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 Thirty-two

Saturday was a great day for the boys. Summer was quickly approaching and they were enjoying some warm weather in our yard. Ralph enlisted the older boys to watch the younger ones. This followed some discussion as to just who the younger ones were, started by the boys that I would have counted as the younger ones.

"Remember last time, boys. Just stay in sight and if you go off the property, ask Ralph first," I said.

"Stay in sight? But we were gonna play hide and seek," quipped AJ, trying to hold back his smirk.

"Wise guy!"

Jeb told Dan and I to come in and we found him seated in his chair with the box of information about his daughter in front of him on the ottoman.

"Come in, come in, men. I have drinks in the fridge if you're interested."

Dan was the first to notice Jeb's appearance.

"Jeb, why is it you look younger somehow? You going to that new salon in town for facials?"

"What? I have no idea what you're talkin' about. Why, I do just the same things and eat most the same as ever. Only difference is the boys coming over practically every day and Tim inviting me to dinner about once every week or more."

"You know, Jeb, I think that's it. You look younger because you're doing younger things. Keeping up with those two boys is about as tiring as you can get. You're eating good food more consistently, too." Dan had a great smile on his face.

Jeb looked a bit concerned as he turned toward me.

"You see any difference, Tim? I'da thought after all the ruckus in the attic and all that time in the hospital, then this deal with my daughter, well, I'da thought it would have aged me considerable. What do you think?"

"I think you do look younger, Jeb. You've been doing things that get your thick blood boiling and it's flowing everywhere to give you new life."

"Humph! Never woulda thought. Anyway, I want you boys to go through this stuff and see if there's anything you can use to help me find that baby. Well, no longer a baby. He'd be between twelve and thirteen, I think. Nope, not much of a baby anymore, but he'd still be mine."

We began to go through a lot of papers that were more about his daughter than anyone else. They covered the gamut of bills, references to insurances and other legal documents. It wasn't until we got near the bottom of the box that we started in on the rest of the family.

"Well, there doesn't seem to be much more about a baby boy than in that picture album. Wait, there's this envelope."

Jeb pulled out a letter-size envelope that was. He stared at the envelope for quite a while before we realized he was deeply consumed by what he'd found.

"Jeb?" I asked. "You okay?"

"Oh, yeah, I suppose. I just had no idea."

Then he handed me the envelope and I read the name of his great grandson - Jebediah Joseph Briscoe.

"Wow, Jeb, your daughter must have loved you very much and influenced her daughter quite a bit to have them give the baby your name. Your granddaughter didn't even know you."

"You're right, Tim," said Dan. "You should be mighty proud, Jeb."

"Proud? Well, I guess I can overlook the notion that they have horrible taste in what a good name is for a boy these days." He looked up at us with a tear making tracks over the contours of his face. He smiled and motioned to me. "Well, don't stand on ceremony, son, open 'er up."

I poked my finger under the flap and ran it across the back, tearing the seal and lifting the paper flap. Inside was a folded parchment that looked like a certificate of some kind. I pulled it out and as I opened it, a lock of hair, secured by clear tape and a paper clip, fell to the floor. As Dan picked it up off the floor I read the paper. I found myself looking at a birth certificate with the same name and a date about twelve years and eleven months before.

"He'll be thirteen a few weeks after Tyler turns nineteen," I mentioned. "June Briscoe is the mother. There isn't a father listed."

"June was my late wife's name. My daughter called her girl by my June bug's name. Marilyn and she were best friends until my wife died so many years ago. Anyway, I guess that's when I became an old fart and pushed her out of my life."

"Now, I doubt that, Jeb," I said, trying to reassure him. "After all, she still loved you enough to name the boy Jebediah. If that isn't deep love I don't know what is."

All three of us had a laugh about that.

"Imagine getting tagged with the name Jebediah in this day and age," said Jeb, shaking his head and lightening up a bit.

"You did okay by it," said Dan.

"Totally different times, totally. By the time a name like that was too old to call a boy I was too old to know the difference. Ha!

"So, Dan, you got your body part there in your hand. Is that enough to find out whatever when you do with it what you do nowadays?"

"I don't know, Jeb. I'll certainly ask though. Plus, there is a foot print on the birth certificate."

Dan laid the lock of hair in Jeb's hand.

"That must be the finest hair," said Jeb. "Hair of an angel, no doubt."

We stacked all the papers back into the box, leaving out the hair and birth certificate and the photo album and batches of photos. All three of us moseyed back to my place and had a wonderful day with all the boys being silly and crazy, just the way they should be.

It was true. I swear that Jeb did look younger. I also agree that it was at least partially due to his fondness for the boys, laughing at their hilarity until he lost his breath.

"My sides'll be sore in the morning but it's been worth it," he said as my boys and I walked him back that evening. He didn't seem at all down about trying to find his great grandson, though he was determined. "And, you know, if I never do find him, I've still got my two boys just across the road to keep me entertained."

My two boys glowed at the compliment from their good friend.

The good news at the hospital was that Tyler was healing very quickly. There was no bad news. He was the happiest I'd ever seen him, and Linda Sue and he were almost inseparable. She was the best thing that ever happened to Tyler, but certainly finding Tyler was, by far, the best thing that had happened to Linda Sue since his birth. Even so, Linda Sue went back to work if for no other reason than to see that one of her assignments was met: the adoption of AJ by me. I couldn't have been more pleased to have her on our side.

