Chapter Thirteen: THEN FOUR

a story by: Solace Lenity

This is a story about, well,  love and chance.  It is for the most part, a work of pure fiction, though some of the situations discussed are drawn from life experiences (particularly the romantic ones).  Though not in the beginning, this story will eventually contain sexual acts between consenting adults.  Gay characters have gay sex, so if this bothers you, or if it is illegal to read such materials due to your age or where you live, then please do not read further.  All copyrights are held by the author, so please do not duplicate, print, alter, or resubmit (or anything else I may have missed ) this story without first obtaining written permission from the author. 

Further notes:  This story will address several social issues in a perspective in which you may or may not agree.  It is also a story centered around life and love between friends, family, and partners, along with romance, and it is not intended to be a jerk-off story.  There are spiritual and paranormal themes which affect the lives of the characters.  Finally, the story is told in the various points of view of the characters involved.  (To make this process easier, each character's story is distinguished by a specific color and font style dedicated to that character.)

A SPECIAL THANKS  to Paul for all his help.

This is my first attempt at writing fiction of any kind.  If you have any comments, ideas, suggestions, etc., I would love to hear them. I have greatly enjoyed the comments I have received thus far and wish to thank you all for taking the time to send them.    Please contact me via


A hot surge of fire fluttered through my veins, causing a heavy tightness in my chest.  My heart raced, pounding away as my breath quickened.  A strong rush of adrenaline filled my very being, charging me with a seemingly unyielding source of energy.  I was moving at a relentless pace, only encouraged by my beloved's continual moans.  Sweat was dripping from me, trickling downward as it landed upon Ethan's taut chest and abdomen.  He looked at me with his cat-like, gold-tan eyes as the smile of pure desire spread further across his handsome face.  Ethan's legs wrapped more tightly around my waist, putting pressure on the small of my back, all the while pulling me deeper into him.  With that signal, I knew all to well what he wanted, so I gave it everything I had.

"M-m-m, yeah.  That's it."  Ethan sighed, pulling my head closer.  "I love you, Baby."  His hot breath tickled my eardrum as he licked and nibbled at my earlobe and neck.  "I'm just about there."  He said breathlessly.

"M-m-m.  So am I."  I grunted, feeling the muscles in my lower body tighten.  I sucked gently on his neck as I continued at an ever-increasing speed to fulfill my quest.  The carnal urge to be even closer to Ethan pushed me onward, as if the further within him I sank, the more unified our souls would be.  He tightened himself around me, pulling me closer to the abyss of ecstasy.  Our breathing and pace further escalated, 'til Ethan pulled me into the most passionate kiss we had yet to share.  I groaned out into his throat as the first wave coursed through me, my body becoming rigid and locking itself as deeply into Ethan as was humanly possible.  The wet warmth I felt between our bodies, along with his tightening shudders, let me know my lover had also reached the sexual apex.

I collapsed into him, totally spent of all energy, as our souls roamed the universe euphorically.  A few gentle caresses were all either of us could manage for quite some time.  Finally, Ethan's loving voice brought me back to earth.

"H-m-m.  I tell you what.  You give a guy a complete recharge of life, and everything goes crazy."  He sweetly chuckled.  "I swear, Shaft.  You were always very good, don't get me wrong, but, Baby, you just keep getting better."  He grinned, kissing me gently.  "I don't know what he did to you exactly, but since that night just before Christmas, you've been... well, I don't even know how to describe it." He said simply, with a look of complete seriousness on his face.

"Well, maybe I have more energy, now that everything is working properly."  I chuckled lightly.  After kissing him on the nose, I laced our fingers together.  "You know, you have been a bit more... I don't know... aggressive maybe?"  I smiled.

Ethan just giggled.  "Well, I guess I don't have to worry about killing you anymore."  Then, his face became serious again.  "Honestly, Shaft.  My aunt Betty had two husbands that passed that way, and I just knew for sure that was going to happen to us." 

'If I had to die, that would definitely be the number one way to go on my list.' I mused in thought.

Ethan sighed in contemplation.  "You know, I think I had been holding back a little because of it."  A huge smile spread across his face at that point.  "From your performance tonight, I know you've been holding back quite a bit."

I was completely red with blushing, and Ethan laughed at my expense. 

"I've always felt content with you, Honey.  You know that.  But, I have to admit, I have never before felt the level of satisfaction we have been enjoying recently.  Maybe you're right.  Maybe now, we have no fears or worries to hinder us.  Maybe we're finally putting everything we have into it." I replied, hoping with everything in me that our exploration of each other would only get better.  I am a man, after all!

"You even threw in the kitchen sink this evening."  Ethan chuckled. 

For a few moments, a calm silence fell upon us, as we just gazed into one another's eyes.  "What time is it, anyway?" He finally asked.

"Five after eleven."  I noted, looking at the clock.  "We have another 55 minutes to go."

Ethan pondered a moment.  "You know, Baby, I just don't know if I have it in me to go another round."  He smiled, but I knew he was wanting to know my standings at that moment.

"Ethan, I know you wanted to ring in the New Year like this, but I just don't think it is going to happen."  I smiled, raising upward to look down past my abdomen.  Then, I gazed back into my lover's beautiful eyes.  "I think he's down for the count.  At least for a while, anyway."

Ethan began laughing after my admission.  "The boys were so understanding about us wanting to have our own private celebration.  But, I think we're both celebrated out.  Besides, even though I wanted to start out the New Year this way, I kinda wanted to spend it with our sons, too."

I smiled and raised up.  Holding my hand to Ethan, I helped him out of bed.  "Let's get a quick shower and join everybody else in the movie room."  As he stood to his feet, I pulled him into a soft kiss.  Then, I moved aside and pointed my hand for him to walk first.  "After you, Sir Ethan."  I said, only to be met with his obstinance.

"Oh, don't start that shit again."  He blushed.

I just grinned and pushed him onward to the shower.  As we washed, I pondered everything again.  I knew Ethan wanted me to drop the whole thing, but how could you forget something like that.

It was on Christmas Eve, the night it started.  We had just gotten back from church services, not 10 minutes before, when Derek arrived.  Kal and company greeted him lovingly at the door.

"Guys, I'm really sorry I missed the service, but there was a delay at the airport."  Derek explained.  He had been away on a business trip for the last week.  The love he felt for each of his 'boys' was very evident in his every mannerism and gesture.  That only made him more endearing, I felt.

"Well, Pop, you missed one fantastic service."  Kal grinned.  "No matter how much I wished you could have been there, I'm just glad you're back home, safe and sound.  Besides, Hela taped the whole thing, so you can watch it later."

Derek hugged all of his six 'boys'  tightly one more time.  Then, he looked at Kanawha.  "How is Shaft?"  He asked softly.  "I brought him back a little something special from the trip... thought it might raise his spirits a little."

I was deeply moved that Derek was so concerned about me.  Ethan gently squeezed my hand and gave me a reassuring smile.  His eyes let me know that he knew and shared my very thoughts.  Derek Moirae was most definitely an important piece of all of our lives, and I was once again amazed at what a difference giving someone a little bit of love, along with a chance to prove himself, could accomplish.

Kanawha moved out of the way, pointing me out from across the room.  Derek's eyes went wide.  Then, a huge smile covered his face as he raced to me, lifting me up into a death grip of a hug.  Setting me back to my feet, he looked over me carefully.  His smile was still broad, but tears were in his eyes.

"Well, if this doesn't beat everything."  He said softly.  "God, I am so glad you are better!"  He sighed.   After another crushing hug, he looked at me again.  "What happened, though?"  He asked in confusion.  Then, a look of sudden thought crossed his face.  "Wait.  Before you answer that, I have a little something for you.  Believe me, this one cannot wait."  He chuckled as he turned.

Derek walked towards the door and picked up a gift bag, peering into it as he walked back towards me.  With a grin like that I have seen numerous times on Aisa's face, he presented me the bag.  "I would have wrapped it, but, well you'll see."  Knowing that smile, I was a little leery of taking the gift.

As I took the bag, the weight shifted, almost as if it were moving.  Upon opening it, my heart just melted.  I hugged Derek tightly with one arm, holding the gift in the other.  "Oh, Lord!  I have always wanted one of these!"  I gushed with excitement.

Ethan was curious, so I lifted it gently out from the bag, quickly checking it over.  "Is he not adorable?"  I smiled.

Ethan, of course, was rather taken by him immediately.  Our sons seemed to be drawn to him as well.  Unfortunately, so were Domino and Chips.

As I set the miniature pincher down on the floor, they both sniffed him frantically.  Domino nudged him a couple of times with his nose, then pawed at him, trying to coax him into play.  Chips whined a few times, then squatted his front half to the ground while his rear half arched up in the air, his tail wagging in that universal sign of 'play'.  The little pup, though, was timid in the new surroundings.  With the insistent whining, he finally moved to sniff the much larger Chips and Domino.  In excitement, Chips darted away for a game of chase, as Domino quickly pursued.  The pup, however, was frightened, running back to hide behind my leg.

I picked him back up and cradled him close to me.  Ethan began petting him, too, as the two of us explained what had happened.  Derek was moved to tears with the tale.

Derek motioned for Chance and Aisa to join him, and the two quickly came to his side.  Embracing them tightly, he kissed each of their heads.  "Aisa, huh?"  Derek said, as tears again filled his eyes.  "I remember on the day you were born, we were trying to figure out what to name you.  Your mother wanted to name you Derek, as I am the third in the line of Derek's in our family.  I was not having that, though." 

He sighed heavily.  "I never liked the idea of being named after my father, for I felt everyone expected me to be just like him.  Honestly, they did.  Well, I wanted you to have your own identity, just as I had insisted with David.  So, Alicia decided on Eric, which to her was close enough to Derek, but you still had your own name." 

Tears filled Derek's eyes again, and a few trickled down his face.  "We were hashing out your middle name, when David leaned over and looked at you.  Immediately, I knew he was taken by you, for the largest smile David had ever made crossed his face." Derek paused a moment, stroking the back of Aisa's head.  "I swear, David loved you more than life itself." 

Another moment of silence fell before Derek continued his story.  "Anyway, David whispered into your mother's ear for a moment.  Alicia looked at him in bewilderment and asked him if he were sure.  David, though, was insistent, telling her he knew that name was special, just for you.  So, we named you Eric Aisa."

Chance hugged Aisa tightly, as the revelation took hold in Aisa's mind.  "So, David was the one who named me that?"  He asked softly. 

Valerie and Ed came walking by from the kitchen a few moments later, and Aisa called out to her.  "I thought you said God's angel whispered my name in my mother's ear."  He simply stated.

"That I did, child."  She responded.  A knowing smirk crossed her face, but a deeply stated love filled her eyes.  "All children are God's angels, my boy.  David was no different."

Aisa pondered that a moment, as a smile kept growing upon his face.  He turned to Chance and kissed him gently.  "God and my brother gave me this name.  You know, that makes it even more special to me."

"Well, I's reckonin' it would."  Chance chuckled.  "Honest, I's kinda glad really.  I knows he meant an awful lot to ya, 'n now, it's kinda like he's even more a part of ya than 'fore we knowed this."

"Yeah.  I think you're right, Angel."  Aisa gleamed brightly.  Then, he looked at Derek again.  "Thanks, Pop.  Somehow, this makes me feel like David is spending the holiday with us."  Derek simply smiled through his tears, hugging Aisa and Chance again.  They then joined us in a peaceful time with the family, though that peace would soon be threatened.

Not 20 minutes later, Ethan and Jena's parents arrived.  Mrs. Lafferty was such a nice woman, and it was apparent that Ethan took his good looks after her.  She was thrilled to see her children, and even more so to meet Jew, myself, and all of our children... her five new grandchildren.  She made over us all quite a bit, insisting that we call her Moma Jean and Grandma. 

Mr. Lafferty on the other hand, well, God forgive me, but he was an ASS... simply stating the truth.  I realized quickly that Ethan had not exaggerated in the slightest about his father, for that man was almost unbearable.  Even Cole, who has the patience of Job, and Kal, who is always optimistic, did not like him very well.  Come to think of it, he even ruffled Chance and Aisa's feathers.  The entire evening, he kept making off-handed remarks towards Ethan.  Loving him as we do, the whole lot of us was ready to pound him, honestly.  But, Ethan kept assuring us that everything was fine.  At one point, James became bolder in his statements, but Moma Jean called him to silence.

James brewed quietly for a moment, one that, unfortunately, would not last.  The gentle conversation we were sharing as a family was rudely interrupted, as Mr. Lafferty began a rant aimed at Ethan... how he and every other gay person on earth would burn in hell.  Ethan just glared in defiance, not even bothering to give James the satisfaction of an argument.  The oddest thing of it was, as James' bellowing voice escalated, it was but a gentle whisper that brought him to silence.

"He says you should be quiet."  Aisa said, barely at an audible pitch. 

In midstream of a slur, James stopped and glared at Aisa, who continued just as quietly.  "He says you do not speak for him, so you should not use his name when spreading your bigotry.  He says he is the author of many things, but hatred has never been one of them." 

Aisa walked across the room with such an err of confidence.  This was most unsettling for James, for he practically trembled when Aisa stood before him.  "He says to tell you that Ethan has proof of his love for him, and that you will never again be able to cast doubt of that love in Ethan's heart.  He says that your venomous ramblings have poisoned your own soul, but to tell you that they will no longer pollute the life of your son."

"Just who do you think you are?"  James challenged.

Calmly, Aisa stood his ground, meeting James eye to eye with an unshakeable faith.  "I, sir, know well my role in this.  I am the one he has asked to give you his message.  I am also the one he has called upon to remove you from this home, should you decide not to heed his words and remain silent." 

Aisa bent low and leaned in closer to James.  "He says to tell you to think your position through carefully before you act.  He says you can try all you want to convince yourself that you are sainted in your hate-centered crusade against your son.  But, in the end, he says you will find yourself to be just a lonely fool."

It was very quiet for a few moments, as no one knew quite what to say.  Aisa, however, took care of this, giving us a clear message:  we should not let the bitter ramblings of James Lafferty ruin our Christmas. 

"You know, I'm so thankful to have our family.  Christmas has been such a lonely time for me, but now, I am surrounded by people who truly love me.  I could never ask for more than what I have with you guys, and I just want to thank everyone for being part of my life."  Aisa smiled.

Chance pulled him close, snuggling with his boyfriend on one of the couches, resting contentedly between their fathers.  "I's been thinkin' the same ol' thing.  I don't reckon I's ever 'member havin' me no family 'fore now.  I knows we's got lots of stuff under that ol' tree n' all, but I's thinkin' I's just glad I's got all of you's."

As everyone related similar feelings, I took notice of the closeness we all shared.  Pete and Brad moved to sit on Chance's and Aisa's laps, sighing contentedly in their big brothers' arms.  Kanawha and Kal each had his arm stretched along the back of the couch, allowing them to hold hands as their sons sat comfortably between them.  Derek sat at the edge of another couch beside Valerie and her family.  Kal was gently squeezing Derek's hand, as Derek lovingly gazed at the six young men who captivated his life.

Jonah moved to sit on my lap, while Dwayne rested on Ethan's. Carter moved in closer to Ethan's side, as Mark mirrored this action beside me.  I looked to see a contented Nathan resting his head in Jena's lap, while his legs lay across Jew's.  Mic was nestled between Thomas and Myra, while Patrick and Ryan rested across their laps.  Hela and Roe were playfully bantering with one another, while Cole sighed contentedly in Allen's arms.  Nana and Grams sat knitting talking quietly to Moma Jean. 

Lastly, there was James, glaring quietly in an armchair at Ethan and me.  Though I tried to focus upon better things, his constant stares made me uncomfortable, to say the least.  I was, however, thankful that he made no further comments towards Ethan.  Moma Jean apologized numerous times for James' actions, but we each tried to assure her that it had nothing to do with her.  Nor did any of us hold ill feelings towards her.  I mean, at least she did try to keep him quiet. 

After enduring James Lafferty's presence for a rather unsettling evening, we decided to turn in a bit earlier than usual.  Titan, as the boys started calling our new pet, slept with Ethan and me.  In later days, he would truly live up to the name, I might add.

We awoke quite early Christmas morning, as we were going down to the home to spend it with the children there.  Cole and I were elated to see Mom and Dad had made it in.  Hela had breakfast ready for everyone, and she was talking with my parents as we entered the kitchen.  Though we had called and told them what had happened, Mom and Dad were still in tears when they realized that I was indeed healed of all the problems with my heart.

"Oh, son."  Mom said quietly.  "This is one of the greatest miracles to happen in my lifetime.  We have prayed for this for so long, and now..."  She was silenced by her tears.

"Now, he has been made new."  Aisa finished softly as he entered the kitchen.  He then kissed Ethan and I on the cheek, as did Chance.  "Morning guys, and Merry Christmas."  He smiled sleepily.

Chance squatted to pet Titan, laughing as he grabbed a hold of Chance's shirt and growled, shaking the sleeve frantically with the swift motions of his head.  "You know, I's seen a bunch of ol' gifts under that ol' tree in there that I don't reckon I seen last night."  The wideness of his eyes reflected his serious thoughts, causing both Ethan and I to giggle.

It had been our tradition to place a few gifts for each other under the tree.  Then, late in the night time, somewhere between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, we would sneak our remaining gifts down under the tree.  I guess it kinda made us feel like Santa had visited us.  We went all out on Christmas, as we each saved up our money from practically the day after Christmas to buy nice things for everyone the following year.  It also helped that we each were given a nice Christmas bonus for our work at the mission, usually around the middle of December.  For our children, we took the money we were given for foster parenting to get them everything they needed, and several of the things they wanted.  God had blessed us in so many ways that year.  Anyway, that was our custom.

"Well, buddy, I believe we will get to them in a little while.  Then, we can see from where all those gifts have came."  I grinned.  "For now, though, let's have a nice family breakfast."

It was probably one of the most peaceful meals we had had as a family.  It was so nice, and I wondered if anything could be more perfect.  Then, I thought that I had to open my big mouth, for in walked James Lafferty.

I must say, that man could put a chill in the air even in the middle of the Sahara desert during a record-breaking heat wave.  I had to remind myself numerous times that he was Ethan's father, a thought that made me hold onto my lover even more closely.  James shot daggers at both Ethan and me with his continual stares, but, at least he kept his mouth shut this time. 
Honestly, I am an easy-going guy, and I love life and people.  But, to be truthful, I really did not like that man one bit.  I felt certain that Moma Jean had something to do with this, and one look in her direction let me know I was correct.  The rest of it, though, was because of the confident presence of Aisa.

We had decided to wait for opening gifts until after the visit to the home.  Once we had finished cleaning up and getting dressed, we all readied to go and see the children. 

"Just a moment."  Derek smiled, presenting Kanawha and Kal with a small wrapped box.  "You have to open this first."  The two shot Derek a look, but he just laughed it off.  "Trust me, you have to open it."

As they protestingly unwrapped the gift, they each pulled out a key chain with a key.

Derek then bellowed laughing.  "Well, that's why you had to open it.  It's too hard to hide that thing out there on the side of the street."

He escorted his oldest 'boys' to the front door, pointing out a blue all-wheel drive mini van.  "It has enough room to seat eight, so now you can take the family out without being crushed to death in those little cars or yours."

Kal looked at Kanawha, then turned to Derek.  "Pop, thanks, but we can't..."  Derek silenced him in mid sentence.

"Sonny, Son, don't either of you argue with me.  Besides, it is for all of my boys."  He smiled.  "You know, I will not have my boys packed like a bunch of sardines every time they decide to go somewhere.  And, this makes it possible for all seven of us to ride together.  We even have enough room for Blade."  He laughed.  "So, now you have to chauffeur me around when we go to dinner."

"Pop, I don't know what..."  Kanawha started, again being cut off by Derek.

"I love you, Son, and I want the best for my boys.  Nothing else needs to be said."  Derek smiled as he pulled Kanawha into a tight hug.  "You've both done so much for me and for our boys, never asking for anything in return.  You needed a bigger family vehicle, and now you have one."  He leaned back and took them both in.  "Just look at it as the good Lord making a way for you to carry on with your family."

They both started to thank him, but Derek just smiled and cut them off with another firm hug.  As we started to leave, Chance begged to drive.  Kal began chuckling, as Kanawha tactfully put him off for a later time.  So, we all made our way to the home, meeting several of our friends from the group of volunteers as we arrived.

It was truly a fantastic time, and it really brought out the true spirit of the holiday.  James, of course, was as spiritless as ever, but we managed to ignore him.  The property had been redesigned to house four separate homes, each being able to take in eight children a piece.  So far, there were 12 children who were taken off the streets, and I could never have been more thankful.

There was a hoard of gifts for them all, and it was such a wonderful feeling to know they were receiving not only things they needed, but some of the things they had wanted for God only knows how long.  I still wished these boys would have come to live with us at the hotel -- for we had more than enough room -- but that was not meant to be.  At least I could take comfort in knowing that in Cole's staff, they had excellent care. 

Blade was beaming as the kids opened all of their gifts.  He had worked every day at the home since it had opened, and the rapport he had developed with those boys was amazing. 

"You know, you have every reason to feel proud, Sugar."  Cole grinned, sliding her arm around Blade's back.  "If it weren't for you, this would not have been possible."

Blade simply blushed.  A moment later, he pulled me close to him in a firm hug.  "I'm really glad you are better, Shaft."  He looked at me, an unmistakable smirk upon his face.  "Yeah, I love you, if you haven't figured it out by now."

I grinned back at him.  "I love you, too, Blade.  God only knows how happy I am to be alive and well."

We continued watching the children, when Blade leaned over and asked, "Who's the ass?"  He, of course, was referring to James.

Ethan chuckled.  "That would be my father."

Blade gave him a strong hug.  "Sorry 'bout your luck, Eth."

"You and me both, kid."  Ethan laughed.  "And if you were wondering, he gets worse.  He is on his better behavior, because Moma chewed him out.  That, and Aisa said he would remove him from the house if he didn't keep quiet." 

Blade laughed at hearing the part about Aisa.  Around that time, James shot Ethan and I another of his daggered glares and Blade sent back his way a defiant scowl.  Blade then wrapped Ethan and me into his protective arms.  "I don't like the way he keeps looking at you guys.  I swear, if he tries anything, I will beat his ass."

I couldn't help but marvel at how similar Blade's and Kanawha's attitudes were at times.  Ethan seemed to share this idea as he shook with giggles.  "Blade, buddy, thanks.  But, I think the line at taking shots at my father starts with Hela.  The rest of the family falls somewhere in between."

Blade scoffed.  "Well, there won't be much of him left, once Hela has her turn.  Still, I'm there if he starts anything."

After an otherwise wonderful morning at the home, we headed back to our family haven.  Blade and Dakota, as well as Valerie and her family joined us.  Chance, Aisa, and Jonah took our three canine companions out in the back yard and then fed them breakfast.  Titan protectively guarded his food bowl, growling if Domino or Chips even glanced its way.  Like I said, he would definitely live up to the name.

