I stood outside, looking at the back and the side of the house, rubbing my chin, thinking about how I could add another bedroom or even an addition, maybe with another bathroom. I finally went in and walked upstairs and stood in the hallway, again thinking of the possibilities. I happened to be outside of AJ's room. I was beginning to rub my chin again when I heard voices coming from AJ's room.
"So, what are you looking for again?" asked AJ.
"Not looking for anything. I'm trying to think of how to make this a boy's room instead of a little girl's room. Maybe just some new paint and some poster . . . Hey! Are you really playing with those dolls?" Jeffy asked, sounding a little shocked.
"Um, no. I was just, um, rearranging them. Yeah. Sometimes they fall down, ya know." AJ sounded a bit worried or anxious. I couldn't blame him.
I knocked on the door and AJ said to come in.
"Dad, you don't have to knock on my door when you want to come in. Just come in. I like it when you come in here."
"Thank you, AJ. I like to be in your room too, especially with you, like bedtime and things."
Then I decided to test some waters.
"Oh, Jeffy, should I knock first before I come into your room?" I tried very hard to act serious.
He looked like he was going to say much the same thing as AJ did, almost waving it off like no big deal. Then this amazing transformation came over my fifteen-year-old. I was expecting some realization of what the pitfalls were of my request, but nothing like the look and actions before me.
Jeffy's eyes got big and his face turned beet red. No cliché there. You wouldn't have found that beet if you'd held it up to his face right then. I could even see beads of sweat form on his forehead. I suppose I should have felt guilty at some point but it was all I could do to keep from laughing.
After all, I was asking a fifteen-year-old teenager if I could just walk in on him as he . . .
"Um, well, see, I, uh . . ." He was having a bit of trouble forming any coherent thoughts, let alone get them out of his mouth.
"Good grief, Jeffy, just say yes. What's ta hide?" asked his naïve brother.
I was a little surprised that AJ didn't respond in the same way as Jeffy and realized that I only had a very little time left to talk to him about what to expect as he matured in the next few months. I also realized that I wasn't prepared to deal with a new teenager except that AJ was so receptive to anything we discussed, I was kind of looking forward to it.
"Don't good grief me, squirt, until you want to, um, well, want to . . . ." Jeffy looked over at me with the most pathetic look. He couldn't betray his own maturity and still protect his brother, I guess.
Well, I started this.
"Jeffy, I'm a boy too."
"I mean that I'm a male that has been your age once, and not that long ago, wise guys!"
"Pop, do we have ta . . .?"
"No, we don't and I'll be sure and knock if I need to ask you something, okay? You can have your privacy."
"Whew! Thanks, Pop."
"But even about that subject, I want you to feel free enough to talk to me, okay? That's got to be one of the most important concerns for you and all boys your age right about now. I want you to have a place to discuss it if you need to. It's all perfectly normal."
While I was saying that, Jeffy was swishing his feet back and forth, running his hands through his hair, wiping off his forehead and generally looking as embarrassed as he could.
"Okay, Pop, um, yeah, okay, I get it. Thanks," he stammered, trying to get me to quit.
"Well, I don't get it. Good grief. You okay, Jeffy? You're actin' pretty weird."
"Just you wait, pipsqueak. Your time is comin'," he said, looking over at me.
"I agree," I added. "AJ and I get to have the 'talk'," I said.
"The ta . . .? O-o-o-h. When?" asked my boy, standing and coming over to me.
"AJ! You're supposed to be all embarrassed-like when an adult wants ta talk about stuff like that. Don't you know that?"
"Well, first of all, it isn't adults, it's Dad. He isn't like other adults, you know that."
"Okay. And?" asked his brother.
"And, all that time I was on the streets, when I wasn't by myself and there were other guys around, like you," he said pointing at Jeffy, "you were always talkin' about stuff that I was too young to get. Dad, they'd always talk about girls and really lovey-dovey stuff. Then there were the times that older guys'd want me to do stuff. At first, I didn't know what some of it was, but I figured it out. I didn't have ta do anything, but I know some of it has to feel good for all the other guys to keep talkin' about it. I wanna know."
Both Jeffy and I were looking at AJ with our mouths hanging open and our eyes wide.
"What? Did I say somethin' wrong?"
"Um, no, AJ. It's just that it's pretty unusual for a young boy to just come out and talk like that in front of an adult, especially his dad."
"Why? You told us anything; we could talk about anything. So, you have ta be the perfect one, right?"
"Wow, Pop. He sure is different. Kinda neat, isn't he?" remarked Jeffy with a wide grin.
