The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2013 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 Forty

After the adoption process was completed and 'Court Adjourned' by AJ, and the commotion died down enough to give everyone directions to the house, we all started filing out of the court house into a brilliant, beautiful day.

Jeffy and Elliot rode with Jeffy's great uncle and aunt, two of the people that I didn't recognize, so that left me to get the two of us, AJ and me, home. Frankly, I was so emotionally rung out that I went looking for the Stewarts to take AJ. I wanted to protect him, just in case I had an accident. I was still very shaky.

Right, I also wasn't thinking perfectly.

Finally, Ralph came by and asked if I would mind him going with us. As he asked he looked over at Dan who waved him toward us, like it was his dad's idea. So, I asked Ralph to drive. Thank you, Dan.

Ralph and I had a non-stop, minute by minute account of every second from the moment we woke up that morning. AJ had diarrhea of the mouth and several frogs in his pants making him bounce around in the backseat like an overly excited amphibian. There was no stopping him. I think Ralph and I laughed most of the way home. When we finally pulled up in front of the house, past several cars that were already there, Ralph and I were exhausted.

"Quick, Tim! Get some water and pour on his lips before they ignite!"

"Oh, man, stop Ralph! I can't laugh anymore! I'm gonna burst," I told him.

I don't think AJ heard a word of it. Stewart and clan followed us in as we drove in and AJ was out of our truck in a flash and standing by their car as they got out.

The storm had passed and the backyard was a mass of tents and tables and banners of every color, anything to make the celebration even more special than it already was, if that were possible.

I was afraid that a lot of our friends would have to get back to work but every one of them, including the judge, showed up.

I can't tell you what was served but the party was one of the nicest gifts that I've, okay, we've ever received.

I just stood still and people came up to talk. It's a good thing. I think I remember most of that. I also got to meet the great uncle and great aunt of our Jeffy.

I think the first words out of Sidney Connor's mouth were, "Now, don't you worry, Sergeant, no one is going to take DJ from you. Oh, I mean Daniel Jeffrey. I used to call his dad DJ a long time ago."

You could tell that Jeffy's family was good people. It just oozed from them. Both were very outgoing and so positive. In the course of our conversation, however, I learned a lot about Jeffy's mom and her weird, obsessive personality. But I also heard about Jeffy's dad and came to know very quickly why Jeffy was so endeared to him.

"Yes, after my brother and sis-in-law went into the home, the bit ..."

"Sidney Connors!" rebuked Harriet Connors with a slap to his arm.

"Well, you know as well as I do that she is. She's sure proved it of late too," he said nodding at me for my support and rubbing his arm.

"From what I heard, sir, she is a real piece of work," I told him.

"It's Sidney, Sergeant; call me Sidney and my wife, Harriet. The little time that Jeffy has stayed with us was so moving for us. We didn't realize what a special guy he was. And imagine all you've been through and yet you still took him in as your own, to say nothing of the other two boys. You're a remarkable man, Sergeant."

"Oh, I see. You think I took in Jeffy and Elliot and adopted AJ for them; to keep them safe and have a roof over their heads? Ha, I've got everyone fooled, I guess. First, my name is Tim, Sidney and Harriet. I'm pleased to finally meet both of you. Second, I did it all for me! Those kids are so much a part of me, well, something would die in me if I couldn't have them with me. As it is, Jeffy will probably seek emancipation when he comes into his new money. I hope he still needs us somehow."

"Oh my word, Timothy, that boy talked us a blue streak about you and that adorable son of yours," Harriet Connors told me. "To talk to him you'd think you walked on water. I doubt he could leave his Pop if he had to. And he and his newest brother, Elliot, seemed to get along very well indeed. You've done a great thing, young man, and after all you've been through."

I'm sure I was blushing again.

They walked off and started to talk to Linda Sue and her sister, Ms. Spear. Then little Denver, bless his heart, walked over with a drink for me. He even bowed at the waist when he handed it to me. Then I noticed him run back to where Tyler was sitting, sat down next to the older boy, surrounded by other kids, picked up his drink and joined in the kids' merriment.

AJ was with their group, animatedly talking a blue streak, occasionally pointing to someone who was, evidently, in the current story. Most of the kids were gathered around them, including Devon and Brad.

