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-eight

Before me sat the most beautiful sight.

AJ once again sat with a cheerful baby in their bath. Lewis was between AJ's sprawled out legs, merrily kicking and smacking at the water with his hands and feet, sending up sprays of water not only all over both of them, but on the wall and even the floor. Each lash at the liquid caused them both to gasp as they were hit over and over. Both were laughing until their sides must have hurt.

But their beauty in such contrasting ways had me mesmerized.

Lewis was a chubby baby which I saw as healthy in his present stage of growth at the time. He looked like one of those segmented dolls whose thighs grew out of hip sockets too small for their girth. He had the cutest little knee caps that peeked between folds of boy fat on either side of the joint. His calves and ankles were one huge extension of his lower legs and ended in a puffy foot far too small to hold up such a big boy, yet. His cheeks were puffed up, bright pink and soaking wet, of course. I'd have to get very close to see if he even had a neck buried between an ample double chin and his bosomy chest. His tummy extended like a soft basketball with his little belly button buried in more folds of the silkiest skin. Under him was the tiniest baby's butt made of two soft, lumpy pillows sticking out of rolls around him.

All that I saw I knew would begin to drop off within days of his first step. I also knew better than to wish for it. I realized what a gift I had in this youngster and I wanted to enjoy him at every stage of his young life before he traipsed off to college someday, too soon.

Almost in contrast was the beautiful boy surrounding and protecting his baby nephew. His skin too was flawless but golden as he spent his time romping around in the yard, on his new bike and picking berries endlessly without a care in the world and, most of the time, at least at home, not a stitch to cover him. So, brown was his color of choice that summer. His waist hadn't gotten all the sun that his torso and legs got, but he was mindlessly working on it in the warmth of our long summer. AJ was a fine specimen of boyhood. You could almost see the energy caught in his limbs, his feet, his torso, ready to explode in fanatical insanity around the yard as we all laughed at our little tornado.

Too young for real definition, he had barely any extra fat on him. He'd just had one of his first real growth spurts which stretched out his muscles and burned up most of the baby fat left over. It didn't dawn on me until a little later that, at barely thirteen, he was also on the verge of experiencing another stage in his growth. Where Lewis had overlapping folds connecting one limb to another, AJ's arms and legs glided smoothly into the next extension with subtle grace. Every part of him seemed to compliment the next, making him look like a Michelangelo masterpiece in motion.

Together they were quite a contrast, but I couldn't get enough of their beauty and . . .

"Whatcha starin' at, Dad? You like us playin' in the tub?"

"Oh, AJ, you two are beautiful boys. I just love seeing two of my boys having so much fun together. You really love your Lewis, don't you?"

"Wow. Yeah, Dad. He's the neatest. I don't think you'll need to get me anymore toys for a long time. I like to play with him. I think he likes me too."

"AJ, everyone loves you, including your nephew. You are too good to be real, sometimes."

"Really? Wow!"

"I did say sometimes."

"Oh, yeah, but still, wow."

Behind me I heard footsteps approaching where I was standing in the bathroom's doorway.

"So, when do I get to bathe the baby, Pop?" asked Elliot as he came up beside me and put his arm around my waist.

One of the greatest gifts I've received since both of the older boys' adventures was the closeness I received from both of them. Jeffy wasn't as much of a surprise as was Elliot. Jeffy had always been willing to sit next to me, let me drape my arm around his shoulders, even wrestle with me. Hugs were a given as long as they weren't in public. Once or twice, before all the excitement, he even sat on my lap until my legs gave out after a few minutes.

After all that had happened, both boys showed quite a bit more emotion and closeness, in a loving, not fearful, way. But Elliot surprised me by his desire for someone to be close to. He still read off to the side quite a bit, but he would join in far more than before. He also, such as standing in the doorway just then, initiated his hugs and such far more readily than ever. He was truly part of our family.

"Oh, oh, Elliot, um, you can do it now if you want. I don't mind. Lewis just wants to splash and play and I get to take him swimming a lot in our new pool."

"More like wading in your new pool, AJ. It isn't deep enough for swimming," Elliot informed his brother, grinning.

"Yeah, but you know what I mean. So, come on in. I'll get out of the tub, but can I watch you guys playin'?"

