I sat down on the couch in the living room. Eric sat beside me. I didn't quite know how to begin to say what I wanted to say. Placing my hand on Eric's forearm I began, "Eric, it's obvious that I am attracted to you and I believe that it is reciprocated."
"Yes, you know it is," he replied.
"The problem is that I really don't know you. In the few months that we have known each other we have never really had the time to explore each others hopes and dreams. It seems that every time we are together the boys are always here keeping us from having a serious discussion. The only time we have been alone together was when we went to the concert and that was only while we drove to and from the event. If our relationship is going to go anywhere I need to know who you really are.
"I have been hurt in the past and I don't want that to happen again. I am not interested in just a sexual relationship. I am interested in a relationship based on trust, respect and a mutual understanding of each others needs, one that is based on a friendship that transcends the physical. I want one that will last beyond the sheer act of sex. I guess what I really want is one based on love.
"Am I making any sense?" I asked.
"I think I understand," Eric said. "I don't want a one night stand either. I'm not into bed hopping. I want a stable relationship, one that I won't be ashamed of no matter what the rest of the world thinks."
"How do we begin to decide if what we have is for real or just physical attraction?" I asked.
"I don't know. I guess we just need to open ourselves to each other, really get to know one another." Eric answered.
That is exactly what we did for the next three and a half hours. It wasn't always easy and there were times of awkward silences but we did learn a lot about each other. I shared with him all the important events in my life from my parents' death to the painful memories of my failed love affair in graduate school with Cassie. I let him know what I wanted to do with the foundation and the dreams I had for it in the future. Eric shared the good and the bad of his life including his marriage. We both were honest with each other about what we were looking for in a partner.
Around two o'clock we were worn out both emotionally and physically. The revelation of our life stories had begun to wind down. When Eric said the he should be getting home, I suggested that he spend the night in one of the upstairs beds. I wasn't yet ready to make the commitment to take him into my bed as tempting as that was. He accepted and we both went to our separate beds after a quick hug and a friendly kiss.
It seemed like I had only gotten to bed when I felt a little body slip in beside me and put his arms around my neck. When I opened my eyes I was looking into the beautiful azure eyes of my little TJ.
"I'm hungry, dad," he said kissing my cheek.
"You're always hungry," I said reaching around to tickle his ribs getting a high-pitched giggle from him. "Go wash your hands and face. I'll bet that Hildy has breakfast waiting for us."
I looked at the clock as I rolled out of the bed and saw that it was almost eight o'clock. I don't know how long it had been since I had slept that late, certainly not since the boys had come to live with me. I washed up and threw on a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and headed to the kitchen.
To my surprise, Eric was sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee and looked to be having a serious conversation with Hildy.
"How long have you been up?" I asked Eric as I poured myself a cup of coffee.
"Oh, not too long," he said. "Just long enough to drink a half a cup."
"How did you sleep?" I asked sitting down at the table with him.
"The bed was great. I didn't have any trouble falling asleep. It just didn't last very long," he said.
"Dad, what are you doing here?" JR asked as he jumped on his dad's lap. "Do I have to go home right now?"
"In a little while, son," Eric said giving his son a squeeze and a kiss on the top of his head. "Dad stayed the night also."
Joel, who had entered the kitchen at the same time as JR, glanced first at me and then Eric looking like he wanted to ask a question.
"Yeah, your dad slept in one of the beds upstairs. We talked so long that it was too late for him to drive home," I said more to Joel than to JR.
A smile flickered on Joel's lips as he took his place at the table which Hildy quickly loaded down with breakfast. The other boys joined the group at the table after getting hugs from Hildy and me. Samson went to his bowl and had his breakfast also.
Eric decided it was time to leave about an hour later, much to the chagrin of JR and the rest of the boys. Eric told JR that they had some work to do at the house and he needed him to help. JR rushed to Hildy to say goodbye before all six of them went out to the car. Since Mary Jane and Becky Sue had the day off, Eric and I had to watch the boys.
I walked Eric out to his car and gave him and JR a hug before they took off for home.
As the boys and I walked back into the house after Eric's car exited the property, Joel came up to me and took hold of my hand.
"Dad, can I talk to you?" he said.
"Of course, you may," I said. "I'll always make time to talk to you. Let's go into my study."
I sat on the couch and motioned for Joel to take a seat beside me. "Now, what is on your mind?"
