, returned to the kitchen to clean up the remains of our meal, then sat down in the living room to do some more thinking. Kerry took about fifteen minutes for his shower, then I heard the water turn off, followed by the sounds of his toweling off. Finally I heard him go to bed.
"Well, Mike," I thought, "whenever you jump into something, you always jump in all the way, but man, you have outdone yourself this time." I thought of some of the things I would have to do tomorrow. First, I would have to call the church pastor and make an appointment to see him--he would probably know a lot about what I had to do--and also tell him that I would not be in to the church Thursday and probably Friday--I would need the time off to get Kerry taken care of. I would probably need to call my attorney and get his input into this situation as well. Then, if I had no choice but to put Kerry into another home, it would be better to do it before I got so attached to him. If, however, I could keep him, even for a little while, he would need some new clothes. I had my doubts about whether what he was wearing was even salvageable.
After a while, I realized that I was planning all these things under the assumption that Kerry would end up staying with me. I had not even considered the definite, possibly inevitable possibility that he could be taken by the child welfare authorities and placed God knows where, and I in all likelihood would never see him again. I had heard of all the scandals, slip-ups, and negligence that seemed to be associated with such agencies over the years. I knew they were chronically understaffed and overworked, but more than a few kids had been hurt or killed because of it. Kerry had already been through enough, and the thought of his having to deal with that, on top of everything else, made me angry again. I know I said some things to myself in anger that I couldn't tell anyone about, but I found myself nourishing the fervent hope that I could find a way to have Kerry placed with me and raise him myself. "Not surprisingly," I chuckled to myself.
I then started to debate about whether to try to contact Kerry's stepfather--maybe Kerry's story was not quite all true; he was obviously a well-behaved boy who had been taught some manners at some point. Even if his story were true and his stepfather really didn't want him, maybe his stepfather would at least like to know he was okay. After a while, I decided to let Kerry decide whether or not I called his stepfather.
After a couple of hours, I turned off the living room lights, went to my bedroom, and got undressed and ready for bed. After putting Kerry's clothes in the dryer, I got into bed and, not surprisingly, found that sleep would not come for a while. I was still thinking about all the ramifications of what I was in for. I knew I had to do things strictly by the book--absolutely legally. I didn't think there could be many objections from anyone about Kerry staying with me for a while, but as I thought more, I started to question my own motives--just to be sure in my own mind, I told myself.
I really wanted Kerry to stay with me if that was possible, but I knew a lot of people wouldn't look too kindly on a widower taking in a minor child, and if that happened, Kerry could be hurt by some well-meaning, but misguided person who couldn't keep his or her mouth shut. I knew I was not a homosexual, although there had been some baseless accusations to that effect when I was in the service. I had become active in a civilian men's chorus near the base, and there were known homosexuals in the group. The military services at that time took a very archaic view of perceived homosexuality, and there was little I could do to dispute the assertions that one of my men had made, even considering that he had no proof (there was none), so I had resigned my commission and received a less than honorable discharge. Although the service had given me an application for an `Exemplary Rehabilitation Certificate,' I had never applied. I felt that applying would be tantamount to admitting that I had done something that I needed to be `rehabilitated' for, and besides, the nature of my discharge had never really affected my life. I had had a good career, and had a number of friends who knew about, but didn't believe, the accusations that had been made. The officials at my church knew, and it hadn't mattered to them. I knew that I was not a pedophile, either, although I would be the first to admit that I loved children--boys and girls--and I would admit that I especially liked to be around young boys. For a number of years I had been, and still was, a youth league baseball umpire. Also, I had always really enjoyed working with the kids in the church youth and children's choir programs, and I had never even thought of doing anything untoward with any of the kids I worked with. Most if not all of them liked me, and a few of their parents had asked me to babysit for them. I had only done that a couple of times, but nothing had ever happened, and everyone appeared to be happy. Over the years, two boys and one girl had become especially close to me, and I had agreed to be godfather to one boy who was now thirteen years old. He had been, and still was, very special to me.
Besides, I had been happily married for over seventeen years and, although my wife and I had never had any children of our own, somehow we always had kids around. I had adopted two young boys shortly before I met my wife, and she had a son from her previous marriage. While they were growing up, their friends had considered our house to be the most fun in the neighborhood, and there were children almost constantly there. All three of my sons were grown now, and my oldest son and his wife had two absolutely precious little girls, now ages 11 and 8. They lived about 150 miles away from me, but I still saw them quite often, and the girls frequently spent weekends with me. Again, I had never even thought of doing anything improper with any of these kids.
But in spite of this, I would have to admit that these last few years had been very lonely for me, and I did not want to put any child in the position of being my "significant other." Kids have enough to do just being themselves, and should not have to bear the responsibility of being the only source of anyone's emotional health. My wife, Mary, had been killed in an automobile accident five years ago, and I was still reeling from the shock. I missed her--a lot. I missed looking at her across the dining table. I missed sitting next to her in the living room, just watching TV or reading. I missed lying beside her in bed and just talking. I missed loving her, and having her love me. I missed holding her and having her hold me. I missed her smile. And most of all, I just missed HER. I could still feel our overwhelming love for each other, and there were still times I could swear she was there in the room with me. I wondered what she would be telling me now.
I noticed the tears in my eyes.
Then I heard the most terrified scream I believe I had ever heard in my life, and it was coming from within my own house!
I jumped out of bed, ran toward the guest room, turned on the hall light, and flung the door open. Kerry was standing in the middle of the floor, looking absolutely terrified. He screamed again. I ran to him, dropped to one knee, and gathered him into my arms. He threw his arms around me, and I have never been held so tightly. He buried his little face into my neck, his nose tight against my neck so that it was almost painful for me there. I tried to soothe him by speaking softly into his ear. "It's okay; hold onto me, Kerry. Hold me tight. Hold me as long as you need to, but try to get control of yourself. You are safe here. I am right here with you, and nothing is going to harm you. Shhhhhhhh."
Kerry continued to hold me--tight. God, he was strong for such a little guy. As we held each other, I felt him slowly relax, and his terrified, rapid breathing gave way to more regular peaceful breaths. But he still held me very tight. He took me at my word, and apparently held me as long as he needed to.
Which turned out to be the rest of the night!
For the first time, I could see that his hair was a beautiful light chestnut brown. It felt so fine, so soft and silky against my neck and shoulder, and had the most pleasant, clean smell after his shower. His face was that of a beautiful little child, very soft and translucent, with just the hint of a tan. And as strong as his little muscles were in holding me, his body was even softer against me. With me down on one knee, he was almost exactly as tall as I was, so that his head was just the right height to nuzzle into the space between my shoulder and neck. His breath felt so warm and soft against my neck--I had not felt that sensation since my youngest granddaughter was a baby. I don't know what he had found in the bathroom after his shower, probably some kind of lotion or something my son's wife had left in the guest bathroom, but he smelled so good. He was obviously all boy, but at that moment, I knew I was holding an angel.
"I am sorry if I woke you up, Sir," he said after a while, still holding me. "I woke up and didn't know where I was, and it scared me."
"That's okay, Kerry," I said softly into his ear. "I have heard of that happening to people in strange places, but just know that there is nothing here to hurt you. Are you all right?" I couldn't help myself--I kissed him on the cheek. He didn't seem to mind at all.
"I'm not scared anymore, now that you are here," he said.
We held each other for a few more minutes. After a while, I realized that he was totally naked--he was not using my T-shirt as a nightshirt. I had one arm around his shoulders and the other around his buttocks, holding him close to me. I couldn't see his back, but I could feel his firm little butt resting in my hand. He had held me so tight, and had tried to get so close to me, he was literally touching me from the top of his head to his toes, and he felt so nice. Here I was with an absolutely beautiful little boy in my arms; he was totally naked, totally dependent on me, looking only to me for comfort and support; and although I felt a tremendous surge of feelings for this little boy, I never became aroused. I already loved him too much for that.
Love. I couldn't believe I was thinking that--I had never been much of a believer in love at first sight, but the surge of feelings I had for this little boy was unmistakable and overwhelming. I couldn't believe how much I loved him--after all, I had met him only a few hours ago, yet here I was with him in my arms. We hardly knew each other, but fate had brought us together, and already I was holding him as if I were his father. There was no getting around it--I loved him. And yes, I mean love. Genuine love. Not lust, not pity, not infatuation, and not just compassion (although I felt that, too), but love. Love such as I had not felt for another human being since my wife died. I wondered how he felt. Maybe, in time, after he knew me better...
I stood up, picking him up off the floor, still amazed at how light he was, and we stayed in each other's arms a little longer, then I gently put him back into bed, covered him up, and tucked him in like I used to do with my own adopted sons, and still do occasionally with my granddaughters. He looked at me with the most beautiful clear, deep blue eyes in the universe, and said, "Thanks, Sir." I gave him an affectionate kiss on the forehead and said, "You're welcome, Little Buddy. Try to get some sleep now, but if you need me, I am in my bedroom just on the other side of the dining room."
I turned to leave, but just when I reached the door, I heard him call my name, so I turned around.
"Mike, would you please let me sleep with you tonight? I know I am imposing, and I'll understand if you say `no,' but I love you, and I want to be close to you tonight."
Could this be happening? Did this marvelously beautiful little boy just tell me he loved me? After I had just realized how much I loved him? His voice was obviously tired, which was understandable, and there was still a little unsteadiness in it because of his frightening nightmare, but it also had the most earnest, pleading, sincere quality to it. It sounded as if he wanted so much for me to grant his request, but he was already resigned to believing that I would not. I wondered if he realized just how much I had fallen for him.
I went back and sat down on the side of the bed. He moved over close to me and took my hands into his, still looking at me with those gorgeous blue eyes. I gently squeezed his hand and tried to be as gentle with him as I could. I know I had tears in my eyes, and I didn't know if I could tell him what I needed to, but I had to try.
"Listen, Kerry," I began, "You say that you love me, and I appreciate that. I treasure that more than you will ever know, and I want you to know that I have very, very strong feelings for you--I have since you asked me if you could come home with me. But you have been through a lot the last few days, things that no boy your age should ever have to contend with, and I am so glad I was able to get you out of a bad situation tonight. For the first time in what I know seems to you to be a long time, you are safe and secure with nothing around to hurt you, and it is understandable that you feel a lot of gratitude toward me. I appreciate that, too, but to keep us both from being hurt, you need to be absolutely sure that you are not confusing your gratitude with love. I guess what I am trying to say is this: Be very careful how you use that word `love.' When you can say it and mean it, `I love you' is the most beautiful thing you can say to another person, but if you don't mean it, if you have any reservations about it, if you have any ulterior motives in saying it, or if you are confusing love with gratitude or any other emotion, then nothing you could say would be quite as cruel. Do you understand?"
Kerry nodded. "I understand, and I'll say it again--I love you. I do feel grateful to you for helping me tonight, but I am old enough to know love when I feel it, and I have never felt love as strongly as I do for you now. Ever."
I could never explain to anyone how I felt at that moment. My head was reeling, and my heart was pounding in my chest like it never had before. This couldn't have just happened. Mary, are you behind this? It took me a few minutes to get control of myself, but I was finally able to speak. "Well, I guess I have to admit it, too--I love you very much, Kerry," I said. He raised his arms to me, and I bent down to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He smiled and made the most contented little sigh.
"But you still need to understand something. As for your sleeping with me, you need to understand that most people in this world cannot or will not, or in any case do not, understand the feelings that can exist between a man my age and a boy your age who are not close family members. And since they do not understand them, they will not tolerate the feelings, nor the people who have them. Also, there are a lot of up-tight people who would say that if a man ever shows any affection of any kind to a boy, there must be something untoward going on between them. They would claim that no man is capable of loving a boy, except his son, in any semblance of a fatherly way--there would have to be some sexual relationship involved. As a result, there are very strict laws in this country that essentially say it is illegal for you to spend the night in my bed with me. Some would say it is illegal for you to even be in this house now." He looked crestfallen, and I realized he was almost ready to cry again. I didn't want to disappoint him, but he had to understand. I spoke again, as gently as I could.
"I appreciate how you are feeling, Kerry, and as I said, I love you, too, very much. But if you and I were to sleep together and word were to get out, those same people would never believe that we really do love each other. They would say that I molested you or raped you, or at least planned to later on, and they would never believe that we slept together just to be close to each other. It would be better for all concerned if they would just mind their own business unless they had some kind of proof of inappropriate behavior, but some people, if they had nothing to gossip about, would literally die of constipation."
"Now, Kerry, I want you to listen carefully to what I am about to say. I am not going to say no to you,"--I noticed him starting to smile--"because to be honest, I love you very much, and I would very much like to be close to you, too, but I don't want you to be hurt in any way. You need to be absolutely sure about what your feelings are so that you won't get hurt. However, if you are sure that you still want to sleep with me, then you need to understand not only that this MUST be kept strictly between the two of us, but you also need to be absolutely sure that you CAN keep it just between us, and no one else. The fact that we slept together must never be mentioned to anyone else, no matter what. Unless you are positive you can do that, it would be better if we did not sleep together--tonight or any other night. We can still love each other, and we can still be as affectionate with each other as you feel comfortable in being during the day, but we just wouldn't sleep together."
"Don't worry, Sir. I'm sure I want to sleep with you, and I can keep a secret."
"Kerry, please understand. I am not asking you to keep anything secret if it is uncomfortable for you. If anyone ever does, or tries to do, anything with you that you think is wrong, or anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, then you need to tell someone. And as a general rule, if anyone ever tells you not to tell about something, you can pretty much be certain that what they are trying to get you to do is wrong. That's not what I am telling you now. I just want you to understand that if you were to tell anyone that we slept together, even if you made it very clear that we didn't do anything else with each other, they may tell other people, the part about us not doing anything else would disappear along the way, and a lot of people could very easily get the wrong idea. If that happened, it would be bad for both of us. I would in all probability have to go to jail. Even if by some miracle I could stay out of jail, whatever reputation I have would be gone. Can you imagine what the parishioners of my church would say? I don't even want to think about what my children and their families would say. You wouldn't go to jail, but it wouldn't be pleasant for you either."
"I understand, Sir. I wouldn't ever tell anyone anything that would get you into trouble. Believe me, I understand exactly what you are saying. Right now, I love you so much, I just want to be close to you--I am too tired to do anything else but sleep. Could you please carry me to your bed? No one ever did that for me before."
For the second time tonight, for the second time in many years, my heart melted.
"OK, Kerry, come on. But just remember what I told you, okay?"
He held his arms out to me, and I picked him up and started toward my bedroom, turning off the hall light on the way. Kerry wrapped his arms around my neck, and his legs around my waist. He nuzzled his face into my neck and whispered, "I love you, Mike" into my ear.
"I think I love you more, Kerry."
I carried him to my bedroom, turned on the lamp, put him under the covers of my bed and slipped under the covers with him. I felt his right arm reach under my neck and his left one drape over my right shoulder. He laid his head against my left shoulder and drew his left knee up and rested it over my leg. I slipped my left arm under his shoulder and put my hand against the small of his back, holding him close to me. Kerry snuggled up as close as he could to me, and made the most contented little sigh I had ever heard. He was asleep in seconds, and again I felt his warm, soft breath against my neck. I don't think he heard me when I said again, "I love you, Kerry," but I like to think that somewhere deep in his being, he felt it and he knew. I turned off the lamp, and sleep came surprisingly quickly. When I awoke the next morning, Kerry was still asleep, in the exact same position.
I lay awake for a while just enjoying having him there with me. It was nice feeling warmed by another human body after so long a time sleeping alone, but again, I was not aroused at all. He had apparently not moved at all during the night. He still had his arms around me, although they were totally relaxed. His head still lay on my shoulder, and his soft, silken hair brushed against my face. It was so soft and beautiful that I had a hard time not running my fingers through it, but I didn't want to wake him. He looked so beautiful and so peaceful lying there next to me. Except for an occasional sigh, his breathing was very quiet and regular and told me he was still sound asleep.
I could have stayed there with him the rest of the day at least, but I had a lot to do, and I had to get started. I took my time being gentle in getting him off me without waking him, but when I finally got him entirely on the bed, he still appeared to be asleep. God, he looked so beautiful! I lightly kissed his forehead, and he sighed and seemed to make a little smile, but did not wake up.
I went to the bathroom, showered, shaved, and got dressed. I checked on Kerry again, and he still appeared to be asleep, so I went to the kitchen to start breakfast. I stood in front of the pantry, then the refrigerator, asking myself what a ten-year-old boy would want for breakfast. I made it a point to keep a couple of boxes of cereal around for when my granddaughters stayed the night, but I doubted if Kerry would appreciate cereal from a box with the Strawberry Shortcake character or a Barbie doll all over the front. I thought about making pancakes, but I didn't have very much mix left. I decided that I would have to include a short trip to the grocery store if Kerry stayed...
If Kerry stayed. God, please let him stay! We love each other so much, and we would both be devastated if he had to go anywhere else. Please, Almighty God, let him stay!
Just then I heard a sound behind me, and I turned around. Kerry stood there in all his naked beauty, rubbing his eyes. All my observations from the night before were confirmed beautifully in the morning light in my kitchen. He was so beautiful it almost took my breath away. This was my boy, and I loved him dearly. "Good morning, Little Buddy," I said.
Kerry ran and jumped into my arms, then threw his arms around my neck for a big hug. "I was trying to sneak up on you, but you must have heard me," he said playfully. He nuzzled his face into my neck.
"Yes, I heard. Did you get a good rest?
"Yes. It felt good to be with someone I love for a change."
"I know. I love you, too, but don't try to make me cry this early. Now it is time for you to get dressed--we have a big day today."
"Why, don't you like to hold me while I'm naked?" he asked playfully.
"Kerry, has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are when you are naked? If I had my way, I would keep you naked around me all the time, but we both know I can't do that. Besides, like I said, we have a lot to do today, and I still have a lot of questions for you. Now, your clothes are in the dryer over there, and your shoes are in the guest bedroom where you undressed last night. Now you go get dressed while I fix breakfast." I put him down on the floor and gave him a little pat on his beautiful little butt. Was that a bruise I saw on his left buttock? "Sausage and eggs OK with you?"
"If there is enough of them," he playfully replied.
"So how many eggs do you want?"
"Lots!" He ran to the dryer to get his clothes, then ran to the guest bedroom.
I made a mental note to do something about his running around the house naked. Yes, he was a beautiful little boy, and anyone would have loved the view. But society has decreed that above a certain age--and Kerry was definitely past that age--being naked in front of other people is not acceptable. There were cases in which parents had gotten into loads of trouble for allowing such activities. This, in my opinion, was ridiculous. We have become a world of people who are so constrained by ridiculous rules that we are afraid to take a deep breath. We are so afraid of being politically incorrect that if anyone even looks at us crosseyed, we automatically feel we have done something wrong. Why do we have to take away the innocence of children at such a young age? Why can't we let them be themselves and enjoy them for what they are--the most precious of God's gifts. But, unfortunately, the world is not that way, and Kerry needed to learn to live in the world as it is.
He returned almost immediately with eyes almost as big as a silver dollar. "Sir, is that an organ in the living room next to the piano?" he asked.
"Yes, it is. That is my practice instrument. I am the organist at the church where we met last night."
"It looks AWESOME!" I could tell he was quite impressed. "Could you teach me to play it?"
"Maybe," I answered, "we'll talk about it after breakfast."
Kerry went back to the bedroom to get dressed. I scrambled six eggs and fried six sausage patties, plus toast with strawberry preserves, orange juice, and a banana for him. When he returned, dressed in his newly cleaned clothes, I realized just how ragged and threadbare his clothes were. I was surprised they had survived the washer. But there was nothing wrong with his appetite. He ate just as hungrily as he had last night.
"Are you starting to get full?" I asked.
"No, but at least I am not hungry any more."
"OK, and from now on, as long as you are here with me, you don't ever have to be hungry again. Just tell me when you are, and we'll find you something to eat. But for now, let's go to the living room. It is more comfortable in there, and I have some questions to ask you."
As we got up from the table, he looked out the window into the back yard. "Wow!" he exclaimed, "you have a pool in the back yard, and lots of trees. Can I swim in it? Please?"
I laughed. It was great to have him be so happy after what he had apparently gone through the last few days. "Sure, that's what it's there for. But first things first."
"OK," he said, leading the way into the living room. He sat down on the organ bench. "This is so cool," he said, rubbing his hand over the wooden bench. I could tell he was really impressed with the organ--he wasn't just trying to be polite and make conversation.
I sat on the couch looking at him. "First, Kerry," I said, "I want you to tell me, in your own words, what you would like me to do for you."
"That's easy," he replied. "I have never loved anyone as much as I love you now, and I want to be with you more than anything. Can I stay with you? Please? I know I said last night that I would leave this morning, but I promise I'll be good. Please let me stay." The pleading look on his face and in his voice almost made me cry.
"Kerry, there is nothing in the world I would like more than to have you stay with me and be my little boy. I can't tell you how much I love to hear that you want the same thing. I promise I will do everything I can to make that happen, but we both have to understand that there are a lot of legal things that have to be considered. While I will fight for you with every resource I have, it may not be possible for you to be with me, no matter how much we both may want it. If that is the case, we will just have to accept it and do the best we can with what is available to us. Understand?"
Kerry nodded, but I could tell he was disappointed. The look on his face almost broke my heart, but it also made me more determined. I swore in my mind that this child had already endured all the pain and abuse that he would ever have to contend with. If the authorities knew what was good for them, they wouldn't try to fight me over this. Whatever it took, I was prepared to pursue this all the way to the world court if necessary. But I still needed more information.
"Remember last night I told you that I needed you to tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth today?"
"Well, it is very important that you do that. I am going to be talking to some people today to find out how to go about getting you to stay with me legally, and they will have to know exactly what your situation is. No matter how difficult or painful it may be for you to tell me, you have to tell me and it must be the truth. You need to trust me when I say that no matter what you tell me, you won't get into any trouble, and I promise no one will hurt you, but if you tell me something that isn't true, and I act on that to get custody of you, then the people who have to make those legal decisions will know that they can't trust what I say, and there will be absolutely no chance of your getting to stay with me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. I'll tell you the truth. I promise."
"First of all, what happened that made your stepfather throw you out of the house?"
"He never has liked me, and after Mom died it got worse. He would yell at me all the time, and I got a lot of spankings. He got mad at me because he came home early and found my friend Larry and me playing with each other in my room. He said no queer was going to live under his roof, so he kicked me out."
"You say you got a lot of spankings. Is that what caused that bruise I noticed this morning?"
"Where? Here?" he said, turning and pointing to his left hip.
"Yes. He gave me a hard spanking with a razor strop right before he threw me out."
"Do you think he would consent to having me made your legal guardian?"
"Who knows? But I don't see why not. He doesn't want me. He never did."
"Do you mind if I call him and ask him?"
"I don't care. Go ahead if you want to."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"No. I am the only one."
"Do you have any relatives that may want to take you?"
"On my mom's side, I have a great aunt that lives in Chicago, but she's in her eighties. I know she loves me, but she can't take care of me. She told me so after Mom's funeral. Mom was an only child, so I don't have any other aunts or uncles that I know of. You are the only one who has ever wanted me besides my mom."
"Do you know if your mom left a will or not?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me what you know about your real father."
"He died before I was born. Mom never talked about him all that much. My stepfather knew him, I think, but he never talked about him either."
"So I guess that means you don't know about any relatives on your father's side."
"No, I don't."
"Well, Kerry, since you have said that you want to stay with me, let me tell you what I am going to do. First, I am going to talk with the pastor at my church and see what he advises, then I am going to talk to my attorney about getting custody of you if that is possible. If there is a way, believe me he will find it. When I adopted my children twenty-four years ago, his father was my attorney, and things went very smoothly. From what I understand, he is even brighter than his father in family matters. Then, based on what they tell me, there may be other things I have to do, but I hope you are still with me then. If you are, then we have to do some shopping for you some new clothes and some more groceries. Is there anything else you need to do?"
"No, except if you don't mind I want to go with you."
"You can." He slid off the organ bench and, with unmistakable tears in his eyes, came over and gave me a hug. It felt as if his body literally melted against me, and I held him close as I tried to regain my voice. After what seemed like several minutes, I kissed his cheek and said, "You know I could get used to this, Kerry, but why don't you look around the house a little and find out where everything is while I make some phone calls right now."
"Okay," he answered. He kissed my cheek, then headed for the organ. "Can I turn this on and see how it sounds?"
"You mean, `May I,' don't you?" He corrected himself. "Yes, you may, but keep the volume low. I am going to be on the telephone." He pulled up the roll top cover, turned on the organ, and sat fascinated by the instrument. I wished I could spend time with him right then and show him the organ and let him hear the different stops, but maybe it would be better to let him explore on his own right now. Besides, I needed to make those phone calls.
I called Rev. Keller and told him that I wouldn't be in my office the next couple of days, but I needed to speak to him at his first available hour. He said to drop by at 10:00--just a little over two hours from now. I then called my attorney's office, expecting to leave him a voice mail, but his secretary answered. Mr. Braxton wasn't in, she told me, and was to be in court all day, but she would have him call me back that evening. I called the organ tuner and arranged for the church organ to be tuned the following week. Then I called Kerry, and he came running.
I got the name and phone number of his stepfather and asked if he wanted to tell him anything or needed anything of his that might still be at his stepfather's house. He couldn't think of anything, so after activating my telephone recorder, I called his stepfather's number. A deep voice answered the phone. I decided to be as friendly as I could.
"Hello, Mr. Sanders. My name is Mike Newman, and I am calling about your stepson Kerry Patterson."
"Where is the little queer bastard," he growled. It was obvious that Kerry's stepfather was not going to be easy to deal with. Maybe he didn't love the boy, but that didn't give him any right to call him names. Besides, I had already decided in my own mind that Kerry was MY son, and I wasn't going to tolerate anyone mistreating him, and that included using derogatory names. I decided that politeness would be wasted on this guy, and I didn't even try to keep the ice from my voice.
"Mr. Sanders, Kerry has told me, and it is quite obvious to me now, that you have no interest at all in having him as your son. He also says that he has no relatives on his mother's side except a great aunt in Chicago who is unable to care for him. He thinks you knew his biological father. Now, assuming that is correct, do you know of any relatives he has on his father's side that may want to take him in?
"No. No one I know would want a goddam faggot living with them."
By this time, I had had more than enough of Mr. Sanders. "Now listen here, you low-life piece of shit. As of last night, Kerry has been with me. If he is homosexual, that is between him and the Lord, I doubt very seriously if he is a bastard, and the God I know does not damn little boys. And it is obvious that you don't know me, because I DO want Kerry to be with me, if that is possible. The only reason I am calling is to ask you, since you obviously have no feelings for him and do not want him around, if you would agree to sign the legal papers granting me guardianship of him. If you will agree to that, I will bear all the costs--you won't be financially responsible for anything."
"But I'll still be the bad guy. Everyone will call me the guy that gave up his stepson, and my reputation will be shot. You get all the glory for stepping in and saving a poor, little, innocent child. Is that it?"
"I don't believe what I am hearing. You listen to me, Sanders, and you listen good. I found Kerry last night, I have heard his story, I have seen his bruises, and now I have heard for myself what his bigoted stepfather is like, so don't try to talk to me about your precious reputation. Where on earth do you think you stand right now? You kicked a ten-year-old boy, your late wife's only son, out of your house without a second thought after giving him a beating which left bruises. You didn't even give him an opportunity to pack his things. For the last three days, you have made no effort at all to get him into a safe situation, you have made no effort to check on him, and you have not cared one iota about what may have happened to him. It is obvious that all you wanted was to be rid of him, and even now you are showing no remorse whatsoever. All you seem to care about is your reputation, as if anyone in his right mind would think you even had one. Well, I'll tell you, Sanders, your reputation should be the least of your worries right now, because there is little you can do to rescue it. I should call the cops right now and have you arrested for child abandonment, child endangerment, and child abuse. If I did, I would be a hero in this community. I am not going to do that unless you give me more cause than you have already, but I warn you, don't provoke me any further, and don't make the mistake of thinking I am not serious. I am going to ask you just once more to do at least one decent thing in all of this and agree to sign the papers so that your stepson can have a reasonable chance at happiness--happiness that he would never have with you." I know I wasn't polite, but I meant every word.
"How do I know you ain't one of them queer bastards yourself?"
By now, I was practically screaming. "You DON'T know that, Sanders, and given your total lack of feelings for the boy, what concern should that be to you? Even if I were, don't you think Kerry would be better off with me than with someone who feels the way you do about him and who treats him the way you obviously have? However, you are welcome to do any kind of background checks on me that you want. I am retired, I work as a church organist, and I have been a widower for the past five years. I have three grown sons, and two granddaughters about Kerry's age. I am not a homosexual, I am certainly not a pedophile, and the only bastard in this whole situation is YOU--not me, and certainly not Kerry."
"Okay, okay, I'll sign your papers. At least that will get the little faggot out of my hair. But you owe me $5000.00 for doing it."
"I didn't hear what you just said, but if I hear it again I'm going to hang up this phone and call the cops. Last chance--will you sign the papers?"
"Look, I oughtta get something out of this for taking care of him the last few years."
"Don't press it, you son of a bitch, you are on very thin ice right now," I yelled. "Absolutely last chance...NOW!"
