The Little Pipsqueak
© 2012 Matthew Templar
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 is copyrighted by Matthew Templar, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Jacob came into the kitchen with Enrique and AJ.
"Enrique's gotta pee, Pop. Uh, where's Denver?"
"Denver is in his room."
"Then you gotta wait for him, Enrique? Can you?" asked Jacob.
"Sure. No prob."
"AJ, are you having a good time with my boys?" asked Dan.
"Um sure, but they aren't really yours like Dad, um, Tim isn't my dad, uh, really, huh?" asked AJ cautiously.
"That's true. They're just here for a while, then they'll move on. Most of them have families but they can't be with them for a while, so I get to watch over them. Neat huh?"
"I guess. You mean, someday they have to go?" he asked, looking at me with worried eyes.
"AJ," I said, "It's not the same for you and me. We both have no one else but each other and I, for one, don't want to lose you, ever."
"Really?" he asked with that quiver in his voice. His eyes had gotten just a bit larger.
"Really. That's why we're here, son. So Dan can show me how to hog tie you and string you up in the living room so you can't go running off anymore." I thought I was being funny.
"Huh?" he gulped.
"He's pullin' your leg, AJ. He's tellin' ya how much he cares about ya and doesn't want anything ta happen to ya."
"That's not what I heard, Jacob. How do you know that's what he meant?" asked a serious Enrique, who was beginning to shuffle his feet in the pee dance.
Jacob looked right into Dan's smiling eyes as he answered his foster brother, "Cuz Pop said the same thing ta me the first time I'd tried to run away. That's how I know."
"And he strung you up?" asked Melvin as he joined us. "I doubt that."
"Course he didn't. He was just funnin' me like Sergeant McGill was doin' to AJ. Huh, Sergeant?"
"Yes, Jacob. You nailed it. I was just playing with him. But I think I need to watch it. I think that kind of humor can be pretty scary sometimes, huh AJ?"
AJ's lower lip was still quivering just a bit as he nodded to me.
Just then, Denver came down the hall, his head down, looking at a large drawing pad of paper. When he got into the kitchen he looked up and saw everyone looking at him.
"Huh? What? Did I do somethin wrong?" he said in a worried voice.
"No, little one. We were just waiting with Enrique until you came down the hall. He has to go pee."
"AJ bumped Jacob and whispered, "How come he has to wait ta go? Denver wasn't in the bathroom."
"Rules," Jacob said out loud as we watched Enrique move down the hallway. "Only one down that end of the house at a time unless it's bedtime."
AJ looked a little stunned that Jacob answered his quiet question so everyone could hear.
Dan picked up on it. "Another rule, AJ. No whispering or secrets. It's not polite. And it makes it okay for the guys to say what they need to say about anything. Otherwise, it isn't as important as they thought.
"There's a couple of others two that even more important than that, though, AJ?"
"Denver, what's the first and most important rule in this house?" asked Dan of his youngest ward.
"U-m-m-m," stalled Denver as he slowly turned toward a small poster on a cork board on the kitchen wall.
"No, young man. You've been here long enough to know at least that one. Look at me."
"Okay, um, it's, uh, oh, respect. We gotta respect each other, and not just here but everyone, huh?" He smiled as he looked for encouragement from his brothers.
"Very good, little one. You win the big prize of, hmmm. What should we give him, boys?"
There were a few silly suggestions until Denver shyly suggested having his game privileges returned to him.
"Well, son, I think they need to stay," Dan said slowly, thoughtfully. Then he perked up to say, "But what if we all have a scoop of ice cream because you got the answer right?"
Lots of 'okays' and smiling faces.
Lots of 'aw-w-w-ws' and fake pouts.
"The amazing thing is," said Dan as soon as the kids left to check out Denver's artistic ability, "They seem to thrive on the rules, the simple discipline, especially when it's supported with the caring these boys need so desperately. They check each other and themselves, even coming up to me to say what they thought they did wrong at some point. It's like this atmosphere takes away all the guessing, all the stress, all the everything that gets in the way of being free to be themselves. Sure, they don't go out unless we're a group, and they have certain restrictions outside because of where they've been, what they've been through. But it seems like they don't need those things to be happily ensconced in the regular things that all kids do. And they are so proud of what they accomplish daily."
"And Denver? He can't go anywhere with the other boys, even in the house?"
"Well, just not with one other boy. It seems pretty strict but I'd hate for one of these kids to be just ready to graduate from the court restrictions and have something tempt them. I have no idea if would, but I don't want them to have to worry about it. We talked about it and they all agreed it was best. So now, they are so protective of their little foster brother, it makes my heart float."