The hair wasn't good enough for the DNA test. When Jeb found out, after he'd given his own sample to compare to, he just shrugged it off, but he looked a little disappointed. He was really hoping to have family again, I'm sure.

A week later, on the next Saturday, Tyler was released from the hospital and we decided to meet at our house since we had the most room. It was just a gathering of friends to wish him well. Dan's clan and Jeb were there; even Deputy Norton, soon to be Sheriff Norton, and his wife were there. They'd been concerned about Tyler too.

It must have been another brand new experience for Tyler. He was getting used to new foods and enjoyed almost all that he'd been given to try, not that the hospital offered a wide assortment.

"I bet you don't like green pepper, Tyler," mentioned AJ when we'd been talking around the picnic tables we'd set up outside in our yard. "E-e-ew! No one should have ta like 'em."

Most of us laughed at the face he made. That is, all except Tyler, who didn't know what AJ was talking about, and a couple of the other kids that agreed with AJ's assessment of Green Capsicums.

We made the fare very simple, just hot dogs and hamburgers. Tyler did finally get to try a hamburger, though evidently not as big as the one Travis cooked up for him at the café, the one that was served by ...

"Luanne Ma'am?" cried Tyler, his eyes huge. He was just about to take another bite of one of my hamburgers when he looked over our heads at the side of the house.

I was amazed as I turned to see a sweet looking, big bosomed lady and her man, who we learned was Travis the cook, walk into our backyard. I hadn't noticed Dan on his cellphone or going around the house to invite them around back, to say nothing of the conniving he must have gone through to get them there that day.

"Well, I'll be, you look better'n ever, Boy," she said, holding out her arms for a hug from her cute boy.

Tyler walked up to his friend and let her do the hugging, though the boys had been nice enough to practice with him a few times. Travis reached his hand out to shake Tyler's but, evidently, hugs were also on the menu for that day for cooks too and Tyler moved close enough so that Travis could hug him as well. Tyler lit up with a wonderful smile and didn't wince from pain one bit.

Ever the shy one, AJ was on his feet and ran up to this complete stranger and whispered to her.

"Oh, my. I see we have here Tyler Cottington. That's quite a handle, isn't it, Travis, honey?"

"He sure does seem to fit it nicely, though, darlin'," said Travis.

We made the rounds with the introductions and there were more hugs when Luanne and Linda Sue met.

"Thank you for being so kind to Tyler. He has not stopped talking about how sweet you were to him."

"Well, who could refuse such a darlin' child as him anything? Look at him. He's the cutest peach there could be."

"But, Luanne, who's minding the store, so to speak," I asked.

"Oh, we have cousins on Travis' side that can poison the folks for one day. Not as good as Travis, but passable food. Isn't that right, honey doll?"

Travis just blushed and shook his head. I'm sure he was used to that kind of compliment from his wife.

Of course, we couldn't let another minute go by until we heard all about Tyler's and their meeting that day and, unfortunately, we had to tell them about what went on after Tyler left the café. But it all turned out good and we were even happier to celebrate Tyler's freedom, especially when Luanne brought out a huge apple crisp to share with us all.

"M-m-m, Luanne Ma'am, you and Travis, sir are good cooks. Oh, I had a hamburger today, Travis, sir. But it wasn't as runny and slippery as yours."

Luanne explained, "It was so big and juicy and we had no idea until now that his whole diet was nothin' more than oatmeal at the time. But it looks like someone has been feeding this boy all the right foods. You look fitter than ever, Boy, I mean, Tyler."

The day was a blast. Of course, AJ and the boys had to show Tyler all around our property. It took a while because Tyler was still too weak and needed to rest often, but he was almost as excited as the boys were to show him everything.

"Dad, can we take Tyler over and pick some blueberries, just so he knows where they come from?" asked AJ, swinging his head back and forth between Jeb and me.

"Alright by me, Tim. Let 'em at it. The boy needs all the input he can swallow; knowledge, that is.

"You heard him," I confirmed. "Don't be too long. People are getting ready to head out."

And so the day went. It was so good to see Tyler with the other boys. He stood by and watched a lot, but he'd try different things once in a while. It was fun to see him get tickled about something or laugh at something one of the boys did that was crazy. But, it was obvious that he was getting tired way before the others, so I insisted that the boys let him relax at times.

"Got a call from the hospital, Tim. Better grab up Jeb and meet me there. Oh, it's so close to time to pick up the boys, just bring them along."

"Thanks, Dan. It'll be about an hour. See you then."

I was excited as I was nervous for Jeb. He had a lot at stake, mostly his heart. I've never seen that kind of passion in him or many men, for that matter. As I drove to the school to pick up AJ I thought that Jeb would have been a good father. But when I thought about him and kids, like AJ, I knew he could have been, or could still be a wonderful grandfather.

As I drove up to AJ's school I laughed when I thought of him bouncing a little one on his knee, then, almost out of the blue, say it was time to go and have a good week, or something.

"What are you laughin' about, Dad?" asked AJ as he jumped into the passenger seat.

"Buckle up. It was nothing, just thinking about Mr. Harding with little children. Do you think he'd be a good grandfather?"

"Gee, I don't know," said the boy, rubbing his chin, deep in thought. "I just know I like bein' around him and listenin' and stuff. He's always nice to me. I guess he'd make a good one, alright. Why?"