One person I wanted to talk to was Brad. The only time we'd met before, except for a few distant waves at school, was when he made it pretty clear that things weren't going too smoothly in his life. I wanted to check in and see how he was doing and see if he needed anything. So much had happened in that short time and that made it seem like so long ago.

Conveniently, Brad looked my way, said something to Devon, then walked over to me.

"Mister Mc ... I mean Sergeant, AJ sure is a lucky guy to have you. He got a neat guy in you, to hear him talk, but I can see it too."

"Thank you for saying so, Brad. How are things going for you?"

"Oh, um, you mean at school? Yeah, well, I think I got the best grades ever this past year 'cuz I got Stewart to help me. Sometimes it was Devon too. He's pretty smart. And I ..."

"Brad, I was talking about your home life. How are things going there?"

"Oh," he said very quietly.

His whole demeanor changed in an instant. His head dropped and his hands went into his pockets. When he turned to look over at the crowd, maybe where Devon was standing, I could see his arms and the back of his neck. I was actually checking him out for bruising or signs of abuse but saw nothing.

"I suppose it's okay. My dad is the football coach, see, and he was pretty upset when I got kicked off the team."

"Your dad is Coach Pendergrass?"

"Yup. The very same. He wasn't too cool about what happened. You may not know it but he isn't the most understanding dad out there; not like you are."

"Brad, has he hurt you as a result of what happened?"

"Um, it's okay. He, um, he swung at me a few times and he slaps me upside the head when I get out of line or something, but he's never really spanked me or beat me or nuthin'. He does get to yellin' though." Brad tried to smile a little but it wasn't working.

"Brad, you don't have to have beatings to be abused. Yelling and saying hurtful things are as abusive and painful as getting hit."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," he said, rubbing his neck. "And I usually deserve it, I suppose, anyway."

"No, Brad. You do not deserve to be abused in any way at all. You deserve respect from your father just like he expects it from you."

"Yeah, but ... anyway, he's been a lot better since they started some teacher training 'cuz of what you and AJ caused at that school board meeting. Dad had to stay after one night a week when some lady came to the school to talk to all the teachers. He wasn't too happy in the beginning, but he has been kinda nicer, I think. I think I got you and AJ to thank for that."

"Okay, but I'm not convinced. I think I need to have a talk with him. I think I need to call him."

"Oh, man, do you have to? He isn't gonna like that at all. He'll think I told on him."

"If you're worried about his reaction then I'll do it when you and AJ have a game night or something; we'll figure out a reason to be away from him. That'll give him a chance to cool off after we talk. But, believe me, if he reacts by taking it out on you, things will change for your good. I promise you."

"Oh, man. I don't know."

"Well, I do. Don't worry, Brad. I won't let this go on. You're too neat a kid and you deserve a loving home. How is your mom about all of this?"

"Um, she doesn't live with us anymore. She kinda moved out a while ago."

"Oh? Why'd she do that?" As if I didn't know.

"Yeah, well, she kinda got fed up with his language and the way he treated her."

"And she just left you with him, knowing how he was?"

"No, well, see, he wasn't like that to me then because I was being the bully, remember? That's what started all this. He thought it was cool when I came home and told him who got whupped at school that day. He like told me I was a chip off the ole block or somethin'."

"You're kidding?"

"Nope. So he was pretty pissed, um, sorry, upset when I got caught and all that other stuff happened. He started sayin' I was a wimp and stuff, even worse."

"And I suppose he got even worse when he was told to change his ways."

"Oh, man, he sure did, at least in the beginning. He's better now, though. Really."

The boy was looking around nervously like we'd talked a bit too long, so I released him with a promise to myself to follow up on his problems.

"Brad, go have fun. I didn't mean to bum you out. Go find your friends and get some good stuff to eat."

"Good idea, sir," he said as he turned to leave. Then, as an afterthought, he turned back and said, "And, Sergeant, you got a great kid in AJ there. He's somethin' special you know."

"Thank you, Brad. You're right. He's quite a kid. And so are you, Brad."

I got a nice smile before he ran back to be with some of the other kids.

And Lenny. Wow! He crutched his way over, almost making me feel bad that I didn't go over to him. But, he's a professional - so he snuck up on me and hit me in the leg with his crutch!

"Hey! Who's the wise guy ... Ha! I should have known," I said, turning to see him grinning at me.

"You look great with a few kids hangin' off you, Sarge. It looks pretty natural," he told me.

