A Secret Love, A Secret Life

Chapter Seven

Friday morning it was I who woke up first so I did my bathroom routine, and before I was dried from my shower, Brian had joined me and we made out a bit before I went and started the breakfast. I made French toast with cinnamon bread that morning and those little brown and serve sausages to go with. The sausages had barely hit the pan when the boys came downstairs and I told Mike he was staying home today, too, and Brian would collect all their assignments for the last two days and we'd all work on them after dinner tonight. As Brian was leaving to get in the truck, (again) he stopped at the front door to give me a kiss goodbye and told me to be careful about when I brought the next child into the house, he was beginning to feel outnumbered! That of course was said with a lot of love, and a big smile, because I had really put him through his paces last night, twice. He was one happy man.

After breakfast had been cleaned up the three of us did the ointment routine hopefully for the last time. Bobby's burns had indeed faded to a light sunburn kind of red and the blistering was staying ooze free and was responding nicely to the antibiotic cream the nurse had given us. While I did his backside, Mike was watching me like a hawk and when Bobby turned over for his front to be treated he asked if Mike could be allowed to do the treatment, and they'd let me know when they were ready for the gauze wrappings. I told them that was alright with me, but I told Mike to be a lot more gentle in the groin area than he was going to be on his legs and arms. That earned me a chorus of two saying "Yes Dad A" and I left them to it, knowing Bobby was hard as a rock before I even left the room.

The wrapping was done about a half hour later and then Mike helped Bobby get dressed. We bundled up, went to the barn and made sure there wasn't any snow blowing in from a crack or broken board and when we were all in agreement everything looked clean and in good shape we went to the end of the barn and there in the shelter of the big barn's wall was the remains of a good sized coop, the wire fence almost all gone from around the coop's outside grazing area. The coop itself looked dry and in good condition so we hoped we'd pass inspection the next day. Our next stop was the cottage where I nudged the heat up a bit more and the boys ran to the kitchen and bathroom to make sure none of the pipes had frozen. All was well and I took a look at the place and realized it was really rather nice.

After lunch, I told the boys we should go out and get some provisions for Sunday so we drove to the nearest big grocery and strolled the aisles with a cart and I selected several items for the next several days we'd need, and several more we'd need for our multitude of guests on Sunday. By going up and down all the aisles I learned what each boy liked or didn't like and one of the things they differed on was their choice of breakfast cereals which I informed both that we'd all be using during the week when we had to go to school Monday through Friday. Lunches we'd all eat at school unless there were leftovers we wanted instead and whoever wanted that had to package it up themselves.

We got home from shopping before Brian was home from the school and everything was stowed away by the time he walked in. We shared a meatloaf meal with mashed potatoes and green beans and some home baked fresh rolls slathered in butter. Brian asked when I had learned to cook so well and I smirked at him and reminded him that I had grown up in a family of 8 kids with parents who worked alternating shifts for most of the time we were were growing up. I also reminded him that two of us would cook and two of us would clean up after. I must have hit a nerve, even if it wasn't my intention to do so, because once dessert was over he asked Mike to help him clean up after us and he told me and Bobby to go warm up the TV and they'd be in shortly to join us. He also told us we'd switch kitchen duty the next week. While we were waiting for them to finish, Bobby and I were watching the news and during it, I vaguely remember hearing that the next night's lottery was expected to grow from the estimated 200 million it was at today. What I really was waiting to hear was the weather forecast for the weekend, as I was getting a little weary of all the snow we'd been getting so far this winter and I wanted a nice clear day for when the family descended on us on Sunday…...OH, MY GOD!!! I forgot to tell everyone about Mike! And the fact that one of the town's policemen had stopped by and left us another sealed manilla envelope from family court! I hadn't even told Brian yet. I rushed to do that, letting him be the one to open this one and he had that huge sappy grin on his face as he read the decree out loud to us all and we had a round of hugs before I told Brian we had calls to make. Well, we certainly surprised everyone with this latest call to our families and our closest friends, David and John.