"Well, you stayed up and heard his story the other night. He has a great grandson somewhere if he's still ... Well, think of it like what happened to Tyler."

"Yeah, he got kidnapped, huh?"

"Yes, he did. There's likelihood that he could still be out there somewhere."

"But he wouldn't have his mom or even grandma like Tyler, would he?"

"Nope," I said, pulling up to the high school.

"Oh, well, then I think Mr. Harding would make him happy. He's really nice."

"Who's really nice? Me?" laughed Jeffy as he climbed in next to his brother.

"Heck no!" laughed AJ.

They spent a few seconds pushing and punching each other in fun until I told Jeffy to belt in.

I told them we were headed to the hospital to hear the results of the database search for Jeb's great grandson, after I went back to pick up Jeb.

"Yeah, I had a test too, to see if they could find out who I really am," said AJ.

"But, AJ, I already know who you am!" said Jeffy, holding back his smile at his irregular speech.

"You do? How? I mean, who am I then?"

"You're my goofball brother, brother!" answered Jeffy before he cracked up laughing and tickling AJ.

"You're both goofballs so you must be brothers," I said. "Now, simmer down or you'll cause an accident."

"Yeah! I gotta go now," said AJ.

"I meant with the truck."

"Oh. Oops."

A few minutes later we were at Jeb's and he was outside, waiting for us.

There were plenty of hearty hellos and smiles, then AJ got on Jeffy's lap and we took off.

"Good Lord, Tim, this isn't safe! We need to get you a vehicle that you can carry your boys in and their friends. One o' them SVU's or some such thing."

Both boys were snickering at Jeb's mistake.

Leave it to AJ to straighten him out.

"It's called a SUV, Mr. Harding, not SVU."

"Really, smart guy? What's it stand for then?"

"Um," said AJ, looking at Jeffy for help.

The loving brother just turned and looked up at the ceiling of the old cab.

"Okay, I don't know. Where's Tyler when I need him?"

"Well, I'm afraid he couldn't help. Chances are his dictionary is too old to have it listed. It means Sports Utility Vehicle," said Jeb.

"Huh? If you knew then why'd you get it wrong?" asked AJ.

"'Cuz it's more fun seein' what you'd make of it, po-dunk. So there," he said, poking AJ in the ribs.

"See, Dad?" said AJ laughing again and batting Jeb's hand away.

"Yup, AJ. I see what you mean? He would make a very good grampa."

By the time AJ and I had explained our earlier conversation, which pleased Jeb, and we heard, at length about AJ's day at school and about two sentences about Jeffy's boring day, we'd pulled up to the hospital.

Luckily, Dan was waiting for us right inside the main doors and he walked us down to the administration wing, where the doctors had their offices.

"Actually, we need to ask for the DNA testing technician. Dr. Strauss isn't here today," Dan told us.

"The results are just about as unusual as they come." said the technician, a man several years younger than me, in a white lab coat. "You know, Mr. Harding, that we weren't able to use the lock of hair from your great grandson, don't you?"

"Yes, Dan here told me that."

"But still, we were able to come up with something," he said, looking at each of us with a worried look on his face.

"Is something wrong with your data? You look like you're reading something really strange," I asked.

"Well, usually we look in every database available. Since we had your sample, sir, we started with our own state's database."

"Was that a problem?" asked Dan.

"No, not at all. In fact we didn't have to go any farther. But I need to ask one of you a question."

We waited as he looked right at the man in the deputy's uniform.

"Um, you were involved in the investigation of these kidnapping cases like this one of Mr. Harding's, right?"

"I was and I am. We're continuing to investigate to see if we can locate any of the children. Why do you ask?"

"Because it looks like we may have found one of them, sir."

"You mean you found out who my great grandson is?" asked Jeb, as anxious as I've ever seen him.

"Wow! Neat! Mr. Harding, you getta have a great grandson," said AJ in his excitement for his good friend.

"Yes, it seems he does. I don't believe I know you two young men," said the technician.

It seemed a little odd that he would care who they were but I introduced them. I didn't want to be rude.

"This young man is Daniel Jeffrey Connors. And this one is Andrew James Vitale. They're both my foster sons."

"Yeah, but I'm gonna be a McGill pretty soon, huh?" he said, looking up at me with his biggest grin.

"Oh, I see," said the young man in the white coat, a bead of sweat making its way from his forehead. When he looked up he must have realized we all had curious looks on our faces at his remark. It didn't sound all that positive.

"Oh, it's just that I have the file on Andrew James here, since it was found out that he was probably abducted as well, or thought to be. Anyway, like I said, this is all very unusual."

He turned his attention to Jeb.

"Mr. Harding, I can say now, without a shadow of a doubt that your great grandson has been found."

I think we all gasped at that revelation.

"But, young man, you don't seem too happy about the news," said Jeb. "Is it because you know that he is, uh, ..." His voice trailed off to silence, his eyes anticipating the answer.

'Um, oh no, sir! He is very much alive and very well. I said this is unusual. It just has me so bewildered, the chances, I mean. In fact, Mr. Harding, your great grandson is here, with us. Andrew James is your blood relative, your great grandson."

The look on my boy's face couldn't have mirrored my emotions any more perfectly. His eyes went wide, then their luster waned then, as he turned to look up at me, they were a little wet and very concerned looking.

He actually stepped back from Jeb and into me, letting me lay my hands on his chest, protectively.

