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DISCLAIMER:

 

M/M, m/m, M/m

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author”s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story contains descriptions of explicit sexual acts of boys and men discovering their sexuality. It contains graphic scenes of sex between consenting underage boys, consenting adult males and boys with adult males (eventually). If this type of content offends you or you are under the age of 18, do not read it.

 

If it is illegal to read such material where you live or if you find the topic distasteful, then please stop reading now. You have been warned.

 

This story is the property of the author. It can be downloaded for personal reading pleasure or sending to a friend, but if you wish to re-post them at your own site, please contact the author for permission.

 

Copyright 2018 WSC, all rights reserved.

 

A copy of the story has been assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of its submission agreement. Comments on the story are appreciated and may be addressed ook

 

All flames will be politely ignored.

 

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Author”s Note:

 

I started writing this story, never intending it to grow into what it has become. It seems to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you enjoy.

 

Also, if you are enjoying this story, my first story can be found fty//gay/adult-youth/moments

 

Chapter 82 � It”s Official  

As we lounged by the fireplace and enjoyed a bit of quiet, I decided this would be a good time to have our discussion with the boys about proper personal hygiene. While Tom and I had been well aware of the issue Ron had broached, we never took the time to do or say anything about it. We just scrunched our noses, tossed the nastiness into the washer with a bunch of bleach and hoped for the best. But since someone else was now taking care of our laundry, it seemed like the time had come to deal with the ongoing problem.

 

“Boys, while we wait for Rich to get here, we need to talk about something,” I began.

 

“What”s up, Dad?” Alex asked.

 

“Well, Ron has brought something to our attention that disturbs him quite a bit and he”s asked for our to help resolve the problem.”

 

“Hey, ain”t our fault he came in our room when we was busy,” Logan complained.

 

“Yeah,” Joey chimed, “if ya can”t take the heat, then stay the hell outta the kitchen.” All six rugrats laughed out loud on that comment.

 

“That”s not the problem, guys,” Tom interjected. “And that”s a different discussion for another time. What we”re talkin” about is your lack of due diligence after going to the bathroom.”

 

“Whatchu talkin” `bout, Pops?” Mike asked.

 

“Well, to be disgustingly blunt,” I began, “none of you seem to understand how toilet paper is supposed to work and that needs to change. Ron says if you can”t learn how to properly wipe your butts, he”s going to have to buy every bottle of bleach in Springfield just to keep your underwear clean. He”s gettin” really tired of dealin” with poopy skid-marked drawers and we don”t blame him one bit for feeling that way.”

 

“So, we quit wearin” underwear, problem solved, right?” T.J. giggled.

 

“No, T.J., that doesn”t solve the problem,” Tom replied. “It just transfers it to your pants, shorts or whatever else you sit on. Besides, we don”t want Ron to have to start washing the towels on all the chairs every day. That”s not what we hired him for.”

 

“So, here”s what”s gonna happen,” I said as I took over. “Before any of you sit on anything, we”re going to make sure you”re clean, just so you don”t leave little bits of yourselves everywhere you go.”

 

“Yeah, how ya gonna do that?” Andy asked.

 

“You”re going to bend over and spread your butt cheeks so we can make sure you”ve properly cleaned yourself. Once we”ve determined you”re okay, you can sit down.”

 

“So that”s what this is really all about,” Joey said.

 

“You all just want to look at our buttholes, don”t ya?” Alex added.

 

After the laughter died back down, Tom said, “No, guys, that”s not it at all. You”re all old enough that you should know how to clean yourself properly. And if you don”t, it”s our job to teach you.”

 

“So, what”s gonna happen if you don”t think we”re clean enough?” Mike asked with a nervous tremble in his voice.

 

“I”m gonna take ya outside, bend ya over and stick the hose up your ass,” Ron threatened with a growl.

 

“Ooooh, that sounds like it might be fun, Skinny,” Logan retorted. “Wanna give me a demonstration right now?” he added with a laugh.

 

“Maybe later, Farm-Boy, if you don”t get your shit together,” Ron retorted. An uproarious round of laughter filled the house on that comment.

 

“Look, guys, while it”s fine for you to think this is funny, it really isn”t. You know we”re proud of all of you, but you should have enough pride in yourselves to be your best all the time. And part of that should be making sure that you”re taking proper care of your bodies. Besides, with some of the things we know you”re all doing with each other, we think you”d want to make sure your partners are clean. Otherwise, you could get really sick.”

 

“You mean, like, lickin” each other and stickin” our di…” Joey started.

 

“Exactly,” Tom quickly interrupted. “We don”t want anyone becoming ill because you”re bein” lazy.”

 

“Ron, you got anything else you wanna say?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, I”m gonna start buyin” those wet wipes, a bunch of cheap white washcloths and some small trash cans for all the bathrooms. If they start usin” them every time they hafta poop, then we can nip this problem in the bud. It”s either that or they start takin” a shower every time they take a dump.”

 

“That”s a good idea,” I agreed. “One rule with those wipes, though, is they don”t get flushed down the toilet. They”d have the septic tank clogged in a heartbeat and gettin” that pumped out is a nasty job.”

 

“So, you guys good with that?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah, Pops,” Joey replied with nods of agreement from the others.

 

“Sorry for makin” your job ugly, Ron,” Alex added.

 

“That”s all right, dudes. We”re cool. But I”m dead serious `bout usin” the hose on ya if ya don”t straighten up,” he added with a laugh.

 

“I”m ready whenever you are, Ron-boy,” Logan cracked in return.

 

“Can we have that other talk, now,” T.J. asked. DING!

 

“Later, buddy. It sounds like Rich is here and he doesn”t need to be in the middle of that. Why don”t you meet him at the door?”

 

“You bet,” T.J. grinned in agreement before he jumped off the loveseat and ran to the front door. When he reached the entry, he stood to the side so he could watch for Rich through the sidelight. Seeing his car pull around the circle drive and stop at the base of the steps, T.J. opened the door and was dancing with excitement on seeing his buddy. We soon heard two car doors slam and T.J. immediately stood stock still and muttered, “Well, crap.” He then turned towards us and called out, “He brought his sister with him.” Fortunately, we were still had on the shorts and t-shirts we”d worn for our visit with David and Gabriel so we didn”t have to make a mad dash to cover up.

 

Though we were a bit surprised Rich had brought Carrie with him, Tom and I strolled across the house to greet our guests. As we did, Ron made his way towards the kitchen to continue working on the supper he”d started while the rest of us had visited Sammy”s tree and the cemetery.

 

“Hi, Rich. Hi, Carrie. How”re you two doing?” I asked on reaching the door.

 

“Not too bad, Mr. Sanders,” Rich replied. “I hope you don”t mind Carrie coming with me, but Dad had other plans tonight and he”s still worried about the Wicked Witch of the West.”

 

“No, that”s fine,” Tom replied.

 

“Hey, Rich,” T.J. grumbled.

 

“What”s up, dudelet?” Rich inquired. “You don”t seem very happy.”

 

“Sorry, man, but with your sister bein” here, our dads are pro”lly gonna make us wear our shorts when we go swimmin”.”

 

” `Scuse me?”

 

“C”mon in and have a seat,” Tom replied. “We”ll explain what T.J.”s saying.” After closing the door, we headed across the house to join the boys who had remained in the living room, all of whom were sporting frowns of displeasure with Carrie”s presence.

 

Once we”d all taken a seat and gotten comfortable, Rich commented, “Geez, it looks like they”re all pissed off `bout somethin”. What”s up with you guys?”

 

“I think they”re just surprised Carrie”s with you, Rich,” Tom offered.

 

“Well, I promised Dad I wouldn”t leave her home alone. If you want, we”ll go and I”ll come back another time when he”s gonna be home.”

 

“No, don”t worry about that,” I replied. “Though you”ve both been here before, there”s a part of our lives you don”t know about.”

 

“Yeah, what”s that?” Carrie asked.

 

“When we”re at home, we normally don”t wear clothes,” I answered. “And the boys don”t like the idea we”re going to make them wear shorts when we swim later since you”re here, Carrie.”

 

“Oh,” she muttered in surprise. “I”m sorry. I could stay inside,” she offered.

 

“No, that wouldn”t be fair to you,” Tom replied. “They”ll either swim with their shorts or they won”t swim. It”ll be their choice.”

 

“Hey, guys, let me talk to Carrie a minute,” Rich interrupted. He grabbed her hand and said, “C”mon, sis,” before the two quickly disappeared down the hallway towards the garage, leaving Tom and me with six surly munchkins. A few short minutes later, they returned and retook their places on the loveseat. “Okay, here”s the scoop. If the boys want to swim naked, that”s cool with us.” The sensational six-pack suddenly became joyful again and let go a loud cheer.

 

“Now, there”s the happy kids I”m used to seein” `round here,” Rich commented after they”d quieted back down.

 

“Are you sure it”s okay with you, Carrie?” Tom asked. “We don”t want you to be uncomfortable.”

 

“Naw, it”s fine, Mr. Wright. If they don”t care if I see `em naked, I don”t care, either.”

 

“Listen, guys,” Rich interjected, “Carrie sometimes babysits for a couple that lives close to us and she has to be in the bathroom to supervise the brats when they”re takin” their bath. If she isn”t, they make a total freakin” mess and water ends up everywhere. So, she”s used to bein” around younger boys who aren”t dressed. Bein” around your six won”t be any different from dealin” with them.”

 

“But we”ll be wearing our swimsuits,” Carrie added quickly.

 

“We will, too,” Tom offered.

 

“Hey, if you”re used to swimmin” without shorts, it”s fine with us. I”d be tempted to join you if it weren”t for Carrie bein” here,” Rich replied with a wicked grin.

 

“Not without talking to your dad about it first,” I replied.