After everyone had a light snack, we gathered in the living room to exchange gifts.  Myra was overwhelmed when she opened the tennis bracelet Blade had given her, rewarding him with a firm kiss on the cheek.  Red-faced, he opened the gift from her, which contained a few football video games.

"It was my understanding that you have been wanting these for some time."  She smiled playfully.

Blade gushed bashfully in response.  "Forever, it seems.  Thanks"  Nervously, he smiled at her, gathering his courage to look her in the eye.  "Maybe you might want to play them with me sometime?"

Myra gave a thankful glance to Thomas and Aisa, who simply grinned at each other.  She had been a nervous wreck trying to find Blade a gift, seeking out Aisa's advice.  With the prices of the games, she had become dismayed. 

Though Myra was thankful for all Mic and Thomas had done for her and her brothers, she had still felt like a burden to them.  Thomas, however, had a long talk with her.  By the time he was finished, Myra knew without a doubt that Thomas and Mic regarded her as their daughter.  To ease her mind somewhat further about the money, Thomas said he was giving her an advance on her allowance.

"You're on."  She smiled, with a confident edge in her voice.  "I just hope your male pride can take getting whipped by a girl."  The way Blade blushed let us all know he had already been whipped by the very presence of Myra.

"I think you have spent way too much time with my sister."  Ethan laughed, as Jena threw an accent pillow at him.

Personally, I enjoyed watching the budding love take place between Blade and Myra.  It seemed to renew my beliefs that life was more about the quality of interactions you shared with those you loved more than it was about amassing things or money.  With Chance and Aisa, I found even more confirmation.

Aisa turned to Chance, pulling a small gift from his pocket.  "Angel, this is for you.  I hope you like it."  He smiled lovingly. 

As Chance opened his gift, he kissed Aisa strongly, then held out his hand.

"It changes colors like your eyes, Angel... from blue to green." Aisa grinned, as he slipped the iridescent cobalt ring on his boyfriend's finger.  "As soon as I saw it, I thought of you."

"I's really love it, Aisa!"  Chance beamed, admiring the gift.

"One day, I will replace it with a wedding ring."  Aisa smiled.

"You's better."  Chance giggled as he presented Aisa with a gift.  "I's sure hope you's like this 'n."  He fidgeted nervously.  "I's kinda had Pete wrap it for me.  You knows how me n' that ol' tape gets along."  He laughed.

Aisa opened the box to find a silver bracelet with a light blue Chinese symbol etched into it.  " 'At there's 'posed to mean faith."  Chance smiled.

After putting it on, Aisa gave Chance a gentle kiss.  "I love it, Angel, but not nearly as much as I love you."

Allen had given Cole a beautiful pendant, and she had given him a very nice watch.  Jew and Jena had given Nathan several gifts, but the biggest was a laptop computer with sound recording software. Instead of getting one another gifts, they chose to put that money towards Nathan.  Jew's mom and dad had also gone in on the purchase of the laptop, quite a big percentage I would imagine.  Jew's parents were planning to join us for New Year's.  His musical talents would not be wasted, not while they were his parents. 

Ethan and I had gotten everyone paintball guns.  They were not the best, but they would be enough to have a great deal of fun.  Aside from clothes for each of our sons, we gave Dwayne the class ring he had picked out, while Carter, Mark, and Jonah received DVD's and games that they each had wanted.  The boys had bought each other various CD's and books.  Carter had given Dakota a nice necklace, while Dakota had given him a really nice MP3 player.

Mic and family had given Thomas a new watch, while he and family had given her a mother's ring.  Yeah, that was a great gift, I thought.  Patrick and Ryan received a slew of toys and clothes, while Myra unwrapped the rotor tool she had liked.  Myra loved carving and woodworking, and she was actually quite talented.  She also received a ton of different bits and a gift certificate so she could pick out what materials she wanted for her carving.

Kanawha and Kal had bought Aisa and Chance several sports games, CD's, and clothes.  Brad received clothes, some comic books he wanted, and educational games and software to help him learn to read.  Pete, aside from clothes and books, received a telescope and a guitar.  I was going to give Pete guitar lessons, just as Kanawha and Cole were giving Nathan, Jonah, and Carter piano lessons.  For Derek, the six of them had put together a photo album.  They had also purchased him a new Palm, but it was the photo album and the gift we would all later receive from the children that captivated him so much.  Aisa and Chance had gotten Pete and Brad ID bracelets that matched the ones they had bought for their fathers' birthday.  They were both pleasantly surprised to find that Brad and Pete had bought them the same ID bracelets.  Bradley, Peter, Chance, or Eric, each boy's first name, was inscribed on his individual bracelet.  

Blade was completely speechless when the Kal and Kanawha's sons gave him an ID bracelet to match theirs, telling him he was a brother as far as they were concerned.  Kanawha and Kal gave Blade tickets to a few upcoming hockey games and a nice jersey.  Our little family presented him with a new leather jacket, as his other one had been ruined by smoke from the fire. Cole and Allen, Jena and Jew, Hela, and Roe had gone together and paid for Blade to attend a two week football camp during the summer. 

The four of us smaller families had put money together on gifts for Nana, Grams, Roe, and Hela.  We gave Nana and Grams nice-sized gift certificates to the craft and art stores, so that they could get whatever supplies they wanted to pursue their hobbies.  For Hela, we purchased a professional set of cookware and cutlery.  Roe received a new DVD player for his room and a gift certificate for the adult movie store he frequented.  We also went in on an exercise bike and a treadmill, to add to the home gym Kanawha had put together, as family gifts.  Yep, we were all vowing to keep in better shape for the new year.

Our smaller family, along with Jena, Jew, and Nathan, had purchased Moma Jean a pendant lined with each of our birthstones.  She was thrilled by the gift, asking Mark to help her put it on.  She had gotten the six of us matching sweaters, which we all liked and decided to wear for the day.  Jena, Jew, and Nathan received matching fleece pullovers, which they seemed to like as well.  We thanked her repeatedly for the gifts, and James, too, though he ignored us.  We had all bought him a DVD collection of John Wayne movies, which was one of his favorite actors.  He, however, sat smugly in one of the chairs, refusing to open anything or even speak to any of us.  Whether or not he opened them, we decided we did not care.  At least, we had made the gesture.

Our smaller family, along with Cole and Allen, had purchased my Mom the same kind of pendant as we did for Moma Jean.  For my father, it was a nice set of reference books he could use when preparing his sermons.  Yeah, I was a preacher's son, yet Mom and Dad both loved Ethan and the boys.  My parents held the philosophy that God loved us all, whether we were straight, gay, or somewhere in between.  They had been simply thrilled the day Cole explained that she was in love with Allen, and liked the idea that he was an assistant pastor.  But, Mom and Dad wanted to make certain that Allen did not hold condemning beliefs towards gays.  When Cole explained that Allen was the assistant pastor of our church, they were relieved, giving Cole their blessings.  They gave our sons a set of encyclopedias to use in their school studies, along with gift certificates to the movie cinema.  Ethan and I received a beautiful painting for our bedroom, along with a pair of matching jackets.  Cole received a few books relating to music theory, as well as a rather stunning bracelet.  Allen received a nice leather jacket and a personalized day planner.

The children then presented their gifts.  First, they gave Hela a special gift, saying it was a long overdue reward for all her fabulous meals.  She was in tears when she read the gift tag, which was made out to Moma Hela.  There was truth in those words, for Hela regarded them all as her own.  I guess it touched home for her when she realized that those sentiments were shared by all of the children.  They had given her a nice gift set of her favorite perfume, along with a plaque they had made which said ' Hela's Kitchen'.  Of course, Hela thanked them all with bear hugs and kisses, much to the children's delight.

All of us adults were then instructed to open the next gifts from the children together.  We were all moved to tears as we viewed the contents of the packages.  It was a framed portrait of all of the children that were dear to us:  Our sons -- Jonah, Mark, Dwayne, and Carter, along with Dakota and Kara (Dwayne's cheerleader girlfriend); Kal and Kanawha's sons -- Aisa, Chance, Pete, and Brad; Mic and Thomas' brood -- Myra along with Blade, Patrick, and Ryan;  Jena and Jew's son -- Nathan; Valerie and Ed's son -- Alex along with Kevin;  Jake and TJ, Wyatt, Aaron and Cindy, Juan, Bobby, and the rest of our friends from the group were also in the picture; finally, each of the twelve boys from the home were smiling brightly in that photograph.  It was truly a treasure beyond any price, the difference those children had made in our lives. 

Hela held her portrait to her chest, expressing verbally what each of us adults was feeling.  "Oh, babies.  This is the best gift I believe I have ever opened."  She smiled at each one of them tenderly.  "I will cherish this forever, just as I will each one of you."

Valerie hugged Kal and Kanawha tightly, letting out a gentle sigh.  "See how much your family has grown already?  And, you are only getting started, my boys."  Then, she kissed them both on the cheeks.  "I just thank the good Lord that the four of us are counted among them."

We had all received many nice gifts, but for some reason, they paled in comparison to the gift of our children.  Ethan stroked the picture with his fingers, as tears fell from both our cheeks.  "Shaft, we have been so blessed.  I just feel..."  He sighed.

"I know, Baby."  I said, wrapping him in my arms.  We shared a tender moment that would all to quickly be ruined.

"OH, PLEASE!"  James Lafferty bellowed at Ethan and I.  "It's hard enough to endure being here without you two blatantly doing that despicable stuff!"

That's when the shouting match began.  Ethan and James went at it head to head.  There was not one person there who was not ready to pound the living daylights out of that Ass of a man, including Moma Jean.  I had to calm our sons and Blade to not advance on James several times.

"J-j-just leave him alone!"  Yelled an exacerbated Nathan, as tears of rage and anguish flowed down his cheeks. 

"See what you've done, Father!"  Jena screamed, clutching her son in a protective hug.  To say that Jena and Jew were outraged would be a drastic understatement, as it would be for all of us, honestly.  But, nothing could have prepared anyone for what followed.

"Oh, like I give a damn about hurting some FAGGOT WHORE'S feelings!"  James bit angrily.  Then, he looked at the rest of us.  "Nor do I care what any of this GUTTER TRASH you have piled into your home thinks."  Then, he glared at Ethan and me.  "And, most certainly, I could care less what that handicapped deviant you whore yourself out to has to say."

Everyone was stunned for a moment, but started to move towards James.  Hela, as you might guess, was leading the pack.  I didn't even attempt to hold the boys back, as I was ready to strike out myself.  Ethan, however, stopped everyone dead in their tracks.  It was not a reassurance that it was alright or anything of that nature.  It was because Ethan had simply had enough and decided to handle the matter himself.

It was almost like time were in slow motion as we watched Ethan draw back and jack-slap James Lafferty with 26 years of pent-up furry.  "How dare you!"  Ethan spat.  "I have stood by and let you run over me for far too long, Mr. Lafferty.  All the while, you would tell me to mind my place."  Ethan gave him a cold stare.  "In case you haven't noticed, this is MY home, not yours, so YOU will be the one to mind YOUR place while you are in it!"

James fumed and was ready to start yelling when Ethan cut him off.  "You want to take pot-shots at me?  Fine!  Bring them on.  I honestly do not care in the least what you think of me.  But, you will not insult my lover, my sons, or anyone else in my family.  Do I make myself clear, Mr. Lafferty?" 

Then, Ethan turned to his mother.  "Moma, I am really sorry.  You know I love you, but I cannot take this man any longer.  I have tried for years, but nothing ever changes.  If we ever make amends, the next move will be on his part.  I wash my hands of him."  As she held him in her arms, he said softly, "You are more than welcome to stay, Moma, but he has to leave."

"I know, son, and I am so sorry you have such a louse for a father."  Moma Jean sighed, unable to hold back her tears.

Ethan walked to the front door and opened it.  "Mr. Lafferty, please leave."  Ethan stated calmly.  James seemed to be shocked by Ethan's boldness, yet he made no effort to move.  "Aisa, will you please escort Mr. Lafferty out." 

We all knew how hard this was for Ethan, far worse than it had been for Jena or Moma Jean, really.  At least, that is how I saw it.  Yeah, I may have had somewhat of a biased view, but it just seemed to me that everything hit my darling Ethan the hardest. 

Aisa guided James to the door and out onto the porch.  "You really should have listened."  Aisa said sadly.  Then, he turned and walked back into the house.

Moma Jean went out on the porch and talked with James, while the rest of us comforted our children.  As odd as it may seem, there was far less tension in the air at that point.  James' words had stung, but his presence had been far more torturous.  Nathan seemed the most affected, and as Ethan tried to make his apologies, Nathan latched onto Ethan in deep, painful sobs.

"I'm so sorry, buddy."  Ethan soothed.  "Just remember, James Lafferty does not speak for any of us here.  We all love you, Nathan."  He stroked Nathan's head and neck gently.  "I know what he said hurt, buddy, but don't put any stock into what that bitter bigot thinks or says.  You are a wonderful young man, and we are blessed to have you in our family."

Nathan eventually looked Ethan in the eyes, as Ethan took this opportunity to kiss his cheek.  "Thank you for standing up for me.  I hate that he lashed out at you because of it, but I appreciate what you did all the same."

"I-i-it's OK."  Nathan sighed.  "Y-y-you're just... I l-love you."

"I know, buddy.  I love you, too."  Ethan replied softly, gently swaying with Nathan in his arms.

Moma Jean came back into the house, apologizing to everyone.  She explained that she was going to stay with us for a few days before taking the bus back home.  She then went to Ethan and Nathan, holding them both in her arms, sobbing over and over how sorry she was.

Everyone eventually tried to resume the day, choosing to push James' actions from their minds.  He was definitely not worth ruining our Christmas over.  After a prayer, in which Cole led us, things became much more peaceful.  Then, with their playful banter, Hela and Roe did much to lighten the air, giving us something to laugh about.

I wrapped my arms around Ethan, planting a firm kiss into the side of his neck.  "You were so brave."  I softly stated.  "No one has ever really stood up for me quite the way you did, Ethan, and I don't know how to even begin to thank you."

"It was hardly anything."  Ethan blushed.  "Besides, he was being an ass to everyone.  I guess I just lost my temper."  Then, he turned to me, a serious expression across his lovely face.  "I'm just sorry he said those awful things to everyone, especially you and Nathan."

I gave him a reassuring hug.  "It wasn't your fault, Honey.  At least, you know you tried."  I soothed.  Then, I returned to what I had been saying before, not wanting to let the subject die until he understood how much his actions had meant to me.  "And, Baby, it was truly amazing, let me tell you.  You were, well, like my knight in shining armor or something."  I mused softly.  "It just made me feel safe, I guess, knowing you loved me so much.  I knew in that moment, nothing would ever truly harm me again, not as long as you are with me to face things."

Ethan kissed me softly.  Thinking about what I had said, he began to laugh.  "I do love you, Shaft, more than life itself.  But, let's be honest.  I am hardly anyone's knight."

"You've been mine for our whole lives, Ethan."  Jena softly stated, as tears threatened to flow.  "You've always been the one to help me pick up the pieces."

"Sis, I am hardly..."  Ethan started, but Jena interrupted him.

"Well, it is how I have always thought of you, Ethan."  Then, she smiled, kissing me on the cheek.  "I'm just glad you have found someone who sees you in that same way."

I kissed Ethan's neck as I scrubbed his back.  Moving my mouth to his earlobe, I softly stated the feelings of my heart.  "Like it or not, you are my champion, Ethan.  You are my knight, and there is nothing you can say to change how I feel about it."  I continued kissing his ear and neck as I encased him further in my arms, starting to clean his chest with gentle strokes. 

Ethan responded by grinding himself back into me, causing an immediate reaction.  He reached around and stroked me a few times.  "Then, I guess that makes you my noble steed."  He laughed.  He leaned back, turning his head to kiss my neck.  "I know I'd ride you into battle any day." He snickered, as his eyebrows raised and lowered in that comical way of his.

"Well, are we going to join our sons, or do you want to..."  I started softly, still nibbling his ear as he continued stroking me.

"We really should join our sons, like I know we both want to do.  But, afterwards, you and I have some unfinished business."  Ethan smiled.

We finished our shower and made it to the movie room at around 20 minutes before midnight.  The boys gave us surprised looks, but quickly came over to hug us.

"I figured you would be, well, busy for a while yet."  Mark smirked.  He had such a playfulness about him, bringing out that same condition in everyone, especially Carter and Ethan.

"Well, we decided to take a breather and join our sons."  Ethan laughed.

Jonah kissed us both on the cheek.  "Honestly, I'm kinda glad you did.  It wouldn't be the same without you being with us."  His bright blue eyes twinkled as he brushed his light brown bangs to the side.  "I, for one, missed you both."

I wrapped my arms securely around Jonah, our only son who was shorter than his fathers, though that was only by less than an inch.  Jonah was a little skittish from time to time, but that was because of the abuse he had suffered before he ran away.  I knew this was one of those times when he needed reassurance.  I also felt a tugging in my heart.  Although he really wanted Ethan and I to be with him this evening, as I was realizing he was again feeling insecure, Jonah had put on a brave face.  Jonah did this so Ethan and I would set aside the time we had been craving for just the two of us.

"We were missing you guys, too."  I grinned.  "We both appreciated that you understood our desire for alone time, but we are a family, after all." 

I then leaned in and whispered to Jonah.  "You know, Son, if you ever miss us or need to be with us, don't hesitate or be afraid to say so.  Your Da and I want to be there for you, anytime we can.  That is the best part about being your fathers, Jonah. We get to be the one's to help you feel safe."  I kissed his forehead as he clung to me tightly.  "I promise you, Son, no one will ever hurt you again, not like before."

"Thanks, Pa."  He sighed, still holding to me with all of his might.  "I love you.  I just hope you both know it."

I pulled his head back from my shoulder to look him in the eyes.  "Of course we do, Son.  And, we love you, too.  Nothing will ever change that.  Believe me.  We will love you forever."  That seemed to calm him, as his vice-grip hug began to loosen a little.

Carter, our tallest son, giggled as he wrapped us in his arms.  "Dwayne and I still think you exhausted yourselves, but that's OK.  We're still glad you are here to ring in the New Year."

Dwayne blushed as he chided Carter.  "Do you have to blurt out everything?"

Ethan reached for Dwayne, pulling him into a gentle hug.  "Honestly, we did, at least, for a while."  Ethan snickered softly.  "But seriously
, we decided we would rather be out here with our sons.  The four of you each bring so much to our lives, and you've surely made this year memorable to the both of us.  I'm just glad we will have many, many more to come as a family."

"I think that says it for all of us, Honey."  I smiled, taking Ethan's hand.

Aisa and Chance quickly stole the opportunity to whisk Ethan and me into a firm hug.  "We's couldn't start off this ol' year without our best friends bein' here with us, you know."  Chance sighed, hugging me tightly.  "I's sure does love you both."

"My feelings exactly, Angel."  Aisa smiled, kissing Ethan and I on our foreheads. 

We mingled with the family until that midnight moment.  Then, celebration rang out through the house.  Afterwards, we sat around snacking and enjoying one another's company, way into the early morning hours.  Jonah would sit on Ethan's or my lap when he felt the need for reassurance, but otherwise, he bantered around with his brothers and cousins, as they lovingly referred to one another. 

As we sat there, I began recounting the year.  It had greatly improved the day I met my Ethan.  Along the way, our family grew, and I was thankful for every new member.  Of course, Aisa and Chance had a very special place in my heart.  Then, four lovely boys entered our lives, becoming our sons.  That, as I reminisced, made for a spectacular year.  I found myself greatly anticipating the coming year, as well as the rest of our lives together.


It seemed like to me as soon as 'at new year was just startin', we's back at that ol' school.  Course, I reckon that's how it was for all us kids.  It was kinda hard gettin' back at all that studyin' n' stuff, but we was sure havin' lots of practice at it.  All 'em teachers was givin' us lots of homework to do, sayin' we didn't have us much time 'fore we was gonna be takin' us 'em finals.  They was these big ol' tests we's had to pass 'fore we got us credit for 'em classes we's takin'.  As you might reckon, I's sweatin' me some bullets over havin' to take 'em ol' tests.

My big ol' angel thought I was bein' silly, though, cause he kept laughin' at me bein' all nervous n' all.  "Honestly, Angel, you know all of the material, so I don't see the big deal.  You have been kicking butt all year in every class.  Why stress out over a few small tests?"  Aisa said to me, tryin' real hard to make me feel better 'bout ever'thin'.

"Well, I reckon it's cause 'em ain't no little tests."  I's said to 'im.  " 'Ese is gonna be 'em big, long tests like I had to take when I's tryin' to get in 'at school 'fore.  You's know how nervous n' all I's got 'bout that."

He just hugged me up all tight like, rubbin' my back n' all.  "And look how well you did on them, Angel.  Really, you are so much smarter than you seem to realize."  He lifted my face up, lookin' at me with 'em lovin' blue eyes of his n' I's meltin' like ice at the sight of 'em.  Then, he kissed me all soft like.  "Have a little faith in yourself, Chance.  I know you will do just fine."

Aisa done knowed he had me when he said all that, cause he knowed all 'bout havin' faith.  I had to smile at 'im, even if I's still just a little nervous.  "I knows you's right n' all, Aisa.  I's gonna try n' quit 'at ol' worryin' so much.  I promise ya." I told 'im, kissin' 'im again.

"Good."  He smiled at me.  "You's gonna look all old n' stuff 'fore you's even growed up if'n's you don't."  He laughed, throwin' up somethin' I said to 'im 'fore, right smack in my face.  He was even sayin' it just like I's said it to 'im, makin' me laugh real big like.

"You's wouldn't be tryin' to make fun of me, now would ya."  I giggled.

"Not ever, Angel."  He smiled, tracin' my face real easy with his fingers.  "I'm just trying to remind you how smart and insightful you are." 

I knowed then I's just bein' silly, so I closed up my book n' put it away.  "You's right, Aisa.  I done knows this stuff.  What say we's go n' visit with all 'em boys down the hall?  We ain't hardly got to spend no time with 'em lately, we's all been studyin' so much."

Aisa smiled real big at me.  "Angel, that sounds like fun.  Let's get Pete and Brad, first, though."

So, we's went into the study, where our brothers was a sittin' with Dad n' Daddy.  They's all workin' with Brad on readin', n' I's all smilin' when I heard 'im.  I's so proud of 'im, cause Brad was doin' lots better.  Course, he still had 'im lots to learn n' all, but he was readin' way better n' he had been.

"You's doin' so good!"  I said to Brad, huggin' 'im all tight like when he was finished readin'.  "I reckon you's gonna be readin' way better n' any of us 'fore too much longer."  I bragged on 'im.