I was looking for a halo on the head of my little one. Either that or the boy had very few built-in instincts. I could have sworn talking about sex was one of those topics that instinctively caused embarrassment.
"No, Jeffy, and you're not kind of neat either."
"Huh?" came from one boy, echoed closely by the other.
"Oh, you guys are way more special than kinda neat. You guys are remarkable."
"Wo-ow! Thanks, Dad."
"Pop, you really know how ta lay it on, huh?"
"Yes, but this time, I did it for a four-armed hug."
And that's what I got. Both boys surrounded me and hugged me hard. It was great!
"So, Dad, whaddya wanna come in for?" asked the boy.
"Oh, that. I'd almost forgot. Well, I was looking around to see how we could add to the house to accommodate another brother for you lonely boys and maybe another bedroom. Oh, and certainly another bathroom."
"Yikes, Pop, that sounds like a ton of stuff. Um, will you let me pay for it? I seem to have some money coming in pretty soon. Oh, that reminds me, I gotta go check in with great grampa and see . . ."
"Excuse me?" I said, stopping him. "Great grampa? You do mean Jeb Harding, right?"
"Hee hee, yeah. Pipsqueak here said I could borrow him as my great grampa whenever I wanted. He also checked with the victim and asked him too. Isn't that great, Pop? And I didn't even ask."
Both boys had just unwrapped their arms from around me, one around my stomach and one much higher at my chest. So when I looked down on the shortest boy standing in front of me I saw him looking back up with his precious smile lighting up his purple and pink bedroom.
"AJ, you never fail to astound me. You are probably the most giving person I know, and," I continued, looking at Jeffy and smiling, "I know some really good givers."
That got me a really great smile from my oldest. I was so fortunate; I think my sigh could be heard over at Jeb's.
"Da-ad, I can't do as good a job o' givin' as Jeffy can. He's got that ton 'o money. I haven't got that kinda stuff to give."
"Well, first thing, little man, money is one of the easiest things to give. You just hand it over and you're pretty much done. But when you two really give, it's from deep within your heart, it's without conditions and it usually comes at a very vital time. I am so proud of both of you for wanting Elliot to come and stay with us, at least until they find any next of kin, for example."
"What? Pop, that's not givin'. That's like almost selfish. He's a neat guy to have as a friend and as a brother, plus . . ." Jeffy looked down and was swishing his feet while mumbling something.
"What, Jeffy? I can't hear ya like that," asked AJ.
I would have said something too.
"Oh, brother. I said he'll be great for when I get stuck on my homework and all. He's like almost a genius. Pop, he got all A's and he missed the last final!"
"Wo-ow! He'll be like Tyler, huh? Wo-ow!"
"You guys. You still don't get it. Many kids, your age, that know what's been happening to Elliot all along, would have shunned, not only the boy because he was different, but you two as well, because being friends with you might have made them look bad in front of their friends or the other cool kids at school."
"Da-ad!" said AJ, shaking his head at me in disbelief that I'd ever say such a thing. "If those kids don't wanna like us because of someone else we like, then they aren't very good friends, to begin with, huh, Jeffy?"
"I was just gonna say that, sport, but you got there first. Ha! Pop, we don't need friends that treat people badly; you know that."
"Yeah, and Dad, I wanna start something at school next year that any kid can join, oh, like a club or somethin' where we can all come no matter who we are and be treated the same. Then we can even learn about ways to help kids that tend ta wanna bully and stuff. Oh, oh, it could even be somethin' to help kids talk to their parents about, so they change too. Whaddya think?"
"I think it's a great idea," Jeffy agreed. "Maybe we can have like a branch at the high school, too!"
"I think I was right, pipsqueak!" I said, grabbing him and trying to pick him up into my arms. My gosh, he was heavy. I had to check out the amount of lead I was serving with our meals.
"Da-a-a-ad! Ha ha ha! Lemme down. Ha ha!"
"Hey, I didn't even tickle you!"
"Whew! But it was scary. You're old. You coulda fell with me under you!" he explained with a devilish grin.
"Okay, Pop, what were you right about, for once," asked Jeffy, making both him and his brother practically roll on the floor, laughing at his dig at me.
"Hmphf! Never mind," I answered, walking away, trying my best to fake a pout.
"Uh, oh. Do you think we . . ." AJ started to ask Jeffy?
"Naw! He's fakin' it, bro. He's too good to believe what I said. 'Sides, he's got more smarts then we'll ever have."