"Oh, all right. Yes, I'll sign."
"Thank you," I said, still with a ton of ice in my voice. "I'll have my attorney draw up the papers. You will be hearing from him. In the meantime, you need to know that as far as I am concerned, as of this moment Kerry is my son, and if I ever again hear or hear of your calling him a bastard, a queer, a faggot, or any other derogatory name, you will answer to me. I mean it, Sanders, and if you think I can't make your life a living hell, just try me. I know how to do it, I have the resources to do it, and after speaking with you now and knowing what kind of scumbag you are, I will have no qualms whatsoever about doing it. I will make a hobby out of ruining you and your precious reputation. Now, is that clear to you?"
"Just who do you..."
"SIR,...IS...THAT...CLEAR?" I shouted into the telephone.
"Yeah, yeah, all right. Send your papers over here, and I'll sign. Just keep that little ba...Kerry...out of my sight."
"No problem. One more thing--from this moment on, if you ever attempt to renege on this, if you do or say anything to impede or obstruct the legal proceedings to make me Kerry's guardian, or if you do or say anything to hurt Kerry in any way whatsoever, you had better make sure you have your affairs in order, because I'll be on you like white on rice. You have my word that I will take no action whatsoever against you as long as you leave us alone, but if you cross me, I guarantee you that you will regret it. I hope you understand that clearly, Sir."
"Don't you dare try to threaten me, Newman. I wasn't born yesterday, and I know how to take care of do-gooders who think they are better than me."
"I don't make threats, Sanders, I make promises. In a way, I hope you do try something. I think I would enjoy grinding my heel into your neck. Good-bye." I hung up the phone and turned off the recorder. I took the tape out, labeled it, and put it in my locked desk drawer. I hoped I wouldn't have to use it, but if that worthless sack of shit tried anything, I would be ready for him.
Just then I heard a whimper. I looked around and saw Kerry, with tears in his eyes, standing in my office door. "Mike, please don't ever get that mad at me," he said, wiping his eyes.
I held out my arms to him, and he flew into them. "Oh, Kerry, that's not going to happen. You are incapable of doing anything that would make me that angry." I hugged him to me and kissed his cheek. He stayed in my lap with his arms around me, burying his face in my neck, until it was time to go to Rev. Keller's office.
I sat in Rev. Keller's office and described the situation in as much detail as I knew, while Kerry sat in the outer office reading a book he had found there. I admitted to him that I had been less than polite to Mr. Sanders, but I really had no regrets about anything I had said, and although I hoped I would not have to, I was fully prepared to make good on the "promises" I had made to him.
Rev. Keller was thoughtful for a few moments before he spoke. "Mike," he began, "normally I would take a long time discussing the ramifications of this with you, but I don't think that will be necessary in your case. You and I have known each other for several years now. You have been through the adoption process before, so I know that you know what is ahead, and your children have all turned out to be fine young men, so I know you are more than capable of raising him properly. You have been active in our church and community youth programs, so I know you have the ability to work with this child and help him contend with his family history, and when you came in this morning, I could see the love in your eyes and the determination in your whole demeanor. The only concern I have is your age. Stop and think, Mike, you are--what--58 years old? And this child is ten? You will be in your sixties while he is going through his teen years. Do you really think this is the right thing to do?
"Yes, I do. If God gives me breath long enough, I will take care of him myself, and if He doesn't, I am sure one of my sons will. I can give him enough financial support to get his education and at least a good start on his career. Besides, I don't see anyone else stepping up to the plate for him. And don't try to tell me that Children's Services has the answer. I don't even want to think about them getting their hands on him."
"I hear you. Just understand that you need to think about that issue and be sure that you can answer any questions about it from the authorities. For my part, I just have one question to ask you now: Do you believe that God is asking you to take this child and love him and raise him as your own before God, Him being your guide and your strength?"
"Reverend, I am not going to sit here and tell you that I have heard a clear voice from Him about this, but I just met this boy last night, and I have already developed very, very strong feelings for him. He says, and I believe, that he shares very strong feelings for me. Both of us love each other very much. I know he can't take Mary's place in my life or my heart, but a lot has been missing from my life since Mary died, and he has already filled in a sizeable gap. He has never known the love of a father, and I honestly believe that I am overflowing with that. If God Himself did not send him to me, I know in my heart that Mary did."
Rev. Keller was silent a few moments before he finally responded, "Sounds like God is working here." He had a very large smile on his face. "Do you know Tom Sunderland from the church?" he asked.
"No, I am sorry, I can't place the name."
"Tom has been a member here for about four years, although he doesn't come to services very often. He is a family court judge, and he owes me a favor. I cannot, and I will not, attempt to influence any of his decisions in this case or in any others, but I will ask him how to go about this legally. I am sure he wouldn't consider it a breach of his duties to answer general questions. Would you like me to call him now?"
"Yes, I would, if you don't mind."
"Also, do you know Doyle Matthews?"
"Not really. I have met him a couple of times, and I believe he is an attorney, but we really don't know each other."
"He is an attorney specializing in family law. He and I have worked on a number of problems involving children before. If you would like, I will see if he would take your case."
"I appreciate your help so far, and I would welcome any additional help you can provide."
Reverend Keller called Mr. Sunderland's office and got his secretary. In no time he was actually talking to the judge. I tried to hear more than one side of the conversation, but I couldn't. Anyway, Reverend Keller seemed to like what he was hearing. I heard him mention that he was going to contact Doyle Matthews about possibly handling the case. After a while, he pulled the phone away from his ear and asked me if I knew the full name of the boy's stepfather. I gave him the information, then he returned to his conversation. When he finally hung up, he was all smiles.
He then called Mr. Matthews' office and had a conversation that again left him smiling.
"Mike," Reverend Keller began, "apparently your Mr. Sanders has come up before Judge Sunderland before, and the judge doesn't like him very much. He can't promise anything, but he'll look into the matter and advise on any problems that may arise. He says you two have never met, but he knows you as the church organist and was very complimentary about your musical abilities. It's obviously too early to tell, but things look good for a start. Also, I spoke with Doyle Matthews, and he has agreed to take your case if you want him to. I don't know if you already have an attorney, but I would strongly advise you to pick Doyle."
"Thanks. I do have a call in to my attorney, and I'll ask him about it when I speak to him this evening. He probably knows Mr. Matthews, and maybe I can get both of them to work for me."
"That would be great. Mike, I need to ask you if you would mind if I speak to the young lad in private. I noticed you had him with you--at least I assume that is he."
"Fine with me. I'll just wait outside."
Kerry went into the Reverend's office and stayed about ten minutes. When they came out, Reverend Keller was still all smiles. "Mike, you know that I will do anything I can to help you if you need me. God has sent you a fine boy here--take care of him." He looked down at Kerry, and Kerry beamed back at him. The Reverend tossled his hair and gave him a pat on the back. "Before you leave, I need to speak to you again, but first I have a couple of phone calls to make. Do you have time to wait a few minutes?"
"Sure," I answered, and I sat down in the waiting room next to Kerry. He gave me a cute little wink and a big smile, then turned back to reading his book. After about fifteen minutes, I was called back into the office.
"Mike, I have spoken with a very nice lady who also is a member of this church, Mrs. Flora Adams. You probably don't know her, since she seldom comes to Sunday services, but believe me, she is quite active behind the scenes. She works with the county child welfare office. She will be contacting you about some legal paperwork in a few days, but her office has a sizeable backlog of cases. Normally, her department would take immediate custody of the boy, but when I told her who you were, and assured her that the boy was in good hands, and also told her that Doyle Matthews was probably taking your case, she agreed to allow him to stay with you until the situation is a little clearer. I am sure Doyle will do his best for you, and Judge Sunderland will do what is right. Assuming there are no legal barriers to your being named guardian, she sees no problem with it, and she will do what she can to expedite the paperwork. At any rate, let me assure you that you have the first team working for you in this, and again, you know I will do what I can to help you."
I was almost speechless. "Reverend, I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate your help this morning. I knew I had a lot of things to do, but I didn't know where to begin. Now, it almost seems like this is going to be as easy as a signature. Thanks so much for your help, and thanks for the kind words and the confidence."
"You're welcome. Just take care of God's little angel out there. Mike, I have no problem with your taking a little time off to take care of this, but please keep your cell phone handy in case we need to call you for an emergency. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid we will be having a funeral in the next few days."
I agreed. We shook hands, then I called Kerry and we left the church.
"Are you my dad yet?" Kerry asked as soon as we got into the car.
"No, Kerry, not yet. Legal things take time--sometimes lots of time. But we have a lot of good people on our side, so let's be optimistic. Okay?" Kerry grinned. "So, what did you think of Reverend Keller?"
"He's nice," Kerry said. "He thinks a lot of you, too."
"Well, good," I said. It is always good to hear a compliment, especially from your supervisor, pastor, and friend. "What's your favorite color?"
"Blue. Why do you ask?"
"I need to know what color of clothes to look for," I answered. I had to admit I was a little excited about going shopping for new clothes for him--it had been a long time since I shopped for clothes for a boy, and I was looking forward to it. Besides, I was also excited that Kerry was going to stay with me for at least a few more days, and he needed them. I looked over to him, expecting to see his radiant smile, but instead he looked a little sad.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Nothing's wrong," Kerry answered, "but I told you last night I wouldn't be any trouble, and now you are talking about spending money on me. I know you hadn't planned on buying clothes for me, and I don't want you to resent me. Why don't you just let me keep these clothes? They are fine, and I can keep them clean."
"Kerry, number one, you need new clothes and we both know it. You can't wear the same clothes every day, and besides, the clothes you have on don't have much wear left in them--in fact, they are going into the garbage when we get home. Number two, you don't have any idea how much I am going to enjoy being able to shop for a special little boy. It has been a long time since I was able to do that, and I intend to enjoy it. Kerry, please just let me worry about the finances, and you just keep thinking about how much I love you, how proud I am of you, and how handsome you are going to be when you look even nicer than you do now. It is my pleasure to do this for you, and I have absolutely no resentment toward you. Number three, and last, more than anything else right now, I want you to feel comfortable in telling me what you need or want. You need to know that while I am not as wealthy as many people are, I am more than comfortable, and I like to think I am pretty good at taking care of what is important to me. You certainly fit that description. I am not saying I can do everything at once, and I am not saying that I will do everything you want, but if I am going to be your father, then I want you to give me the opportunity to be as good a one as I can be."
"Okay, but I don't want you to do anything that is going to make you love me any less."
"That would be impossible, Kerry. You should know that. Whatever I do for you, it is done out of love for you, and it is fully paid back when you say you love me. And believe me, those hugs you give me every once in a while--well, they are to die for. I'm being well paid, and don't you forget it."
"You know I do love you, Mike, and not just as pay back. I really do love you."
"And I love you, too, but enough of this mushy stuff. We have shopping to do."
We arrived at the mall, and after parking the car, we made our way to an upscale department store where I had an account. Kerry selected all his own clothes, but I had to keep urging him on and reminding him of things I thought he would need. It probably made him feel uncomfortable to have me buying so many clothes for him, but I really did enjoy it. I knew I could afford it, whether he did or not. And after a while, he began to be excited as well. God, he was beautiful when he smiled.
When all was said and done, Kerry had new clothes from top to bottom. He selected eight polo shirts, two dress shirts with ties, a belt, four pairs of blue jeans, a pair of navy dress trousers, three pairs of shorts, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of dress shoes, plus a couple of packages each of T-shirts, underwear, and several colors of socks. We couldn't find a blazer to fit him, so I had him measured for one, and we were to pick it up in about a week. He also found a cute pair of pajamas and a blue bath robe, which although he did not know it, was almost exactly like mine. All this was topped off by a bright orange Speedo swim suit. Near the end of our shopping spree, he came out of the fitting room wearing a pair of tan shorts, a dark green polo shirt with matching socks, white sneakers and a brown leather belt. He looked absolutely stunning.
"Kerry, go back into the fitting room, take the tags off those clothes, and bring them to me. You can wear that outfit out of here."
"Wow! You mean it?" he exclaimed. I was taken by the sparkle in his eyes.
"Yes, they look much better than your old clothes, and we have some more stops to make."
Kerry flew back into the fitting room and later brought me the price tags from the clothes he was wearing. I paid the bill, and the saleslady found a bag for the old clothes. She also found a stock boy to help us get all his packages to the car.
We spent some time looking through the mall and found a few more items which Kerry liked. We passed a jewelry store and I noticed that something caught his eye. He approached the window very slowly, and I asked what he was looking at.
"I just saw that necklace," he said. "It reminds me of one my mom wore. She had it on when they buried her." He was pointing to a gold rope necklace with a crucifix on it.
"Kerry, I doubt if that is the same as your mom's. That is a man's necklace. The chain is heavier and the crucifix is a little larger than a woman would wear."
"Maybe," answered Kerry, "but it still reminds me of hers."
"Well, I don't think your mom would mind if you had something that reminded you of her," I said, and we entered the store. I bought the necklace for him without even asking the price, and told the jeweler he could keep the box. After the jeweler adjusted the length, Kerry put the necklace on, and it looked like it had been made especially for him. When we left the store, I noticed that Kerry had tears in his eyes.
"Is something wrong, son," I asked.
Kerry threw his arms around my neck and held me tight. "Daddy, why do you love me so much?" he cried. "You have given me so much today already, and now I feel like you have given me back my mom. This is so beautiful."
I had trouble holding back my own tears. "Kerry, I love you so much just because you are you. I can't tell you how special you are to me, because I don't know the words to use. But I haven't given you back your mom, because your mom has never been lost. I know you can't see or hear her any more, but I know you can feel her. If that necklace makes it easier for you to remember her, that's great. It will always be yours, and it can have whatever meaning you wish to give it."
"Thank you, Dad. I love you so much," he said, burying his face into my chest and crying softly.
"Kerry, I love you more than I will ever be able to explain to you, and much more than I will ever be able to show you. And I am glad you like your necklace. It looks beautiful on you."
We finished our shopping, and I asked Kerry what he wanted to do next.
"Let's go home now, and I'll help you fix lunch. Then we can plan the afternoon," he said.
"Okay, but first we have to stop at the grocery store and get some things you like to eat." When we arrived at the grocery store, I was surprised that I didn't have to keep warning him about too much sweets. He selected his favorite breakfast cereals and some favorite drinks, but for snacks he chose trail mixes, fruits, and granola bars. I found that he had almost exactly the same tastes as I had when it came to meats, cheeses, and fresh vegetables. He was going to be easy to cook for.
Before we got to the checkout line, Kerry asked me, "Dad, do we have any hot dogs at home? I haven't had one in a long time, and I think I would like to have them for lunch."
"I am not sure if we have any, Kerry. Why don't you go over and get a couple of packages of hot dogs and some buns. That sounds good to me, too," I answered. I didn't have the heart to tell him it may be a little premature to be calling me "Dad" and calling my house "home." Besides, I am not sure I could have done it, with all the tears in my eyes. Reverend Keller had been right--Kerry was God's little angel, and I had to care for him and hope he would one day be mine as well.
Kerry came running back with the hot dogs and buns. He had also picked up a package of shredded cheese and a can of chili. "Is this all right?" he asked.
"Sure," I laughed. Kerry threw his arms around me and buried his face into my chest. I ran my fingers through his soft hair, and he looked up to me and smiled.
"I am so happy, Mike. Please let things stay this way."
I paid for the groceries, Kerry helped me load them into the car, and we were on our way home. He sat with his head on my shoulder while I drove. He was sleeping by the time we arrived at my house, but he was easily awakened when I told him to wake up. He helped carry the groceries into the house, then ran back to the car to get his new clothes. It took him three trips. After he had gotten them all into the house, he came into the kitchen where I was preparing the hot dogs.
"Where do you want me to put my new clothes?" he asked. I turned around to look at him, and found that again he was totally naked, except for his new necklace. Once again, I admired the absolute beauty of his body. He turned around slowly so that I could look at all of him, and again, I very much liked what I saw. God, he was beautiful. "You said to put my old clothes in the garbage, so I did," he said proudly.
"So I did," I laughed, gathering him into my arms and hugging him. "But I didn't tell you that you had to take off your new outfit before lunch. At least get on some underwear and your new bathrobe."
"I can't until you put me down," he answered playfully. "I just thought you would like to hold me and see me naked again."
"I love to hold you and see you naked, Kerry, but let's not overdo it," I laughed.
Kerry laughed out loud, then he kissed me. I put him down and he ran back into my bedroom. He returned after a couple of minutes wearing his new blue bathrobe.
During lunch, Kerry ate two hot dogs with chili and cheese, plus a small bag of corn chips and drank a can of root beer. "I am glad you like hot dogs," he said. "My stepfather didn't like them at all, and it has been months since I had one. This is great."
"Well, you don't have to worry about your stepfather any more. But just on that thought, what did you have to eat after he threw you out and before I found you?"
"Not much. One boy about high school age bought me a hamburger the second day after I agreed to let him see my thing, but that's all I had until you came along."
"Well, you don't ever have to do anything like that to get your meals around here," I said emphatically. "It is a shame that you had to go through all that. I wish I had found you sooner."
"But, Mike, I think I would like doing things with you. I was hoping you and I could love each other sometime."
"I think we already do."
"I know. But I was hoping we could do some more."
"Kerry, I can see that there are some things we need to talk about more, but let me ask you something. You said that your stepfather kicked you out because he thought you were `queer.' Now, first of all, I want you to know that the current correct term is `gay,' but I need to ask you--do you think you are gay?"
"I don't know for sure, but I think I am. Does that make you hate me now?"
"No, Kerry, don't even think of such a thing. It makes absolutely no difference to me whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, or something else I never heard of. You are my special boy, and I love you. Nothing can change that except your telling me that you don't want me anymore."
"That's not going to happen. Come into the bedroom--I want to show you something."
Kerry excitedly led me back to my bedroom. He sat me on the side of the bed and told me to watch. He took off his new bathrobe and laid it on the bed, and again I saw him in all his naked beauty--he had conveniently failed to put on any underwear. He walked over to the other side of the bed and got a pair of his new underwear and very seductively put them on. Then he made a big show of putting on a pair of jeans and an orange polo shirt, along with his sneakers and white socks. Then he stood before me and said, "How do I look?"
"You look happy, you look cute, and to me you look wonderful," I said, giving him another hug.
He returned my hug, smiled, and said, "You ain't seen nuttin' yet!"
He proceeded to take off his new clothes seductively, down to the bare skin except for the necklace, and then he put on another outfit and modeled it for me. It took him almost an hour to show me all his new clothes, plus his little strip-tease between outfits, the final item being his swim suit. He did look very cute wearing it, as it showed off his features very nicely. There was even a small bulge in front, which he looked at, then mischievously raised his eyes to meet mine. He strutted around the bedroom like a sensuous model, then came over to me and asked, "Should I take it off for you now?"
I reached for him and pulled him into my lap, giving him a warm hug. "Are you flirting with me?" I asked, tickling him on the chest.
"Is that what you want me to do?"
"You know, Kerry, if we keep beating around this bush much longer we are going to trample the roots and kill it. I want you to listen very carefully to what I say now. Okay?"
Kerry nodded and looked at me intently. I think he was beginning to know when I was getting serious.
I didn't know exactly how to begin, but I gave it my best shot. "You know I love you, Kerry, and I know you love me, too, but there are lots of ways to express love--there are more ways than you can imagine that we haven't even thought about yet. I haven't known you long enough to know exactly how you like to be loved, and you don't know much about me, either, but hopefully we will have a very long time to get to know each other. Maybe we can even find a way that is exactly right for both of us, some way we both like, and that lets each of us feel the other's love. Kerry, perhaps I'm wrong, but you seem to be hinting that you would like for us to have some kind of sexual relationship. It is apparent that you have had at least a few sexual experiences. I don't want you to think I am not attracted to you, because I definitely am, but I am afraid you are trying to go a little too far and a little too fast."
"Yes, I have done a few things, but never with anyone special. I have heard that sex is better when you really love the other person, and the other person loves you, too. Is that true?"
"Yes, it's true. Sex is the ultimate expression of love between two people, and when you really love each other, sex can be fantastic. But, Kerry, sex is not for anyone who is too young to understand all its ramifications. Sex must be handled responsibly. It can hurt you and the other person very deeply if it is misused or if it is done for the wrong reasons. There are those who believe that any time it happens between two people other than a man and his wife, it is perverted and wrong. Again, there are very strict laws that attempt to govern people's sexual behavior. People--and the law--are especially intolerant when it comes to sex between a grown person and a child."
"You mean, people would think you were a bad man and I was a bad boy if we had sex together?" he asked.
"That's putting it mildly. If they found out we were doing anything like that, I would probably have to go to jail, and you would probably end up in a psychiatrist's office and living in a foster home."
"But what would YOU think if we were to have sex with each other?"
I had to think quite a bit about how to phrase my answer, because I knew that Kerry would take it very seriously, but I believe I finally got it right. "Kerry, I have lived my entire life around parents, friends, and family that had very archaic views about sex, and I would have to admit that the idea of a sexual relationship with you is not very comfortable to me right now. However, I personally believe that if two people really love each other, then anything they do to express their love to each other is beautiful, as long as, number one, they both freely agree, and number two, they do not violate either of their own personal moral codes. In our case, Kerry, I don't want to be hurt, and I especially don't want you to be hurt in any way. I don't think I could ever live with myself again if I knew that I had hurt you. And as I have said before, sex can hurt very deeply if it is not handled with a lot of responsibility and a tremendous amount of love. And besides, we are trying to get to be father and son, and fathers don't love their sons that way. Add that to the fact that you are underage, and that you are unsure about your sexuality, and I am afraid that anything like that between us would probably confuse you more."
"Let me make a suggestion: Hopefully, we have a lot of time to spend together. Let's spend at least the next few weeks just getting to know each other better. Let's find out how we each like to love and to be loved. Let's see if we can find a way of loving each other that we both like and lets us both really feel the other's love. And I want you to give a lot of thought to what I just told you about sex. I want you to understand that you don't have to offer sex to me in order to have my love. You will always have my love, no matter what, and we can love each other as we have been doing, maybe even find some more and better ways. Just remember what I told you last night--some things we do here, like your sleeping with me or letting me see you naked, must remain strictly between the two of us, and NO one else. Okay?"
"Okay. But for now, why don't you get on your swimming trunks and let's go swimming."
"You've got a deal!" I said. "But first, you need to gather up all your new clothes and move them into your bedroom. You can have your choice of two rooms. Come on and I'll show them to you, and you can make your choice."
"But I want to be in your room with you!"
"Kerry, you can sleep with me any time you want, but you need to have your own room. After all, there may be some times when you just feel the need to be alone, and your own room is a great place to be at those times. Remember what I said about what would happen if anyone knew we were sleeping together, even if we didn't do anything? Well, if they know you live here and all your clothes are in my closet, what would they think? Also, school will be starting soon, and you may want to have some friends over after school, maybe even to spend the night, and then you would need your own room. Also, you will need your own room where you can be quiet and do your homework."
"Okay, but I want the room that is closest to yours."
My house had four bedrooms; the guest suite, where Kerry had spent part of his first night, was on the opposite side of the house from the others. The master bedroom where I slept, together with its bath, was located on the northeast corner of the house. The two other bedrooms were on either side of a shared bath on the southeast corner. Kerry selected the bedroom nearest mine on the east side. It was slightly larger than the other one, and had a double closet and two large windows. The bedroom suite in that room was almost an antique--it had belonged to my grandmother, but it was not frilly and was sturdy enough for a little boy. The comforter on the bed was a deep green, as were the drapes, and the walls were painted a very light shade of blue-green. By his smile, I knew that Kerry loved it. He carefully hung up all his new clothes and put his underwear, T-shirts, and socks into drawers in the dresser. Last, he very lovingly removed his necklace and placed it in a small box on top of the dresser. He stroked the lid of the box very gently a few times before he called to me, "Come on, slowpoke, last one in the pool is a rotten egg."
I changed into my swim trunks, turned on the pool pump (which operated the waterfalls) and joined him in the pool. He was an excellent swimmer, and demonstrated several of his strokes to me. He especially seemed to like jumping into the pool from the surrounding rock wall; I allowed this as long as he entered the water feet first, and told him that when he grew up a little more that would have to stop, since the pool was only eight feet deep at its deepest point. He and I played several games of tag, "Shark," and "Marco Polo" before he came over to me and put his arms around my neck. "This is the most fun I have had in a long time," he said. "But I am tired now. Let's go take a nap."
We got out of the pool and went back inside. I changed into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and Kerry put on a pair of shorts and his favorite green polo shirt, along with his necklace. Both of us remained barefoot. Before I knew it, we were lying in my bed, and he was sound asleep, again snuggled up against me with his head on my shoulder and his leg draped over mine. I stayed with him for a while, but I got up when I heard the phone ringing.
I reached for the bedside phone. "Hello," I answered.
"Mr. Newman, this is Doyle Matthews. Reverend Keller spoke to me earlier today about a situation you have gotten yourself into."
"Yes, Mr. Mathews. Thank you for calling. But if you don't mind, hold on for a second while I get to my office phone." I pressed the hold button and went to my office to continue the conversation. "Reverend Keller highly recommended that I retain you as my attorney in this matter. I have a call into my regular attorney, Brad Braxton, but he hasn't returned my call yet. I understand he was in court all day today."
"Yes, he was. I spoke with Brad earlier today during one of his breaks, and I believe we can take care of this thing in short order. Brad and I have worked together before, and we agree on most things. He knows your history very well, and that's always a plus. Could you please tell me your version of what has happened so far?"
I gave Mr. Matthews a detailed account, as far as I could remember it, of every event and every conversation I had had since meeting Kerry in the church parking lot. He asked a few questions, and I answered every one I could. If Mr. Matthews saw any red flags, he didn't say so.
"Also, just in case, I recorded the conversation I had with the boy's stepfather. For Kerry's sake, I would rather not use it unless it becomes necessary, but if it does, you can crucify the man with it as far as I am concerned."
"That's good. I won't ask for the tape unless I need it. I'll contact him tomorrow and have the papers couriered to him tomorrow afternoon. So you have not been able to locate any blood relatives of the child, is that correct?"
"Well, as I said earlier, Kerry tells me the only blood relative he has is a great aunt in Chicago. I don't have any contact information about her, but Kerry says she is unable to care for him. His biological father died some years ago, and neither Kerry nor his stepfather knows of any relatives on that side."
"Well, that sounds good for now. I guess I have to formally ask you if you would like me to represent you."
"If you would be willing, they would be great. Brad Braxton has been my attorney for several years now, and I feel we should include him as well, but since you are the apparent expert, you would be primary."
"Okay. I'll accept your case. Now, let me describe our plan of action at this point. First, I am going to petition the court for a temporary order allowing Kerry to stay with you rather than be put into the child welfare system. That will be filed tomorrow morning, and with any luck, you should have that order by the end of the day. I will also contact Mr. Sanders and try to get his signature tomorrow--that will help tremendously. If both those items go in our favor, then I will file a petition to have you declared managing conservator of the boy--that is much less complicated than going for guardianship, and is actually better in a lot of ways. After you have been managing conservator for a year, then we will petition for adoption. Does that sound okay to you?"
"You are the attorney, so you tell me. It sounds great, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to allow Kerry to live with me as long as he wants."
"That's what we both want, Mr. Newman. I know we don't know each other that well, but I have heard nothing but good things about you, and I have seen what you have done with the church's music program. That was one of my biggest reasons for joining First Church. I hope we can meet face to face before long--I would like to shake your hand."
"Same here, Mr. Matthews."
"Please, call me Doyle," he said earnestly. "Also, if you don't mind, I am going to contact the child welfare office and inform them that I am your attorney, so most, if not all, of the paperwork can be handled through my office."
"Sounds fine to me. And please, call me Mike. Also, I believe Reverend Keller has already spoken to a Mrs. Flora Adams at the child welfare office--if you could speak to her, she probably knows more about the situation than anyone else at the office."
"Good. Mrs. Adams knows her job well, and we have worked on cases before. If she is in our corner, we won't have any problems with the child welfare office. Is there anything else you can think of that I need to know?"
"Not right now, but I will stay in touch. My caller ID has your number as 555-486-3200. Is that correct?"
"Yes. I'll be sending you copies of all the papers regarding this case, and I'll include full contact information so you can always get in touch with me. If you can't get in touch with me, call Brad, and we will handle things for you. Is there anything else that you need now?"
"No, not that I can think of. I just want to thank you for taking this case. Reverend Keller spoke very highly of you, and now I can see why. It seems to a layman like myself that you have the situation well in hand already."
"My pleasure. I'll be in touch. `Bye, now."
I hung up the phone and let out a deep breath. Things seemed to be going well after only one day, and I could tell I had a good team working for me. All the bases seemed to be covered, and everyone was optimistic. I decided I would be as well--even more so than before. I turned away from the phone and encountered a familiar naked boy. He must enjoy being naked around me, I thought. I had already told him several times to put something on, and it didn't seem to be working, so I just decided that as long as it was inside the house and just the two of us, to let him do what he wanted. Besides, I did enjoy the view.
Kerry lifted his arms up to me, so I picked him up and hugged him. "That was my attorney," I told him. "He thinks this is going to work out fine for us. How do you like that?" I said.