He got this big smile on his face then, n' I knowed he was feelin' better 'bout ever'thin'.  "Thanks, Chance."  He laughed.  Then, his smile got even bigger.  "Say, are you finished studying for tonight?"

"I reckon we is."  I laughed.  "We's wantin' to see if you all wanted to go visit all 'em boys down the hall with us."

"Yeah, I will."  Little ol' Pete said.  He was kinda quiet like most of the time, but I figured me n' Aisa might get him out of that 'fore too long.

"Do you guys think you might wanna read comics with me later?"  Brad asked us, all 'cited like.

"You know it, little brother."  Aisa smiled at 'im.  Then, he looked at our dads.  "You guys coming with us?"

"Watch television or read comic books with our sons... Hmm... now that is a tough choice.  What do you think, Love."  Dad said, tryin' to be all funny.

"It looks like we will be hitting the comic books."  Daddy laughed, cause poor ol' Brad was all but beggin' 'im to say yes with 'em pleadin' green eyes of his.  "Why don't you and I go get them, and we will meet everyone else in the movie room."  Daddy said, grabbin' Brad up into 'em big ol' arms of his.

"See you guys in a minute."  Brad laughed as Daddy took off real fast like, carryin' 'im up to his room.

'At Brad was real into 'em super heroes n' ninja's n' stuff he seen in 'em ol' comics.  Even when we was still on the streets, ol' Brad would use some of his beggin' money to buy him one of 'em books.  Most of the time he was just lookin' at 'em pictures, but he'd ask one of us to read 'em with 'im ever' once in a while. 

Daddy n' Nana had done up Brad's room in 'em heroes.  They's all over 'em walls.  I kinda liked his room, though I reckon I's liked mine n' Aisa's baseball stuff better. 

Pete was into 'at space stuff, 'em stars n' planets n' all that.  He also liked music quite a bit.  Daddy n' Nana did his room up with planets painted on his walls.  On the ceilin', there was all kinda stars that glowed in the dark when you turned the lights off.  I thought that was real neat, cause it felt like you's sleepin' outside or somethin' when you's lookin' at 'em.  Pete had a bunch of 'em rockets n' shuttles  hangin' from the ceilin' too.  They wasn't real rockets or shuttles, cause those 'd be way too big to be hangin' from his ceilin'.  No, they's just toys is all.  He's had 'im some posters of 'em ol' rock groups on his walls too.

"Well, let's go see who wants to join us."  Dad smiled, wrappin' his arms 'round me n' Aisa while Aisa was carryin' Pete.   Then, he winked at me.  "I vote Pete gets to ask everyone this time."

Pete looked kinda nervous, but we put 'im at ease real quick like.  "Yeah, I think Pete will do a fantastic job."  Aisa grinned at 'im.

"Ain't not one of 'em fella's gonna be able to tell ol' Pete no, no how.  Alls he's gotta do is flash 'em at big ol' smile of his n' they's gonna give right in to whatever he's a wantin' 'em to do."  I said, cause I knowed it was true.  Ol' Pete was a real cute little fella, n' he had 'im a pretty smile that was awful hard to say no to.  Then, I's started laughin' 'bout what I's thinkin'.  "You know Aisa, we's oughta get Pete to ask 'em teachers not to be givin' us so much of 'at homework."

Dad started ticklin' me.  "I don't think you are going to use your brother's cute looks to get out of any school work, so wipe that thought from your mind."

We's just laughed 'bout that n' all whiles we walked on down the hall.  When we got to Carter n' Dwayne's room, Pete was kinda scared like. He took him a big ol' breath 'fore he walked up to the door, turnin' to look at us 'fore he started knocking.  You could barely hear him rappin' on 'at door, but he was real 'prised when he heard Carter call out, "Come on in, Pete."  I reckon they's all had real good hearin' n' knowed by it bein' so quiet like of a knock it had to be Pete.

Pete was shakin' when he opened up the door.  He looked at 'em for a real long time 'fore he spoke.  "You guys want to hang out?"

He said it like he was almost whisperin'.  I's kinda hopin' he'd be a bit louder n' 'at, but I reckon he was still just too shy.  Aisa  rubbed my hand real easy, lettin' me know he thought it would be alright.

"We were maybe going to read comics with Brad, later, if you want to join us."  Pete said, lookin' at all 'em boys faces.

Mark come over n' picked Pete right up off the ground, huggin' 'im up real tight.  "Sure thing, Pete."

Mark was kinda pretty, really.  I wasn't wantin' 'im or nothin' like that, honest.  I loved my Aisa n' knowed he was the only one for me.  But I guess I still thought Mark was pretty n' I reckon it 's alright for me to say so.  He had real light tan lookin' hair n' big brown eyes that kinda twinkled when he was smilin'.  Him n' Aisa was 'bout the same size, I guess, but Mark was just a tiny bit skinnier.  He was 'bout as dark as Ethan was, only Mark had 'im some freckles on his nose n' cheeks.

Pete looked like he was not so nervous once Mark was holdin' 'im n' Mark giggled 'bout that.  "You know, anytime you wanna hang out, all you have to do is ask.  We're never to busy for you, Pete."

That brought a big ol' smile on Pete's face, causin' me n' Aisa n' Dad to smile too.  I saw that Dwayne was huggin' up on Jonah n' figured he was bein' kinda scared again.  So's when they come out in the hall, me n' Aisa hugged 'em real good.  Dad put his arm 'round Carter as we walked down the hall to the movie room.

"Why don't you see if your dads want to join us?"  Dad asked 'im n' Carter just smiled n' went on over to their room.

We was just sprawlin' out in the floor when Shaft n' Ethan come in with Carter.  They was smilin' at the sight of us all.

"We didn't interrupt anything, did we?"  Dad asked, laughin' to hi'self a little.

"No.  We were just cleaning out our closet."  Shaft giggled.  "I'm going to install that organizer Hela gave us."

"And, I'm only stupid-vising."  Ethan laughed.  We all thought that was funny, cause of how bad Ethan was with usin' tools n' stuff.

Shaft kissed ol' Ethan on the neck.  "Keeping me company is an important job, Honey, and you do it better than anyone."

"You's guys ain't gonna get nothin' done if you's keep thinkin' like that."  I laughed.

"It's nice to see you, too, smart ass."  Ethan joked while he come n' sit down 'side me.  I hugged 'im up real quick like.  "So, we're going to read comic books, huh?"

"Yep.  Poor ol' Brad was so 'cited over it."  I laughed.  "I reckon we just can't say no to 'im."

"Well, as long as you do those voices of yours, it should prove to be entertaining."  Ethan giggled.

"You n' Shaft is gonna act 'em out with us, ain't ya?"  I asked 'im, hopin' he would say yes.  The two of 'em just kinda made it more fun, really.

Ethan just laughed again.  "As long as you are that wolf guy!  Lord, you do that one so well, Chance.  I think that one is my favorite."

I just shook my head agreein' with 'im.  I liked bein' that ol' wolf guy, cause I got to howl n' stuff.  Plus, I got to sniff 'round on Aisa's neck, cause he was always the guy who changed what he looked like n' all that.

'Bout that time, Daddy come in carryin' Brad.  Nathan was right behind 'em, but I could tell he had been up in his room cryin' again.  Ethan looked real sad at 'im n' I felt bad for Ethan too.  Poor ol' Nathan was always havin' nightmares n' stuff, but they'd been lots worse since Ethan n' Jena's dad had said what he did.  I reckon Nathan was still feelin' like he wasn't worth nothin' too, even though we all tried to tell 'im how much we loved 'im n' all.

As soon as Nathan sat down, Pete was on his lap, huggin' 'im real tight like.  Jonah scooted over n' rested his head in Pete's lap while Nathan hugged on Pete n' pet on  Jonah's chest all easy like. 

Brad got like that too, sometimes.  He could be all laughin' n' havin' fun one minute.  Then, next thing you knowed, he was all sad like, thinkin' he wasn't worth nothin' to nobody.  I had me a real sad thought just then.  I wondered if when Brad was all laughin' on the outside if he was still feelin' like a nobody on the inside.

Daddy set Brad down to his feet n' he went straight over to Nathan.  He got down on his knees behind 'im n' wrapped his arms round Nathan's neck.  "It's gonna be fine, Nathan."  He said all easy like.

I reckon the four of 'em knowed each other real well, 'least so on the inside.  They was all goin' through the same thing really, only it was for different reasons.  Still, they was needin' lots of help n' even more love.

Pete was always picked on 'fore, cause he was so small n' all.  I guessed that was what made him feel like he was small inside too.  Brad just didn't have him no confidence.  He hid it real good sometimes, but I knowed he didn't see him bein' much of a person.  Jonah had been beat on real bad at home, n' he got hurt in one of 'em homes once they took 'im away from his parents.  He'd talk 'bout it like it wasn't no big deal or nothin', but I knowed it bothered 'im still yet. 

And, poor ol' Nathan, he had a terrible time at home.  Then, when he run away, he ended up lettin' fella's do stuff to his body n' all so's he could have some money to get food n' stuff with.  The saddest part was, if he hadn't been doin' what he was doin', we would've starved some of 'em times. 

See, I knowed Nathan for a while, just like Brad n' Jonah.  It was hard findin' food sometimes, 'specially in the winter.  But, Nathan made sure we's had us somethin' to eat.  I's couldn't help myself, but I's started cryin' when I thought 'bout that.

Aisa pulled me up on his ol' comfy lap, kissin' my cheek all easy like.  "Don't worry, Angel.  We will get through to them.  Just have faith."  My big ol' angel said real quiet like in my ear.  "Just hope for them, like you did for me.  Everything will turn out just fine, you just wait and see."

With Aisa bein' so sure 'bout it, I just let all I's feelin' go.  He just rocked me back and forth like on his lap whiles I finished cryin'.  He was kinda like one of 'em ladders or somethin', cause anytime I thought I was gonna fall, he was right there under my feet holdin' me up.  I's just awful glad I had me my Aisa.  I don't think I'd'a had me much of no kinda life without 'im, that was for sure.

Jew n' Jena come in just about then, and I knowed by their red eyes they'd been talkin' with Nathan.  Daddy smiled at 'em both, n' I think they knowed it would be better when he did that.

"So, which one are we going to do first?"  Daddy asked, lookin' at Brad since he loved doin' this so much.

  Brad was real 'cited durin' the whole thing n' I guess that made us all get into actin' out 'em heroes.  First, we would take turns readin' the story in 'em.  Nathan could read real good, but talkin' out loud  n' sayin' what words he's readin' was a real problem for 'im.  I guessed though that doin' these comics like we did was good for Nathan too.  Brad needed lots of help when it was his turn to read, but we all helped 'im, actin' like it wasn't a big deal cause he was havin' trouble.   Then, we acted out 'em stories. 

Other n' bein' 'at wolf guy, my favorite was when Jew and Dad was 'em ninja guys, cause they did all that fightin' stuff real good.  They'd go spinin' n' jumpin' n' choppin' real fast like, n' I just knowed I's gonna keep learnin' till I could do all 'at stuff like they's doin' it.  Course, they never really hurt one 'nother or nothin' like that.

 I's also liked when Jena n' Daddy was 'em evil guys tryin' to take over ever'thin'.  They was both real good at bein' 'em guys.  Plus, Daddy would pick us boys up n' wrestle us all 'round the place!  Course, Carter n' Dwayne got sidetracked, wrestlin' each other silly.  They both laughed the whole time, though.

Anyways, we went to bed that night feelin' real good that Brad had 'im a nice time.  He's happy, so I guess that made us happy.  Me n' Aisa talked for a real long time that night 'bout 'em four boys needin' so much help.  We'd kiss an awful lot in between talkin', but we was both tryin' to figure out what we could do for our brothers n' our cousins.  We loved 'em boys n' they was our family.  We just wanted 'em to have the best lives they could, really.

After school the next day, Aisa had 'im an idea.  I's told ya 'fore how smart my Aisa is, but his idea was one of the best one's I reckon he'd had.  He was talkin' with Brad 'bout em ol' comics, n' somehow they'd got to talkin' 'bout what Brad thought would happen in the next one of 'em books.  Me n' Pete was playin' checkers while Daddy n' Dad was snugglin' on the couch.  All of us was in our study, if'n's you's wonderin'.   Anyways, Brad started tellin' this great big ol' story 'bout all 'em guys in 'em books.  We's all kinda stopped what we was doin' just listenin' to 'im.  One thing's for sure, Brad was real good at tellin' stories.   He wasn't no kinda liar or nothin' like that, he was just good at makin' up n' tellin' 'em stories.

Then, 'im n' Aisa started talkin' 'bout heroes Brad had drawed out on some paper.  They was ones he'd made up n' all.  Then, Aisa 'sided 'im n' Brad was gonna make 'em a comic book.  They worked on it ever' day for a long time.  Aisa would sit at that ol' 'puter typin' away while Brad would make up 'em stories.  Then, they printed 'em out n' read through 'em together.

Daddy let 'em use his draftin' table, settin' it up in the room between Brad n' Pete's upstairs.  Both their rooms opened up to it, n' in that room was how they got to their bathroom.  Roe had put an ol' table in there too, so's they had 'em a place to work on their readin' n' stuff Jena n' Jew give 'em to do.  Then, Daddy showed 'em how to use these funny lookin' drawin' things.  He asked Nana if she'd help Brad with his drawin' n' stuff, so they's practiced drawin' an awful lot.

Anyways, Brad n' Aisa worked real hard drawin' out 'em little pictures n' stuff.  Then, he had Brad write in all the words to the story, just like in 'em comic books.  Once they's finished, Nana taught 'em how to use this weird ol' pen you had to dip in this ink stuff to use.  With that stuff, they's outlined n' colored in 'em pictures.  Finally, they's finished with their first comic book!

They brought it down to the movie room to show ever'body once it was finished.  I gotta say it was the biggest comic I's ever seen, but I reckon that was cause they used 'em real big pieces of paper Nana n' Daddy had give 'em.  So, we's all read it together.

I don't think a one of us knowed what to say, really.  Even though they's super heroes doin' battle n' stuff, lots of the story was like things we'd done or things I 'membered Brad tellin' me 'bout when we's on 'em streets.  And, all of 'em heroes was us.  The whole family's in 'at book somewheres.  The one guy they's all helpin' I knowed was really Brad.  Course, Dad n' Daddy n' Aisa were the heroes that did most of the stuff, but we's all in there.   At the end of it, Brad's guy was safe n' become a super hero just like ever'body else.

That got me to thinkin' back to a few times when Aisa would come to bed n' I knowed he'd been cryin'.  I's all worried 'bout 'im, but he kept tellin' me ever'thin' was fine.

"But you's been cryin', Aisa.  Somethin's gotta be botherin' ya if you's cryin'."  I said all pleadin' like to 'im.  I just knowed if somethin' was wrong with my Aisa, I's wanted to do ever'thin' I could to make it better.

Aisa'd just wrap me in his big ol' arms, kissin' me so easy like.  "Sometimes people cry over a good thing, Angel.  Trust me, this is a great thing."  He'd smile back at me.

Now, I knowed what he was talkin' 'bout.  "See, I told you it was a great thing."  Aisa grinned, snugglin' me up all close like.  He was smellin' so good right then, I's just had to kiss 'im.

We 'cided it was the best ol' comic we's ever read.  Brad was all blushin' n' stuff, cause we told 'im how good we thought it was, but I could tell it made 'im feel proud.  I think it was prob'ly the first time he was proud 'bout anythin' he'd done 'fore. 

I's also noticed Brad was readin' 'at story real good, but seein's how he wrote it n' all, I reckoned he almost knowed it by heart.  Plus, him n' Aisa had been readin' it over n' over while they's makin' that book.  Brad even wrote all 'em words to the story in 'em pictures, so he really knowed it good.

Mic wanted to act it out right then, but Brad got real embarrassed 'bout that.  We kept on tellin' 'im that we's wantin' to act it out like we always did, but he 'cided we's gonna do it the next day instead.  I reckon he was likin' all 'at praise we's givin' 'im, but he was startin' to get all shy like 'cause of it.  So we all 'greed to do it the next day.

Brad was real 'cited when we's all finally got home.  Him n' Aisa got their comic n' brought it to the movie room.  Nana n' Grams was waitin' for 'em to get there 'fore they's 'd give us whatever it was they had for each of us.  Once they's there, Nana n' Grams gave us each a bag with our names on it.  We's had to open 'em at the same time, n' when we did, we was all 'prised 'bout what was inside.  The two of them made us all 'ese clothes that was like 'em heroes in Brad's book was wearin'.  I reckon Nana done knowed what they was all wearin', seein's how she helped Brad n' Aisa with the drawin' n' stuff.

So, we's all went n' changed into 'em outfits.  Aisa's was kinda tight like, but I sure liked how it looked on 'at body of his.  Dad n' Daddy liked each other in 'em outfits too.  I had this big ol' cape thing on mine, which I thought was kinda cool.  At first, I's feelin' a little silly standin' in 'at outfit in front of ever'body, but when Brad come in smilin', I's glad we was all in 'em clothes actin' out 'at story for 'im.  I's don't ever think I's seen him all happy like he was right then.  Anyways, we's acted the whole story out two times that night.

While Aisa had been busy with Brad, Dad spent a good bit of time with Nathan.  Daddy was talkin' lots with Jonah, n' I's with Pete.  Pete n' me spent lots of time doin' just any ol' thing.  We played us some checkers, read books, talked about all 'em planets, listened to his favorite music, n' just had fun bein' brothers I reckon.

At first, when I's 'd ask 'im what he's wantin' to do, he would kinda say he didn't know n' leave it up to me.  After a while, though, he started suggestin' things, so we would do 'em.  Ever' once in a while, as we was doin' whatever it was, I's 'd look over at 'im.

"You know, I's like spendin' time with you, Pete.  We's always has us some fun n' I reckon you's a great brother."  Then, I'd hug him all tight like.  "Course, you's an even better friend."

Pete would just light up like sunshine when I'd say that n' it was honest.  I's really liked spendin' time with Pete.  He was a real smart fella once you got 'im to talkin'.  He thought about things a lot like I reckon I did.  I knowed he's a real good listener, but he's turnin' out to be a pretty good talker when he'd open up some.

Little by little, I's includin' one of 'em other boys in what we's doin'.  It would take a while, but Pete would finally start talkin' some.  They all seemed like they's likin' gettin' to know Pete better too. 

I's real proud of Pete when he started up talkin' to Blade one day, all by hi'self.  Blade was doin' some paper 'bout Mars or one of 'em planets n' Pete just started tellin' 'im all kinda stuff 'bout it.  I's don't even 'member which 'n it was really, but I don't guess it really matters too awful much.  Pete took Blade to the 'puter n' showed him all kinda places he knowed that had stuff 'bout 'em stars n' planets.  'Fore long, Blade had all the stuff he needed to write his paper.  He had Pete read it over too, checkin' to make sure he told all his facts like they's 'posed to be.

Mark was another of 'em boys Pete started talkin' to, right out of the blue like.  Mark was studyin' for 'em classes he was startin' when the next semester at school was 'posed to begin.  Pete knowed a couple of the books Mark was readin' for his English n' they started talkin' 'bout 'em.  Like I's said, Pete's a real smart fella.  Anyways, they got to sharin' stuff 'bout their lives n' all.  I knowed Mark always liked Pete, but he was learnin' that Pete liked 'im too.  That made me feel real good, cause they's gettin' to be good friends while they's talkin'.

Me n' Pete got awful close durin' that time.  I reckon he got to tellin' me most ever' dream he had 'bout what he wanted to do when he was growed up n' all.  He asked me lots of stuff 'bout Aisa n' me.  Like how we's feelin' bout each other, what it's like to kiss somebody, n' stuff I guess he's just curious 'bout.  We talked 'bout wrestlin' n' baseball too. 

Pete even started wrestlin' round with me n' Ethan n' Dwayne some.  He's a fast little fella, n' he learned real quick.  I reckon he's likin' wrestlin' n' I's told 'im I thought he'd be real good at it.  He 'cided he might try to wrestle at his school the next year n' I's a hopin' he did.  I knowed I'd love to watch him at all 'em meets.

I wasn't real sure what it was, but Pete started to be Pete, not hidin' himself n' all.  Ever'body noticed it, but nobody really said nothin'.  We didn't wanna scare him back into hidin' or nothin' like that.  Alls I knowed was that we's had us our brothers.  Brad n' Pete was gettin' better ever' day.  That made the four of us -- me n' Aisa n' Dad n' Daddy -- real happy like.


I was not surprised when I saw the image of that one unknown symbol that connected Love, Aisa, Chance and me together.  Nor was I surprised when the symbol for help appeared above each of the boys huddled together on the floor.  Pete, Brad, Jonah, and Nathan truly needed something, though I was not sure what that something was.  That unknown symbol fluctuated in an unusual way above each of the boys, as the brighter light flowed from one oval area to another. 

After reading comic books with Brad, Love and I had a long discussion.  We decided we would each spend time with Nathan and Jonah.  We felt certain that Chance and Aisa would be more than willing to spend time with their brothers.  As it turned out, we never even had to ask.  Brad and Aisa became engrossed in a comic book project, while Chance and Pete seemed to want to pair off in pursuing common interests.

It seemed to us that Jonah was in need of Love, for Jonah tried to guard his emotions.  Love, however, could sense them easily.  Jonah would talk about most things, but he did not deal with the emotional baggage they left in his wake.  So, it was only logical that Love try and help him through.  I, on the other hand, could read through Nathan's past.  It was obvious that his issues stemmed from that dark cloud, and, although we knew the general gist of what had happened, we did not know much of the specifics.  Nathan was pretty emotional, so it seemed that I would be better suited to help him.

I first started easing into spending time with Nathan by inviting him, along with Jew or Jena, to do something with me.  We would play cards, watch a movie, go shopping, or anything that it took to get him to a place where he felt comfortable.  Once he seemed secure, we would gently probe into what was bothering him.

Nathan first started by describing his nightmares.  He had them quite a bit, but James Lafferty had brought about a series of night terrors for poor Nathan.  In his dreams, James would stand over him, telling him how worthless he was, how he was nothing more than a disgusting faggot whore, and how he would never see Jena or Jew again.  So, we had our first issue to lay to rest.

"Oh, Honey."  Jena cried, wrapping Nathan in her loving arms.  "Nothing will ever keep you from me.  I promise you, no matter what comes our way, Jew and I will always be here for you."

"B-b-but what ab-b-bout g-g-going to court?"  Nathan sighed.

"Nathan, we have to do this.  It is the only way the judge can absolve your mother and step-father's parental rights."  Jena soothed.  "Janet explained this already.  Remember?  She said there was no court in the land that would allow them to ever get within a mile of you."

Nathan paused for a long sigh.  During this, one of his memories was triggered, and I watched the scene play out before me.

Nathan was a little boy, probably no more than seven.  His step-father was quite abusive to him, even then.  I'm guessing that Nathan had somehow wanted to be with his father, trying to escape the abusive situation in which he lived.  His step-father, however, was not happy with this.

