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.

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Chapter Twenty-one

"Wow! I'm stuffed! That was about the best meal but I sure couldn't eat any more," said Jeffy, pushing back from the table.

"Are you sure about that, partner? There's still the plates and silverware left to eat. It's the only thing you haven't, though I think you tried."

"Yeah, he he," giggled AJ, "You sure packed it away. I thought I ate a lot."

"Sorry, but it was so good. Was I a pig?"

"Never, Jeffy. When someone obviously enjoys his meal like you did, it makes the cook all the more proud to prepared it for you. Thank you for the compliment."

"Oh, okay. It's just that the food at that place wasn't much to get excited about. And it was a long time before that when I had such a really good meal, Pop."

I almost gasped. I looked at AJ and he was just about to take a bite of potato. His eyes were huge. There was silence for a good minute until,

"What? What did I say? I . . . Did I say something wrong?"

"No, no, Jeffy. It couldn't have been more right by me. You called me Pop."


"I suppose you called your dad Pop, too?"

"I, uh, I . . . uh, yes I did. I didn't even know I said it, but this great dinner just brought back memories of when . . . of when . . ."

And he started to sob.

AJ scooted around and laid a hand on Jeffy's shoulder. Jeffy looked over and smiled through big tears. All too soon he gathered himself up and took in a deep breath.

"Sorry about all that," he said. "Thanks, AJ, for being here for me, and you too, uh, well, Pop?"

"God, that sounds so nice. I'm honored to have you call me by your name for your dad."

"I really loved him somethin' awful. I mean good awful, not bad awful. He was more than decent. He really cared about me. My mom pretty much gave up on both of us long before. She was a real piece of work."

"Yeah," said AJ, "I got one of those too, or had 'til she got killed in that car crash. Don'tcha got any like grammas or grampas or anything?"

"Oh, well, yeah, I did for a while I remember, now that you mention it. My dad had pretty cool parents that used ta visit us a lot. They're the kind that made Christmas and birthdays special, ya know?" he said, smiling at AJ.

AJ smiled back and finally shook his head very slowly. Jeffy didn't know that AJ didn't know any family other than his mother, such as she was and certainly didn't know 'special' until recently.

"Oh, yeah, I'm sorry, but they were sure nice to me until . . ." he said with a sick look on his face.

"What happened, Jeffy? Did they go bad on you?" asked AJ.

"AJ!" I said. "That's a little rude."

"Well, I don't know. I was just askin'."

"It's okay, um, Pop," said Jeffy with a warm smile. "No, AJ, they didn't go bad. All I remember was they quit comin' over to our house. One day Mom said Grampa died and Gramma was in a home. I was pretty little. Then someone else started coming by who looked almost like my grampa and had a wife like my gramma, but she wasn't my gramma, of course. It wasn't them. I don't remember who they were."

"It sounds like they could have been relatives of your Grampa, like maybe your dad's uncle or someone," I offered.

"Yeah, I just don't know. But I remember Mom getting all bent out of shape when they came and she even left the room while they were visiting. I remember a neat truck they brought me one time. I may still have it."

"You still play with trucks, Jeffy?"

"AJ! You are in rare form tonight," I said.

"What? I just asked."

"It's kinda like havin' the dolls still in your room, AJ," Jeffy explained. Of course, AJ blushed. "I had some stuff, toys I suppose, on a shelf just to remind me of better times, like my mitt and ball and Dad's mitt was on his desk in the basement. We'd play catch sometimes."

I could see more tears forming, ready to fall from Jeffy's eyes. When I looked over at AJ, he was kind of looking off into some distant place. His eyes looked a little wet too.

"Sounds really neat, Jeffy. I didn't start doing neat stuff until Dad found me. I'll show you my mitt and maybe Dad'll let you use his so we can play catch too. 'Kay, Dad?"

"Of course, until we can get Jeffy's from his house. That'll be real soon, I promise, Jeffy."