 

“Well, I can fix that right now,” Rich offered as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and quickly dialed Stan”s number. “Hey, Dad, hate to bug ya, but I got a question for ya. … Well, we”re at Mr. Sanders” house and it turns out they, uh, like to, um, skinny-dip. … Well, Carrie says it”s okay with her, but Max and Tom aren”t comfortable doing so without you sayin” whether it”s okay with you or not. … Well, yeah, I”d kinda like to give it a try, but if you don”t think it”d be cool, I won”t. … Yeah, hang on a sec.” Rich then turned to Carrie, handed her the phone and said, “He wants to talk to you, now.”

 

Carrie rolled her eyes but took the phone from her brother”s hand and said, “Yeah, Dad, what”s up? … Like I told Rich, I don”t care so long as they don”t expect to me strip down, too. … Well, yeah, but I”ve seen both you and Rich that way before as you guys head for a bathroom or back to your rooms after a shower, so what”s the big deal? Besides, a dick”s just a dick, right?” she asked eliciting a round of giggles from the boys. “And as long they don”t waggle the dang thing right in front of my face, I”m fine with it. … Yeah, okay, hang on.” She next handed the phone to me with a giggle of her own while adding, “Your turn, Mr. Sanders.”

 

“Hi, Stan,” I greeted the man warily.

 

“Evening, Max. You aren”t tryin” to corrupt my kids, are ya?” he asked with a serious tone of voice.

 

“Absolutely not!” I protested. “Just tryin” to explain to Rich and Carrie why the boys were unhappy.”

 

“I”m just givin” ya some shit, Max. Loosen up a bit, will ya?”

 

“Sorry, Stan, but we”re very careful about sharing certain aspects of our lives with folks outside the family.”

 

“Well, if Rich”s gonna be playin” you, `scuse me, Jake, in your movies, that makes us more than just family, doesn”t it? He”s pretty much gonna be, like, a clone of you, don”t ya think?”

 

“Yeah, I s”pose you could say that,” I agreed with a chuckle. “We just don”t want to do anything that would offend or upset you or your kids.”

 

“You”re fine, Max. If Carrie says she”s okay with it, then I am too. I trust my kids to use their common sense and they need to learn to deal with life as it is, in all its myriad forms. Besides, with most of y”all bein” gay, I kinda figured some, uh, hijinks might be takin” place out there anyway. Wasn”t thinkin” about Carrie taggin” along and puttin” a crimp in anybody”s plans.”

 

“Um, now that you mention that, Stan, I”ve got a question for you. Hang on a second.” I left the living room and the rest of the crew to talk amongst themselves while heading down the hallway Rich and Carrie had just vacated. Once out of earshot of the family, I quietly continued, “We know you said you were fine with Rich being gay and you seemed willing to help him discover himself in a safe manner. Were you serious about that?”

 

“Um, yeah, but I haven”t made any progress on the best way to accomplish that goal. You got somethin” in mind?” Stan asked with a bit of hesitation.

 

“Maybe. I”m going to toss an odd suggestion out to ya, and you tell me if you”re okay with it. We recently hired a young man to live with us and help us out with cooking, cleaning and the like. His name is Ron Cain, he”s twenty-three and also gay. The day he started, I asked Ron if he might be willing to, I guess, help Rich with some, um lessons, I suppose you”d call them. Ron gave it some serious thought and finally said he”d be willing to help Rich once he”d had a chance to meet him. While I know it”s really up to Rich if anything happens between them, I wanted to make sure it”s okay with you, too, before we put the idea to Rich.”

 

“You say this Ron guy”s only been with you for a couple of weeks, huh? That really concerns me. Just how much do you really know about him?” Stan asked.

 

“Well, knowing he”d be living with us, Tom did a very thorough background check on him and didn”t find anything that would cause us to worry about anything. Beyond that, he”s mixed right in with the rest of us and he fits in well with the group. He takes his job here very seriously and he does it well. The best recommendation I can think of, though, is that all our boys like him and they”re a tough crowd to please. And honestly, Stan, I highly doubt anything would happen tonight, especially with Carrie coming along for the ride. All I see coming out of it right now is the two meeting each other and possibly talking about it.”

 

“Yeah, you”re probably right. I”d kinda like to meet this Ron guy myself before they jump off a cliff together, but if you feel confident things”ll be okay, I trust you to make that call. Look, I gotta go, but I really appreciate you talkin” to me `bout this and for lookin” out for my kid. He”s smart enough, I know, but I still worry about him getting into a situation he may think he”s ready for, but really isn”t. You get what I”m sayin”?”

 

“Of course, I do. We”ll be responsible chaperones.”

 

“That”s all I ask for, Max. Okay, gotta run. I”m startin” to get dirty looks from the others at the table.”

 

“Thanks, Stan. Have a fun evening.” I ended the call and returned to the living room, handing the phone back to Rich before taking my seat. “Okay, looks like your dad”s okay with everything,” I commented. “Boys, you can swim without your shorts, all I ask is for you to wrap your towels around your waists until you”re ready to jump in the pool.” I then turned to Tom and added, “That goes for us, too, bubba.”

 

“Um, I think I”ll be keeping my shorts on tonight,” he muttered in reply.

 

“Don”t feel like you have to hide yourself on my account, Mr. Wright,” Carrie offered with a smirk. “I swear I won”t look,” she giggled lightly before quietly adding, “more than two or three times, anyway.” Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at her funny comment.

 

When we”d finally gone quiet, we heard, “Supper in five, y”all! Time for the brats to set the table!” resonate loudly from the kitchen. Nothing else had to be said as the sensational six-pack jumped from the couch and hustled into the kitchen to take care of their duties.

 

“Carrie, would you mind givin” them a hand?” I asked.

 

“Sure thing, Mr. Sanders,” she agreed as she left Rich, Tom and me alone.

 

“Now that it”s just the three of us, Rich, we have something we want to talk to you about,” I said.

 

“What”s that, Mr. Sanders?” Rich asked with interest.

 

“First, our names are Max and Tom. You”re more or less an adult now, so please use them.”

 

“Uh, thanks, Max. What”s second?”

 

“Yeah, that. From what you told Tom, you were engaging in some pretty risky behavior before you talked to him at the school.”

 

“Don”t you really mean stupid behavior,” Rich asked as he blushed. “Yeah, I was, but like I said on the phone, that”s all over now so ya don”t hafta worry `bout that anymore. Why”d you bring that up?”

 

“Well, we might have a solution for you,” Tom answered. “If you”re interested, that is.”

 

“Well, duh!!” Rich retorted. “Is the pope a pedo?” he added with a laugh.

 

“That”s pretty much a given,” I agreed with a laugh. “Okay, so, here”s the deal. You haven”t met Ron just yet, but he”s been with us for a couple of weeks now, and after I asked him, he said he”d be willing to help you discover more about yourself than you ever thought you knew, if for no other reason than to help keep you out of the bars. He wants to meet you before he fully commits to anything, but he”s interested in the idea.”

 

“Yeah, me, too,” Rich panted with excitement. “Is this Ron dude cute?”

 

“Well, we think so,” Tom replied, “but you”ll have to be the final judge on if he ticks all the checkboxes on your cuteness scorecard.”

 

“Sweet,” Rich cooed happily. “I might finally get the chance to find out if a blowjob”s really everything I”ve heard it is,” he added with extreme eagerness.

 

“Whoa, hang on there, buddy. We expect tonight to be just a meet and greet, get to know each other a little bit type of night. And your dad just told me that while he”s okay with you two testing the waters, he”d also like to meet Ron before anything serious happens between you.”

 

“Wait, you actually talked to my dad about this? And he was cool with it?” Rich asked.

 

“Yeah, he was. Does that shock you?” I replied.

 

“Damn, he”s just full of surprises lately. First, he”s cool with me bein” a queer, and now he”s okay with me gettin” some. Unreal.”

 

“Parents can sure be surprising, can”t they?” Tom asked. “We both know all too well how that goes when it turns out bad.”

 

“Tell me `bout it. We haven”t heard a peep outta the old lady since Dad kicked her ass out. Don”t have a clue where she went, and we really don”t care. Her flat out sayin” she”d rather have me dead than gay completely blows my mind. I”m just glad Dad is standin” by and supportin” me as I try to deal with all this.”

 

“Have you said anything to any of your friends, yet? And what”s their reaction been?”

 

“A few of `em, yeah. As to their reaction, it turns out I”ve only got one real friend. The whole basketball team turned their backs on me, but I pretty much expected that. Buncha ignorant jocks, anyways. None of `em wanna be naked `round a faggot, afraid I”ll rape `em in the shower or somethin”, I guess.”

 

“We”re sorry, Rich,” Tom offered. “Unfortunately, that just the way it goes sometimes. You”ve got friends here, though.”

 

“Yeah, I know. Hope to get another one soon, too,” he added with another crooked smirk of hope.

 

“All in good time. You have to have a little patience, okay?” I replied.

 

“I”m tryin”, guys, but it”s hard.” On realizing his unintentional pun, Rich snorted in laughter, then added, “Guess I shoulda said difficult.”

 

“Okay you three, get your butts in here or we”re gonna eat without you,” Ron yelled from the dining room.

 

Rich did a bit of a double-take on seeing Ron for the first time and quietly muttered, “That”s Ron!? Fuck me runnin”, dudes, he”s fuckin” hot.”

 

“Down, boy, easy there,” Tom chuckled at Rich”s reaction.

 

We joined the rest of the crew at the table, Tom and I taking our regular places and Rich settling in next to T.J. and across the table from Ron. The boys had finally gotten over their worries about Carrie being here and were including her in their ongoing discussions about a myriad of subjects. She was surprised to discover Alex and Joey were working their way through the sixth-grade math text, but after they gave her a few examples of their prowess with numbers, she understood completely. As for Rich and Ron, they were being pretty quiet but still exchanging subtle glances between themselves that reminded me of the looks that passed between Carrie and Eric the night they shared a table under our roof.

 

The barbeque ribs, au-gratin potatoes and coleslaw Ron had fixed for our meal were delicious, as usual, and we wasted little time in packing it away. When the serving bowls and platters had been emptied, the boys jumped on their regular task of cleaning up the table and loading the dishwasher, Carrie happily joining the crew and seeming to enjoy helping out. With their job completed, all seven disappeared into the theater burdur escort until it was time for our swim.