He slapped poor Nathan solidly with the back side of his hand.  "What the hell is wrong with you, faggot!"  He yelled.  There was a stench of alcohol on his breath laced into that memory.  "How many times do I have to tell you that what goes on in this house is nobody's damned business but mine!"

Nathan crumbled into a small ball before his step-father's feet.  "J-j-jasper p-p-please!"  He cried.  "I-i-it w-w-w..." 

Nathan was trying to explain that the school had noticed the bruises on his body one too many times and had contacted his father.  However, Jasper was not patient enough to wait for the time it took Nathan to get out what he was trying to say.  Another slap stung his face.

"B-b-b-b-b-b!  Quit that stuttering shit!  What are you, some kind of retard?!?"  He bellowed.  Then, he pulled Nathan to his feet by his hair, bringing his fist to strike Nathan in the jaw.  "I've told you a thousand times already.  If you can't say something without that stuttering shit, then don't say a damned word!  Do you understand me?"  He screamed.

Nathan was now torn between stuttering out a response or remaining silent.  He chose to remain silent, being punished with yet another pelting.

"Answer me, you stupid faggot!"  Jasper yelled.

"Y-y-y-yes."  Nathan replied, receiving another fist to the side of his head for stuttering.

"You just never listen to a damned word I say!  I said if you cannot answer me without that damned stuttering, then keep your mouth shut!" 

Jasper beat on Nathan for a good ten minutes.  His fists pounded out in a blind fury of rage and contempt.  When Nathan was too weak to even sit, his step-father took to kicking him over and over again.

Finally, Jasper pulled him back up by the hair of his head.  "No one will ever want you, you filthy faggot."  He bellowed.  "And, if anyone ever tries to help you, they won't survive to help you again!"

With that, Jasper slammed Nathan back onto the cold concrete floor of the small room in the basement.  He turned out the light and locked Nathan into that tiny space, knowing all to well Nathan's fears of the dark and of his claustrophobia.  A panic attack erupted, and Nathan eventually slumped over in an unconscious state.

A few other memories played out then.  One was the following day, when his mother explained to him that his father had been killed on his way to work.  All hope Nathan had of ever escaping Jasper evaporated in that instant.  The other memories were of how the car accident which killed his father was suspected to be a murder.  His memories were of him hearing things about it, such as the brake lines being cut.  In those memories, Nathan was always gripped in fear as, in his mind, he heard Jasper shouting that anyone who ever tried to help him would not live to do so again.

I was on the verge of tears when I spoke.  "He really scared you, didn't he."

Nathan just shook his head in response, and Jena cursed over what her father had done.

"He reminded you of someone else, though, didn't he?"  I asked softly.

A panic struck Nathan, but he shook his head sadly.  "M-m-y s-s-s-step-f-f-f-father."  He sighed.

Jena rocked him in her arms as they both sobbed quietly.

"You know, Nathan, we cannot go back and undo what Jasper did to you.  But, we can promise you that nothing like that will happen to you again."  I almost added not while we are all living and breathing to stop it, but I quickly realized that would have only upset him further.  He was afraid Jasper would try to hurt his new-found family.  That was why he was afraid to go to court to begin with, fearing Jasper would learn where he lived.

"I think we could arrange for the hearing to be held a few towns over, if that would make you feel better about things."  I offered, patting his back gently.

Nathan looked at me for a moment.  "Y-y-yeah, I th-th-think th-th-that m-m-might be b-b-best."

We talked a little more about the court hearing, then decided that was enough for one day.  Nathan went on to spend some time with Mark and Carter, while I spoke with Jena and Jew, explaining all the details of the memories I had witnessed.

"That poor guy."  Jew said sadly, his heart breaking for his son.

"But, Nathan feels Jasper's threat is still real, guys.  And, from his memories, he believes Jasper was the one who cut the break lines."  I added.  "We definitely need to make sure he has no idea how to find Nathan, and I think moving the hearing to another city is a great place to start."  Both Jena and Jew agreed.

Jena was distraught, however, as she finally admitted what was plaguing her.  "Kal, I just don't know what to do.  I mean, how do you fight a memory?"

"You don't."  I sighed.  I knew all too well that fact, from my experience with the death of my parents.  "You deal with them and learn to live with them.  That's all anyone can do.  That's what we have to help Nathan learn to do."

"I just hope he can."  Jew said softly.  "He has so many bad memories to deal with, Kal.  His life, well, it was a total nightmare."

I hugged him gently, pulling Jena into my arms as well.  "I know, guys, but we have to stay positive.  His seeing Mic for counseling is going to be even more important in the days ahead.  But, most importantly, he will need the two people he trusts the most to be strong for him."  They both tried their best to smile and put on a brave face, but I knew their hearts were aching for Nathan.

After a little more talking, we met everyone in the  movie room for some family time.  Then, Love and I tucked the boys into bed and headed to our room. 

"Love, the things that have happened to that dear boy..."  I started, unleashing the deep sorrow I felt for Nathan.  Love held me firmly in his arms, bringing me the comfort only he could offer.

"We'll get through this, Love.  It will take a long time, but we will get through it."  He said reassuringly.  "Aisa was in pretty bad shape there for a while, but, by God's grace, we muddled onward."

I discussed every detail of what I saw with Love, all the while resting in the comfort of his arms.  From my emotional state, my need for my husband grew.  After making love, we snuggled together.  He softly offered suggestions for helping Nathan, but he said he knew I would make the right decisions.  I felt at peace after our talk, slowly drifting off to sleep as Love held me to his chest, gently stroking my back. 

My last thoughts that night were of how much my husband had grown.  Kanawha continued to hold me together, and I found that I was looking to him more and more for guidance.  With God as our center, I knew we would somehow manage.

Jew and I spoke with Janet the next morning about moving the hearing to a different location.  She felt it was a good idea, promising to make the necessary calls.  Then, we both went on to work.

Nathan spent time with me at the W.F.P.C. (the program I ran).  He had done pretty well on his school entrance exams, though he was still going to be a few credits short of graduating the next year... unless, of course, he attended summer classes.  The guidance counselor had probed Nathan, trying to get a feel as to what his interests were for future employment.  Since he had no real idea at that time, she suggested he explore some careers before starting school with the new semester.  So, he came to work with me.  Tracy, my assistant, had given him a career interest inventory while Jew and I had spoken to Janet.  Once he finished, I scored the instrument.  The results were pretty predictable, I felt.  His highest areas of interest were social services, medical services, and other human service fields.  It suggested Nathan pursue a career in counseling, case management, nursing, occupational therapy, or crisis intervention.

It is often the case that when we suffer a tragedy, we desire to help others in like circumstances.  Nathan was no exception, and with his vast experiences from such a tragic life, I was certain he could help many, many people.  He could identify with so many hardships others might be facing, and I just prayed God would help him sort through his darkened past so Nathan would have a bright future.

Tracy and I gathered all the information we had on these careers for Nathan to read.  We talked for a good while about each field, then I made a couple of calls.  I arranged for Nathan to sit in on Roe's peer counseling group, and for a counselor, case manager, and crisis interventionist to talk with him.  I also called and made arrangements for him to job shadow various people at our hospitals and rehabilitation clinics over the next few days.

Nathan and I then went to lunch.  We decided to eat at Max's, the guy who let the group meet in his building on Thursday nights.  We ordered steak hoagies and potato wedges.  It was while we were waiting for the food that another of his memories triggered.

I was in tears at what I witnessed.  Nathan had been out on the streets for almost three months, and he had managed to keep himself safe.  But, I saw the events that led to his selling himself for cash, and that memory haunted me.

Nathan saw the tears in my eyes, and became concerned.  "Y-you OK, uncle K-K-Kal?"  He asked, holding my hand in a gentle caress.

I wasn't sure what to say.  Honestly, I didn't know what to do with the information I had just obtained, but I decided to ask the question that burned in my mind and on my heart.

"Do they know?"  I questioned as gently as I could.  "Do they know why you did it?  Why you chose to go down that road?"

Nathan's eyes grew wide as he realized I knew what he had been thinking about just moments before.

"Nathan, I sort of know things about people."  I offered.  "It's really hard to explain, but the thing is, I know."

He pondered that a moment, then cast his gaze down to the table.  "No.  N-n-nob-b-body knows, a-a-and I d-d-don't ever w-w-w-want them t-t-t-to know."  He said softly.

I lifted his face with my hands, pulling him close and kissing his forehead.  "I promise, Nathan, I won't tell them anything you don't want.  But, what you did... well, if you hadn't decided to... well, I don't know how to say... "

Nathan just shook his head gently.  "I-I-I know, uncle K-Kal.  Th-th-that's why I d-d-did it."

A few stray tears dripped down my cheeks, and Nathan moved his hand to wipe them away.  "L-l-look, I surv-v-vied it, s-s-so d-d-don't be s-s-s-o w-w-w-worried."

"But Nathan..." I started, but he just wrapped me into a firm hug.

After a long silence of resting in his embrace, Nathan softly added.  "Y-you know, th-thats th-the f-f-f-first time a-a-anyb-b-body has e-e-ever kn-n-nown why."

It struck me at that moment that this was probably true for a reason.  Most people would assume things and judge Nathan for what he had done.  Even those that were sympathetic would have made assumptions.  They would see it as an uncomfortable situation and not want to probe deeper.  Our family had even done that.  Honestly, nothing could have prepared me for the reasoning behind his choice, and it still sat uneasily in the pit of my stomach.

Nathan and I talked about the matter some more while we ate.  Max came by a few times to check on us, striking up a conversation with Nathan.  I found that to be kind of odd, for Max was not a man of many words.  Later, however, it began to make sense.  As we both were eating banana splits neither of us had ordered (yet Max had brought us) Max offered Nathan a part-time job helping him in the kitchen. 

I realized that Max had overheard Nathan stressing about wanting a job, but knowing that few people would hire him.  As much as I hated it, Nathan was correct.  Few people would hire him because of his communication difficulty.  Sure, Nathan understood full well what you were saying, and he had excellent responses.  The trouble was in getting those responses out.  Nathan had far more difficulty than Jew had ever faced.  As sad as it was, most people would not wait long enough for Nathan to answer them.  They would either try to finish his sentences for him, or blurt out something else impatiently.  What I hated the most was that Nathan knew this all too well.  Fortunately, however, Max was not your average person.

"Look, the work is hard, and sometimes the customers are grouchy, but the hours will be good for someone going to school.  I cannot afford to pay you too much, but I can pay you better than a lot of these places will."  Max smiled.  "Believe me, you will earn every penny.  But, you should know a few things before you decide."  Max stated cautiously.  "For starters, if your grades fall at all, so will your hours.  A good education comes first in my book.  Second, we are never open on Saturdays, because I do not work on the sabbath.  Since many people worship on Sunday, we aren't open then, either.  So, your hours will be after school Monday through Friday.  When we are not busy and your work is caught up, I expect you to be studying.  Above all else, remember:  It's my place, my rules.  You either follow them, or you find yourself another place to work."  He paused and smiled at Nathan.  "So, do you think you want the job?"

"W-w-when c-c-c-can I s-s-s-start?"  Nathan asked with great enthusiasm.

Max laughed, something I had never seen him do before.  "Eagerness, now that is something I can get used to seeing."  He looked at Nathan, smiling as he assessed the young man who sat before him.  "Tell you what, you talk this over with Jena and Jew first.  If they agree to it, then you can start here tomorrow at 3:30."

I was surprised that Max knew our names so well, as, like I said, he was one of few words.  But, in life, many people are full of surprises.  Max would prove to be such a person in many, many ways.

After talking with Max for almost an hour, I drove a very excited Nathan back to the Mission.  He practically sprinted to the Tutoring Center to speak with Jew and Jena.  They were delighted to see Nathan so happy, and, after a small feigning of contemplation, both agreed to his working at Max's.

I then took Nathan over to Janet, who was to introduce Nathan to the social service workers who would discuss with him their careers.  Then, she would take him to Roe's peer counseling session.  I gave him a quick hug and headed back to work.

We had homemade pizza that evening in celebration of Nathan's new job.  Several of the guys from the group came over, along with Valerie and her family.  Nathan almost bounced off the walls when he found out that Cindy would be working with him, as well.  He seemed to really like her and Aaron, and I could tell they were becoming fast friends.

I guess having a deaf brother had made Cindy somehow more open and receptive to Nathan.  Aaron seemed to have that trait in him, as well.  I also knew that they were good friends with Chance and Aisa, and that definitely did not hurt matters in the least.  Still, Nathan relished in the idea of having friends.

Nathan and I bonded quite a bit during the next while.  He spent a good bit of time with me during the days before he started to school.  And, in the evenings after working, he often sought me out to talk.  Sometimes, it was over nothing in particular.  Often, though, it was about things that was troubling him.  He knew he could confide in me, and unless he told me otherwise, I never disclosed anything we discussed in confidence.

He also started spending individual time with Love, Chance, and Aisa.  Honestly, Brad, Jonah, and Pete also spent a good bit of one-on-one time with all four of us.  It struck me somewhere along the line that each of them needed something from the four of us.  It wasn't something that we could really offer as a group, but rather, it came from each of us as unique individuals.  Still, these pieces of ourselves somehow built upon one another in an intricate manner.  I recalled that one unknown symbol and how its highlight would move from one of our ovals to another.  Yet, in the process, all four of us were called to contribute something.  I wasn't sure exactly what it was supposed to mean, but I felt I was close to understanding it, at least in part.

My beliefs were only further confirmed when Chance and Nathan discussed the classes Nathan was debating.  He needed an extra semester's worth of credits in order to graduate, so he decided he would attend summer sessions.

"You's can do anything you's wantin' to, Nathan.  You's real smart n' you's got a big ol' heart in there."  Chance said with passion.  "You's just gotta figure what you's really wantin' to do with the rest of your life n' all.  Then, you's just gotta take 'em classes that's gonna help ya the most in gettin' there."

Nathan was still so uncertain, and he looked over the class schedules again and again.  He and Chance discussed each of the classes Nathan found interesting, which was almost every one of them, unfortunately.

Chance took the schedule and placed it face down on the table.  Then, he took both of Nathan's hands into his own.  "How's 'bout this.  If'n's you could do anythin' you's wantin', what's you think you'd be wantin' to do once you's all growed up?"  Chance asked, a determined look burning in his eyes.

"I-I-I... hmm... I-I w-w-would w-w-want to h-h-h-help p-p-people who are d-d-d-dying."  Nathan announced.

"You mean, like Hospice?"  Mark, who was playing cards with Dwayne, asked.

"Y-y-yeah."  Nathan responded shyly.

A bright smile crossed Mark and Dwayne's faces.  "Dude!  You would be totally good at that!"  Mark enthused.

"It takes a special person to be able to do something like that."  Dwayne stated.  Then, he reached over and squeezed Nathan's shoulder.  "I could never handle something like that, but you would be great!  I know you helped us so much when Pa was so bad off."  He added, tears forming in his eyes.  "You're a great listener, and I don't know if we would have made it through, had you not been there in our corner."

Nathan blushed, but shyly replied.  "Th-th-thanks."  I could tell there were a host of things he wanted to say, but a simple pat on Dwayne's shoulder said it all.

"See!  Now we's knowin' what you's wantin' to do.  We's just gotta pick 'em classes you's gonna need to get to doin' that kinda stuff."  Chance said with confidence.

They went over the schedule again.  Nathan decided to enroll in medical classes that would earn him a nursing assistant license.  >From there, Dwayne suggested he take classes to become an LPN.  Dwayne and Mark started talking about college, telling Nathan that he could pursue many other degrees within the nursing field.
  It was an excellent choice, and I felt pride for our boys in helping Nathan to map out his life.

But, in my mind, I saw that Nathan had needed that special something only Chance could offer him at that moment.  That little something gave him the clarity he needed in deciding upon a future career.  Dwayne and Mark's support definitely helped Nathan feel confident about his choice, but, somehow, Nathan needed Chance to give him the focus he needed to envision his future.

The hearing approached, and Nathan grew nervous.  He practically begged Love, Chance, Aisa, and I to be there with him, along with Ethan, Hela, and Shaft.  When we arrived, I was not surprised to find Max, Cindy, and Aaron waiting with Nathan, Jew, Jena, Ethan, and Shaft.  He made his way quickly, giving each of us a firm hug.

"I w-w-was w-w-w-worried y-y-you m-m-m-might not m-m-make it."  He sighed with relief.

"We wouldn't miss being here for you, Nathan.  Nothing would have kept us away."  Love said, squeezing him into his chest.  "You're very special to us, young man." 

Nathan laughed at being called young man, saying he felt like he was in trouble for something.  Our presence seemed to give him the reassurance that he needed.  Hela wrapped him into her arms, telling her 'baby' not to fret.

My stomach felt uneasy when we entered the courtroom.  The presence of Nathan's mother and step-father made my skin crawl.  Love, Aisa, and Chance seemed to feel the same way about them.  As the proceedings commenced, they announced that they wanted Nathan returned to them. 

Nathan was very uptight, but Janet and Jena kept reassuring him that it would be fine.  Jessica, Cole's lawyer friend, had predicted they would try this route.  Jessica presented the files Janet had gathered from the mission, along with files Jessica had gathered from Nathan's previous schools, illustrating the abusive nature of Nathan's previous home life.

Their side, however, made a motion that the abuse was Unsubstantiated.  Sad to say, it was true.  There had never been any formal charges brought against them.  In reviewing the documents, however, the judge said she would hold ruling on that motion, pending the testimony given.  Jasper was called to give his statements, completely lying out of every orifice on his body.

"He is completely lying."  Love whispered to Jena.  "What he is saying is total shit!"

"And what do you want me to do, Stormy?  Tell the judge that my friend can feel what other people are experiencing, so he knows Jasper is lying?"  Jena asked softly.  "Look, I appreciate everything Stormy, but we have to have something more tangible to go on."

Just then, a few memories from Jasper played before me.  I was ready to hurl at the sight of them, but in the last memory, I had something.  I was unpleasantly amazed that someone could do such horrible things to someone else, especially a child.  But, I was even more amazed that someone could be so stupid as to leave such evidence available for anyone to find.  I bummed a piece of paper and a pen from Chance, quickly writing down what I had seen.  I then handed it to Jena.

She discussed it with Jessica, who turned to me.  "Are you certain, Kal?"

I shook my head in answer.

After Jasper was finished, Jessica presented the paper to the judge who called for a short recess.  She asked for one member from each side to join her in chamber.  Jena elected to go, and Nathan's mother went for their side.  After about twenty minutes, they returned.

Jena was trembling with fury when she returned, and I knew exactly why.  After all, I had seen it.  The judge looked unsettled as well.  Nathan's mother looked to be in tears, but Love assured me it was fear that was causing her tears, not remorse or regret.

"I have sat over many cases in my 23 years as a family court justice, but never have I seen something so unspeakable."  She cast her gaze to Jasper and Nathan's mother.  "You two detest me and leave a foul stain upon this court."  She then turned to the officer of the court.  "Please, Scott.  Take both of these..." She turned to look at them again. "I dare not even use the word people to describe the likes of you..."  Then, she looked back to the court officer.  "Just take them into custody."

Then, she looked at Nathan.  "Nathanael Ronen Meyers... OK, I must admit here that more than a few of us snickered at the fact that Nathan's middle name was Ronen.  It's not that there is anything wrong with the name, it just kind of took us by surprise, I guess. 
...Son, I for one am truly sorry for all that you have suffered.  If it were within my power, I would rule you eligible for adoption immediately.  But, because of the appeals process, I cannot do so.  So, I am revoking all parental rights from your mother and step-father.  In nine months, as stated in our law, you will be eligible for adoption, provided no appeal is pending." 

She looked at Nathan's mother, who was being handcuffed at the time.  "I pray you two have the decency not to attempt an appeal.  I believe you have done enough damage to this poor child's life.  May God knock some sense into your brains for once and keep you from attempting an appeal." 

Then, she turned her attention towards Nathan once more.  "Good luck, son.  You seem to have found a very good home and people who truly love you.  I pray everything works out for you, child.  This court stands adjourned."

At a later point, Jena and I explained to Love and Jew what Jena had witnessed in the judge's chamber.  Jasper, being even more disgusting than anyone had imagined, had developed a home page on the internet.  On this page, he had several photos and even video clips of him raping poor Nathan, who was only nine at the time.  What was worse, his mother was holding Nathan still so Jasper could force himself upon her son... her very own flesh and blood son!  They had even placed statements at the bottom of the page, setting a rate for renting Nathan out for 'like services' to anyone who could meet the price.  The most horrific part was that there had been several takers.  The last one had been so brutal to Nathan, his fears of it happening again had pushed him into running away.  No wonder the poor guy was plagued with such traumatic nightmares.

Nathan, however tragic his past had been, seemed so much better once the judge had made her ruling.  Knowing that Jena and Jew would soon be able to adopt him seemed to make a huge difference for him.  He still had several issues with which to contend, but he was by far better.

As we were leaving the courtroom, Aaron smiled fondly at Nathan for some time.  Then, he pat him on the back and grinned.  "So, you're Jewish, too, huh?"

A slight smirk dawned upon Nathan's face, his eyes transfixed with deep thought.  After a few moments, he softly replied.  "W-well, m-m-my f-f-f-father was."

I suppose it is fair to say that we were a bit surprised, as Nathan had not mentioned this to anyone before.  Of course, we knew all about Aaron.  Lord, that kid was something else, and he was a great friend to our sons.  Love and I would have gladly kept him any day his parents would've let us.  But, I guess they knew what a great son they had.  That had me thinking back to the first time our family met our sons' dear friend.

Our sons, who had talked so much about Aaron, were beaming with pride as they introduced him to everyone.  As Chance gushed with excitement, Love snickered at the fact that not too long before, Chance had been griping about what a jerk 'mouthy boy' had been.  Anyway,
Ethan had explained our nicknames, seeing that some of them are a little different. 

As Jason's nickname was explained, Aaron had smiled at Jew, saying, "I knew I liked you the moment I met you.  See, I'm a Jew, too."  Aaron had then laughed heartily as Ethan turned pale.  "Don't worry, guy.  It's cool.  It's his initials and nickname, and, no, I'm not offended at all.  Besides, I've heard all about everyone practically everyday from Chance, so I know you must be good people."  Then, he smirked.  "For Gentiles, anyway." 

The unsure look on Ethan's face had Aaron chuckling.  "I swear, dude, you are way too easy.  It was only a joke, so chill.  Let it go and lighten up a little."

The smiles grew wide across our two sons' faces as Aaron wrapped his arms around their shoulders.  "Hmm... I guess you were right, after all, Chance.  I am mouthy."  -- And that was the beginning to our first face-to-face meeting of Aaron.