I couldn't believe their stamina, or maybe they just forgot our unfinished conversation.
We were just finishing up dinner when I got up to take my plate out to put it in the dishwasher. We'd decided that dishes could wait a bit until after we'd had dessert later in the evening. That way no one had to do them twice. I was joined by my boys carrying their dirty dishes.
"Okay, Pop, you got us wonderin'. What were you right about upstairs?"
"Oh, that. Hmmm, let me think. I was right about something. Hmmm." I was even rubbing my chin, putting on as good a show as they each could for my entertainment.
"Okay. All I was going to say was that I was right. You two are the most giving kids on the planet. I love you for who you are, for what you mean to me, but when I hear you saying and doing things like this, I almost bust open with pride. I love you tons more."
Dan Perkins could certainly be a pest when he wanted, albeit a nice pest at least. He would call me at least twice a day to confirm what he was planning for the big event, Tyler's birthday celebration. He even warned me not to tell Tyler, of course, but even Linda Sue, so that it would be a surprise for both of them.
The day was Saturday and we'd been busy that morning trying to keep Elliot entertained as he recovered. In fact, we found out that he would be coming home with us, possibly the very next day, Sunday morning. My boys thought that was exciting, though Elliot may have had his doubts at some time before we lavished him with attention.
I'll have to say, Elliot's attitude toward life, with his acceptance into our family, was remarkable, nothing short of miraculous. The boys must have told him every story, every rule, every anything having to do with home life for the three of us. Both of my boys groaned about all the chores they were made to do, then laughed like little crazy monkeys when they'd look over at me to see my eyes rolling to the back of my head.
And Elliot seemed to catch on very well. His sense of humor was almost up to par with Jeffy's and I actually had to warn them twice to back off a little when things were going over AJ's head. Of course, AJ wouldn't admit it and was almost embarrassed, but as usual, he just let things slide.
I was still puzzled about sleeping arrangements even though Jeffy insisted that his bed was plenty big enough for the two of them. Elliot seemed a tad embarrassed by that announcement. I suggested another bed for the room until we could get another bedroom built. There was, as Jeffy was quick to point out, barely room for another bed and they wouldn't have any place to walk, unless I traded Jeffy's queen to a twin. In the end, even after checking with Linda Sue, I succumbed to letting Elliot sleep in the same bed as Jeffy for the time being. I didn't really care; I just wanted Elliot to be comfortable.
"Yeah, that'll be so neat to have you living with us, Elliot," said Jeffy as animated as ever.
"Thank you, Daniel. It'll be good to have a place to stay that isn't quite so restrictive and abrasive."
"Elliot, I hope you come to find out that we all love you like you're part of the family right now. Well, actually, I think you are," I said to reassure him.
Elliot had a nice smile that was only momentarily interrupted as he wiped off the tear that made its way down his pink cheek.
"Yeah," was all my little one said. He too had a tear running down his face. He also had a big smile to give back to Elliot to let him know that he agreed with me.
"Okay, Elliot," I started, "It's now up to you to get better and not try any rough stuff at least until you get home where the guys might just pester you with their attention to you."
"M-m-m-m," said Elliot, his smile getting a little brighter, "That sounds wonderful. I've never really known that since my parents, uh, ex-parents joined that church sect. And I've never had any siblings either."
"We'll change all that at our place, bro. We just want you to be a part of us from now on."
"Thanks, Daniel. Thanks, everyone. That means a lot."
And just then Nurse Sanchez walked in with Dr. Schirmer, Elliot's psychiatrist.
"My, it looks like one big happy family," commented the nurse.
"It does indeed," added the doctor. "Elliot, you must feel very fortunate to have such good friends."
"Nu-uh," said my littlest, walking up to the doctor, shy as he is, "He's lucky cuzza he's got us for his family!"
"Yup," added Jeffy. "And we're lucky because he's gonna be a part of our family, huh, Pop?"
"Right on, boys," I said.
"Well, I'd like to talk with you for a while, Elliot, then I think your other doctor may come in and do his last exam on you. You may be able to leave here as soon as tomorrow. How does that sound?"
"Like heaven, Dr. Schirmer. It sounds too good to be true. I've never known what it's like to be wanted like that."
"Elliot, I hope you have lots of times when you feel overcome with our love for you. You're as good as a McGill right now."
"Thank you, Sergeant, I . . ."
"Wait, Elliot. Ya can't be callin' your new dad, Sergeant," laughed AJ.
"I can't? But . . ."