"Um, well, maybe not today; at least right now," he answered, his shy side exposing itself. He looked over at me and blushed.

"Hey, Elliot, if you really are up to it, I'll leave you guys. I don't want you to be embarrassed," I told him.

"Thanks, Pop. I guess that's part of it. Stupid, huh? You've seen me plenty of times after showers and stuff, especially when you took out that splinter after my bath that time."

The incident he was talking about happened a few days before when he and the boys were having a water fight in the yard and got just about as muddy as you could imagine. It ended when Elliot stepped on something. I couldn't even see what it was so I told the two other boys to help him upstairs and get cleaned up, then I'd try to take out the little invader.

He came down with his brothers a short time later. He was the only one wearing anything and that was just a towel wrapped around his waist. That didn't last long as I had him lying on the couch as I examined the bottom of his foot. He wouldn't stop squirming until the towel was on the floor beneath him.

"Quit kicking, Elliot," I kept having to say.

"But it tickles," he laughed.

I soon had the nasty old sliver out and the kids spent the rest of the evening enjoying their freedom, something Elliot's two brothers shared a lot more than he until that night.

"It's up to you, son. Do what you want to do."

So he just started to undress. I turned to leave so I could walk down to get a cup of coffee when I heard our cute female's voice from the hallway.

"Tim, should I come in to check on how the boys are doing with their bath time for Lewis?"

Before I could panic for Elliot, he'd beat me to it.

"Huh? Pop, oh no! Not now!" he said, his voice rising in pitch and volume.

That's when I heard the giggling in front of me, somewhere in the hallway.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't resist," said Karen. "Elliot, I know you'll do splendidly and I promise, cross my heart, that I won't come in to check on you . . ."

I turned to see Elliot standing there with his jeans in front of his body, though he still had his shorts on. His relief was evident by his huge sigh.

". . . Today!" she finished.

There was another gasp and then we heard Karen laughing all the way down the steps.

"Pop, really? Will she?"

He was so cute with his pink cheeks; the ones on his face.

"No, Elliot. She was clearly joking," I assured him.

"Whew! I thought . . ." started my embarrassed boy.

"At least I think she was." I finished as I walked after Karen.


As we were saying goodbye at the front door, Karen and I heard laughing and yelling coming from upstairs. It was pure music, but . . .

"You guys need to clean up the bathroom when you're done, you know!" I yelled up the stairs.

"Yes, sir," I heard in two octaves.

"I hope there's still some water left in the tub," I yelled back.

"Oops!" I heard from my little pipsqueak.

Since that time I became afraid that they would start fighting over who got to bathe the baby. Even Jeffy finally gave in and dove into the fun.

Jeb was a constant visitor. Of course he was always welcome, but with the addition of Lewis he just couldn't get enough of the whole clan. Lewis did that. He had a way of making all of us more animated, more energetic, more fun than ever. And he giggled through all of it.

And so did Jeb. Lewis became used to Jeb's outbursts, even his load guffaws. Lewis would still cringe but then he would do one of his deep barrel laughs and have us all in stitches.

"My boy," said Jeb one day to me, "I just can't seem to be apart from you all for more than a day. I can't quite lay my hand on it but it's a whole lot better'n a good scotch."

"I know what you mean, Jeb. Somehow, Lewis has made us complete. I know that the two boys' experience with Elliot's parents seemed to open them both up more than I thought possible. It's like they aren't as shy as they were, almost as open as AJ has always been."

"Oh Lordy! Not that open! Ha ha ha."

Lewis looked up from his toy and smiled at his great great grampa's outburst, then went back to gumming it.

"Ewww, Lewis. You're makin' it all slimey," said AJ, cringing at the saliva dripping from the carefree baby's mouth.

Lewis was glad to stretch out his arm to share his toy with AJ. That made his uncle shudder even more.

Somehow, Lewis brought out the rich character that made up each of us. It wasn't that Jeb spent more time with Lewis when he was over, but his time was aimed at encouraging, challenging and praising each of the boys for everything they did, much of which he put them up to. He was always devising something that was a crazy idea from the start, whether the boys knew it or not.