"I heard you talking to Mr. Hogan about a foundation. What's a foundation?" he asked.
"Well, son, this foundation is going to help deserving young people who don't have parents to get adopted by their foster families if those foster families want to adopt and don't have enough money to qualify. People like Mr. and Mrs. Boise who would like to adopt Tony and maybe even Benny."
"But if they don't have enough money, how are you gonna help them?" Joel asked.
"See that's what the foundation is going to do. It will give deserving parents who need it money to help them qualify to adopt. They will get the money until the adopted child leaves home or graduates from college. The amount of money that the parents receive will be determined by how much they need to maintain an acceptable life style for the adoptee. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, but won't that cost a lot of money? How is the foundation gonna get all that money?"
"Well, dad is going to give the foundation a lot of money to get it started," I said not wanting to reveal exactly how much I was giving away. "After that we hope to get donations from others to help to keep the foundation going and to expand the number of kids that we can help."
"Oh," Joel said after a moment.
"Joel, you look like you have a question that you want to ask. What is it?"
"I was just thinking about Tony and Benny and how happy they would be to be back together all the time. That's all Tony talks about when I phone him. I hope that you can do it. But..."
"But what?" I asked.
"Can I help?" he asked barely above a whisper, looking up at me with those beautiful eyes.
I knew I could never refuse him. In fact it made a lot of sense to have a child help us. I had Jack who would be investigating the proposed parents but there was no one who could get the story from the child. What could be more natural than one adopted kid finding out the feelings of a kid going through the adoption process?
"Joel, that's an excellent idea. I'm so proud of you for wanting to help. You can help in any way that you feel comfortable. I have a meeting with Carlos and Gerald this afternoon to finalize some details about the foundation. If you want to, you can attend. You will learn more about the foundation and maybe help figure out how much you want to be involved," I said putting my arms around him and pulling him into my chest. "You make me so proud."
"Dad, can we go swimming?" Chris asked sticking his head in the study door.
"Now that is a good idea," I said. "Go get your suits on and I'll be there in a couple minutes."
"Son, we'll talk some more after the meeting this afternoon and I'll try to answer any more questions you have at that time. Why don't you get your swim suit on and let's join your brothers in the pool," I said getting up from the couch.
Samson was waiting for us at the patio door when we started toward the pool. He followed us to the pool but one thing Samson never did was go in the water. He never minded water when he was bathed, but showed no interest in going into the pool. He would sit and watch the boys or run up and down the side of the pool if the boys were involved in a game of dodge ball.
Joel played with us for maybe fifteen minutes before he became tired and got out of the pool and sat in a lounge chair under the beach umbrella watching his brothers and me. Samson, as usual, went and sat beside Joel to get his ears scratched.
A half an hour or so later Hildy emerged onto the patio carrying a tray with a large pitcher of juice and a half dozen glasses. It was like a giant vacuum cleaner had sucked the boys out of the pool. They were beside her before she could reach the table to set her tray down.
"Thanks, Hildy," TJ said as he gave her a wet hug.
The other boys echoed his thanks as well.
"You're welcome, son," Hildy said looking at me smiling and shaking her head.
After lunch Joel and I took off for San Antonio to meet with Carlos and Gerald on the foundation. The meeting went off very well. Everything was set to begin operations as soon as Darcie returned from her honeymoon. All the necessary paperwork had been completed to meet the government's requirement to operate as a charitable entity. Gerald informed us that $10 million from the sale of the business had been transferred to ASEC bank account to start the foundation.
"That idea of yours to donate 68.97% of the business to the foundation as of June 30th before the sale went through saved you a lot of taxes," Gerald said. "Your tax liability on the $4.5 million is going to be hefty enough. Of course the donation will favorably impact your overall taxes for several years to come."
I could see that Joel was just itching to ask a question but he refrained until we were on our way back to the house.
"Dad, did you really donate $10 million to the foundation?"
"Yes, son, I did. Why?"
"Are you rich?"
"I guess we are rich by most people's standards," I said emphasizing the 'we'. "But the main reason that I am rich is because I have you and your brothers. I could be the poorest man in the world and still be rich if I had you guys."
"Thanks, dad," he said. "I guess that I'm rich too because you found me."
I didn't tell him that he and his brothers were actually rich in their own right. Each of their trust funds was worth over $4 million as of the first of the month.
"Ah... do you like Mr. Levin?"
"Of course I do. Why?"