"Yeah, I can see the pride in them when they do certain things, like when you talk things out with them. But tell me, what are their timelines? How long have they been here and how long do they have to stay away from their families?"
"Well, let's see. Jacob has been here the longest, almost five years. He has a ways to go, mostly because his dad needs to get his act together before he can go home. The court has said he's passed everything to do with his abuse case. He was taken from his home when he exposed himself to his young cousins. He never touched either girl but it didn't matter to the courts. Since then he's been a perfect gentleman, really. He really works hard at getting things right, and he's smart.
"Enrique has been here almost that long, like three and a half, four years. He was a bit more demonstrative in his abuse situation. He fondled a young kid down the block from him. He's also almost done with his therapy and such and can go home when the court says. His family, though poor, is in pretty good shape. They seem very supportive and he gets to go home about once a month for the day.
"To tell you the truth, though, Melvin has been here two years and I know very little about him or his story. I just know that he seems to be a very bright student and is well on his way through a successful therapy treatment."
"Wait, you don't know what his story is? How's that? Don't you need to know in order to deal with him on a daily basis?"
"Nope. Actually, the only reason I know about the others is because of having to sit in on their court cases or what their social workers have needed to tell me. I haven't done much of that with Melvin because his case worker takes him to all those places.
"Also, it's been my policy to insist on two things the minute the boys enter the house for the first time. Number one, empty out everything on the kitchen table, no matter what it is. Number two, their time starts as soon as it's all on the table. That means that, as far as I'm concerned, their slate is wiped clean when they come in. Then, it's up to each of them to keep that slate clean. Nothing happened before that time that I need to be concerned with as far as them staying here.
"Oh, sure if there's meds or diet but you should see them when they realize what I'm saying at that point. They've usually been through their own hell and feel like they have little to trust in even their own families up to that point. They feel defeated, unloved and alone before they hear me say that. It's almost like their first breath of fresh air in a long time."
"Well, how do they react when they hear all the rules? That must be devastating as well."
"Yeah, some take it harder than others. But, like I said, it's amazing how free they feel. Oh sometimes they fall back and want their cell phone or something, to call a friend or just go home. Of course it's hard for anyone that young to understand what's happening to them right away. But they come around and they've all told me how much they appreciate what we're doing here. And don't be kidded by their manners today. They're still boys and they can get me riled up like any parent. I just have to stay calm and know my boundaries as well as theirs. They're just kids, after all. The best rule for me is to never punish while I'm angry. Luckily, I don't have to use that rule very often.
"I've had several of the kids come back to thank me or they send me cards. That's pretty nice. But I did have one boy stick around for a little longer than most."
Just then there were footsteps on the stairs that led down to the lower level and I turned to see a tall, handsome young man of about nineteen or twenty come up the steps, his nose in a thick text book.
"Dad, I think I've got this homework licked, finally. I didn't think I'd ever get it." Then he looked up to see me sitting with Dan in the kitchen. "Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry. Oh, I forgot. You must be Sergeant McGill. I'm so sorry. I was down in my dungeon studying and I didn't . . ."
"It's okay, son. Tim, I'd like you to meet my son, my real, well, adopted son, but he is all mine. Ralph, meet Sergeant McGill."
I gulped and swung my head over from the young man before me to his dad . . . his dad! It was all so perfect.
"You mean, you . . ."
"Couldn't help it. He was gonna hog tie me and hang me from the ceiling until I adopted him," quipped the boy's proud father.
"Ha! I was not! You always say that, old man. You have just got to get some different jokes." He turned toward me shaking his head and holding out his hand to me. "Maybe you could help in that regard, sir. He is a needy case after all."
I took the hand and felt a strong squeeze as I looked up into the two sets of proud, sparkling eyes on each man. So this was the boy that Dan had rescued so long ago.
"I'm glad to meet you, Ralph. What are you studying there?"
"Oh, it's just the beginning of a social work course of study at the community college. I'm also working here to save for the university in another year. Dad has me as an intern, even though I haven't quite got the credentials like the others have."
"Well, son, I can bet Dan wouldn't have let you get close to these boys if you weren't someone special. I can see that you are."
"Thank you, sir."
"Ralph, why don't you take the boys out back and kick the soccer ball around while Tim and I talk shop and make our lunches."
"Sounds good to me. BOYS! Front and center! Hup, hup, hup."
"Ralph," laughed Dan, "What have I told you about this military thing?"
"Sorry, sir, but it sure works," he said pointing to three of the boys next to him. "Let's go outside, guys!"
"He really does treat them like his brothers, most of the time," said Dan as the boys left through the sliding door onto the back deck and down to the backyard. "Some days that's a good thing and then there are days . . ." he said scratching his head.
We both laughed at that.