If his plan was for AJ to do something, Elliot and sometimes Jeffy could see through it almost right away. Of course, AJ, being the naïve and eager one, would fall for anything his great grampa put him up to. I think he came to realize that he would end up looking foolish, would probably end up dirtier than when he started, but it didn't deter him from following his favorite relative's every word and loving it.

Then there were times when Jeb would pull a fast one on the older boys. Elliot quickly became aware of where most of these hair-brained ideas would lead them, though he would still attempt it, much more cautiously than his brother.

If the result was a pie in the face, metaphorically, Jeffy would be licking his face in no time and laughing through it.

As for Lewis, I'm surprised he didn't twist his head off, he spent so much time swinging it back and forth, gawking at the goings-on of his crazy uncles and giggling at the antics of his beloved great great grampa.

Then there was Jeb's house. Jeffy was spending more time over there, coming home covered with dust, dirt and paint as projects were completed. It seemed rather humorous to me that I had a yard and house filled with every craftsman you could imagine, but Jeffy was fixing up his great grampa's place almost single handedly.

"Not so, Pop," he would remind me. "El's been helping a lot too, ya know. I think he does as much as I do."

"Yes, but you wouldn't know it. He doesn't come home covered in dirt and paint like you seem to," I reminded him as well.

"Oh, well, that's because I'm not near as careful as he is and he's doing most of the finish work, like the straight paint lines and stuff like that. He has to be real careful-like so's he gets it just right."

Elliot was standing over me, next to Jeffy as I questioned them. His pride was showing through his blush. He was very cute.

"So, when do we get to see what you've done so far?"

"Well, we've still got a lot to . . ." started Jeffy.

"Oh, you can come over any time you want to, Tim. Those boys have done miracles to the old place. Why, every day I go home to find something new is being done in some new area. It's all very exciting. I'm just not there much when they are. Ha!"

Lewis did one of his deep barrel laughs as he stared at Jeb.

"I can help, ya know," offered AJ, though in a voice that was more informative.

"Yeah, yeah, pipsqueak, but it takes so long to show ya what ta do, I'd have it done by the time I trained ya."

"Well, how did you learn than, mister professional builder?" asked AJ with his hands on his hips.

Jeffy was quiet for a minute; his gaze looked like he was going back in time. A tear fell from his cheek until he shook his head and explained.

"Sorry, but I'd almost forgot, ya know?" he said looking at each of us.

He moved to sit down on the couch. Elliot sat next to him and put his hand on his brother's knee.

"AJ, my dad let me help him, kinda like Pop lets you help him in the yard. So, when something new came along I'd always bug him until I got to try it too. Sometimes, he'd just say, 'Later, Jeffy,' and finish whatever it was. But he'd always have time to take me and show me what he did and then let me try it. I learned a ton from him."

"Wow, Jeffy. Those were good times, huh?" asked his little brother.

More tears didn't keep Jeffy from smiling and agreeing.

"Yeah, they were special times alright."

We were all silent for a few minutes until Jeb started in on an old story about something, slapping his knee half a dozen times along the way. He soon had us all laughing.

That night I asked Jeffy to stay and talk for a minute before he went up with Elliot for bed. I invited Elliot to stay too but he was very perceptive, that boy. He realized this was something for Jeffy and me together. Jeffy was sitting on the couch when I began to talk.

"Jeffy, I just wanted to say that I'm glad you had those good times with your dad and that you still have strong memories of working with him."

"Are you, Pop? I sure don't want to make it sound like I don't love my family here. It's just that they were pretty neat times for me."

"My boy," I said, "I have no doubts about your devotion to our family. But I would be sad if you lost your memories of your dad. He was a really special person, wasn't he?"

"Oh, yeah," Jeffy answered, coming over to sit on the arm of my recliner. "I still catch myself looking around for him so I can ask him something. Sometimes I mutter something under my breath to him, then wait for him to answer. 'Course, he never does."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Jeffy," I said, putting my arm around his waist. "You've been through a lot in the past few months. I'm not sure you'd have survived so well if you didn't have someone to guide you, to help you through."

Jeffy sat up a bit and looked down at me.

"Really, Pop? Ya think so? Wow, I never thought about it like that. That's so neat for you to say it. Thanks, Pop. Thanks a ton."