 

Before Ron could return to the kitchen to complete the cleanup process, Rich commented, “That was delicious, Ron, thanks for fixin” it. What barbeque sauce did you use?”

 

“It”s the house”s special recipe. Max makes it himself.”

 

“You”re kiddin” me,” Rich replied in surprise before turning to me and asking, “What all do you put in it, Max? That stuff was the best sauce I”ve ever tasted.”

 

“Well, let”s see. There”s ketchup, mustard, a little worcestershire, a tiny bit of soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, and a dash of salt. That”s it, I guess. You just mix and taste until you reach the flavoring you like.”

 

“Sounds pretty simple,” Rich commented.

 

“It is, but I”ve always preferred to make my own over buying somebody else”s.”

 

“Well, let me finish cleaning up the kitchen and we can hit the pool,” Ron commented.

 

“You need any help?” Rich asked.

 

“Sure, why not? Two bodies will get the job done quicker than one,” Ron agreed, willingly accepting help for the first time since he”d moved in. Tom and I took that to mean it was time to make ourselves scarce, so we adjourned to sit by the fireplace to read and relax.

 

 

“So, you”re the idiot kid who was hittin” the gay bar in town, huh?” Ron asked as he started washing the pan the ribs had been cooked in.

 

“Yeah, that”s me,” Rich admitted guiltily.

 

“How the hell”d you even get in there? I tried when I was your age and couldn”t swing it until I could prove I was twenty-one. And even then, they thought it was a fake ID,” Ron responded with a crooked grin.

 

“Well, don”t tell anybody, but the bouncer is a friend of my dad”s and he”d let me in,” Rich whispered with a giggle. “Made sure I drank nothin” but soda or water all night, too. He knew my old man would kick his ass if I”d ever gone home even slightly tipsy.”

 

“I can”t believe he kept his mouth shut. Sure, you got in, but what if he”d told your dad what you were doin”?” Ron asked.

 

“I was safe on that account, Ron. Since the dude”s gay and my dad didn”t know it at the time, we both kept each other”s secret,” Rich answered as he started drying the pan Ron had handed him.

 

“Man, you got lucky with him guarding the gates, didn”t you?” Ron commented as he started working on the potato dish.

 

“Sorta, I guess. `Course, I never really accomplished anything except for gettin” outta the house and away from the family for a while. Never could get a dude to do anything.”

 

“You”re lucky you didn”t. Most of the guys in that dump are grade-A assholes. All they want to do is get off, and they don”t give two shits about who or what they have to do to make it happen. And once they get started, they won”t stop for nothin”.”

 

“But I want to get in bed with another guy so bad, Ron, I can”t stand it. I”m gettin” really damn tired of my hands bein” my only outlet.”

 

“What, don”t you have any toys?” Ron asked with surprise while passing the potato dish to his helper and snagging the next item to be washed.

 

“Hell, no,” Rich retorted. “How could I since I”m not old enough to get into a store that sells that shit?”

 

“Uh, you have heard of the internet, haven”t you?” Ron asked with a chuckle.

 

“Who hasn”t,” Rich replied with a chuckle of his own. “How the hell you think I found all the gay porn I have? But I don”t have a credit or debit card I can use to buy anything. No PayPal account, either. Besides, my dad would fuckin” freak the hell out if he opened up a box addressed to me and it was filled with nothin” but dildos, butt plugs, vibrators and lube.”

 

“How do you know that? Have you asked him?”

 

“Oh, fuck no, man. That”d be way too embarrassing,” Rich answered while setting the potato dish on the counter and accepting the next item to dry from Ron.

 

“Look, from what I”ve heard, your dad”s okay with you bein” gay, even offering to help you out somehow. So what would be so bad about askin” him to get some toys so you could start experimenting? What”s the worst he could do, say no?”

 

“Well, when you put it that way …”

 

“Exactly. Sometimes a dude”s gotta be proactive and go after what he really wants. Maybe I can help you out with a few items to get you started,” Ron offered.

 

“You”d really do that?” Rich asked with surprise.

 

“Why the hell not? I”ve got a few things that don”t feel quite like they did when I first got them since I”ve moved up a bit in size. They”d be perfect for a newbie like you. Big enough to know you”ve got something goin” on back there, but not so big that they”ll cause you any serious pain. Sure, the first few times might hurt a bit, but as long as you”re careful and take your time, once you get used to them, you”ll be just fine.”

 

“Wow, that”s really nice o” you, dude.”

 

“I”m always happy to help when I can, man. `Sides, as you play with them, you”ll figure out real quick whether you”re a top, bottom or you don”t care.”

 

“Huh?” Rich asked in confusion.

 

“Jesus, you really don”t know shit about any of this, do ya?” Ron giggled. “Consider this your first lesson in gay sex. A top is a dude who prefers to be the fucker while a bottom wants to be the fuckee. Then you have your versatiles who don”t give a shit how they get it, just as long they”re gettin” some.”

 

“Ah, gotcha,” Rich chuckled. “So, which are you?” he added with a sly grin.

 

“We-e-e-ll, while I”ve allowed a few guys the privilege of bein” inside me, I”m more of a topper. Don”t get me wrong, I like somethin” in my ass every now and then, too, but most dudes don”t know how to be calm and take their time. And when they get too freakin” out of control, it can hurt like a bitch. So, I tend to stick with my toys since I”m the one in control of them.”

 

“Guess that means I better get ready to have my ass reamed,” Rich responded with a lascivious grin.

 

“All in good time, my young Padawan,” Ron retorted with a chuckle. “Remember, patience is the key. You”ve got the rest of your life ahead of you and after the first Jake Franklin movie hits the screen, you”ll have every hot and horny young stud in the country chasin” after your sweet ass.” Rich blushed mightily at the compliment and hung his head low.

 

“Don”t be like that, man,” Ron voiced in an encouraging tone while lifting Rich”s head with his fingers. “You”re hotter than hell and if it weren”t for you still bein” a virgin, I”d bend you over that counter and fuck you right here and now.” Ron handed the last item to dry to Rich and smiled as Rich blushed an even deeper shade of pink.

 

“Oh, c”mon,” Ron began, “don”t you dare try to make me think you don”t know how hot you are.”

 

“It”s not so much that, I guess. My mom always used to tell me how cute she thought I was. `Course, that was before she knew I was a fag. I”m just not used to hearin” it from another guy.”

 

“What, your dad never told you he thought you were cute?”

 

“Well, yeah, he used to, but he doesn”t wanna fuck me, either. It somehow sounds different comin” from somebody who does.”

 

“Listen, buddy, after meetin” ya tonight and gettin” to know you a bit, I”ll be more than happy to do anything you want to do, just let it happen naturally, okay? Don”t try to force or rush the issue. And before you go home, I”ll get you fixed up with the Ron Cain approved `horny boy home care package”.”

 

“You”re all right, man,” Rich sighed. “Thanks for the straight talk.”

 

“Weren”t no straight talk there, Rich, that was nothin” but the truth.”

 

“Whatever, smart ass. By the way,” Rich started with a whisper, “you”re pretty fuckin” hot, too.”

 

“Thanks for noticin”,” Ron replied with pride. “I shaved today, just for you.”

 

“You”re shittin” me?” Rich asked eagerly.

 

“Nope, wanna see?” Ron asked in a teasing tone of voice. After a quick and enthusiastic nod from Rich, Ron hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his shorts and lowered them just far enough for Rich to see nothing but the pale and bare skin of his groin. Releasing his shorts to their normal position, Ron added, “You can see the rest when we get ready for our swim.”

 

“I can”t wait,” Rich enthused.

 

 

Thirty minutes had passed and Tom and I were no longer hearing the rattle and clatter of dishes being cleaned in the kitchen. We assumed the two fine young men were finally done with the task and were just about to see if they were ready to jump in the pool when they came through the dining room and joined us.

 

“I thought it was supposed to take less time to clean up with two of you working together,” Tom cracked.

 

“Well, we were talkin”, too,” Ron retorted smartly. “That okay with you guys?”

 

“Fine with us,” I agreed. “One of you wanna tell the kids we”re ready.”

 

“I”ll do it,” Rich offered before he spun on his heels and aimed for the theater.

 

“You two have a nice chat?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah,” Ron replied. “Rich is a nice kid. Kid bein” the most important word there. But I think we”ll be all right. He”s eager enough, that”s for damn sure,” Ron giggled.

 

“You two just be careful and take your time,” I reminded Ron with a note of seriousness.

 

“Always, man. That”s the only way I know how to operate.”

 

Rich returned with the boys and Carrie in tow, and they continued on down the hallway to their rooms to grab towels and get ready for our swim. Carrie grabbed her bag and Ron directed her to the bathroom at the far end of the hall so she could get changed. As Tom and I crossed the living room on the way to our own room, we heard Ron call out to Rich, “C”mon, dude, we can get ready in my room.” We quietly continued on our way with wide and knowing grins of mischief plastered on our faces.

 

“Well, Rich and Ron seem to be hitting it off pretty well, don”t ya think?” Tom asked as he peeled off his t-shirt.

 

“Better than I thought they might,” I agreed as I dropped my shorts to the floor and grabbed the towel to wrap around my waist.

 

“Well, ya ready to get wet?” Tom asked as he twisted his own towel to keep it in place.

 

“Lead the way, bubba,” I agreed with a wave of the hand.

 

When we rejoined the crew waiting at the glass doors leading outside, everyone had a towel wrapped around their waist except for Carrie, who was wearing a cute and colorful one-piece suit that did little to hide the delicate curves of her young but maturing figure. The boys were paying no attention to the young lady in their midst as they were all chattering away as they normally do. Well, except for Logan and Andy, that is, who were sneaking sideways glances at Carrie every chance they could.

 

Once inside the pool shelter, the boys had no qualms about ripping their towels from their waists and jumping into the pool, Carrie following suit right behind them. The rest of us walked to the deep end before we dispensed with our towels and jumped in, Tom and I settling into one corner and Ron and Rich perching themselves in the other. As Tom and I talked about upcoming events, we kept watch over the crew as the boys and Carrie played together and Rich and Ron carried on a hushed conversation in their corner.