They were thrilled for us and so happy the boys were well and happy in our home. Everyone was anxious to meet them on Sunday and we got the impression there was more news to come from my family as well.

Saturday, late in the morning the retired teacher, Mr. Lewis, and his soon to be unemployed farm hand, Benjamin Cartwright, arrived. Introductions were made all around, including the boys, who were too young and too new at the school to have been in any of Mr. Lewis' classes. Mr. Lewis asked if this wasn't the farm that had belonged to Mrs. Flynn's brothers. We told him it was, and she had offered it to us just before the start of term. Apparently, Ben, as he asked us to call him, used to fill in at this farm many years ago, before he started working for Mr. Lewis and his family. They looked first at the barn and then the chicken coop and Ben said that the barn was in very good condition and would only need hay for the floor of the stalls and for the dogs to sleep on. The tack room was as clean as the rest of the barn and he said there were plenty of wall pegs and saddle trestles for the equipment. Bobby piped up and asked if he was going to teach us all how to ride and Ben chuckled and said he'd be happy to. He had a lot of knowledge and was happy to share it. The chicken coop was in good shape and he thought that if we got a roll of wire fencing he could get the job done by Tuesday afternoon, if he started Monday morning and we didn't have another heavy snowfall.

He was very pleased with the caretaker's cottage. He said he hadn't remembered it as nice as it was, and when he saw the second bedroom he got quite quiet and a single tear ran down his left cheek. He sniffed and coughed and seemed to pull himself out of whatever funk he had gotten himself into there for a second or two. He told Brian and me he would be very happy there in the cottage. We invited them up to the house for a cup of coffee, they thanked us for our offer, but they wanted to load up the hay and other feed and as much of the tack as they could and maybe drop it off later in the afternoon so there would be supplies here when they would deliver the animals after dropping off the supplies, so by 6 PM the dogs and horses would be delivered. They could all stay in the barn on Sunday, and Ben would come and take care of the horses and fill Mike in on taking care of the dogs. On Monday Ben would be out to work on the coop and hopefully the fowl could be moved Tuesday afternoon. Ben would move in on Friday, but come to tend the horses and get Bobby up to speed with the chickens twice a day, before and after school.

After they had left we split up and Brian and Mike went to get the wire fencing for the chicken coop yard and Bobby and I took the car and went on a shopping trip to get a Christmas tree and some decorations for it. I explained that this was the first Christmas that Brian and I would be having our own tree and we were really proud and happy that the boys would be with us. We had just turned onto the main road when Bobby called out that there were a huge amount of trees for sale at the big farm produce store just ahead, so we got out to start looking and soon we had about 5 selected in different spots of the side parking lot where they were stacked, standing. He was all, "Doc A, look at this one", or "Dad A, look how this one is shaped", for just about every other tree on the lot. We soon had a gallery of people watching and one or two of his classmates there with their own families shopping for a tree, watching and offering their advice. The owner had come over and she was helping us go through the hundreds of trees and when Bobby and I had finally chosen a tree she finally asked me if I was one of the teachers at the middle school that had just taken in two of my students. I told her I was Archie Blackmer and Brian Harris was my roommate and we had just bought the farm formerly owned by Mrs. Flynn, and yes, Bobby and Mike were living with us now. She told me how nice it was to finally meet me and what a wonderful thing we were doing for the two boys. She said that she had seen Brian and me shopping in the produce store several times this past fall and she had wondered who we were. I started to pay for the tree and she wouldn't let me, she said it was something she felt compelled to do, to help us this first Christmas we would be spending as a family.

I was a bit taken aback but recovered enough to not only thank her, but to help her tie the tree down on the roof of the car. With that done Bobby and I went into the shop for fresh veggies and found that there was table after table of tree decorations for sale, many of them made locally. We picked up garlands and baubles, the lights Brian was going to pick up at the big home store he was getting the roll of wire fencing at. I told Bobby he had made some wise choices and he told me that for an older dude I had too.