Kerry smiled. "That sounds great." He sat in my lap with his arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I figured that he just wanted to be held for a little while, but then I felt something wet fall on my neck, then another. I realized that Kerry was softly crying.
I held him back from me so I could see his face. He had tears in his eyes. "What's wrong, Little Buddy?" I asked.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm just so glad that your attorney says that everything is all right. I have never been so happy in my life, and I don't want this to end. I hope your attorney is right--I couldn't stand to lose you now. Hold me, Dad. I love you so much." He hugged me so tight it squeezed the tears from my eyes. I held him as he quietly sobbed for a few minutes, but I could have held him until it snowed in Panama City. I realized, now more than ever, that I not only loved this boy, I was in love with him, and I had no doubt he felt the same for me. No one could hug like that and not mean it.
After a few minutes, Kerry broke our hug and sat up straight in my lap. "Come back to the bedroom with me, Dad," he said. He got up, caught my hand, and started to lead me.
When we reached the bedroom, I casually sat on the side of the bed. Kerry suddenly pushed me over backward on the bed so that I was on my back and he was on top. Then he raised his head and shoulders and propped himself up on his elbows. I saw the playful side of Kerry emerge. "No fair," he said. "You have seen me naked several times, but I haven't seen you yet." He attacked the belt and fly of my shorts with a gusto I couldn't believe. It was all I could do to stop him.
"Kerry, I don't think either of us is ready for that now," I said. "Remember, just this morning we had a talk about it, and I thought we agreed that we would think about it a while."
"I know, but I don't want to wait."
"Well, I am sorry, Little Buddy, but I do. I told you this morning that the idea of having sex with you is still a little uncomfortable for me right now. I love you very much, and I want to show you my love in a way that you can feel it, but I wouldn't feel right about having sex with you."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Kerry, I'm very sure."
He threw his arms around my neck, and we lay side by side on the bed and cuddled each other for a while. I slowly rubbed his bare back. He seemed to like that. "That feels so nice," he said after a while. "I love you, Mike. I guess I can get by with just cuddling for a while," he said. "You feel so warm against me."
"Well, I have to agree it feels good to me, too," I answered. "It has been a long time since anyone wanted to cuddle with me. I guess I just forgot how much I missed it." I continued to rub his back, shoulders, chest, and legs, and he explored my body as well, but both of us stayed away from the other's equipment. We ran our fingers through each other's hair and of course we supplied each other with plenty of hugs and kisses. After a couple of hours, Kerry snuggled up to me and put his leg over mine like he did whenever he slept. I kept one arm around him, but moved onto my back, holding him closer to me. I peered at him and found myself looking into those wonderful blue eyes of his.
"I love you, Mike. Do you feel my love now?" he asked quietly.
"More than ever," I answered, "and I love you, Kerry, more than I will ever be able to explain to you, more than I will ever be able to show you." I put my other arm around him and held him close. We lay there until it was time to get up for dinner. Neither of us slept, but we did a lot of cuddling, stroking, kissing, and holding each other. He nuzzled his head between my shoulder and neck, his breath falling softly on my neck and chest, and his soft, silken hair brushing against my cheek. I hadn't felt so content, so relaxed, and so loved in years. And I had never seen a little boy show a bigger smile than he did when he looked at me. There was no mistaking the love in that little boy's eyes, and it humbled me to know that it was all for me. It had been such a long time.
I had loved my Mary every bit as much as any man ever loved his wife. We had had a great life together for over seventeen years, and I still wished she were with me. I know that she would have loved Kerry as much as I did, and he couldn't help but love her, too. But God, in His wisdom, had not allowed that to happen. He must have had a reason. Kerry couldn't replace my wife--no one could--but I had Kerry with me right then. The love I felt for Kerry was not the same kind of love I had had for Mary, but it was just as warm, just as real, just as beautiful, just as strong, and I believe--no, make that I know--it was just as right, for both of us.
Someone else, somewhere else, might believe himself to be the happiest person in the world. Right then, I knew that distinction belonged only to Kerry and me. We had each other, we had a good legal team working for us, and I was ready to fight a buzz saw if necessary to keep him with me.
We got up and dressed, and I started cooking dinner, while Kerry turned on the television. He found a baseball game just starting between two of the area's minor league teams, the Titans and the Peregrines. He was really getting into the game, but I had a hard time figuring out which team he was cheering for. I finally asked him.
"I don't really care who wins," he said matter-of-factly. "But when somebody makes a really good play, I get excited. That's half the fun of watching the game."
"Yeah," I said.
I thought about my years of umpiring youth-league baseball, which I still did during the spring and summer. Whenever I could (which wasn't that often, since I couldn't be accused of any kind of favoritism), after the game I congratulated a player who had played an especially good game or made a good play for someone his age. Some of my most prized memories were the smiles I got from the kids when an umpire, whom they had been taught to respect, showed respect and appreciation for them. But I couldn't count the number of times a kid would make a terrific play, but half the fans either wouldn't cheer at all, or would actually boo him because they were for the other team. I had seen the hopelessness in the faces of the kids, and I had seen the tears. Why couldn't people realize that these were just kids? Sure, they wanted to win, but what they needed more than anything else was encouragement. After all, twenty years from now, no one would remember who won the game, but the kids would always remember the fun they had playing--or the heartache they suffered because of some thoughtless fans. They needed to feel that the fans appreciated their contribution to their team. They needed to be acknowledged, and they needed to be supported. Instead, half the time they were booed. I felt myself getting angry about it even now.
Yet here was Kerry, cheering for players on the TV--a ten-year-old boy cheering for grown men who couldn't even hear him. I couldn't help feeling immense pride in my son.
My precious, beautiful little boy.
God, I was so proud of him! And I loved him so much. I went over to where he was sitting, picked him up and gave him a big hug and a kiss.
"What was that for?" he asked.
"No reason," I lied. "But it is nice to know that I can do that whenever I want to."
He grabbed the back of my head with both hands and pulled my lips to his, kissing me full on the mouth. "So can I," he said. "Do you suppose real fathers and sons do this as much as we do?"
"I don't know," I answered, "but if they don't, they should. They don't know what they're missing."
Kerry laughed and kissed me again. I put him back in his chair and resumed making dinner. When it was ready, I called him to the table.
"Is it all right if I eat in the living room? I want to watch the game."
"No, Kerry. I have always had a rule in my house. We eat at the table and we sleep in the beds. You notice there are no TV trays, and there are no pillows on the living room sofa so you can lie down on it comfortably? That's because the living room is not meant to be a dining room or a bedroom. The game will still be on when you finish dinner. If you want to record it, the VCR works, but your dinner is on the table where it belongs."
Kerry turned off the TV and came to the dining room to eat, taking the seat across from me. "Thanks, Dad," he said.
"For making me feel at home." He held his crucifix out in front and looked at it. "My mom had the same rule. You just made me feel close to her again." I noticed the tears beginning to form in his eyes as he slowly replaced the crucifix under his shirt.
"You loved her, didn't you?" I asked.
"Yes, and I know she loved me. But I wish she had met you instead of my stepfather."
"I can imagine how you feel, Kerry, but up until five years ago, I wouldn't have been available. I was married then."
"Where's your wife?"
"She was killed five years ago, Kerry. A truck hit her car when she was coming home from visiting her sister.
"Oh," he said, dropping his eyes. "What was she like?"
"Well, I guess most husbands would think that his wife is the best in the world. That's how it should be. But Mary really was. It got so that both of us knew what the other needed or wanted before anything was said. Whenever either of us needed someone, the other was there. She could always find something beautiful in whatever I said or did. She always knew when something was bothering me, and she knew when to talk it out, and when to leave me alone for a while. I like to think I did the same for her. And I can't begin to tell you how much we loved each other. A man can love a woman that much only once in his lifetime, Kerry. I've known a lot of men who claimed that they loved several wives that much, but I have never seen it, and I have never believed it."
"Your eyes are beginning to water. I can tell that you loved her very much. I wish someone would love me that much."
"Someone does, Kerry. You should know that."
"That's not what I mean. I know you love me. I can feel it whenever I am with you. I mean I wish someone would love me the way you described how it was between you and your wife."
"I know what you mean, Kerry. The love between a man and his wife should be very special. Mary and I had that kind of love. It is unfortunate that some married people never find it. It is unfortunate that a lot of people never find anyone they can love like that. When you get older, I hope you can find someone like that. That's the only way you will ever really know how special that kind of love is. It takes a long time for that kind of love to develop--Mary and I were married for over seventeen years, and it was only about the last ten that we were able to read each other's minds. It was very special, and I miss it to this day. But make no mistake about it, the love between a man and a boy can be just as special--not the same, but just as special. I am only now just beginning to find out how special it can be. It is unfortunate that society can't or won't recognize that fact. Seems to me the world would be a lot better off if society encouraged love wherever it can grow instead of making people keep it in the shadows. Love is light. Love is warmth. It needs to shine as brightly as it can and warm everyone around it. As I told you before, you and I have to keep a good-sized part of our love hidden, at least for now, but you need to know that as far as I am concerned, the love I have for you is just as special and just as precious to me as the love I had, and still have, for Mary. I wish you could have known her, Kerry. I know she would have loved you as much as I do."
I wasn't crying, but I couldn't control the tears in my eyes. Kerry got up and came to my side of the table. He didn't say anything at first, he just put his arms around me and buried his face in my chest. I put my arms around him and held him like that for several minutes, and noticed he was quietly sobbing, as I am sure I was, too. Finally, he broke our embrace and looked at me in his special way. Through his tears, he asked, "Dad, am I really that special to you?"
I held him even tighter. "Don't ever doubt that you are, Kerry. I can't begin to tell you how special you are or how deeply I love you. I have known you less than two days now, but I can't imagine what I would do if you had to leave me now." I drew him back to me and gave him a kiss on his forehead.
"I love you so much, Dad," he said, still holding on to me. "You know, you have a way of making me feel special, so I know you would be a great father, and your wife sounds so nice, too. Why didn't you and your wife have any children?"
"We did--but not with each other. I have two adopted sons, and she had a son from a previous marriage, but we never had any kids of our own. Both of us wanted them, but it just wasn't to be."
"Is this where you lived--here, in this house, when you were married?"
"No. I had to sell our house after she died--there were just too many memories in it for me, and I couldn't bear to be in it. I got a sizeable settlement from the trucking company because of the accident, and with that along with our savings, her life insurance, my retirement, some good investments, and the sale of the house and my business I was able to buy this house and still have a sizeable amount in the bank. About the only things that I brought over from the old house are the organ, the piano, and some heirloom pieces of furniture. Everything else is almost new."
"So you are retired? You really don't look that old."
"Thank you. Yes, I am 58 years old, and I am retired. I owned a medical supply company, but after I lost Mary, I just couldn't make myself run it any more. I sold it to a major company soon afterward, and retired. I had been a church organist for a number of years and really enjoyed it, so I kept that job, and shortly afterward the Director of Music position came open. I took it and remained as organist, so it became a full-time position. I'll keep that job as long as they will have me, but I really don't need the money from it--at least not now. I still have quite a bit of money coming in from some of my investments--as a matter of fact, I made over twelve million dollars just last week. And I have enough in the bank already to enjoy the rest of my life, and take care of you as well, and still leave my sons--and you--a fairly large inheritance. But I will spend every last dime I have if I need to just to keep you with me. That is, if you still want to live with a retiree."
"Oh, Dad, quit teasing me. I know how lucky I am to have found you, and I am not going to let anyone take me away from you, or you away from me. That is, if you still want to live with a poor little boy."
"You quit teasing me. You are not a poor little boy, you are my beautiful little angel, and I am so lucky to have found you." I kissed him and held him again, and he returned my affections. "But you know what? We have sat here talking, and I'll bet our food is cold."
Kerry laughed out loud. "Then why did you talk so long?"
"Because you asked so many questions," I answered, grabbing him and tickling him in the ribs and chest.
The food was not that cold after all. We continued our conversation through dinner, but it wasn't as deep as before. I found out that he loved baseball and had wanted to play for a local recreation league team this past summer, but his stepfather would not allow it, claiming that he didn't want to have to do any of the parents' tasks the league required. His mother, before she died, had taken him to church regularly with her, but his stepfather never went, so he had not been to church since his mom died. He had a dog for a pet when he was five years old, but he had to get rid of it when his mom got married--his stepfather did not like dogs. He had played the lead role in his school play the previous year, but his parents did not see the play--his mom was in the hospital, where she eventually died, and his stepfather didn't feel like coming. His best friend, Larry, lived two doors down from his stepfather's house, and they were in the same class at his school the previous year. It had been Larry who had suggested that they take their clothes off and play with each other when Kerry's stepfather had found them and made him leave the house. The only sad thing Kerry said during dinner was about Larry. "I wonder what happened to him," he had said. "I'll probably never see him again." All this information came out in just idle chatter between us, not as any deep conversation, but it gave me a better perspective on what Kerry's life had been like, and what he had been missing. Most of all, it was obvious that he had been missing the love of a man in his life, a father figure.
Hopefully, I could change that, and hopefully, real soon.
After dinner, I cleaned off the table and started the dishwasher. Kerry helped me put the left-over food away. He seemed to be a bundle of energy.
"Come on, Dad," he called excitedly. "Let's watch the rest of the ball game, and then I want you to teach me how to play the organ."
"You can't learn it all in one night, Kerry. It's probably better if you start out on the piano. It's not absolutely necessary, but most of us started that way, and it makes it a lot easier later on."
"Oh. Well, my mom taught me a little bit about the piano, but I don't know if you would say I am any good at it. A lot of the boys at my school think playing the piano is sissy stuff, but I know several boys who are taking lessons. I always wanted to, but just never got around to it, I guess."
"If it is what you want to do, I will start you out with a few lessons, and then if you want to go farther with it, I will let you start taking lessons from a good friend of mine who is an excellent teacher. If you have the knack for it, we will start you on the organ when you are ready. Does that sound OK to you?"
"Sure does," he replied excitedly. "But how long do I need to take piano lessons?"
"That depends on how fast you learn. Most knowledgeable people say it takes at least ten years. I know I didn't study piano that long, but there are times I wish I had."
"Kerry, you need a very strong foundation in piano before you start studying the organ, and that doesn't come overnight. I am not saying that it will be ten years before you can start playing the organ, but if you really want to learn to play well, you should plan on taking piano for at least that long. Besides, someone who can play both instruments would be in demand in a lot of areas for church jobs, if you are interested in such a thing."
"Well, I am willing to try. I think it would be neat to know how to play the organ."
"It is. I know I have enjoyed being able to play all these years, but I don't want you to get the idea that it is easy. It's not, but if you really enjoy it, then the difficulties do not bother you as much."
"Sounds right," he said. "But as I said, first let's watch the ball game."
We sat on the sofa together and Kerry turned on the television. The game was in the top of the fifth inning, with the Peregrines ahead by a score of 2 to 1, and they were batting. I settled back, thinking maybe I could get some rest, but Kerry was soon sitting in my lap with his head on my shoulder and holding my arms around his waist. We sat like that, occasionally making remarks about the game, for two more innings. The Peregrines were ahead 4 to 2, but the Titans' heavy hitter was up with the bases loaded.
"Look at the way he handles the bat," Kerry remarked. "Seems like he is always sliding his hands up and down the handle, like he doesn't know exactly where to hold it."
"Maybe that is just a little ritual he goes through when he is batting," I answered.
"Maybe, but seeing him handling his bat like that makes me want to handle another kind of bat just like that."
"Are you propositioning me?" I asked playfully while tickling him in the ribs.
Kerry was laughing uncontrollably with my tickling. When I finally stopped, he got his laughter under control and replied, "I don't know what propositioning is. I'm just saying I think we could both have fun loving each other."
"So you want to play with the organ between your legs, not the one over there," I said.
"Oh, no, I still want to play the organ over there. Can we do that now?"
"Don't you want to watch the rest of the game?"
"Sort of, but I would rather play the organ now."
"Okay, do you know how to turn it on?"
Kerry got up from my lap and turned off the television, then went to the organ and opened the cover. The power switch was a key on the left of the console, and he turned it on. "What do I do now?" he asked.
"First, let me ask you--do you remember anything that your mom taught you about the piano? Any pieces of music you know how to play?"
"Just one," he answered. "It is a simple little piece that I used to play all the time."
"Okay, first of all, let me explain a few basics about this organ. You notice there are three keyboards, all of them alike, plus the pedal keyboard. The middle keyboard is called the Great Organ--that is the main keyboard. The one above it is called the Swell, and the one below is the Choir. Notice that each of them has a section of stop drawknobs designated to them."
"Then these drawknobs are called stops?" he asked.
"For right now, yes. Each of them produces a different quality or color of sound. Also, you notice that some of them are labeled 8', some 4', and so on?"
"Yes, what does that mean?"
"Well, an 8' (8 foot) stop is named that because on a pipe organ, the pipe for the lowest C note is about eight feet long. Find middle C on the Great organ."
Kerry pressed the middle C key on the Great manual. "Why doesn't it make any sound?" he asked.
"Because you haven't selected any stops for it yet. Now, select an 8' stop." Kerry pulled the 8' Principal stop and played middle C again. "Okay, that tone is exactly the same pitch as middle C on the piano. Now add a 4' stop and play middle C again." Kerry did so. "Do you hear the difference?"
"It sounds like an octave on the piano."
"That's right. A 4' stop sounds an octave higher than it would on the piano. By the same token, a 2' stop sounds two octaves higher, and a 1' stop sounds three octaves higher than the same key on the piano. What do you think a 16' stop would do?"
"That should sound an octave lower, I would imagine."
"Try it." Kerry pulled the 16' Bourdon and played middle C again.
"Hey, I was right. That's neat," he exclaimed.
"It is neat. That is why you almost never see an organist playing octaves, while on the piano octaves are very common. Also, even though the organ keyboard is shorter than the piano keyboard, it actually produces a wider range of pitches than does the piano."
"What are these stops labeled 5 1/3' and 2 2/3'?"
"Those are called mutations. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves for now, but they sound at defined intervals within the octave. There are also stops labeled II, III, and IV--they are called mixtures, but we'll come back to them later."
"Okay," Kerry answered. He seemed mesmerized by the different manuals, drawknobs, and switches on the console. "Man, this is neat!"
"Now, Kerry, why don't you play your little piano piece for me."
Kerry played a simple melody on the organ. As usually happens when a pianist first plays the organ, the sound was rather detached, but his smile would light up the city.
"Now you have seen another main difference between the organ and the piano. When you strike a key on the piano, the hammer strikes the strings and the sound is made, but it starts decaying immediately. On the organ, the sound stays at the same level as long as the key is held down, but when you release the key, the sound stops immediately. When you are playing the piano, most of your technique is in striking the keys; when you strike softly, you make a softer sound, and when you strike harder, the sound is louder. However, on the organ, most of your technique is in the release of the keys--you usually release one key just before you press another. Also, you don't strike the organ keys, you press them. Now you try it."
Kerry tried, but his playing was still rather detached. I demonstrated pressing the keys for him, and it didn't take him any time at all to be playing very smoothly.
"This is fun, Dad, but I always thought you played different keyboards with your left and right hands."
"Sometimes you do, but not always. If you want to try, why don't you pull some stops for the Swell and play your little tune again. You need to take some of the upper stops off the Great, though, or it will overpower the Swell."
Kerry did so, and his technique was great for a beginner. I didn't want to overpower him with information the first night, so I decided we wouldn't talk about registration (stop selection) during this session. He was having so much fun, I decided to just let him experiment, and be there to answer his questions.
"This is fun," he giggled, as he tried out several different stops and tested their sounds. I wondered if he would remember which of the stops were soft and which were loud during the next session. So far, I wouldn't be surprised if he could. He seemed like a natural at this--it was a shame he had not pursued his piano studies.
He played on the organ for almost an hour, most of the time with his eyes as wide as saucers and the biggest, brightest smile on his face. After a while, he decided on a different track.
"Dad, play something for me. I want to see how an expert plays," he said.
"Well, I am no expert, but I do have to practice my voluntaries for this Sunday's service. Do you want me to play them for you?"
"Yes, please." He scooted over to the end of the bench so that I could sit in the center.
I played my selected prelude, a quiet, meditative piece entitled "Reflection," and I could tell that Kerry was really moved by it. He had the most angelic look on his face as he looked at me. "That was great, Mike. How long have you played that one?"
"I have never played it at a service before, but I have practiced it about five times now. It is really not that hard, but I believe it is nice."
"So do I," he answered. "What other pieces are you going to play Sunday?"
"Well, this is my offertory," I answered. I played an improvisation on the hymn, "We Give Thee But Thine Own," which I had developed myself. Kerry was impressed that I had written it myself. "Well, it hasn't been written down yet, Kerry, I just play it as it comes to me. That's what an Improvisation is."
I then played the Widor Toccata, which I had promised my friend I would play. Although I got through it without any major mistakes, there were several areas which I knew I would have to work on some more before Sunday service--it was not up to my performance standard yet--but Kerry was ecstatic.
"WOW!" he exclaimed. `That was AWESOME!" He threw his arms around my neck and gave me a big hug, then pulled back and gave me an unhurried kiss on the lips. I returned his embrace, and his kiss. "Are you going to play it like that again Sunday?"
"Kerry, I hope it sounds better on Sunday. I know you didn't notice them, but I made several mistakes. Also, that piece sounds much better on the pipe organ than it does on this one."
"Can I go to church with you to hear you play it?"
"Yes, Kerry, you will be going to church with me regularly as long as you are with me. But I want you to always remember that you are in church to worship God, not to hear me at a performance. It really offends me when people compliment me on my `performance' in church, but I like it when they tell me that the music added to their worship. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do, Dad. I used to like going to church. It will be great to do it again" he exclaimed.
Then my own words hit me like a ton of bricks: "...as long as you are with me." I tried to remind myself that I had a good team working for me, and that everyone was optimistic and encouraged me to be as well, but I had seen situations hit unexpected snags before, and for some reason I had the nagging feeling that things were just going along too smoothly. I couldn't tell Kerry about my misgivings, and I prayed that I was wrong. I wiped a tear from my eye and looked at my watch. It was 10:30 p.m.
I smiled at Kerry. "Time to get your shower and get ready for bed," I said.
"I'll meet you in bed," he said, giving me a little kiss and then running to his room.
I practiced a few troublesome measures of the Widor, then turned off the organ and went to my bedroom. I could hear Kerry in the shower next to his room, so I sat on the side of my bed and got undressed for my shower. The shower felt good--it had been an eventful day.
When I had finished and came out of the bathroom, Kerry was in my bed, naked as usual. "Don't you want to wear your new pajamas?" I asked.
"I would only have to take them off a little later," he teased.
"Looks like I have gotten myself hooked up with a sex maniac," I said, and Kerry giggled. I got into bed and turned out the light.
As the light went out, I felt Kerry snuggle up to me. I put my arm around him and pulled him close to me. His naked body felt so soft against me, and he seemed to relish the idea of rubbing up against me everywhere. Before long, I was showering my little boy with kisses all over his body, and his giggling over this was music to my ears. I kissed, savored, and treasured every square inch of Kerry's body (except for his private area), and I could tell he loved it. He then returned the favor, and I could tell why he enjoyed it so much.
When he was finished, Kerry lay back on the bed and said, "I love you, Dad. There is so much love here in this room that I feel like I can reach out and touch it."
"I love you, too, Kerry. I wish I knew how to tell you how much."
"For someone who doesn't know how, you are doing a great job of it." He got into his usual sleeping position, with his head on my shoulder and his leg on top of mine. We cuddled and held each other for over three hours. It was well after 2:00 a.m. before sleep came to either of us, but both of us knew that there was more love in my house that night than there was in the rest of the city. Both of us felt it deep within us, and it gave each of us the warmest glow either of us had felt in a very long time.
I awoke the next morning to a strange sensation. Kerry had crawled under the covers and was lying with his head on my stomach and had his hand on my upper thigh near a very sensitive area.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Just keeping an eye on you," he replied playfully. "Good morning. I thought you were never going to wake up."
"Good morning. If I had known I was putting on a show, I would have."
"In that case, I'm glad you didn't."
"Why, you little..." I said playfully, as I began to tickle him. He giggled and thrashed about, trying to get away from me. After only a few seconds, I stopped, but his giggling didn't. "You know what?"
"I think I love you more this morning than I did last night. How do you suppose that happened?"
"I don't know, but it happened to me, too."
"Maybe we've found the way to love each other."
"Maybe, just as long as we are together."
"Well, with any luck, we should hear something about that today. Right now, I need to get up."
I got up and tended to business in the bathroom, then started to get dressed. Kerry eyed me from under the covers. He had the cutest smile on his face, and he obviously wanted to say something, but didn't.
"What would you like for breakfast this morning, Kerry?"
"Oh, come on. Who wound you up so early in the morning?"
I sat down on the side of the bed and took his hand in mine. "Kerry, I hope you know that I love you very much, and I am almost putty in your hands when you ask me for something you need or want. I don't want you to think I don't want to be affectionate with you, because believe me I do. I would like nothing better than to hold you all day long and just love you and cuddle with you until the cows come home. But I am just concerned that you may be getting the wrong idea. After all, we met each other less than two days ago, and we have been sleeping together all this time. As I told you before, fathers and sons don't love each other with sex, and I am afraid that if we do, the day will come when you hate me for it. I don't think I could take that."
"I could never hate you, Dad. We haven't had sex, not because I didn't want to, but because you didn't. Everything we have done so far, we have both wanted and both enjoyed. That isn't wrong, Dad, it's love for the most wonderful man I ever knew. I like it when we hold each other and kiss each other and cuddle with each other. Somehow I think that before long, that isn't going to express as much love as I want to show to you, but that will be then. This is now. I love you so much, Daddy, and even if it turns out that I can't live with you, I'll still be around you every minute I can. They won't be able to keep me away from you. I love you that much and more."
"You have no idea how good that makes me feel, Kerry. I want you to have as much of what you want as I am capable of giving you, but like I said, I am just not ready for sex with you now, and I need you to understand that I will never be. Grown men don't love little boys like that. I know there are cases in which men and boys have sex, but I don't see any of that as love. I'll concede that it may be in a very few cases, but in most cases it's lust and exploitation, not love. I want to be your dad, and I want to be the best one I can for you, but I am not and don't want to be your lover. "
"Dad, you've said before that you aren't comfortable with the idea of our having sex, so I am not going to suggest it anymore. The most important thing is, I just want us to be together, and I don't want there to be any question between us about how we feel about each other. I would enjoy doing things with you, and I can tell you would enjoy them, too, but if you would rather just cuddle, I am good at that."
"I know you are," I answered, and I got back under the covers with him. He immediately put his arms around me and nuzzled his face into my neck and shoulder. I held him close to me and rubbed his back as I kissed his forehead. He sighed several times over the next few minutes, and I asked him if anything was wrong.
"Are you disappointed with me?" he asked.
"Of course not. Why would you ask that?"
"Well, it seems like you are always saying that I am asking for something that is wrong, or that you don't feel comfortable about. Don't you love me enough to have sex with me?"
"Yes, Kerry, I certainly do. I just don't think it would be the right thing to do. Kerry, I don't want you to ever think that I am disappointed with you. You are the most wonderful thing that has happened to me in a long time, and I just don't want anything to mess that up. And it certainly isn't that I don't love you enough to have sex with you. Believe me, I love you plenty enough to do almost anything you could ask of me. But I have heard of kids who had sex with an older person, and sometimes they liked it while it was going on, but when they grew older they came to regard it as wrong, and they had problems because of it. Some claimed that their lives were ruined, or they turned to alcohol or drugs, and they almost always hated the man who had sex with them. I don't want that to happen to you, and I don't want that to happen to us. Because of that, you need to understand that while I love you more than enough to have sex with you, I also love you enough NOT to have sex with you. I want what is best for you, and that overrides everything. I am not the most eloquent man when it comes to explaining how I feel about someone, especially someone as special as you are to me. If I gave you the impression that I was disappointed in you, or that I was trying to pull back from you, I am very sorry. I don't want you to ever think that." I held him tight and gave him a long, gentle kiss.
"Dad, I didn't know they made men like you. Please don't ever leave me." He snuggled up against me again and sobbed quietly. I just held him. I didn't realize how long we had been lying there together until the phone rang and brought me somewhat back to reality.
"Hello," I answered.
"Hello, Mike. This is Doyle Matthews."
"Oh, good morning, Doyle. What's up?"
"I just thought you would like to know that I have just returned from Judge Martinson's chambers. To make a long story short, Ms. Adams from the child welfare office and the judge have worked together and came up with a good way of handling this situation. As of now, Kerry has been officially placed as a foster child in your custody. The county child welfare office is aware of the legal proceedings we are starting, and will therefore not be seeking any more permanent placement at this time. Would you like me to have my assistant bring you a copy of the decree, or would you prefer to pick it up in my office later today?"
"If it's all right with you, I would like to pick it up. I don't think Kerry or I are going to believe it until we actually see it in black and white, and the sooner the better. I think we can be there in about an hour, if that's okay.
"Fine. I'll tell my secretary to expect you. If you are going to be here that soon, I will tell her to try and have our petition for managing conservatorship ready for your signature when you get here. One hour may be too soon for that, though, so we can take care of that a little later."