"Thanks, sir, I mean Pop." He smiled a really great smile which set off AJ into one of his patented smiles. Then I joined them both. It was just one of those perfect moments.

"Yeah, Dad's really good about stuff like that, but watch it if he gets the camera out!" said AJ, rolling his eyes.

We ended up telling Jeffy about my threat to have AJ on the bear rug for his baby picture.

We had a real good laugh over that one.

Hmmm, I couldn't believe I had two boys all of a sudden. It felt good, really good.

Bedtime was kind of weird in that I didn't have a bed for Jeffy. I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. AJ barely fit in his small bed so Jeffy was going to sleep on the couch downstairs. I promised both boys that we'd go buy them both beds after breakfast the following morning.

When I went in to check on AJ, that is, to make a big deal about tucking him in, he was worried about his new brother.

"What if he has a bad dream or somethin' and we can't hear him?" he asked.

I was sitting on his bed as we went over the day a little.

"I'll be just fine, AJ," said Jeffy's voice from the hallway.

Neither of us realized he'd come upstairs.

"Sorry. I had to use the bathroom," he said, coming into AJ's room.

AJ immediately sat up and patted the bed on the other side of me. Jeffy looked at me and I nodded with a big smile.

"Did you have bad dreams when you first got here, AJ?" asked the older boy, sitting next to AJ.

"Yeah, a couple, I guess; right?" he said looking at me.

"Yeah. He was confused the first night and tried to find me in the middle of the night. I think his only other hard night was several days later. But that was all. Since then, he's slept pretty soundly."

"Yeah, except when I got in bed with you that one night. I just wanted to get some sleep after this weird dream I had and Dad 'bout smashed me with his arms until I left for my bed and safety. Whew!"

We both laughed and Jeffy looked pretty awed by AJ's story.

"It's true," I said. "I'm a really active sleeper, evidently. Luckily, AJ didn't suffer any broken bones or anything."

"Then I'm glad I'm way down on the couch," said Jeffy with a wonderful smile in his voice.

AJ and I got a big kick out of his joke.

It was rather late when the boys finally got settled. I gave AJ a forehead kiss, a squeeze and a tuck, our regular routine of late. Seeing him roll over with that satisfied smile on his angelic mug was what made me a rich man. I had banked so many good memories that it would take a lot to do a run on my emotional bank.

Jeffy was cute too. I told him how much we liked having him with us and that I was being more than sincere when I said he was here to stay if he wished. His answer was another great smile for my bank account and a quiet, sleepy thank you when I tucked in the edge of the blanket and mussed his hair.

As I went to lock up, I noticed lights on the road that turned up the drive and shone on the house. I opened the door to see Dan get out of his sheriff's 4X4. I think he saw me gulp. He didn't have a great record for warm fuzzy visits lately.

"No, no. I promise, no surprises. Actually, I just need an ear."

"Well, heck, you can have two and a cup of coffee if you want."

"Thanks," he told me as he walked up onto the porch. "How's everything going at the McGill Youth Center for Wayward Boy's?" he said with a laugh.

"Look who's talking, pal! You're the one with the little imps.

"Well, I think the important thing is, neither of us would give up our tribes, not no how."

"You got that right. You sure have your hands full though. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be home tucking in little munchkins?" I asked him. It was pretty late.

"Nope, not tonight. I had to stay late and help clean up a mess. I'm usually home by now."

"Hmmm, a mess. Does it have anything to do with what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No. Norton and I are still trying to figure out some of these homicide-kidnapping cases. It's just so weird to have so many, well, four or five, not including ones that fell under our radar."

"But if kids were involved, wouldn't they be red flags if they disappeared for any reason."

"Oh, sure, and we've included any we think fall into that category. I just mean that if the same M.O. was used in another county, it could still be by a gang based here, I suppose, though I doubt it."

"Pretty frustrating, huh? You sound really rung out tonight."

"Yeah, I hate thinking about what happened to those kids."

"I know. I almost lost it when Linda Sue Cottington told me about her son, um, . . ."

"Tyler. He was like two or something. Yeah, I hope we can find some common denominator in all this; something that links all of them together. There's just too many to be separate acts by different perpetrators."

"So, what did you want to talk about?" I asked after we'd sipped some java.

"I guess I wanted your take on what the guys are asking me to do."

He was being kind of funny all of a sudden. He was acting a little sheepish, reserved, almost embarrassed. Far from the dominant and confident Dan I knew he could be.

"Okay, shoot!"

"Well, it seems like the sheriff is getting weirder by the day. It's almost like he has another agenda and doesn't have time for the job. Oh, he's been like that off and on for as long as I've known him, even when he was just a deputy like us.

"But lately he's hard to find and puts us off if we ask him something. He's still as abrasive to people as he ever was, us especially."

"Yeah, I have to admit, he's one charmer," I said, rolling my eyes.

"Well take how rude he was to you and double it and he's worse than ever. Oh, and he'd never take his personal truck to work. Why should he when the county pays for him to drive his county pickup all the time? But I've seen it there. No, wait. That's not right. It's that I've seen his county pickup in the parking lot when he was gone. Several times now, it's happened over the last few months that I've noticed. A couple of the guys said it's happened late at night for a long time. It's just happening more now and even during the day.

"And did I mention cranky? My god, you'd think everyone was against him, not just me. Ha ha ha!"

I liked Dan's sense of humor. The best part was that it was always on. He always seemed very happy and outgoing, except when he talked about abused kids or the Sheriff.

"Okay, but what does that mean, Dan?" I asked.

"Heck, I don't know. It just seems weird to me. Maybe if I see him take off I'll follow him."

"What does he drive?"

"His personal rig is just a high black F350 but it has those lights on a bar on top. The two on the ends look to me like big eyes from a cat or something,"

"Well," I said, "Suppose he's planning a party or something that is taken up part of his day."

"Ha! Now I've heard it all," laughed Dan. "That man has never done anything fun in the time I've known him. In fact, his wife left him right after he became sheriff because it made him even sourer than he already was. At least that's what she told Deputy Nortons' wife."

"Okay, so what did the other guys ask you?"

"Oh, well," he got quiet again, real quick. It was eerie. "They want me to run for sheriff. They think we are past ready for a change and want me to challenge the man."

I was very quiet. I took a big gulp of coffee, almost burning the inside of my mouth, hot enough that I closed my eyes and a tear slipped through.

"That didn't look good, Tim. What are you thinking?"

I was quiet a little longer, took one more cautious drink and set down my cup.

"I uh, well, I want you to know that I think you'd make a terrific sheriff and we certainly deserve someone like you in that role."

"But . . .?" asked Dan leaning in toward me, anxious no doubt.

"We-e-ell, I just think about all the time you put into your career right now and how important you are to five boys, hell, six counting Ralph. I would hate to see those or any boys go without because of your new responsibilities."


Dan took a big swig of his coffee and then just stared into his mug. He finally looked over the edge at me. When he set down his mug he had a smile on his face.

"Okay, out with it! I didn't keep you waiting," I said.

"No, it's just that you nailed it. You came up with the same argument against it that I did. Really, the boys are the most important part of my life now and maybe always. Who knows? The funny thing is that as sheriff, I could easily have more time with the boys and be a ton safer most of the time than I am now."

"Really? Hmmm."

"Well, unless I really piss off some county commissioner or something. Ha!"

"So you're really thinking about it?"

"I don't know. I have the support of everyone at the office and everyone I've mentioned it to, which isn't that many. I just dread having to run a campaign against the guy and then keep my job if I lose."

"Oh, I'm sure there's no way you'd lose if you ran. I think you could have one sign in the middle of town and win against him. Certainly you'd have the vote of anyone that had to deal with him."

"Yeah, that could be. He hasn't been making a lot of friends these past few years."

"Is an election coming up? When would it be?"

"Well, that's the clincher. The guys want to recall him and put me on the ballot against him. It would mean a ton of signatures from all over the county. I don't know. I just don't . . ."

"Dan, you'd probably have enough signatures to forego any election, everyone in the county would sign the recall petition."

"Well, that's the thing. The people outside of here and the city don't know squat about him or his attitude. I'm not up to some kind of hate campaign or anything."

"Of course. Then you need to talk it over with your family."

"Yeah, I've talked with Ralph and he was practically ready to run out the door to buy stuff to make posters. He quieted down some when I mentioned not having foster boys anymore."


"Well, I had to let him know every scenario and that was a biggy."

"So, when do you have to decide?"

"I don't know. I really hate to think of all it would take. That alone would be a heavy burden on the kids. I suppose we should decide in a coupla months or so."

"Just know that I, heck, we will support whatever you decide. You are more than a friend, my friend. Ha! You're part of our crazy family," I said through as big a smile as I could offer.

Dan sat back in his chair, practically laying against the back, like he finally could relax. He finally smiled and said, "Thanks, pal. That means a lot. Oh. Not the support part, though that's great too. No, I mean the part about our crazy family thing. We have a lot in common."

"Go home! We both need our strength and those boys all need a healthy dad."

"Thanks for listening to me, Tim," he said as we both stood up.

I took one step around the table and held out my arms as he held out his hand to shake mine.

"Come on, Dan. Our boys have taught me that we're not hand-shakers, we need to be huggers. So, here."

We hugged and said our good byes. He waved as he slid into his car and I watched him drive away. I was sure glad I didn't have to make a decision like he was going to make.

Sleep came easy for the three of us that first night. We were all exhausted from the day we'd had; none more so than Jeffy, of course. In fact I let him sleep in until ten the next morning. By that time, AJ had returned with fresh blueberries. I was surprised that they were still available; though I had no idea how long the season ran.

AJ and I decided on blueberry pancakes and bacon to celebrate Jeffy's return to freedom. Okay, we'd celebrated the night before with a great meal, but it was just too big an event to let one celebration take care of it all.

We both had some cereal and waited for our newest boy to wake up. I think AJ found it hard not to go wake up the boy who was just in the next room. Even so, I'd catch him standing in the doorway, watching the boy sleep.

At ten in walked a very sleepy looking boy in new pajamas. His hair was a mess. It had grown some in the detention center, but wasn't unruly when it was combed. We found that out at dinner the night before.

"Jeffy! You're up!" AJ shouted excitedly. "We wanna know what you want for breakfast. We were thinkin' blueberry pancakes and bacon. How's that sound?"

"It sounds great, buddy, but let me wake up first. I'm not used to getting' ta sleep in or even sleep for that matter."

"Jeffy, when Cybill, Lenore and I visited you at the juvenile center, you looked really spacey, but active-like, not sleepy. Were they giving you something to make you feel like that?" I asked.

"Um, something? Hm-m-m, I remember them giving me something when I first got there. They made me drink a whole glass of water so they knew I'd swallowed whatever it was. When I asked 'em, they said to shut up and do as they say; that that'll make things go a lot easier for me.

"Before that pill hit me, I could see other kids real sluggish-like, movin' really slow. But I started getting warm and I could feel thumpin' like my heart was racin'. I only remembered parts after that, but I sure didn't like those feelings."

I couldn't figure out why they would sedate the other kids to keep them quiet and then give Jeffy something to make him so active. Unless they figured it would make his heart burst or something. I hoped that wasn't what they were doing. But I would remember to tell Cybill and Lenore when I saw them, maybe even the judge. Yes, definitely the judge.

"Well, son, come sit your po-po down and join us in something to ease your mind and body back to normal a little more than it is."

"Po-po, Dad? He! You're crazy, ya know. He's crazy sometimes, Jeffy. Watch him. Ha!"

"I'll put up with his kind of crazy any day, AJ. Besides, you can't really blame him since he has to raise you, huh?"

"Hey!" laughed AJ.

I think he was as happy as I was to hear Jeffy behaving like a real kid again. It felt good to my ears.

I made quick work of making the pancakes and they were gone as quickly as AJ could serve them. AJ finally sat and enjoyed his; then it was my turn while the second batch of bacon finished cooking. Jeffy was the first one to push away from the table.

"Wow, sir, I mean Pop, I'm gonna get fat if I keep eating this good. Thank you so much."

"Yeah, Dad, you're a good cook," added AJ.

"A-a-and?" asked Jeffy, leading AJ with his head nodding toward me.

"Um, a really good . . . Oh, thank you, Dad. Sorry I didn't say it too."

I nodded my head toward Jeffy like he did toward me.

"Huh? Oh, and thank you, Jeffy, for helping me remember." He did smile a great smile before his looked turned serious.

"I'm gonna get that a lot from two guys now, huh?"

"No, you're not, AJ," Jeffy told him enthusiastically.


"Just until you learn to do it on your own," Jeffy finished saying, with another great smile.

"Brother! I'm trapped!"

"Ha! Not at all, AJ," I said. "Your manners have improved so much I don't recognize you as the same boy that I picked up that day, back when."

"Yeah, I'm not him. Good."

We enjoyed a low key day, mostly; a time to relax and just goof around. I spent some time reading the paper and the banter between my two boys. They'd take off once in a while so AJ could show Jeffy something and Jeffy, bless his soul, would be as patient and kind as if they really were brothers.

I put on some good soothing music when the guys were out traipsing around once. They even commented on it when they got back. Okay, elevator music, but it was easy rock music from way back that most kids thought was so cool that they'd discovered recently.

AJ insisted on toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch.

Jeffy's only question was, "With milk?"

"Indubitably!" I said.

I got two, "Huh's?"

"It means no doubt or for sure."
"Why didn'tcha just say that then?"

Little pipsqueak.

The city didn't really have a mall, unless you went to the north end, a ways out. I knew of a furniture store that was reasonable. We'd bought there when we first moved in.

AJ went immediately to a bunk bed set up that had a desk on one end so he could study in his room.

"So, you're going to do your homework in your room now?" I asked.

"Uh huh," he confirmed though not too enthusiastically.

"By yourself," asked Jeffy.

"Um, well . . ."


"Okay, I still wanna do that at the table with you guys, 'kay? But it's so cool too."

We got it, because there would be times I knew that he'd want to be by himself. Actually, I hoped he would. It's good to feel that secure.

We got Jeffy a double bed because he was a growing boy, well, bigger than AJ for a while.

"When Jeffy goes to college you can have his bed."

"No-o-o! Don't go, Jeffy!"

"It's not for a few years, AJ. Jeesh."

"Oh. Okay then."

They wouldn't be delivered until Monday so Jeffy said he didn't mind the couch. It was actually pretty comfortable, he said. Plus, he was just glad to be somewhere that he was wanted.

"More like needed, huh, Dad?" said AJ.

"Yup. Jeffy, you bring sunshine into people's lives, kinda like AJ has been doing. Hey, maybe I should stop by and get some sunglasses?"

"Dad!" "Pop!" They both said, punching me in my arms.

I could see, as well as feel, that I was going to have to watch what I said, or get splints ready.

On our way home, with both boys talking and laughing, I was so enthralled I don't even recall how we made it to our street. As I turned onto our street a huge black Ford pickup practically sideswiped us as it zoomed by. The boys didn't even notice, except for the sharp swerve I made to avoid it.

"Hey, that's the kinda rig I want when I can drive," said Jeffy as both boys looked out the back to see the black tank disappear.

"Yeah, that's a neat one, Jeffy. I 'specially like all those cool lights on top. Hey, can I ride in it with you sometimes?" asked an excited AJ.

"Sure, little brother. It'll be our special time together, 'kay?"


"Stupid idiot!" I grumbled under my breath.

"What, Dad?" asked AJ.

"I said, it's probably a gas guzzler. It'll cost a mint to own something like that." I could just see having to come out to give both AJ and Jeffy a boost to get into a truck that size.

"That's not what you said!" laughed the pipsqueak.

"Okay, I was upset at him. He almost hit us."

By then we were parking and it was almost all forgotten.

Dinner was going to be simple. It was warm enough to warrant a chicken breast salad. I had to go shopping for most of the menu but there were plenty of other things I needed. After all, two growing boys would soon eat me out of house and home if I wasn't prepared. I was astounded when I thought about having two boys instead of just one pipsqueak. I caught myself smiling at the weirdest times, too.

When I got home the boys were nowhere to be found. I called outside but there was no answer. I needed a few minutes to barbeque the meat for the salad so I wasn't worried. And Jeffy was like a built in babysitter for the overactive one.

Within a few minutes they were back, huffing like they'd run a half a marathon.

"Dad, uh, Dad, Mr. Harding was home and I got ta introduce Jeffy to him."

"Okay, catch your breath before you pass out. Did Jeffy chase you all the way home or something?"

"Nu-uh. We just raced, but I don't think Jeffy was running as hard as he could, huh, Jeffy? You woulda beat me easy if you had been."

"Oh I was running pretty hard, but I wanted to be with you, not a mile ahead of you," he said trying to hold back a grin. I really liked his sense of humor.

"Did you really?" asked AJ.

"Sure. What fun is it if you can't be with your own brother?" he said with a terrific smile.

"Yeah," agreed AJ, spouting his own great smile.

I had the two happiest boys ever and I was so thankful for both of them.

"Well, how was Mr. Harding, AJ?"

"Oh, he was just great. 'Cept he made it sound like he never knew about Jeffy or his trial. Ha! But we knew, huh, Dad? I know that was his laugh I heard."

"You mean he was there at the trial?" Jeffy asked looking over at me.

I'd started to cut up the cooked chicken and asked the boys to set the table and get some more salad veggies out and choose their drinks.

"Pick out a salad dressing too, please. There's a raspberry walnut balsamic dressing I like on this salad. Could you get that for me?"

"Can I try that too, Dad?" asked AJ.

"Me too, please, Pop. It sounds good."

"Sure. Okay, to answer your question Jeffy, we're just finding out that Mr. Harding knows more about things going on around here than we ever thought possible. He seems to be involved in several things. I'm sure we'll find out more later. Did you say anything to him, AJ, about the trial, I mean?"

"Well, yeah, but not about him bein' there. We just told him about Jeffy's part and the junk he had to go through and stuff." AJ turned to look at Jeffy.

"Yeah, he's a neat old guy, isn't he? Kinda like some old farmer, but, now that you mention it, you know there's more to him, the way he looks at you and some of the things he says."

"Like what, Jeffy?" I asked.

"Oh, just questions and things that make it sound like he knows about my story. He'd be a great lawyer. He just seems to ask things that make ya open right up, ya know?"

"Hmmm, we haven't seen that side of him before, but you can bet, I'll be checking him out more closely now," I said. "Let's eat!"

After dinner, and after AJ explained to Jeffy just how to load the dishwasher and where everything went, we sat in the living room and talked until bedtime. Well, I should say I talked to them, mostly about Iraq and the service. Some about my family, but they wanted to hear the exciting news of the war and if I'd killed any enemy. I hadn't, thank goodness, though Lenny had once when we were behind the lines and one of them walked up on us as we were trying to sneak into one of their compounds.

I tried not to embellish too much, just tried to make it sound like the hell it actually was. I had no desire for either of them to go through that kind of hell, especially after what they'd already experienced at their young ages.

"So what do you guys usually do on Sundays?" asked my oldest.

"Nuthin'," answered the youngest.

"That means we usually just putz around here. But how would you guys like to go swimming somewhere? That sounds like fun to me."

"Okay, but can it be like somewhere I won't see my old friends or anyone? I'm still not ready for that, I think."

"Of course, Jeffy, in fact, I think we made that promise to Judge Davenport in a way. He didn't ask but we know it wouldn't be good if those men found out you were free again. That wouldn't be good at all."