Back at home we were in time to help unload the big roll of wire mesh fencing and then Brian helped me get the tree off the roof of the car and into the tree stand we had found in the storage room in the basement, along with ornaments that hadn't been used in a very, very long time. We let it sit on the porch while we four moved things around in the living room to make room for the tree. We planned to set it up after dinner, listening to Christmas music to help us stay in the holiday mood. Mr. Lewis and/or Ben must have stopped by as there was a bunch of straw in 4 of the horse stalls and bales of feed along one part of the back wall, and water and feed already in the feed troughs in the stalls to be used. We were deciding what to have for dinner when we heard the horse trailer arrive and I was excited to glimpse our new arrivals. I guess the boys and Brian were also as they beat me into their winter coats and out the door to greet our arrivals.

Mr. Lewis and Ben had it all under control and led the horses to their new stalls first, they really were amazing looking animals, and then let the dogs out. They were really good looking black and white dogs and Bobby and Mike were quite taken with them, especially after they had called the two dogs by name and the dogs came right to them and licked their faces. The boys took over with the dogs after that, dishing them both up some dog feed and putting water in their bowls. The food bowls were near their own sleeping pads that had been placed on top of fresh straw and Ben went over the care of the dogs with the boys. Mr. Lewis had asked us to make a donation to the shelter his animals had come from, so I made out a check for what he said was a generous amount,$2,000.00 and he said Ben would be over twice a day now until he moved in near the end of the coming week, and of course, he'd be here Monday and Tuesday to fix the coop and Tuesday, late afternoon, they would both deliver the chickens.

We had pork chops for dinner and Brian watched as I prepared them for baking in the mushroom soup I had poured over and around them in the baking pan after having browned them in a skillet. I showed him how to make chunky hash browns and how to snap the ends off green beans before lightly boiling them, Bobby sat at the kitchen table writing the steps for this simple dinner down. I don't think he trusted Brian's memory when it came to food.

We had so much fun decorating the tree and sorting the antique decorations we had found in the storage room. Brian and Mike had done a good job in picking out the lights, he got that new kind, with the small clear bulbs, thank God he hadn't picked the twinkling ones, I hate those and expected an epileptic to have a seizure from those. Brian held up Mike and I held up Bobby and the two of them placed the new angel on top and when plugged in, the light in her seemed to make her glow up there, it was perfect.

Before bed, Bobby had his last ointment treatment that night and his last "mummy wrap" as he and Mike had been calling it. I did the wrapping after Mike had done the ointment treatment and massage. It was amazing how fast the young man had healed. He was thrilled about that and thanked me about twice a day for taking such good care of him, usually followed by a great big hug now that his arms didn't ache so much anymore. He really was as lovable as he looked. We watched the news after the boys went up to bed and we learned that someone from our area of the state had won 205 million in the lottery drawing that night. The announcer said that an after-tax payout would get the winner a cool 165 million after taxes. Brian was snoring lightly when they announced the numbers, so I couldn't tell you exactly what they were.                     

We were starting to fix the boys' breakfast at about 8 the next morning, and Brian and I were telling them that on the weekends we'd do a nice breakfast when Bobby said he couldn't have any. I asked if he felt ill or anything and he told us that he wanted to receive communion that morning especially to celebrate his new family. I was mortified, and when I looked at Brian he was too. Mike piped up and said he'd wait, too, as he thought it was a really good idea. Brian sat with the boys at the table as I started to put things away. Brian started by telling the boys that this was one of those very rare occasions where the children were smarter than the parents. He explained we were very proud of them for wanting to go to church to celebrate their new family, it was something we hadn't thought of and since we had been raised Catholic we should have, but we had only been going to church occasionally with my family when we were visiting them. He told the boys to go get into church clothes after their showers, and that Archie and he would do the same and maybe we could all make the 9 o'clock mass at the local church about a mile down the main road from us.