"I mean like I like John?"
I paused for a moment debating how to answer. "That's hard to say. I am very fond of Eric and I think he likes me too. If you are asking if I love him, I can't honestly say. Would it bother you if I did?"
"No... I was just wondering."
The rest of the drive home was in silence.
I received a call from Darcie on the 14th telling me that she was back from the honeymoon and was ready to go to work on the foundation. It surprised me a little bit. I didn't think that she would have their households straightened out for another week or so, but I was pleased that she was ready. I invited her and Mel to come over to the house on Saturday for a barbeque and we could discuss how to get organized so that everything would be in place by the first of August.
The rest of the week was spent between baseball practice and games. Chris and the twins each had games on Saturday morning so we barely made it back to the house in time to grab a quick lunch before Darcie and Mel arrived. I had invited Eric and JR to come for the barbeque also.
The boys were getting ready for a swim when Eric and JR arrived. They quickly joined the boys in the pool. Mel and Darcie were not far behind. Mel also changed and made his way to the pool where Chris was giving JR pointers on breathing between his swimming strokes.
Darcie and I went into my study and started discussing our ideas on how to start up the foundation and the way we both thought that it should operate. She had some definite ideas that I found quite surprising. She was going to be a driving force in the foundation and I was so impressed with her command of what I was trying to do. I could tell from what she presented that she had given the foundation a lot of thought. I knew right then that I had made the right choice of her to head up ASEC.
When we finished our discussions, Darcie went into the spare bedroom to change into her bathing suit so that she could join the rest of the crew in the pool. I went to check with Hildy to see how the preparations for the barbeque were coming before I, too, changed into my swim trunks. I stopped by the barbeque pit and started the fire going before I joined everyone in the pool.
Mel was sitting on the side of the pool as I finished starting the fire. "Man, how do you keep up with these boys?" he asked panting.
"First of all I don't try. They have much more energy than I do. I think they could go non-stop all day long and usually do," I said laughing.
"Crane, you know I'm jealous of you."
"Why are you jealous of me?"
"Because, Darcie spent the majority of our honeymoon talking about you and your foundation. She is so excited about it that she can barely wait to get started," he said.
"Well, I'm glad to know she is excited about it. I know that she'll do a good job. She has a passion for helping kids and that's what's necessary for us to succeed," I replied.
I enjoyed playing with the boys and our guests for another hour before it was time to start getting the meat put on the grill. I had chosen some great looking ribeyes. Before I began grilling, I asked everyone how they liked their steaks and then suggested that they go grab a quick shower and change clothes.
As I was going into the house to follow my own advice Hildy stopped me. "I hope you don't mind, I invited Manfred to join us this evening. He's going to take me to the movies afterward. He should be here any minute."
"That's fine. I should have thought to ask him myself. You take off anytime you want. The rest of us can clean up," I told her.
By the time I emerged from the shower, Manfred had arrived and was playing with the boys. I guess they had decided that if he liked Hildy and she was their 'grandmother', then he could be their 'grandfather'.
I put the steaks on the grill while Hildy brought the rest of the food from the kitchen. Most everyone wanted their steaks cooked medium except for Manfred and Mel who wanted theirs cooked rare. To be on the safe side I made sure that the boys' steaks were done so that there was no pink in the middle. It took some planning but I was able to get all the steaks grilled and ready to be plated at the same time.
Hildy, Eric and I cut the boys' steaks for them. Joel and Chris decided that they could cut their own. It didn't take that long before we were able to join the rest of the adults to enjoy our own meals. Both tables were not only filled with good food but with good conversation and above all laughter. Sitting there surrounded by people I loved or deeply respected, I realized again how blessed I was.
After we finished eating, Hildy began to clean up but I stopped her. "You and Manfred run along. We can handle the clean-up. Enjoy the movie," I said as I shooed her away from the tables.
She looked at me as if she was going to argue until she saw that I was determined. Shrugging her shoulders, she went to the boys and gave each of them a hug. Manfred followed behind her doing the same.
"Okay, guys, each of you grab your plate, your silverware and your glass and take it into the kitchen. Then go wash your hands," I told the boys.
With everyone helping it didn't take long to get everything cleaned up and the few leftovers put in the refrigerator. Darcie insisted on loading the dishwasher and making sure that the kitchen was cleaned up so there was no mess left for Hildy.