"I just thought I'd mention it. But, above all, know that I love you like my own, well, because you are, whether we have paper to prove it or not."

"Ye-e-ah!" said a gleaming boy.

Then he gave me a huge hug around my neck and, as he pushed off, he kissed me on the top of my head. Then he laughed, did a silly hop such as AJ might have done, and ran upstairs.

I was so fortunate.

The Perkins-Cottington clan came over quite often. They always provided an extra measure of craziness. The adults would sit on the deck and watch as all of them played in the water or had a game of football or whatever they were into that day.

Of course, we went over to their house too, but with Lewis it wasn't as easy as them coming to us, and we had a bigger yard and an above ground pool. Ha!

One time we all looked over at all the boys standing in the wading pool. Elliot was even holding Lewis in his arms. It was pretty funny since there was barely enough room for all of them to stand there. Eight butts, including Ralph's, were a bit too much for that size to accommodate. Inevitably, someone butted someone and soon there was the flailing of arms and legs and laughter that you could have heard in the city, miles from our place.

Luckily Elliot moved out of the way with Lewis in his arms. But that little tyke actually cried and leaned as far as Elliot would allow to get back into the action. He was as funny as the rest of them.

A few minutes later their towels were spread out and each boy was sitting in a close circle and they were all laughing at some antic Lewis was doing. Then each one had to hold Lewis for a minute then pass him to the next boy. By the time Lewis had gone around twice he looked a bit dizzy.

"Tyler," I asked the older boy who was sitting to one side, close to his mom's lounge chair, "don't you want to join them?"

"Oh, um, yes sir, but I forgot to bring anything to wear and get wet in. I'm sor . . . I mean, I'll try to remember next time." He was still pretty bashful, not about his body, just having to explain himself to adults. But his confidence was usually soaring compared to what it had been.

"I have several pairs of trunks if you'd like to try one of them," I offered.

"Really? Um, it is pretty hot out, and I . . . um, okay, please."

I left to go get a pair that were the tightest on me and threw them and a towel to Tyler when I returned. He proceeded to stand up and start undressing. I seemed to be the only one that was a little shocked. After all, I had four boys, two of which never seemed to mind being without clothes and the other two to whom didn't seem to matter much. They just preferred not to do it in front of adults so much.

"Sorry, Tim. Tyler has no problem with his body. Dan had a little trouble encouraging him to use the fitting rooms at the store last time they went to try on some things. I hope you don't mind," explained Linda Sue with a laugh in her voice.

By the time she'd explained, Tyler was pulling up the suit and traipsing off toward the other boys, totally oblivious to his semi-public performance.

"It's not a problem at all, Linda Sue. But I can just imagine the problem it could be if you didn't keep track of him constantly."

We all had a good laugh, then spent a long time laughing at nine boys playing like crazy men and having a ball.

During our barbeque that usually came with their visits, Tyler was happy to hold Lewis in his lap as Jeffy and then Enrique fed the little vacuum. Lewis was eating very well and it was a challenge to keep up with his demand for food once his meal started. Tyler was also thrilled when asked to give Lewis his bottle after his meal, though he eventually had to share the task with all the Perkins' boys.
As usual, I noticed that Elliot and Enrique would spend most of their time close to each other. Once in a while one would lean over and whisper something that made the other laugh or sometimes blush. It was good to see them having a good time, and if it turned into a relationship, I would be pleased. I also saw that Dan and Linda Sue noticed as well.

Within a few days, I finally received the call we had all been waiting for.

"Tim, it's Linda Sue," the familiar voice said into my ear.

"Linda Sue, it's good to hear your voice, but weren't we just together the other day?"

"Well, yes, but this is strictly business. I have good news and not all that great news, but not too bad."

"Okay? I'm game."

"The good news is we'd like to schedule the adoption hearing for the end of next week."

My heart rate accelerated by two or three times at least!

"That's wonderful news, Linda Sue. What could possibly be bad news after hearing that?"

"Um, it seems that Judge Davenport is in the process of retiring and won't be sitting on the juvenile or family court anymore."

"Oh, my gosh, we'll certainly miss him and all but I still don't see why that's bad."

"Well, the judge that's taking his place has a record for not agreeing to single men adopting, period, I'm afraid."