So that's where Mrs. Flynn caught up with us and that's where we learned that both boys sang in the choir. Mrs. Flynn was in the vestibule chatting with someone when she spotted us come in. She looked over Bobby, who was now wrapless, but now sported several very large band-aids, most of them under his clothing, but two big ones on the back of his neck visible because they were skin tone, but they stood out because most of his exposed skin looked like he was sunburned still. She asked how he was feeling and I couldn't believe how this old crone was turning into a caring, loving person right in front of our eyes. When Bobby told her that he never felt so loved and cared for in his entire life, Mike piped up and said he felt the same thing. She gave them each a hug and told them how happy she was to hear that and that she thought their new fathers were some of the nicest people she had ever met. Then she told them she saw the choir looking for them so they better go meet up with them, she didn't want them to be late because of her. They each hugged her again and took off for the choir loft. We were a bit stunned, as Mrs. Flynn was known by all at school as "Dragon Lady", but she had certainly been very good to us and now the boys so at Brian's nudge I invited her for lunch at the farm about 12:30 as that was when I figured our families and friends would be settled. She assured us she would love to come.

We shared a pew with her and we were so proud of the boys, as we could actually make out their singing voices, and they were both very good. Even Mrs. Flynn commented on their singing and told us that they each had a solo last Christmas that had her weeping. On the way home we told the boys she would be joining us for lunch and they said she was a lot nicer out of school.

We had an abbreviated breakfast when we arrived home and Mike went down to the barn with Bobby to feed the dogs. When they returned they reported that Ben must have been there already as the horses had fresh water and feed in their troughs. Mike reported that the dogs had gone out to relieve themselves as soon as they got there, but Ben must have also let them out as he couldn't find any evidence to the contrary.

My mother called just before they left their house and told me to turn my oven to 350 degrees so she could pop the hot stuff in to warm up from their long drive, all of fifteen minutes. At least we had a fifteen-minute warning, but before them, John and David arrived. Brian and I shared kisses and hugs with then, so Bobby and Mike did too. I had introduced them to the boys and after that I didn't see any of them until the door knocker went again, signaling more arrivals. The boys had wanted to show off their rooms to their new uncles. The next arrivals were my family and Brian took care of the introductions as Mom and I put her" hot stuff" into the oven and then I took Mom into the living room to introduce her to her grandsons. She, of course, got a little weepy, but I noticed my Dad did too. The two of them took the boys to the kitchen table as Brian and I visited with my brothers and sisters for a few moments until Brian's Dad and Carl arrived and right behind them was Mrs. Flynn, with a whole platter of Christmas cookies.

Brian's Dad and Carl joined my folks and the boys in the kitchen and this time Brian got to introduce the boys to their other grandparents. After we introduced Mrs. Flynn to the grands we escorted her into the living room and introduced her to David, John, and my siblings. Before she could take a seat she went to look over our tree and exclaimed that she hadn't seen some of the baubles since her brothers had first set up a tree 40 years ago. We had a nice time letting her tell us about her family's tales and shortly  Mom had announced it was time to eat and we all gathered around the table. Bobby and Mike sat with my brother Ron and my sister Kate as they were the closest to their age and they had plenty to talk about it seemed. After a raucous and delightful meal, our boys took everyone on a tour, even Mrs. Flynn. My Mom and Dad sat with us at the kitchen table and told us they had something to tell us.

They looked so serious and scared. I was really starting to panic and Brian held my hand as we waited for one of them to speak, it was my Dad who began. He addressed me first, saying,"Archie, you know we inherited when your grandmother died several years ago, and we told you kids that we'd discuss that with you all at some point and we never did?", I nodded, still not getting a clue about what was coming, but I was beginning to relax a bit. Mom picked up the tale, "Archie, when you got those scholarships we were so proud of you, but we had enough invested from your grandmother to pay for your college expenses, all of them, but then we wouldn't have had anything for the rest of the kids if they too wanted to go on in their post high school education, so when you received all those scholarships we took most of my mother's money and invested it for your brothers and sisters education. The fund now has enough for all of them to go further if they want, and more. We feel that you deserve your share of it, and now that you and Brian are starting a family, well, we thought that we should hand over at least $10,000.00 dollars so you two can start a college fund for each of your sons. Realize that when your college education first came up we couldn't have done this, but we can now without it affecting in the least what will be available for your siblings. We wouldn't have known any of this right now, but Betty just got accepted at Mount Holyoke on a town resident scholarship and we had to go through all the financial hoopla and we realized that there was much more in the education fund than we knew, and then we received your phone calls about our grandsons and well, this just seems the right thing to do".