The six boys went into the bedrooms to play with the video games while the four of us adults retired to the living room for coffee. Mel and Darcie sat in the loveseat while Eric and I sat on the couch. We chatted about nothing in particular for a half an hour or so until TJ walked timidly into the room and climbed onto my lap.
I hugged him and gave him a kiss on the back of his head. I knew he had something on his mind. He turned his head and put is lips to my ear and in his best stage whisper said, "Can JR stay all night?"
"I don't care, but you have to ask his dad," I said imitating his stage whisper.
It was all the Darcie, Mel and Eric could do to keep from laughing but they did a pretty good job of keeping a straight face.
TJ turned in my lap to face Eric and with that innocent expression on his face that only a six year old could attain asked, "Can JR stay here all night?"
"Did JR put you up to this?" Eric asked.
His answer was a wide eyed shaking of his head no.
"I guess it would be all right," Eric said looking at me, shaking his head and releasing his pent up smile.
As TJ took off for the bedrooms I said, "I think that we were set up. They knew that it would be hard for us to refuse a request from the youngest."
Mel and Darcie just laughed at us. "You guys are just pushovers," she said.
Changing the subject I said, "Which of your two houses did you decide on living in?"
"Were going to live in Mel's house in Bulverde," Darcie said. "It's much bigger than mine and besides it has a much better view. It's also much closer to the ASEC office you've rented in Thousand Oaks."
"Oh, that will be convenient. The office should be ready the early part of next week. The only thing that is holding us up is the installation of the phone lines. Southwestern Bell promised they would be in this last week but so far they haven't delivered. Hint, hint, Mel."
"Hey, don't look at me. I'm just some dumb computer nerd there. I don't have anything to do with the installations," Mel said laughing.
Around nine o'clock Mel and Darcie decided to take off for home and went in to say goodbye to all the boys. After getting and giving each of the boys a hug they took off for Mel's house. Eric and I followed them out to their car to say our goodbyes.
"When are you two going to get together? Or have you?" Darcie said as we stood beside Mel's car.
"Wha... What do you mean?" I stuttered.
"Darcie!" Eric chided.
"Well, for heaven's sake. It's obvious that you like each other. Don't tell me you don't. Remember, Eric, I have known you for a long time and you are so easy to read. Crane, you're pretty transparent as well. Even the boys know that you two have the hots for each other," she said getting into the car.
Eric and I were speechless as they drove off down the lane.
Entering the house we were met by Larry. "Dad, we haven't had our snack yet."
"Okay, you go get the others while Eric and I see what there is for your snack."
Luckily Hildy had a plate of chocolate frosted brownies in the refrigerator. The brownies and some large glasses of milk staved off starvation in the six of them. Eric and I each grabbed a brownie before they were all gone even though we did get a few dirty looks.
After they finished their snack, Chris rinsed the glasses and plates and stacked them in the sink. The dishwasher was full of freshly washed dishes from the barbeque.
"Time to get your teeth brushed and ready for bed," I told them as they started back to the bedrooms. I was surprised when I didn't get any complaints. I guess the day's activities had worn them out. "I'll come tuck you in bed in a few minutes."
I went back into the family room and turned on the TV since it was coming up on ten o'clock. I wanted to see what the weather forecast was for tomorrow. If it was going to be decent I thought I might take the boys out on the boat fishing since TJ didn't have a T-ball game tomorrow and we hadn't been out for a few weeks. The local weather on the Weather Channel was just beginning as I tuned to the channel. The two minute synopsis of the local weather indicated that it was going to be partly cloudy with temperatures near 95 and winds 5-10 mph. Looked like it would be a good day to take the boat out.
I gave the boys a few more minutes to get ready for bed before I went in to say goodnight followed by Eric. The bedtime ritual had become quite standard. The first room I went into was Joel and TJ's. I gave each of them a hug and a kiss on the forehead. Tonight they got the same from Eric. As we left the room I switched the lights off and then pulled the door almost closed. This was repeated in the twins' room and finally in the spare room where Chris and JR were.
As we were leaving after tucking them in JR said to his dad, "I wish I had a brother to sleep with all the time."
"Maybe someday," his dad said.
Eric and I went back into the family room and talked for another hour or so before we were both beginning to yawn.
"Do you want to spend the night?" I asked.
"Yes, I think I would like to," he said standing up.
As he started toward the stairway to the spare beds upstairs I took his hand and pulled him toward my room.