At the sound of those words my heart almost stopped.

"But that's not possible, is it, Linda Sue. We've waited so long and all the paper is in order. Judge Davenport even went over it with you to make sure, right?"

"Yes, Tim, but it's totally up to the judge taking his place now. Judge Davenport's decision or even his blessing will have little weight, especially since this new judge, Dorothy Harrington, doesn't much like Judge Davenport."

"But, but, that's not fair! They can't go by prejudice when someone's lives are at stake. They just can't, can they? I, I don't understand."

"Oh, Tim, I know how you must feel. We just have to trust that everything will work out for the best," said Linda Sue, not at all sounding hopeful.

"What are my options? Can I have another judge appointed? How could Judge Davenport do this to us?"

"He didn't really have a choice, Tim. Doctors told him if he wanted to live he had to slow down. If he kept up the schedule he currently held he would be dead in a few months."

"Did he offer any suggestions that would help us secure her decision, a good decision, Linda Sue?"

"I haven't had the opportunity to talk to him, Tim. Maybe I can still call him. I think he's going in half days for the next two or three days to clear things out, then, that's all; he's gone."

"It all sounds so final, so hopeless. I certainly don't want anything to jeopardize his health but I also do not want to lose my kids, Linda Sue. We have to think of something."

"We still have more than a week before the hearing. I'm sure things will work in our favor, Tim. I have the director of Children's Services on our side, I think, as well. That should pull some weight."

"You think?"

"She hasn't been too forthcoming with her support for single men adopting, but she seems to be doing better. She knows your case and that of the boys. I've talked to her and she seems to be leaning toward us. I think I'll be able to get her to back us up in this case. I really do."

"Okay. I'm not sure that makes me feel too much better. I think I need to be with my boys now. Thanks, Linda Sue. Please make this all come out okay. Please," I pleaded.

"I'll do my best, Tim. I love those boys too and I know they'll continue to grow and excel under your parenting, just as they have in a very short time."

"Thanks, Linda Sue. Bye."

My head was spinning and if I hadn't already been sitting down, I would probably have done the McGill flop (fainting), right in the kitchen.

I couldn't concentrate.

I heard screaming coming from outside and contagious, hard laughing from all four of my boys. I couldn't even stand up to go look out to see what craziness they were up to. I knew if I did, I'd just break down.

Somehow I had to pull myself together so the boys didn't know what was going on, at least for the time being. Certainly there would be a lot we'd have to discuss in the coming days, like . . . what if . . .

Then a thought struck me and I picked up the phone.

"Law firm, Cybill Hawthorne speaking."

"Cybill, it is so good to hear your voice," I practically exclaimed into the phone.

"I'm sorry. Who . . . O-o-oh, Mr. Mc . . . I mean, Tim, it's good to hear your voice too. How are the boys, sir?"

"The boys, all four of them are all wonderful, Cybill."

"I'm confused. Four boys? What did I miss?"

I had to chuckle, even though the urgency of my call must have still been evident in my voice, in my heart as well.

"Yes, we've added another to our clan, Cybill. You'll have to come over and meet him. His name is Lewis and will be seven months old next week. He's a little handful but we're all having a ball raising him. He's actually my grandson; the child of Jarod, my son."

"Oh, my, what a development. Are you calling for legal help in keeping him or . . .?"

"Well, no, not him. See, the older two boys, Elliot and Jeffy, have their adoption hearing late next week I was just informed."

"Oh, that's wonderful, Tim! Of course we'd like to come, if that's why you're calling." Her voice bubbled over the phone; something I wish I could have been more appreciative of.

"Um, no, Cybill. I am definitely asking you and your sister to be present, but, unfortunately, it's for a much more important reason than just for your friendship, I'm afraid."

"Okay, I'm confused again."

I then began to relate all that I had just been told by Linda Sue.

"Oh, I'm beginning to see your dilemma. Did you want my sister to represent you in your efforts?"

"Cybill, I think you are one of that group of people that truly knows what this adoption means to me, but even more importantly, to my boys, all of them. To answer your question, if I had my choice, I would fill up the court room with attorneys willing to support our case. I'm so overwhelmed right now, I really don't know what the best procedure would be. I think, really, that's where I need the expertise of your sister and you, Cybill. Please, I don't care what it costs or who you confer with, who you invite to sit with you in front of this . . . this, judge, but I'm sure not willing to take a no when it comes to me being the boys' father when all is said and done.