"Yeah, well, it's the training I had with all you snot-nosed kids hangin' on me over in the desert."

"We need to get together real soon, but I need to go lay down. You'll never believe how it happened, Sarge," he said, sticking his butt out, then wincing from the pain he'd caused it.

He went on to tell me that they had corned two of the opposition in a house near the border of Iraq. While it wasn't the home of the soldiers, they had no idea what or who was all in the house. One of Lenny's men was about to throw a grenade into the room where the shooting was coming from when they heard a women, then a child scream.

Two shots from two of his men and the shooting ended. After all, we only had excellent marksmen on our team, such was our purpose over there.

As they approached the room, Lenny was the first to make his way in. Seeing the two corpses he was assured that they were safe to enter. A boy for about four or five was in the far doorway. Lenny said everything was okay and that they were Americans. The woman could be heard praying beyond the room, something they heard a lot of in just such a situation where the civilian's lives were spared. The boy took a step closer to the dead men. I couldn't imagine what he'd been through, what he'd seen in his short life.

Then, as Lenny turned to wave the others in, one of the men noticed movement and yelled at Lenny. Evidently the little boy had picked up a revolver and was startled when the soldier yelled, dropping it. It discharged, sending the bullet into Lenny's buttock pretty much right where Forrest Gump was wounded in the movie. The little boy cried and cried and his mother said he was very sorry. It only served to ease the pain a tiny bit though.

"I can only thank God that it's all that happened, Lenny. I am so glad to see that you only have to stand up for another six months or so," I joked.

"He he. It sure seems like it. And there is nothing like a little one jumping into your lap just when you have that cushion positioned so it doesn't hurt quite as much, then POW!"

As he said that his wife and the bomb, his little girl, came up to be next to their man.

"Ah, daddy's little helper," I said to Lenny's little girl, Marie.

"Oh, she can be a handful," said Sheila, holding her daughter in her arms.

"Well, Marie, you just keep jumping up on your daddy's lap. He likes your loving so much!" I said, laughing the whole time.

"Sarge! Ow!" cried Lenny, thinking of the pain he would incur at home.

We all laughed. Even Marie laughed but I don't think she got it. She just wanted into her daddy's arms until they were ready to move on.

"We need to get together and soon, soldier. When's your last day?"

"Well, let's see. I need to go back to the base in about two weeks. Then it's officially a coupla weeks after that. That's about when the others will be back. They aren't on the lines anymore. They're debriefing in Germany, then they'll come back. I guess they're sending someone from Special Ops to talk to me."

"Yeah, I guess they forgot about me. Funny. Anyway," I said, giving him a hug around both him and Marie, "We'll get together real soon."

And so the day went, all too quickly. It turned out to be a perfect day. I finally sat down between Jeb and Dan and we just sat and watched the kids be kids and ate some good food. It had been an amazing day.

"Wow! I'm 'xhausted. But what a great day, huh?" said my new son, flopping down on the couch next to me.

Man, that sounded so good - my son.

"It was a wonderful day, AJ. You don't often complain about being tired. It must have been all the stress of getting through this day. Getting ready and then going through all you did for the judge."

"Yeah, that was scary but only for a coupla minutes. I really like Uncle Homer."

"Uncle Homer?" I enquired.

"Yeah, he asked me if I'd call him that. See what I mean? He's so great and I got to do the hammer thing and everything. Yeah, I don't know why I'm so tired. I didn't think I did all that much."

"Well, you can rest now with your dear ole dad."

He turned and looked at me where he laid back against the cushions. His smile, a partial one, seemed to linger then quiver just a little. A tear started down his cheek, but he leaned over and grabbed my arm and made a big deal about wiping his eyes, nose and face on my sleeve.

"Yeah, you're good for lots of things, alright."

Little pipsqueak! But now he really was my own little pipsqueak.

Our guests had gone, the caterers left too, leaving tons of leftovers. AJ thought it would be good to have a party with Dan and crew and maybe Stewart and Tyler over to eat it all up.

"So, if we ask them over for, say, tomorrow afternoon, what do you want to do tonight? It's still early. Maybe we should go out and get pizza or something," I asked my son who was sprawled out on the couch with his legs over my lap.

"Naw, that's okay. I think I'll just lay here. It's really comfortable and I'm not really hungry anyway."

"What! My boy not hungry? Ha! Are you sick or something?"