"Oh, no. I don't want to rush you or your office--this is too important. You tell me what time would be most convenient, and I will be there."
"Well, any time is convenient for me and my staff, so don't worry about that, but we can have more done by, say, 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. That will give my assistant time to contact Kerry's stepfather and get his signature, and if you can sign the petition at 4:00 p.m., we may even get it couriered to the court before the end of the day. Since this is Friday, they won't even start on it until next week, but at least we will know it's there and in the pipeline."
"Okay, I'll plan to be in your office at 4:00 p.m., but if you get everything ready before then, give me a call and I will be in earlier."
"Sounds like a plan. This is the kind of case my office staff just loves to handle, so don't be surprised if you get a call later on today."
"Great. Be sure to thank your staff for me--it's nice to know I have good people on my side."
"It is all our pleasure to be on your side in this, Mike, but I'll convey your thanks to them, and I'll see you no later than 4:00 this afternoon. Good-bye for now."
"Good-bye, and thanks again."
Kerry looked at me quizzically. "Well, Kerry, I am afraid I have some bad news," I said.
"What?" He looked worried.
"It looks like you are stuck with me for a while."
"Oh, you," he said, as he attacked me, trying to tickle me wherever he could.
"Hey, you are the ticklish one, not me," I said, as I turned the tables on him. His giggling had us both laughing out loud before long, but at least it got him out of bed. Also, surprisingly, he got his clothes on before I did.
After a light brunch (it was too late for breakfast, and too early for lunch), I showed Kerry around the house for the first time. He learned how to operate the washer, dryer, trash compactor, dishwasher, stereo and theatre system, lawn sprinkler system, security system, and pool equipment. He saw where I kept all the cleaning supplies, pool chemicals, gardening supplies, bed linens, towels, and wash cloths, as well as the kitchen towels. He saw the workshop in the garage, and where all the power tools were kept, but he agreed he would never touch them unless I was there to oversee him. I showed him my office, where I kept my computer and my music library. When he had seen everything there was to see in the house, it was almost 3:30.
"Time to leave," I said.
"Where are we going?"
"To sign some papers, that is, if I decide I want to keep you."
"Need you ask?"
"Then why did you?"
"Want me to play it back for you?"
"Quit it, Dad. Let's go."
We got to Doyle's office a little bit before 4:00, and his secretary appeared to know just who we were. She directed us to have a seat in a conference room, where Doyle would join us in a few minutes. She indicated that the petition was not quite ready, but would be ready before we left.
Doyle came into the conference room about ten minutes later. He had a look of concern on his face, but he put a file folder on the table and started discussing the provisions of the court order. He suggested that I start immediately getting Kerry enrolled in the elementary school in my neighborhood, since school would be starting very soon. He also suggested that if I had any concerns about Kerry's health, that I get him set up with a physician before school started. At my request, he called the principal of the school Kerry had attended last year and arranged to have his records sent to his new school, and then called the principal of the new school and informed him of the proceedings we were planning. During the discussion, his secretary came in with some papers and sat down at the table with us.
Doyle got the papers from his secretary. "Mike, this is our petition to have you declared Kerry's managing conservator. My assistant got Kerry's stepfather's consent to it earlier today, and after you sign, we will forward it to the court. Since the temporary custody order was given by Judge Martinson, I am assuming that this case will be heard in his court as well, but that's not definite. Judge Sunderland has apparently spoken to him about the case, and although I don't know exactly what was discussed, I believe that since he has expressed an interest in the case, Judge Martinson will try to expedite it. If that is true, then I don't believe the court will require a guardian ad litem for Kerry or a home evaluation from the child welfare office, but you should be prepared for either or both. I'll keep you apprised of any developments as I hear of them, but barring any unforeseen difficulties, I would guess this case would be heard in about three months, give or take a couple of weeks. For right now, I just need your signature here on all copies."
I signed the forms without hesitation. I looked at Kerry, and he had the brightest smile I had seen on him.
Doyle continued, "As I told you earlier, we will begin with this petition for managing conservatorship. From what I have seen so far, I would say it will probably be granted, but I can't make any guarantees. If it is, then after one year, assuming you are still agreeable, we will begin adoption proceedings. Does that sound like what you want?"
"Doyle, I am no lawyer, and I really don't know the best way to handle this. I trust your judgment, and if that is what you recommend, then that is what we will do."
"I appreciate the confidence, Mike, but you need to understand what we are doing and be comfortable with it. Basically, managing conservatorship grants you full legal and physical custody of Kerry, with all the rights, responsibilities, powers, and duties of a parent, while not terminating the parental rights of the biological parents, until he reaches the age of 18 or graduates high school. Since there are no living biological parents in this case, there are rights maintained by other relatives, specifically Kerry's stepfather and his great aunt, which will remain in force throughout the conservatorship, but unless they express an interest in visitation rights or rights of access to educational or medical information, there should be no problem. Even if they do, your rights and powers would generally take precedence. That means that any visitation would have to be at your convenience, and while they would have access to his educational and medical records, and they would have the right to voice their opinion or offer advice, they could not overrule any decisions you make as managing conservator. Is that clear enough?"
"I think I understand. But if I have custody, plus all those rights and powers, why would I need to pursue adoption after a year?"
"Whether you do or not is up to you. But with adoption, all rights of the biological family would be terminated, and Kerry's surname would be changed to Newman. From a legal standpoint, Kerry would be your son, and you would be his father, in all respects. It would be entirely up to you whether or not any of his biological family members would ever see him or know his whereabouts. Since Kerry is old enough to understand a good part of what is going on, I would suggest that you first become his managing conservator, and use at least a year of conservatorship to get to know each other better and discuss the situation with him. Find out exactly what he wants, and come to terms with exactly what you want. And while I know this is not a concern now, I have seen cases in which it became an issue--find out for sure if the two of you really want to be father and son. Find out if there is enough lasting love and respect between you for a successful and lasting relationship. Based on what you find, you may or may not want to pursue adoption. That will be up to you."
"If it were up to me, I would adopt Kerry right now."
"I know, Mike, and that is an option that I, as your attorney, will pursue if you, as my client, want me to. But you need to know that adoption takes much longer because the requirements are so much more stringent. There definitely would be home evaluations, psychological evaluations of you both, extensive checks of your background, and that sort of thing. Getting managing conservatorship is usually much easier and much faster. And as I said, I have seen cases where things don't turn out as well as they should. I know you love Kerry, and he loves you, but you have known each other less than a week. It takes nine months to have a newborn baby, and in that case you have the opportunity to mold him according to your own values. Here you have a boy who has already formed a large part of his personality, and face it, you haven't had nearly enough time to find out all you need to know about it. Both of you please understand that I am not trying to imply that your feelings for each other are not valid, and I wish you both the best. I am merely trying to point out that adoption is just what it is intended to be--permanent--and I really do believe that you both need some more time to be sure that it is right for both of you. Also, the adoption proceedings are usually much easier if you can show that you have demonstrated your parental abilities as managing conservator, and there have been no major problems or unexpected difficulties that you couldn't handle. However, the final decision is yours, Mike, and I will proceed as you want me to."
"Well, I said before that I trusted your judgment, and that still goes. If managing conservatorship can be gotten faster right now, that seems to be the way to go. It accomplishes most of what we both want, and it does it faster, plus makes the ultimate adoption easier. Is that a fair assessment?"
"That's exactly what I said."
"Kerry, what do you think?"
"If it means I get to stay with you, let's do it!"
"There's your answer, Doyle. Anything you need from me, just let me know. Please keep me posted."
"I will. Mike, since this is a special case in more ways than one, I don't intend to charge you my usual fees. However, I will need a check from you for $1000.00 within the next few days. This will cover the initial expenses in getting the case into court. There will probably be further charges later on, but I will try to hold them to a minimum."
"Doyle, don't worry about the money. I'll write your $1000.00 check right now. You are getting me a son--the least I can do is pay you a fair amount. I appreciate the gesture, but I don't really need a discount."
"No, I am all right with it, and the discount will be given. That is my contribution to Kerry."
Kerry and I both thanked him.
I gave the check to Doyle's secretary, and Kerry and I went to see a movie, after we had a good dinner at my favorite restaurant. I found myself staring at Kerry's beautiful blue eyes all through dinner, in large part because he was also staring into mine. As he had said last night in bed, there was so much love between us that I felt like I could reach out and touch it.
When we got into bed that night, and I felt his body press against me, I knew that I was touching it.
Things happened very rapidly over the next few weeks. Kerry enrolled in the local elementary school in late August and made new friends very quickly. I spoke with his great aunt on the telephone and told her what we were trying to do, and she, after talking at length with Kerry, offered her support. Doyle called and confirmed that the paperwork had been filed with the court, and everything was proceeding normally. He called later on and told me that our case would be heard around the first of January, and that since the case was not contested by anyone, he was almost positive that managing conservatorship would be granted, and it would not be necessary for me to be in court--he could handle everything himself.
I returned to work at the church, which meant that Kerry was alone in the house from about 4:00 p.m. until I got home, usually about 6:00, but he had no problems with the rules we agreed on. He was to call me when he got home every day so that I would know he made it home safely. He was not to have anyone in the house until after I got home, unless I had met the friend beforehand, and even then he was to call me at work and tell me who was at the house, and he could have only one friend over at a time. He was not to leave the house without calling me to let me know where he was, who he was with, and how long he would be gone, and he was not to answer the door if I was not there unless he knew exactly who was there. He could answer the telephone, but would say that I was unable to come to the phone right then, and take a message and a number. We also agreed on some chores that would be his responsibility to get done before I got home. And, just in case, he had to keep his clothes on when I was not there.
Things seemed to be going great. Kerry asked me to give him some lessons on the organ and piano, and I had been working with him on the piano for an hour two nights a week. He was making great progress, and he seemed to be enjoying the lessons. I had started him on a Grade 3 piano book after only a month, and he was having no problems. Whatever his mother had taught him on the piano, he seemed to have retained more than even he realized. But he was still fascinated by the organ, and he was so eager to play it that I started him on some elementary exercises for manuals and started some basic pedal techniques. I never had to tell him to practice--he seemed born to it. He even started going to Wednesday night choir practice with me and watched me play, and occasionally turned pages and pulled stops for me. It seemed to be his favorite activity outside the house, and I was surprised at the depth of his understanding of the organ, judging from the questions he asked me about the organ and my playing.
Kerry was also quite popular at school. After the first two weeks of school, he started having some of his friends over to the house after school. I met his friends, and they seemed to be very nice kids--fun loving, as most kids are, but very respectful and well-behaved. One boy, named Kenneth, seemed to be getting especially close to Kerry, and he also acted very friendly toward me. He seemed like a very nice boy, and I liked him very much. I never had a problem with anything untoward going on in the house when I was not there, and Kerry always had his homework and his chores completed when I got home. I checked his homework every night, and I seldom had to call any mistakes to his attention. And he usually had some probing questions about his piano or organ lesson assignments (usually the organ).
The only problem I noticed was that Kerry started talking more and more about his friend Larry from his old school, and saying that he wondered what had happened to him. He was obviously worried about his friend, so one day at the office I called the principal at his old school. He told me that he did not know exactly to which Larry that Kerry was referring, but there was one boy named Larry who was in the same class as Kerry had been. He was still enrolled there, but he was not allowed to discuss anything further with me, as I was not his parent. I asked if he could make it possible for me to see or speak with Larry. He said that, unfortunately, he could not do that without the parents' permission. I said I understood, and hung up.
That night after dinner, I asked Kerry about his friend Larry.
"Kerry, tell me more about your friend Larry. What was his last name, what is his address, do you know how to get in touch with him, that sort of thing."
"His name is Larry Murdoch. I don't know his house number exactly, but I know he lived two doors from my old house. I don't remember his phone number--I guess it is in the book, but I never looked. We just saw each other around the neighborhood and at school and agreed to get together after school sometimes.
"Why don't you see if you can find his number and give him a call?"
"You mean you don't mind?"
"Of course not. You need to have friends your own age, and even though you have several from your new school, it would be a shame not to keep in contact with special friends from your old school, as long as that is possible. Call him if you want to."
"OK." Kerry got the directory and found what he thought was Larry's number and dialed. Apparently it was the right number, because after asking for Larry and waiting a few moments, he started talking to someone about old times. I left him alone and went into the living room to give him some privacy.
After almost an hour, Kerry came into the living room and sat down beside me. He was obviously sad about something, and he laid his head on my shoulder. I put my arm around him and asked him what was wrong.
"Larry is in trouble. Seems my stepfather talked to his father about what he had seen, and now Larry's father seems to be mad at him all the time. He hasn't been able to concentrate on his school work and his grades are slipping, and that is just making it worse. His mom has always been there for him, but she doesn't want to go against his dad."
"Sounds like he has a pack of trouble. Did you enjoy your visit with him, though?"
"Yes, but I am more worried about him now than before."
"Do you think his parents would allow him to visit you?"
Kerry seemed excited again. "I don't know, but is it all right if I ask him?"
"You know the rules, Kerry. As long as I meet him first, if he seems like a nice kid, he is welcome anytime."
"Great!" Kerry exclaimed. He kissed me on the cheek and ran back to the telephone and called his friend again. It took some begging on his part, and on Larry's part as well, I am sure, but it was arranged for Larry to visit us Saturday morning--two days away. I agreed to come pick him up at 9:00 a.m.
Kerry was walking on air the next two days. He didn't bring any of his other friends over those two days, but he spruced his room up until it wasn't recognizable. He had been asking me for a television for his room for some time, so on Friday we went shopping and found one that he liked. He wanted to get a video game system for his new television, but I hesitated until I saw what games he wanted to get.
"Aw, come on, Dad, all the kids play these games."
"That doesn't make them acceptable to me," I answered. "I don't mind your playing video games, as long as your school work doesn't suffer and your chores get done, but I am not going to condone games with excessive violence, sex, or language. You know what games are appropriate for kids your age and which ones are not. I am willing to trust your judgment, but if I start hearing unacceptable sounds or seeing unacceptable images, I know how to disconnect the game system. Do I make myself clear?"
"There is only one game I like to play that has violence and language in it. All the rest I like are racing car games and ski races."
"Okay, the racing car games and ski races are fine, but the other one stays on the store's shelf."
"You tell me, Kerry, do we get the game system or not? You know the rules."
"Okay," he said, looking rather dejected. "How many games can I get?"
"Well, why don't you start out with two, and if things seem to work out well, we can talk about some more later on. Don't forget, you've got a birthday and Christmas coming up, so don't overdo it right now."
Kerry selected two games to go with the video system. We took the game system, the television, and the games to the car, and after putting them in the trunk we then went back into the mall to another store to get a video control box. When we returned to the car, Kerry put his arms around my waist and said, "Thanks, Dad." He looked a little sad.
"You're welcome, Kerry, but tell me, what's wrong?"
"I'm just a little upset with myself, that's all. I knew you wouldn't want me to get those teen games, but I asked for them anyway. I should have known better."
"Oh, Kerry, don't worry about that. All kids test their boundaries. Mine certainly did, and my grand-children still do. I've been down that road before, and I like to think I know how to handle it. I just hope you realize that rule is for your protection. I wouldn't let you have them because I care about you."
"I know, Dad, and I love you for it. I just don't want you to think bad things about me."
"I don't. I am very proud of you, and don't you forget it."
We drove home, and I helped him unload the stuff into his room. I offered to help him connect it all up, but he wanted to do it himself, so I went into the living room to relax and watch television. I heard sounds from the video games after a while, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. After about an hour and a half, Kerry came into the living room and sat beside me, naked as usual. I bent down and gave him a kiss on the forehead and put my arm around him, pulling him toward me, and he snuggled up to me on the sofa.
"How is your television working?" I asked.
"Fine, and so are the video games. Larry and I are going to have a lot of fun tomorrow. Oh, I forgot to ask. Is it OK with you if I invite Kenneth to join us? His mom has to work all day tomorrow, and he will be by himself."
"I don't mind, son." I said. "You know that I think a lot of Kenneth, and he seems like a very nice boy. But you had better call him and make sure it is OK with his mother. Then don't you think it is about time to get to bed? We have to go get Larry by 9:00 tomorrow morning, and do we need to pick up Kenneth as well?"
"I'll find out," he answered. He went to the phone and called Kenneth, and after just a short time hung up. He told me we could pick up Kenneth on the way to Larry's house tomorrow morning."
"OK." I said. "But now, it's time for bed, don't you think?"
"I guess so," he answered. "Would you carry me back to your bed again?"
"Don't I always?"
I picked him up and started to the bedroom. As usual, Kerry wrapped his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist, and nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck and shoulder. Although we had never talked about him doing this, I had come to think of this as a special ritual we went through every night, and I always looked forward to it. I am sure that he never realized how special it made me feel, knowing that he wanted me to do that for him, and I have no idea how he felt about it exactly, although I knew he must like it, or he wouldn't keep requesting it. Both of us got plenty of hugs during the day, but this one was always so special.
After I got into bed, Kerry nuzzled up to me as he always did. We cuddled, kissed, and held each other as we always did. And as usual, Kerry drifted off to sleep before I did, and I got to enjoy another sight I had gotten used to--the sight of him asleep, in the darkness, in my bed, next to me, touching me, holding me. And, as happened every night, I felt literally overwhelmed by the love I felt for him and the love I knew that he felt for me. When sleep finally closed my eyes, I felt like the luckiest man in the world.
Kerry was up before sunrise the next day, and nothing would do but I had to get up early, too. He was so excited about Larry's visit that he literally couldn't wait until 9:00 a.m., when we were to pick him up. He inhaled his breakfast, made our bed, checked his room at least a dozen times to make sure it was up to his standards, and fidgeted around so much that I had to tell him several times to settle down.
At 8:30, he couldn't contain himself any longer, and I estimated that it was about a 15 minute drive to Larry's house, and would take about ten to pick up Kenneth, so we got into the car and started.
Kenneth lived only six blocks from us, and he was waiting for us on his front porch. Larry, however, lived in an older part of town, and the houses there were mostly small, frame buildings with very small yards. Kerry pointed out his stepfather's house to me as we approached. It didn't exactly appear to be vacant, but it was the worse for wear and not well maintained. The house was in desperate need of paint and the lawn needed mowing in the worst way. There were very few flowers or other ornaments in the lawn, and there was an apparently disabled old car on the grass next to the house. It did not present a very favorable impression.
Larry's house was two doors away, and like the other houses, had a very small yard; however, the yard was nicely kept, and the house appeared to be well maintained on the outside. The flower beds surrounding the house were filled with beautiful colors, and there was a small hedge surrounding the front lawn. Larry was sitting on the front porch when we arrived, and he was at Kerry's window before the car even stopped. Both the boys seemed very excited to see each other. Kerry introduced Larry to me and to Kenneth, and was all smiles as I shook Larry's hand.
Larry seemed to be a nice boy, on first impression. He was about six inches taller than Kerry was, and he appeared to be somewhat older. He was certainly heavier, more muscular, and more athletically built than was Kerry, and his skin was much more tanned, but he still had the look of a young boy, and was actually quite handsome. His hair was a dark brown, and his eyes were hazel. His voice was somewhat deeper than Kerry's, although it was definitely still a boy's voice, and was really smooth and pleasant. He was dressed nicely in a pair of khaki-colored shorts and a brick red polo-style shirt, with the same color socks and white sneakers.
Larry led us to the living room of the house, where his parents were watching television. He introduced me to them, and they both seemed pleasant enough, although his father seemed somewhat aloof. His mother was quite talkative, and did most of the talking with me. She told me that Larry and Kerry had been very good friends while they were classmates, and she was sorry about the situation in Kerry's home. She had known his mother for about a year before she died, and knew her to be a very supportive and loving mother. She had died from breast cancer, which she had fought for a little over four years. (I found out later that Kerry never knew what was wrong with his mother--she had never told him.)
I probably should not have asked at the initial meeting, but I asked her if Larry were having any problems in school. She seemed uncomfortable talking about it, but said he was indeed having problems with his grades. She said that she had been working with Larry at his teachers' suggestions, and he seemed to be doing better, but she did not know what was causing the problems. She had tried to speak with her husband about it, but he seemed more offended by it than willing to help. That was not like him, but she would continue to work with him about it. I was very surprised that she opened up so quickly with me about her son, whom I had never met until a few minutes ago. I got the impression that here was a woman who was overwhelmed, and didn't really know what was going on. Since I had not had a chance to speak to Larry about anything, I didn't pursue the matter any further, and I was relieved when she didn't either.
We agreed that Larry could spend the day with Kerry and Kenneth, and I would have him back home no later than 8:00 p.m. All three boys climbed into the back seat of my car, and we were on our way. I didn't talk much on the way home, mainly because no one could have gotten a word in edgewise with these three magpies. But it was good that Larry and Kerry were together again and talking about things that had happened while they were apart. I was warmed when Kerry told Larry that I was going to be his new dad real soon. Larry told him how lucky he was, and said that he wished he could find a new dad. I didn't know how to respond to that, so I didn't say anything.
When we got home, the boys headed straight for Kerry's room, where they spent the next couple of hours talking and playing video games. Shortly before noon, I went to the door to ask them what they would like to have for lunch, and found all three boys sitting on the floor naked in front of the TV holding a game controller. Although I was a little shocked at this, I kept my wits about me, and casually asked about lunch. Kerry looked at me very innocently, but Larry was clearly embarrassed, and Kenneth looked terrified.
"It's OK, guys, he sees me naked all the time. He's fine with it. Aren't you, Dad?"
"Well, let's say I am at least used to it with you, Kerry, after all, you live here and obviously I am going to see you from time to time. But I don't think it is a good idea for you to be getting naked when your friends are visiting, and I certainly don't think you should be having your friends doing it with you. I have told you before that there are some things that have to remain just between us. Kerry, most people don't keep secrets very well, and now I know that you don't, either. What do you think will happen now if Larry or Kenneth tells anyone that I allow you to be naked around me? What do you think your other friends would say if they knew that you three got naked with each other? Once stories like this get started, they are almost impossible to stop. You are playing with fire, Kerry, and you need to start being more discrete about some things."
"But we weren't doing anything!"
"That's right, Mr. Newman, we weren't," said Kenneth.
"I know you weren't, boys, and I am sure that this is something that you two have probably done before and don't think anything about it. It's just childhood innocence, and I am not going to make a big deal out of it now. But I am going to point out that all of you are at an age when this kind of thing isn't considered acceptable by society at large. I am not saying that it is inherently morally wrong, but I am saying that most people would not see it that way. They tend to over-react and make it seem worse than what it actually is. And what you all have apparently forgotten is that this is my home. I am responsible for what goes on here, and I can't afford to let it get out that I entertain naked children in my house. You know that I haven't even been in the same room with you this morning, but if this got out, I would be labeled as a child molester."
"Gosh, Dad, I never thought of it that way. I am so sorry. We will all put our clothes back on." Kerry started for his clothes.
"Look, boys, I told you that I wasn't going to make a big deal out of this, and I am not. But let me ask you, Larry, Kenneth, is this something that you and Kerry like to do with each other?"
"Well, we have done it several times," started Larry. "I can't speak for Kerry, but I know I enjoy being naked with him. We have never touched each other, I just like to look at him. He's very cute. But I do apologize to you. None of us really thought about how you would feel about it." Larry seemed really ashamed, and I knew that his apology was genuine.
"I have never done this before with anyone," Kenneth answered, "but I have to admit I do like it. It just seems natural, and it is fun. But I am sorry if we upset you."
"Dad, I really am sorry, too. Yes, I like being naked with Larry--it is just something I enjoy. And Kenneth seems to enjoy it as well. We haven't done anything this morning except play video games, and it just felt right to take off our clothes and be comfortable. I didn't think you would mind."
"Don't get me wrong, boys. If this is what you want to do, and as long as you can keep this kind of thing among yourselves, I personally don't mind. But, Kerry, I have explained to you why it is crucial that this kind of thing remain just between us. This is not something that anyone else needs to know about. Now, you have chosen to include Larry and Kenneth in this, so Larry, and Kenneth, I must tell you as well that you must keep this strictly among the four of us. If you can't or don't want to do that, then please tell me now."
"I promise I will, Mr. Newman. Kerry has told me what a wonderful father you have been to him, and he has always been my special friend. I would never tell anyone anything that would hurt either of you. I don't want to be the one that tears you two apart from each other."
"I promise I will, too, Mr. Newman," Kenneth answered. "I would be embarrassed to tell anyone about it, especially now that I know how you feel."
"Kenneth, Larry, I don't want you to think that I am angry, because I am not, but I have to stress to you that I mean NO one else can know about this. No exceptions. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," said Kenneth.
"Yes, Mr. Newman. I won't even tell my parents. I am afraid my dad would kill me."
"I doubt that your dad would kill you, Larry, but I am sure he wouldn't take too kindly to it, either."
"You don't know the half of it. If he thought he could get rid of me and still keep Mom and everything else, he would do it."
"Well, I don't know your dad that well, but if you boys want to keep doing this, then you need to understand that you must be extremely careful. It is just a good habit to get into. If you do it here, you need to make sure there is no possibility of any of your other friends showing up, and you all have to be very careful in your conversations with your other friends that this doesn't get brought up. Kerry, I suggest that you make sure that Larry and Kenneth understand what I told you earlier, and you had better be sure you understand it as well. If all of you can keep this just among us, then I don't have a problem with it, but I must warn you not to include anyone else, at least for right now. Also, I hope you know that if Larry or Kenneth tells anyone about this--I know they say they won't, but it could happen--then there is no way that I will be allowed to be your father. I meant what I said when I told you that NO one else could know. Now, because you weren't careful, someone else knows. No one else saw you today, so it may turn out all right, and if you are such good friends, it probably will, but do you see now how it feels to be uncertain?"
"OK, Dad, I will explain to Larry and Kenneth. I am so sorry, Dad. I promise this won't happen ever again." He came over to me, put his arms around my waist, and began to sob softly.
"Don't cry, Kerry, I'm not mad at any of you. I just want you to know what other people would say if they were to find out about this, and that there are people in this world who would like nothing more than to spread around a lot of gossip. If you want to do this, I would suggest you keep your room door closed in case anyone were to make a surprise visit, and you all need to understand that you can't discuss it even with each other unless you are alone. You know I love you, Kerry, I am not mad, I just want you to be more careful. Okay?
Larry and Kenneth walked over to me and made a group hug out of it. "Don't worry, Mr. Newman, and Kerry, you don't worry, either. I promise I will never tell anyone. Kerry, you know I love you much too much for that," said Larry.
Kerry broke off our hug, and gave Larry such an astonished look, it was almost comical. "Larry, you never told me that before."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know how you would react, so I never told you. It just seemed right to tell you now."
"Larry, you are a special friend, you are by far my best friend, you mean a lot to me, and I like you a whole lot, but I have been taught to be careful how I use that word `love.' When you can say it and mean it, `I love you' is the most beautiful thing you can say to a person, but if you don't mean it for any reason, then nothing is quite as cruel. I am not ready to say that to you, Larry. I hope that doesn't make you sad or angry, but I am just not ready, and I may never be. Can you accept that for now?"
Larry thought a moment before answering, "Yes, I can." He and Kerry had a long look into each other's faces. It was very obvious that these two boys had a special relationship, and I was happy for both of them. I didn't know if either of them would turn out to be homosexual, and I personally didn't care. They both claimed that they had never done anything with each other, but it wouldn't matter to me if they had. They were both ten, almost eleven years old, and still exploring various kinds of relationships with others. They liked each other, they were comfortable with each other, and they didn't read a lot of extraneous ideas into their relationship. This was classic childhood innocence, nothing more.
But I don't know the words to explain how I felt about Kerry's statement to Larry about the word `love.' It was almost word for word what I had told him when I first met him, and here he was treating it as gospel. I had known Kerry's feelings for quite a while by this time, but for the first time I felt I really knew what `love' meant to him, and it was exactly what I had taught him about what it meant to me. There are indescribable moments between all fathers and sons who love each other, and this was definitely one between Kerry and me. It was several moments before I could speak. "Boys, it looks like you have some talking to do with each other. Do you want me to make you some lunch, or would you like me to order a pizza?"
"Pizza!" they yelled. I left the room and placed the order. The boys stayed in Kerry's room until it arrived, and when I called them, they all came into the dining room, fully clothed, for lunch. We had a very enjoyable meal, and some very good conversation.
After lunch, the boys returned to Kerry's room, and I cleaned up the dining room and kitchen, then went back to my office to plan some details for the church's Christmas program. I finished my work and was straightening up some files when Larry walked in.
"Mr. Newman, could I talk to you for a minute?" he asked.
"Sure, come on in and have a seat. What's on your mind?"
"Well, first of all I want to apologize to you again. None of us wanted to disappoint you or make you angry, and I guess we just didn't really think about what we were doing. We're all really sorry, and I promise that no one will ever find out about it from me. I know you are still uncertain, because you and I don't know each other yet, but as I said, I can't tell my parents, and I certainly wouldn't tell anyone else. I am really sorry, Mr. Newman, and I promise it won't happen again."