"Did any of that make any sense? Cybill?"

I heard some sniffling in my ear and then Cybill try to clear her voice to respond.

"Ahem! Oh, Tim, first, I'm so sorry that you have to go through this torment. I can only imagine how torn up you must feel. But, I also know that Lenore and I will do everything possible to insure a positive outcome for you and the boys."

"Let's make that clear, Cybill. No lawyer jargon. I won't accept anything short of adoption, nothing, not even fostering. Been there, done that. We want to finally be a real family, not in someone else's custody."

"Believe me, I understand totally. That will be our final goal, Tim, lawyer jargon notwithstanding."

"Thank you, Cybill. I think I'm beginning to feel better. Do you have any idea who you might go to for help?"

"Well, first we need to see the whole case and determine if there is a need. That is, any loopholes that need filling in or not. If we see something that could be damaging or even slightly questionable then we will definitely seek counsel with the best people we can garner in the legal community. I know that Lenore has a few people in her firm. My firm's expertise isn't quite set up like that but I think I have some ideas along those lines in our county. Either way, we will not let you down, Tim. Please be assured, we will do our best for you and the boys."

"Thank you, Cybill. I knew I could count on you. Like I said, I'm beginning to feel a lot better having called you."

"That's nice to hear, Tim. Now, go be with your boys. We'll start as soon as I can contact Lenore upstate."

When we hung up I was actually able to stand up and walk to the windows that faced the backyard. It was a little hard to see out with all the construction going on, so I moved to the door and walked out onto the deck to see what the kids were up to.

Jeffy and Elliot each had one of AJ's arms and legs and were sliding him along the Slip 'n Slide toward the wading pool. They were all laughing so hard it was obviously making it difficult for the two boys to carry their load. Somehow they made it to the little ramp they'd devised that would allow whoever was sliding to go straight into the little pool. Then they released him and he flew into the water, sending a huge wave out of the pool and onto the grass beyond.

Both bigger boys fell to the ground laughing uproariously, just like the hyenas they were.

I saw that Lewis was propped up on a huge towel with all the other towels pushed in around him. He was laughing as well and flailing his pudgy arms like he was trying to tell them, "Me, me, it's my turn!"

I also noticed that his chest and round tummy were slightly red. I was a little concerned that he was getting sunburned.

"Boys, is it time to come in? It looks like Lewis may be getting too much sun on his front."

"Nuh-uh, Dad," bubbled AJ as he tried to stand up in the pool, grasping his falling trunks and wiping the water from his face at the same time. The picture of the little girl in the sunscreen commercial came to mind, of her dog pulling the back of her swimsuit down to show her tan line and her rump. "Naw, he's just been sliding like I was and it makes our stomachs look like that." He pointed to his own chest with the hand that had been holding up his shorts and I could see that it was red too, apparently from sliding along the plastic too many times. But just as quickly, we could all see just about everything else, as his trunks slowly slid down his legs. If the two older boys had recovered from their laughing lunacy it was quickly set into motion again at the sight of our little pipsqueak in the altogether.

Of course, totally without embarrassment at his exposure, AJ simply walked out of the wet apparel, stepped out of the small pool and walked over to stand over his little nephew.

"Okay, but let's stop for a while and have some lunch. Then, later, you can come back out. Turn off the hose, Elliot, please, before you come in. You're right there."

"Sure thing, Pop."

AJ grabbed up our littlest boy and we walked into the kitchen where it was much cooler.

"Pop, are you okay? You seem a little distant," perceived my ever intuitive Elliot.

"Yes, I guess you could say that. I just have something on my mind which should be on its way to being fixed as we speak."

"Well, that's always good."

I fixed some hotdogs for the brood and laughed when all three boys fought over who got to feed Lewis his baby food. I could live with that kind of trouble. I couldn't however, live without my two oldest boys.

A few days later Linda Sue asked if she could bring her director over to meet the boys. I saw no problem if it meant having her on our side in what could be a fight to the finish.