She then reached into her purse and took an envelope out and handed it to me, and it was a check for the ten thousand. We both told them that we had been so worried it was bad news they had wanted to tell us, but this was wonderful news and we thanked them profusely for it. Dad said he wanted to catch up to the tour, so we all got into our coats and caught up to everyone else in the barn.

Everyone seemed to be getting along great and after the dogs and horses were introduced to my parents, everyone had to have a look at the cottage. Mrs. Flynn was looking around the cottage, almost as if she was in a trance when Brian and I caught up with her and we asked if all this was too much for her. She told us no, just some old ghosts trying to spook her. She softly told us that she had fallen for her first boyfriend in this very cottage when she was a student at the Westfield State Teachers college and her older brothers had let her stay here after their parents had died in her freshman year. That allowed her to avoid room fees and that allowed her to stay in school and commute 25 miles each way, sometimes by bus and later using one of the farm trucks her brothers had. She told us that the boy had been a high school student and was a true dreamboat, but she had gotten "caught" by a different boy she had been seeing and things got messy when she became pregnant and the younger boy she truly loved had quit his job here and taken one on the other side of town. She never knew what had become of Ben.

Brian and I almost said something, but we were adults and teachers ,and parents now, and we instinctively knew to keep our mouths shut at this point. We were all walking back to the house in the mid-afternoon sunlight on a warm,50-degree day, when Bobby spotted something on the front porch and it was our Sunday paper its wrapper, pushed aside as everyone arrived this noon. I took it and placed it on the kitchen counter to look at later.

Before taking off her coat Mrs. Flynn announced she thought she'd leave for home and let us all visit for a while. We tried to dissuade her, but she was adamant, but I did manage to fix her a plate for her evening meal out of the leftovers and some of the wonderful cheesecake David and John had brought. Brian had seen her out to her car and when he came in a few minutes later he told me that she had told him that the baby had come a few months early and only lived for an hour and that her marriage had only lasted less than ten years, until her husband had drunk himself to death.

We visited with the families and John and David and everyone got to know Bobby and Mike a lot better. They stayed until about 4:30 and then they started to take off for home as everyone had school or work the next day. No one was hungry, so we four vegged out in front of the TV, and the news was just coming on when we saw a blurb on the bottom of the screen that said that the local lottery winner had bought their ticket at the little convenience store near the middle school. We all said that we hoped it was someone we knew or someone who needed it. About that time Bobby and Mike, with Brian's help, were making us all sandwiches from the leftover roast. I set the table, as no one was allowed to eat in the living room. We sat around eating and I noticed Bobby was deep in thought. I asked what was on his mind, and he replied that he never had so many nice people for friends or relatives before and he was just thinking how lucky he was, Mike piped up and said he had thought the same thing while they were in church this morning when we ran into Mrs. Flynn and she was so nice to us all, she wasn't anything like the "Dragon Lady" from school after all.

Brian explained the old expression that "you can't judge a book by its cover", which reminded him to ask the boys if they were all caught up on their assignments, they had school in the morning. That started some lighthearted moaning and they both went up to make sure all was done on the homework front. That left me to tidy up the kitchen since the three of them had "cooked". It was a pretty easy task and when done I joined Brian in the living room where he watched some TV and I perused the Sunday paper, looking really for some Christmas presents to buy that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg.