I think Jeb looked as concerned as we did. It was so confusing and such a stark reality. But then AJ moved away and turned to look into my eyes. His eyes got big and bright; his smile began to slowly come to life and began to radiate that part of him that delighted me right down to my toes. He turned to share his joy with Jeb, then reached for his great grandfather's hand.

"Don't you guys see? Huh? It's like the best thing for all of us. It's like one of those miracles, like with Tyler and his mom. It all works so perfectly." His voice crescendoed with his excitement that had us all anxiously waiting for his next words of pint-sized wisdom.

"Boy, did I not notice you getting' hit in the head just now? What are you talkin' about?" asked Jeb.

Jeffy let out a loud laugh and quickly covered his mouth, but his eyes gave away the hilarity he saw in it all that Jeb and I somehow missed.

"Pop, he's right. It's so great to know that AJ's great granddad is right next door and we've gotten to have fun and make friends with him all along. It's almost like nothing has changed, except gotten way better."

When he'd finished, he too turned to look at Jeb with expectant eyes.

"Well, let's just examine the possibilities here," started our down-to-earth Jeb. "I see where you two boys are comin' from. But let me ask you somethin'. You suppose it's gonna be fair to Tim here to raise my own great grandson and all while I live just t'other side of the road?"

"YES!" was the unison answer from my two boys.

It caught us all by surprise but we all laughed just the same.

Dan was the first to keep up the new scenario. "Jeb, as good as you look, you're not in any shape to be raisin' a child," he said, laying his hand on AJ's opposite shoulder from where he stood. "Why, knowing this boy, he'll have you run ragged in about a day and a half," he finished saying as he grabbed AJ and gave him a very dramatic nuggie on the top of his head, though barely even moving the hair around, it was so light.

"Hey!" laughed AJ, wiggling to get away. "I'm gooder 'n that!"

"Yeah, I agree," added Jeffy, in his brother's defense. "I think it would take at least three days, huh?" he asked his brother.

"Alright! Not fair!"

"Well, I think you all are pretty much right on. I think that, after some discussions with you, Tim, and with sweet Mrs. Cottington, we'll come up with a plan that won't change things too much. Oh, I might have to add him to my will and see that he's covered on college and such things."

I started to object, but ...

"Ah, ah!" he said, raising his hand to stop me. "Just so's I can have the pride of knowing I was helping to take care of the little rascal."

The last part must have been hard to say, the emotions were showing clearly across Jeb's face. AJ walked over and gave his great grandfather a good long hug. They both came away with tears on their shirts.

"If I had to pick all the old guys out there to be my great grampa, I know that none of 'em would have a chance next to you, Mr. Harding."

When AJ realized he'd called the man old and Mr. Harding his eyes grew big and his hand covered his mouth.

"It's all okay, boy. Thank you for your compliment. I have to admit, I agree that I couldn't have picked a better young'un to be my relative. You are a delight to an old, relieved man."

I looked to see tears and smiles on most of the faces in the room.

"But am I gonna have to be called Jebediah Joseph whatever the last name is? I think AJ Harding might be okay. I'm kinda used to just AJ though."

"Well, my boy, I agree with you. You've had the name Andrew James far too long to be changing it now, except one part of it," said Jeb.

"Gulp!" I heard from AJ.

I'll admit I was more than a little worried too.

"I think we should go ahead and change your last name," said Jeb flatly.

The world crashed. My heart sank. AJ's face couldn't have looked longer.

"Yup, sorry but I think it shouldn't be, what was it?"

"Vitale?" said AJ weakly, looking down.

"Yes. Well, that's no good now, don'tcha know. AJ, will you look at me. Thank you," he said, lifting AJ's chin so they were looking at each other. "Now, I've made my decision. Yup, we need to change that last name to ... McGill," he said with a smile.

"Huh? Really? Honest?" AJ lit up like a lamp post.

"Well, sure. Hey! Umph!" Jeb shouted when AJ practically leaped into his lap to hug him. "Oh, my. If this keeps up, I won't be around long enough to know anyway! Ha ha!"

I was thrilled. I should have known the old buzzard had something up his sleeve. He always provided us with plenty of excitement.

"One stipulation, though."

"What's a stip-i-lation?" asked AJ. He started to look around like he'd missed something.

"What are you looking for, AJ?" asked Jeffy, trying to follow his eyes.

"Tyler! He'd say it in a second. I'm gonna have to take him to school with me."

"Well, I think we can come up with the answer for you," said Jeb. "A stipulation is like a rule, something that has to be done for the part we just discussed to work right."

"O-o-oh. 'Kay."

"You have to start calling me great grampa or some such thing. Ever since I found out about you, my boy, even before I knew it was you, I could just hear my boy calling me that. I love you, you know. Now it's kinda like I know why it's felt like it's been an even deeper love than ever, don'tcha know?"

AJ got one of his best grins on his happy, tear-stained mug and agreed. "Ye-eah!"

We had a hug fest, all four of us, Jeffy too. Dan even wrapped his arms around the pile of us.

Finally, the technician could smile, too. He looked very relieved and he'd done very well.

We left Dan at the parking lot and made our way in the old pickup to the Chinese buffet restaurant. Come to find out, it was Jeb's favorite.

"Then it's my favorite too," said AJ as we all piled out and walked to the front door of the place.