My mind quickly snapped back to the issue at hand.  See, the thing of it was, Nathan knew Aaron was Jewish.  None of us had any problems with that at all, so I could not understand why he had never mentioned it.  As I thought about it, Nathan knew Max was Jewish, too.  I just could not see why he never mentioned anything about this to us.

Evidentially, Aaron wondered this, too, for his forehead rumpled with contemplation.  "Did he ever take you to a synagogue ?  You know, you can always come with me, if you want to that is."

"I w-w-went s-s-some when I w-w-w-was little.  B-but, I a-a-a-als-so went t-t-t-to church w-with m-my g-g-grandma."  He replied, then sighed heavily, shirking his shoulders.  "I-I-I don't r-really know w-w-w-what I-I-I am."

"Well, come with me on Saturday."  Aaron grinned.  "Then, go with the family on Sunday.  Sooner or later, you'll figure it out and find your own way."  See, I told you Aaron was a fantastic young man.  And, in my opinion, his suggestion was quite wise for one so young.  No matter what you call him or how you call upon him, God is God.  We each have our own paths in life to follow, so I, too, believe that we each have our own walk that leads us to God.

"M-m-maybe." Nathan said noncommittally.

"The invitation is always open, bud."  He smiled.  Then, Aaron began talking to Nathan about his being eligible for adoption in nine months, commenting on what great parents he thought Jew and Jena would make.  Nathan, as you might have guessed, was in complete agreement.

Everything seemed more promising, yet I was having such a hard time getting those images of what Jasper had done to Nathan out of my mind.  Compiled with the billion other horrific things poor Nathan had faced, I wondered if he would ever be free from his nightmare of a past.  Those thoughts plagued my mind throughout the rest of the day.

"That's as far as we's get go with 'im, Dad."  Chance said, shaking me from my thoughts.  We were at dinner that evening with the whole family, celebrating the outcome of the court hearing.

"What do you mean, Son?"  I asked, completely confused.

Chance replied.  "We's helped 'im all we's 'posed to do." 

"But, he still has so much to..." I started.

"But, Dad, that is not meant for us to do."  Aisa smiled.  Seeing my worry, he squeezed my shoulder reassuringly.  "There is another in his future, Dad.  That's when Nathan will get through the rest.  Until then, Roe, Mic, Jena, and Jew will help him in other ways.  So will Cindy, Aaron, and Max.  We will still be there for him, but the rest of his issues won't be settled until he meets the other."

Love looked at me and shrugged.  We decided to take our sons' word for it.  "OK, guys.  So what do we do from here?"

"Finish helpin' 'em other boys."  Chance smiled.  "We's just gotta get 'em to the place they's 'posed to be Dad.  Then, we's four has us some other people to help out."

There again, I was confronted with the four of us being tied together.  It was a comforting thought, really, for I could not wish for better company while following the path of our lives.  I didn't hold all the answers, but I realized that was true for most everyone.  Our fates were intertwined, and we four had much left to accomplish.  That knowledge was enough for me, and it brought warm feelings to surface as I envisioned our futures.


I suppose I should start by telling you about our helping the boys.  After Love and I had a rather lengthy discussion, I had asked Ethan and Shaft if they thought I could be of help with Jonah.  The two of them never said a word.  They simply hugged me tightly, and I found myself wide open to the mixed bag of feelings the two of them were carrying.  There was so much love they both felt for Jonah.  There was also a good bit of worry, along with much relief.  There was also a trust there, which made me more at ease.  I knew I would have their support in this, and I was certain the road would not be an easy one.  Then, there was a feeling of love the two held for me, which I couldn't help but smile about.

"Sometimes, he will open up and talk about things to great lengths."  Ethan said, softly.  "We are glad he is getting some of these things out in the open, but I can't help but feel it really isn't doing him much good.  He gets it out there, but never really off his chest.  See, he doesn't really deal with anything."

Shaft nodded in agreement.  "When Jonah begins talking about those issues, he gets this far away look in his eyes."  He then sighed heavily.  "Kanawha, it's like he isn't even really with us, you know?  It is like he is on autopilot or something."

"He disassociates himself from the situation."  Ethan added in support.  "Sometimes, I believe he might be feeling something, but other times, I believe he is completely numb."

Shaft smiled, caressing Ethan's back gently.  "Three different times now, he has told us that he loves us, though.  And, during those times, you could tell he meant those words with every beat of his heart."

Ethan's look was a mix between a grin and sadness.  "Yeah.  Those few times have given us a small window of hope.  Jonah made himself vulnerable enough to share his feelings, and you just don't know how special that makes us feel."  A few tears trickled down my little brother's face, and I was overwrought with his anguish.  "In each case, he has said that he hoped we knew of his love for us, whether or not he was able to show it.  And, each time, my heart has broken into a million tiny pieces.  It must be horrible for him, not being able to let his feelings out."

I was reminded of some of the obstacles we faced with Aisa.  Like the time he told us about David's death.  The words came out easily, but there was nothing more than an empty void inside.  The same had occurred after the cutting incident.  I began to wonder if Aisa wouldn't be a better choice for helping Jonah, but deep inside of me, that voice kept assuring me that I was the one he needed first.

I reached over and took Shaft's and Ethan's hands in my own, giving each a gentle squeeze.  "Guys, I'll do everthing I can to help him.  But, I have to be honest with you both.  I have know idea what to do." 

Ethan chuckled.  "Big guy, we can relate to that.  Even in counseling, you have a method to follow, which gives you some form of a game plan.  It gives you a set of tools to use, and, to an extent, those tools give you a way to bring the issues into focus.  But, honestly, most of it is playing it by ear.  The opportunity presents itself, and you just go with it." 

His eyes then glistened as he took a more somber tone.  "Jonah wanted me to give him the counseling we felt he needed.  But, I think I am just too close to the situation.  Mic has sat with us a few times, but she doesn't feel she is getting through to Jonah." 

His pleading eyes had me, the moment he cast his gaze back at me.  "I just know you'll find a way, Big Guy.  Somehow, you'll help our son where we're not able to do so."

So, the pressure was on... Not that Ethan or Shaft was trying to pressure me into anything.  No, I had set the pressure on myself.  Looking back, I realize how crazy that was, but I guess I am way too competitive or something.  But, you live and you learn, I suppose.

I started by just hanging out with Jonah.  We would play games or watch sports, just something we mutually found interesting.  Then, I would casually strike up a conversation.  Jonah was a bit shy at first, but after a while, he began to talk to me more and more.

Through the first couple of weeks, I was beginning to feel proud of myself.  I mean, I was getting to know so much about Jonah, and he was getting to know just as much about me.  Sometimes, I would share little things that had happened to me along the course of my life, and Jonah would laugh heartily about them.

I could feel that the laughter was genuine, so that is from where the pride in myself had grown.  There was another feeling that became stronger within Jonah each time we hung out, which was safety.  He was not only comfortable being around me, he actually felt safe from harm.

Each night, Love and I would discuss how things were going.  He and Nathan seemed to be bonding well, and I was rather proud of the way Love was helping him sift through a few of his issues.  Some of those issues, however, broke my heart.  There was many a night Love cried in my arms while I just held him.

For the first few weeks, I would share with Love new things I had learned about Jonah.  We were bonding rather nicely, and I really liked that kid.  Love would comment on some of the things Jonah would share, such as his interest in hockey, and then ask me about his feelings.  One night, in particular, Love provided me with a good bit of insight.

"Well, at least we know he has feelings, even if they are superficial ones."  He smiled.  "Now, you just need to get him to express some of the ones he has buried deep inside."

It was then it struck me.  All Jonah and I mostly did was talk.  We were becoming friends, which I was sure he needed, but that was not what I was really attempting to do.  I had lost focus upon what I was truly trying to accomplish.

'How could I have been so stupid?' I thought to myself.  Love was right.  Everything Jonah was expressing was superficial.  Here I thought we were building this great relationship, and it was completely superficial.  I wondered for some time where I had went wrong.  Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me.

I started off by striking up a conversation, and that is exactly what I was getting.  Jonah was good at conversation, but it was expressing his own emotions that was the trouble.  We were like buds discussing the game on television, but we were not really sharing anything about ourselves.

That was when I realized my second mistake.  I had mistaken knowing things about Jonah for actually knowing Jonah.  I knew many of his likes and dislikes, but I had no idea how he felt about much of anything.  After mentally kicking myself around the block and back, I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I turned to Love.

"Love, I'm a complete idiot, and it took your loving nature to point that out to me."  I admitted.

He just smirked.  "Well, thanks.  There is nothing like knowing you make your husband feel like an idiot to make your day brighter."

I gently cuffed him across the back of the head.  "Well, smart ass, thanks for pointing it out again."

He just laughed lightly before kissing me.  "Seriously, Love, what's the problem?"  He asked with such concern, I wondered how I had ever made it one day without him by my side.

"Well, I just realized that I don't know Jonah at all.  Sure, I know tons of things about him, but I don't really know him in the slightest."  I sighed in defeat.  "And, the worst of it is, I still have no idea how to really get to know Jonah, much less get him to open up to me."

Love held my face gently to his chest, stroking his fingers through my hair.  "Just be yourself, Love."

I looked up at him incredulously.  "But, Love, I have been myself this entire time.  It hasn't moved us anywhere."

He just chuckled and kissed my forehead.  "No, Yana.  What I meant was let him see the real you.  Share yourself with him.  Let him get to know you, not know things about you."

Just when I was thinking my Keokuk did not understand me, he proved to me that he did.  I sighed with relief, reminded yet again of one of the greatest lessons I had learned along our journey together.  Whenever I felt lost, all I needed to do was look to Love to guide me. 

"Well, Love, do you have any suggestions on how to do this?"  I asked, smiling as I raised myself up and took in the sight of his beautiful form.

"Definitely not that way, Perv!"  He laughed.  "You can only share yourself that way with me."

I kissed my way up his chest, along his neck, and finally made my way to his lips.  "I assure you, Keokuk, I have no intentions of ever sharing myself that way with anyone but you."

After a few passionate kisses, he smiled at me.  "Well, lets see.  You struck up conversations, and what did you get?"

I kissed him again, then answered.  "More conversation."

He playfully bit my neck, then whispered in my ear.  "Then, if you want him to open up to you, what does this tell you?"

"That I need to open up to him?"  I asked, nibbling on his ear.

"That's what I'm thinking.  You'll need to set the example of what you are wanting."  He sighed softly.  "Just remember, superficial begets superficial.  To get to the deeper things, you are going to have to open yourself up just as much."

I was working my way down Love's chest, when his last words registered in my mind.  Suddenly, I became terrified.  The very idea of opening myself up like that did not sit well with me.  Love knew my panic, and his hands gently massaged my shoulders.

"I know, Love."  He replied gently.  "This will be hard for you.  Do you remember what Valerie said about dealing with Chance?  That sometimes, you have to be squishy?  Well, I believe you are going to have to get really squishy in order to get through to Jonah."

I sank to his chest, as his loving arms held me snugly.  In his firm embrace, I contemplated just where the road ahead of me was leading.  I looked up to see tears pooling in his compassionate emerald eyes.

"But, Love, I have never talked about most of that stuff with anyone besides you."  I admitted, shaking in a strong panic and fear.

"And, Jonah has never spoken to anyone about any of what is bottled up inside of him, Love."  He reminded me.  Then, he caressed my face , tracing my features with his thumbs.  "Yana, I think it is time for you to open yourself up to someone else.  Sure, it's scary, but it is just as frightening for Jonah...  Maybe even more so, for he has never opened up to anyone like that before."  He turned me so that I was on my side, still resting on his chest.  "If you need me, Love, I will be right here."  He said gently, rubbing along my heart.

I swallowed back my tears, looking at his loving face and nodding my head slowly.  "OK, Love, I'll do it.  I just hope it helps him."

Love stroked my hair.  "I believe it will help you both, Love."

I was so charged with emotions.  There was the fear and anxiety of reliving all of that pain again.  There was also some unrest because I would have to make myself vulnerable and open to someone outside our smaller family.  But, amidst it all, there was the love I felt for Keokuk.  The passion I had for him was so overwhelming.

He cradled me to him, giving me gentle reassurance that everything would be fine.  His fingers delicately trailed along my side and back, causing me to shudder with sensations only he could bring.  Finally, his delicate lips found their way to mine, as Love breathed his wondrous spirit into my own.

"I need you, Love."  I barely whispered, so encompassed by my desires.

His soulful eyes bore into the center of my being, bringing a tranquil stillness to the turbulent storm of emotions that raged about me.  The entire time he made love to me, we never broke that contact.  Often, we would both close our eyes and surrender to the feelings of our union.  But, on this occasion, we watched one another contentedly.  That night wasn't about physical pleasures, though they obviously did occur.  Rather, our focus was more spiritual in nature, and it was one of the most phenomenal sharings we had ever encountered.  A calming sleep soon took hold of us, and I awoke nestled happily in Love's firm embrace.

"Feeling better this morning?"  He asked sleepily.

"Well, I might need a little more coaxing."  I grinned, rubbing his face gently.

He stretched a moment, then encased me in his arms.  "And, what if I want to be coaxed?"  He smiled.

"I think I could live with that."  I chuckled.

His eyes again bore into me, and I knew just what Keokuk wanted.  We were a little later than usual to breakfast, but we made it, nonetheless.  We walked out together, as Love herded the kids towards the van.  Chance, of course asked to drive, and I knew Love would cave in.  I kissed him and the boys goodbye, then I headed off to work. 

All throughout work that day, I felt at peace.  I guess I should point out here that I had decided to only take one class that semester, so that I could take a rather nice job offer I had received after my practicum was completed.  With the pending adoptions of our three sons, we needed to show a suitable income.  Jessica suggested that it be through stable work.  Though we had a pretty decent amount of money in the bank, we both knew she was right.  They would be looking for anything to deny us.  So, I took the job offer.  I knew what needed to be done, and I found myself praying numerous times for the strength and guidance to follow through.  At lunch, Love called, assuring me everything would be fine and offering me his support once again.  The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, and I was home in no time it seemed.

After a nice family meal, we met in the movie room for some quality time with everyone.  Then, I asked Jonah if he wanted to exercise with me.  As he walked the treadmill, I lifted weights.  During one of our breathers, I finally began opening up to him.

It started off with a simple conversation.  That brought us to discussing our lives, and somehow that lead to my life on the reservation.  I breathed deeply, uttering a silent prayer.  My chest at first felt tight and constricted, but quickly it expanded with the warm feelings of my husband's love.  So, I began telling Jonah about how things were for me there. 

I guess I had forced myself to believe that I had dealt with all the pain from that time in my life.  I soon found, however, that I had completely deceived myself.  The more I talked about it, the more my emotions seeped out.  Before I knew it, I was floating about on the seas of sorrow, ravaged around by an emotional hurricane.  The heartache of being rejected, the shame I held for being different, the disappointment I had imagined my parents felt for having me as a son, the guilt of not standing up for myself, the anger at being turned away... all of these issues came to surface.

Through it all, Jonah remained attentive.  A few times, he offered me a gentle touch of reassurance.  He even shed a few tears, and I could feel emotions within him.  He shared in my grief.

I eventually became emotionally drained.  It took me by surprise to realize that we had been talking for almost two hours.  Though I felt tired, I also felt lighter, as if some of the weight I had carried around with me had been lifted.  Jonah didn't share anything with me that evening about himself, but he did open slightly.  The small emotional responses I had gotten made me feel like it had been well worth the effort.

I smiled at Jonah, thanking him for listening to me, as we headed back down to the movie room.  I sat next to Love, who had just finished talking with Nathan.  Fondly, I caressed his hand, as his eyes searched into my soul.  He gently smiled as he found his answers, again reassuring me that it would all work out.

I held Love close to me, once we retired to bed.  "You were right, Love.  I needed to open up."  I sighed, clinging tightly to his frame.  "Jonah was receptive, but he didn't really open up in return."

He caressed my face, softly kissing my nose.  "Love, it's going to take time.  It won't happen all at once, but gradually, he will open a little more each time.  If you keep at it, sooner or later, he will start sharing some of what is bottled up in there."

"I know you're right, Keokuk.  I just hope I have it in me to keep this up."  I sighed.  "Still, I do feel better." I admitted.

His big grin spread across his face as he wrestled himself on top of me.  "Hmm.  How much better?" He asked with a smirk.

"I suppose you will have to find out for yourself."  I laughed, as Love began licking his way down my chest.

Over the course of the next week, I shared with Jonah the greater tragedies of my life.  From the death of my family, to the traumas of school life in Georgia.  I don't know how I had forced myself to believe I was fine with everything, but I proved myself wrong many, many times that week.  Each day, I was exhausted.  Yet, despite it all, Jonah had opened up very little.

One day, we were talking about Jena and Ethan, and how much their friendship had meant to me.  Somehow, that led to our going to the university together.  Jonah asked how Love and I met, so I told him about everything, including Chance and that gun he had found.  That brought out one of the biggest regrets I held.

"Honestly, though, Jonah, if I could go back and change anything in my life, it would be how I had always overlooked Chance.  Imagine, I had seen him for such a long time, eating out of that same trash can, yet I never paid him any mind at all."  I was overcome by tears as I pondered all the needless suffering my dear son had endured, all because I was too selfish and blind to see the wonderful child that was there all along.  "Sure, I guess it all worked out in the end, but there were so many things that happened to Chance during those few years.  It's just hard to live with it, you know?  I could have made a difference, but I didn't."

That's when it happened.  Jonah retreated into a far off world of his own, but he opened up with a bit of his past.  "I was overlooked like that when I was on the streets."  His eyes glazed over, and his soul became hollow.  "Only, for me, I took that as a blessing.  I just wish my parents had overlooked me like that.  But, they always seemed to notice me, especially any time something went wrong."

"I think the only reason they had me was to have someone to blame."  He sighed, though there was no emotion.  "If my father lost his keys, it was my fault.  If my mother burned dinner, it was my fault.  That should have been my name, FAULT."

"The thing is, I thought all families were like that.  I lived day in - day out with the yelling and hitting.  To me, it was a part of life, so I guess it didn't bother me too much.  I didn't really know any different."  Jonah went on to describe some terrible ordeals he had faced.  His mother and father were both very abusive, and my heart ached for the poor guy.  But, still, there was nothing inside but a black void.

A long pause passed, and I thought to say something, but that voice inside me said to keep my mouth shut.  Then, Jonah spoke again.

"Until I came here, I never really knew what a family really was."  The far away edge in his voice began to crack, and I saw a tear pool in his eye.  The faintest hint of sorrow permeated from within his numb spirit.  "Now, I know that what they did to me was wrong."

I gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze for reassurance, and Jonah gave me a half smile.  Then, he moved to wipe the single tear from his eye.  "I swore a long time ago that I would not shed another tear for them.  They aren't worth it."  He stated with a firm resolve.

He was so much like me, up until I met Love.  I thought about the situations in which I had done the exact same thing, stated almost the exact same words.  I wondered to myself if there was something anyone could have said or did to have changed that resolve I held to keep it all pushed down inside.

"You know, buddy, I believe you are right.  They are not worth shedding tears over."  I replied softly.  "But, I think you are.  Maybe some of those tears you are fighting back are tears for you, Jonah, not for your mother or father."

He regarded me quietly, and the shimmering liquid again began to swell in his eyes.  "I've known your Da for a long time, and I spent many a night holding him close to me as he cried over some of the things James had said to him.  I used to tell Ethan that James was not worth shedding a single tear over, but he would continue to sob in my arms."  I brushed my hand softly across Jonah's face to push his bangs out of his eyes.  "Now that I look back, though, I realize those tears your Da shed were not for James.  They were for Ethan."

Jonah was quiet for a minute, but the tears continued to swell in his eyes.  "He and Pa have been so good to me."  Jonah barely whispered.  "I hope they know I love them, but I'm not really sure they do.  It's just hard for me, sometimes.  You know?"  He asked, and slowly, a shimmering trickle glided down his cheek. 

"I want to tell them so much, but it just won't come out."  The trickles grew into tiny streams, and I could feel his emotions slowly build, little by little.  "Why am I like this?  Why can't I tell them?"  A heavy sob escaped.  "Why am I so scared to love them?"

And that did it.  As soon as the fear was verbalized, the damn broke, and Jonah cried with years of pent up tears.  It wasn't too long before Ethan and Shaft came sprinting in the room.  I guess when you love someone, you just know when they are hurting.  I don't know, it just seems to be the case in our family.

"Oh, Son."  Ethan sighed, petting Jonah's back.

Jonah turned from my chest and melted into Ethan.  "Da, I really do love you."  He sobbed. 

As Shaft stroked Jonah's head, Jonah pulled him tightly  into one of his arms.  There, he cried himself out, clinging tightly to his fathers.  Over and over again, he kept telling them how much he really loved them.

Love and I held each other that evening, just being thankful for all the blessings we had in our lives.  I know he and I walked to our sons rooms at least a dozen times that night, just so I could tell them how much I loved them.  Poor Love had to listen to me babble on and on for hours, but I didn't want a single moment to go by without my family knowing how much I truly loved them.

Ethan asked me to join him and Jonah in their counseling sessions.  Once the release had been made, I knew there would be so much more to come.  As we discussed the abuse Jonah had suffered, I could feel the anger and rage fester within him.  However, just as he would be on the verge of letting it out, he would push it back down.  A fear would come over him, and down the rage would go, pushed into the far recesses of his soul. 

Jonah was edgy for the following week, being a little short with everyone at times.  As soon as that would happen, though, he would push it down and put on a neutral facade.  I knew his shoes all too well, and I was certain he needed to find a way to release soon.

"I think it's me, Kanawha."  Ethan said somberly.  "He doesn't want to blow up in front of me."  Then, he looked at me with the pleading eyes.  "Maybe you can talk to him again?"

I thought about it for a moment.  "Eth, I think you're right.  I don't think he wants you to see him angry."  I agreed.  "But, at some point, you're gonna have to see him pissed off.  It's just a normal part of life."  Then, I thought some more.  "Still, he needs to learn how to let it all out without exploding on other people."

Ethan smirked at me.  "Right now, I would be glad if he exploded, Big Guy."

"But not if he hurt someone."  I replied.  He was quite a bit like I had been, I was beginning to realize.  "I think that is the fear that makes him swallow down his anger.  He's afraid he will lose control and hurt someone, you in particular."

"So, what are we going to do?"  Ethan asked, knowing all to well I had an idea.

"The same thing Grams did with me."  I grinned, which brought a light chuckle from Ethan.  I guess he remembered those days quite well.

So, on our next session, we met in the home gym.  As Ethan pressed the issue, I could feel the rumbling rage bubbling towards the surface.  Before Jonah could push it back down, Ethan would press further.  Jonah grew more agitated.

Finally, he verbally lashed out.  "It's just not fair!"  He yelled.

"And it's not right."  I said forcefully, holding Jonah's hands to his lap, while Ethan moved to help me.  "What they did to you was horrible.  It wasn't right, and it wasn't fair!"