 

After about 45 minutes of wild playtime, I let the younger crowd know it was time for Mike”s regular swimming lesson. Mike immediately took control of the other six and started putting them through their paces. At the end of the thirty-minute lesson, seven very tired kids hauled their weary bones out of the pool and collapsed on chairs and chaises to recover from their exertions. The boys didn”t even bother to grab towels to cover themselves and Carrie didn”t seem to care a bit as she was just as pooped out as they were.

 

“Well, that”s a first,” Tom commented.

 

“What”s that?”

 

“Them getting out first,” he retorted with a chuckle.

 

“You”re not complaining, are you?” I asked with a grin.

 

“Not a bit. I guess we should follow their example,” he added as he started to climb the ladder.

 

I followed my lover up the ladder, never letting my eyes stray from his taut ass. As soon as our feet hit concrete, we quickly grabbed our towels and wrapped them around us to minimize any possible embarrassment to Carrie or ourselves. The cool water had performed its regular magic and we were both mere shadows of our normal selves thanks to the shrinkage every guy must deal with.

 

As we turned to join the others, I called out, “Ron, Rich, you guys comin”?”

 

“Uh, in a minute,” Ron replied guiltily while Rich snorted in laughter at my question.

 

“Not in the pool, guys. Please and thank you.”

 

“If you”re going to be a little bit longer, Ron, do you mind if Carrie uses your shower?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah, that”s cool,” he answered. “I don”t think I”ve left anything out she doesn”t need to see.”

 

“Should we check it before she goes in?” I asked.

 

“Naw, I”m sure it”s cool.”

 

On that note, we headed inside, the boys and Carrie disappearing down the hallway to run through a shower while Tom and I continued to our own room to do the same. By the time we had regrouped in the kitchen for dessert, Rich and Ron were just coming back inside the house with wide smiles on their faces and they quickly turned for Ron”s room to take their own shower. We set the kids up at the dining room table with a slice of the pecan pie Ron had baked this afternoon, adding a dip of ice cream to their plates to complement the extremely rich treat, along with a glass of milk. Once all seven kids had theirs, Tom and I joined them with our own plates full of deliciousness.

 

By the time the two stragglers tried to join the crew, the boys and Carrie had already finished their desert, dropped their dishes in the dishwasher and hightailed it to the theater to play some X-Box games before Rich and Carrie headed for home. Ron and Rich wasted no time in creating their own plates and joining Tom and me at the table. As Rich took his seat, he laid his rolled up wet towel on the chair next to him and grinned crookedly at Ron who was sitting next to him.

 

“You two seem to be getting along pretty well,” Tom commented with a smirk.

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Ron admitted.

 

“What was that grin all about?” I asked with curiosity.

 

“Uh, nothin”,” Rich replied with embarrassment.

 

“I just gave him a few things I don”t need any longer,” Ron answered. “Figured he”d like to get a little practice in before he comes back for the real thing,” he added with a chuckle.

 

“Jesus, Ron, would you stop that?” Rich breathed with embarrassment. “I don”t want everyone knowin” my business, man.”

 

“Chill out, buddy,” Ron retorted while wrapping an arm around Rich”s shoulder. “You think those two don”t have some toys they play with on a regular basis?” he added while pointing a finger in our direction. “I”d bet my left nut they got more than I do. Or even used to,” he chuckled.

 

“I”m gonna plead the fifth on that accusation,” Tom muttered. All four of us cracked up with that comment. If anyone should know when to take the fifth, it would be an ex-cop.

 

“Just be careful and take your time, Rich,” I offered seriously.

 

“Yeah, that”s what Ron said,” he replied while nodding in agreement. “I just don”t know when I”ll be able to try anything. It”s a rare day when I”m home alone.”

 

“Just close and lock your door, or put a sign on it if you can”t lock it,” Ron offered as a solution.

 

“But then Dad and Carrie”ll know what I”m doin”,” Rich responded.

 

“Maybe,” Tom began, “but at least they won”t be able to see you.”

 

“Oh shit, I”d rather die than have that happen,” Rich moaned in exasperation. The three of us blanched at Rich”s flip comment and he quickly backpedaled. “Sorry, guys, I shouldn”t a said that. I”m not even thinkin” about that anymore. I just meant I”d be embarrassed to hell and back if that happened,” he added seriously.

 

“We”re glad to hear it,” I replied with concern. “We really worry about how you”re doing.”

 

“Well, I”m doin” okay, especially considerin” what I was about to do a couple of weeks ago. Damn, I still can”t believe I was ready to kill myself. What a fuckin” dumb ass,” he moaned.

 

“Not dumb, Rich,” Tom responded. “Hurt, lonely, scared, confused, desperate? For sure, but definitely not dumb.”

 

“Thanks, Tom. I needed that,” Rich replied with a tight smile. “Well, Carrie and I should be goin”. I”m sure it”s about time for your boys to be in bed. Give me your plate, Ron, and I”ll drop it in the dishwasher with mine.”

 

“Nope, I got it, man. You go tell the brats it”s that time,” he added while patting Rich”s shoulder.

 

Rich excused himself and turned for the theater while Ron grabbed their plates and aimed for the kitchen. After hearing the dishwasher starting up, the next sound heard was the rumble of the herd leaving the theater.

 

As the group circled the table, Carrie said, “Thanks for letting us come out Mr. Sanders, Mr. Wright. We had a great time. Maybe we can do it again.”

 

“We”d like that, Carrie,” I replied.

 

“We hope you weren”t too put off by our swimming nude,” Tom added.

 

“I admit, it was a little awkward at first, but after a while, I realized it really wasn”t that big a deal. I might even give it a whirl the next time,” she grinned.

 

“That”s fine with us as long as it”s okay with your dad,” I answered.

 

“I”m sure he”ll be cool with it,” Carrie replied. “I”ll probably test the waters at home first, though. When Dad and Rich aren”t around, that is,” she added with a smirk. Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh at that. When quiet had been reestablished, she turned to the boys and said, “For a buncha rugrats, you all are okay. Thanks for letting me join in and have some fun tonight. Even the swimming lesson was fun, Mike.”

 

“Th-thanks, Carrie,” Mike gushed and blushed.

 

“C”mon, bro, let”s roll.”

 

“Lead the way little sister.”

 

That was all it took for an all-out hugfest to take place and five minutes later, Rich and Carrie headed out the door on their way home. As soon as the door was closed, the boys immediately dropped their shorts before turning tail and running for their rooms to climb in bed, Ron following along at a much more sedate pace.

 

“We”ll be right behind to say good night, guys,” Tom called out as he locked the door and set the alarm. “Hit the john and brush teeth.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, we know the drill, Pops,” Logan yelled back.

 

“God, I missed that kid this past week,” I muttered quietly. “How much do I owe you and Dylan for your efforts?” I asked with a little giggle.

 

“I figure somewhere around twenty-five to thirty grand should just about cover it,” Tom replied in all seriousness.

 

“And worth every damn penny,” I grinned. “You two earned it.”

 

“I won”t argue that point with ya, babe. I”ll take my share out in trade for sexual favors, but don”t you dare think `bout doin” that with Dylan.”

 

“Sounds like too good a deal to pass up,” I laughed. “Your deal, anyway, not Dylan”s. I”ll have his check on his desk first thing in the morning.”

 

On that note, we headed down the hallway and aimed for T.J., Mike and Andy”s room first. All three were just coming out of the bathroom and we followed them to the bed to share our regular nighttime rituals as they climbed in. With those three tucked in and down for the count, we turned off the light and closed the door before turning to follow suit with the twins and Logan. They were climbing on the bed as we entered the room and waited at the edge of the king-sized mattress for us to join them. After sharing our hugs, kisses, good nights and love yous, they curled up in the middle of the bed. We pulled up their covers, turned out the lights, closed the door and aimed for our own bedroom.

 

Though we were both tired from the long and stressful week, we had other plans besides just sleeping. After a quick stop in the bathroom and crawling into bed, we shared a tender and loving embrace before spending the next hour making up for the time we lost throughout the week. By the time all our carnal desires had been vanquished, we needed another shower and quickly took care of that before falling back into bed, melting into each other”s arms and falling into the deepest sleep we”d had in a while.

 

 

Carrie and I had been home about ten minutes, and Dad still wasn”t back from his night out with his buddies from work. As we sat in the family room watching some mindless TV, Carrie finally turned to face me with a look of seriousness on her face.

 

“Hey, Rich, can I ask you somethin” personal?” she queried.

 

“Yeah, I guess,” I answered after muting the noisemaker hanging on the wall above the fireplace.

 

“Why are you gay and I”m not?”

 

“How the hell should I know, sis? I just am.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah, I”m sure,” I muttered. I couldn”t believe the two of us were having this conversation this long after everything else had happened, but here we are.

 

“Can I ask somethin” else?” she whispered. After a quick nod from me, she continued with, “Have you ever had sex with either another boy or girl?”

 

Jesus, right for the jugular, I thought. “No.”

 

“Then how can you know you”re gay if you”ve never had sex?”

 

“Geez, how can I explain something I”m still tryin” to figure out for myself?” I muttered. I thought about my answer for a few moments before answering. “I guess it all comes down to who looks cute and I think might want to get in the same bed with me. And girls just don”t catch my eye or hold my interest in any way. But guys, yeah, there are several I”ve seen I”d love to jump into bed with. And Ron”s one of `em.”

 

“So, when you, you know, masturbate in your room at night, you”re thinkin” about some guy and doing sex things with him, right?” she asked.

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so,” I flustered.

 

“Yeah, me, too,” she giggled.

 

“Oh really?” I asked, surprised at her admission since I”d never thought about girls pleasuring themselves the way guys do. “Any boy in particular?” I teased.

 

“Well, it used to be Chris Watkins, but after bursa escort meeting him at Max”s a couple weeks ago, I think about Eric now. A lot.”

 

“Well, I can sure understand that. He is a cute little fucker, isn”t he?” I chuckled.