"Elliot, we gotta come up with something good for you to call Pop. That's my favorite, but I'll share if you want. Or like AJ does and calls him Dad. But you better not get all proper on us and start callin' him father or something like that. Good grief!" announced Jeffy through a big smile.
"Something to work on, Elliot," said his doctor. "Maybe we can talk a little about that too."
"Yeah," agreed Elliot, giving me his best smile so far. "Yeah, I'd really like that."
"Okay, boys, saddle up and head on out," I said with a western drawl. "We've got some furniture to lasso and some clothes to hog tie into closets and such. And we got us a slew of hombres comin' over to the house this afternoon. So, git on now."
"Sorry, Elliot. I think Pop needs to use your shrink, I mean doctor," stated Jeffy with a concerned look on his face.
We all had a good laugh about it though.
The boys and I made a stop to buy a dresser, a desk and a few other things we knew Elliot would need right away. In communicating with Linda Sue, I found out that his parents were making quite a stink about Children's Services taking over custodial rights of the boy. Linda Sue said she had more to tell me about that subject, but it could wait until after Tyler's birthday party.
So it was that when we got home there were several trucks in our driveway, including a caterer and a carnival rental company. We walked into the backyard and I was sure the whole yard was going to rise up and float away, there were so many balloons everywhere. It was by far the most festive a party occasion I've ever been to.
Dan was standing on the balcony, practically leading the orchestra of helpers as he swung one way, then turned another to yell some directions. I waved my hello to Dan and he either waved at me or waved me off so he could continue his symphony. It was so comical, except for the two boys standing next to me with eyes as big as the largest balloons.
"Wo-o-ow, Dad! I've, uh, I've never seen so much, well, everything happy in one place before. Tyler is gonna be so surprised. I can't wait to see him and what he does. Hey, they're puttin' up some really neat stuff in those little tents over there, Dad. What's all that?"
"Neat! AJ, they're games from like a carnival or fair or something. Like you toss rings or something and get one of those big dogs or bears they're hangin' on those hooks. Pop, oh my gosh, I remember. I remember my dad takin' me to see something like this at a fair, I think. It was so special. Course, they had rides and stuff. But this is so neat for Tyler, Pop. I can't believe it."
It really was spectacular. Dan had gone all out. It was like he was making up for the eighteen years that Tyler had been without any joy in his life at all. It was a wonderful reality that Tyler was free and could finally enjoy just being a boy.
I looked down at my AJ and saw a tear journey down his clear, pink cheeks. I was concerned that he was feeling left out or jealous of all the attention raining down on Tyler. I stroked his shoulder and he turned to look up at me with a smile.
"Dad, I am so happy for Tyler. All this is for him and it will make him feel so special. He really needs that a lot, huh?"
I was so impressed. My boy rarely thought of his own needs unless it helped with someone else's.
"Well, AJ, I think Tyler has been getting lots of attention lately, not only from his mom but from the Perkins family and others close to Linda Sue."
"Yeah, like us, right?"
"Yes, like us. Does all this look fun to you? Do you think you'll be able to enjoy everything too?"
"Me? Well, yeah, but it's really for Tyler, isn't it?"
"Bro, you gotta relax and have fun today. This is a special day for Tyler, alright. But Dan is lettin' all of us have the same fun too. You need to let yourself enjoy all there is today, 'kay?"
"Okay. I just never saw anything so . . . so . . . so special lookin' before."
Soon, all the people that had been working at setting things up were beginning to pull out, leaving the festival area almost singing its beauty at us.
"Well, we'd better get our butts in gear and get on some party clothes, guys. Look, Great Grampa is coming into the backyard. Looks like he bought some new overalls, huh?"
Both boys laughed then took off to greet and smother Jeb with hugs and stories until I yelled at them to get into the house and change.
We all just dressed in some tab fronts and khaki shorts and sandals. I wanted the kids to look spiffy for Tyler, but still be free enough to enjoy all there was.
It wasn't long before all of our friends started to gather and fill up the backyard. Dan's tribe was as excited as my guys to try everything out. Making them wait until the birthday boy showed up was the hardest thing they'd ever done, it seemed. Still, they all knocked around with Jeffy and AJ until, at last, the main guest arrived.
"Okay," yelled Dan as he read the text on his phone, "They're just pulling up. Everyone get ready to give the biggest cheer ever for the greatest eighteen-year-old ever."
Dan was as excited as the kids. He'd worked hard and was pulling out all the stops to make this a celebration that none of us would forget.
In seconds the gate swung open and Linda Sue, with a huge smile on her face, and Tyler, walked into the midst of several dozen people.