Jeffy had kind of a hard night, he said. But it wasn't enough that I heard him. He said he was just restless.

Sunday was a great day. We swam at a city pool up north of us, and then stopped by Dan's on the way home. I'd called first since they were a very active family. As it was we all walked to a park close by and shot hoops.

The kids made both boys feel very special. Of course they wanted to know about the trial but Dan asked them to hold off until it was really over in the next day or so. That just meant we'd have to get together again real soon, which everyone readily agreed to.

At home, we talked about what the next day would be like. I tried to explain that it might get boring because it would be kind of like Friday's proceedings, but both boys seemed to click into the importance of acting like it was the first trial.

About halfway into our talk Jeffy became very quiet, which was totally unlike him in comparison to the past two days. Finally I could see him shake and he started to cry pretty healthy tears. AJ was right next to him and he put his hand on his shoulder. The emotions and stresses of the previous week hadn't all been released until we got our minds back to the reality of Jeffy's case. He was just overwhelmed.

After a few minutes AJ got some tissues for Jeffy and we just sat and talked about what a great weekend we'd had. I assured the boys that it was the first of many great weekends ahead.

"AJ, I do have to say again how proud I am of you; the way you were concerned about Jeffy from the beginning, insisting that we looked into what it would take to save him from, well, anything that wasn't freedom. You are a special boy, you know."

"But, Dad, you wanted to save him too. And you did all the calling and seeing the lawyer guys and stuff. You did the most."

"But it was because of you that we even started to do something. You knew what a great guy Jeffy was when he was away from Jarod and, I'll have to say, Jeffy," I said, turning to look at the older boy, "You really are a great kid. I'm glad that they were able to free you. You didn't need to be jailed for a second longer than you were, if even that long."

"Thanks, Pop," said Jeffy with his head down. "I just know that if it hadn't been for you two, I'd still be there, in that horrible rotten prison for the rest of my life." His voice rose a bit and it looked like he was getting a little riled up.

"But you aren't. You're free and with your friends who love you. I hope you can enjoy those feelings and put all that other crap out of your mind. We just want you to be our Jeffy for good now."

"Yeah, the Jeffy I always liked. That guy," said AJ. Then he scooted over and hugged him. He was so cute. I think he was a little misty-eyed.

I think we all were and very thankful to boot.

On Monday, just as planned, Dan Perkins came to get Jeffy. The judge wanted Jeffy in full dress uniform like he was just taken out of the juvenile center that morning. That meant the t-shirt and the denims with the lettering down one leg. It had to look like everything was the same way as it was before our court appearance the previous Friday.

As AJ and I got into the car that big black car turned to drive toward Jeb's place.

"Dad, look! It's that car again, goin' up to Mr. Harding's place. Wow! I wonder what's up this time. S'pose he'll be there?"

"You never know."

AJ and I left for the courthouse with half an hour to spare. We were both really excited about what was going to happen.

Although AJ realized there would be no actual fireworks in the courtroom he did ask why the judge used that term.

"So, what's the deal about the fireworks, Dad? Why do you suppose he said that, if it wasn't gonna happen?

"In this case, AJ, it's called a figure of speech. It means what is going to happen will be really exciting, just like the excitement you'd experience at a real fireworks show."

"O-o-oh, okay. That makes sense."

Then I told him we could go up to the larger city north of us on July fourth and see some real fireworks. That made him happy.

"But, you know, today is really Jeffy's day, son. This is the day when all the bad things that have been going on around him will come out in the open, and the people that caused it will likely take his place in jail."

"You mean they're gonna go to the juve . . . juvenal del . . . del . . . that kid's jail where Jeffy was?"

"No, well, that might not be a bad idea, now that you mention it."

"Okay, do you want me to mention it to the judge? Dad?"

"I'm thinking!" Oh, how tempting! "I suppose we'd better let the judge think of it. But, even if they don't go there, they won't likely enjoy their new home, wherever it is."

End of Chapter Twenty One

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