 

“Yeah. Wait, are you sayin” you”d want to get in bed with him, too?” Carrie asked in surprise.

 

“Well, if he was gay and closer to my age, I”d sure consider it.”

 

“Well, you can”t have him, he”s mine.”

 

“Oh really? Does he know that?” I asked with a laugh.

 

“Um, not yet, I guess. I haven”t gotten up the nerve to talk to him since that night.”

 

“Well, you better hurry up, sis. As hot as he is, he won”t be free for long.” She giggled quietly before I continued. “But, before you do anything, you need talk to Dad about getting on the pill or some other kind of protection.”

 

“You really think he”d be okay with me having sex. I”m only fourteen ya know.”

 

“Of course, I know, ya goof. And I honestly don”t know how he”d react, but I bet almost anything his feelings would follow this order; no sex until he”s dead, and maybe not even then,” I started in a stern voice like Dad would use, but with a smirk so she”d know I was joking, “then safe sex whenever you decide the time is right, and lastly, unprotected sex. The last thing he”d want for you is to get pregnant at your age.”

 

“Well, yeah, I don”t want that either. I know I”m not ready to be a mom yet, but damn it, I wanna fuck Eric”s brains out so bad I can taste it. I wish he”d been there tonight just so I could see him naked.” I couldn”t help but laugh at her admission of interest in the kid. “Oh, shit, don”t tell Dad I said that,” she squealed in horror. “He”ll think I”m some sort of pervert.”

 

“No, he wouldn”t, Carrie. If he doesn”t think I am, he sure won”t think you are.”

 

“So, what do I do?”

 

“First, talk to Dad, tell him what you”re feeling and see what he says.”

 

“But what if he freaks out?” she asked with serious concern.

 

“I don”t think he”ll do that, sis. He might worry or stew about it for a while, but he won”t freak out. He knows you”re growing up and the conversation”s going to come up at some point, especially with Mom out of the picture. And the sooner, the better, I”m sure.”

 

“Would you be willing to help me start that talk with him?”

 

“If you really want me to, sure.”

 

“Thanks for listening to me, Rich. All this shit scares the hell out of me.”

 

“Me, too, Carrie. Just one of those things we all have to deal with at some point. Now, can I ask you a question?” I waited for her to nod and asked, “Were you really okay with all us guys bein” naked tonight?”

 

After a quick giggle, she answered with, “Yeah. It was actually pretty cool bein” able to check you all out without feelin” like I was doin” somethin” wrong.”

 

“But you told Dad you”ve seen us naked before and it didn”t bother you.”

 

“Well, I lied about that because every time I did it, I was sneaking around tryin” to see a real dick for once. And I kinda felt bad about peeping on you guys, but my curiosity got the better of me. But when you all were naked tonight, it was kinda like lookin” at the steaks on display in the meat counter at County Market.”

 

“So, what”d you think?”

 

“Well, I gotta take back somethin” I told Dad on the phone.”

 

“Yeah, what”s that?” I asked with interest.

 

“That not all dicks are just dicks,” she laughed, and I joined her. “I mean the boys were no big deal, and you and Max seemed pretty normal, I guess, but Tom and Ron blew my mind. I never thought dicks could get that big. I bet it”d hurt like hell to be fucked by either one of them.”

 

“I”ll let you know after I get with Ron,” I replied with a crooked smirk.

 

“What?” she squeaked. “You”re really gonna let him fuck you? Like, in the butt?”

 

“Well, since I don”t have your plumbing, if I wanna get fucked, yeah, it”s gonna have be up the butt.”

 

“Jesus! Good luck with that, bro.”

 

“Thanks, sis. I”m gonna need it.”

 

 

I woke in the middle of the night with a jerk after another one of those freakin” weird ass dreams. I don”t have a clue how I didn”t wake Andy and Mike as I thrashed about, but both of them were still snoring lightly as I sat in the middle of the bed and shivered uncontrollably, rehashing the conversation I”d just had in my mind. I pulled the covers back up over my shoulders as I sat there, then looked at the clock to see what time it was. Two-twelve in the freakin” mornin”. Jesus, I thought I was over this insanity after Sammy disappeared into the trees this afternoon, but no such luck, I guess.

 

Tonight”s bizarreness was similar to all those whacked-out dreams that involved Sammy, but still different. I had been surrounded by a stark whiteness just like in Sammy”s dreams, but instead of being next to the tree he died in or by his grave in the cemetery, I was sitting in a house that seemed familiar. And I felt like I should have recognized the man who came to sit on the couch next to me, too, but I was having a hard time placing him or the house we were in. I stewed on what he”d said to me for a while before my mind suddenly snapped to the obvious. God, why did it take me so long to figure it out? Oh yeah, he always said `my son” and never used his name. I can be pretty flippin” dense sometimes, but then it was the middle of the night and my brain wasn”t firing on all thrusters, so I guess I can let it slide.

 

Now knowing what I had to do, I slid off the bed and traipsed down the hallway to Alex, Joey and Logan”s bedroom. I quietly pushed the door open and tiptoed inside hoping the light in the hallway would be enough to make sure I woke up the right person. On reaching their bed, I discovered I”d gotten lucky with their sleeping arrangement as Logan was on the outside of the sandwich tonight and they weren”t all tangled together yet like they would be in the morning.

 

I reached over and pushed on Logan”s shoulder while hissing, “Ps-s-s-st, Logan, wake your ass up.”

 

“What,” he grumbled as he turned to stare blankly at me.

 

“Get up, ya bozo, we gotta talk.”

 

“What time is it?”

 

“Like, a little after two in the morning.”

 

“Then leave me the hell alone and go back to bed, ya twit,” he mumbled.

 

“No, now,” I retorted as I poked him in the ribs a couple of times.

 

That really pissed him off, but he finally rolled out of bed and followed me to the living room, grumbling all the way. Once we sat down on the loveseat together, he asked, “What the hell”s so all fire important ya gotta get me outta bed in the middle of the night?”

 

“I just had one of those dreams like the ones I had `bout Sammy.”

 

“He”s still talkin” to ya? I thought he was long gone by now.”

 

“He is, but your dad isn”t,” I replied.

 

“WHAT!?” Logan screamed.

 

“Sh-h-h-h, don”t wake up the whole house, ya bonehead,” I whispered. I took Logan”s hands in mine and started, “Yeah, I just talked to your dad and he wanted me to pass some things on to you.”

 

“What, that I”m a pain-in-the-ass brat and he misses beatin” the crap outta me?”

 

“Nothing like that, dude. First, he told me loves you with all his heart and though he knows it won”t be easy for you, he hopes you”ll be okay. He”s also found your mom and she”s good. She was happy to see your dad, again, but sad that he”d been taken from you so soon and left you all alone. She still loves and misses you big time, but she knows she”ll get to see you again.”

 

“Yeah, when?”

 

“A long, long time from now, so don”t worry `bout that. Second, your dad wanted me to make sure you know how sorry he is for treatin” you the way he did the last couple of years. He knows it was wrong to hurt you like he that, but he just didn”t know how to deal with his anger after your mom got sick and died. He hopes that someday you”ll forgive him for bein” such a jackass.”

 

“I already have, T.J.,” Logan whimpered. “Did he say anything else?”

 

“Yeah, he”s glad you”re back here with us and he hopes you can stay with us forever. He said if he could tell that to a judge, he would.”

 

“But you can tell `im, can”t you?”

 

“What judge in his right mind is ever gonna believe your dad came to me in a dream and told me you should stay here?”

 

“Judge Corgan would, I bet. `Specially after what happened this afternoon with Sammy.”

 

“Hm-m-m-m, you might be on to somethin” there. I”ll have to talk to Dad about that. The next thing he wanted me to tell you is that he wants you to help your Aunt Arlene and cousins get away from Troy for good. He always knew Troy was a piece of crap and he hated the idea of you goin” to live with them, but since he was the only other family you had left, that”s where he wanted you to go. Until he met us.”

 

“Once he”d gotten over his old ideas about queers bein” nothin” but perverts, he knew you”d be a lot happier and better off with us than Troy. Your dad was plannin” to go see his lawyer in Jacksonville to change that part of his will, but he died before he could do it. He”s really sorry you had to leave for even a week, but both he and your mom are really happy you”re back here. He also thinks you cuttin” off Troy”s balls is hilarious and he”s damn proud of you standin” up to that asshole the way you did.” I could see the tears glistening in Logan”s eyes, but I had one more thing to tell him.

 

“Here”s the last thing he told me, dude. He knows what you plan to do with the money you”re gonna get and he”s all for it. He just wishes he and your mom could be here to help you do it. They”d had some big plans of what to do with all that money your mom had gotten, but they like your idea better. He says to trust Dad and Pops and they”ll make sure it happens. That”s it, I guess. For now, anyway.”

 

By the time I was done telling Logan everything his dad wanted me to pass on, the kid was a sobbing heap. I reached out, pulled my brother from another mother into my arms and just let him go. He slowly sagged down so his head was in my lap and I just stroked his hair and back as he continued to cry. I stretched over to the table to grab him some Kleenexes and after he wiped his eyes and nose, he let the tissue fall to the floor.

 

Ten minutes later, his breathing had finally smoothed out and I realized he”d fallen back to sleep. Not wanting to wake him again, I slowly moved out from under him and gently laid Logan”s head down on the cushion. Next, I quietly scuttled down the hallway to grab an extra blanket from the laundry room, then went back to the living room. I carefully covered up Logan before crawling back onto the loveseat and curling up behind him. Since he was so much bigger than Mike and Andy, I wasn”t really that comfortable since my chin was jammed into the back of his neck, but I sure as hell wasn”t gonna leave him all alone on the loveseat for the rest of the night. Nope, that”s not how you show how much you love and care for someone, you stick with them through all the good stuff and the bad stuff.

`

 

“Max, wake up, you”re doing it again,” Tom whispered in my ear as he shook my shoulder.

 

“Huh? Wha…” I muttered as I struggled into borderline consciousness.

 

“You”re having a bad night again, babe,” Tom replied softly.

 

“Well, shit,” I groaned in despair.

 

“Were you having a bad dream?”

 

“You could call it that, I guess. Feels more like a nightmare, though.”

 

“Do you remember what it was about?” he asked with concern.

 

“Unfortunately,” I grunted. “I was about to be dragged back into that hellhole at the church by them,” I spat.

 

“That doesn”t surprise me too much. You should probably talk to Jason about these nightmares and see if there”s anything he can do to help ease the situation.”

 

“I suppose so. I woulda thought havin” them in prison would”ve taken care of that for me, but apparently not. I”ll call him Monday and see if he can make arrangements to go to the church when I go for my session next Thursday. Maybe that”ll help.”

 

“You sure you”re ready for that?”

 

“Not really, no. But I”m as ready as I”m ever gonna be, I guess.”

 

“I”ll make sure I”m available that morning, then. And after you talk to Jason, you need to talk to Derek, too.”

 

“Why?” I asked wondering why Derek would need to know what was happening.

 

“Because Dylan told me the only keys to that office are in the hands of the police and the FBI, so Derek will have to meet you there so you can get in.”

 

“Yeah, that makes sense. As much sense as all the rest of it, I guess. Can we go back to sleep now?”

 

“I”ll give it my best shot, babe.”

 

“Hold me,” I whispered as I curled into my teddy bear.

 

“Always,” Tom whispered back as we fell back into a restful sleep.

 

The next time I opened my eyes, the sun was streaming brightly through the windows and flooding our bedroom with a celestial good morning. My sweet and lovable teddy bear still had his arms wrapped snugly around me and I had to assume I”d slept soundly after my rude mid-morning awakening. I gently brushed the hair out of his eyes before leaning in and giving him a kiss, waking him in the process.

 

“Mornin”, babe,” he greeted me with a serene smile. “How”re you this mornin”?” he asked with concern.

 

“Pretty damn good considering the night I had,” I answered. “How `bout you?”

 

“Let me check.” He tossed the covers off the both of us and proceeded to make a show of checking his body over. “Well, I don”t see any bruises anywhere, so I”m good to go,” he finally answered with a cheesy grin and a light-hearted chuckle.

 

“Glad to hear it, hon. You ready for breakfast?”

 

“Always, let”s see if Ron”s got things going.”

 

We made a quick stop in the bathroom before heading out to see if anyone else was up. When we reached the kitchen, we found Ron as busy as any beaver had ever been and it appeared our morning meal was just minutes from being ready to serve. The only odd thing this Sunday morning was the fact the boys weren”t sitting at the bar counter and heckling the young man as they like to do.

 

“Where”s the kiddos?” Tom asked.

 

“Check the living room,” Ron replied. “Not sure what that”s all about, but I bet there”s a damn good story to go with it.”

 

Tom and I followed Ron”s suggestion and turned for the living room. As we crossed the entry, we could see the backs of Alex, Joey, Mike and Andy”s heads poking above the back of the couch as they sat quietly and were seemingly staring off into space. It wasn”t until we got closer and could see over the tops of their heads that we spied T.J. and Logan curled together under a blanket on the loveseat and still sleeping, blissfully unaware they had an audience.

 

“Mornin”, guys,” I whispered as we stood behind the couch.

 

As the four youngsters turned to look at us, Tom asked, “Any idea what”s up with those two?”

 

“Not a clue, Pops,” Alex answered quietly.

 

“Yeah, we found `em like that,” Joey added.

 

“I thought T.J. was just in the bathroom when I woke up,” Mike shared.

 

“Didn”t know they was out here until we were on our way to wake you two up,” Andy commented.

 

“Why don”t you guys start setting the table for breakfast and we”ll get them moving?” I suggested.

 

The mini herd headed for the kitchen to take care of their task while we stepped around the couch to the loveseat to wake T.J. and Logan. We sat on the coffee table and just stared at the dozing duo for a few moments before disturbing them. T.J. was curled up behind Logan, his nose was buried in Logan”s hair and though the blanket was still doing its job, it appeared T.J.”s arms were wrapped around his older brother.

 

“Two-minute warning!” echoed from the kitchen.

 

Tom reached over to the curled cuteness and shook Logan”s shoulder while saying, “Logan, T.J., time to wake up. Breakfast is ready in two minutes.”

 

Logan”s eyes snapped open and reflected a mixture of surprise and confusion as he took in his surroundings. Finally realizing he was being held from behind, he called out, “Let me go, Alex, I gotta pee.”

 

“I”m not Alex, ya dummy,” T.J. retorted. “Now, get the heck outta my way, turdball, or I”m gonna whiz all over your back.”

 

That was all it took for both boys to discard the blanket, jump off the loveseat and hightail it down the hallway to their bathrooms. Tom and I were still confused as to why the pair were on the loveseat to begin with, but we were hoping we”d learn the answer to that puzzle during our morning meal. By the time we”d joined the rest of the crew already assembled around the dining room table, the food was in place and they were all filling their plates. Tom and I took our places and joined in loading up our own plates as serving bowls and platters were passed around. We were just taking our first bite of scrambled eggs when the darling duo joined us and slipped into their chairs.

 

“Thanks for leavin” us some grub, y”all,” Logan deadpanned as he dipped the spoon into the few remaining eggs and dropped them on his plate before passing the bowl on to T.J.

 

“Yeah, we”ll remember this the next time any of you jerks are late to the table,” T.J. added scornfully while glaring at the now empty bowl.

 

“Sorry, T.J., I shouldn”t have taken `em all. Here, bro, you can have some of mine,” Logan offered.

 

“Naw, that”s all right. I don”t really want eggs anyway,” T.J. responded with a grump.

 

“What d”ya want, buddy?” Ron asked. “I”ll be happy to fix whatever.”

 

“I”ll just eat their extra bacon and sausage,” T.J. retorted with a twisted grin. “Maybe that”ll teach `em a lesson.”

 

“Pro”lly not,” Logan muttered.

 

“Hey, Ron, we got any Frosted Flakes left? Or did these buttwipes eat all them, too?” T.J. queried.

 

“Yeah, we still got some. Be right back, buddy.” Ron disappeared into the kitchen and returned shortly with the requested cereal, a bowl, spoon and the milk. He set it all in front of T.J. before retaking his chair.

 

“Thanks, man.”

 

“No sweat.”

 

Tom changed topics when he asked, “So, what”s the story with you two sleepin” in the living room last night?”

 

“Oh, that,” T.J. muttered. “I just had another one of those stinkin” weird-ass dreams again.”

 

“About Sammy? I thought he moved on yesterday?” I asked.

 

“He did,” T.J. answered.

 

“No, it was my dad this time,” Logan interjected.

 

“Really?” Alex asked with surprise.

 

“What”d he say, T.J.?” Joey added.

 

The two spent the next ten minutes telling all of us about T.J.”s conversation with Charlie and why they stayed on the loveseat the rest of night. Seeing the compassion T.J. had for Logan was inspiring. These two boys had known each other for less than two months and they were still closer than any brothers I”d ever met.

 

“Your dad”s right, you know,” I said once they finished telling their story. “We”ll do everything we can to help with your idea.”

 

“You really don”t care if I give my money away?” Logan asked with surprise.

 

“It”s your money, buddy,” Tom replied. “Whatever you want to do with it, we”re behind you all the way.”

 

“Thanks, Dads.”

 

“Can I ask you somethin”, Logan?” I said with reservation.

 

“Well, yeah, `course you can.”

 

“At your dad”s funeral, when you went up to the casket by yourself, I saw you slip a piece of paper into his hand. I was just wondering what was on it.”

 

“Oh, that,” Logan answered with a tight smirk. “Nothin” major, really. It just said `dile”.”

 

“Dial?” I asked with curiosity. “Why that?”

 

“Well, when I first started goin” to school, Dad”d walk me to the end of the drive and stay with me until the bus got there. After I”d give him a hug goodbye, he”d always say `see ya later, alligator” as I climbed on the bus and I”d say `after a while, crocodile” back at him.”

 

“My dad and I always did the same thing,” Tom interrupted.

 

“Yeah, mine, too,” Ron offered.

 

“Well, as I got older, he `ventually cut it down to just `gator”. I did the same and would answer with `dile”. Even after momma got sick and died, we”d still walk down the drive together and the last thing we”d say to each other every mornin” was `gator” and `dile”. So, the note I gave him was just the word `dile”, tellin” him I”ll see him again. I”ve missed doin” that with him since I”ve been here and now I ain”t ever gonna hear him say it again,” he added sadly while tears started flooding his eyes. T.J. immediately reached over and pulled Logan into a hug. A quick glance around the table told me everyone was feeling Logan”s emotions.

 

Once we”d reined ourselves back in, Tom broke the ensuing silence when he offered, “We”d be more than happy to continue what you and your dad started. If you want us to, that is.”

 

“Thanks for offerin” Pops, but it just wouldn”t be the same. `Sides, I kinda like your `be good and learn somethin” new today” as we head out the door. It”s different, for sure, but it”s a positive note to start a new day with. I think we all need to hear that.”

 

“And so you will,” Tom smirked while looking at me, encouraging me to say it if he wasn”t here to do it himself. I quickly nodded in agreement and the deal was sealed.

 

“Hey,” T.J. interrupted after releasing Logan, “weren”t we supposed to go see Harry this weekend?”

 

“Well, heck,” I mumbled, “I knew I”d forgotten something important.”

 

“It”s not too late,” Mike commented.

 

“Yeah, we could leave now and still be back home for supper,” Andy added.

 

“Another day, guys. The folks at the airport like a little more than a half hours” notice to get the plane pulled out and ready to go.”

 

“Bummer,” Joey grumped. “We were lookin” forward to seein” him again.”

 

“Tell you what, let”s plan that trip for Tuesday morning. That”ll let me call the airport tomorrow so they have fair warning, and also a chance to check with Maureen and Harry to make sure it”s okay to come by. Sound good to you guys?”

 

“Yeah, Dad, that”s great,” Alex agreed.