"How could they do that to me!"  Jonah fumed.  "I was a little kid, and they knocked me around like I was nothing!  Now, I'm all screwed up because of them!"

"I think it sucks!"  I again said forcefully.  Ethan finally got the laces loosened, and I began working them on.  "And I think they are shit for doing that to you!"  I growled, tying the second lace.

"Yeah!"  Jonah roared.

Then, Ethan peered at Jonah eye to eye.  "You're right, Son.  So, go tell them what you think of them."

We then let Jonah loose, and he stared at his hands for a moment.  Then, he jumped up and started punching away.  I swear, to be a little guy, that kid had quite a jab.  He continued ranting  and raving while socking that punching bag for all it was worth.

As he would start to loose his energy level, Ethan and I would stir him up again.  Jonah would then go at that bag for another round of punching, while he continued to verbally vent his anger.  When the rage had finally subsided, Ethan and I brought Jonah back to the chair.

Ethan gently wiped the bangs from his son's eyes.  "Well, how do you feel?"  He asked calmly.

Jonah slowly grinned, and I felt a sense of satisfaction wash over him.  "I feel much better, Da."

"Good.  Now, anytime you want to talk about something that is bothering you, you come and get one of us right then.  If you need to vent or unload physically, get out your gloves and head here."  Ethan smiled reassuringly.  "The punching bag is not going anywhere, Son, and you don't have to worry about hurting it.  Verbally or physically, the bag can take whatever it is you need to get out of your system."  Then, Ethan hugged him tightly.  "I'm proud of you son, and I love you more than you could possibly imagine."

Jonah just glowed from Ethan's last comment.  Then, he smiled at me.  "So, I get to keep these?"  He was referring to the boxing gloves.

"I have a few pair, so I don't see the harm." I then winked at him.  "Just don't hit your brothers or anyone else with them."

"So, where did you guys get these anyway?"  Jonah asked as we began walking down the hallway.

"You mean I've never told you any of my boxing stories?"  I asked. 

As Jonah shook his head no, Ethan snickered.  "Oh, dear Lord!  Not again!"

So, I shared with Jonah my many adventures in boxing.  He and Mark seemed interesting, so I promised to teach them... with Shaft and Ethan's approval, of course.  The boxing seemed to help Jonah through the anger part of his recovery.  One by one, Love, Aisa, and Chance helped him with the rest.

Another thing that had happened during this time was that Jena and Jew had finally set a date for their wedding.  It was Saint Patrick's Day, if you can believe that.  I guess my Sis is a little off sometimes.

Anyway, Jew and Jena wanted a small, simple service, but they had a huge surprise planned, too.  So, we worked diligently getting everything ready during the times we were not busy with work, school functions, or community service events.  Moma Jean was coming, but James was not invited. 

Actually, Moma Jean had moved to Raven Cliff at the beginning of February.  She filed for legal separation with James, and gave him the ultimatum: repair the damage he had done to her family, or she would file for divorce at the end of May.  She actually seemed much happier, but then again, who wouldn't be.  James was an ass.  He always had been, and I just felt certain he always would be.  Still, for her sake, and for the sake of the twins, I prayed I was wrong.

So, we finally had everything ready come time for the wedding.  Hela, aside from cooking much of the food, fixed Jena's hair.  The wedding theme itself was rather unique.  It was set within the era of the 1930's...  the music, the dress, everything.  What the 30's had to do with Saint Patrick's Day, I had no idea, but it was a nice service anyway.
  Roe and Mic had once again outdone themselves. 

Jena was so beautiful, and Ethan had never looked more handsome.  Ethan was to give Jena away, and Shaft was asked to be Jew's best man.  Allen and Cole had found this band to play the music for both the service and the reception that was fantastic.  It was Hela and Thomas who sang, and they did a sensational job.

As Ethan escorted Jena, I couldn't help but smile.  Then the moment came, as Allen announced that it was the wedding of Jena Lafferty and Jason Wilson, along with the commitment ceremony of Ethan Lafferty and Carmine Romero.  The surprise on Ethan and Shaft's faces was priceless.

Jena just smirked at Ethan.  "Well, Bub, we've done everything together our entire lives.  I wasn't about to get married unless you did, too."  Ethan was speechless, for once, but the hug he gave her spoke volumes

Nathan moved to take his place as Jew's best man, while Cole remained as Jena's matron of honor.  Carter and Jonah stood with Ethan, while Dwayne and Mark stood with Shaft.  And, the way it worked out, Cole was also next to her twin, just where we knew he would want her to be.  Love and I then gave consent for Ethan and Jena to be joined with their husbands.

It was wonderful to see my little brother and sister marry the men of their dreams, and I knew Love felt the same way about Jew and Shaft.  It just felt good to know that we each had found someone who completed us, and the fact that we were still within the same household made it even better. 

Love and I gave our keys to the two newlywed couples.  They, along with their sons and that Titan Pop had brought upon us were going to Georgia and to Ohio, just as Love and I had done.  I knew they would have a wonderful time, just getting to know more about their partners.  I was also saddened to see Titan leave us for a week.  That little dog thought he was a rottweiler or something, I swear.  Man, was he ever yappy, too.  So, you had a mouthy, agressive little guy with a huge identity problem and an attitude to match.  What was there not to love in Titan.

In April, we celebrated Aisa's birthday.  As we arrived at the restaurant, Blade, Brad, and Pete sprang from the van, kneeling down and actually kissing the pavement.  That, as you might guess, did not set well with Chance.

"Oh, you's are all just jealous cause you can't drive none, yet.  You's all still to young for that."  Chance bellowed at the three of them.

"Well, I'm not so sure you can drive any either, Chance."  Brad laughed.  "Daddy, please tell me you're driving us home."

I tried my hardest to keep a straight face after that one.  Love kept turning to me so he could giggle without Chance seeing it.  But, when Pop spoke, I just lost it.

Love and I had decided to give Pop the joy and privilege of riding in the passenger seat next to Chance.  Pop ripped his hands, which were practically embedded into the dashboard, away and staggered almost drunkenly out from the van.  I think it was possibly a case of vertigo, maybe.  I'm not sure the term you would use, but I knew the feeling, for I had it every time Chance drove.

He just looked at Chance, sizing him up.  Then, without missing a beat, he simply stated.  "Nancy has been taking you out for lessons, hasn't she son."

I just wilted to the ground with laughter.  I mean, Nana was a horrible driver, and what had ever possessed Love to let her teach that terrible lacking of skill to anyone else, our son in particular, I would never know.  Love joined me on the pavement not a second later.

Chance just smiled proudly, ignoring our laughter.  "Yeah, Pops.  Nana's took me out a bunch 'ese last couple weeks."

Pop turned to Love and me.  "I expect the two of you will be taking him out from now on." He said flatly.  "God only knows how long it will take to undo this.He said, waving his hands in the air towards the van.

Blade and Brad laughed furiously after that, only to further irritate poor Chance. 

"I's a good driver n' you's both know it!"  He shouted.  Then, he looked at Aisa, and I felt so sorry for him.  I knew Chance would pin the poor guy to the wall.  "I's a good driver, ain't I Aisa?"  Chance asked softly.

"It's like God himself is right there in the vehicle with us, whenever you're behind the wheel, Angel."  Aisa replied.

"Only because we're crying out to him to save us."  Love snickered quietly, and I again lost it.

Pete stared at Aisa with his mouth hanging open for a few moments.  "Man, you're good."  was all he said.

Finally, we were settled down enough to walk into the restaurant.  The rest of the family joined us, and Ethan and Shaft kept snickering about Chance's driving.  See, they were right behind us during the trip.  Hela smacked them both on the back of the head, then asked Cole if she would add a special unspoken request to her prayer list.  We all knew what that request was.

Anyway, we ordered our meal, then danced some while waiting.  Love and I worked with teaching Pete and Brad how to dance.  Brad had a wonderful time, just laughing and smiling the entire evening.  Pete was a bit more reserved, but he had a contented smile on his face.  Chance finally quit bickering with Blade about the driving incident, relaxing in Aisa's loving embrace.

Our dinner was pretty good, though several of us commented on Hela and Mic's cooking being much better.  Afterwards, Hela presented Aisa with his birthday cake.  Everyone waited for Aisa to blow out the candles, but he paused.

"You know, I have no idea what to wish for this year."  He smiled, looking at everyone, then settling his eyes on our smaller family.  "I already have everything I could possibly want or need."  Aisa seemed enchanted with Chance for a moment, then, a mischievous grin spread across his face.  "That's what I'll wish for, then." He said softly to himself, just before he blew out the candles.

"Maybe he wished for Chance to learn how to drive."  Pete said in a soft, serious tone that only Love, Brad, and I could hear.  "That's about the only way the poor guy will ever get a license."  I was almost sick, I laughed so hard.

After cake, Aisa opened his gifts.  He received several things he had wanted, such as a new batting glove, mit, and caps.  But, there was one gift that was well beyond the others.  Myra had made Aisa a large trinket box, intricately carved by hand.  He thanked her many times that evening, showing the box off to everyone at least twice.  Finally, Aisa handed Love the box, asking him to keep it safe with the other things he had received.

It was at this time that Love was able to examine the intricate carvings more closely.  He studied them for some time, then motioned for Myra to join us.

"Myra, these symbols... Do you know what they mean?"  He asked.

She just laughed.  "Of course, Uncle Kal.  They're celtic symbols, runes, and Gaelic."

Love smiled, tracing his finger along the largest carving that was on the center of the box lid.  "What is this one?"  I looked to see that it was the same symbol love had drawn for Valerie, the one he said connected the two of us with Aisa and Chance.

"Oh, that is a celtic knot.  This one is called the spiral, though some call it the oval."  She replied.

Love thought a moment, then asked, "Do you know what it means?"

Again, Myra laughed.  "Well, I would hope so."  After a moment, she became more serious.  "This is the celtic symbol for life.  See these four oval areas are all connected and intertwined, creating a knot at the center.  They flow from one to the other, without beginning or end, just as one life flows into the lives of others."

"The four ovals mean different things, depending upon how it is used.  In some cases, they represent the four seasons.  Each season is different from the others, holding its own unique beauty.  Yet, each season is of equal importance, for they exist together to create a balance in nature."

"Sometimes, they represent the four corners of the world... north, south, east, and west.  They are the directions where life may lead us.  Each takes us to a different place in life, yet all four are connected.  Together, they are our points of reference.  We have no idea where we are, from where we came, or to where we are going without these points."  Myra then pointed to the knot in the middle of the symbol.  "In order to find our center and balance in life, we have to be at one with all four corners."

Myra went on to explain other ways the spiral was used, as well as the other symbols that were engraved upon the box.  But, I was too lost in thought to pay much attention.  I remembered my life as it was before I met Love, and before we found our sons.  I was so lonely and uncertain.  Yet, once I had the three of them, I felt complete for the first time in my life.

Then, I thought about how Love had said pretty much the same thing to me, saying he would be lost without the three of us.  Aisa and Chance, well, I just knew they held the same beliefs.  Once again, Valerie's words came back to me... then, four...  We were so interconnected, just like the symbol... four unique beings who added to the whole, as our individual lives poured out into the others.  Together, we created an anchor that would hold us steady during the troubling times we faced in life.


It was so awesome to have younger brothers!  As Pop kept telling me how much David loved, me, I found myself feeling the same way about Pete and Brad.  They were each so different, but I loved them both the same.

As Brad slowly became more confident in himself, he began to accept the fact that we really wanted him.  That only further brought out his fun-loving nature.  I swear, he could find reason to laugh at anything.  And, his laughter was so infectious.  Of course, he was also a bit of a practical joker, but that seemed to only make things more interesting.

Pete gradually came out of his shell.  He never really became overly rowdy or rambunctious, but he did become more comfortable with himself and with us.  Pete had this inner sense of tranquility that began to shine through more and more as time went on.  He also had a very calming effect on Nathan and Jonah, which I knew they needed from time to time.  Pete was a wonderful listener, a person with which you felt you could confide your most guarded secrets.  He had a strong, keen mind, and a surprising wit that just kind of seeped out every once in a while.  What struck me the most about Pete, though, was that he learned to know himself, probably more so than anyone I had ever encountered.

The thing I found so funny was that Brad looked so much like me, yet he was much more like Angel when it came to his personality.  He and Chance both were more like Daddy, to be honest.  They had that same playful nature, and they were both more than willing to fight to protect anything they held dear to them.  He and Angel also held common literary interests.  Once he became more sure of himself with reading, Brad took to it avidly.  Chance loved a good story that had something to say about the world around us, where Brad preferred comics and graphic novels.  Chance was fantastic at acting out stories, while Brad held talents in making them up.  I had to smile when it occurred to me that Brad would someday become a writer. 

Pete looked so much like Daddy, other than having lighter hair.  In that respect, he also looked like Chance.  But, his personality was more like Dad's and mine.  I hate to admit this, but we were more your boring type of people.  Daddy, Angel, and Brad were center-stage personalities, whereas we kind of blended into the background.  The three of us took great delight in watching the world light up around them, though.  The weird thing was we each knew their worlds revolved around us.

I guess we were less high-strung, would be a good way to say it.  Not that we couldn't get upset or angered, but we were slower to rise to it than they were. They were more apt to act on something than we were, too.

It wasn't that Pete, Dad, or I didn't share common traits with Daddy, Angel, or Brad. We did have quite a few, in fact. But, the three of us simply had more of those traits in common with each other, just as they did. 

So, it made for quite an interesting family.  And to be honest, the three of us were probably closest to the three of them.  Daddy and Dad were obviously close.  Angel and I were also made for one another in that same fashion.  Brad and Pete, while not destined to be lovers, were most assuredly soul mates... and Lord did they ever bicker!  It was in a playful manner, though, as they each knew the other was only speaking in jest.

So, with having our brothers, Angel and I spent a great deal of time with them, pursuing one another's interests.  Like when we went to the mall, the four of us would always check out Notables, which sold a bunch of science and math related items.  That was Pete's favorite place on earth.  Chance actually liked the store, too, but it was only because they had these really huge dinosaur models put together.  He would do his voices to entertain Brad while Pete and I looked around. 

We would also hang out at the Comic Citadel, where Brad would practically memorize every item they had.  For Angel, we would head to the arcade.  For me, it was the computer store.

But, we had much in common, too.  We each loved the bookstores, often finding tons of books we wanted.  A great deal of our time at the mall was spent in the three sports shops it held.  We also loved the food court, as we all had healthy appetites.  The video store and the cinema were also big on our to do lists. 

Angel and I would often run into some of the people we knew from school while out, and we were always amazed.  They would either make jokes for us being with our little brothers, or they would complain about having to watch their younger siblings while at the mall.  For us, we relished every moment we were able to spend with Pete and Brad.  We just didn't get it.

Sure, Brad's practical jokes could be a bit annoying...  Like the time he changed every answer to Angel's math homework to the number 4, or the time he glued the soles of my favorite shoes together... neither of us would have traded him for anything.  The best joke I think he pulled was when he found a laundry pen and wrote front and back on every pair of Dwayne and Carter's underwear.  Lord, the guys in gym class had a field day with that one!  We just did what any brother would do.  We got him back.  But, he loved it, and so did we.  It was like Brad was sharing with us this unique part of himself.  And, in the practical joke wars, we bonded with him on that special level.  I can honestly say that neither of us ever really found Pete to be annoying.  Now, Brad, on the other hand would disagree, because when it came to getting Brad back for his antics, Pete was a genius.

I do have to admit, however, that Brad could get the best of Chance pretty easily.  In that manner, Angel tended to be annoyed with him far more than I ever was.  And, when you put Brad and Blade together, you had a disaster in the making.  They just encouraged each other way too much, and most of their pranks were aimed at Angel. 

The thing I believe ruffled Chance the most was when they picked on him about his driving.  OK, he wasn't the greatest driver, but he wasn't that bad... not like they made it out, anyway.   I guess, though, I was the only one who held that opinion, and it is highly likely that I was tainted by my love for my sweet Angel.  Still, no one died when he drove.  You just felt like you were going to a few times during the trip.

But, that was one of the best things about having brothers.  In that regards, Blade fit the bill rather nicely.  You know, Blade had changed quite a bit, but he still had that cocky attitude of his.  The only thing was, I found that attitude to be attractive once I really got to know him.  In fact, I thought it was one of Blade's most endearing features.

Right before the wedding, Pete and Brad passed their entrance exams and began seventh grade.  Pete actually tested into a few advanced classes.  Brad made it in, and we were thankful.  He was given a few special considerations in the classroom, but most of those were related to reading.  He would get his reading assignments a few days before the other kids, because it took him a bit longer to read the material. 

As you might guess, Brad read at a slower pace.  He also didn't know what some of the words meant, so he would have to look them up (Jena had insisted that he use the dictionary rather than us tell him what a word meant.  She said he would remember the meanings better that way.).  Pop bought Brad an electronic dictionary which helped tremendously.  It gave the pronunciation and the meanings for any word typed into it.  Sometimes, Brad would need to read something a few times before he understood it.  I was proud of him, though, because, despite the challenges he had, Brad loved to read.  Honestly, he was so excited that he could read, he used his newfound skill every chance he had.

So, our brothers were in school.  That gave Angel and me the opportunity to do something we never were able to do before.  We helped our little brothers with their homework!  It may not be all that exciting to you, but for us, it meant a great deal.  Along with our dads, we were able to help them learn new things, concepts they would use in the years to come.  Angel and I had a blast, too. 

Brad and Pete had art projects, models, and posters to do quite frequently.  Angel had never had to do any of these things before, so it was all new to him.  But, Chance had such great ideas, and he had this unusual way of learning things.  I had always enjoyed doing those sorts of things, so it was nice to be able to do it again.  Anyway, we spent many a night helping them put these projects together.

The Spring Formal came up at school not too long after my birthday.  Of course, I knew Chance and I would be attending, but I wanted to make that an evening we would never forget.  So, I turned to Mic, Cindy, and Cole for advice.  Later, I would also receive some help from my brothers.

"Well, from a girl's point of view, I like it when Aaron just knocks me off of my feet."  Cindy laughed.  "Sometimes, he makes this big production out of the smallest things, and I just find it charming, I suppose."

Mic seemed to agree.  "It's not what you do, so much as how you do it, sweetie."  She advised me.  "Like the way Jew proposed to Jena.  He could have just given her a dozen roses and then asked her to marry him.  But, he had each one of us give her one rose apiece.  It tied in the people that she loved, and to be honest, I think it made it so much more special."

"Oh, I am completely with you girls on this."  Cole smiled.  "Hmm.  Let's think, Babe."  After a few moments pause, Cole laced her hand in mine.  "To be honest, I think the best way is to start with something that seems so normal and routine.  As you share in that activity, change gears suddenly and do something completely unexpected.  It doesn't have to be grand scale, just something surprising."

Cole grinned at Cindy, then squeezed my hand.  "She's right, you know.  It is the little things that mean the most.  Those little added details make all the difference, sweetie."

I thought about what the three of them had said for a moment.  All the while, I also kept imagining Angel, and how that smile of his lit up his entire face.  When he did that, his eyes would shift to the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen.  I'm sure I had that dopey love-struck look on my face, but I didn't care.  Angel was everything to me, and I was honored to have him in my life.

"Thanks, ladies."  I smiled, getting up to go think in our room.  "I'm not sure what I'll do just yet, but I understand what you mean.  You've given me a lot of ideas, though."  I snickered.

"I know you'll think of something that will knock Chance right out of his socks."  Mic smiled.  "And, if you need any more help, you know where we are."

I gave them all a hug, then headed to our room.  Angel was goofing off with Blade and Aaron down in Dwayne and Carter's room, so I had some time to think.  I went through our usual daily routine several times.  Finally, I figured out the perfect setting to spring my surprise.  All I had to do was figure out the surprise.

That was a tough one, and I thought about it for most of the next two days.  Everything I thought of, though, seemed stupid.  Then, out of the blue, the idea struck.  It happened while Angel and I were showering, and I almost blurted it out before I remembered he wasn't supposed to know about it if it were to be a surprise.

That entire weekend, I searched frantically on the internet.  I downloaded so many things, but they all ended up in the recycling bin.  Pete and Brad had come in a few times on Saturday, wondering if I wanted to go to the mall with them, and I finally explained what I was doing.  They seemed to understand and left me in peace.  On Sunday afternoon, they returned to the study and handed me a CD.

"We think this one will do the trick."  Pete grinned.

"Oh, yeah!  I think it's perfect."  Brad laughed.

So, I checked out the CD and had to agree. 

"You know, you could come up to our rooms to get ready for this."  Brad suggested.  "We can tell you what we think, and you'll have privacy so Chance won't know anything about it."

He had an excellent point, so that is what I did.  We actually had a good time, and the two of them gave me some great advice.  Before time to leave for church, we had the surprise all figured out.  I then called Blade, who agreed to bring the things I would need.  That way, Angel would have no clue whatsoever.

As Monday morning came, I was very antsy.  I just knew Chance would pick up on it, but I guess he thought I was nervous over our math test.  As Pete and Brad hugged me when we were dropping them off at school, they both wished me luck. 

The morning passed by so slowly.  It seemed like we were in each of our morning classes for hours, especially math.  I had trouble concentrating on the test, and ended up missing a few questions that I felt stupid for missing.  Angel laughed at me for griping about it, but he told me repeatedly that I would do better on the next test.

Finally, we went to lunch.  It seemed like the cafeteria was much more crowded than normal, but I realize now that it was only my nerves.  Angel and I found seats at a table right in the middle of the room.  As he was unpacking our lunches, Aaron gave me the nod.  So, I pulled Angel to his feet and led him a few steps away from the table.  Then, Blade started the music.

Right there in front of over 1/3 of our school, I sang to Chance 'ANGEL OF MINE'.  I guess we were both a little red faced at first, but I soon forgot that anyone else was in the world.  I just gazed into his glorious green eyes and sighed as they shifted to that beautiful blue.  He had the most bashful look on his face as I began singing the lines. "When I first saw you, I already knew there was something inside of you, something I thought that I would never find... Angel of mine.  I look at you lookin' at me.  Now I know why they say the best things are free.  I'm gonna love you boy, you are so fine... Angel of mine.  How you've changed my world, you'll never know.  I'm different now, you've helped me grow.  You came into my life, sent from above.  When I lost all hope, you showed me love.  I'm checkin' for you, boy, you're right on time... Angel of mine."  Then, a tear trickled down his lovely face, and he leaned onto my shoulder and danced with me.

Once I finished the song, I smiled at him lovingly.  Then, I asked him to be my date to the spring formal.  I guess we had both assumed we would be going together, but I wanted to make it special.  I wanted to ask him to be my date.  Chance smiled so brightly when I proposed the question, and for an answer, he gave me a rather passionate kiss.  There was a bit of cheering, wolf whistling, and yelling going on during that kiss, and I honestly thought it would last forever.