"Forget it, Larry. It is normal for kids your age to explore your bodies together, and I know kids enjoy playing like that occasionally, especially friends who are as close as you and Kerry seem to be. I just wanted you all to know that you had better be discrete about such things, because there are a lot of people in this world whose lives are boring and uninteresting for the most part, and they like nothing better than spreading around a lot of gossip, mostly enhanced beyond what they know to be the truth, and trying to inflict some kind of Victorian morality on everyone around them. I wish people would mind their own business, especially aspects which do not pertain to them or cause them any harm, and quit trying to govern how other people live their lives. But that's not going to happen in my lifetime, and probably not in yours, either. I like to think I am tolerant of most activities which are normal and expected, but most people aren't."
"I know, and I thank you for not getting angry and making such a big deal about it. But Kerry told me that I could talk to you, and I told him I would try. He says you already know about my problems at school and home."
"Well, I don't think I know a whole lot. I have heard that you are having some problems at school, and Kerry has told me that he thinks your father blames you for an incident that happened when he had to leave his stepfather's house, but that is about all I know."
"Well, as I told you, Kerry and I have played together naked several times. We have never done anything with each other, we haven't even touched each other before. We both just enjoy being that way. It's just more comfortable for us. We have even done it in my house as well as where Kerry lived. But when Kerry's stepfather caught us, he got really angry. He kicked Kerry out, and he dragged me home that night and told my dad that Kerry and I were "queering around" at his house. My dad hasn't been the same since. He is sullen and yells at me all the time. I have tried to talk to him several times, but he won't let me. My mom is all right, I guess, but she is weak and won't stand up to my dad about anything. I just don't know what to do. The only real problem I am having at school is that I don't always do my homework. I am so worried and confused about home I just can't seem to concentrate and make myself do it, and I am so far behind right now I don't understand a lot of the work we are doing. I have tried everything I know to do, and nothing is working. I love my mom, and I love my dad, but I just can't seem to talk to them. I have talked more to Kerry and Kenneth today than I have with my parents for over a month. I am so lonely I can hardly stand it, and none of the other kids in school like me as much as Kerry did when he was there. I know you can't do a lot, Mr. Newman, but would you please give me some ideas on what I could try?"
"Well, Larry, the main thing I would suggest to you is that you put all this behind you as best you can, and just be yourself. I know that is a tall order, but that's what you need to do. It is not going to do anyone any good for you to do poorly on your school work--in fact, it will make everything else that much worse. You say you love your dad, and that tells me that you have had a good relationship with him in the past. I am sure he loves you, too, but he is just a little disappointed and confused right now. I am sure he will come around. Just give him time."
"I'll try, Mr. Newman, but I don't know how much longer I can give him. He's been mad at me before, but never like this, and never this long."
"Well, different men need different amounts of time to work things out in their own mind. Unfortunately, a lot of men tend to be very uptight about their own sexuality, and when confronted with a situation that may lead some people to believe their child is gay, they tend to overreact and not listen to reason. It is a very gut-level defense mechanism, and unfortunately, some men never do get over it completely. But, like I told you, all you can do is just be yourself. If you see an opportunity to talk to him, take it, or if you see how you can explain things to him, by all means do it. Believe me, it will have an effect, even if it doesn't seem so at first. At least, it will give him something to think about, and it will let him know that you are trying."
"I'll try, but would you please talk to him for me? Kerry says you spoke to his stepfather and he agreed to sign some papers for you."
"Believe me, Larry, that was different. I don't want to go into details about that with you. In your case, let me suggest that you speak to your school counselor, and be very honest with him. Your counselor has had to deal with situations like this much more than I have, and he may know of some better things to try. Also, if your counselor feels it would help to speak to your dad, your dad would probably accept things from him that he would never accept from me. Your counselor may be able to arrange some family counseling for you that would help as well. If, after you do that, you think it would help for me to talk to your dad, I would be willing to try, but if I were to do it now, I am afraid things could get worse instead of better."
"I never thought about the counselor, but maybe she could help at that. Thanks for the suggestion."
"Larry, let me ask you a question, and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to, but if you do, please answer truthfully so I can help you more. OK?"
"Larry, do you consider yourself to be a homosexual?"
"Please, Mr. Newman, don't make me answer that."
"I won't. I told you that you didn't have to answer. Whether you are or aren't, it makes no difference to me, and I am sure it won't make any difference to Kerry. Besides, at your age, most boys go through a stage where they may have homosexual thoughts, and most boys experiment sexually with other boys at your age and a little older. That's probably what you and Kerry and Kenneth are doing right now. It doesn't mean anything except that you are curious and that is entirely normal. Most boys outgrow it eventually, but some remain gay. When they do, I believe they can still lead a happy and productive life. Yes, there are people who don't see if that way, and there are people who hate gays for no reason other than that they are gay. It's a problem that gays still have to deal with, but I believe it is better to be yourself, and be open about yourself, than try to be something that you are not. You still don't have to answer my question if you are uncomfortable with it, Larry, and you may not even know the answer yourself, but if you do, knowing the answer may make it easier for me to help you."
"Truthfully, Mr. Newman, I don't know. Kerry is my best friend, and like I said, we have played naked with each other, but that is as far as it went. I have never had a girlfriend, like most of the guys have. I don't know, maybe I am gay."
"Larry, a lot of guys your age don't have a girlfriend. Some who have one would die before they would admit it, and some claim that they have a dozen when they have never had even one. In my experience, those who brag the most usually have the least. It's not important what the other guys have. The important thing is what you feel about yourself. You may be straight, you may be gay, you may be going through a normal period of experimentation with other guys, or you may be something else, but whatever you are, you are still you, and there are a lot of kids your age--boys and girls--who would like to be your friend. You need to know that."
"Thanks, Mr. Newman, but I really wish I could believe that."
"Believe it, Larry, because it is true. I've never met a kid yet who didn't at one time or another believe that no one liked him or felt there was something wrong with him so that he would never have a friend. It happened to me, and it is happening to you, but like I said, just be yourself. Believe me, someone at your school likes you because of what he sees in you. It may take a while for you to find each other, but you will. Just take my word for it right now. As for your father, Larry, let me tell you that it takes a lot to cause a father and a son to lose their relationship. I know it happens sometimes, but I don't think that is true in your case. Your father is disappointed, confused, and probably a little angry with you, but he is still your father, and I would be very surprised if he doesn't get back to his old self very soon. I know it has been over a month, and I know that can seem like a long time, but it's not very long in the overall scheme of things. I know he still loves you--he just needs to be reminded of that in a way that he can accept in his state of mind right now. It wouldn't hurt at all if he were also reminded that you still love him. I'd be willing to bet that it has been some time since you told him."
"You're right--it has been quite a while."
"If I were you, I would try again to have a talk with your dad, and I would start it out by telling him how you feel about him, and follow up by telling him some of the things you have just told me."
"Thanks, Mr. Newman. I'll try." Larry got up out of his chair and came over and put his arms around me. I returned his hug and gave him an affectionate pat on the back, then he left to return to Kerry's room. In just a moment, Kerry came in, gave me a big hug, and said, "Thanks, Dad, you're the greatest," then returned to his room.
In just a few minutes, Kenneth came in. "Mr. Newman, you aren't going to tell my mom what we were doing, are you?"
"No, Kenneth, I'm not. I don't think you were doing anything wrong, I think you just weren't thinking. Telling anyone would just make an innocent situation seem like a big deal, and would cause more problems. It's best to just forget about it."
"Thanks. I really am sorry for what we did, Mr. Newman, and I promise it won't happen again. I just don't want my mom to find out. I think that would be all it would take."
"What do you mean, Kenneth?"
"Well, she knows I am gay, and she is not happy with it. She would probably put me in a home somewhere if she knew."
"Kenneth, I don't know your mom, but I wouldn't worry about that if I were you. Yes, sometimes it happens, but when the chips are down, most parents will protect their children. Very few actually try to get rid of them, either by harming them or giving them away."
"Would you give me up if you were my dad?"
"Absolutely not! If you were my son, I would be very proud of you. You seem to be a fine boy--nice, friendly, intelligent, affectionate. Who wouldn't be proud to have a son like you?"
"Thanks, Mr. Newman. I wish my mom felt that way," he said, almost tearfully. He came to me and gave me a big hug. "Is is OK with you if I tell you that I love you?"
"It sure is, Kenneth. I am not at all hesitant to tell you that I love you, too."
"Thanks," he said, kissing my cheek before returning to Kerry's room.
The boys stayed in Kerry's room the rest of the afternoon, coming out only for supper. When it came time for Larry and Kenneth to go home, they were ready the first time I called. Kenneth chose to walk home, so Kerry, Larry and I got in the car, both boys in the back seat. They didn't speak much on the way over to Larry's house, but I got the impression that Larry was feeling better about a lot of things. When we arrived, he said good-bye to Kerry, then came to me and thanked me again, then ran to his father and gave him a big hug. I looked back at Kerry in the back seat, and he had a big smile on his face.
Kerry and I both had birthdays during the first part of October, his on the 12th and mine on the 8th. It just so happened that mine fell on a Friday, and his fell on Tuesday. At his suggestion, we combined our celebrations on the Saturday in between. We planned a small party at the house for the afternoon. He invited Larry and his family, along with Kenneth and about a dozen of his other friends from school, and I invited the pastor, the two lawyers, and two couples from church who had been longtime friends, as well as both my next-door neighbors. I felt it would probably not be good to invite the judge or Ms. Adams, since technically the case was still in progress.
My son, Joseph Bradley, (my wife's son from a previous marriage) was unable to come, but sent Kerry and me a really nice birthday card and said that he would try to visit us over Thanksgiving.
My younger adopted son, Darrell, arrived shortly before dinner on Friday evening from Oklahoma City, where he lived and worked as a bank executive. He was thirty-one years old, had graduated from Cornell University nine years previously, and seemed to be on the fast track in his career. He had worked with the bank seven years, starting out as a loan officer, and had been named a vice president after three years. He was a few inches shorter than I, standing about 5'11" and weighing about 190 lbs. He had light brown hair, blue eyes, and a tanned complexion. Although he was a little on the heavy side, he was in good physical shape, and worked out regularly at a health club. After dinner was over, he and Kerry spent some time in the back yard throwing a football around, and both seemed to have a good time. Darrell had always been a big kidder, telling jokes and pulling stunts to get a good laugh. Several times I heard Kerry laugh out loud when they were together, and I wondered what jokes he had heard.
My older son, Roy, arrived about 11:00 Saturday morning with his wife Doris and my two granddaughters, Dawn and Marie, aged 11 and 8. They had driven in from Austin, where Roy worked as a computer systems analyst and Doris was an elementary school teacher. This was their first time to meet Kerry, and to no one's surprise (especially not to mine), they were completely taken with him. He was so polite, so self-assured, and so obviously happy they could not help themselves. And he was so attentive to both my granddaughters that they absolutely adored him. I felt so proud of him.
The weather was unseasonably warm, and had been for over a week. I had told Kerry that if he wanted to, we would turn on the pool heater, which would make the water a little more comfortable. We turned it on Friday night, but it didn't have to run very long to make the water warm enough to swim. By the time all the guests had arrived, the water was about 87 degrees. The grownups had a great time watching the kids romping in the water, and enjoyed the sunshine and drinks on the patio. We were about to cut the cake and serve the ice cream when the pastor had a surprise for us. On cue, fourteen members of the church choir appeared, in their robes, and sang "Happy Birthday" to us. It turned out to be a very nice party.
About 6:00 p.m., Kerry started opening his birthday gifts. He got a nice sweater with his school's mascot embroidered on it from a group of his friends, a few pairs of socks, and a nice tie. Kenneth gave him a very nice wallet, and Larry and his family got him a new baseball glove, which he seemed to be especially proud of. Darrell, Roy, and his family gave him a very nice watch. I had gotten him a couple of new video games (with Larry's help picking them out). The kids talked for a while longer among themselves, mostly about school-related subjects, but all the kids except Larry and Kenneth had gone by 7:00, and the pastor and the lawyers left shortly afterward. Larry's parents had left earlier in the afternoon--he was to spend the night with us, and we were to take him home after church services the next day. Roy and his family were also spending the night. Darrell had to fly to Chicago the next day, so he would leave a little later.
Darrell had to catch a 9:17 flight back to Oklahoma City, and although I offered to drive him to the airport, he insisted on taking a taxi. "You just relax and enjoy the rest of the family for your birthday," he told me. "And just between you and me, I know a special little boy who is going to make you the happiest man on the planet for the rest of your life. I just thank God for him. I don't know how you do it, but you always seem to be at the right place at the right time. He will be good for you--I don't believe I have to worry about you anymore." Just before he left, he called Kerry over to him, and they had a short conversation, after which Darrell mussed his hair and Kerry giggled as he gave him a good-bye hug. Darrell's taxi came, so he said his good-byes to the rest of us, and he left. He told me, "Dad, I know you love Kerry, but love him for me, too, will you?" I assured him that I would.
Larry, Kenneth, Kerry, and the girls went into Kerry's room to play video games for a while, and we heard the usual sounds of laughter along with the noises the games made. Roy, Doris and I just sat in the living room talking about nothing in particular, then Doris wanted to know more about Kerry.
"Dad, have you heard any more about his family since you got him?" she asked.
"No. I have no desire to contact his stepfather any more, and the only family member he knows about is his great aunt. I have spoken to her, and she is supportive. I have encouraged him to keep in contact with her, and I know that he called her on the phone one day last month, but I don't know any details about it."
"Has his stepfather tried to cause any difficulties?"
"No, he knows better than to try. He has already signed the papers giving his consent, so I don't anticipate any problems with him, but if he wants to fight, I am ready for him."
"Kerry seems like such a nice boy. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to keep him, but I can tell that you have been good for him, and he has been good for you, too. I hope it all works out for both of you."
"Thanks, Doris. So do I."
Shortly afterward, Roy and Doris went into the kitchen to make some drinks, and I just sat in my recliner reliving the day. Presently, Larry came into the living room to talk with me.
"Mr. Newman?" he began.
"Hi. Are you and the other kids enjoying the games?"
"Yes, sir. Could I talk with you a minute, please?"
"Sure, Larry, what's on your mind?"
"First of all, I want to thank you for your suggestions last time. I had a long talk with my dad after I got back home, and I think we were able to clear the air for the most part. I believe he still has a little way to go, but things are much better between us now. If nothing else, we both know that we still love each other. You helped more than you will ever know, and I just want to say `thank you.' He came over to me and gave me a big hug.
"You're welcome, Larry. I'm so glad things are working out between you two."
"There's something else I want to thank you for, Mr. Newman. When I told you last time that I didn't know if I was gay, you listened to me and didn't condemn me at all. You encouraged me and explained that things may not be what I thought they were, but that I would still be me whatever I found out I was. That was more than my father was willing to do at the time, and it helped a lot. Thanks again."
"You're welcome, again," I answered.
"Well, I still don't know for sure what I am. I still want Kerry to be my friend, and I still love him, even though he doesn't want to say that to me, but there is a new girl in my class who moved in about three weeks ago, and I think I like her. One of my classmates says he thinks she likes me, too. Do you think I should try to be her friend? I mean, even if there is a chance I might be gay?"
"Larry, if you like this girl and you think she likes you, then by all means, go for it! If the time comes that you know for sure that you are gay, then you owe it to her to be honest with her. After all, you can still be friends, but she would eventually need to find someone else to date. Until then, it is normal for you to have uncertainties about a lot of things. Depending on how well you can get to know her, you may or may not want to discuss your uncertainties with her, as a friend. But don't feel like you have to rush things right now. Just be yourself, be her friend, and let her be your friend. Maybe it will lead to something deeper, maybe it won't--that's normal, too."
"Thanks. I am just a little bashful when it comes to girls."
Roy and Doris re-appeared with their drinks and handed me a can of Diet Coke.
"Most boys your age are. Believe me, she's used to that."
Larry came over to give me another hug. "Thanks again, Mr. Newman. Kerry is right--you're the greatest dad in the world. Happy birthday!"
"Just don't forget whose dad he is," interrupted Kerry as he and Kenneth entered the room, followed by Dawn and Marie.
"Thanks a lot, Son," I whispered in his ear as I hugged him. "You have no idea how great that makes me feel."
"Happy birthday, Granddaddy," squealed both the girls almost in unison. They both climbed up on my lap and kissed my cheeks.
"Thank you, Honey," I answered, kissing them both on the forehead. Though they were sisters, Dawn and Marie were as different as night and day. Dawn was an athlete--she had played Little League baseball, YMCA basketball, and select team soccer for the last five years, and had made the all-star team in every sport every year. She had already told me that she was going to try for the basketball, track and tennis teams at her school this year. She was a tall girl, a little over five feet, but she was slim and had a very athletic build. Marie, on the other hand, was a little princess. She enjoyed playing dress-up and playing with her doll collection. She was quite an actress and artist--she had played the lead part in one of her school plays last year, and had also won an award for best poster during Fire Prevention Week. She was shorter than Dawn, about 4'8", but both girls weighed almost the same. Both had outgoing, bubbly personalities, and I loved them both. And they were both absolutely beautiful little girls!
"Is Uncle Kerry going to live with you?" asked Dawn, getting down from my lap. "I hope he does. He's nice."
"Yeah, he is nice," retorted Marie, joining Dawn on the floor. "I like him."
Kerry blushed, but he had a big smile on his face. I could tell he got along well with the girls.
"Well, I hope he stays with me for a long time, girls. But do you think he really wants to?"
"Sure, he does!" answered Marie. "Don't you, Uncle Kerry?"
"He does. I can tell," volunteered Kenneth.
"I sure do. Dad, I can't think of a better time to give you your birthday present than now. Happy birthday, Dad," he said, holding out a small box wrapped with white paper and a dark blue ribbon and bow.
I was a little surprised, because I had told Kerry he didn't need to get me anything for my birthday, but I opened the box and found a beautiful gold tie clasp with four small diamonds in the center of the bar. "It's beautiful, Kerry," I said, as I reached for him.
Dawn interrupted, "Uncle Kerry says there is one diamond for each of your four children. Is that what they mean?"
"Read the back first," Kerry answered.
I turned the clasp over, and underneath the clip was engraved, "TO OUR DAD, ALL OUR LOVE." I couldn't hold back the tears. Kerry came to me and just melted against me, and we just held each other. He didn't speak, and I couldn't.
Kenneth came over to me and stood beside my chair. "Happy birthday, Sir," he began. "Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I wish I were Kerry. I would love to have you as my dad."
He threw his arms around my neck, and I put my arm around him to hold him close. "I'm honored, Kenneth," I said. "I hope you know that you are very special to me, too, and I'll do whatever I can for you. I know you are special to Kerry as well. He speaks very highly of you."
I continued to hold Kerry and Kenneth, and they seemed to be in no hurry to go elsewhere. After a while, Kenneth said, "Oh, I almost forgot!" He pulled a small package out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me. "Happy birthday, again, Sir," he said.
I opened the package and found a beautiful gold pen and pencil set engraved with my name. "Thank you so much, Kenneth," I said, pulling him back into my arms. "I will always treasure this." He melted into my embrace, then pulled back and gave me a light kiss on the cheek. He sat down on the floor with Dawn and Marie, leaving Kerry in my lap with his head resting lightly on my chest.
After what seemed like several minutes, Roy spoke.
"Dad, I have just spoken with Joe on the telephone, and of course Darrell was here with us today. I guess I have been appointed spokesman for the family, so here goes. Joe, Darrell, and I discussed your situation with each other about a month ago. None of us had met Kerry at the time, and I'll admit we all had some misgivings. We knew that you weren't completely over Mom yet, and we weren't sure it was the best idea in the world for you to take on raising a ten-year-old boy at your age. But after seeing you two together, I can't believe how wrong we were. Joe, Darrell, and I all want you to know that we welcome our new baby brother, and we are all solidly behind you. I'm sure you already knew that, but we all thought it would be important for you to hear." I noticed his eyes were moist, too.
"Thanks, Son," I said. "You and Darrell were my life before I met Mary, you were my life along with her and Joe while she was here, and all three of you have been my life since she left. I love you all more than I can say. I don't love you any less because of Kerry, but all of you are on your own now, and Roy, you have your own family now, and this little boy needs me. I hope you all can understand that I need him just as much."
"That's obvious, Dad," Roy answered. "I can see the love between you two. You are both in very good hands."
"Don't worry about him, Roy," said Kerry, still in my arms, "I'll be eleven years old in two more days. I can take care of him."
Roy laughed. "I am sure you can. Kerry, there has always been a lot of love in our family--that's just Dad's way, and it was Mom's. All of us are glad you are a part of us now. I hope you know that Joe and Darrell and I, along with my family, are a part of you, too. I don't know if Darrell told you before he left, but I know he loves you--I could see it in his face. My family and I--all of us--love you, too. I will be honored to have you as a brother. Happy birthday, Kerry."
"That goes for me, too," said Doris. "You are a very nice young man, and we are all very proud of you. Happy birthday, Kerry."
Kerry left my arms and embraced Doris, then went to Roy and embraced him. "Thanks, Roy. That is the nicest thing you could have said to me. I love you, too, all of you. It's going to be so great having you for a big brother."
"I'm looking forward to that, Kerry."
Dawn and Marie both walked over to him, and Kerry gave them both a big hug. Dawn kissed him on the cheek, and Marie asked him to bend down a little so that she could, too. He blushed, but I could tell he liked it.
"Dad," Roy began, "I've had a long day, and we have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow afternoon. I think I'll put the girls to bed and turn in. I assume you want Doris and me in the guest room, and the girls in the third bedroom?"
"Yes, that will work. You know where everything is, but let me know if you need anything you can't find."
"Okay. Happy birthday, Dad, and good night, all."
"Good night, Son."
"Good night, Roy," answered Larry and Kerry, almost in unison.
Kenneth said his good-nights to everyone, and said he needed to get home. I offered to walk him home, but he declined, as it was such a short distance. I told him to call back when he got home so we would know he got there safely. He said he would, and then left.
Larry, Kerry, Doris, and I, and the girls said our good-nights to each other, and Roy and Doris left to put the girls to bed.
After about ten minutes, Kenneth called to say he had arrived home, and I got ready for bed.
For the first time, Kerry was to sleep in his own room with Larry, and I was alone. I thought at first it would be hard to get to sleep since I had gotten so used to having Kerry sleep with me, but surprisingly, I fell asleep very quickly. I felt such a warm glow all over as I went to bed.
While they were growing up, Joe, Darrell and Roy had been typical kids. They were quick to show affection to Mary and me, as well as to each other, and they certainly gave and got more than their fair share of cuddling and physical contact. But especially in public, they acted a little embarrassed whenever things started getting "mushy," and the only times they seemed to want a lot of cuddling was when they were hurt, confused, or troubled. They were not like Kerry, who seemed to almost constantly crave and relish the physical affection we shared so often. For the first time, I thought that maybe I knew the reason why. As Roy had said, there was always a lot of love in our family. All my boys grew up aware of it, feeling it, living it, and knowing it as well as they knew their own name. Love was there all the time, ready to be openly expressed whenever they needed or wanted it, but since it was so well known and so familiar, they didn't feel that they needed to be hugged all that much to know that they were loved. Kerry, on the other hand, was the most love-starved child I had ever encountered when I first met him. He had grown up deprived of the love of a father, and while he and his mother loved each other, she was always subservient to her husband and couldn't show him as much affection as he needed. He had needed love, and it was not always there, or at least was not very obvious. He had even tried to find it by offering sex, but it didn't work. Now it was all around him, in abundance. He knew it in his mind, but he had a large void in his heart to fill. It would take time and a lot of reassurance in the form of physical and emotional affection before he knew it and felt it as deeply as Joe, Roy and Darrell had at his age.
Roy had been very eloquent in telling Kerry he was loved and accepted. Darrell, if he had not told him, had told me and at least told Roy with his eyes, and Roy had relayed the message. Doris and the girls certainly had made their feelings for him very obvious, and then there was me, and he well knew the depth of love and affection we shared for each other. Kerry had willingly accepted it from everyone in the family, and returned it to each one in full measure. I felt very warm and very proud of all four of my sons. Four very special, shiny, sparkling diamonds! I slept soundly.
The next morning, we all went to church together, and for the first time I wore my new diamond tie clip. If I do say so myself, the music was especially beautiful that morning. Our soprano soloist sang Franck's Panis Angelicus for the communion service and really outdid herself. I made a point of complimenting her on her solo, and she beamed with pride. The organ and the choir sounded especially sweet, powerful, and reverent, and I was reminded of the poem, The Touch of the Master's Hand, by Myra Brooks Welch. Given the celebration at my house the day before, followed by the beauty of the music today, it seemed appropriate.
We took Larry home after the service. Kerry and I took Roy and his family out to lunch before they left to return home. When we got home, I sat on the living room sofa, put my head back, and relaxed. Kerry climbed into my lap and put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck.
"Dad, I had such a good time this weekend. Darrell, Roy, and Doris are wonderful people, and they were all so nice to me. All my friends had a good time--all of us had fun in the pool. Dawn and Marie were so sweet--they started calling me `Uncle Kerry.' And Larry and I have always enjoyed being together. Those video games you got me were just perfect! Dad, I can't tell you how happy I am. I love you so much." He hugged me very tightly, and I held him close.
"I'm so happy, too, Kerry," I answered. "Happy that we found each other, happy that my family has accepted you so well, happy that you are happy, and happy you are mine."
"I am so happy that you are mine, too. Hold me, Daddy. God, I love you so much!"
I held him. And held him...And held him...
About 3:30 that afternoon, the doorbell rang, and Kerry answered the door to find Kenneth standing on the top step, obviously in tears. He ushered him into the living room and called me to come. As soon as I got to the living room, Kenneth saw me and ran to me with outstretched arms. I took him into my arms and walked with him to the sofa and sat down.
"Oh, Mr. Newman, I've ruined everything," he sobbed, holding me as tightly as he could.
"Kenneth, hold on to me as long as it takes, but try to get control of yourself and let's talk," I said. After a few minutes, he relaxed and pushed away from me, still with teary eyes. "Now, Little Buddy, can you tell me what's wrong?"
"I've ruined everything. My mom had the preacher come over after church today, and he told me that he was going to help me turn away from the sin of being gay. I told him I couldn't help being what I was, but I was okay with it and didn't want to change. My mom told me that I would either change or get out of her house. I think she meant it. The preacher started yelling at me and calling me all kinds of names, and I finally had enough and ran out of the house. When I went back, the preacher was gone, but Mom told me to get out and stay out. I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I came over here. Would you please help me?"
"I'll try, Kenneth. I don't know exactly how right now, but I'll do the best I can." He threw his arms around me again, and for the next few minutes I had my arms full of another very attractive boy. I noticed that Kerry also had tears in his eyes, but wasn't saying anything. After Kenneth relaxed, I spoke to both boys.
"Kerry, why don't you take Kenneth into the kitchen and get yourself a snack so he can relax a bit more. I am going into my office and think for a while about how to go about this. OK?"
"OK, dad," Kerry answered. He and Kenneth went into the kitchen, and I went to my office. I hadn't been there very long when Kerry came to the door and asked to talk to me.
"Come on in, Kerry," I answered. "What's on your mind?"
"Are you going to let Kenneth live here, too?"
"I don't know what I am going to do yet. Is that what you want me to do?"
"No. I like Kenneth, and I know he needs help, but I am still getting used to the idea of your being my father, and I am not entirely sure of where I stand yet. If he were to live here, I would be asked to share you with him. I don't want to sound like I am selfish, but I don't know if I am ready to do that now."
"I understand, Kerry. And you are right. We are both still getting used to each other, and adding another person to the household would complicate things quite a bit. But let me think about this some more, and I'll come up with something. Just know, Kerry, that YOU are the one I love, and no one else, I don't care who it is, is ever going to take your place with me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. Please don't think I am bad for not wanting Kenneth to live here. He is my friend, but I am just not sure of things right now."
"I understand. Don't worry. Now go on back in with Kenneth and try to make him calm down. OK?
Kerry returned to his room and Kenneth. I thought and thought, but the more I thought about the situation, the more it came to me that I had heard only one side of the situation. I decided to call Kenneth's mother and see what I could find out. I dialed Kenneth's home number, and on the third ring a woman's voice answered.
"Hello," I answered. "This is Michael Newman. How are you doing?"
"OK, I guess," she answered. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, Kenneth is over here right now, and he is very upset. He has asked me to help him, and I agreed to do what I could, but I have heard only his side of what apparently happened this afternoon, and I would like, if you don't mind, to know what is going on from your point of view."
"Oh, Mr. Newman," she began, obviously breaking down. "I have done a terrible thing. I threw Kenneth out of my house."
"Would you mind telling me why?" I asked.
"Well, you know he is gay, don't you?" she began.
"Yes, but I also know he is your son," I answered.
"I know that, too. My ex-husband is very much against gay people, and he can't accept that Kenneth is gay. He and I have discussed it often before, and last night he convinced me to have our minister have a talk with Kenneth. The minister is very much anti-gay, and my ex felt that maybe he could set Kenneth straight, as it were. He sounded so convinced that it could work that I finally agreed to give it a try. It obviously didn't work, and when I told my ex-husband about it, he got very hostile toward me and got me upset. When Kenneth came back home, I was so angry at my ex, that I took it out on Kenneth and threw him out. Now I am sure he hates me." Her sobbing continued to get louder.
I waited a moment before answering. "Mrs. Carrothers, how do you feel about Kenneth's being gay?"