From where I sat reading the paper I could see into the kitchen and right in my view was the lottery ticket Brian had bought on impulse the other night on his way home as he was buying milk and juice at the convenience store by the school. No one had come forward yet and I had the list of the winning numbers there in the paper. I went into the kitchen and took the ticket with me back to the paper in the living room and turned the front page over to see the winning numbers so I could hold the ticket up to the page in the paper and threw up on the paper, vomit dripping from my mouth, and gasping for breath, I felt like I was going to pass out. I started to actually swoon when I felt Brian's arms around me, holding me tight to him, trying to clean me up with his handkerchief, yelling," Oh my God Archie,what's the matter, tell me Love, should you go to the hospital, was it something I made for dinner, WHAT'S WRONG LOVE?"

I was still gasping as I pointed to the lottery ticket and the paper and he finally cottoned on to what I meant and he grabbed the part that wasn't covered in vomit and he matched the printed numbers to the ones on the ticket and his eyes rolled up to the top of his head and he passed out at my feet. I ran to the fridge and took out the first aid kit from the little cabinet above the fridge and got the smelling salts out and broke a capsule under his nose. The boys had come thundering down the stairs when Brian had started yelling at me and were now trying to prop him up as the vapors hit him and he sneezed and began shaking his head. Bobby had tears in his eyes as he asked me why I had knocked out Dad B and I told him I hadn't, that he had passed out when he saw the paper. I ran to the kitchen sink to rinse out my foul tasting mouth. I grabbed a bag and some paper towels and went to clean up the vomit on the lower half of the newspaper page. In the end, it was just easier to rip out the winning lottery numbers and throw the damaged part of the paper away which I did by tossing the bag with the soiled paper out the back door.

I returned to the living room and Brian was sitting on the sofa with a boy on each side and they were all comparing the ticket to the ripped part of the newspaper. Brian had a sort of happy drunk look about him and the boys were just stunned. I finally had my wits about me and I asked the boys if they needed more time for their homework and they said no, in kind of a stupor and I asked what they thought about the lottery ticket. They said they were stunned and they had never known anyone who had won more than a hundred dollars on a scratch-off ticket. Brian spoke for the first time in many minutes and told them it was for the family, for all of us to live maybe a little better, and to take better vacations, but to also help others with. I looked at the ticket and asked Brian what the x2 meant under the row of numbers, and I thought he was going to pass out again, but he pulled himself together and said that his change was two dollars from a ten and so he had put it all on one quick pick, so the X2 meant that any winnings would be multiplied by 2.

Now I was really shocked, and thankfully there wasn't anything left in my stomach at that point, but the practical side of me came forward and I told Brian we had to get help right away, maybe call that Mr. Winters, the lawyer, to advise us as to what to do to collect, as we both knew we were underage. We sat there, the wind sucked out of our sails, pondering the situation, wondering if maybe one of our parents would cash it in for us, but we knew that the store had one of those new security cameras and Brian would be on the film as the one purchasing the ticket and when the store realized when and at what time the ticket was purchased Brian would again be identified, I mean, maybe not by name, but they knew us in there, they knew we were new teachers and had just moved to town at the beginning of the school year.

Brian mumbled to call the lawyer. I went to the Rolodex we kept in the kitchen by that phone. It had important numbers on the cards, filed alphabetically, and there under the "W's" was the business card Mr. Winters had given us when we first met him. It was only 8:00 PM at that point so I wasn't shy about calling him and as it turned out he was just coming in from dinner with his parents and when I asked if he could come out to see us, as we had a problem we thought he could help us with, he agreed readily. He only lived on the other side of town and he was at our front door in fifteen minutes.

I opened the door to him, thanking him for making the trip out here, and I took his coat and showed him into the living room. Everyone greeted him warmly and I offered him coffee or tea and he said he'd beg off for right now. I asked if we were still clients of his and he told us we sure were. Then Brian showed him the lottery ticket and the torn section of the page from the newspaper. He sat there just as stunned as the rest of us, but he just laughed really hard when Mike pointed to the X2 under the obviously winning string of numbers. Through his laughter, which was very infectious, he said he was sure he was our lawyer. Once we had all calmed down he asked if the reason we had called him was our ages, that none of us in the house was 21 or older.

Comments appreciated at Art West