Before I had remembered to tell the boys, who were again outside playing in the water, I heard a knock on the door.

"Company!" I yelled out the backdoor, before I went to the front to let our guests in.

Dir. Marion Overby was about as straight-laced as you could imagine. Right away I had the feeling that hers was a 'no nonsense' attitude. Her dress was very tailored, dark and modest with her hair tied in a bun. It occurred to me that we had yet to meet her because she had just taken over temporarily from the permanent director who was out on sick leave; she had been recovering from an operation of some kind.

To make sure we all understood Mrs. Overby's role in this hearing, I quickly made it known that I knew she was only temporary. That may have been a mistake.

"Welcome to the McGill household, Director Overby," I said after introductions had been made and we retired to the living room to 'chat.' "I hear that the director is recovering quite nicely."

"Thank you, Mr. McGill. Yes, she is. By the way, I can hear some loud voices in your backyard. Are the boys often so demonstrative?"

"Yes, they really are. They love to have a good time with each other and often get carried away with their antics. We have a small wading pool out there and they thrive on playing in the water with their nephew as well." I couldn't have been more proud of my boys, who were, in my opinion, getting along so well all the time.

I looked at Linda Sue and she obviously felt the same. But we were the only two.

"Really? Well, luckily you have no neighbors close who might complain."

"Um, I'm sorry," I said glancing over at Linda Sue's frown, "Why would anyone complain? They're just boys being boys."

"Exactly," the director answered in a rather cool, dismissive tone before moving on.

It told me that I had to be on my toes with her every moment.

"So, Mr. McGill, Ms. Cottington indicates that there is no female in the house, helping to raise the boys?"

"Yes, that's true, though I count on her and her niece to help from time to time, like with raising our littlest, Lewis. Did she also tell you that my wife and little girl were killed in an automobile accident earlier this year?"

"Of course I read that in your file. I am sorry for your loss but . . ."

She paused and I looked over at Linda Sue again for some kind of idea as to where all of this was leading. I wish that Karen had still been there that day, but she only came by every other day lately. Linda Sue made a slight shrug combined with a worried look. It reminded me of our visit with Lewis' bitchy grandmother only days before.

"I'd like to see the boys if I may, Mr. McGill," Mrs. Overby stated, rising to her feet.

I knew that could be a problem so I stood up quickly, waved toward the back of the house, then scooted as quickly as I could to gain a little distance on them so I could make sure everything was intact when the boys were scrutinized.

As luck would have it, the older boys were taking turns sliding toward the pool while AJ and Lewis were sitting on their towels by the side of the pool. AJ was still wet, probably just taking a breather from his fun and had his arms wrapped around his legs as he laughed at his brothers.

I breathed a sigh of relief as the two ladies walked up beside me, Linda Sue explaining the remodeling. As they reached the deck I yelled at the boys that we had guests.

Elliot was in the middle of a slide and Jeffy was trying to stand up in the pool when Elliot went plowing into him. There was lots of splashing and screaming followed by plenty of laughter from all of us except, you know who. And that pretty much ended when AJ leapt to his feet, jumping right out of his swimsuit.

"Oh My! I never!" cried the director, turning toward the house.

"AJ! I said we had guests!" I barked at the boy.

"Oops! Sorry, Dad. I shoulda worn those other skimpy ones but they go up my crack and don't feel so good," he told all of us, showing us where that feeling started.

The two boys were going into hysterics, Linda Sue was smiling and all I could do was hang my head.

"Well, I told you they were normal, healthy boys, Marion," Linda Sue told her boss.

When Linda Sue and her boss were leaving, Linda Sue mouthed over her shoulder, "I'll call you."

My heart was still palpitating as I went inside to start packing up the two boys' belongings.

"Justin, you're absolutely right. Forgive me if I seemed hesitant. A single man has no business raising even one boy, let alone four."

"Of course I'm right, as is the pastor and our group. Rest assured we'll make our opinion known outside that courtroom next Friday, Marion," Director Overby's husband told her, looking up from his newspaper as she came home that evening. "We must set a precedent about this issue before it gets out of hand and they are as good a choice as any."

"Yes, dear. It also occurs to me that he has no business having custody of that small baby either."

End of Chapter Forty-eight

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