As we turned back there were two stragglers standing by the table where we were sitting.
"What's up, boys?" asked Dan of AJ and Denver.
"Um, I asked Denver to show Dad, um Tim, his sketches. He's really good," said AJ, putting his arm around the shoulders of his young new friend.
Both boys got on either side of me as I paged through Denver's work. They were remarkably good for a nine year old. They were actually very good for someone twice his age.
"Wow, Denver. You must feel very proud to have such a great talent. These are very good."
"Thank you, sir. Can we go play now?" asked the shy boy of his foster dad.
"Of course you may. Have fun," said Dan to their backs as they ran out.
For the next hour we talked about me learning to be patient and clear; spending time instructing, instead of just expecting. All the things I knew but wasn't doing very well. We opened up cans of soup and made toasted cheese sandwiches, ready to go in the pan when the boys came in and got washed up.
"You have a lot invested right now, Tim. It's the first time you've had this kind of responsibility, by yourself, with someone so fragile. It's still so soon after your loss, to say nothing about you being used to barking orders at your men in the service. You have some habits to break. But he's a good boy, ever resilient and I know you're doing a great job over all."
"Well, thank you. I still don't feel it but today I've seen you handle these boys firmly, yet make them work at their choices. That's impressive. And they thrive on your approval and encouragement. It's so great to see you work with them. It's so great to see each of them glow with the pride and confidence you're building in them. That'll last a lifetime."
Later in the evening, we were ready to head out but Dan asked us to stay for one more experience. The boys looked pretty tuckered out and some were antsy because Dan asked them to wait on their showers until we left, though Jacob had his. He'd fallen in the mud.
"Okay, Denver, whose night is it?" asked Ralph.
The boys were all on the floor in the living room, in a circle that included the recliner and a chair I'd brought from the kitchen for me. AJ was at my side, next to Denver, until the little guy jumped up excited.
"Oh, look. It's my turn. Where's the marker thingy?"
Dan turned to AJ, which I thought was nice. He could have just told me, but he included my guy into the conversation.
"AJ, we are always together at night time, before the boys go to bed. At this time we just relax and tell a little about our day. The way we do that is to think of a number between one and ten that describes how we feel, ten being extra wonderful. Denver will mark the number next to their name for that day on the calendar and then the boys get to explain why they feel that way. Everyone has to say something, and this time, boys," he said, turning to the crowd on the floor, "I'd like you to honor our guests by saying more than 'I'm fine, pass.'"
Three boys laughed and Jacob squirmed.
"Okay, whose first, Denver?"
"Well, since I get to do the writing and I'm last, Jacob goes first, huh?"
Jacob sat up a bit and cleared his voice. "Alright, I guess I'm a six."
Denver wrote a six and a 'J' next to that date with slow, steady precision.
"I guess 'cuz I gotta go to court on Monday, and that isn't so great. But it was great to have AJ here, oh and Sergeant McGill, too. It was great to have you here, AJ. Pass."
AJ hung his head and blushed.
"I'm next," said Enrique. "Today, I'm an eight. It was fun with AJ here and I'm glad I'm here and I think I'm feeling pretty good about how I'm doing here, too." His smile was great. He looked at Dan and got a nod. The room got a little brighter.
"I think I'm an eight, too," said Melvin. "We got to go out and ride our bikes and then AJ came over. It was a great day and we still have another day before school."
We all laughed at that one.
Jacob started to say something but Dan held up his hand.
"Nope, Jacob. Remember, this is a time when only one person speaks. No feedback. Okay?"
Jacob nodded and turned to Ralph.
"This is not only a great day because of our guests and all we got to do, but it's an even greater day because I got to spend part of it with you guys," Ralph said, looking at his roommates. "But it's an even more special day for another reason." He got up on his knees and crawled over to sit next to his dad's chair, putting his hand on his dad's knee. "It was exactly ten years ago today that the adoption came through and I became Ralph Perkins. It had to be the happiest day of my life. Thank you, Dad."
The tears in both men's eyes were very evident as they hugged. Even Melvin had red eyes. Okay, so did I.
"But you didn't say a number, Ralph," said Denver, poised to write it down on the white board.
"I guess you can write down a twelve for me. I'm pretty happy."
The boys got a kick out of that. I noticed that even AJ was chuckling.
"'Kay, Pop. Your turn," said Jacob.
"This has been a very good day for me too. Besides the anniversary and getting ice cream with lunch," he said toward Denver with a big smile, "We got to meet two very special people and I hope they will come to visit us often. Maybe we can ride our bikes over to their place sometime."
All the boys whooped and hollered at that, including AJ. That made my day, up till then.
"So, I give this day a great big, um, ten!" finished Dan.