 

“What about Josh, Eric and Brent? Can they go, too?” Joey queried.

 

“We çanakkale escort can ask, I suppose. It”ll be up to their parents whether they can go or not.”

 

“Speaking of important things, T.J.,” Tom interrupted, “we still need a list of the kids you want to invite to your party Wednesday or there won”t be one.”

 

“Oh, cra…, uh, crud!” T.J. exclaimed as he smacked himself in the forehead. “I forgot all `bout that.” He jumped off his chair and dashed into kitchen. After a few minutes of hearing drawers opening and closing, he returned to the table with a notepad and pen to fill out his guest list. A few minutes later, he ripped the top page from the pad, handed it to Logan who passed it on to Mike who, in turn, handed it to me.

 

I quickly scanned the list while counting and ended up with eighteen names. A few of the names caught me by surprise and I passed the list to Tom for him to peruse. He obviously saw the same thing I did and looked at me with an eyebrow raised in question. I shrugged my shoulders in response before returning my attention to T.J.

 

“I thought you planned on having a nude swim for your party.”

 

“Well, yeah, why?”

 

“You have several girls on your guest list. Are you sure you want to include them if you”re not going to be wearing your swim shorts?” I asked seriously.

 

“Why not? Ain”t like my dick”s big enough to scare none of `em,” T.J. retorted with a giggle.

 

“Ain”t that the truth,” Joey howled in laughter. “But, they see me or Alex naked, they”re gonna poop their panties,” he quickly added with even more hilarity.

 

“Your little worms ain”t scarin” nobody, ya twints,” Logan cracked. “Now, if it was Uncle Dylan, I could see `em bein” scared `bout that thing.”

 

“What the hell”s a `twint”?” Alex asked.

 

“A twin who”s also a twit,” Logan laughed.

 

“That ain”t funny, dude,” Joey complained.

 

“Yeah, it kinda is,” Andy snickered. “Ya twint,” he added with a whisper.

 

“Boys, enough!” I hollered. Once they”d quieted back down, I continued, “Pops and I will make calls this afternoon. We”ll make sure the parents know the swim will likely end up being a nude event, if not the whole afternoon. We”ll also check to see if anyone has any allergies or other issues we should know about. Now, what kind of food and cake do you want?”

 

“Hamburgers, dogs and brats is cool. Chips or `Ditos, too. I”d like the cake to be a spice cake with a maple frosting. Mom used to make that for me `fore she went to jail.”

 

“Sounds good to me. Ron, you up for it or do you want to me call the catering service we used for Joey and Alex”s party?”

 

“That many kids, let”s use the catering. I could do it, but I”d much rather join the party and enjoy the day with the rest of you.”

 

“Good answer, buddy,” Tom responded. “We”d like that, too. I guess we”ll plan the family party for Saturday.”

 

“Cool, Pops,” T.J. agreed wholeheartedly. “I hope Uncles Dylan, Malcom and Damon can be here.”

 

“I”m sure they”ll be here, kiddo, along with Carol, too. Okay, boys, get busy with your cleanup and Pops and I will get on the phones to make arrangements for the next couple of days. We”ll be back out after we”re done with our calls.” As usual, the boys jumped right to their cleanup and since they were making so much noise in the kitchen and wouldn”t hear me, I told Ron, “When they”re done in there, tell the boys to watch a movie or find some other way to entertain themselves for a bit, will ya?”

 

“Sure. I better be careful how I say it or you know where they”ll be,” Ron chuckled.

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Tom groaned.

 

The two of us headed for Tom”s office and he took his desk while I commandeered Dylan”s for the task at hand. After spending a few minutes perusing phone books to locate numbers, we got busy with our calls. By the time we were done some thirty minutes later, we had ten kids coming for sure with eight maybes. Considering we were making sure every parent knew about how at least the swimming portion of the day would likely transpire, few seemed to be that concerned about it, putting it down to having fun. That reaction from them was a bit of fresh air in our lives and we were feeling pretty good about it. Even the parents of the two girls who said yes to the invitation were accepting of the situation and said their daughters were looking forward to being included. My calls to the airport, bakery and caterer would have to wait until tomorrow morning.

 

With our calls completed, we left the office in search of the munchkins. As we crossed the house to check in the theater, I asked, “Do you think we should tell Logan about us tryin” to adopt him or is it too soon to do that?”

 

“No, I think now would be fine,” Tom answered. “Knowing what our plans are might help put his mind at ease about what”s gonna happen with him. Especially after what he went through with Troy last week.”

 

“That”s kinda what I was thinkin”, too, but I wanted to make sure you agreed.” On entering the theater, we found the herd engrossed in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was surprised enough to find them watching the movie, but truly amazed that they were so intently focused on what was happening. They were close to the middle of the show, at the point where Dr. Floyd was about to touch the monolith that had been discovered on the moon. Tom and I stood quietly as the scene played out and when the movie moved on to the Jupiter mission, I paused the playback so we could have a short chat.

 

“Hey, what”s the big idea?” Joey grumbled at the interruption.

 

“Sorry to intrude, but we wanted to talk about a few things,” I replied. “We won”t take long and when we”re done, you can go back to the movie.”

 

“Good,” Alex said, “This one”s really cool, Dads.”

 

“What”d you want to talk `bout?” Logan asked.

 

“First, for T.J., we”ve called all the parents of the kids on your guest list and have ten kids who will be here for sure and eight maybes,” Tom answered.

 

“Cool,” T.J. enthused. “Anybody have a problem with us swimmin” naked?”

 

“Not really,” I answered. “Though that may be the reason we have that many unsure about their kids comin”, they didn”t say one way or the other. It sounded more like they may have other plans or transportation issues.”

 

“Well, you”ll pick `em up if they can”t get here another way, won”t you?” T.J. begged.

 

“Of course, we will, son,” Tom responded.

 

“Sounds great, Dads. We”re gonna have a blast.”

 

“That”s one,” Joey commented flatly.

 

“Yeah, what else did you wanna talk `bout?” Alex queried.

 

“Well, before we get to that, I want to ask about the movie you guys picked. How”d you decide to watch 2001?”

 

“Easy, Dad,” Logan answered. “We seen all the movies we got plenty and wanted something like Star Trek, but we didn”t want to watch any of those without you guys, so we went diggin”.”

 

“Yeah, and T.J. found this in the library ya got and we all thought it”d be neat since it”s `bout space and stuff,” Alex added.

 

“And what do you think about what you”ve seen so far?” I asked with serious interest.

 

“It”s weirder than hell, but cool at the same time,” Joey answered.

 

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Tom chuckled.

 

“Well, when it”s over, I want to talk about it some more and see if you really understand it,” I commented.

 

“That”ll be cool, Dads,” T.J. said.

 

“Okay, before we go and let you get back to your movie, there”s one more thing we want to tell you guys.”

 

“Hope it”s good news,” Mike muttered.

 

“We think so, but we”ll let you be the judge of that,” I replied. I turned my head to focus on Logan and asked, “You remember talkin” to Clarence the other day?”

 

“Yeah,” he answered with hesitation. “I ain”t got no big problems with the cops in Dexter, do I?”

 

“Not that we know of. Not yet, anyway. After you were done with him and left the study, I talked to him a bit longer about something really important.”

 

“Yeah, what”s that?”

 

“About where you”re going to live.”

 

“Oh shit, I knew this was comin”,” Logan muttered sadly. “I”m gonna have to go back and live with that redneck hillbilly Troy, ain”t I?”

 

“Not if Judge Corgan has anything to say about it,” Tom answered.

 

“Watchu talkin” `bout, Pops?” Mike asked.

 

“Well, after I was done talkin” with Clarence, he drafted a request for us to adopt Logan and he took it to the judge that afternoon. And Judge Corgan said that once all your problems down south were resolved, he”d be more than happy to sign it and make it official for you to join our family.”

 

All six sat there with stunned looks filling their faces for at least ten seconds before five of them began to dance their happy dances all around the theater. Logan, for his part, collapsed where he sat and began crying his heart out. The others quickly calmed back down, surrounded their new brother-to-be and showered him with congratulations, hugs and kisses.

 

Logan finally looked at the two of us and asked between his continuing sniffles, “You serious?”

 

“As a heart attack, buddy,” Tom answered with a giant smile. “Welcome to the zoo, son.”

 

In a haze of happy delirium, Logan launched himself from his chair and into our arms, wrapping his own arms around both our necks as he continued to sob with abundant joy. He held onto us for several minutes and the other boys surrounded us and joined in the eight-way hug to end all hugs. When we finally felt Logan”s grip relaxing, we gently lowered him back to floor to stand on his two feet.

 

“Thanks, Dads,” he whispered. “I ain”t been this happy for years. I don”t know what to say.”

 

“Your reaction pretty much says it all, Logan,” I commented as a tear rolled off my cheek to land on the top of his head. “We hope we can be done with your little legal problems so we can include you in the ceremony we”re gonna have on the seventeenth next month.”

 

“That”d be so sweet, I hope it happens, too.”

 

“Well, we”ll let you guys go back to your movie and we”ll see you when it”s over.”

 

Logan pulled us both into another hug and said, “I love you guys and I”m gonna love bein” here with y”all.”

 

“We love you too, buddy,” Tom replied. On that note, we left the munchkins to finish their show and settled in the living room to relax for a while. An hour later, the sensational six-pack came charging out of the theater signaling the end of the movie. After stopping in the kitchen briefly to grab a juice box each, they joined us as they filled up the couch and loveseat.

 

“So, how was the flick?” I asked.

 

“Really cool,” the twins chimed.

 

“And what do you think the movie was about?”

 

“Not a clue,” Alex answered with a giggle before adding, “but that doesn”t mean we won”t watch it again to try to figure it out.” Tom and I both chuckled at his answer.

 

“I think I might know,” T.J. offered.

 

“Let”s hear it, young man.”

 

“It was about the evolution of man from prehistoric times to sometime in the future.”

 

“My god, T.J., how did you get that?”

 

“Well, it started with the funny apes that kinda looked like they might be man”s ancestor or somethin”, then jumped way forward in time to man being in space with space stations and exploring the moon. It then jumped even further into the future with that Dave guy gettin” old, dyin” and I guess reborn as that baby.”

 

“And what about the monolith? What do you think its purpose was in the story?”

 

“I”m guessing at this, but I think it was what gave man the smarts to evolve. But they never really say where it came from, it just showed up from time to time.”

 

“Where do you think it came from?” I asked.

 

“I guess from some aliens who were trying to help create intelligent life on earth. I mean, where else could it come from?”

 

“And why do you think the monolith was the root cause of the evolutionary steps man has taken?”

 

“Well, each time one showed up and somebody touched the dang thing, it seemed like there was a major change in them.”

 

“Can you give me an example?”

 

“Sure. The most obvious was with the apes. Before the monolith, they were just a bunch of chickens, scared of their own shadows. But once it showed up and they touched it, they suddenly learned how to use the bones from dead animals as clubs. That”s when they started to kill other animals and each other.”

 

“And what about the monolith on the moon?”

 

“Well, it beamed that signal to Jupiter and in just a couple of years, we were on a mission to Jupiter to try and find out why. Before Dr. Floyd touched the monolith on the moon, it didn”t seem like we”d gotten past that point. I think when he touched it, he was given the knowledge of how to explore space past the moon.”

 

“You are blowin” my mind, child. What about the last one?” I asked in awe of his grasp of the movie.

 

“That one”s easy. Like I said already, after Dave died in that bedroom, he was reborn as the next step in the evolution of humans. I”m just not sure if that baby came back to earth or is living among the planets and stars.” When T.J. was done with his thoughts, the other five just stared at him in shock. But I was feeling a bit of shock as well that a kid T.J.”s age would truly understand the real meaning of the movie. I had to watch the damn thing five or six times to achieve the same level of comprehension he had in one viewing. And I was twenty-seven when that finally happened.

 

“You hit the nail on the head, young man. I”m impressed with the reasoning and logic behind your conclusions.”

 

“Thanks, but don”t be too happy `bout it, Dad,” T.J. replied with a crooked smirk.

 

“Why not?” I queried.

 

“I really got most of what I just said from you and what you were thinkin” just now.”

 

“What!?” I yelped as everyone else began laughing.

 

“Yeah, I cheated,” the little imp grinned evilly. “I know you”ve thought about showing us the movie before, but you also didn”t think we”d understand it, so when we went lookin” for somethin” to watch this mornin”, I picked that one on purpose. Gotcha!” he laughed along with the others.

 

“Why, you little stinker,” I moaned. “You really had me goin”.”

 

“I could tell. It”s really a good movie, though, and thanks to you, it makes sense, now.”

 

“Why I oughta …”

 

“Yeah, what? You ain”t gonna spank me for trickin” ya, are ya?”

 

“Absolutely not,” I retorted. “But I”ll think of somethin” to get back at ya.”

 

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Alex grinned.

 

“He”ll know what you wanna do way before you even try it, Dad,” Joey added with a laugh.

 

“Well, crap, I didn”t think about that.” Knowing that I”d just been bested by a seven-year-old caused all the boys to laugh heartily.

 

“Hey, Dads,” Logan interjected, “can we talk `bout somethin”?”

 

“Sure, what”s on your mind?” Tom asked.

 

“I been thinkin” `bout this since Daddy died and you read his will that day. The farm and all is really mine now, right?”

 

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly, unsure where he was headed with this.

 

“Well, since it looks like I”m gonna be livin” here for real and not goin” back there any time soon, I got an idea. Somebody still needs to take care of the animals and everything else. And while I `ppreciate Mr. Bartley and Ryan”s help with that so far, I don”t want them to have to take on any more of my problems when they got their own farm to deal with, too.”

 

“So, what”re you thinking?” Tom asked.

 

“Part of what Daddy told T.J. last night was he wanted me to help Aunt Arlene, Daril and Arley get away from Uncle Dirtbag, right? What do ya think about me lettin” `em live on the farm and take care of the animals for me? That kinda fixes two problems at the same time, don”t it?”

 

“It sure does,” I agreed. “Have you thought about what you want to do with the land? I think you inherited about 240 acres of prime farmland with the house and everything else.”

 

“Yeah, I have,” he answered slowly. “I don”t think I want to sell it `cause I might want to keep the farm and move back in at some time. But, I also don”t think it should all just lay fallow until I”m ready to do that. So, I think I”ll take Mr. Bartley up on his offer and rent him the land to farm. Does that sound okay?”

 

“I believe you”re thinking along the right lines, Logan. It”s nice of you to offer the opportunity to your aunt and cousins, and I”m sure Joe will be happy with the idea, too.”

 

“Good, I was hopin” you”d think that was all okay. Since I don”t know nothin” `bout how to rent the land, do you think you could help me deal with that?”

 

“I”m not sure how much help I could be, Logan, since I don”t know anything about farming. I guess we could talk to Clarence about it and see if he might be able to deal with that for you.”

 

“Yeah, that”d be cool. I”m sure I”ll have to talk to him again soon `bout my other problems, we can talk `bout the farm then. Ya think we could call Aunt Arlene now?”

 

“Sure, let”s do it.” I used my phone to locate her number, then dialed the number on the house line and put it on speakerphone.

 

She answered the phone on the third ring with a seemingly uncertain, “Hello?”

 

“Hey, Aunt Arlene, it”s me, Logan. How ya doin”?”

 

“Oh, Logan, I”m so happy to hear from you. We”ve been really worried about you since you disappeared last Thursday. Are you back home and safe?”

 

“Yeah, I”m okay. How `bout you? Are y”all safe?”

 

“As long as Troy”s in jail, we are. We”re gonna have to get out of here before he”s turned loose, though, or it”s gonna be really ugly. I just don”t know where we can go that we”ll be safe from him.”

 

“I do,” Logan replied. “How would you, Daril and Arley like to come up here and live on my farm?”

 

“Are you serious, Logan? I can”t believe you”d do that for us after the way we treated you?”

 

“That was all Uncle Dirtbag, you didn”t have nothin” to do with it.” We all heard Arlene snicker at Logan”s name for Troy. “The note Daril and Arley gave me on the way down to Dexter last week told me all `bout what you guys been puttin” up with.”

 

“They gave you a note?” Arlene asked in surprise.

 

“Yep. And ain”t nobody should have put up with crap like that.”

 

“Well, thank you for the offer, Logan. Let me talk to Daril and Arley and see what they think. I”m pretty sure they”ll be happy to get out of here, too, since Troy didn”t care who he was beatin” on.”

 

“Well, ya ain”t gotta worry `bout that no more,” Logan replied.

 

“Hello, Arlene,” I interjected. “This is Max Sanders, Logan”s been living with me and my family.”

 

“Hi, Max.”

 

“I know this is all pretty sudden, but we think the sooner you can get up here, the better off you”ll be. Will you be needing any help?”

 

“Probably. We only have the truck and equipment for the orchard, so I don”t know how we”d be able to get there. I can”t believe you”d be willing to help us after all the crap Troy pulled.”

 

“Like Logan said, that”s all on him, not you and your sons. And since Logan”s farmhouse is fully furnished, all you”ll really need to bring with you is your clothes and any personal items you don”t want to leave.”

 

“But what”re we gonna do about the orchard?” Arlene asked with serious concern.

 

“Well, from what Troy told Logan, he”s about to lose it anyway, so don”t worry about it. You need to just walk away and let him deal with the mess he”s gotten himself into.”

 

“I really like the sound of that,” Arlene giggled. ” `Bout time he took care of his problems his own damn self. `Course, it won”t be easy to do from jail, but that”s on him, I guess. Them boys he”s borrowed money from won”t be none too happy with him, though.”

 

“Again, not yours to worry about. You three just get your things together and we”ll talk later this week about getting you moved. Sound good to you?”

 

“You have no idea. I really wanna thank y”all for your help in makin” this happen. And thank you Logan for standin” up to that bastard and makin” him pay for bein” such a godawful prick all these years.”

 

“Well, I feel awful bad `bout cuttin” him the way I did, but I really thought he was gonna kill me.”

 

“And that”s exactly what we told Captain McCord, that Troy planned to kill you as soon as he had control of your money. I always knew Troy wasn”t dealin” with a full deck, but I never realized he was that evil.”

 

“Thanks, Aunt Arlene. How”s that bastard doin”?”

 

“He spent a couple of nights in the hospital after they sewed his useless and empty sack back together, just to make sure no infections took hold, but he was moved from the hospital to jail this morning. Despite the cops thinking he”s the victim in all this, I think we finally managed to convince them he ain”t.”

 

“Well, look, you three get ready to move,” I said. “We”ll take it from there.”

 

“We”ll do that. Again, thanks for your help. We”ll look forward to gettin” to know y”all better once we get settled in. Especially you, Logan. We owe you for this, young man.”

 

“Aw, don”t worry `bout it. I”m just glad I can help. Talk to y”all later.”

 

After ending the call, we sat back a moment to think about the commitment we”d just made. While there was no love lost between us and Arlene, I had to admit we didn”t really know them that well. And since it was Logan”s decision to help them out and they were soon going to be a part of our extended family, it made sense that we should bury any hatchets we may have and start anew. As long as Troy was out of the picture, I hoped we could all work together and create a good outcome for everyone involved.

 

I turned to Tom and asked, “You think Vinnie might be willing to help them get moved up here?”

 

“I don”t think he”d turn down any job that pays cash. I”ll call him in the morning and see what he says.”

 

“Perfect. I wonder what Ron”s fixing for lunch? I”m startin” to get hungry.”

 

“Yeah, us, too,” Andy giggled.

 

“I”ll find out,” Mike offered as he jumped off the loveseat and hightailed it down the hall. We heard him knock on the door to Ron”s room and then say `whoops, sorry dude” before he came back to rejoin us. “He”s, um, busy, guys. We might want to fix our own lunch today,” he said with a huge grin on his face.

 

“Well, let”s make it so,” Tom said as he led the way to the kitchen.

 

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