But, the hand on my shoulder let me know otherwise.  The lunchroom attendant broke up the kiss and took Angel and me to the office.  There, we alternated between sweating it out, giggling, and telling each other how much we loved the other.  Then, it was time to face the music.

Principal Jackson was not amused.  "Boys, I really like you both.  You come to school, you study hard, you participate in activities, and you don't cause any problems.  Not until today, anyway."  Then, he shot us a very stern look.  "So, who wants to explain to me why the two of you are in my office for causing a disruption in the lunchroom?"

Poor Angel was so nervous, and I could hear him thinking he was going to be thrown out of school.  So, I jumped in.  After all, it was really my fault.

"Well, sir, the spring formal is coming up, and I wanted to make it special for Chance and me."  Then, I explained the entire story.  "So, it's really all my fault, not Angel's."

"That ain't quite true, sir."  Chance said softly, looking down at his feet.  "I's the one that kissed Aisa, so I's done broked 'em rules, too."

Principal Jackson gave us both a long, hard stare, and I felt myself squirming a bit.  Then, he called Dad, and I had to explain the whole thing over again.  While I had Dad on the phone, he commented a few times on how sweet he thought the whole thing was.  Once I got to the part about being taken to the office, he laughed a bit, then told me not to worry.  He said we would have to face whatever punishment Principal Jackson handed out, but neither of us were in trouble on the home front.  That gave me a small bit of relief, and I sighed as Principal Jackson spoke with Dad again.

"Boys, this is your first offense, and since you really did not cause any harm to others, I am going to go easy on you."  He somberly stated.  "But, know this:  Rules are rules, and you have to follow them, just like everyone else.  So, you both will have in-school suspension for the next three days."  He gave us another stern glare.  "I could bar you from attending the spring formal, but I won't this time."  Then he leaned forward and peered at us over the top of his glasses.  "Just don't let there be a next time."  He said firmly.

"Yes, sir."  I sighed.

"I's promise ya.  I's 'll obey all 'em ol' rules from now on, sir."  Chance swore.  Then, his forehead rumpled in thought.  "Say, is it OK for Aisa n' me to hold hands whiles we's waklin' in the halls n' stuff?"  Principal Jackson gave him a questioning look, so Chance clarified.  "I's not wantin' to break no more of 'em rules or nothin', so's I thought I's better ask ya 'fore we gets into more trouble's all."

A slight smirk quickly spread across his stone face, then faded just as fast.  "The hands, I can live with.  Just keep those wandering lips separated while you are in this building."

"We's 'll do that, sir."  Angel promised.

So, we were sent to this dimly lit room in the basement.  The cool thing was that Coach Armstrong, the baseball coach, was over in-school suspension.  When Angel and I mentioned that we wanted to try out for the team, his stern look softened a bit.

"Well, you won't be on the team if I keep seeing you in here."  He chuckled.  "So, do either of you have any experience?"

For the next three days, Angle and I learned a great deal about baseball... Well, Coach Armstrong's version of baseball history and views of the game, anyway.  I actually liked the guy, and I believe he liked the two of us.  When he asked why we were suspended, he had a slight look of shock to his face from our answer, but it quickly softened.

"My brother's boy is one of those gays."  He replied after a few moments.

I couldn't help myself, but I let out a slight laugh.  'One of those gays' just struck me as funny for whatever reason.

"As long as you are not making out all over each other on my field or in the dugout, I could care less what you boys do with each other."  He smiled.  "Brian, that's my brother's boy, has been on the all-star team for the past three years.  If this season goes well, he stands to earn a full scholarship to the university."  I could see great pride in his eyes, and that made me feel more comfortable.

"So, you's pretty close with 'im, I's reckonin'"  Chance smiled, picking up on this.

"He's practically mine."  Coach grinned.  "They just live across the street, so Brian comes over almost every day.  I help him with his math and with his batting.  He wants to go into mechanical engineering."

"Daddy's doin' 'at engineerin' stuff, too.  I ain't really sure what kind or nothin', though."  Angel laughed.  "I reckon if 'at Brian of yours gets to havin' 'im some trouble, Daddy might be able to help 'im some."

"I'll keep that in mind."  Coach smiled, and I just had this feeling that Angel had made himself a spot on the team.

As the suspension was finally over, Angel and I went with our dads and brothers to the mall.  We needed to get Angel another shirt for his tux, since he had spilled grape juice on his other shirt at the wedding.  All through the mall, Brad referred to us as 'the criminal element of the family.'  Dad and I found it funny, but it riled Chance up every time Brad said it.

"I reckon you's pushin' to gettin' you'self some trouble, ol' boy."  Chance glared.

Brad just laughed in his face.  "No way.  Pete and I are the 'good boys.'  You and Aisa are the one's getting suspended and stuff."

"I's gonna 'spend you... right outside your bedroom window by your ankles if'n's you don't start 'havin' you'self."  Chance scowled.  As he met Brad's saucer-sized eyes, they both burst into laughter.

"Oh, all right.  You win."  Brad chuckled.  "It's getting old, anyway."

So, in peace, we shopped for Chance.  Then, we hit all the regular stores on our list, starting with Notables.  After checking out everything, we went to  China Wok, where Angel stuffed himself with egg rolls.  Finally, we headed home. 

After finishing our homework, we read together in the study.  Nathan came by, wanting to know if we wanted to watch a movie with him, so the six of us accepted his generous offer.  He sat next to Dad, and the two of them talked quietly while the rest of us watched the screen.  Jonah, Mark, Dwayne, and Myra joined us about 15 minutes into the movie.  We talked a little bit about the formal during the slower parts, and everyone seemed just as excited as Angel and I were.

That night, we had trouble sleeping, as the excitement seemed to be building.  Angel snuggled himself up on my chest, where I lightly scratched his back.  We talked about the dance, who was going with whom, and all that.  We also talked about getting suspended, laughing about the look on the lunch lady's face when she pulled us apart.  Then, Angel asked me if I would sing to him again.  I probably sang that song five times that night, before my little angel finally fell asleep.  I guess I watched him in his slumber for a good two hours before I slipped into dreamland myself.

The next day went by at a snails pace.  I guess it was the anticipation for Friday night, but everyone seemed to be caught up in it.  Finally Thursday ended with yet another restless night.  Friday, however went by quickly. 

After school, Dad picked us up and took us to Hela's shop, where she trimmed all of our hair.  I had debated on getting the last of the blue tips cut out of my hair, but Angel said he really liked them.  So, Hela foiled in some more highlights, then applied the electric blue dye over them.  Chance found the entire ordeal amazing, and Hela even let him apply some of the dye.

While waiting for the color to process, Hela put Myra's hair up, and she looked hot.  Yeah, I wasn't into girls at all, but even as a gay guy, I had to admit that she was radiant.  I giggled as I envisioned Blade's reaction to seeing Myra.  She would most assuredly blow him away.  Once we were home, and she put on her dress, I honestly thought I had never seen a girl look more lovely.

Chance and I decided to get dressed in different rooms, so we would be surprised when we first laid eyes on each other.  I guess it was kind of lame, seeing that we both knew exactly what the other was wearing.  But, it did bring upon a swarm of butterflies in my stomach and tons of anticipation as I awaited him in the living room. 

As soon as he rounded the stairs, my heart skipped a beat.  I knew God had never made another human being that was anywhere near as beautiful as my Angel.  When he reached the bottom of the steps, I took his hand in mine.  I noticed he was wearing the ring I bought him, as he had since Christmas.  He smiled at me when he saw I was still wearing the bracelet he had given me.

"You's just so beautiful."  Chance almost whispered.

I swallowed hard, trying to control the rage of hormonal urges that seemed to plague me since those dreams had started.  "No one can compare to you, Angel."

"I think you both look handsome."  Pete smiled.  Then, he raised the camera and took another picture.  "I'll print these out and put them in the album tonight."

"You guys look good."  Brad smirked.  "Pete and I are better looking, but you both look good."

That little laughter released some of the tension from my stomach, and I hugged Brad.  "I needed a good laugh." I said, winking at him.  "My stomach was in knots."

He sprouted this humorous face.  "You better watch it, Chance.  The boy's got gas."

Daddy threw Brad over his shoulder, laughing at his antics.  "You're hardly one to talk about someone having gas, sewer britches."  That was so true.  And, what was worse was that Brad was at the age where he thought letting them loose was a form of fun and entertainment.  "You both look stunning."  Daddy smiled.

"That they do, Love."  Dad agreed, wrapping his arms around the both of us.  "You guys have fun tonight, and call us if anything happens."

"Don't worry, Dad."  I snickered.  "We're going in the limo, so no one is even driving.  And the whole thing is over at 10:30."  Pop had rented us a limo for the ride over and back home.

"We's will call if'n's anythin' happens, Dad."  Chance calmly stated, hugging Dad reassuringly.  "But, honest, we's gonna be just fine."

"Just be careful."  Dad smiled.  "I'll try not to worry, but I'm not making any promises."

Finally, Myra joined us down stairs, and the eight of us piled into the limo.  The ride over was so much fun, though everyone was a bit nervous.  At least, I had my date already with me.  The others, though, were nervous as could be.

Once we arrived, we met the anxiously awaiting dates of everyone else.  Blade almost fainted when he saw Myra in all her glory.  Dakota grinned bashfully, then kissed Carter softly.  Kara took Dwayne's arm, commenting on how handsome he looked.  Mark was escorting Shelly, a girl from his English class, who seemed rather pleased with the way he looked in his tux. 

Jonah had been fixed up by Shelly with her brother, Jerry.  He and Jonah had talked for a few weeks at lunch, but both of them were caught in awkwardness.  I could tell, though, that they each liked what they were seeing.  Angel smiled his agreement with my assessment.

Nathan met with his date, and we strolled into the gymnasium.  He was just about to make introductions, when a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his waist.

"Hey, beautiful."

Nathan blushed, but chuckled lightly.  "H-h-hey, Aaron."

"Hey guys.  You all look nice."  Aaron commented, as he smiled at the rest of us. 

"So, Nathan, who is this fine looking young man?"  Cindy commented, wrapping her arm around Nathan's back.

"Th-this is T-t-t-trace.  H-he's in m-m-my b-biolog-g-gy c-c-c-class."  Nathan was so nervous, but he looked adorable fidgeting with his tie.

"M-hmm."  Cindy sounded, sizing Trace up.  "So, what does he want to do with his life?"

Trace just smiled as he stood by, listening to Nathan's explanation as if his very life hung on every word.  For that reason, I immediately liked the guy.  "H-he's an artis-s-st.  A p-p-painter, r-really.  A-a-and, h-he w-w-writes m-m-music, too."  Nathan smiled.

"Is he any good?" She asked, grinning widely.

Nathan leaned his head to rest on hers.  "I th-th-think s-so."

Cindy smiled and cast her gaze back and forth between Aaron and Nathan.

"Well, come on, beautiful."  Aaron chuckled, taking Nathan's hand.  "That's our signal to go dance while Cindy grills your date."

Nathan just laughed, and started towards the dance floor with Aaron.  He paused and turned back to her.  "J-j-just be n-n-nice."

Cindy feigned a look of shock.  "I am always nice."  She giggled.  The two of them went on to dance, and Cindy turned her attention to Trace.  "So, Trace... I don't have to tell you that Nathan is very dear to Aaron and me."

Trace smiled.  "I think he is rather special, myself."

"Good.  Then you won't want to hurt him."  She said, somewhat as a warning.  "You do have a few points in your favor, though.  I like the fact that you don't try to say things for him.  You let him speak for himself."

A defensive scowl crossed Trace's face.  "Look, I think Nathan expresses himself just fine, so..."

Cindy just laughed and cut him off.  "So do we all, Trace.  That's what I was saying.  I like the fact that you feel that way, too."

"Oh."  He replied, flushing with embarrassment.  "Well, then I guess I should apologize and say thank you."

Cindy then led Trace to the dance floor, where the rest of us joined them.  I smiled seeing Aaron dancing with Nathan.  He was one amazing guy, and Aaron was a good friend for Nathan to have.  He started calling Nathan 'beautiful' after Cindy had said she thought Nathan was hot.  And, Aaron did not care who was around, he still always called Nathan that. 

Trace was a handsome guy, and he looked nice with Nathan.  He kept his long dark hair tucked neatly behind his ears.  He had the kind of hair that illuminated with a healthy shine, that thick, straight kind of hair most people wished they had.  His cool brown eyes hid his thoughts and emotions, though I felt certain his smile was genuine when he looked at Nathan.

"I reckon they's gonna make good friends, maybe, but he ain't who Nathan's 'posed to be with." Angel commented in my ear as we danced.  "I's still like 'im, though, cause he ain't all flustered by Nathan talkin' like he does."

"Yeah.  I noticed it too, Angel.  And, I think Nathan could use a few extra friends."  I commented, knowing my Angel was right.

I looked around to see Wyatt dancing with a really cute guy almost the same height as he.  "Who's that?"  I asked.

Chance looked then shrugged his shoulders.  "Some friend of Cindy's brother or somethin' like that.  I just knows she fixed 'im up on a date's all."  Then, Chance giggled.  "Honest, 'at ol Wyatt's just too fast like with 'em hands of his.  I's can't read what he's a sayin' quick enough 'fore he's on to somethin' else.  That's all I's could make out of it.  Cindy done fixed 'im up n' somethin' or 'nother 'bout her brother."

I just held my angel close to me, grinning at how special he was.  A few slow songs were played, and I closed my eyes, losing myself in time... just feeling my heart beating next to Chance's.  He gently stroked my back, pulling me even closer into him.  As the next fast song started, I leaned back and gazed into his eyes.  I was just about ready to kiss him, when he put his hand up gently to my mouth.

"We's gotta 'bey 'em ol' rules, Aisa."  He sighed.  "I's really wantin' to kiss you real bad like, but we's promised we wouldn't do that here at school."

I rubbed my cheek against his.  "You're right as usual, Angel.  I guess we can make out on the way home, though."  I snickered.

"What if I's ain't that kinda date?"  He shot.

"Then, I'm in for a really long night."  I laughed.

The rest of the evening went by smoothly.  Chance and I had several pictures taken, as a couple and with our family and friends.  On the way home, we did make out rather heavily.  But, we kept to our promise, no matter how hard it was not to break.  It was going to be a long three years, I figured, before we could get married.  But, I knew it would be worth the wait.  I just hoped my hormones didn't drive me insane before we finally had that special night.

"I's know, Aisa.  I's really wishin' we's married right 'bout now too."  He whispered as he kissed my ear, right before we fell asleep that evening.  "I's reckon we's gonna get used to 'at cold water 'fore then."

I had to laugh, but I knew all too well how agonizing this decision to wait was going to be.  Even though my mind tried to focus else where, my lower body seemed to have one single goal and purpose:  to share itself with Angel.  It uncomfortably throbbed every time Chance passed near me, or when I would smell him on my clothes or pillow, or even when he crossed my mind.  So, it was pretty much rock solid all the time.  Still, in the comfort of Angel's arms, I found peace, and drifted off to sleep. 

As the spring approached, Chance and I went out for baseball, and we both made the team.  Coach had it set up so that the pitchers would switch out each inning to save their arms.  I was our second and sixth inning pitcher, and Chance was my catcher.  He was our fourth and eighth inning pitcher, and I would catch for him.  We had a special dinner the night we found out we had made the team, and Roe made some comment about pitchers and catchers.  Hela slapped him good, but I wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about.  I figured it had something to do with sex, but I couldn't quite figure out how that fit in with baseball positions.  I knew a lot of the guys referred to the different bases in terms of where their relationships were heading, but that didn't make since with what Roe was implying.

Anyway, we were getting ready for our first game when the court liaison came by for our first home visit.  Pop had picked Chance and me up from practice and brought us home.  He was talking with our dads in the living room when we arrived.

"Hey."  Dad smiled, getting up to meet us midway across the room.  He hugged us tightly.  "How did practice go?  Hey Pop."  He smiled, hugging Pop as well.

"Pretty good I reckon."  Chance smiled.  "We's both striked out a few of 'em boys!"

"I knew you would do just fine."  Daddy smiled, hugging us both.  "Still, I'll have something to brag about at work tomorrow."  He laughed.

Dad introduced us to the liaison.  "This is Chance.  And, this is Aisa."

"Aisa is not down for adoption."  The man said as he reviewed his papers, and something about him seemed familiar to me.

"No.  We already have guardianship of him."  Daddy explained.

The man kept staring at me and Pop.  Then, a smile crossed his face.  "Aisa and Derek Moirae, right?"

"Yeah."  I answered.  "You seem familiar for some reason."

"Well, Aisa threw me for a minute, because I knew you as Eric.  But, I remember your middle name being Aisa, and it being something special for you."  He grinned.  "It's me, Willie.  Willie Watkins."

I was so surprised, and so was Pop.  Willie was David's best friend, up until he died.  Willie had came by to see me a couple of times after David shot himself, but he disappeared shortly after David was actually dead.  "Oh, wow!"  I exclaimed.  "Man, it's been a long time.  Almost 10 years I guess."

"Man, have you ever grown."  He smiled, hugging me tightly.  "You've turned out to be a handsome guy, though.  You look a lot like David, you know."

"Well, Dad looks more like him, actually."  I smiled, pointing out the obvious resemblance.  "You should see some of his pictures when he was David's age."  I added.  "You would be surprised."

Willie regarded Dad a moment, then looked confused.  "So are you related to Derek and Aisa?  I almost called you Eric." He winked at me.

"No.  I just happen to look the part."  Dad laughed.  "Brad fits right in there with us."

Willie agreed, and then commented on how much Chance looked like Dad and Daddy.

"Yeah, we think so, too."  Daddy laughed.

We talked for a few more minutes, then we showed him around the house.  He made lots of notes, but he commented several times on how much he loved the old hotel.  He then asked each of us several questions and filled out some forms.

"Do you own this place?"  He asked Daddy.

"Well, Love and I both own a home, but, no, we don't own this one."  Then, he thought a moment.  "Will that be a problem?  Should we start looking for a house to buy, here in Raven Cliff?"

Willie sighed.  "Honestly, it goes more in your favor if you own the residence where the child in question is being raised."  Then, he paused a moment.  "Look, you both seem like nice men, and I think these boys are happy here.  But, you are two gay men trying to both adopt these children.  My advice is to do everything you can that would go in your favor.  In all honesty, your case will be raked over strongly.  They will look for anything they can.  It's not fair, and it's not right.  But, it is how they do things."  He said sadly.  "I'll do everything I can to help you, and that includes some off the record advice.  All of the children need their own rooms, or at least their own beds.  Aisa and Chance share a room and a bed?"  He asked

"Well, I actually have my own room."  I stated.  "It's right through the door in our bathroom.  But, I never use it.  Angel and I just got used to sleeping together, and, now, I can't sleep without him."

"You have a room and bed though?"  He smiled.

"Yes.  But, like I said..." I replied, only to be cut off.

"For my report, each of you have your own room.  Whether or not you actually use it doesn't matter to me, personally.  I just won't add any of that into the report."  He grinned.  "And, one more thing.  I think it is great you have someone, Aisa, but when the auditors come along, it is best for you not to mention the fact that Chance is your boyfriend.  They might assume things that would not be looked upon favorably."  Then he pat my shoulder.  "Just don't give them any more information than what they ask."

"So, I guess we need to start looking for a house."  Dad said somewhat sadly.  I knew this place meant a lot to all of us, and it bothered me that we would have to move.  I wondered how we would adjust to not having everyone else around.

"If you do, then call me."  Willie said softly.  "I'll make sure everything is square for the auditors."

"Thanks, bud."  Daddy said, almost as sadly as Dad did.

"So, what happened to you?"  Pop asked.  "I looked for you to come by, but you just disappeared."

Willie let out a huge sigh.  "Well, it was just so hard for me, sir.  David was my best friend, and all I could think about while I was there was David and what had happened.  Then, seeing each of you so devastated, well, it just made it that much harder."  He was lost in thought for a moment.  "Then, when I gave Alicia the letter, she made it pretty clear that I wasn't welcome there anymore."

"What letter?"  Pop asked.

Willie looked shocked.  "You mean she never told you?"

"Told me what?"  Pop asked, and I could tell by the edge in his voice he was getting angry at mother.

"Sir, I'm really sorry."  Willie replied soothingly.  "David had put a letter in my locker after school, right before he shot himself.  I found it the day after all that happened.  In the envelope, there were two other letters.  One was for you and Alicia.  The other was for Aisa.  My letter just said that he was sorry for what he did, and to not think badly of him.  He said that he loved me, and he asked that I give you and Alicia the letter.  He then asked that I find Aisa once he was 18 and give him the letter David left to him."  He paused again.  "I had no idea she never told you about the letter."

Pop fumed for a few minutes, ranting about mother.  "Do you know why he did it?"  Pop asked Willie, as tears filled his eyes.

"Honestly, sir, he never told me.  He was my best friend, but there were a lot of things David kept to himself.  It was part of who he was, I guess.  Anyway, I just assumed he left an explanation in the letter he had left for you and Alicia."  He wiped the tears from his eyes.  "I'm not sure if she would tell you anything or not.  But, I still have the letter he left for Aisa. I don't know what it contains, but maybe it has some answers."

Pop sobbed quietly, and I hugged him tightly, joining him in his tears.  "I just want to understand."  Pop said softly.  "I just want to know why.  If I could find that out, then maybe I could finally move on."

Willie hugged us both.  "Well, if you're up to it, you can come home with me.  I have the letter in a box on my dresser, right next to that picture of the two of us from our last halloween together."

"You still have that picture, huh?"  Pop commented, trying his best to smile.

Tears trickled down Willie's face.  "Like I said, sir, he was my best friend, and I loved him.  There has not been a day that has gone by that I've not missed him."  He let out a heavy sob.  "A huge part of me died the day he left us.  It was like half my soul was ripped away."

As he said this, I knew it was true.  Willie was David's soul mate, and this knowledge had me clinging to Angel, never wanting to let him go.  Somehow, I just knew that losing David had altered Willie's life in many ways, and I didn't know if I could go through something like that.  I mean, I loved David.  He was my brother and my hero.  But, Angel was half of who I was, the better part of me.  How could I ever face a day without him by my side?

Gently, his fingers brushed my tears aside.  "I's never gonna leave you, Aisa.  Not like that, I ain't, so you's don't have to be scared of that."

I melted in his arms, as he lovingly held me.  "I can't ever lose you, Angel.  Not ever."  I pleaded.

I felt Daddy's arms wrap around me, as he snuggled me to his chest.  "We're all still here, Son.  Just, don't leave us again."  Gently, he rocked Angel and me back and forth, as I bore my soul in shimmering streams.  For some time, I rested in Daddy's strength and Angel's love.

"Never, Daddy.  I'll never be Sorrow again."  And, it was true.  I knew it was. 