"Nope, just glad to be able to lay here with you."

"It is nice, isn't it?"

Jeffy and Elliot had gone back with Jeffy's relatives just for the evening. They lived on a farm about two hours away. Actually, it was pretty close to where Lenny lived.

Lenny, wow. It was so great to see him and his family; to know he and, I found out, our whole squad was all in one piece. I did find out that the commander was killed when a suicide bomber came up to headquarters and the commander was just coming outside. He died along with two other officers. His aide was still inside so, except for some splinters, he was fine.

Lenny talked a mile a minute at the party. His wife, what a sweetie she was, came to rescue me several times, but I couldn't get enough of him. He was always good for a laugh, the way he told stories. So I heard all about their time in Iraq after I'd left them.

It seemed like a lifetime ago. It was a family ago.

Hm-m-m, I never thought I'd have another family; certainly not one consisting of three young men. Well, two young men and one pipsqueak.

"Hey, what're ya thinkin' about over there with that silly smile on your face?"

"Who do you think I think about all the time, pipsqueak?" I answered as I started to tickle him mercilessly.

He finally used the 'I have to pee' excuse, which is a standard for stopping tickle time. When he stood up he sat right back down again.

"Whoa! My head was really makin' me dizzy right then. Weird, huh?"

"Yeah, it is. You sure you're okay?"

"He he. Yup. I just gotta go somethin' awful."

At a church in the city a couple was seated at the desk of their pastor, discussing their plan of action with him.

"Now, I guess I'm missing something, Fred and Joan. You seem bound and determined to have the boy back, uh, Elliot. I'm not sure I understand why that would be," said a concerned pastor.

Joan Golding spoke up, just as her husband was about to speak, effectively cutting him off. "We'll have no one from our family roaming around making fools of us to whoever he likes. Why, you said it yourself - he's the devil's own, spreading sin and corruption as he wanders. You're the one that told us to change him. We want nothing more than that, no matter what it takes. You even said that, Pastor Reynolds."

"Well, don't you think that he's been taken out of your hands sufficiently enough to forego any more attempts to, um, cleanse him?"

Fred Golding spoke this time, leaning forward and laying his arm on the pastor's desk, causing the pastor to scoot back just a bit.

"Pastor, we have been called to purify ourselves before God. You said that. You said the whole family."

"Yes, but ..."

"You said we needed to take matters into our own hands when someone fell away from the church and was doing evil. You even said, 'Had evil in their heart.' Remember?"

"Yes, but he is no longer a part of this church fellowship. He's gone to ..."

Both of Elliot's parents leaned onto the desk, their hands shaking, the tension building in them as Joan said,

"But he came from our bodies. He's of our bloodline. We need to purify it no matter what it takes. That's why we have to have him back. It's our calling."

"But if he's with another family, we've already found out that the county won't let you ..."

"Whatever it takes!" they both said in unison.

Later in the evening, I was getting really hungry so I suggested scooping out some of the chicken salad onto greens but AJ was satisfied with just a bowl of soup.

"It's hot out, AJ. Are you sure?"

"Yeah. It just sounds good."

So I turned on some light music and we sat in our regular places at the table and spent dinner taking a bite and then grinning at each other. The satisfaction was amazing. The company was even better.

"What was your favorite part at the courtroom? I can guess at least two possibilities."

"What are they, Dad?"

"No, you say first then I'll tell you."

"Um, okay. Let's see-e-e-e." His hand went to rub his chin as he thought about it real good. "There were so many good parts, but what I liked best was when I came running down from the judge's place and jumped into my real daddy's arms. Yeah, that was by far the best part. 'Cause you were really mine from then on."

"Hm-m-m-m," I said quietly, thoughtfully.

"Okay, so what did you think I'd say?" laughed AJ.

"Oh, AJ, you never fail to astound me. Ha! I picked out some stupid things like when you, well, we came into the courtroom and everyone we knew was waiting for us."

"Oh, yeah, that was really great but ..."

"Or when the judge called you up to bang the gavel to make us officially adopted. That was pretty sweet of him."

"He he! Yeah, I liked that a lot, but ..." His voice cracked and quivered a little. One lone tear floated down his beautiful cheek and stopped at the corner of his smiling mouth.

"But what, AJ?" I asked, mesmerized by the beauty that was sitting across from me. My beauty, my son.