It's a strange sensation to be happy, then scared, then anxious, then relieved and finally ecstatic with joy, all in a matter of a few minutes. From the heavy sighs as each of us sat in the booth, it was plain to see that we were also exhausted.

"Boys, I don't think I have ever been through so much emotionally as in this past week or so," Jeb said, confirming my own feelings, though he was the one that took in all the bad news before he got to the resulting good news of today.

"You mean you got sad and happy and worried and then, wow, lots of stuff all piled up high, huh?" asked AJ, alias ...

"That's what he said, Jebediah Joseph Briscoe Andrew James Vitale McGill," said AJ's smart-mouthed brother.

"Lordy! Whew! No one should come even close to havin' a handle like that," said Jeb with a laugh.

"That his whole name now?" asked the owner, Franklin Wang, who had come by to take our drink orders.

"Naw! We're eliminatin' most of it until it gets down to AJ McGill." Jeb pulled AJ into a hug and squeezed, pushing out a huge smile from my, well, our little guy.

"Oh, that nice for you, AJ. Hey! You last name same as Sergeant Tim here. You know that?" he said, pointing to me. I guess he was very good at remembering good patrons' names and we'd been in there a couple of times with Jeb, lately.

"Mr. Harding, you don't get to have your name in there somewhere? How about Jeffy here? He get to use his name too?"

Mr. Wang was having a field day with all the goings on. Of course, he had no idea what was going on, just that it struck him as very funny. We were all getting a kick out of his banter.

"Franklin, seriously, I want you to meet my great grandson. I found out this week that my daughter had a daughter who had a son."

"Oh, that's so ..."

"No, no, my friend, it gets much more complicated. See my granddaughter was pushed off of the road and, well, didn't survive. Then her baby boy was kidnapped along with her car. My daughter committed suicide from the pain it caused her. And I never knew any of it ever happened, including having a granddaughter let alone a great grandson."

"Oh, my. You right. Very difficult to understand. How you find great grandson? He here all along, correct?"

Mr. Wang gave our drink order to another waitress and he actually sat down next to Jeffy at our booth to wait for an answer.

"Yeah, see I was kidnapped but I was too young to know about it, I guess," piped up AJ, sitting across from Mr. Wang, next to his great granddad.

"Yes, but how you come to be here in same city? You run away from kidnappers?"

"Naw! I was sold or given to this woman who I thought was my mom, but she wasn't really. Then, when she got killed in a car accident that also killed Dad's wife and baby, somehow Dad found me and wanted to help me."

"Oh, Sergeant McGill, first you fight for our country in Iraq, then you come here and fight to save boy in our city. You are two times hero to us."

"Mr. Wang, I'm no hero. You have no idea how much AJ saved me by coming into my life when he did. He has been a real blessing from day one of meeting him. Okay, more like day two," I said with a smile at my youngest.

"Oh, you a joker too. Very funny. So what you gonna do now? Where is AJ gonna live now that he has family?"

"Oh, don't you worry any," said Jeb, hugging AJ again. "We have it all worked out. He'll continue to live across the road from me with my good friend, Tim. But when he comes over to steal my blueberries he won't be able to, right?" he said, looking down at AJ.

"What? How come? I don't getta pick any more blueberries?" asked AJ, shocked.

"I didn't say that. It's just that you can't steal something that's already yours, now can ya?"

"Wo-ow! I never thoughta that!"

"Well, this all very complicated and I forgot to write down order for meals, so everything on the house tonight," said our benevolent host as he rose up from his seat and turned to leave. "You too nice a family to have to pay tonight. Desserts too, boys, on me!"

He left talking a mile a minute in Chinese, then walked with another waiter and he must have been telling him the story. The waiter kept turning to look at us and AJ waved at him each time, until he finally took off with Jeffy to fill up his plate.

How did we make it home, or to Jeb's place, that is? Somehow we all got there safely, with our stomachs full and laughing at everything like crazy hyenas.

When we all got out of the truck to take Jeb to his front door he turned and put his hands on AJ's shoulders.

"Boys, this has surely been one of the best days of my long life. I don't know how things could have been any better if I'da planned 'em myself. Nothing could beat this day, not since I married my June bug and saw my daughter minutes after she was born."

"Yeah. I think it's one of my best days ever too," agreed AJ. "'Course, I haven't had all that many to sort out yet."

"Yeah, but we're both rackin' 'em up pretty quick, aren't we, pipsqueak?" added Jeffy, patting his brother's back.

"Yeah," said AJ, looking up at me and smiling my favorite smile, then adding a streak of tears for good measure. "We sure are lucky."

"I think that calls for some more hugs, boys," laughed Jeb.

When we finally got home, there were two messages blinking at us on the machine. The first was from Dan, saying he told the kids and they all wanted to come over and congratulate us as soon as possible. He went on to say that he called Linda Sue and mentioned something wonderful that had happened to us. He didn't tell her though, which was kind of nice of him.

So, I guessed correctly that the next message was from Linda Sue, asking about what had happened in such a short time that was so wonderful. She asked me to call her the next day to explain.

The next morning I called Dan to invite the boys and him over on Saturday. He suggested that I invite Linda Sue and Tyler to make it a celebration. I was all for that. I love to celebrate as do my two boys, for sure.

When I hung up with Dan I called Linda Sue at her home number.

I heard a very tentative, "Um, uh, hello?" from Tyler, followed by a whisper, "Was that alright?"

"Yes, but you need to listen to what they say now," said Linda Sue in a normal voice. "And don't be afraid to speak up."

"Oh, um, okay." Then, just as I was about to speak, "They're not saying anything."

"Tyler? Is that you, Tyler?"

Gasp! "Mom, they seem to know me! What do I do now?"

"Sweetie, it's obviously someone that is a friend. Answer them."

"Oh, um, yes, sir, this is Tyler talking into the phone here at my mother's house."

"And, Tyler, you're doing a wonderful job of it. This is Tim. I visited you at the hospital and ..."

"Oh, Mom, it's Tim, sir, from the hospital and he's the one that saved my life with Dan, sir!"

"Wonderful, Tyler," said Linda Sue with a tickle in her voice. It must have been very interesting living and growing with the boy for these past few days. "Ask him what he wants, honey."

"Oh, okay! What do you want?"

That got a burst from both Linda Sue and me.

"Ha ha, Tyler, may I speak to your mother, please?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Oh, and it was nice to talk to you again, Tim, sir. When will I see you again and maybe your boys?"

"Actually, Tyler, that's just what I was going to discuss with your mother."

"That's so special. Please speak with her now." His voice faded as he handed the phone off while he was still talking.

"Tim? Didn't Tyler do a wonderful job answering the phone for the very first time?"

"Oh, he's so wonderful, Linda Sue. You must be having the time of your life over there."

"It is so extraordinary, I can't begin to tell you over the phone." Then she must have turned to Tyler to say, "Tim said you did a wonderful job for your first time, Tyler. You should be very proud of yourself."

She came back to me and said, "We're working on positive feedback and input, all very supportive. It's one of the many concepts that he has never been allowed. Imagine never being able to feel good about yourself."

"No, I can't imagine it at all. But I know that he has the best teacher to help encourage him and be super supportive in everything he tries."

"He's such a dream, Tim. I lose my breath several times a day, just thinking about how lucky I am and how proud he makes me feel too. And," she said a little quieter, "He's so smart. He almost puts me to shame. Of course it's just head knowledge yet, but he's fast learning to relate it to the new world around him."

"Well, good. Linda Sue, I called to ask if you and your son can come over on Saturday again. I guess we have something to celebrate too."

"You do? Oh, Tim, I can't wait. Dan called to say it was something special but the poop wouldn't tell me anything else."

Did she say, 'the poop'? Linda Sue?

"Um, yes, well, he thought I should be the one but it should really be AJ and Jeb Harding that tell you."

"Oh, you aren't going to make me wait are you? Please, oh please tell me!"

"Okay. Here's the deal, we all went over to the hospital to hear the results of Jeb's DNA tests to find out who his great grandson was. You heard about that, didn't you?"

"Yes, Dan told me when he called several days ago. Then he told me the results should be in any day when we, um, talked, um, again, the other day."

Her voice started to sound a little nervous when she started to indicate how many times they'd talked in the last several days. It warmed my heart to hear something like what could be starting between them.

"Yes, you know, we have to talk occasionally about the business of the Children's Division; business, you know."

"Well, of course you do, Linda Sue," I agreed.

"No, really, Tim."

"I haven't disagreed. Anyway, I picked up the boys too and then Jeb and we all met Dan at the hospital. It certainly reminded me of a few short days ago when we went to find out about that boy that is now your son."

"Oh my, yes. I agree. But what turned up?"

"To make a long story short, it turns out that Jeb's great grandson lives right here."

"Oh, that's wonderful, Tim. You mean he lives here in our city or your town?'

"Well, yes, but when I say right here, I really mean right here in my house."

"Um, I don't underst ... No! Tim, how can that be? Oh, Tim, AJ is Jeb's great grandson?"

I heard some commotion in the background for at least a minute and then heard Linda Sue thank Tyler.

"I'm sorry. I just had to sit down. My darling son then got me a glass of water. Tim, it's all so shocking. It also has so many legal and every other kind of ramification to deal with. Have you had an opportunity to talk about it? What's going through your mind and that of AJ?"

"Yes, we've had a great time working it all out and it seems like everyone is agreeable about what we've come up with. In a nutshell, nothing's changed. Jeb loves the idea of having a great grandson, to say nothing of being literally right next door, but he knows he can't raise him. He wants everything to go ahead as we've planned. He has encouraged us to go ahead with the adoption and has only asked two things."

"Oh, what a sweet, sweet man. You must be beside yourself with pride, Tim. He thinks so much of you and your relationship with his great grandson, AJ. Oh, is one of the conditions that his name changes?"

"Actually, if it did, he would be Jebediah Joseph Briscoe. Jeffy added all his names together and came up with ... Let me see if I can get this right ... He would be Jebediah Joseph Briscoe Andrew James Vitale McGill when I adopt him, or something like that. I think I mixed it up a little but so did Jeffy."

"Oh my! That's hilarious. Well, I certainly can't wait to see them both and give them huge hugs. I'm so excited for you all now. Who would have thought?"

"Yes, it was one of the best days of my life, I'll say. Oh, but I was telling you that Jeb wants to add AJ to his will, of course. He also wants to put money into a trust for his college education. And he wants AJ to call him great grampa or something similar."

"O-o-oh, that is so sweet of him. He is a lover, isn't he? Yes, I just have to see them both. Now, I'll bet they both just light up like torches when someone mentions their relationship."

"Well, I'm not too sure about that, but we all couldn't be more pleased about something that could have been a disaster, especially for AJ and me."

"Yes, and it takes care of two children that Dan and Deputy Norton had been investigating, doesn't it?"

"It sure does."

When we were through talking and had made arrangements for Saturday, I asked if I could say goodbye to Tyler. I heard her call to Tyler and say he was wanted on the phone long enough to say goodbye to me.

I then heard his nervous, "Okay." He must have taken the phone because the next thing I heard was, "Goodbye?"

I laughed. I heard Linda Sue laugh and poor Tyler must have been really confused by then.

"Tyler, I wanted to tell you the answer to your question to me when we talked earlier."

"Oh, okay."

"You and Linda Sue are invited to our house this Saturday. Dan and his boys will be there too."

"Really? Oh, that's so great! Mom, how many days is Saturday; I mean until Saturday? Oh, three days, then. Yes, that's so good. Thank you, Tim, sir. Thank you."

We finally did get around to hanging up.

The next Saturday morning started out to be a rather lazy one for me. I slept in about an hour later than usual. I walked down to the kitchen in my skivvies to start the coffee and met Jeffy standing over the sink. He reacted to seeing me by jerking straight up, then relaxing.

"Oh, it's just you," he said. He too was in a pair of tight boxer briefs. They looked a little like mine but I'd bought him some, I think. Anyway, he was beginning to get some definition in his shoulders and back. I thought about buying some weights for us to use as a family.

"Good morning to you, too. What are you doing up so early?"

"Um, I was just trying something that, um, we learned in science class. Uh, if it works, I'll teach AJ something really neat."

He was holding an egg in his hand and something in the other I couldn't quite make out. He just stood there until I'd finished my chore and left to get the paper off of the porch.

By the time I got back he was putting the carton of eggs back in the fridge.

"I'm gonna go back upstairs until the pipsqueak gets up, then I'll show him, okay?"

"Of course it's okay but don't I get a good morning hug or anything?" I asked as he stood over me. I was in my favorite chair in the living room with the paper.

"Oh, yeah, heh. Sorry, Pop."

I stood up and we hugged, both of us patting the other on our backs.

"Yuck! Something's on your hand that's sticky, you boob," I laughed, trying to reach that place just a bit too far to get to.

"Oh my gosh! Sorry. Um, wait," he said, running into the kitchen.

He soon returned with a very wet paper towel which he slapped on my back to wipe up the spot.

"Yikes! That's freezing! To say nothing of dripping down my back!"

By that time we were both laughing at the hilarity of it all. Jeffy ran back to the kitchen to get a dry towel and evidently took the time to pour me a cup of coffee. When he returned and he was about to hand me the hot coffee, I jumped to one side and pointed to the end table by my chair.

"Okay, thanks, but just set it there for now. Not that I don't trust you or anything."

He was laughing so hard I was sure he would spill every drop before I got any of it. But at least he didn't get any on me.

"Pop," he said, trying to recover from his fit of laughter and while wiping up my back from shoulder to butt, "I'm really sorry."

"Okay, accepted. But what was the sticky stuff?"

"Oh, um, let me explain after I show AJ this neat trick, um, thing I learned in class."

And with my nod he was off to his room.

It was probably an hour later and a refill on the coffee when I heard some familiar plodding on the stairs.

Just as I suspected, into the living room came my littlest, in pajama tops and colored undies, bearing some cartoon character. He had long since forgotten to be embarrassed by what he wore around Jeffy and me, as we were around each other. I did make Jeffy quit teasing him about his choice of underwear though, but I only had to do it once.

"Morning, my little sleepy guy," I said as he approached me rubbing his eyes. He had a terminal case of bed head too. It made him look so young and so cute.

"Morning, too," he groaned, never stopping, just plopping down on my lap, on top of the paper and leaning back, evidently so I could hug him.

"Hey, you pipsqueak," I chuckled. "What's the big idea, scrunching up my paper and all?"

"Oh, well, um, I thought ya loved me and wanted me more than that old paper. Do ya?"

Silence. His back was against my chest so he couldn't see me unless he sat up and turned, which he was too lazy to do.

"Hey! Well?"

"Okay, okay. Let's see, paper, pipsqueak, pipsqueak, paper. Good grief, that's a hard one, AJ."

"Huh? Nuh-u-u-uh!" he whined. "'Member me? I'm the loveable one that's so cute and cuddly. 'Member?"

"I'm thinking. I know, while I'm thinking, maybe I could decide better if I had another cup of coffee."

"What? Oka-a-a-y," he moaned, getting up to his feet as slowly as he could. Then he stepped aside and just stood there.

"Well?" I enquired, holding my coffee cup.

"Well what? I thought you wanted to go get some more coffee?"

I really had scored on the most pathetic little pipsqueak there was. He was incorrigible and just about as cute as they come. He had not a clue that I'd only gotten him off the streets to serve my every need. Ha! Right!

"Pop, let me fill that cup for you," shouted Jeffy as he came storming through the room, still in his briefs but having pulled on a long t-shirt. He grabbed my cup and was off, leaving AJ standing there with his mouth open.

"O-o-o-h. Now I get it. You wanted me ..." he started, pointing to himself.

I nodded, smiling politely.

Then he pointed to the kitchen and made like he was drinking my coffee.

I nodded smiling, then motioned him closer with my finger.

"Uh oh. This can't be good for me." At least he had some instincts.

I held out my hand after tapping the crinkled paper in my lap where he had plunked before.

He cautiously stepped forward and I grabbed him, flung him over my knee and started to wail on his bottom, which meant I held him there and tickled him until he was kicking and screaming. In fact, he finally bounced so high that he came down on my knee right on his soon to be baby makers and groaned loud. Then he went limp and slowly slid off of me onto the floor at my feet.

As he lay there I was a tad concerned that he did some damage.

"Are you alright, son? That didn't look good."

"It wasn't good but I think I'll live. You may need to carry me around all day though until I'm better." He sounded like he was at death's door. I wouldn't need to get him acting lessons anytime soon.

"No, I have a better idea to put you to good use, my beloved son, whom I cherish so much."

Then I raised my bare feet and put them gently down on his side where he lay in a fetal position.

"Oh, yeah. That's perfect."

"Hey!" came the voice of my new ottoman, evidently having a new surge of energy.

"Hey, neat, Pop. S'pose I can use him when you're done?" asked Jeffy as seriously as he could.

"Nuh-uh. I'm not furniture. I'm just a nice little boy whose dyin' of pain here." The indignity in his tone and its volume belied the argument he was trying to make.

"Say, AJ, when you're done suffering down there and Pop doesn't need a foot rest anymore I wanna show you a magic trick."

"'Kay. I'm ready." AJ pushed my feet off of him and slowly stood up. I could see that he did hurt as he winced a bit when he stretched.

"AJ, are you sure you're okay? Maybe we should make sure you didn't really do some damage."

"How?" he asked standing by my chair.

"Well," I answered as I reached for his colorful briefs.

"What? No way!" he cried, running into the kitchen after his brother.

I was sort of joking. He would be okay without any therapy, I was pretty sure.

"Pop, you gotta come in and see this. You'll be amazed at how neat it is."

I followed them into the kitchen as Jeffy got the carton of eggs out of the fridge.

He got two squares of paper towels and handed one to his little brother.

"Okay, I'm not too sure how this works, but my teacher showed us and it's worked perfectly every time. You have to do exactly what I do AJ, after I show you how, okay?"

"I guess," said the boy with less enthusiasm than his brother.

Jeffy opened the carton and took out an egg. He gingerly laid it on the counter and sprinkled some salt on it. He then covered it with the paper towel.

"Okay, this is the crucial part. Listen carefully so you can do it."

He waved his hand over the towel as he said the words, "Hocus, pocus, not boiled or fried. Leave this egg that it may be dried."

"Oh, brother," said AJ, "you can't ..."

But before he could finish, his brother removed the paper towel, took hold of the egg in his hand and squashed it on his forehead!

"Oh my gosh!" shouted AJ. "Ew-w-w. Hey! How come ...?"

Of course, all that remained of the egg was the perfectly dry shell still in Jeffy's hand.

I could see what was coming, especially when Jeffy gave me the kind of grin that told it all. Everything fell into place as to what he'd been doing when I went in to make coffee earlier.

"Wow! You did it!" cried AJ, all excited.

"Here, you try it, bro. It's easy if you say it just right."

"Um, 'kay," said the trusting boy.

He opened the carton and took out an egg, laying it gently on the counter, just like Jeffy had done. Then he took the salt shaker and looked at Jeffy for instruction.

"Two shakes should do it." Jeffy made the shaking motion to show AJ.

After the salt, AJ took the wadded up paper towel he'd been playing with, smoothed it out and laid it over the egg.

"I forget the words," whispered a very serious boy, as though he might interrupt some flow in the magical universe if he talked any louder.

"Hocus, pocus, not boiled or fried. Leave this egg that it may be dried."

"Oh, yeah. Okay," said AJ, turning back to his hidden egg. "Hocus, pocus, not boiled or fried. Leave this egg that it may be dried."

When he finished the verse he looked at his brother. "Now?" he mouthed.

Jeffy nodded and AJ removed the paper towel and, grabbing the egg, smashed it against his forehead, just like his brother had done.


"EW-W-W-W!" cried AJ, with egg dripping down his face, his arm and especially his hand. It was dripping down his PJ's and onto the floor. His face was pretty much covered with the yellow slime. It was even in his hair.

"Oh my gosh! That's the first time it didn't work. Oh, no!" laughed Jeffy, continuing his charade with the same flair that AJ performed minutes before in the living room.

"Yuch! Now what do I do? It's everywhere! Ew-w-w-wy." AJ just stood at the counter, his head bent down, his arms outstretched as we all watched the viscous liquid slowly drip to the floor.

"Well, we could try another egg," laughed Jeffy, just barely able to keep to his feet.

But then, it couldn't have been better. I thought somewhere along the line AJ would have caught on.

"Okay, but it better work this time," huffed the boy in no uncertain terms.


That did it. Jeffy was actually on the floor wiggling around as he laughed and laughed.

"I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" he laughed.

"Or why don't you just go up and shower while I make us breakfast?" I offered the drenched boy, handing him a wad of paper towel.

"Yeah, that sounds better," said AJ, wiping off the worst of it, then turning to head upstairs.

"Spoiled sport, Pop," said Jeffy between his fits of laughter on the floor.

"So, AJ," I yelled up the stairs. "Scrambled eggs sound good for breakfast?"

I was sure that Jeffy was going to mess himself before he was done with that last blast of hysteria.

End of Chapter Thirty-two

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