"I don't like it, Mr. Newman, but I think I am astute enough to know I can't change him. He is my son, and I love him, but I just don't know how to handle this."
"Well, Mrs. Carrothers, I don't presume to have all the answers, but I have found over the years that a lot can be accomplished by listening, so I am going to ask you to listen to a couple of things, and consider them before you take any definite action. OK?"
"First of all, Kenneth is only twelve years old. At that age, it is entirely possible that he is gay and knows it, but it is also possible that he is just going through a period of questioning his sexuality and is not at all sure of what he is. Second, being gay says only one thing about a person, and that is that it determines the sex of the person he chooses to love, and hopefully spend his life with, nothing else. It says nothing about his moral fiber, nothing about his devotion to his family and friends, nothing about his intelligence, his competence in his future profession, his abilities, or any other aspect of his life. Right now, I know Kenneth to be a very nice boy who makes friends very easily, and that is an admirable quality, whether he is gay or straight or whatever. If I were in your shoes, I would be proud to have him for a son. I believe you should, too. And lastly, Mrs. Carrothers, I don't believe that anyone knows exactly what "causes" a person to be gay, but I am convinced that it is not a choice. It is a part of a person's make-up that makes him gay. I am a Christian, and I assume you are as well. I believe that God made Kenneth, along with every other being on this planet, and that He does not make trash. If God, in His infinite wisdom, made Kenneth gay, who am I to question His wisdom? It is incumbent upon me, as a Christian, to love him and to do whatever I can to guide him along a path that can lead to his becoming what God intended him to be."
"Don't preach to me, Mr. Newman. I don't like it!"
"I am sorry if you thought I was preaching to you, ma'am. That was not my intention. I am merely trying to point out to you that you need to listen better. You need to listen to Kenneth when he tries to talk about his feelings, and you need to listen to people who are trying to help you, and not those who seem to be intent on making your son miserable. I realize your ex-husband is Kenneth's father and he has a right to express his opinion, but condemning any person because of something that cannot be changed is not the right thing to do. Don't you agree?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Newman, I am just upset right now, and I am probably too much on edge. This is one of those times I probably don't need to be around anyone. Would you mind terribly if Kenneth spent the night at your house?"
"I don't mind at all, ma'am. Kenneth is always welcome at my house. But remember that tomorrow is a school day, and he probably has his homework, books, and school clothes over at your house."
"You're right. That just shows you how well I am thinking right now. Would you let him stay there for a little while and let me get better control of myself, and I will come get him this evening, say around 8:00 p.m. Is that OK?"
"That's fine, Mrs. Carrothers. See you this evening around 8:00. Good-bye."
Mrs. Carrothers showed up shortly before 8:00. She and I, along with Kerry and Kenneth, had a long talk in the living room before she and Kenneth went home. I learned a lot about what being gay, or even thinking that you are gay, means to a young boy, and I am sure she learned a lot as well. Kenneth learned that he has a devoted mother, not one who was ready to get rid of him, and I know that helped him a lot. All of us learned how to be better friends with each other. And I also learned that, thank God, another little boy thinks I am a special man. He will never be my son, but I love him dearly, and I know he loves me as well.
Kerry continued to express an interest in music. I had given him some piano lessons, with a little bit of organ thrown in, during August and September, but in October (as one of his birthday gifts, I told him), I sent him to piano lessons with a friend of mine, Marcia Andrews, who was an outstanding piano teacher. I continued to work with him a little bit on the organ. Marcia told me he was very bright and was progressing rapidly. I knew that his organ playing was becoming much smoother, and he was starting to play hymns on the organ very well.
He also regularly accompanied me to choir rehearsals and seemed to be learning quite a bit there as well. As usual, the church choir planned special music for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we usually had our practices on Wednesday evenings. Kerry did not sing in the choir, or even in the youth choir (he claimed he didn't have enough time), but I noticed that he was singing some of the choir's anthems under his breath during rehearsals. I decided not to press the issue of his joining a choir. He also assisted me at the organ, turning pages and occasionally changing a registration for me. He was a big help.
This year, the music for Thanksgiving had been going so well with the choir that I cancelled Wednesday's choir practice so the choir could get an early start on their holiday. At least that's what I told them. I left the church early Wednesday afternoon so that I could meet Joe's plane. I hadn't seen him in almost five months, and he had been unable to come to Kerry's and my birthday celebration. I'll admit I was excited to see him.
I got to the airport about a half hour before his plane arrived. He was among the first to come down the jetway to the arrival lounge, and he came directly to me with outstretched arms. "Hi, Dad, long time, no see!"
Joe was by far the tallest member of our family. He stood 6'5" and weighed about 240 lbs, solid muscle. His hair was darkish blond, almost a light brown, which he wore in a crew cut, and his eyes were hazel. You could see with one eye he was a born athlete. During high school, he had played center on the basketball team, and they had won the regional tournament his junior year. They almost repeated during his senior year, but Joe had been ill during one of the playoff games, and his team lost by three points. I had had a tough time consoling Joe after that tournament. He felt as if he had let the team down. Although he came through it well, I always knew that he would never get over it completely. He was a devoted team player in everything he did, and he always gave it all he had. I still believe that, except for the tragic death of his mother, losing that tournament had been the low point of his life up until now.
Although he had never failed a course, Joe had been a mediocre student in school, but he enjoyed working with his hands and he was very talented as a woodworker. In fact, he had made the desk I used at my home office, and I had received a number of inquiries wanting to know where I had gotten it. After working as an automobile mechanic for three years, he had decided he wanted to be an engineer. He started at a community college and had to work doubly hard because of some deficiencies in his high school record, but he later transferred to Auburn University and received his master's degree in mechanical engineering in only seven years. He worked for a national manufacturing company out of Philadelphia, but spent a lot of his time traveling.
"Hello, Son," I answered, returning his hug. "It's good to see you. Did you have a good flight?"
"Sure did, as usual. I just hope my baggage got here with me."
"Baggage? I thought you had to go back tomorrow."
"No, I don't. If it's all right with you, I am going to stay until Sunday afternoon. I have a 4:00 p.m. flight to Baltimore then."
"Sure, it's all right with me. Why wouldn't it be?"
"Well, I understand your house is a little bit fuller than it usually is," retorted Joe. "I can't wait to meet my new brother. How is he doing?"
"Great. He should be getting home from school about the time we get home."
"I gotta tell you, Dad, I don't have to meet him to know I'm going to love him. I have spoken with both Darrell and Roy, and they couldn't be happier about him, but the clincher is, I haven't seen that glow in your face for a long, long time. It looks good on you."
"It's that obvious, then?" I asked.
"It's more than obvious. You might as well carry a neon sign."
Joe and I made our way to the baggage claim area and retrieved his baggage, then started for home. On the way home, Joe asked if Kerry needed anything in particular--he wanted to get him a gift before he saw him.
"I can't think of anything he really needs, especially," I answered. "You never had any trouble picking out a gift for anyone, as I remember, but you both might enjoy it more if you just took Kerry shopping with you and let him guide you. You could get to know him better as well."
"I might just do that, Dad, but I would like to get him some little something as a get-acquainted gift. Could we stop at Menard's for a second?"
Joe went into Menard's and got a stuffed dog for Kerry, then we headed for home again. Joe put his suitcase in the third bedroom and was in the bathroom when Kerry arrived home from school. After putting his books away in his room, he came into the kitchen where I was.
"Hi, Dad," he greeted, giving me his usual hug. "Why are you home so early?"
"I just brought Joe home from the airport."
"Oh," he said excitedly. "Where is he?"
"Right behind you."
Kerry turned around and met Joe for the first time. He extended his hand to Joe and said, "Nice to meet you, Joe."
"That's not going to cut it, little brother," teased Joe, picking him up and spinning him around over his head. He brought him down and gave him a big hug, with Kerry giggling the whole time. Afterward, Joe held him back to look at him. "Has Dad been treating you well? Looks like you haven't been missing any meals lately," he said, thumping him lightly in the stomach and getting more giggles.
"Sure, he has," Kerry answered, smiling broadly. "He's the greatest!"
"I've known that longer than you have," answered Joe, rubbing his knuckles lightly on Kerry's head, with Kerry giggling as usual. He put him down and said, "I brought you a new friend," and handed him the stuffed dog.
"Gee, thanks, Joe. He's great!" He reached up and threw his arms around Joe's neck, and Joe beamed with a big smile.
"What are you going to name him?" Joe asked.
After thinking a few moments, he replied, "I think `Sparkle' would be a good name. Do you like that?"
"That's a fine name, Kerry. It fits him well."
Joe and I went into the living room and sat down to talk, while Kerry went to his room to hang up his jacket and put his new dog on the bed. He came into the living room and asked, "Dad, is it all right if I get a Coke? I feel a little thirsty."
"Yes, that's OK, Kerry. If you don't mind, bring me a Diet Coke, and see if Joe wants anything."
"No, nothing for me," answered Joe. "I had plenty to drink on the plane."
Kerry disappeared to get the drinks, and Joe began the conversation. "Dad, I need to ask your advice on something."
"Okay, what is it, Son?"
"Well, as you know, Lynn and I broke up a couple of months ago. It was her idea, and it wasn't nasty, she just felt that she wanted more than I was capable of giving at the time. I wasn't able to convince her otherwise."
"Yes, I remember your telling me about it. Are you taking it well?"
"As well as I can, I guess. But last week, she told me she is pregnant, and she thinks the child is mine. She wants to get back together again, and I don't really know what to do."
"Well, I have a hard question to ask you, then. Forget the child for a moment and tell me, if she were not pregnant, would you want to get back with her?"
"Dad, I didn't want her to leave in the first place. Yes, I would like to get back with her, but I don't know if I can fully commit to her right now. I was almost ready to propose marriage to her, but when she wanted to break up, that was quite a blow, and I'll admit it hurt. I guess I am worried that if she did it once, it might be easier for her to do it again. I don't want to have my heart broken again."
"Son, I hate to tell you this, but that would be a possibility even if she hadn't broken up with you before. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. I've seen marriages of thirty and forty years or more break up over what seemed to be very small issues. There are no guarantees in life."
"I know, Dad. That's why I am discussing this with you. I've never faced this situation before."
"Neither have I, thank God," I answered. "Joe, I know this is another hard question, but I have to ask it. You said that Lynn `thinks' this child is yours. Since you haven't denied it to me, I assume that there is a possibility that you are indeed the father. I'm not going to preach to you about the morality of the situation because you are plenty mature enough to know that for yourself. But, Joe, do you think there is any possibility that you are not the father?"
"I don't think so, Dad. Lynn and I were together for over two years, and I don't believe she saw anyone else during that time. I am not absolutely sure, but I don't think so."
"Well, Joe, since you asked, I'll give you several things to think about. First of all, if you want to get back with Lynn, then do so, but don't let the fact that she is pregnant rush you into marriage. You've known her for over two years and you thought you had a good relationship, but you found out she wasn't happy, and you got your heart broken. Right now, you need to assess your real feelings for her NOW, and what her real feelings are for you NOW. Yes, she may genuinely want to get back with you because she realizes, after all, that she does love you. But she may have other reasons which may not be in your best interest. And face it, Joe, by your own admission you don't know yourself if you really want to get with her now. You may be hurting more than you realize, and you may be thinking that getting back with her will lessen your own pain. You have to make an entirely new assessment of the way things are now, and you need time to do it."
"Are you saying I shouldn't consider marriage?"
"Don't put words in my mouth, Joe. All I said was, you have to make an entirely new assessment of the way things are now. If after you find out how you both feel you find that marriage is what you both want and you are both willing to work at it, fine, no one will be happier for you than I will be. But just remember that a child on the way is the worst reason in the world to get married. You have to have a firm foundation in love and respect for each other, and for God, to make a marriage work. If you don't have that, then all the children in the world won't make your marriage last, and I know for sure that you don't want to put yourself and your child through the turmoil that a divorce would create. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to Lynn, and you owe it to the child to be as sure as you can that marriage is right for you before you commit yourself."
"Well, you are right there. I've already been hurt enough. But if there is a baby involved now, I want to be a good father, like you were to me."
"Well, Joe, that leads me to my second bit of advice. If there is even a remote possibility that you are not the father of this child, then I would strongly advise you to get a paternity test after the baby is born to determine for sure whether or not you are. Believe it or not, this is not only for your protection, it is also best for the child. Lynn may be upset at your request--if she is, then I can almost guarantee you that marriage is not a possibility. You can explain to her that if the test indicates you are the father, then you will accept the responsibility and support the child to the best of your ability. Even if the test proves you are not the father, you can, if you wish, accept the responsibility and get yourself declared the legal father. But think of it this way--you both owe it to the child to know for sure. If, God forbid, the child were to have medical problems, you will need to know the medical history of the biological father, not just the one who stepped up to the plate. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Dad, you have a good point."
"I know I do. And the third bit of advice, and the most important one is, whatever you decide about marriage, or even getting back with Lynn now, be as congenial, as friendly, and as supportive as you can with her. If she has the baby and the child is indeed yours, then married or not, you are going to have a connection with her for at least the next almost twenty years. You are going to have to work with her and make decisions with her for the welfare and support of the child. You are both going to share in the significant events in the child's life. That is much, much easier if you have a good, congenial relationship with the mother. I know you would support and love your child to the best of your ability, no matter what. And although it would be easier if you could approach that from the foundation of a good and loving marriage with Lynn, if that proves to be a viable possibility, you can be a good father even if you can't be Lynn's husband. But you must be congenial with her--you'll have major problems if you don't."
"That's tough to do, Dad. It was quite a blow when Lynn decided to break up with me, and even though I still have some strong feelings for her, I'll admit that I am still hurt."
"I know, Son. Your feelings are a little shaky now, and what I have been trying to tell you is that you can't afford to make any decisions about marriage unless and until you are on a solid foundation that you know will last. Yes, I know that you can't ever be 100% sure, but you certainly don't want to feel shaky making that kind of a decision."
"You're right, Dad, and thanks."
Kerry came back in with our drinks and sat in my lap. I tossed his hair and tickled his ribs a little bit, and he lay back against me, as he usually did.
"Dad, I wish you could see yourself and Kerry together. Roy and Darrell and I had a few conversations about you before your birthdays last month, and I was a little concerned. I think they were as well, but there is no doubt in my mind after seeing you that you belong together."
"Well, I am very happy, Son. I hope Kerry is as well."
"You know I am, Dad. I just can't wait until it's permanent."
"Well, as far as I know, it should be completed by early January."
Just then the phone rang, and I answered it. It was Roy, telling me that he and his family were about an hour away, and asking if we needed him to stop and get anything to bring. I told him no, everything was fine, and we couldn't wait to see them. Darrell was due to arrive on the 8:15 flight from Los Angeles. I hung up the phone.
"Dad, do you realize that this Thanksgiving will be the first time we will all be together as a family since Mom's funeral?"
"Yes, I know. I was just thinking about that this morning. I still miss her, Son, but the tears are getting fewer and farther between nowadays. I know she's happy in heaven, and I'll probably see her again before too long, but I'm happy here now, too."
"Don't talk like that, Daddy," admonished Kerry. "It scares me."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I didn't mean to scare you. I'm all right, at least as far as I know, and I plan to see the grandchildren I get from you before I go. But even if I don't, you'll be well taken care of."
"I know, but I want you there for my fiftieth birthday."
Joe and I both laughed. "I'll try, sweetheart," I said, "but remember that most men don't live to the age of 98."
"Most men don't have me to take care of them, either," retorted Kerry.
"I know. You never can tell--I just might make it at that! But enough of this. How was school today?"
"Great! I made a 98 on my history test, and the basketball coach says I am learning fast. He thinks I can make the squad next year."
"Hey, that's fantastic, but why can't you make it this year?"
"Because I am in the fifth grade, and you have to be at least in sixth to make the team. All of the players this year are in the seventh and eighth grades."
"Oh. Well, just keep up the good work. That 98 in history sounds good--almost good enough to merit pizza for dinner tonight.
"Almost?" he queried, looking somewhat surprised.
"You haven't told me that you wanted it yet," I answered.
"You know I always do. Can we order pizza tonight?"
"Yes, but we'll have to wait until Roy and his family get here. And don't forget that tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and you will have to save some room for the turkey."
Roy and his family arrived, and I thought it was very cute that Dawn and Marie headed straight for their "Uncle Kerry." He was so proud he was just radiant. Roy and Doris greeted Joe and me with the usual hugs. Roy and Joe got into a conversation about a business deal that Joe was working on. Doris caught me up on the girls' activities and their school work. Dawn had been named "outstanding fifth grade scholar" at her school, and Marie had won a county-wide art contest in her age group for best painting. She also showed me some pictures she had taken at the Halloween party at her church. Dawn went as "Bat Woman" and Marie went as a princess--both of their costumes were just darling, and Doris reported that both of them had a wonderful time.
"Just on that thought, what did you and Kerry do for Halloween? We didn't hear much from you this year."
"Kerry was planning to go trick-or-treating with a few of his friends, but he really didn't feel well that night, so we just had some of his friends over for a party after they were finished. Fred McGill, my next-door neighbor, brought his grandson over, and Fred and I inspected the candy they brought, and everything was fine. We had the house decorated as a haunted mansion, and the kids seemed to really enjoy a good time. You'll have to listen to a CD I found for Halloween. It really enhanced the party."
"I've heard some of those before. You're right--the kids seem to adore them."
"I'd have to say I enjoyed it, too. This was the first Halloween party I have had at my house since the boys were young. It was nice to hear all the laughter, and Kerry really enjoyed it. He says he wants to do it again next year instead of trick-or-treating."
"That's probably a good idea," she answered, with a rather serious look on her face. She didn't mention it, but both of us remembered Halloween four years ago when a little six-year-old boy who lived across the street from them was killed by poisoned Halloween candy. She had not allowed the girls to trick-or-treat since then. I had met the little boy who was killed, and although I didn't know him well, I was devastated when it happened, too. He was a nice, blonde-headed boy with emerald green eyes and a ready smile, and I could still remember how Dawn had called him her boyfriend. It angered me that anyone could even think of harming a child like that. The guy who did it had been caught quickly, and had admitted it. I wasn't sure whether he was still in prison or had already been executed, but that was one guy who deserved his death sentence. The bastard.
We continued the polite conversation until Dawn and Marie bounded into the room, followed by Kerry. They both ran up to me and Marie said, "Uncle Kerry says you are going to order a pizza tonight. Are you?"
"Is that what you want?" I asked.
"YES!" all three kids yelled at once.
"Okay. Kerry, why don't you find out what everyone wants and phone in the order. Let me know how much it will be so I can give you the money."
"Okay, Dad," he answered. Dawn and Marie excitedly told him what they wanted, and what their parents would want, and of course he knew what he and I usually ordered. He verified with Roy and Doris, and asked Joe for his preference, then came back to me. "Looks like we need at least three, and maybe four larges: one supreme, one pepperoni, and probably two sausage and mushroom."
"Okay, just call it in."
Kerry went into the kitchen to phone in the order, and the girls followed him. A couple of minutes later, he returned and told me, "Dad, the total charge is $36.40. Is that OK?"
"Yes, that's fine," I said. I took two twenties from my wallet and gave them to Kerry. "Just tell the delivery man to keep the change."
All of us enjoyed the pizza before it was time to meet Darrell's plane. The kids wanted to stay and play some more video games, so it was agreed that Joe and Roy would meet the plane, while I stayed home with the kids. Doris wanted to visit an old friend of hers from school, and said she would be back in a couple of hours.
It was almost 10:00 p.m. before the boys got back from the airport, and Doris arrived about ten minutes later. The kids had enjoyed playing their video games, as apparent from their giggles and laughter I heard from Kerry's room, and I had just relaxed and watched TV. Darrell was still running on Los Angeles time when he arrived, so he wasn't ready for bed, but everyone else was. It had been a full day.
Doris was the first to inquire about sleeping arrangements. "Dad," she asked, "since we have Kerry now, our usual sleeping places probably won't work. Have you thought about where we all should be?"
"Well, let me see," I answered, and called Kerry from his room. When he arrived, I asked him, "Son, we are trying to arrange where everyone will sleep. I was wondering if there would be enough room for either Joe or Darrell in your room."
"Have you forgotten about the roll-away bed in the garage?" he answered. "Why don't you have Roy and Doris in the guest room, and Dawn and Marie can sleep in the third bedroom. We can move the roll-away into my room so Darrell and Joe can sleep in there, and if you don't mind, I'll sleep with you."
"Sounds OK to me," I answered. "Does anyone have any problem with that arrangement?"
No one did. Kerry and Joe went to the garage to get the roll-away bed, and I got some fresh linens out of the closet. All of us got ready for bed, except Darrell wanted to stay up and read a while before turning in. After Kerry got undressed, he put on his bathrobe and went into his room to get his new stuffed dog, which thrilled Joe and made me smile. But as usual, when the lights went out, I felt his head seek out my shoulder, and his arm draped across my chest. "Good night, Dad, I love you," he said.
"Good night, Kerry. I love you more."
The next morning, I got up early to get Thanksgiving dinner started. I was successful in getting out of bed without waking Kerry. I still could not get over how beautiful this little boy looked when he was asleep. He was a perfect little angel, and my heart swelled with love for him every time I looked at him. I gave him an affectionate kiss on his forehead, and he gave a contented little sigh, but did not wake up.
I got the turkey in the oven at 7:30, so it should be ready to come out at 12:30, and I usually tried to pace myself to have our main meal around 1:00, so things were on schedule. I made stuffing, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, green beans with almonds, and a fruit salad, and I would heat the dinner rolls after the turkey was finished in the oven. As usual, I had baked a couple of pumpkin pies two days earlier for dessert. This year, I had also made a banana cream pie, because Kerry said it was his favorite.
Even while Mary and I were together, I had always cooked the holiday meals, partly to give her the day off to visit with the kids, and partly because both of us acknowledged that I was the better cook, although Mary was certainly an excellent cook. I had started cooking for my family at the age of nine, and I still enjoyed it. After Mary's death, I didn't cook all that much except for the holidays, but Kerry had changed a lot of that. My everyday cooking was not elaborate, but it was apparently much more than Kerry had been used to, and he really enjoyed helping out, although I must confess I preferred to work alone.
Kerry got up around 8:00 and came into the kitchen to help me. I set him to work setting the table in the dining room, using the formal dishes and silverware. He seemed to enjoy doing that, and when I looked at the finished product some time later, I was very impressed--the plates, silverware, glasses, and napkins were impeccably placed at each setting, and he had folded the napkins very neatly in an unusual way (he told me later that his mother had always folded them like that). He also helped in the kitchen by gathering up the cooking utensils I used and putting them in the dishwasher.
Doris and the girls were the next to arise, and the girls were hungry for some breakfast. Kerry asked if he could make breakfast, and I told him he could. He made the girls some pancakes, and made some bacon and eggs for himself and the boys, who got up shortly after the kids. He asked if I wanted anything, but I skipped breakfast. "I have to taste an occasional mouthful of what I am making so I get it just right," I teased.
"Dad," Roy asked, "have you decided what game we are going to watch today?"
"No, but Kerry has. He wants to watch the Eagles and Cowboys game. Is that all right with everyone?"
"Great," Roy answered. "Who is with me for the Eagles?"
Darrell and Doris both glared at him, and he burst out laughing. "I knew it," he exclaimed. "I knew I would be all alone, but I am going to win!"
"No, you're not," Kerry retorted. "Dallas is going to surprise you this year."
"We'll see about that," Roy answered. "Where's my green cap?"
"On your head, you bozo," teased Kerry.
With that, Roy got up and chased Kerry out into the back yard, and I heard a lot of laughter from both of them. After a few minutes, Darrell and Joe joined them in the back yard, and I heard the sounds of a football being thrown around. Good, I thought, all my boys are getting along great, and we are all together. Doris and the girls finished their breakfast and the girls started watching the Macy's parade on television. Doris started clearing the breakfast table, but I stopped her. "Why don't you go watch the parade with the girls, Doris. I'll take care of things in here." She went into the living room with the girls, and I soon heard them commenting on the different floats, bands, and personalities in the parade. I could not stop smiling. My home was full of family, full of joy, full of laughter, and overflowing with love on Thanksgiving Day. What more could I ask for?
Dinner was on the table at 1:00, and we all gathered around the table. We had also invited Kenneth and his mother to have Thanks giving dinner with us, and they sat together next to Kerry. As I usually did at Thanksgiving, I asked everyone at the table to tell the rest of us what he was thankful for.
"I am thankful for my family, my friends, my school, my church, and my new Uncle Kerry," began Marie.
"I am thankful for all of us, for my new boyfriend, and my new uncle," continued Dawn.
"Your new boyfriend?" questioned Doris. "Is there something I need to know about, Dawn?"
"You know him, Mom," returned Dawn. "Charles Mansfield from school. He said last week that he likes me."
"Oh," said Doris, with a knowing smile. "Well, I'm thankful for all of us being together, that everyone is healthy, and for our newest family member."
"I am thankful for my mom--she's the greatest," Kenneth stated proudly. "I am thankful that she understands me and that she loves me. I am also grateful to Kerry and to you, Mr. Newman, for helping both of us as you did. I am glad that Kerry is my best friend, and I am so glad that he is happy. Mom and I love you both."
"Thank you, Kenneth. You are most welcome, any time, and I hope you know there is love for both of you in this house," I answered.
"I can only thank God for a wonderful son," began Mrs. Carrothers, "and for friends such as all of you have been in inviting us to be with you. And I, too, am so grateful to both of you, Mr. Newman and Kerry, for all your help. God bless you."
"Thank you," I said.
"I guess I'm next," began Roy. "I am thankful for my family, and for this whole family, especially including my new little brother, and I am thankful for my job. I tried to keep this quiet, but there was a major downsizing at my company this past summer, and I was concerned that I may be demoted or let go. Instead, I got a promotion. I am just thankful for all of your support."
"I heard about your company's downsizing," answered Darrell, "but since you never said anything, I figured you were not involved. I'm sorry if I didn't seem to be as supportive as you know I was."
"I know, Darrell," answered Roy, "I knew I could count on all of you if I needed to, I'm just glad I didn't need to."
"Well," began Darrell, "I guess that gives me a good lead-in. I am thankful that our family is so close knit that we don't even give it a second thought, we are just there for each other. I've had to rely on that several times in the past, as you all know, and it's a good feeling. I am thankful that we all have Kerry now, and I am thankful that he is such a great kid."
"I guess that leaves me," began Joe. "I am thankful that Dad is still my dad and that I can talk to him as freely as I can. I am thankful that he has Kerry now, he's not alone anymore, and I am thankful that he is so happy, and I don't have to worry about him any more. Kerry, none of us here are Dad's biological children, but I am here to tell you, Dad will never know the difference, and you will come to forget the difference, if you haven't already. I am so happy for both of you."
"I've already seen that several times, Joe," answered Kerry, "and you are right. It's not even official yet, but Dad is my Dad now, and I couldn't be happier. I want you all to know that I have more to be thankful for than any of you this year. For the first time in my life, I have a big family, and all of them say they love me. I have the greatest friends in the world in Larry and Kenneth. I don't want to get mushy with any of you, but I can't tell you how much that means to me. I love you all. Dad, you know how special you are to me. I am so thankful for you." He came around the table to give me a hug.
I whispered, "I love you, Kerry," into his ear as I hugged him, then he returned to his seat.
"Well, I guess I am last," I began. "I am very thankful for such good friends as Kenneth and his mother. I am so thankful for each one of my family, for your love and support, and for your acceptance of Kerry. I am thankful that we have such a close family unit, that we are so comfortable with each other, and so supportive. I am thankful for my two granddaughters here, and the special place they each hold in my heart. I am thankful for each of my sons, and I am extremely proud of each one. You may notice that I still wear the tie clip you all gave me for my birthday. You are indeed four bright, sparkling diamonds to me, and I love you all so much. But I am thankful also that a very special woman shared my life for over seventeen years. I am thankful for the memories she left, and for the special feeling I get each time I remember her. I remember the many times she shared this table with us, and I am thankful for the smiles she brought to everyone else around this table. She shares a table with the Lord now, and I am sure she is still bringing smiles to everyone else there. This is the first time we have all been together as a family since she passed away, and I feel it only fitting that we should remember her now. I have told others, and I will tell you all now, I know she would have loved Kerry as much as I do, and as much as I hope each of you do. Thank you all so much for making him feel as special as he is."
"Hear, hear," answered Darrell and Roy.
"Let us all join hands and return thanks."
I took Kerry's hand in my right hand, and Doris' in my left, and began.
"Dear Lord and Heavenly Father, on this Thanksgiving Day, we come to you with grateful hearts for all Your many blessings. We thank You for our beautiful world and for our country, as we remember the exiled. We thank You for our freedom, as we remember the enslaved. We thank You for the security and happiness we have in our homes, as we remember the homeless. We thank you for our health, our happiness, and our success, as we remember the sick, the sorrowing, the grieving, and the unemployed. We ask that You be with each person in our world today who is in special need of Your touch, and if it be Your will, to grant them relief from their problems."