"But nothing even came close to the second when we were us, I mean, you know, dad and son. That was the best ever. It was better 'n shoppin' at Wal-Mart for a whole year, and that bed store too. It was better 'n all the fireworks in the world lightin' off all at once."

He beamed. Another tear slid down his other cheek. He smiled and sniffed real big, wiped his face on his sleeve and laughed out loud. I'm so glad he has never been afraid to show his emotions to me. What a gift for both of us.

"You mean it was like lots of, the best times ever, right?"

"What were you gonna say?" he asked when he realized I'd changed the sentence in mid-stream.

"Oh, let's just say I want to save it for later; a surprise."

"Huh? No! You'll forget. Hey! Write it down so you don't ... No, you'll just forget where you put the note."

"AJ," I said quietly, intently, leaning in a bit to look at my little man right in the eyes.

He looked back with the same intensity, fueled by some excitement about something for which he had not a clue.

"Yeah, Dad?"

"I promise this is one surprise I could never ever in a million years forget. I promise, my son."

"Wo-o-w!" he mouthed.

I guess he believed me.

It struck me in the middle of my sentence, which was going to end with 'lots of Christmases', that he had no comprehension of what that meant. It was one of the elusive things that didn't exist until he came to live with me; until he was free to live at all. Oh, I would keep my promise alright. It would be the best celebration, after his thirteenth birthday, that is; oh, and after today.

There was still so much to show him, for him to experience.

I saw his eyes begin to close as he was smiling at me. He was obviously tuckered out. His spoon was in one hand, sticking straight up from the table, ready to plunge into his bowl of lukewarm soup. I'd realized he hadn't really eaten much of it, but then we were talking a lot too.

"Hey, little guy, you gonna eat that soup or fall into it?"

"He he. I guess I wasn't as hungry as I thought. Is it okay if we just go back and sit on the couch some more?"


He set his spoon down, took one last swallow of milk and left to go into the living room. I cleared our dishes, having finished my meal long before he'd excused himself. Actually, I was rather tired, but nowhere near as exhausted as AJ made out to be. It reminded me that I hadn't had him do a physical yet. I'd schedule that on Monday.

After only a half hour on the couch, just enjoying the peace and quiet after a long, very full day, AJ started to drift again.

"You look like your bed is calling to you, po-dunk," I said, sitting next to him and softly rubbing his tummy.

"Yeah, I guess I'm really tireder then I thought," he told me, trying to smile with his eyes closed.

"Let's get you up to bed then."

"Dad? Are you gonna adopt Jeffy and Elliot too?"

"Yes, if they still want me to. I want to have them for my sons too, AJ. What do you think? Good idea?"

"Oh, yeah and double yeah. They love you so much. I like seein' how much Elliot has become part of our family so quick like. It's really neat. And Jeffy told me he wants it more than food! You know that's gotta be a ton of want, huh?"

I had to laugh. It sounded just like Jeffy.

"Well, they couldn't want it any more than I do. I sure love 'em to death."

"Yeah," smiled their little brother. "Um, will you tuck me in, Dad."

Later, when I was coming down from tucking my son in, Jeffy and Elliot came walking in, Jeffy with a huge smile on his face as I sat down on the couch.

"Hey there, new dad. How's things here with you and the brat? Hey, AJ, where are you?"

"Sh-h-h, Jeffy," I said, laughing at his antics. I think he was as excited about how the day went as AJ and I were. "I just tucked him in. He was really tired for some reason tonight."

"Really. What, did you guys wrestle the whole night or something? It's only eight-thirty."

"Ha! No, I don't know why. He was just too tired to keep his eyes open."

Jeffy and Elliot spent the rest of the evening telling me how wonderful his great aunt and uncle were to both of them. Jeffy sat on the edge of the chair across from me in the living room. Elliot was sitting on the floor between us. They'd each gotten some of the chicken salad in a bowl when I mentioned what we'd had for dinner. Bottomless pits, I tell you.

"We didn't go all the way out to the farm, though we want to go back again, huh El? We went to the river park and sat until it got too chilly for Aunt Harriet, then we went to this swell restaurant where they just let us sit and talk for the longest time after we were done eatin'.

"Pop, they are just so cool. If it wasn't for his name, I'd say he was my grampa, just how I remember him."

"Maybe they were twins or something," I offered.

"Naw. That's what I thought too, but he said he was like five years younger. He was the baby of the family of five kids."