I had changed, grown in so many ways.  I knew I would never fall back into those old ways, for I had so many things going for me now.  I had my dads' love, my Angel's hope, and I had my faith.  I also had a good relationship with Pop.  Then, there was Pete and Brad, not to mention, the rest of our family.  No, I would never again be Sorrow, and that thought comforted me.

As I cried myself out, I looked to see Pop and Willie wrapped tightly in Dad's firm embrace.  I became aware that Willie was led down a path, a course in life that brought him to us.  Through him, Pop and I might find closure with David's death.  But, I also knew there was another purpose.  Willie was one of the people the four of us were to help.  In my thoughts, Angel agreed, saying that Dad was already starting his part.

"Lord, I'm a mess."  Willie sort of laughed, wiping his tears from his face.  "Sorry to fall apart on you, there."

Dad squeezed his shoulder gently.  "Considering everything, I think you needed to, buddy."  Then, he gave Willie one of those smiles Dad had that let you know everything was going to be wonderful.  "You know, if you ever need someone to talk with, I am always available.  You have our numbers, and I honestly don't mind you using them.  Anytime you need to, call."

Willie regarded Dad in amazement for a moment.  "Thanks."  He smiled.  "You know, I really hope you guys win and both get to adopt these boys."

"That makes for quite a few of us."  Pop said, resting his hand on Dad's shoulder.  "Sonny is a wonderful father, and so is Kanawha.  These boys belong with them."  He said firmly.

"Sonny."  Willie said softly.

"Yeah."  Pop replied, pulling Dad to him. 

A silence passed.

"Well, I guess we should go over to my place and open that letter."  Willie said, trying to sound confident.

"Do you mind if the rest of my boys come with us?"  Pop asked.

Willie chuckled in response.  "Honestly, I think we might need the extra support."

"That's what I was thinking."  Pop replied.

So, we followed Willie home.  Dad asked if I wanted to drive, but I knew my mind wasn't up to it just then.  I sat between Pop and Angel, gripping each of their hands tightly with my own.  Willie pulled up in front of a large apartment building.  He unlocked the main door, holding it open as we entered. 

I was surprised to be honest.  I had figured he would live in some well-to-do neighborhood, seeing that he worked in the court system.  But, I was mistaken.  The place was really run down in my opinion.  After walking up four flights of stairs, he led us down a hallway and to his apartment.  The apartment itself was old and somewhat worn around the edges, I guess you might say.  But, it was very clean and decorated nicely.  It was apparent that Willie might not have had everything, but he took great pride in what he did have.  That was more like the way our family was, and I found myself quite comfortable in his home.

He showed us around the five rooms in his apartment, finishing with his bedroom.  He walked over to a wooden box and raised the lid.  Shuffling through its contents, he pulled out an aged envelope.  I was trembling when he handed it to me.

The outside was addressed to ERIC AISA, written in all capital letters for whatever reason.  I looked at Pop, then my dads, then Willie, and finally at Angel.  Each of them smiled their encouragement and support.  I took in a deep breath as I tore open the envelope.

A picture and a necklace fell out of the envelope as I removed the letter.  The necklace was David's arrowhead, something he had worn everyday that I could remember.  The picture was of the two of us, sitting out on the porch just days before he shot himself.  As I studied the picture, I still saw no traces on his face to indicate his inner turmoil or grief.  So I looked at the letter, gathered my courage, then unfolded the paper.

Hey Squirt,

If you are reading this, then I guess you are hopefully old enough to understand some of what I want to say.  I don't know what Mom or Pop may have told you about me, but I want to make sure you at least know what happened.  If you're mad at me, I want to say I'm sorry, though I guess you have every right to be. 

I also want you to know how much I love you, Squirt.  Yeah, I love Pop and Willie, too.  I've tried really hard these last few months to love Mom, but I can't honestly say I do.  But, you have always been so special to me.  From the day you were born, I have loved you more than I think I could ever love anyone else.  In fact, you're the only thing that has kept me hanging on these last few months.  I want so much to see you grow up, because I know you are going to become something very special.  Just like I know that, someday, Aisa will be a special name for you.  Things have just become to much for me, though, Squirt, and I'm really sorry, but I can't hold on much longer.  I just hope you can forgive me one day for any of the pain or sorrow I might have caused you by doing what I am going to do.  Just know that it had nothing to do with you.  As I said, I love you with all of my heart, little brother.

I don't know if you will even remember Rhonda, but she was my girlfriend.  Well, one night, after one of our school dances, we got a little too close.  We ended up making out on the football field, and we went even further than just making out.  Who would have thought that on our very first time out of the gate, Rhonda would end up pregnant.

When she told me, I was scared at first.  But, I quickly became excited.  Somehow in my mind, I knew I was going to have a son, and I planned on naming him Eric Andrew after you and Willie.  But, Rhonda wasn't very excited.  In fact, she didn't want me to tell anyone about it.  After a couple of weeks, her mother and father called Mom.

Mom took me over to their house, where I was screamed at for being so irresponsible.  Yeah, I know it wasn't the best family planning on our part, but there was a little boy who was on his way into the world.  And, that little boy was a part of me. 

Mom said Rhonda should get an abortion because we were far too young to be parents.  She even offered to pay for it.  Rhonda's parents agreed, and, to my surprise, so did Rhonda.  I was the only one who wanted my son, and I freaked out.  I kept begging them over and over to not take my son from me, but they all said I was being irrational.  Here I was, little Eric's own father, yet I had no rights to him at all.  I was devastated, and it all went down hill from there.

I cried the entire trip home.  Mom just screamed at me the whole time.  She threatened to throw me out if I told anyone about the baby... including Willie, you, and Pop.  She also told me that I better put on a front and act as if nothing were wrong or I would never see you again.  I was already losing my son, and she threatened to take the one person I loved more than anything away, as well.  So, you might be able to understand why I cannot say I love her.  Maybe you think I am wrong.  Maybe you think she was only trying to do what was best for me, but I just cannot see it that way.  Anyway, I didn't want to ever lose you, Squirt, so I played along with her game.

Two weeks later, Rhonda said she lost the baby, but I knew what had happened.  Mom just told me it was for the best and to put it all behind me.  I really tried to do that, Squirt.  Honestly, I did.  But, my son was gone, and nobody seemed to care.  I wasn't even allowed to grieve for him, or Mom would take you from me, too.  Then, a couple weeks later, I found the canceled check made out to the clinic.  They killed him.  They killed my son.

I was furious and had a huge argument with Mom.  I even called Rhonda and her parents, telling them all how I felt about what they had done.  But, he was gone, and there was nothing I could to to bring him back.  There was nothing I could have done to save him, either.  I failed, Squirt.  I failed as a father to save my own son.

It's been almost two months now since I found that check, since I found out that they killed my little Eric.  I just can't go on anymore, Squirt.  I can't pretend everything is all right any longer.  I hurt so much inside, and there is no other way to stop this ache that's embedded itself into my soul.  I just hope God will forgive me and, maybe, allow me to see my son, just one time.  That's all I want, to just be able to hold him once and tell him I love him.

I'm really sorry if I've caused you any grief over what I am about to do or by having Willie give you this letter.  He's a great guy, and I hope the two of you will become close, if you aren't already.  I just wanted you to know the whole truth, Squirt, and that it had nothing to do with you.

I love you, and I hope your life is filled with love and happiness.  I hope you find that special someone and can have a family of your own someday.  I think that might be hard for you, though, because I believe that special someone is going to be a guy.  If I'm wrong, please don't take any offense.  I've just always known you were a little different.  Special, I guess, is a better word.  If I'm right, though, I hope he is every bit as amazing as I know you are going to be.  Hold tight to him, little brother, and live life the best you can.  If there is anyway possible, I'll find a way to be there with you.  You might not see me, but I hope you'll be able to feel me near by, watching over you.

With all my love,

I cried for a good two hours, reading his letter over and over again.  I think we all did, really.  I guess I thought that in knowing why he did it, I would feel better about it.  But, I didn't.  I could feel David's pain, and it hurt.  I was also very angry at our mother for doing what she did.  But, I wasn't angry at all with David.  If anything, I loved him even more.  I didn't agree with his decision, but at least I understood how he felt and what he was going through.

"I's think he knowed 'bout me, Aisa."  Chance said softly, rubbing my hand. 

I read the last paragraph again, then smiled through my tears.  "David knew me pretty well, I guess."

"And, he loved ya, too.  I's can tell he really loved you."  He soothed, squeezing my hands in his own.

"I just hope he knows his wish for me came true."  I replied, pulling Angel to me.  "You are the most amazing guy I know, Angel.  And, my life is filled with love and happiness... thanks to all of you."  I said, looking at my dads, my brothers, Pop, and Angel.  "Wherever you are, David, I hope you know how much I love you.  I always have, and I always will."  I sighed.

Daddy wrapped me in his arms.  "It will take some time, Son, but it will get better."

"I know, Daddy."  I said, leaning my head back to rest on his shoulder.  "I just hate knowing how he didn't feel he could turn to anyone.  But, at least now, I know why, and I understand."

I carefully folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope, along with the picture.  Then, with Angel's help, I put David's arrow head around my neck.  Daddy was right.  It took time, and I grieved for David even more than when he died.  But, I didn't fall into the depression.  This time, I had support.  I had my family, and that made a world of difference.  I could also feel David sometimes, like he was right beside me.  Often, I wished he really was there.

Willie spent a good bit of time with us, for a while.  Dad became his shoulder and a sympathetic ear to listen to his woes.  I shared in his grief, I guess giving him comfort in knowing that he was not alone in it all.  Daddy gave him counsel, pointing him towards recovery.  And, Angel, he gave him encouragement that life would get better.  And, after a while, it did.  As things became better, Willie and I forged a friendly relationship, partly to fulfill David's wish, but also because we both found we liked being around one another.

We went to Max's one day for dinner, our smaller family, along with Ethan and Shaft's.  Cindy waited on us, and Nathan fixed our food.  We were not the normal happy bunch, and I guess it showed.  That's when Max came over to talk with Dad and Daddy.

"Ok, so first Nathan has been glum for the last several days.  Now, I look over and see the lot of you moping around, too.  What's going on?"  He asked in a let's cut to the chase kind of way.

"We are going to have to move."  Dad replied.  "We need to buy a house here in Raven Cliff to make a stronger case for adopting the boys.  It's not that we don't want the adoption to go through, it's just that we are going to miss the rest of our family."

"Why don't you guys just buy the hotel?"  Max asked. 

"I don't know that we could afford the payments on it, much less if it would even be considered for sale.  Besides, it's owned by the mission's founder, and I have no idea how to get in touch with him.  I'm not sure anyone does."  Dad sighed.

Max was quiet a moment, and we returned to our moping.  "Well, what if all of you guys bought the hotel together?  You think you could afford it then?"  He asked.

"Hmm.  I'm really not sure.  I never even thought about that, to be honest."  Dad said, considering what Max had proposed.  "What am I saying?  I'm not even sure if he would agree to sell the hotel in the first place."

Max snickered.  "Well, Kal, it just so happens that I know Mr. Shalom personally.  I also have a few friends that could maybe work this out.  If you want me to try, that is."

Dad just stared with his mouth half-way open for a moment.  Actually, I believe most of us were.  "Sure.  Why not?"  Dad smiled.  "If it can't be done, then at least we tried to stay together."

Max then laughed.  "Good.  This will make you guys happy, which will make Nathan happy.  And Nathan being happy will make me happy, because he will return to being the cook that I hired in the beginning."

He talked a tough game, but I just knew Max was a soft hearted guy down underneath.  He had to be to let the group meet there every Thursday and never charge us anything. 

"Well, we would appreciate anything you could do for us, Max."  Daddy sighed.  "I'm honestly not looking forward to seeing us all split up." 

Dad and Shaft both giggled, and Daddy shot them each a look.

"Sorry, Love.  I was just thinking about how you said it was a bit overwhelming being around so many people when we first got together."  Dad smiled.

"I guess we have grown on you a bit over time, aye?"  Shaft snickered.

"Like a bad case of fungus."  Daddy laughed.  "Yeah, I have to admit that I have grown rather attached to every single member of my family." 

"And, that is how it should be."  Max smiled, patting Daddy's shoulder.  "Families are the building blocks of communities, and, in my opinion, there is nothing greater a man could have than a loving family."

"I'm with you on that one."  I smiled, thinking that we needed to get to know Max better at some point in time.  I had a feeling he would turn out to be someone well worth the effort in getting to know.

Max patted my shoulder and smiled at everyone.  "Don't worry, guys.  Uzziel owes me a few favors.  I'll just let him know I am calling in the markers."

Nothing much happened over the next two weeks, other than we had three baseball games.  Chance had four shut-out innings, and I had three.  We really made a great team, both on the field and off.  Angel also hit a homer, while the bases were loaded.  That surprised most everyone, because of his being smaller than a good bit of the players.  The thing they didn't know about my Angel, though, was that he could do anything once he set his mind to it.  And he proved it over and over again through that entire season.

Anyway, about two weeks later, Dad and Mic came home with a packet of papers.  Once everyone was home, the adults went through them together.  I'm not really sure of all the details, but that Shalom guy had agreed to sell the hotel to the family.  Everyone working at the mission would get a pay increase, seeing that part of their pay was  getting to live in our home without rent or utilities.  Once they figured out all the expenses, Roe announced that it was more than doable. 

Then, Mic and Jena made a proposal. 

"What if we fixed up the other wing and rented out some of the rooms... you know, like a bed and breakfast."  Mic said.

"That wing doesn't even connect to the one we live in, and it will still give the guests access to the living room, kitchen, and dining rooms.  Even if we fixed up one floor, that's 10 rooms we could rent out."  Jena added.

"Even if we rented out, say four rooms each weekend for one night, that would help raise extra money we could use to really fix up our home."  Mic smiled.  "At a later point, we could remodel so that we each had our own little condo's if that is what some of you might like.  We could put in separate kitchens and all, but I personally like the idea of us still being a family.  Anyway, that is something to think about for later, but Jena and I thought we should really consider the B & B idea."

"There was one other idea that goes along with the B & B."  Jena smiled.  "Hela, what if you took a couple of the dining rooms and moved your salon here?  That would save you on the rent you are paying now, and we could maybe even set it up like a spa!"  She enthused.

Hela just laughed with excitement.  "I could call it One Hela 'Va Body!  Girls, I love the idea!"

"I think Hela should use those rooms to open up a restaurant."  Roe smiled, which surprised everyone.  "OK, let's all be honest here.  Our girl is the best damned cook in God only knows how big an area.  Sure, she is a fantastic hairdresser, but I also think she could draw quite a crowd with her fabulous meals."

"Why can't she do both?"  Carter spoke up.  "If you have people staying here, then they will need to eat, so Hela can cook for them.  If she has a spa, those people need to eat, too, so she can cook for them."  Then, he smiled.  "And, for the adoption auditors, I think it would look sweet if we were all getting five-star restaurant-quality meals."

Everyone talked about that topic with great enthusiasm.  Hela just blushed and thanked everyone.  She even gave Roe a kiss on the cheek before she felt his head for signs of a fever.  His not being snide as usual had her worried.  Then, Daddy brought us all back on track.

"OK, so there are tons of possibilities for what we can do with our home.  The big thing is:  Are we ready to buy this place together?"  He said, being the voice of reason. 

Dad just grinned and hugged him.  "I say we put it to a vote."  Dad smiled.  "All in favor?"  It was unanimous.

We were so excited that evening.  Dad called and spoke with the agent listed on one of the forms.  He and the other adults would meet with them the following morning to sign the papers and purchase our home!  We were not going to have to move anywhere, and we were going to get to stay together as one big happy family!

Things started changing rather quickly after that.  Hela started putting in her spa, and we all pitched in on the work every evening we were free.  Mic, Thomas, and Roe started working on getting the other wing fixed up and ready to start taking guests.  Other than redoing the floors and the tables, there wasn't much that needed to be done for the restaurant.  We already had the kitchen installed.  We only needed to get it inspected once we were ready to open.

The auditors came to make their home inspections.  They dug around for just about anything imaginable, but to be fair, I guess they were just doing a thorough job.  Willie was there each time they made an inspection, and he helped us get through them in the best possible light.  It was a grueling experience on everyone, however.

Finally, on June 7th, our day in court came.  We were in Judge Billings' courtroom, and he had just reviewed the home assessments and interviewed each of the auditors, as well as Willie.  The good news was that all four of them recommended adoption.  However two of the auditors recommended only one of our dads be grated adoption, leaving the other eligible for guardianship within a year or two.  The other auditor and Willie recommended that both our dads be awarded adoption.  So, it was a gridlock, and the final decision rested upon the judge.

He asked questions to both Dad and Daddy.  Then, he talked with Pete, Chance, and Brad.  Finally, he spoke with me.  He called for a 30 minute recess while he weighed his decision.

I needed to use the bathroom, so Angel and I walked down the hall.  As we were coming out of the rest room, I saw Max talking with Judge Billings.  That had me so curious, but Angel just smiled.

"I's think this is gonna be a good thing."  He said positively.

"I believe you're right as always, Angel."  I smiled, taking his hand as we walked back down the hall.

We waited for what seemed like hours.  Jessica kept assuring our dads that in either outcome, we had really won already.  But, she was still wanting what everyone else wanted, too.

Finally, the wait was over, and Judge Billings returned to the courtroom with a large stack of papers.  "I have in my hand from a trusted source of this court 372 sworn affidavits attesting to the fine fatherly natures the two of you exhibit in the care of the three minors in question."  He said flatly.  "They also attest to the exemplary children you are raising, Mr. and Mr. Darkstorm-Lord." 

He smiled when he said that last part.  Then he took off his glasses.  "It is in this court's opinion that this trusted source has never been wrong before.  Still, I have the four home study reports which all seem to point towards this same conclusion.  So, I am awarding adoption of all three minors.  However, it has fallen upon me to determine if one or both Mr. Darkstorm-Lord's will be granted adoption." 

He paused for just a brief moment, but it seemed like hours to me.  "Kanawha, Killian, full adoption to two parents such as yourselves has only been awarded four times to date in this state.  So, it is this court's opinion that this record will be amended today.  By my ruling, it has now been awarded seven times."

Then, he smiled fondly.  "Congratulations, sirs.  You now both legally have your sons.  This court is adjourned."

Chance finally let the death grip he had on my hand loosen a little.  Then, as everyone jumped and yelled with excitement, I had a vision that played in my head.  It was of Judge Billings and Max talking just moments before.

"Look, Phil, they are great guys, and those kids belong with them.  Both of them."  Max said, influentially. Then, he handed the judge a large stack of papers.  "There are 372 of them, Phil.  All of them rave about what great fathers Kal and Kanawha make.  They also tell about what well-adjusted kids they have... and these kids came from the streets, Phil.  All but Aisa, and he had some problems when they first got him, too.  It's all in there, if you'll take the time to read them."

"But, Max, I can't just go against every court ruling just because you think it is the right thing to do."  The judge said as easily as he could.

Max looked hurt, and he withdrew his hand from the judge's shoulder.  A few tears welled up in his eyes.  "Phil, I have loved you since I was 14 years old.  Now, I am 53, 54 next month.  In almost 40 years that we have been together, I have never asked you for much.  I have never made any demands on you."  He brushed his hand across the judge's cheek softly.  "You know I love you, Phil.  And, I understand how you don't want to be out to anyone publicly.  But, honey, times have changed since we were their age."

"So what is it you want me to do?"  He asked Max, his voice cracking under the stress he was expecting to come.

"Look, Phil, I have been very patient.  But, if you cannot stand up today and be counted... if you cannot grow a backbone and do what is right, then I won't be home when you get there.  I'll move into the apartment above the shop."  A few tears fell from Max's eyes.  "God knows how much I love you, Phil.  And, only He could know how much this is going to hurt me, but I can't just sit by anymore, honey.  If you can't stand with me, then I will have to stand alone."  Pleadingly, he looked at his lover.  "I just pray when I stand, I find your hand in mine."  Max then kissed the judge and walked down the hallway.

The image left me, and right before me stood Max.  He was hugging Brad.  "I understand congratulations are in order, guys."

"And a very big thank you."  Daddy smiled.  "I don't know how you did it, but thanks for helping us buy our home."

Max just grinned.  "I just called in a few favors, boys.  That's all.  If you want to thank me, then just keep taking care of these boys like you have been.  They're our future, you know."

He came by and hugged Chance and me.  "You boys are all something special."

"I reckon you's real special too Max."  Then, Angel smirked at him.  "You's name ain't really Max, though, I don't guess."

He looked somewhat surprised, then smiled.  "Well, Max is far easier to pronounce."  He said softly.

"Uzziel Shalom, wasn't it?"  I said quietly.

His questioning look grew into a smile.  "Nathan and Aaron always talk about what special young men you two are.  I can see they are right."

"You's ain't gotta worry, Max."  Angel smiled.  "We's ain't gonna say nothin' to nobody 'bout it."  Then, he patted Max's shoulder.  "I reckon you's got you some celebratin' to do tonight."  He grinned.  "Now that you's standin', I reckon you's know he's got your hand.  Just let 'at ol' Phil fella know we's awful glad he listened to ya."  It was then I knew Angel had seen the vision, as well.

Max just laughed.  "Very perceptive young men, too, I see.  I shouldn't be surprised though, with what Nathan told me about Shaft."
"Well, we both just want to thank you for all you've done.  Even if nobody else knows all the ways you've helped us, I know that they are thankful for it."  I smiled.

"And that, my boys, is good enough for me."  Max grinned. 

Cole had us pose for a family picture.  Angel and I stood between our dads, with Pete and Brad in front of us.  As she snapped the photo, I began thinking about the road our lives had taken, as well as what still lied ahead.  Sometimes we would act as one, utilizing the strength of unity to achieve our common goals.  Sometimes we would act as three, as our spiritual gifts of love, hope and faith would be needed in the service of others.  Other times, we would act as four, bringing our four unique personalities together to help others find balance in their lives and guide them towards their destined paths.  As Brad and Pete hugged Angel and me, I knew we would soon learn to act as five and six.  Their gifts of joy and peace were already beginning to blossom, deeply rooted in a home filled with love.  Also, their own unique natures were shining through more clearly every day, and I knew they would be needed in the times ahead as we helped others along life's path. 

There would be times that I would be called upon to do things.  And, during those times, Angel would be my constant companion.  Together, we had a few special bridges to cross.  With the remainder of time, however, I would gladly be with my family.  I knew we would face many obstacles down the road, but I also knew we would overcome them.  My gift was faith, and it was forever linked to my dads and my Angel, an endless source of love and chance.

Well, this completes Chapter Thirteen and this story.  Thanks for reading, and and I humbly thank you all for your wonderful comments.   I am currently working on a few new stories.  I hope to release  ONE RAY OF LIGHT  within the coming month.

Angel of Mine
Webber, Andrew, Lloyd  ©1999