"But most especially, Lord, we thank You for giving us each other. Thank You for making us a family, and for being a special part of our family. Thank you for giving us such good friends. We thank You for each person at this table, for the love we share with each other and with You, and for the memory of the mother of this family who now shares a table with You. We thank You for increasing our family this year with the addition of our beloved special little boy, Kerry. Grant, if it is Your will, that he will become a permanent part of this family, and will continue to bless us with his life and his love, as we strive to bless him with ours. Bless each of us, Lord, in service to each other and to You. Draw us ever closer to each other and to You, and continue to bless us with Your love."
"Forgive us for the times in our lives when we have fallen short of Your expectations, and grant us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to seek Your will in all that we do and say, that others may see and get to know You through each of us."
"We ask Your blessings on the bounty that is before us, as we remember those in our world who are not as fortunate as we, and ask you to grant that our world leaders, working under Your guidance and wisdom, will soon devise a way so that no child in our world ever has to suffer hunger again. Be with us at this table today and throughout the remainder of our lives, as we give to You all thanks and praise. Amen."
As everyone started passing the food and serving themselves, I noticed that Kerry was quiet for a few moments, holding his crucifix in his hand, before he joined in. Everyone seemed to take it upon himself to see that he had what he wanted and felt welcome. At one point, he glanced at me and gave me a wink and a smile that told me he was indeed happy with us. I was glad he felt that way. This was the first time in five years that all my children had been with me, and I was ecstatic about that, but Kerry's being there made it that much more special to me. And everyone seemed to enjoy the food!
After the meal, I started to clean off the table, but Roy and Doris stopped me. "You've done enough already, Dad," Roy told me, "the least we can do is clean up. Come on, everyone, we have work to do."
I had to admit I was a little tired, so I went into the living room and sat down in my recliner. It wasn't long before I was sound asleep. When I awoke, everyone else was in the room watching the game. Kerry was sitting on the floor in front of the TV, with Dawn on one side and Marie on the other, and Kenneth sitting next to Dawn. They made a really cute picture just sitting there, watching the game.
"What's the score?" I asked no one in particular.
"Right now, it is 32-27 Eagles, but the Cowboys are threatening, and there's less than a minute to play."
"Sounds exciting," I answered, and started to watch. The Cowboys scored a touchdown and won the game, which excited everyone except Roy, so I had to act like it was no big deal, but Kerry and Darrell were dancing around the room, and Joe was rubbing it in to Roy. Family fun--there's nothing like it!
Kenneth and his mother went home right after the game, along with enough leftovers from the meal to last at least a day. As he left, Kenneth gave me the biggest hug he ever had and whispered in my ear that he loved me. "I wish you were my dad, Mr. Newman, but I am still glad you and Kerry are my best friends. Thank you again," he said. I kissed his cheek and held him a few moments. Mrs. Carrothers smiled and gave me a little hug before she left. I hoped they would enjoy the leftovers.
The family stayed with me until Sunday afternoon. Joe took Kerry shopping Friday afternoon and found a nice jacket that fit him perfectly. At Doris' request, Kerry played a few pieces on the piano and the organ Friday night. Darrell spent most of Saturday morning with Dawn, Marie, and Kerry teaching them card tricks. The kids played a lot of video games in Kerry's room while the adults talked and enjoyed each other's company in the living room. I told everyone what was going on with the legal situation after getting an update from Doyle Matthews, and everyone voiced their encouragement.
All of us went to church together Sunday morning, and again it seemed to me that the music was especially beautiful that day. Our soloist decided at the last minute not to sing her solo, since she claimed her voice wasn't strong that day, so we made it into a choir piece. rehearsing it only once before the service, and it turned out great. The children's choir special sounded absolutely stunning--the children had worked so hard on their piece, and it was obvious. They came through like champions, and I was so proud of them. Several of their parents came up to me after the service and thanked me for spending so much time and giving so much attention to them.
The hymns were especially strong. There were more people in the congregation than usual because of the holiday, but I could clearly hear Roy's and Doris' voices as they sang the hymns. They both sang in their church choir in Austin, and Dawn and Marie also seemed destined to have good singing voices.
It always made me proud to hear Roy sing. All three of my boys, when they were growing up, had sung in the church children's and youth choirs, but only Roy had continued to sing afterwards. I could still remember all of us gathering around the piano on Sunday afternoons and singing whatever songs we could think of. Mary always wanted to sing "The Old Rugged Cross," and the boys knew all the verses by memory. Even now, I always worked the hymn into one of my voluntaries on the Sunday closest to her birthday. I had worked with the boys when their voices changed and helped them find their singing ranges, and all of them still had beautiful voices, but Joe and Darrell seldom sang, even in church. I had noticed that, although Kerry had a keen interest in music (mostly playing the organ and piano), and he did sing some of the choir numbers under his breath during rehearsal, I had never heard him really sing out loud. I decided that his musical gifts were instrumental rather than vocal, and I resolved to guide him wherever he wanted to go with it.
We said our good-byes shortly after lunch. Darrell left about 3:00, and Roy and his family left shortly afterwards. Kerry and I took Joe to the airport to catch his 4:00 p.m. flight to Baltimore, then we came back home. We enjoyed leftovers for dinner that evening, and since school started again the next day, Kerry and I got to bed early. As usual, I carried him to bed, and his soft breath on my neck soothed me to sleep. Our house had been full of laughter, good times, and togetherness for over three days, and the afterglow was unmistakable. As Kerry snuggled with me that night, it was hard to remember a time when I had been happier, but I still wished Mary were here.
The week before Christmas was extremely busy for me. Since Christmas Day fell on a Saturday that year, our Christmas service would actually be the day after, but still very much during the Christmas season. I had to put the finishing touches and do final rehearsals for the special music for the chancel choir and soloist, the children's choir, the youth choir, and the combined adult and youth handbell choirs. The church soloist was going to sing Yon's Gesu Bambino, but just couldn't seem to sing the lines as smoothly as the piece demanded. I worked with her for almost an hour after choir practice Wednesday evening, and when we finally called it quits, I still had my doubts about her being able to sing it on Sunday. The chancel choir and youth choir would be combined during the Christmas service, and were to sing Holst's Christmas Day, which was going beautifully. All this was going on with other activities competing for the time.
Kerry was out of school for the holidays that final week, and he was a tremendous help in several ways. Two nights during the week he fixed supper while I worked in the office. Kenneth came over Wednesday afternoon, and he and Kerry spent about four hours getting the house spotlessly clean. Kerry helped sort the choir robes for cleaning before the holiday service. He even took over the piano at the children's choir rehearsal and worked with them for over thirty minutes while I was called away for a meeting, and really did a nice job. The children responded well to him, and when I returned, they had their music down almost perfectly. While I was practicing at the church organ, he sat on the bench with me and served as a page turner and stop puller, which made my practicing more productive. I could probably have gotten through the week without his help--I had done so for many years--but it sure was nice to have him there.
I also attended a Christmas recital given by the students of Kerry's music teacher, my friend Marcia Andrews. Kerry played two pieces on the piano, and played very well. Marcia was very complimentary about the progress he was making, and I could tell he deserved the compliment. He was also playing the organ very well for someone who had been playing less than four months.
The Christmas season had always been special for me, from my childhood days until now. I could also tell that Kerry was getting excited about the approaching holiday, although he was tight-lipped about what he wanted for Christmas. He explained to me that his family celebrated Christmas, but his mother had never had enough money for them to have a big celebration, and besides, there were very few family members to get together. When his mother had married his stepfather, there was hardly any celebration at all. I tried to assure him that he would have an enjoyable holiday season this year.
Roy and his family would be coming Saturday morning, after spending Christmas Eve with Doris' parents and their family. Joe and Darrell arrived on Thursday afternoon for their holiday visit. Kerry seemed overjoyed to see them, and they had a good time telling him hello--it had been quite a while since he had been tickled and cuddled by two grown men at once, although he and I had never wanted for affection from each other. I had been so busy that I hadn't even put up the Christmas tree, so the boys took Kerry Christmas tree shopping and found a nice seven footer. Joe and Darrell put up the tree and let Kerry place most of the decorations while I was at work. It was a great opportunity for the three of them to "bond" as brothers, as Joe and Darrell took turns lifting Kerry up to reach the upper branches, giving him a lot of hugs and tickles in the process, and they really did a great job--the tree was beautiful. When Kerry showed it to me that evening, he was beaming with pride, and I could tell that he was really getting into the Christmas spirit. I could also see that he really liked being a younger brother to my sons, and they both just adored him. It was a great feeling for me.
On Friday night, Christmas Eve, we had a special service at church. It was at this service that the children's and youth choirs sang their special music. I had worked with the kids for over three months, and had seen a lot of progress in that time, but I was ecstatic about their singing during the service. Never had I heard their voices sound so sweet, especially the children's choir. Several members of the congregation had tears in their eyes after the kids sang, and I very probably had a few in mine as well. They had come through like champions. I was so proud of them, and I told them so in the choir room after the service as they were taking off their robes.
As I was congratulating them on a job well done, one little boy named Jason came up to me and, after giving a cute little speech, gave me a large sheet of construction paper that the children had turned into a "plaque." Each child had put water-based paint on his thumb and made a thumb print on the construction paper, then decorated the thumb print by putting a face on it and writing his name under it. Across the bottom was written, "Thumbody Loves You." The kids all clapped as I made a show of accepting the "plaque" and telling them how proud I was of each one of them. (Incidentally, that "plaque" is now framed and is hanging in my home office. I consider it one of my most prized treasures.)
Then a little girl named Rachel came up to me and asked, "Where's Kerry?"
"I think he is waiting for me out in the hall," I answered. "Why do you ask?"
"We need him," she answered, "because we sang for him tonight, too." I went out in the hall and asked Kerry to come in.
Rachel went up to Kerry with another sheet of construction paper. It, too, had the kids' thumb prints on it decorated as faces and gathered around a paper picture of a piano. Across the bottom of this sheet was, "Thumbody Really Loves You." When Rachel gave it to Kerry, she said at the end of her speech, "Your dad has taught us all how to sing, but when you played the piano for us, we felt like you were one of us and it made us feel special. We want you at the piano with us next year." Kerry just beamed, and congratulated all the kids. They all gathered around him and gave him a lot of back pats and little hugs. I could tell that Kerry was overjoyed. I was so very proud of him. (And he still has his framed "Thumbody.")
We returned home and, after relaxing a bit, got into bed early. I was tired, and besides, tomorrow morning was Christmas. Joe and Darrell thought it would be easier to just go ahead and sleep in Kerry's room, since Roy's family would be needing the guest room and the third bedroom when they arrived, so Kerry slept with me. Everything was as usual between us, except that he seemed especially affectionate towards me, and wanted me to hold him especially close, which I was happy to do for him. He went to sleep with the sweetest smile. God, he was so beautiful, and my heart almost burst with love for him.
I got up early the next morning and, after giving Kerry a little kiss, which did not wake him up, began preparing our Christmas dinner, and then started to make breakfast for the guys as they got up. We had decided to wait until Roy and his family arrived before having our family Christmas tree. After breakfast, all of us sat around the dining table to talk so that I could keep an eye on the kitchen. After a few minutes, Kerry came over and sat in my lap, leaning his head against my shoulder. I had come to know this as an indication that either something was bothering him, or he just wanted to be loved. I kissed his forehead and asked, "Is everything all right, Son?"
"Yes, everything's fine. I am just not quite sure you will like your Christmas gift from me, and I wanted to be close to you."
"Don't worry about that, Kerry, you know perfectly well that if it comes from you, I will like it. I just hope you like yours."
"What is it?"
"No fair. You have to wait and see."
We all laughed. Kerry continued to sit on my lap until I had to go into the kitchen to check on the ham. Then he went and sat on Joe's lap, and Joe was overjoyed. After a few minutes, I saw Joe whisper something to him, and he immediately went to Darrell and sat with him. I smiled at Joe, and saw him wink back at me. Kerry was getting a lot of attention from a family who loved him. Well, I thought, he will have plenty of that from now on.
Roy, Doris, and the girls arrived a little after 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. After they got all their things brought in and put in their rooms, the girls and Kerry couldn't wait any longer for the family Christmas tree to begin. Joe said that it was his turn to be "Santa Claus," so he started distributing the presents to everyone. Kerry got a new football from Joe, a warm-up suit from Roy's family, and five new video games, including one that I would not have gotten for him, since it had some violence in it. When he opened it, he brought it over to me and said, "I won't play this game if you don't want me to." Darrell had given it to him, and told me that even though it was rated as a teen game for violence, he was familiar with it and didn't think it was inappropriate. I told Kerry that we would look at it later, but I was glad he knew and understood my feelings on the matter.
Dawn and Marie got new dresses from their parents (along with whatever they had gotten while they were at Doris' family's home), and Joe and Darrell had gotten each of them a really nice gold necklace with a blue topaz stone pendant. They couldn't wait to model them, and they did look nice. I had gotten Dawn a new tennis racket (she had picked one out and told her dad which one she wanted, and I had gotten it at the local store a couple of weeks before) and Marie a new bicycle, since I had learned that she had outgrown her old one.
Roy and Doris had decorated their home with wildlife art, and I had found a low-numbered lithograph of a painting depicting a pair of young dolphins at play, which they seemed to adore. Darrell had just bought a new home, so I gave him a gift certificate from a local home store, and Joe had told me that he was thinking about starting to take flying lessons, so I got him a pilot's watch, which he liked.
I had told all the kids for many years not to feel like they had to give me anything for Christmas, since I really didn't need anything, and their presence over the holidays was all I really wanted or needed. They always gave me something, however, and this year I got two new dress shirts from Roy and Doris and a very nice silk tie from the girls. Darrell and Joe told me that as my Christmas gift from them, they were going to take two weeks during the summer (when the weather was warmer) and finish out the attic over the garage and part of the living area in my home. I had been planning to do that since I moved into the house so that the girls could have a play room when they visited, and also they could each have a small bedroom upstairs. I had just never had the time to do it, and their offer was the best Christmas gift they could have gotten for me, so I was ecstatic over that.
After all the presents had been opened, and the kids had settled down a bit, Kerry came over to me and said, "Why didn't I get anything from you?"
"I didn't think you needed anything from me," I answered, trying to be mischievous.
"I don't, but it would have been nice."
"Well, why don't you go look in your room?"
Unknown to Kerry, Joe and Darrell had helped me surprise him. I had gotten him a new computer system complete with color laser printer, large flat-screen monitor, scanner, desk, several kinds of game controllers, optical mouse, remote keyboard, and surround-sound speaker system, and since they were sleeping in his room, it was easy for them to put it all together without him knowing about it. When he got to the door of his room and turned on the light, he burst into tears and ran back to me.
"Oh, Daddy, thank you so much. That is just what I wanted, but I didn't want to ask for it. I love you." He showered me with kisses and then held me so tight I found it hard to breathe, but it was so sincere I didn't try to break away from him.
When he finally broke away from me, I caught my breath and told him, "You're welcome, Kerry, and you know that the computer is just a small part of my love for you, but you need to thank Joe and Darrell for putting it all together for you."
"I will," he answered. After giving me another hug and kiss, he went to Joe and Darrell and thanked them, too, then he ran into his bedroom, along with Dawn and Marie, and before long, I heard the sounds of the computer being booted up.
Roy and Doris began cleaning up the wrapping paper from the floor, and Joe and Darrell joined me in the kitchen to get the final things completed before our Christmas dinner. We were finally ready to sit down to eat a little before 1:30, so I sent Kerry next door to get our neighbors, Paul and Martha Underwood. (They were an elderly couple who lived next door, and I always invited them to our Christmas dinner. They seemed to enjoy it, and so did I. They adored Dawn and Marie, and since Kerry had been living with me, they had gotten to know him and were quite fond of him as well. We had also invited Kenneth and his mother, but they were visiting her brother for the holidays, and could not make it.) When they arrived, all of us had a very good meal. Kerry had asked to return thanks, and he said a very moving prayer which left everyone silent for a few moments after he had finished. I am sure he noticed the glistening in my eyes when he smiled at me afterwards.
Paul and Martha spent the rest of the afternoon with us, and we enjoyed some good old-fashioned conversation in the living room while Kerry, Dawn, and Marie played with the new computer in Kerry's room. Our next door neighbors traveled a lot since Paul had retired as a bank executive. They had just returned from a trip to Germany visiting one of Martha's cousins there, and described the beauty of the Christmas season in the Black Forest area. They had a few pictures with them, all of which were beautiful, but they didn't monopolize the conversation. They were interested in Roy's job, Doris' activities, Darrell's new home, and Joe's work on a new building in Pittsburgh. And, as usual, they were interested in the children's activities, and told of theirs as well. Their son, Mark, and his wife had two sons, ages 16 and 12, both of whom were excellent in school and into various other activities. Everyone enjoyed the afternoon.
Paul and Martha left about 4:30, with sizeable portions of our leftovers from Christmas dinner. Later on, all of us had a light evening meal, mostly leftovers, but well enjoyed, and afterwards the eight of us gathered around the piano, with Kerry playing, and sang Christmas carols just as we used to do when my older sons were children. For a couple of the more difficult carols, Kerry moved aside and I played, but he did a great job playing the others, mostly from memory. It was cute seeing Kerry playing with Dawn and Marie on either side of him on the piano bench. Doris surprised them by taking a picture of them together.
After our singing session, I relaxed a while in my chair, and Dawn and Marie came over and sat on my lap. Dawn asked, "Granddaddy, did you have a good Christmas this year?"
"I sure did, Honey," I answered. "It's always a good Christmas when everyone is here and everyone is happy."
"It would be better if Grandmother were still here," she answered.
"Yes, it would, but you know, Dawn, I believe she IS still here. I know we can't see her or talk to her, but there are times I can still feel her here with us."
"Is she here now?" asked Marie.
Kerry came and stood by the chair.
"Yes, Honey, I think she is. When you think of her, don't you get a warm feeling right here," I touched her chest, "in your heart? Don't you find yourself smiling when you think of her? Don't you remember how much she absolutely adored both of you, and how she made you feel when she was around? I believe she left a lot of her love behind for us, and she took a lot of our love with her. It's that love that we feel, and it's that part of her that is still here, and a part of all of us is with her now."
"Marie, I believe she is still here, too," said Kerry. "I never knew her, I never met her, and I don't even know what she looked like--I never even saw a picture of her--but when Dad holds me and touches me and looks at me like he does, I can almost see her watching and smiling. Dad tells me all the time that he knows she would love me, too, and I guess it's that love I am feeling, just like you and Dawn."
Marie got down from my lap and embraced Kerry. "Oh, Uncle Kerry," she said, "I know she would have loved you. She couldn't keep from it. I know I do, too."
Kerry leaned down and kissed her cheek. "I love you, too, Marie," he said.
Dawn also got down and embraced him. "This is from Grandmother," she said, as she kissed his cheek and hugged him. "She loves you, and I love you, too, Uncle Kerry."
"I love you, too, Dawn. I am sure I would have loved your grandmother, too."
"What's wrong, Granddaddy?" asked Marie.
I was astonished, and I must have had the strangest look on my face to prompt Marie's question. Kerry had been with me for over four months, and I thought he and I had gotten to know each other very well in that time, yet he had never even seen a picture of my wife! It hit me like a ton of bricks that I did not have a single picture of her displayed on the wall or sitting on a shelf in my house, anywhere! After her death, I had moved to this house because our old house had too many memories for me. But had I subconsciously tried to keep her out of my life since then? That couldn't be! I had been very forthcoming about her with Kerry, to the point that he claimed he could almost see her, but I had never showed him a picture of her. Was I trying to forget her face? What was wrong with me?
"I'm all right, Honey," I answered, "but Kerry, come here a minute." I got up, went into my bedroom, and opened a box in my closet. Kerry, Dawn, and Marie followed me. I got out a framed portrait of my wife that had been taken about five months before her death, and handed it to Kerry. "Kerry, when I become your father, this is the woman who will become your mother."
Kerry took one look at the portrait and burst into tears. He gently laid the portrait on the bed and ran over to me, burying his face into my chest, holding me. "Oh, Dad, I'll have the best parents in the world when that happens. You always told me she was perfect, but I never realized until now just how perfect she is. I know her now, Dad, and I love her."
"She loves you, too, Kerry, I know she does."
"She does love you, Uncle Kerry," said Dawn. She and Marie put their arms on his shoulders as he held me.
After a few minutes, Kerry broke his embrace, and I picked up the portrait. "Kerry, if you want to, take this picture and put it in your room. In the next few days, you and I will decide if we want to display any more pictures in the rest of the house. I'm sorry, Kerry, I never realized that you would have liked to see her picture."
"That's all right, Dad," he answered.
"By the way, do you know of any pictures of your mom that you would like to display here?"
"Not really. I never saw many pictures of her, and at my stepfather's house there weren't many pictures at all. I'd like to have one, but I guess that won't happen."
"Would you like for me to call your stepfather again and see if he has one?"
"NO. Forget him! I have you now. I don't want to have anything that he has touched."
"OK, Son, I won't. But if you ever change your mind, just let me know. OK?"
Kerry picked up the portrait and carried it into his room, where he stayed for quite a while. When it was time for bed, I went to the doorway to make sure everything was all right. He was sitting on the side of his bed, looking at the portrait. "Kerry, it's time for bed now," I said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine," he answered. He got up and took the portrait with him into my bedroom and placed it on the night stand facing the bed.
All of us wished each other "good night," and got ready for bed. Kerry, as usual, slept naked, but this time he turned toward the portrait and was looking at it when I got into bed on my side. As I wished him good night, he slid back toward me on the bed, with his back to my chest, and his head on my arm, still looking at the portrait. "Why did God have to take her?" he asked.
"Kerry, I have always heard it said that God writes straight using crooked lines. It is not for us to know the details of His plan, but we have to accept the fact that He knows what He is doing. Everything has a purpose in His plan, and it's a good one. I don't claim to know exactly what it is, but maybe He took your mom and my wife so that He could bring us together. Maybe He took my wife because he needed her in Heaven. Maybe He took your mom because he had another little angel in Heaven who needed a mom. I don't know the answer, Son. Maybe some day we will know all the answers, but for right now, all we can do is trust Him and let Him lead us in the way He wants us to go. I guess everyone, at some time or other, gets angry at God for something that happens. I guess, in a way, I have been angry at Him for some time for taking my wife. But He gave me you, and for that, I could forgive Him for anything."
"Thanks, Dad. I can't be angry at Him either. I miss my mom, but I have you now. I wish I could have known Mary, but I love you, and I guess she is still a part of you, so in a way I do know her and I love her. Excuse me just a minute." He climbed out of my embrace, removed the gold chain and crucifix from around his neck, and hung it over the frame of Mary's picture. "Now both of my mothers have one of these. Maybe they will help them find each other in heaven." He came back to bed and crawled into my arms.
"Kerry, you have a wisdom far beyond your years. God has a plan for you. Your job is to seek out His will and follow Him in all that you do. I'll be with you as long as He allows me to be, but He will be with you forever if you will just let Him. You know that I love you very much, Kerry, but you cannot even begin to imagine how much He loves you. You don't have to leave me to go to Him. Go to Him, Kerry. Let him enter your heart and lead you where He wants you to go."
Kerry turned to me and kissed me gently. "I love you, Dad," he said.
"I love you, too, Son. Pleasant dreams."
He closed his eyes, and once again, my little angel slept in my arms, in my bed, and in my heart.
Sunday morning, the day after Christmas, wasn't a usual Sunday morning. Normally, the church had two services on Sunday morning, at 8:30 and 11:00, but today, both services would be combined into one at 10:00 so that everyone could be together and the choirs could be combined for the special music. I found myself worrying, even during breakfast, if the soloist would be able to sing well. Although the combined choirs had done very well in practice, and I had confidence in them, it was still a big event for them, and I was a little concerned about that as well. I had already practiced my organ voluntaries for the service, and believed I had them learned well, but every musician has concerns. I had a lot on my mind.
Roy and Doris were helping the girls get ready for church, Joe and Darrell were getting themselves ready, and Kerry was putting away the breakfast dishes while I was in the office getting my music together. I had already closed my music satchel when the phone rang, and I answered.
"Good morning, Mike, and Merry Christmas. This is Rev. Keller."
"Oh, good morning and Merry Christmas to you. What's up?"
"Well, I was wondering if you would mind if we make a minor change in the service this morning. Instead of our usual processional hymn, I was wondering if you could accompany a special guest soloist we have this morning who would like to sing "Once in Royal David's City." I seem to remember that this is the traditional beginning to some holiday services in England. Do you think that the choir could enter while the soloist sings, and maybe join in on the final verse?"
"Well, that sounds simple enough, I am sure we could do it. Obviously it would have been better if we had a chance to rehearse it once or twice, but maybe we can run through it once in the choir room before the service begins. The main problem is the soloist. It would be better if she could meet with us in the choir room and run through it once so that we can get the phrasing together. Also, I don't even know what key she wants to sing it in."
"I see your point, Mike, but I am afraid we can't do that. The soloist can't be there until a little after the service begins. As to the key, I believe the one that's in the hymnal should work fine. I know this is last minute stuff, Mike, and I'll understand if you say it's too late to do it, but if possible, I would appreciate it if we could try."
"As I said, I am sure we can do it. We have done that hymn before, and it's not that difficult. I am sure the choir could do it."
"That's great. Let's do this: Start your prelude exactly at 10:00 a.m. instead of just before as you usually do--that should give the soloist time to get there. Have the choir get ready for their processional as usual after the prelude, then you just give the soloist a short introduction. He will sing three verses, then have the full choir enter on the last verse. Is that OK?"
"Yes, but let me ask you this. Do you think the soloist could sing the first verse without accompaniment?"
"I don't see why not."
"Well, why don't I give a short organ introduction. The soloist will sing the first verse without accompaniment. The choir will process in during the next two verses with organ accompaniment, then have a short organ interlude, perhaps a modulation, and then the choir will join in for the final verse. That will give us a better "build up" into the service. What do you think?"
"As usual, that sounds great. You are much better at musical presentations than I am, and I appreciate that very much. I know I depend on you for a lot, Mike, and I want you to know that I really do appreciate the contributions you always make to our services. I've heard nothing but good things from the congregation about you and the music program. Thanks a lot--I know this will go well."
"OK, we'll give it a try."
"Thanks again. See you in a little while. `Bye now."
I hung up the telephone and picked up the hymnal to see what key that hymn was in. It was in the key of F Major, and could easily be modulated up to G Major during the interlude and still not be too high for the choir to sing. I made a note of the hymn number and put it into my satchel.
Kerry came to the door just as I closed my satchel. "How's it going, Dad?" he inquired.
"Not bad, Son. Rev. Keller just called me with a revision of the service this morning."
"Is it going to be a problem for you?"
"No, it seems simple enough. It's just that we have worked so hard on the Christmas program for so long, it is a little distracting to have it changed at the last minute. But we've done it before, and I am sure we will be asked to do it again. It's no real problem."
"You can do anything, Dad. I know you'll do great." He came over and hugged me, and I hugged him back.
"I'm sure I can, Son. Now you go and get dressed before we are all late."
He giggled and ran to his room to get dressed. I went into the living room and sat down for a few minutes to collect my thoughts and see if I could work the change more smoothly into the service. Dawn and Marie were dressed and sitting on the couch waiting for everyone else. Joe and Darrell were in the kitchen drinking a final cup of coffee, and Roy and Doris were getting ready in their bedroom.
"Is the children's choir going to sing today," asked Marie.
"No, Honey, they sang during the Christmas Eve service Friday evening. Today it will be the chancel choir and youth choir combined during the service, and the handbell choir is going to play a few numbers before the service. And we apparently have a new soloist in town for this service, but that's about all I know."
"Oh, great," said Dawn, "we get to hear the handbells. I like how they sound."
"I'm glad you do. One of the girls in our handbell choir is about your age. You may want to try it yourself in your church when you get back home. You are not too young, and you may enjoy it."
"Isn't it hard to do?" asked Dawn.
"It isn't easy, and you do have to practice a lot and be very precise when you play, but it's not that hard once you get used to it. You just have to concentrate and make yourself do it right. Most of the players in our choir don't read music, they just learn to ring at the right time. If you want to do it, I'm sure you would be able to do it well if you tried."
Just then Kerry came in and sat on the couch with the girls. "Why doesn't Kerry play in the handbell choir?" asked Marie.
"Ask him," I answered.
"I just did."
"I just never thought about it," Kerry answered. "I'm taking piano lessons from Ms. Andrews, and I am learning about the organ from Dad. I guess I am just too busy."
"I never have been one to push my kids, and I am not pushing Kerry. He knows he can do anything he wants to as long as he has the time and interest and his grades don't suffer. I think he is right--he is into quite a lot right now, and the handbell choir is not easy. But he knows he can if he wants to."
"Is everybody ready?" asked Doris, as she came into the room with Roy.
"Looks that way," answered Darrell. "It's just about time to go."
"Then let's get started," I said. "I need to get there a little early so I can work with the choir a little bit."
Kerry, Joe, and Darrell rode with me in my car, while Roy's family came in theirs. When we arrived at the church, I went immediately to the choir room. Some of the choir were already there and getting into their robes. I asked one of the members there to round everyone up as soon as he could so we could go over the last-minute changes. While he went to find everyone, I went out to the organ and verified my combinations. I had to set up a couple of others to accommodate the new solo, and tested them as well. I registered my prelude, left my music on the console, and returned to the choir room.