"Do they, um, know you're likely to be very rich?" I asked, with some hesitation. It probably wasn't my place to bring it up. Still, I wanted to protect the boy, my boy, from anything and everything, just like I wanted to with my AJ and Elliot.

Elliot started nodding his head and smiling as he looked over at Jeffy to tell the story.

"You know, funny you should mention that. I said something about all that and my Aunt Harriet quieted me down and looked over, real concerned like, at Uncle Sid. I saw Uncle Sid actually get all red, then he breathed deep and gave me a weird smile, like it was hard to do. He looked like he could have gotten really mad. I think I even backed up in my chair a little before he simmered down.

"He said, 'Sorry to scare you, boys. I want you to know, though, that I don't want to hear any more about that money. Not because it isn't a great thing for you, DJ. But I would never want you to think that we only loved you for what you were worth in the bank. Hell, boy, you are pure gold to us if you didn't have a lick of anything to your name. Being in the dough doesn't change that one iota. I just want you to know that your Aunt Harriet and I have all we'll ever need out there on that farm. But now, we are richer than we could ever imagine, now that you are in our lives for real.'

"He was almost in tears by the time he was finished. I know I saw Aunt Harriet dabbin' at her eyes a few times and nodding to what Uncle Sid said."

I also noticed that it had touched Jeffy. His eyes were brimming with tears. I handed him a tissue from the box on the end table, by the couch where we were sitting.

"They sure are wonderful people, Pop," said Elliot.

"They sure seem to be, huh? You are one lucky young man, Jeffy, finally."

"M-m-m-m, yeah, finally. And," he said as he jumped up from the chair and sank down next to me and lay against my arm, "Like my two brothers, I'm even luckier to have you too."

I wrapped an arm around his shoulders as I agreed with him. "I know the feeling, Jeffy. I know the feeling well."

Then Elliot sprang up and sat on my other side, making Jeffy and I move down a bit. I still had another arm left for my newest son. I was in pure ecstasy, my two oldest cuddling up to me and just sitting there for the longest time that wonderful night.

The next morning I woke up refreshed and feeling on top of the world. I really was a dad again, to one of the cutest, sweetest pipsqueaks there ever was. And it wasn't long after I'd made coffee and started to get things out for a nice breakfast that he and his older brothers came into the room in just their undies.

"Good morning, boys. How did you sleep?"

"Wow, Dad, I barely 'member. I musta conked out pretty good, huh?" AJ said during our morning hug. He was still rubbing the sleepy out of his eyes.

"You sure did. I practically carried you up to bed. You were sure tired for some reason. Jeffy," I said to the teen standing behind AJ, "How did you sleep last night?"

As we hugged he said, "Just great, Pop."

Then I held my arms out to invite Elliot into a hug too.

"Huh? Oh," said Elliot as AJ pushed him into my arms.

I could feel him tense up for only a second, then he returned the hug as well. Actually, to see him feeling secure enough to come down in his underwear was pretty amazing. Of course they were probably the biggest, baggiest pair of boxers he owned, no doubt.

"I slept really good. It was such a fun day. You guys were sure surprised at court, weren't you?"

"Oh man, you guys," answered AJ, sitting in his place, "I was so sad and stuff 'cuzza no one could be there and then everyone was there!" He expressed his joy and how big the crowd was by opening up his arms and almost knocking the orange juice glasses out of my hands when I came around him to set them down.


"Jeffy, I don't know who was behind all the secrecy to get everyone there like that, but it sure made for a very special time for AJ ... for my son and me."

As I said that I stood behind AJ and laid my hands on his chest. His hands covered mine.

"Ye-eah," he said. "It was the specialist day I ever had."

"Most special," corrected Elliot.

"Yeah, that too," said AJ with a big smile, followed by a gulp of his OJ.

I began to cook while the boys sipped their orange juice. After a minute I turned to see Jeffy in the same place he'd been with a kind of half smile on his face.

"Jeffy? You okay, son?"

"Huh? Oh, he he, yeah. I was just thinking ..."

"Uh oh," said AJ smiling.

"Hey, twerp. I can think stuff and it doesn't even hurt."

We all laughed at that. He was such a good addition to our family. What could be better? That's right. I looked over at Elliot and smiled at him rolling his eyes. He was catching on so quickly.