"Okay," said Denver with his hand on his chin, "I give this day . . ."
"Wait, little one. We have guests that should be included, don't you think?"
"Yeah's went around the room and everyone stared at me.
"Well, hmm, I suppose I would have given this day about a four when we got here. I was feeling pretty bad about not treating AJ the way a dad should, the way your dad treats you guys, with respect, you know. Anyway, I was really needing some help from Dan."
AJ had his head down. I couldn't see his face to see what he was thinking.
"But now, hey, I'm so gung ho because of you guys, meeting you all and seeing how well you're all getting along. I think I've learned some things that should make life a little better for my son, my foster son. He needed this. So I think you guys let me get up to at least a nine."
They all seemed proud of that. AJ looked up at me and gave me a very nice, sweet smile.
"'Kay, AJ. You're up!" said Denver.
AJ looked a little panicked.
"AJ, you don't have to do it if you don't want to. It's just a way to teach us to always be ready to communicate, to not hold back. It's also for us to know who we are and how we feel, besides telling everyone else so they can help if we need it." Dan was a very patient guy and sounded very sincere. "Remember, there is no right or wrong with your feelings. They just are."
Dan's encouragement seemed to calm AJ down. AJ seemed thoughtful for just a few seconds.
"Um, I don't know what to say. When I got here I didn't have any friends anymore. I had Tim but he doesn't count, I mean like a friend, I guess, you know, 'cuz he's more than a friend. But all you guys just let me in and treated me like you knew me for forever. I . . . I never had that before. I had one of the best days I ever had. I don't know what else, but can we come back?" he asked Dan, then looked at me.
"Yeah, they can, right?" asked Enrique.
"We-e-ell, I suppose so, but only if you give Denver your number, AJ. How do you feel?"
"My . . . oh, I guess it's a ten for sure, unless I get to go to twelve like Ralph did."
That got him a laugh.
"Me next," said Denver. Then he swayed back and forth on his feet as he looked up in deep thought. This must have been a very important moment for him and he was showing it. "I'm at least a ten, mostly 'cuza AJ and his dad being here. But since I've only been here about three weeks I sure have been sad. Then you guys made me feel all better all the time and I forgot . . . I forgot about what . . ." He stopped and I saw his eyes water.
"It's okay, Denver. You can say what you want or you can stop right there. We understand what you mean, don't we, boys?" said Dan.
Ralph got up and put his arm around the boy, while the other boys did their uh huh's.
"I don't know what I woulda done without you guys," Denver continued, though still in Ralph's hug. "I can sleep at night and I'm not sad all the time. Then we got to have AJ over and I made a new friend. I got to show him my drawings and everything. It's one of my best days. What number does that get? At least a ten."
The group agreed vocally with him and, though he was smiling, he turned his head into Ralph's chest for just a minute longer.
All I could think was, what a great group, a true family.
The ride back was quiet. AJ didn't have his head down and seemed to be looking through the darkness at everything and anything. He finally sat back and closed his eyes and I thought he'd gone to sleep. Then I noticed a sparkle under his eyes and saw the streaks of tears down his cheeks.
"You okay, little guy? I thought you had a good time."
It took a while to hear his answer. It wasn't like he was thinking about it, he just couldn't get the words out right then.
"They sure are neat, huh? I . . . never had so many people treat me so nice all at once. I was so scared when I got there 'cuz I didn't know what was gonna happen."
He turned to look up at me.
"They sure are nice, huh? Dan and Ralph, Jacob and Enrique, Melvin and especially Denver. He's neat. I never got to meet so many great kids."
"Yes, tiger, they sure are great people. I had no idea what to expect either, you know. Hey, I didn't know Dan had a son, let alone four foster kids too. He never said a thing. But I sure learned a lot. I think it will make me a better dad, too."
"Yeah," he said quietly, thoughtfully. "Um, oh yeah, thank you for taking me, too."
I was floored! He said 'thank you'!
"You're, you're sure welcome, AJ. I'm so glad everything worked out so well for you. I'm glad you had fun there."
"Yeah, well, Dan said I should say thank you, so I did. But now I'll say it again, 'cuz it's just from me now. Thank you."
It was a little difficult to see after that. I think I got something in my eye or something. I was so happy.
Somehow, we made it home safely. We both kind of crawled into the house. We were both exhausted. AJ climbed the stairs to his room while I closed up. I went up and as I was pulling on my PJ shorts, I heard AJ call.
I walked over and stood in the doorway to his pink and purple bedroom. AJ was just pulling on his top.
He crawled into bed and left the covers laying to the side. Then, softly he asked, "Will you tuck me in, please?"
Needless to say, sleep came pretty easy for both of us.
End of Chapter Nine