To my surprise, when I checked the bulletin for the day, I found that the changes were already there. The organ prelude would be followed by the solo, during which the choir would come in. After the Call to Worship, there would be a congregational hymn, then after some scriptural readings, the choir would sing the anthem. Then would follow the scriptural text, the sermon, the choral response, the creed, the soprano solo of Gesu Bambino, the offertory, a final hymn, the charge and benediction, and the postlude. It looked like it would work just fine.
Most of the choir were present before the service was to start at 10:00, so we practiced the third verse of the solo and went over a few sections of the anthem that some members felt needed more work. At 10:00 a.m., we had a short prayer in the choir room, which was our custom, then I went to the organ to begin the prelude, and the choir went to the narthex to get ready for the procession.
I began the prelude, a quiet rendition of Infant Holy, to an unusually hushed congregation. Usually, I had to compete with a low level of noise--people talking to each other, walking around, coming in, etc. Although I was not brought up that way--I had been taught to be quiet before the service began, and talk to everyone else after the service--I had gotten used to the practice of this congregation and it really didn't bother me that much any more. Since the services had been combined, and many families had guests from out of town, the sanctuary was much fuller than usual, making it that much more surprising. The quiet prelude, which I played mainly on the flute celeste stop of the Swell organ, seemed to just sing to me that morning, and I hoped it had the same effect on the congregation.
During the latter part of the prelude, I heard the pastor and his assistant come into the chancel area from the side door, as usual, but since I was still playing, I did not actually see them. As I had been told, I started a short introduction to Once in Royal David's City. After the introduction had set the pace and the key, I stopped playing and waited for the soloist to begin.
Then I know I heard the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my life, as a young boy soprano voice literally filled the sanctuary. His voice was so clear, so pure, and so inspiringly beautiful, and his articulation and voice control were so flawless that I know there could not have been a dry eye in the congregation that day. I know my eyes were filled. As I looked into the mirror on the organ console, my eyes were so full I could just make out the outline of the young boy in a small choir robe as he stood beside the pulpit just in front of the organ well. This was pure ecstasy.
He finished the first verse, and I started the low accompaniment for the second verse as the choir started marching down the center aisle of the church. The young boy's voice seemed to crescendo along with the organ, but still so clear and pure that I wondered if I could get through the accompaniment from sheer memory--I certainly could not see the music. As the third verse began, the young boy's voice became even more powerful and beautiful, and the choir spontaneously began to hum the four parts of the hymn. The sound was absolutely heavenly! I began to hear very quiet whimpers and sobs from some of the congregation, but the clarity of the boy's voice literally filled the room. It was so beautiful I didn't know what to do.
At the conclusion of the third verse, I began a short interlude and modulated to G Major. At my direction, the choir started the final verse. We had thirty-eight voices in the choir that morning, and they sang beautifully, but the boy's young voice soared above them with a beautiful descant melody. I had never heard anything like it in my life! The hymn concluded, the sanctuary was absolutely silent, and I reached for a tissue to dry my eyes. Moist eyes were everywhere in the choir.
The Call to Worship was completed, and the congregation sang Angels We Have Heard On High. The music was very powerful with so many in the congregation that day, and the organ seemed to give just the right amount of support to the singing. A church organist always strives for that in his playing, and I had felt that feeling numerous times in my career, but each time the feeling was special. There is just something about an inspired congregation that just throws its head back and SINGS! I had no doubt that the opening number had inspired this, and although I felt honored to have had a part in it, I found myself thinking, "To God be the glory!"
After the scriptural readings, the choir sang the anthem, Gustav Holst's Christmas Day, a medley of carols which is very effective as a choir anthem, ranging from very quiet to gloriously loud, and with an organ accompaniment that varies from very quiet to thunderous chords supporting the choir melodies. The choir did an absolutely glorious job singing the piece, and with the final "Christ is born today," again I heard the muffled sounds of a teary-eyed congregation. It was beautiful!
All through the sermon I was in a daze. I knew we had a fine choir, and although I knew I was not the greatest in the world, I was a competent organist, and we had worked so well together that morning that the entire service had been taken up quite a few notches. But I couldn't get the boy soloist out of my mind! The world should be hearing him! Surely he had been well trained, and probably he had made a few recordings. A voice like that would certainly have been noticed before. But who was he? Where was he from? How did he hear about our church, and what made him want to sing there? And at the last minute? If I had known he was available, I would have tried to contact him before and have him sing for us at a number of special services. I was determined to meet him after the service and find the answers to these questions.
The sermon ended soon, or so it seemed to me, and I played for the choral response. The congregation recited The Apostle's Creed, and I prepared for the soloist to sing. I hoped she had been inspired as well and would do better than she had in all our rehearsals, but resolving to do the best I possibly could to help her, I began the introduction. On cue, she began to sing, and she was definitely on her game today! She sang better than I had heard before, and that began to make me relax at the console and the organ seemed to respond to that. Things were going great.
But then, at the start of the second section of the piece, I heard a second voice. I looked into the mirror at the console and clearly saw the same young boy standing with the soloist and singing.
IT WAS KERRY!
As the soprano sang the upper melodic line of the piece, Kerry was singing "O come, let us adore Him" as the countermelody. If anything, his voice was more beautiful now than it had been during his first solo. God, it was beautiful! It was gorgeous! It was inspiring, and oh, God, how proud I was of my son! To this day, I am surprised that I was able to continue to sit at the organ and play. I just wanted to run down there and hold him! My God, I was so proud of him! God, what did I ever do to receive such a blessing as this boy?
The solo ended, and I will swear there was not a dry eye anywhere! I sat at the console, unable to move. There was absolute silence in the sanctuary. Obviously, everyone there had felt a presence they had never felt before. I have said it so often in this story that it may have lost some of its impact, but we had all heard the voice of an angel that morning.
I got through the rest of the service in a daze. I was so proud of Kerry that I could hardly sit still on the bench to complete the service. I suppose I must have done at least a fair job, because several people complimented me on the way back to the choir room, but I don't remember any of it. I had my mind on one thing--trying to find my son.
As I entered the choir room, Kerry literally smothered me with a hug. I held him tighter than I ever had before. I don't know how long we held each other, but I couldn't have said a word to save my life. I have never been so moved. After what seemed like forever, I heard my little boy say, "Merry Christmas, Daddy. I hope you liked it."
"I LOVED it, Kerry. Where on earth did you ever learn to sing like that? I am amazed! I can't tell you how beautiful I thought it was."
"I've been practicing when you weren't around, and Ms. Andrews has been working with both of us on our duet. She thought it would be a nice Christmas surprise for you."
"It was, Kerry. I can't imagine a more beautiful Christmas gift than that. I loved it, and I love you." I held him again.
After a while, I heard Kerry whisper softly into my ear, "I love you, too, Dad." But then in a louder voice, so that everyone in the room could hear, he continued, "Well, that's not all you are getting. I have another surprise for you, if you will let me down." I put him down and he said, "Sit down right here." He pulled up a chair and had me sit down. "First of all, there are some more people who need to be here. Come on in, guys," he called, and my family came from behind a curtain at the rear of the room. Dawn and Marie ran over to me, and Roy, Doris, Joe, and Darrell brought up the rear. They were all smiles. I noticed then that none of the combined choir members had taken off their robes, and they were forming at the rear of the room in front of their chairs.
Rev. Keller came through the door at that moment, and asked, "Am I too late?"
"No," answered Kerry, "you are just in time. You're on!"
"Oh, well, here goes. Mike, I guess I missed the big moment when your son officially wished you a Merry Christmas, but believe me, all of us shared your gift with you, and all of us loved it beyond measure. God was truly present in our service today, as I believe He always is, but today He brought one of His angels with Him in the person of a little boy named Kerry. He has blessed all of us in a very special way today. But we thought there could be no better time than now to truly make your Christmas special and to bring to an end something that has been on your mind for almost five months now. For that we have four special guests with us. I believe you know Doyle Matthews, and this is Judge Ralph Martinson, his court reporter, and his bailiff."
Doyle and an older gentleman I had never met before, along with a young woman and a thirty-something-year-old man, came from behind the curtain. The older man was dressed in a black robe. Doyle and the men came toward me, and the young woman set up what appeared to be a Stenograph machine and sat down next to it. Doyle then started to speak to me. "Mike, I told you that this case would be heard in early January, but I also told you that you had the first team working for you, and we have gotten a little ahead of schedule."
The judge sat down behind a table. The bailiff stood beside him and said, "This Court is now in session, the honorable Judge Ralph Martinson presiding. Everyone be seated and come to order." The choir sat down in their chairs, Kerry sat down beside me, and Rev. Keller also took a seat. Doyle remained standing.
"Your Honor," Doyle began, "the case before you today is a petition for managing conservatorship of one Kerry Lee Patterson, a minor child who now resides with the petitioner, Mr. Michael Dwain Newman, in a foster father/son relationship. You have before you the original petition and supporting affidavits for this case. Would the following persons present please stand as your name is called: Mr. Michael Dwain Newman, Kerry Lee Patterson, Henrietta Louise Langford, Rev. Alexander Brent Keller."
All of us stood as we were called.
The bailiff faced us and said, "Raise your right hands. Do you and each of you swear that the testimony you shall give before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"Be seated, and would Mr. Michael Dwain Newman please take the stand?"
A choir member hurriedly brought another chair and placed it beside the table where the judge was seated. I got up and went to the chair and sat down.
"Please state your full name and address for the record," said Doyle.
"Michael Dwain Newman, 1324 Royal Court," I answered.
"Are you the foster father of Kerry Lee Patterson, a minor child the subject of this case?"
"Since you first met this child, have you been able to locate any blood relatives of the child who may wish to pursue custody?
"I have not."
"Is it your desire to be named managing conservator of this child, and remain so until he reaches the age of 18 years, or graduates from high school, or until further decree of this court?"
"It is, except that I intend to pursue full adoption within the next year."
"Are you aware of any reason why this petition should not or cannot be lawfully granted?"
"No, I am not."
"Thank you, Mr. Newman. You may step down. Would Kerry Lee Patterson please take the stand?"
Kerry did so, and Doyle continued.
"Please state your full name and address for the record."
"Kerry Lee Patterson. I live with Mr. Newman at 1324 Royal Court."
"Are your parents living?"
"With whom did you live before going to live with Mr. Newman?"
"I lived with my stepfather, Mr. Lawrence Sanders, before he kicked me out. I was living on the street for three days before I met Mr. Newman."
"Do you know of any relatives who may wish to have custody of you?"
"No, Sir. I have a great aunt, but she is unable to take care of me. She is 85 years old."
"Would Ms. Henrietta Langford please stand?" An old woman stood up in the choir. "Is this your great aunt?"
"Is it your desire to have Mr. Newman as your managing conservator, and live with him until you reach the age of 18, or graduate from high school, or until further decree from this court?"
"More than ever, Sir, except that I hope that my Dad adopts me before then."
"When you speak of your dad, of whom are you speaking?"
"Mr. Michael Newman."
"Thank you. You may step down. Would Ms. Henrietta Langford please take the stand?"
The old woman got up from her seat in the choir and slowly made her way to the chair beside the judge.
"Please state your full name and address for the record."
"Henrietta Louise Langford, 4312 Brighton Highway, in Chicago."
"Are you the great aunt of Kerry Lee Patterson, the minor child who is the subject of this petition?"
"Do you desire to seek custody of this minor child?"
"No, Sir, I do not. I love him dearly, but I am much too old to undertake that responsibility."
"Do you know of any other members of the child's family who would be eligible for custody?"
"No, Sir, I do not."
"Would you please enlighten us, Ms. Langford, of the events which led to this child's living with Mr. Newman?"
"I will. My grand niece was the child's mother. She passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. Due to her tremendous medical bills, she was unable to retain an attorney to prepare an official will, but she did write me this letter," she retrieved an envelope from her purse, "asking me to take custody of Kerry upon her death. She did not feel that her husband would provide a proper home for her son. I did not hear of her death until a few months afterwards, and as I had suffered a stroke shortly before then, I did not come forward with this letter. Mr. Newman later called me and informed me that he had Kerry with him after his stepfather had thrown him out. Although I did not know him, I felt better about the situation because he allowed me to speak to Kerry, and my grand nephew seemed so very happy. After speaking with Kerry earlier this morning, I am convinced beyond any doubt of his happiness with Mr. Newman as his foster father."
"Do you then consent to Mr. Newman being named as managing conservator of Kerry?"
"I certainly do, with absolutely no hesitation, Sir. It will be my pleasure, if I am still here when the time comes, to support his planned adoption of my grand nephew."
"Thank you. You may step down. Would Reverend Keller please take the stand?"
Rev. Keller took the stand.
"Please state your full name and address for the record."
"Rev. Alexander Brent Keller, 4311 Roanoke Lane."
"Are you acquainted with the parties to this petition?"
"I am. Mr. Newman has been the organist of this church during the seven plus years I have served as pastor, and Kerry Patterson is his foster son. I have observed them in their relationship with each other since its inception in August of this year, and I feel I know both of them quite well."
"Are you aware of any reason why this petition should not be granted?"
"I most definitely am not. It is my personal opinion that God has already blessed this relationship, and the formality of man's recognition of it is long overdue."
"Do you feel that the interests of Kerry Patterson will be well served if this petition were granted?"
"I most certainly do. I can assure this court and each person present in this room today that no one has any hope of finding a finer man to serve as a father to this child than Mr. Newman. I support this petition without reservation of any kind."
"Thank you. You may step down. Your Honor, I rest my case and move that this petition be granted."
The judge then spoke. "It is highly unusual for this court to hold sessions such as this in the choir room of a church, but the law can be administered here as surely and effectively as it is in the formal courtroom. It has been the pleasure of this court to accommodate the requests submitted by counsel, by the subject of this petition, and by the colleagues of the petitioner. I commend all of you for your support of this petition and your actions in support of the petitioner and the subject of this action. It is now my pleasure to state that, by the authority vested in me by the laws of this great State, I hereby decree that Mr. Michael Dwain Newman is named managing conservator of the minor child, Kerry Lee Patterson, with all rights, privileges, duties, and responsibilities of that position. Counsel will prepare the written decree for the signature of this court within five days. Merry Christmas to all present. Court is adjourned." He banged a gavel on the table.
"All rise," commanded the bailiff.
Everyone in the room rose to their feet. Kerry ran to me and threw his arms around my neck. I held him, unable to say anything. After a few moments, Rev. Keller began to speak. He was visibly moved, and it took several moments for him to find his voice. "May I have your attention, please?" he began. The room quietened once more. "Brothers and sisters in Christ, this morning, we have all been blessed with hearing the voice of a young man named Kerry Lee Patterson. In case you are interested, I happen to know that Kerry's singing today was as much a surprise to Mr. Newman as it was to the rest of us. I must confess that when Kerry came to me earlier this week and asked to sing today, I was a little apprehensive, since our music department has worked so long and hard on the service today, and I did not want to interfere with it. But he was persistent, and I am as happy as I am sure all of you are, that he was. I did not tell Mr. Newman who our guest soloist was to be today, and he found out only after this young man started to sing. Mike, as I am sure he told you before I arrived, Merry Christmas from your son."
The choir burst forth with loud applause. I was dumbfounded. I recalled yesterday when Kerry had said he wasn't sure if I would like his Christmas gift to me, and he wanted to be close to me. Who in the world wouldn't have loved such a gift? I felt so honored, but I was still dumbfounded. I couldn't have said a word if my life depended upon it.
Then, Rev. Keller continued. "Judge Martinson has just issued a decree that Kerry will live permanently with our organist, Michael Newman. To that decree, I add the blessings of Almighty God and the blessings of this congregation. Will everyone please join me in prayer?"
Every head was bowed.
"Our most precious and beloved Almighty God, we come before you with thankful hearts rejoicing at the event we have all witnessed in your church. We ask your blessings on Kerry, on Michael, and the rest of the family, as they strengthen the bonds which are already so strong among them. In strengthening these bonds, grant that they may also strengthen their bonds with You and the rest of us in this congregation. Lead them, as you lead all of us, together and individually, in the paths you would have us walk, and keep us ever under the protection of your wings, that we may grow in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with You and our fellow man. We ask Thy blessings on each one here today, and ask that you grant us your forgiveness for the times we most grievously may have offended You, and ask that you remain with us throughout the remainder of our lives, granting us pardon as it is needed, strength and courage as our situation necessitates, peace as it is sought, and salvation as You have promised. May we continue to praise Your Name in all that we say and do, as we pray in the name of Jesus our Saviour, and for his sake. Amen."
My head was still reeling, but I was aware of Kerry holding me so tight and sobbing softly. I stood up, still holding him close. He buried his face into my neck, as he had so often done before, and said, "Is it all right if I call you `Dad' all the time now?"
"Yes, Honey. It even has a special ring to it now."
My family gathered around us, and the choir started singing an anthem, The Loving Hands of a Father, which we had sung last Father's Day. As usual, their singing was heavenly, and it covered a lot of tears.
After a few minutes, I put Kerry down, still holding his hand, and we both moved over to Ms. Langford. She stood up slowly as we approached, and held her arms out to me. As I embraced her, the first words she said directly to me were, "Son, if you can keep him as happy as I see him now, his mother and I will love you forever."
"Don't worry, Ms. Langford. He is part of me now, and I will do all I can to keep him happy. Thank you so much for coming. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to meet you."
"The pleasure is all mine," she said as she kissed my cheek, then bent to embrace Kerry. "I love you very much, Kerry. You have a father who will be good to you now. Love him for me, and take care of him."
"I will, Aunt Etta. I love you, too."
I caught my breath, then circulated among the choir members, congratulating each of them and thanking them for their contributions this year. I spoke to and thanked Doyle Matthews, who told me to come by his office after Wednesday and pick up the decree.
When I finally spoke to Judge Martinson, I almost broke down again. "Thank you so much, Your Honor. It was such a surprise for me, I am sorry if I didn't appear more grateful. I was just overwhelmed."
"That's quite all right, Mr. Newman. It is always a pleasure to be of service to such a dedicated and persistent group of people. You have great people on your side, in case you don't already know that. You have a fine son, and I am honored to have done this for you."
"Thanks again," I said, giving him a firm and heartfelt handshake.
After we left church, Ms. Langford joined us as we all went to a local restaurant for lunch. The rest of the family had to leave later on Sunday evening, but she wanted to stay until Wednesday afternoon, just in case she had to sign anything. We gladly checked her out of her hotel and she stayed with Kerry and me.
When it was time for bed that night, Kerry went to bed in his own room, but after nearly an hour, he came into my room and got into bed with me. "I thought Aunt Etta would probably feel better about me sleeping in my own room, but it's not right for us to be apart on our first official night together," he told me.
"You know I like to have you near me, Kerry, but I also know you are a big boy now. It's natural that you should want to start sleeping by yourself. Besides, love reaches through walls very easily."
"I know, but I want to be near you tonight. Good night, Dad. I love you."
"I love you, too, Son. Good night."
We slept in each other's arms.
During her visit with us, Aunt Etta gave Kerry several pictures of his mother at various times of her life. In the most recent photograph of her, I could see on her face the anguish that years of pain from her cancer had caused, yet there was a determination in her eyes that I had seldom seen before. Kerry looked at each of the pictures and obviously recalled many memories of her which I could not share. Aunt Etta said that she had a nice framed picture of her and would send it back to Kerry after she got home to Chicago. Kerry cleared a spot on the wall in his room and reserved it for his mother's picture. I also took several photographs of Aunt Etta and Kerry together, and gave her copies of them.
I picked up my copies of the court decree on Wednesday morning, and that evening Kerry and I took Aunt Etta to the airport to catch a 6:17 p.m. flight back to Chicago. Both of us gave her a tearful good-bye, as she did to each of us. "Mike, I may never see either of you again, but you will both always be in my heart. Take care of each other, and love each other for me, will you?"
"We certainly will, Aunt Etta. You are also a part of us now, so if you ever need us for anything, just let us know."
"I might just do that," she answered with a bright smile. "Good bye, and God bless." She got on the plane, and we stayed at the terminal until we saw the plane take off.
My son and I got back into the car and went home.
Kerry received the portrait of his mother the following week. Aunt Etta passed away the next month. Kerry and I attended her funeral in Chicago, along with the rest of my family. The church was overflowing with mourners--she had obviously been a well known and very much admired lady. Although we were sad at losing her, we were uplifted by the beautiful service, and we left the church with smiles on our faces. Mr. Sanders, as expected, was nowhere to be found.
Kerry and I seemed to grow even closer after Aunt Etta's funeral. It was as if he had finally put all his memories of his former family behind him and had totally committed himself to mine. We continued to be affectionate with each other and there was no doubt in the mind of anyone who knew us how much we loved each other. But Kerry was, after all, growing up, and after a few months, he began sleeping in his own room for the most part. He would sometimes come into my bed during the night for whatever reason, and he still occasionally slept with me all night, especially when he was lonely, worried, or confused about something.
He also devoted more time and attention to music. He continued his piano studies with Marcia Adams, and his organ lessons with me. He took over playing the piano for the children's choir at church, and he joined the youth choir shortly afterward, and became their first soloist. I will admit to a somewhat biased viewpoint--after all, he was my son--but it seemed to me that when he sang the entire choir sounded much better. The other choir members obviously liked him, and several of them became his very close friends.
Darrell and Joe made good on their promise to finish out the attic area over my garage. They did a beautiful job, and ended up with three bedrooms plus a game room, a half bath, and a small sitting area upstairs. Dawn and Marie slept upstairs whenever they visited from then on, and Kerry, Kenneth, Larry, and their friends ensured that the game room was always full of laughter.
My adoption of Kerry was finalized shortly after he turned 12 years old, and he was so proud to have Newman as his surname. Roy and Doris and their family, Darrell, and Joe were in court with us, although only as spectators. Rev. Keller was also there, as were Larry and his parents, and Kenneth and his mother. We finished up at the courthouse about 4:00 in the afternoon and, since Kerry wanted to, we celebrated at a very nice restaurant that he had chosen, and with all the attention he got from me and the rest of the friends and family (especially Marie), he was walking on air. And I can't think of a single day of my life when I felt as proud.
Shortly after he turned 14, Kerry came into my bed one night around midnight, saying he wanted to talk. He talked with me about his activities and the friends he had made in his past, what he was doing then at church, school, and with his music, and mostly about his dreams for his future. He spent a lot of time telling me exactly how he felt about me and the rest of the family, and how much each of us had meant to him. He thanked me for not giving in to him and having a sexual relationship with him when he was younger, even though he had wanted it at the time. He told me, "I thought I had to offer sex to find love. You taught me that the love between a father and a son can be warmer and stronger than I ever imagined. I know now that if we had had sex with each other back then, I probably wouldn't feel as close to you as a father now. You taught me that fathers don't love their sons that way, and now I know they never do. I'll have sex someday, I know I will, but only when both of us are ready for it, and it will be with someone I love dearly, someone very special, and I hope you will love her, too." This conversation remains the most memorable I have ever had with him because, as it turned out, it was the last time we slept together. The hug he gave me then still warms my heart, but there have been a lot of others since then, and our love is stronger now than it has ever been.
Kerry enthusiastically continued his music studies. His voice changed shortly after he turned 13, and after a few months of uncertainty, he developed a very powerful but mellow baritone voice. Again, my prejudice, but I thought it to be one of the best I had heard in a boy his age. He continued his accompaniment of the children's choir and singing in the youth choir in church, and, after graduating from elementary school, also sang in the a capella choir at his high school all four years. He was honored by being named to the All State Choir his junior and senior years, as well as receiving several individual awards at the district and regional levels all four years.
Kerry, Kenneth and Larry attended the same high school, and in their sophomore year Kerry and Larry joined the debate team. They both continued on the team throughout their high school years and, in their junior year, won their regional debate and won second place in the state competition. They were both very much looking forward to winning the state competition during their senior year, but unfortunately Larry had a conflict during the regional competition, and Kerry was paired with another member of the team who, while quite good, was not as forceful as was Larry. By a very close score, they placed second, and the team did not advance to state competition.
Kerry maintained very good grades during high school and, at the age of 18, graduated as valedictorian of his class with a 3.97 GPA. He entered a major university to study piano and organ performance, with a minor in choral conducting, and graduated summa cum laude with special distinction in organ performance four years later. Now, at the age of 24, he is pursuing his doctorate in organ performance in Paris, and has played a number of recitals in Europe. He expects to earn his degree in about two years, and his girlfriend, Monica, is already planning their wedding. She will graduate with her degree in pharmacy next May. Kerry plans to return home for a month around that time, and they plan to be married during his visit. I see a lot of Monica--she is a very lovely girl, and I love her to death. She says that she is trying to take care of me so that Kerry will not be worried about me, and can concentrate on his music. I am sure that is at least partially true, but we have become very close over the last couple of years--she is the daughter I never had. I couldn't be happier with the choice Kerry made--she will make him a fantastic wife, every bit as good (well, almost as good) as Mary was to me. I am so happy for both of them.
Kenneth and Kerry remained very close friends throughout their high school years, and he spent a lot of time at our house. He confided in me a great deal about his relationship with his father and about his sexuality. I am so happy that I was able to help him through a tough time in his life, and especially happy that we remain extremely close today. Unfortunately, his father could never accept his homosexuality, and they have not spoken to each other since Kerry was 15 years old. I feel so sorry for his father, as he is missing out on having a really fantastic young man as his son. Kenneth graduated fourth in his class academically from high school, graduated magna cum laude from a major university, and now has his master's degree in theatrical costume and set design. He and his partner, a very fine young man named DeLoy Douglas, are living in New York, where Kenneth has worked as a costume and set designer on several off-Broadway productions, and DeLoy is quite successful as a financial consultant. They are obviously very happy together, and are in the talking stages of planning to adopt a child. I believe they would make outstanding parents, and I fully support them. They visit me whenever they are in town to visit Kenneth's mother, and I am so proud of him.
Larry graduated from college the same year as Kerry and is now in his second year of law school. He is married to a very nice girl named Sharon, and she is expecting their first child about three months from now. I see them two or three times each month, and they seem so happy with each other. His father, unfortunately, is dying from an inoperable brain tumor, and Larry worries about that, but they mended their relationship long ago, and have become very close now. I am glad they were able to do that. And his mother has become quite a strong woman. I suppose she had to, given her husband's situation, but she is very supportive of Larry and Sharon, and she is still supportive of her husband, too, but she dresses him down without effort when he doesn't want to take care of himself. She is excited about becoming a grandmother, and I have every confidence that she will be a good one.
Dawn has graduated from college, and is now pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology. She wants to practice in the area of sports psychology. She was married last year to a very nice young man named Nicholas, whom I liked the minute I met him, and they are expecting their first child in about five months. Marie will graduate next year with her degree in architecture. She has already found a position with a major architectural firm on the west coast and is very excited about that. She is serving as an intern with the firm this summer, and loves it. Her boyfriend goes to the same college, majoring in business administration. No marriage plans as yet, but they seem to be made for each other. I couldn't be more pleased with the choices my granddaughters made.
My three older sons are well established in their careers, and Roy is even thinking of taking early retirement in the next few years so he and Doris can do some traveling. Doris was promoted to principal in her school system last year, and seems to like it. Darrell is now an executive vice president of his banking company, and Joe has owned his own construction company for about six years now.
Lynn's son turned out to be Joe's son, and he was named Timothy. Although Joe and Lynn decided it would not be best for them to marry, they are still close friends and have been working together all his life to support Timothy, and Joe is very much a part of his life. Timothy is a Boy Scout, holding the rank of Star, and is working toward his Life rank. He says he will have his Eagle rank in about two years, and given his determination and the support of all of us, I have no doubt that he will. He spends alternate weekends, two months every summer, and every other Thanksgiving and Christmas with Joe. I see a lot of him when he is with Joe, and the last few years he has, at his own initiative, spent a week or so during the summer with me. So far, he is my only grandson, but Timothy is still very much a special grandson to me, and I love him so dearly. And you should see him and Kerry together--they are almost like brothers themselves. All of us are so proud of him.
Two years ago, I retired as Director of Music at the church. I am now 72 years old, but I still play an occasional service for them when their new organist is not available for whatever reason, and he consults with me about a lot of situations that come up from time to time in the church. I stopped umpiring youth baseball games a few years back, but I still go to the ball park every once in a while and watch the children play. I still swim in the back yard pool, do some occasional wood working in the garage, and listen to a lot of music.
I am at peace with myself and, hopefully, with my God. I was never blessed with any children of my own, but I ended up with four sons--four very special, bright, sparkling diamonds--along with two adorable granddaughters and a very special grandson! As Joe once said, none of them were biologically mine, but I never knew the difference, and each of them would come to forget the difference. I like to think all of them did at some point. I have special memories of all my children's and grandchildren's childhood and the times we shared, all the joy and the love, all the experiences that combined to make us what we are today, and I wouldn't trade any of them for the world on a silver platter. They are all so special to me. But I still go to bed every night with empty arms that long for a very special little angel from long ago, and I am so proud of what that little angel has become.
Mary, for some reason, God is still letting me keep my breath for now. Who knows? Maybe He will someday send another little boy to my unlocked car on a dark night, so I am still kicking, and I still plan to be around to meet the grandchildren I get from Kerry and his wife. But I hope that happens soon, because I love you so much, I really do miss you, and I will see you soon, in God's time.