"Anyway," Jeffy said, sitting in the chair at the end of the table, "I was just thinking how much different it is here than ... It's almost the same as when Pop was alive, and better in some ways cuz there's more of you to love."

"And be loved, ya know," added AJ, complete with an orange smile.

"I'll say, Jeffy. I was just thinking the same thing, about how perfect our family is now, especially with you and Elliot being a part of us."

"Thanks, Pop. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't, well, wanted me."

"Well, you know, we needed a pet and ..."

"Hey!" shouted Jeffy, at my bad joke. He was laughing, as were his two brothers.

AJ had gone up to his room, he said to straighten it up but that would have been a first. I thought of the day I found him helping two of the dolls dance.

Elliot was just wandering around outside, I think. Like all of us, he needed his alone time. He certainly must have had plenty of that when he was staying clear of his parents, if they let him be alone in his room at all.

So, when I was doing the dishes, I was mildly surprised when Jeffy started to help. Oh, he certainly helped out and didn't complain when asked. It was just a nice change to have him help without being asked.

Jeffy seemed kind of quiet for a few minutes, absentmindedly drying the dishes, not really looking at anything, though he glanced my way a few times. As he did, each time his eyes seemed a bit more sparkly like the tears were about to start.

"Penny for your thoughts, son." I asked him.

He waited for a while before he spoke, then looked at me. "It's silly really. I don't even think it's all that important."

"It has to be that important if it's causing you to be a bit emotional about it, Jeffy. I'd be honored if you'd share it with me, if you want."

"Well, Pop," he started, setting down the plate he was drying, "It's the whole thing. We talked about all that money and land and we talked about the pipsqueak being my little brother, and now El, too." He laughed as he said that and wiped his nose on his sleeve. It didn't look like it was easy for him to express whatever he had on his mind just then.

"Yes, I'd say you were really blessed, Jeffy. You have a lot to look forward to, a lot to prepare for. Why there's emancipation and discussions with Jeb about all that money and ..."

And he was finally in tears. Only they didn't appear to be the happy kind, though he made quite a showing that he could smile through it all.

I held out my arms like I had taken to doing with AJ when something went wrong. Here I was treating a fifteen year old like he was a child. But right then, it just seemed right and he didn't seem to have too much of a problem just falling into my arms. That pleased me.

"Let's go into the living room and sit."

We wiped our hands on his towel and walked into the living room. We both sat on the couch.

"I'm sorry, Pop. I don't know what's got into me. It's just that ..."

I waited, but he needed a little prodding.

"Jeffy, you can talk to me about anything. I've made that promise to all of you boys and I mean it - I will always listen to anything you need to tell me and I'll always keep an open mind and try to help in any way I can. After all, you are my son now too, right?"

"But that's just it. It was all so perfect, then this emancipation thing came up because of all that money and stuff. Pop, is there any way I can get rid of it all? Can I give it away or something? I don't want it, I don't want any of it if it means ... If it means ..."

Again I waited.

This time he pushed away from me and turned to look right at me.

"I ... I don't want to be who it will make me."

"Who it will make you?" I asked.

"Yeah. I don't want to be by myself. I don't want to be ... what did great grampa say? Oh, yeah, self-sufficient. I don't want any of that. I just want you to be my pop for good and AJ to really truly be my brother like he got to do today and I want Elliot for my brother, too. I want you guys to be my family still."

With that he crumbled into me, sobbing. It didn't take much to realize that the processing wasn't over for him. After all, it had only been several weeks since he could start to imagine living a normal life again, or like AJ said, at all.

"Jeffy, it doesn't change anything. You'll still be one of us. You don't think we could live without you now, do you? Well, we can't. We need our son and brother too. That money has nothing to do with it."

"It doesn't? But the emancipation junk ...?"

"... Is just a bunch of legal rhetoric so you have the say in what happens to your inheritance. You will still be one of us."

"But if I can't be adopted, I don't want any of it."

"Who says you can't be adopted? Even an adult can be adopted, you know. Remember today? Your great grampa is still AJ's great grampa, legally and everything. And that's all emancipation does for you, makes you an adult."

"Really? An adult?" he asked, sitting up a little and wiping his eyes. He even had the beginnings of one of his great smiles.

"Yes, really. An adult, young man," I answered emphatically.

Then he got this gleam in his eyes, squinted them a bit and asked, "So, does that mean I can have a beer?"


End of Chapter Forty

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