Tyler actually took a step back when he saw everyone, then started to shake when we all called out,
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TYLER!!!"
"Wo-ow!" came from my guy as Tyler's eyes got red and started to tear.
He clung to his mom as they slowly walked to where Dan and family were standing.
"Tyler, I know you must be overwhelmed, but," started Dan, "You deserve the best after all you've been through. I hope you enjoy your party."
Without any hesitation, Tyler took the three steps to Dan and actually lifted him up as he hugged him big time. Both of them were pretty wet with Tyler's tears telling us of the happiness he felt already.
"Thank you so much, Dan. I love everything already."
All of the boys gathered around Tyler and clapped him on the back or just called out their celebratory words to encourage their friend.
"So, let the fun begin, everyone. All the games are free. The food is ongoing until we all burst and there are plenty of new and wonderful flavors for all of us to enjoy." Dan was beside himself with pride at his thank you hug and seeing the excitement on all the kids' faces.
At some point, I was able to talk to Dan about his planning and carrying out the party.
"You did a marvelous thing, my friend. Look at Tyler over there," I said. "He's having the time of his life and so are all the other kids."
"Yes, I encouraged all of the guys at the station to bring their kids and others they knew too. I wanted it to be a kid's party and I knew we almost outnumbered the kids unless I did that."
We stood and watched as the kids tried all of the fun games and things to do, including a face-painter and balloonist. I saw AJ walk by with an outrageous hat of balloons of all colors. He would walk a step or two then skip one step and walk on. Classic walk for a happy boy of twelve. He was heading for a group of boys that were about to try out a new game tent.
"Oh, Tim, that reminds me."
"Um, reminds you?" I asked Dan.
"Yeah, I thought about fireworks when it gets dark, but I decided to save that for the next special occasion, your son's birthday. It's in, what, two weeks?"
"Yup. I'm planning it for two weeks from today."
"Well, I certainly want to help with the plans, you know. I can't think of anyone more deserving than our selfless, giving AJ, can you?"
"No, I sure can't really, well, except maybe for Tyler there. Look! He's trying cotton candy for the first time!"
"Yeah, look again, my friend. So is AJ. Ha! He even got some of it in his mouth before it erupted all over his face!"
I really had a great time. Seeing all those kids so happy made me happy. Like I said, I think Dan could have burst with pride, seeing the joy on dozens of faces.
As I looked at some of the kids, I realized that some of them weren't any of ours, that is, the deputies or anyone else I knew.
Just about then, Linda Sue walked up and hung onto Dan's arm.
"Tim, I want to thank you for letting us use your yard. It's so perfect for just such an occasion, don't you think, Dan?"
"I sure do, sweet, um, Linda Sue."
I let it go the first time.
"But where'd all the extra kids come from, you guys? Did you hire them as extras or something?"
"No, silly. Those are all kids in the foster care homes in the area. There was no way they'd be able to experience such an event. We just couldn't pass up the opportunity to let them have some pleasure too. Do you think it's all okay?"
"Oh, of course. I think it's wonderful. You thought of just about everything, I think."
Linda Sue, smiling, turned to look right into Dan's eyes. "Don't you think he did a wonderful job, Tim. He's the best, you know."
Dan turned the prettiest shade of pink.
"I think he did a marvelous job, Linda Sue."
"Thank you, sweetie, I mean, Linda Sue," said Dan, sheepishly.
I wasn't letting that slip past me a second time though.
"Alright, you two. Out with it. I don't think you two are hiding anything very well, so you might as well spill the beans."
"Beans? There's beans?"
"Dan!" I said.
"Alright, Tim, Dan has asked for my hand. We want to get married."
"And I want you to be standing with me. I've asked Norton to be up there with me, but I want you up there too, please. I've asked Ralph to be my best man. My baby brother's coming too but he's too shy to stand in front, the butt."
Both of them were beaming. Then they looked at each other and I think they forgot I was there, for a minute anyway.
"It's all so wonderful, Tim. My sister will be my matron of honor, of course, and I'm going to ask Tyler to walk me down the aisle. He loves Dan almost as much as I do, I think."
Of course, Dan was blushing so beautifully. It was a good exercise in humility for him. When he looked at his Linda Sue he almost glowed.
For just a second, I saw my Vivian and me standing there, consumed by each other's love. The aura around them overshadowed anything else going on at that moment. Then I snapped out of it when,
"Dad! I won this stuffed dog! Look!"
And my heart leaped at the sound!
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar